Franco, Synopsis


I first learned of Antonio Franco’s chronicle from reading Francisco Rodrigues’ Historia da Companhia de Jesus na Assistencia de Portugal, while preparing to write my PhD dissertation in 1977.  Rodrigues drew heavily on Franco to describe the trials of Jesuits in the court of the kings of Kongo in the seventeenth century.  I was intrigued, because the standard histories of Kongo at the time by Jean Cuvelier, Louis Jadin, W. G. L. Randles, Georges Balandier and others did not mention or use this source which seemed to have a wealth of information.  So when I visited Portugal to complete my research in 1978, I looked up the book in the Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa.  I was pleasantly surprised to see in it many details about the politics of Kongo in the mid-seventeenth century that I was unaware of, as there were very few documents relating to the period in António Brásio’s Monumenta Missionaria Africana the usually comprehensive and standard source for documents of the seventeenth century. Because I was not very good in Latin, I made a microfilm of the relevant sections to study them more closely, and I was able to glean enough from the text to add important sections in my dissertation, completed in 1979 and published in 1983.

I visited Franco again on occasion in the years that followed, but my weakness in Latin prevented me from understanding more than an overview, even when using the summaries from Rodrigues as a guide.  However, in 2002, when my wife and long time historical collaborator, Linda Heywood and I were doing research for our book, Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles and the Foundation of the Americas, we realized that this text was vital to understanding the historical events we were studying.  We both struggled with the Latin, and finally, recognizing our weakness, we decided to enlist the help of my mother, Mary K. Thornton (professionally known as M. K. Thornton) a professor of Classics at Miami University of Ohio in our efforts.

She was glad to take up the challenge, and at first she supplied us with answers to direct queries about this or that word or phrase, but eventually, we decided to ask her to do a full translation as a project which we hoped we might publish.  She accepted the offer in 2003 and began work in earnest.  By the end of the year, she had produced a complete but preliminary and thus rough translation of the text.  Part of the problem was that while M. K. Thornton was trained in Classical Latin, the text was in competent but a much later version of Latin.  Furthermore, Franco’s primary sources were written in Portuguese, which was also his native language.  There were consequently many Portuguese calques in the text, as well as words in Kikongo (grammatically regularized to Latin) and she was stumped by them.  So we began a long back and forth exchange of texts, by email, where Heywood and I sought to smooth out the translation and explicate the calques.  We then sent these proposed re-translations back to M. K. Thornton for acceptance or revision.  Unfortunately, my mother and collaborator died on 12 April 2005, when the work was not completed.

It was with great sadness that Heywood and I came to her study following her passing to see the folding card table where she insisted she work, with our text, her large Latin dictionary, and her half completed reconciliation of the latest text revision neatly laid on them.  It was some consolation to think that she passed her last day on earth doing what she loved.  Because the work had not been finished, we did not want to publish our results, though we both wished to see them available to the scholarly public in memory of my mother.  The opportunity to publish the preliminary versions for the scholarly public to use and hopefully to revise and comment upon is now with us, thanks to this project.

M. K. Thornton:  An Appreciation

My mother was a consummate scholar and a great example to me.  My father was an officer in the U. S. Air Force while I was growing up, and my mother, with four children to raise, stayed at home in accordance with the custom of those days.  However, she did avail herself of the opportunity to earn a Masters of Classics at the University of Michigan when my father was ordered to earn an MBA by the Air Force, a degree which she was awarded in 1952.  For most of my youth, therefore, I never thought it strange to come home from school and meet my mother, sitting in her favorite chair, gleefully reading Homer in Greek or Suetonius in Latin.  She was also there for me, and when I was in fifth grade I asked her if she would teach me German  since they didn’t offer languages in school, she agreed and for the next four years she guided me through German.  She also gave me my first lessons in French, and started me in Latin, though I didn’t get far enough in that.

In 1966 my father retired from the Air Force and returned to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan to work on a PhD in Business Administration, and my mother also returned to seek her own PhD in the Classics Department at Michigan.  During those years, I had the honor, as the only member of the family who could type,  to type her papers for her.  I was old enough to recognize what a careful and diligent scholar she was, especially in matters pertaining to language.  I knew from my experience as her German student the knack she had for grammar and for paying close attention to the semantic fields of words.  She was in so many ways my inspiration as a scholar and someone whose work I consistently admired and strove as much as I could to emulate.

Unfortunately, in 1968 the head of Classics at Michigan informed her that “Michigan had never granted a PhD to a woman and never would” and that should she attempt her oral examinations, she would fail.  Undeterred, she completed her PhD, in Humanities, at Florida State University, before eventually joining the Classics Department at Miami of Ohio.  She published many articles, a book (jointly with my father) and put the lie to her former mentors at Michigan, becoming a full professor.

Kongo in Synopsis Annalium

Antonio Franco’s passages relating to Kongo and Angola were not drawn from any known published or unpublished source, and he gave no indication of the source himself.  However, there is good reason to believe that the author from whom he drew his information was the rector of the Jesuit mission to Kongo, Joã0 de Paiva.  The details on Kongo derived almost exactly from the time when Paiva was living in Kongo, and there is a notable lacuna during the one year period when he visited Angola, a period in which Angolan details suddenly become more vivid.  Similarly, the detail on Kongo ceases when Paiva left the country, driven out by the Dutch invasion, in 1642, for Brazil.

Franco, Synopsis Text