Joan Tasker Grimbert

title.none: Beer, ed., Translation Theory and Practice (Grimbert)

identifier.other: baj9928.9802.006 98.02.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Joan Tasker Grimbert, Catholic University of America,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Beer, Jeanette, ed. Translation Theory and Practice in the Middle Ages. Studies in Medieval Culture, vol. 38. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997. Pp. 282. $40.00 (hb); $20.00 (pb). ISBN: ISBN 1-879-28881-8 (hb); 1-879-28882-6 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.02.06

Beer, Jeanette, ed. Translation Theory and Practice in the Middle Ages. Studies in Medieval Culture, vol. 38. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997. Pp. 282. $40.00 (hb); $20.00 (pb). ISBN: ISBN 1-879-28881-8 (hb); 1-879-28882-6 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Joan Tasker Grimbert
Catholic University of America

This fine collection of essays by a distinguished group of scholars takes its title from that of the Translation Symposium organized by Beer at the 28th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in May, 1993. In her book, Beer sought to preserve the character of the Symposium, which she claims was "provocative by the multi-faceted nature of the papers and by the diversity and, sometimes, real divergence of the participants' points of view" (1). The "diversity" is borne out by the scope of the collection; indeed, in some ways the ground covered is even broader than that indicated in the title, since the concept of "translation" is often explored in the broadest sense of translatio. The "divergence," on the other hand, is much less apparent. It would have been helpful if Beer had attempted in her introduction to touch on key points that may have been the focus of animated discussion during the Symposium.

Most of the essays focus on the problems encounterd by medieval translators rendering or glossing a wide variety of Latin texts (the Bible, scientific treatises, encyclopedias, dictionaires, literature) in the vernacular (Old and Middle French, Old and Middle English), but two essays, by medievalists who have also distinguished themselves as translators, highlight the difficulties of rendering a particularly rich medieval text in modern English. Although most of the contributors relate specific translations to the theory underlying the practice, some explore the socio-historical context and discuss the ideological considerations that inform the decisions made by a given translator. Indeed, we are constantly reminded that, as Rita Copeland notes, "the commonplaces about translation -- word for word, sense for sense, style, sentence, truth, and all their attendant values -- are never politically innocent" (183).

Although the volume spans a broad range of issues relating to translatio, certain themes run through the collection, some like veritable leitmotifs, making the various chapters mutually illuminating. It is hardly surprising, of course, that many of the authors cite Horace's and Cicero's famous recommendations to eschew literal translation in favor of literary invention. More surprising, perhaps, is the appearance in two very different essays of discussion of Dryden's translation theory, and similarly unexpected is the reference in two equally different chapters of the aims of the Lollard Bible translators. These unintended cross- references lend to the volume a comfortable feeling of community, reinforced by the fact that the authors of many of the chapters buttress their arguments with reference to books or articles written by those of their distinguished colleagues who are also contributors to the volume. Under these circumstances, the addition of two extra features, notes on the contributors and an index, would have enhanced this sense of community and increased the value of this volume.

I have set out below a capsule description of each of the fifteen essays, preserving Beer's ordering, which has the merit of underscoring the complementarity of various contributions.

1. Roger Wright, "Translation between Latin and Romance in the Early Middle Ages." Of primary concern in a volume of this sort is the relationship that Latin bore to Romance from Late Antiquity up to the moment when the vernacular was perceived as a separate language. Wright situates this point much later than most linguists and thus contends that literal translation between Latin and any variety of Romance did not occur until the twelfth-century Renaissance, when the divergence between Latin and the vernaculars was finally perceived as great enough to necessitate translation. Wright contends that at least until the late eighth century, the Early Medieval Romance- speaking world formed one speech community, with the social and stylistic internal variation that is normal in all such wide speech communities. Within this community, reading aloud made texts of various kinds intelligible to interested but illiterate listeners, who thus were not cut off from written culture. The authors of many different Carolingian documents recognized this fact, although they also understood the need to simplify their language. When reading aloud, lectores spoke the words carefully and with the pronunciation normal to the time and place.

The real "conundrum," according to Wright is the emergence of Medieval Latin as a conceptually separate entity alongside the normal vernacular Romance. He proposes to "blame it on the English": whereas in the Romance-speaking world learning Grammatica meant learning to write the language one spoke, in the British Isles by the time of Bede, Grammatica had to be taught and learned as a foreign language, making translation necessary. Grammatica was first taught on the basis of the reading aloud of written forms, and the pronunciation taught apparently involved the oral production of a specified sound for each written letter. The conceptual difference between Latin and Romance emerged when this Anglo-Saxon tradition became politically powerful in the Romance cultural world; i.e., when Alcuin tried to impose this artificial Grammatica as the norm in the Carolingian empire ca. 800. Since this new type of pronunciation was probably required only in the church services, the famous edict of the Council of Tours of 813 prescribing the use in homilies of the rustica romana lingua or Germanic may well reflect the realization that sermons were widely unintelligible in the new pronunciation. Another important catalyst in this process may have been Hrabanus Maurus's increasingly positive attitude towards the value of a written form for Germanic.

2. Robert Stanton, "The (M)other Tongue: Translation Theory and Old English." In a chapter that nicely complements Wright's, Stanton emphasizes that the driving force behind early English translation was not only social and religious but also linguistic, for the public could not understand Latin read aloud. Alfred the Great's translation program marked a watershed in the early development of English, since the literary form of the vernacular defined itself largely in relation to Latin. Stanton laments the lack of attention traditionally devoted in histories of translation and of the English language to two important developments: that Old English evolved largely as a medium of translation from Latin, and Middle English partly as a language of translation from French. Noting the need for a theoretically based approach to researching the matter of early English translation and the relative scarcity of explicit translation theory in Anglo- Saxon England itself, he formulates approaches that draw on elements of classical and post-medieval theory. He discusses the influence on King Alfred of the translation theory of Horace and Cicero filtered through Jerome and Gregory the Great and stresses the importance of considering the aspect of orality, since Old English poetry was composed and diffused orally. He also discusses the applicability of John Dryden's definition of three types of translation and Eugene Nida's notions of formal and dynamic equivalence.

3. Douglas Kelly, "The Fides interpres: Aid or Impediment to Medieval Translation and Translatio?" Kelly examines how Horace's rejection of the fides interpres ("faithful translator") lends insight into the ways medieval schools practiced translation, taught composition, and prepared their pupils to be future authors. Horace's ideas influenced the authors of medieval treatises, such as Matthew of Vendome and Geoffrey of Vinsauf, that were studied in the schools. Medieval authors viewed translation as literary invention, using pre-existent source material (a variety of translatio studii). In "translating" their Latin sources, they followed Horace's dictum to treat in their own way souce material that was common, omitting inept material and inserting new matter in order to produce a version that was coherent and consistent throughout. Evidence that this practice existed can be found in the concept of interpretatio described in medieval arts of poetry and prose and in the actual practice in works for which we have the sources that the rewriters apparently used. Kelly defines Interpretatio as a figure of speech by which one restates the same idea in different sentences and states that all devices for amplification in Geoffrey's treatise are species of restatement. The one apparent exception is digression, but if it is a digressio utilis or a mise en abyme, it is also a mode of restatement. Kelly concludes that "infidelity to source, and thus unfaithful translation, is what we must expect and, in all its intertextual implications, what we must look for and study" (58).

4. Ann W. Astell, "Translating Job as Female." Astell begins by considering how biblical exegesis -- in particular, Gregory the Great's Moralia in Job --translated (interpreted) Job as feminine. Gregory's allegorical interpretation of the Book of Job simultaneously genders and displaces its literal meaning as feminine in a way that invites Chaucer to reverse that reading in his Clerk's Tale where he returns a female Job in the form of Walter's sorely tried wife Griselda. Chaucer introduces the Joban intertext into his translation of his Petrarchan source, thus converting "a classical stoic exemplum of constantia mentis into a Christian legend of salvific suffering and all conquering love" (66). In order that Griselda be seen as stoically adhering to her vow never to oppose Walter's wishes, Chaucer displaces onto male characters (e.g., Griselda's father, the Clerk narrator) the display of emotion typically gendered as feminine. He also allows Griselda to express herself both in touching prayer and double- meaning responses to Walter.

Chaucer's tale effectively subverts the Gregorian scriptural model. "When a Christlike Job who has been gendered as feminine in biblical commentary is reliteralized as a female protagonist in Chaucer's imitation of the Job story, the inherent contradictions and . . . misogyny of Gregorian exegesis stand exposed" (67). Gregory ostensibly ascribes fortitude to men, weakness to women. But Chaucer, by making Griselda an answer to the Wife of Bath, "calls attention to the incontrovertible binary in feminine gender symbolism. At one extreme, woman translates into carnality, weakness, foolishness, emotion, and loquacity; at the other, into the soul, sanctity, intuitive wisdom, mercy, justice, and silence" (68). "Woman" means opposite things, because weakness points to what is both the lowest and the highest: the carnal sensuality of an Eve, and the self-sacrifice of Christ" (69). In Griselda, Chaucer presents "the joining together of two extremes: physical and social vulnerability and divine grace -- feminine extremes that tempt Walter to exercise absolute domination but then draw him upward to reconcile himself with Griselda" (68).

5. Madeline H. Cavines, "Gender Symbolism and Text Image Relationships: Hildegard of Bingen's Scivias." Cavines argues for the inseparability of text and image as bearers of meaning in the lost illuminated manuscript of the Scivias, made under Hidegard's direction, probably at the Rupertsberg Abbey ca. 1165. She surmises that since Hildegard probably began the sketches at the same time she began taking notes, they represent a personal record of her visions. Image makes explicit what is left ambiguous in a text. Hildegard commonly used homo (person rather than man) to denote figures of the divinity, humankind, and even of herself, but pictorial representation is selective and privileges the feminine in ways that are not mandated by the words. The subversive nature of these drawings, which represent the Deity as female, no doubt accounts for the fact that this set of illuminations appears not to have been copied but rather was replaced by a far more conventional series. Cavines points to another way in which Hildegard "personalizes" these illuminations: her use of jagged contours may have been inspired by the migraine auras from which she suffered.

6. Peter F. Dembowski, "Scientific Translation and Translator's Glossing in Four Medieval French Translators." This chapter is concerned with the translator's glossing in Old or Middle French of Latin text -- interventions added not so much to explicate a given doctrine as to make more transparent the organization of the work and facilitate understanding of a given passage or term. Dembowski discusses (1) prefatory statements referring to the translation process; (2) redactorial interventions, such as section or chapter headings, cross-references made to these headings, tables of contents listing chapter divisions, and analytical indices; and (3) explanations and/or paraphrases of difficult terms or passages. For his first category Dembowski cites Jean de Mean's preface to his translation of Boethius's De consolatione philosophiae and Nicole Oresme's Proheme to Le Livre de Ethiques d'Aristote. For the second category he draws again on Oresme's translation of Aristotle's Ethics, and also on his translation of Aristotle's On the Heavens (Du Ciel) and of the pseudo-Aristotelian Le Livre de Yconomique, as well as the Old French Decretum Gratiani. The last category defined by Dembowski is illustrated by examples from all four works.

7. Claude Buridant, "La traduction du latin au francais dans les encyclopedies medievales a partir de l'exemple de la traduction des Otia imperialita de Gervais de Tilbury par Jean de Vignay et Jean d'Antioche." Buridant compares how two medieval translators, representing opposite conceptions of translation prevalent in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, dealt with the difficulties of rendering into French a medieval encyclopedia with content varying from scientific treatise to marvelous voyages. Jean de Vignay started with a rather rigorous literal style calqued upon the Latin to produce functional and semantic equivalence, although he evolved toward a freer style adapted to an unlettered audience. Jean d'Antioche recognized the strengths of both Latin and French and thus integrated the verbum e verbo mode into the sensus de sensu transposition.

8. Louis G. Kelly, "Medieval Psalm Translation and Literality." Kelly argues that vernacular translations of the Psalms depended not simply on the source text used but also on the translator's intention. Since the Psalter was used primarily for devotion and meditation, the translator often strayed from the kind of literal translation recommended by the Church in order to orient the reader toward the mystical sense. In so doing, he was influenced by the various glosses he had read. A comparison of four vernacular translations (two in French and two in English) of Psalm 7 from the Gallican Psalter serves to illustrate this point.

9. Rita Copeland, "Toward a Social Genealogy of Translation Theory: Classical Property Law and Lollard Property Reform." Building on her theory that certain themes of Cicero's translation theory in De optimo genere oratorum should be understood in terms of an aggressive cultural agenda in which Roman writers can displace their Greek sources, Copeland suggests further that Cicero's recommendation not to translate "word for word" but "in language that conforms to our usage," advances, as do Horace's recommendations in his Ars poetica, the notion of textual appropriation as property rights. She then demonstrates how the Lollards transposed in scriptural translation their political struggle against the established clergy. Just as they argued against private ownership of temporal goods by the Church, advocating redistribution of these goods, they wished to wrest Scripture from the control of an elite. "In its understanding of Scripture as wealth, Lollard thought is unreservedly communitarian: in invoking the classical distinction between literal and sense translation they 'invest' it with a completely new purpose, to undo the idea of singular, appropriative ownership of the text, and to instate the idea of communal property through a collective project of vernacular translation." (181)

10. Serge Lusignan, "Written French and Latin at the Court of France at the End of the Middle Ages." Lusignan explores the nature of the bilingualism of medieval France by analyzing several instances of translation from learned Latin into French and the use of both languages by royal notaries in the royal court of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Although there existed a situation of bilingualism, the relation between the two languages was one of diglossia, each language having its own area of specialization: French did not master the high style of rhetoric, but Latin also lacked words to render some information expressed orally in French legal testimonies. In either situation, the less fit language developed a mimetic relation with the other. Although it is difficult to determine which of the two languages translated the other, one may postulate that Latin and French performed as a unique linguistic system.

11. Brian Merrilees, "Translation and Definition in the Medieval Bilingual Dictionary." Merrilees examines several bilingual dictionaries (the Abavus and the Aalma, the Glossarium gallico-latinum, the Latin-French Lexicon in Montpellier H110 and Stockholm N78, the Dictionarius of Firmin Le Ver) to asssess the degree of bilingualism required for the profitable understanding of medieval Latin-French dictionaries. The nature of implied bilingual competence appears to change with the structural complexity of the dictionary concerned.

12. Christopher Baswell, "Troy Book: How Lydgate Translates Chaucer into Latin." Baswell investigates the links between John Lydgate's Troy Book, a translation of Guido delle Colonne's Historia destructionis Troiae that incorporates whole sections of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, and England's involvement in cultural and political self-translation under the leadership of Henry V. Lydgate aims in his Troy Book to create an English language of imperial exclusivity and stature both by linking the events of his narrative to Henry's imperial pretentions but also by using Chaucer's work to raise the hierarchical register of English to that of Latin.

13. Ian Johnson, "Vernacular Valorizing: Functions and Fashionings of Literary Theory in Middle English Translation of Authority." Johnson examines how the authors of two very different meditative translations vernacularize and anglicize terms and topoi deriving from a learned tradition of commentary on the Bible and auctores. He sees in Nicholas Love's Mirrour of the blessed lyf of Jesu Christ "a confident bid for vernacular canoncity buttressed by a comprehensive repertoir of anglicized terminology drawn from Latin prologue paradigms, and naturalized into idiomatic phraseology" (242). The Lollard Bible reveals a very different strategy: "Whereas Love's readers are enabled by a licensing directive to meditate on the Sacred Humanity under the careful supervision of a priest-translator, the Lollard Bible readers are presented . . . with a take-away home exegesis kit" designed to "empower vernacular readers a autonomous interpreters of Holy Writ" (245).

14. William W. Kibler, "Translating Chretien de Troyes: How Faithful?" Modern academic translation of a medieval text is the focus of the last two essays in the volume, and Kibler makes the transition by underscoring how differently most medieval translators (including Chretien de Troyes himself) viewed their task, which usually consisted of a free rendering of an earlier text. The modern academic translator, unlike the "literary" translator, attempts less to create a work of art than to render the original intelligible to readers who cannot read the original. Since the main difficulty facing the modern translator of Chretien is the alterity of the Middle Ages, Kibler examines three kinds of alterity that the would-be translator must face: 1) form (prose or poetry); 2) questions of grammar, syntax, style; 3) problems of culture and civilization. Since he believes the translation should sound as natural to a modern reader as Chretien's text sounded to a medieval reader, Kibler avoids all devices that might sound stilted, such as rhyming couplets, tortured syntax, and archaic language, but preserves some vestiges of medieval style and syntax (e.g., paired synonyms) and the terms that refer to specifically medieval customs, institutions, or objects.

15. David Staines, "On Translating Chretien de Troyes." Like Kibler, Staines begins his chapter by stressing that translation is an "impossible but necessary task." The statement that he reproduces from the introduction to his translations of Chretien's work reveals that his principles are remarkably similar to Kibler's. He has "tried to capture in modern English prose the meaning and the emphases of the original French poems"; he has "deliberately avoided archaic words and phrases" . . . as well as "contemporary colloquialisms," because neither characterize Chretien's own style. Recognizing that he "cannot reproduce the rhyme of Chretien's octosyllabic couplets," he hopes that he has been able to convey "something of the beauty and the wit of the original poetry" (272). Staines's chapter includes meditations by others who have written eloquently on translation: Paul Valery on the untranslatability of poetry, Ezra Pound's distinction between interpretive and non-interpretive translation, and Dryden's threefold classification distinguishing metaphase (literal), paraphrase (translation with latitude), and imitation (where the original disappears in a translator's self-absorbed exclusivity). Staines concludes that Dryden's "paraphrase" is the ideal non-interpretive translation, since it aims for transparency, the surrender or extinction of the self in the service of the original author. This discussion reaffirms the links that the reader of this volume cannot have failed to notice between the preoccupations of the modern translator and that of his medieval predecessors who have chosen to apply themselves to the "impossible but necessary task" of translation.