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The first French translation of the Odyssey, L'Odyssée by Jacques Peletier du Mans, deliberately used the Latin-based Ulysse, instead of the Greek-based *Odyssée, for the name of the Greek hero. My guess is that the translator didn't want to confuse the masculinely named hero with the femininely named poem. But then the French language is no stranger to confusing homographs, such as the word mode which can be both masculine and feminine; and I feel like the extra article l' is more than enough to distinguish L'Odyssée (the Odyssey, feminine) from just *Odyssée (Odysseus, masculine). Not to mention L'Odyssée is merely the title of the poem, it's barely mentioned at all in the actual text, so I'm not sure how likely it is that readers can be confused between the poem's title and the hero's name.

So what is the exact reason for this usage in French? Did Jacques Peletier du Mans, or any notable translators of the Odyssey for that matter, ever explain why exactly they chose to go with Ulysse instead of Odyssée?

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    Worth noting that despite being "the first French translation", the text was well known more or less continuously in Europe and the Near East from the time of its composition to the Renaissance. Hence, it would have been establish already, and in Gaul/France, it might well have been the Latin names that stuck. Same with the Aeneid, which calls him Ulysses. So Peletier may not have been innovating.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jul 1 at 4:08
  • @LukeSawczak Then it would be intersting to know why the greek-based poem name was retained/reinstituted instead having both the hero's name and the poem named after the latine version.
    – XouDo
    Jul 1 at 5:15
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    @LukeSawczak "the text was well known more or less continuously in Europe and the Near East from the time of its composition to the Renaissance". Are you certain of that? The first Italian to own the Greek text was Petrarch, who couldn't read the manuscript because he didn't know Greek...
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 1 at 12:27
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    @Tsundoku Isn't this part of the explanation? The character was known through Latin authors (at least Virgil), so the question should be why in some other Romance languages the Latin name gave way to the Greek name. Jul 1 at 13:04
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    Looking at Google Ngrams, Ulysses is more common then Odysseus in English literature for most years since 1800, so it's not surpising that the same is true in French.
    – grahamj42
    Jul 1 at 21:26
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I think that @Dimitris's answer can point in the right direction (i.e. in Greek the character of Odysseus was known under various names including Oulixeus/Οὐλιξεύς from which the Latin name was derived), nevertheless I would like to add something to it in order to take into account the historical context of the translation of Homer's works into French.

The first translation of The Iliad1 in Middle French was made by Jean Samxon and published between 1519 & 1530. This version was based solely on the Latin translation, so it is easy to understand he worked from the Latin name of Ulixes/Ulysses.
A second translation was made by Hugues Salel and published in 1545. It is not known for a fact whether Hugues Salel had access to the Greek text2 but at least one scholar thinks he worked with both, the Greek text and a Latin text (by L. Valla)3.

Jacques Peletier du Mans's translation of The Odyssey was published in 1547. Peletier du Mans was a member of the Pléiade and we can imagine he was well versed in Greek as well as in Latin.

So back to your question: I speculate that the Renaissance elite (those who would read The Iliad and The Odyssey) had already become acquainted with the name Ulysse through Samxon's and Salel's texts and therefore, even if he could read Greek, Peletier du Mans thought better to continue with Ulysse.


1 In which the character of Ulysse fisrt appears.
2 Source : http://expositions.bnf.fr/homere/grand/069.htm
3 See Didier Pralon, a professor in Ancient Greek language and literature. We can read this scholarly paper on the French translations of The Iliad.

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Vous pouvez trouver l'explication ici :

Le nom d'Ulysse existe sous plusieurs formes en grec ancien ; on trouve par exemple : Ὀλυσσεύς / Olusseús, Ὀλυττεύς / Olutteús, Οὑδυσσεύς / Houdusseús ; Οὐλιξεύς / Oulixeús et Οὐλίξης / Oulíxês. L'emprunt latin Ulixēs vient de cette dernière forme. Le nom d'Ulysse donne naissance à quelques dérivés : Ὀδυσσεία / Odusseía (l’Odyssée), Ὀδὐσσειον / Odússeion (sanctuaire d'Ulysse) et Ὀλισσεῖδαι / Olisseîdai, nom d'une phratrie à Thèbes et Argos.

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    La question s'agit du choix du nom en traduction française et non pas d'origines du nom latin. L'existence même des autres noms ne suffit pas pour expliquer pourquoi le traducteur n'a pas utilisé le nom qui apparait dans le texte original où on ne trouve jamais autre que celui d'Odyssée.
    – b a
    Jul 1 at 16:04
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    Dire pourquoi un traducteur mort il y a plus de 400 ans a fait tel choix de traduction ne peut être que de la spéculation. Et quand on voit qu'autant en français qu'en italien (Ulisse) le terme vient du latin Ulixes (issu du grec Odusseús) et que dans beaucoup d'autres langues, même latines, le nom d'Ulysse est plus proche du nom grec, la réponse donnée semble une explication plausible.
    – None
    Jul 1 at 19:17
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I got curious and searched about.

Odysseus is the greek name of the hero, and Ulysses is the name how the Romans known him.

The first reference, in english, that I found.

Since the French language descended from the Latin of the Roman Empire, it makes sense.

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    This information is already in the question.
    – None
    Jul 2 at 5:30
  • I just want to put an emphasis on the French language root -- the Roman's Latin -- and make a note about it, it was for historical reasons.
    – D.Kastier
    Jul 2 at 11:51

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