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19.11.09 De Leemans/Goyens (eds.), Translation and Authority

19.11.09 De Leemans/Goyens (eds.), Translation and Authority

This volume is a collection of papers given at the Cardiff Conference on the Theory and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages held in 2013. In addition to an introduction from the editors, Pieter De Leemans and Michèle Goyens, the volume includes twenty-four essays on an impressively wide range of authors and texts all focused on the "complex and multifaceted" ways that "medieval translation practices and authority" relate to one another (9). Because the essays are on such widely varying authors and texts and because many of the essays are narrowly focused, it is less likely to be useful to a researcher as a whole than as essays taken singly. Thus, I have taken the approach here of commenting briefly on the nature of each essay so that readers will have a sense of which will be of greatest interest and use for them. Overall, however, it can be said that the book as a whole advances our appreciation for the complications generated by translation in the middle ages. Each article presents new insights on compelling topics and can provide a new look at how specific practices of producing, reading, or evaluating translations and translators can help us better understand medieval notions of authority. Scholars interested in translation, authority, and authorship would be well served in reading the chapters that are most relevant to their research.

The essays are organized into several groups. First, Paul Wackers' "Authority in Middle Dutch" (17-38) and Joëlle Ducos' "Que traduire en français? Traductions uniques et traductions multiples" (39-52) show from two different angles how translations from Latin into the vernacular could serve a multiplicity of cultural purposes and operate according to different models. Wackers examines translations of the Bible, Augustine, and Boethius into Middle Dutch and concludes that the process of translation did not necessarily lower the "authority level" (17) of the translation because that authority was located firmly in the original and not dependent on the language used. Ducos examines why some texts were translated multiple times into French when others did not enjoy such attention. Tracing the parameters of when and how such decisions were made can indicate what kind of cultural legacy these translations transmitted.

The second group of essays focuses on the translator and the extent to which a translator could be authoritative or an authority. Charles Burnett, in "The Translator as an Authority" (53-68), considers Gerard of Cremona, who produced valuable translations of Arabic texts into Latin. His students (socii) compiled a list of his works, and analysis of their introduction to that lists reveals that they viewed Gerard "almost as an author" (61) and that what we know of his legacy suggests that others shared that view. Michelle Bolduc's "The Form of Authority in Medieval Translations: Brunetto Latini's Translations of Cicero" (69-82) proposes that different forms of text could provide grounds for different forms of authority. Brunetto deploys "translation as secondary commentary" but also "translation as paraphrase and compilation" to direct attention his own multifaceted authority. In "Langue de l''aucteur' et langue du 'translateur'? Réflexions sur la langue de Nicolas de Gonesse" (83-96) Graziella Pastore contrasts the approaches that Nicolas de Gonesse takes as translator and as commentator of Valerius Maximus' Facta et dicta memorabilia. A text that in its original could be opaque or difficult to read becomes, with Nicolas de Gonesse's particular apparatus, appealing and accessible through this stylistic as well as linguistic "double caractére" (96). Ian Johnson's "Authority and the Translation of Boethian Selves: John Walton, James I, and Thomas Usk" (97-114) proposes that the De consolatione philosophiae was an ideal text for translators interested in their own selves because it "was supremely authoritative as a work with shareable self-referentiality" (98). Johnson traces how each of these translators negotiated the original text and their translation to construct and justify their "authorial sel[ves]" (113).

The third group of essays focuses on authoritative texts. Marcela K. Perett, in "The Un-Authoritative Translation: Ælfric's Book of Genesis and the Need for External Authority" (115-128), argues that although Ælfric of Eynsham desired to follow in the footsteps of Jerome, he was unable to produce a translation in the same mode. Thus he restricted the use of his biblical translation to those who could also access the original because he was conscious of the limitations and "inadequacies" of his Old English sense translation (127). In "Translating the Context in the Orrmulum" (129-142) Sharon Rhodes makes a case for taking seriously Orrm's claim for his text as a translation (rather than as paraphrase, retelling, etc.). Analysis of his style, methods, and intended audience suggests that his goal was to make biblical stories linguistically and culturally accessible for the uneducated. Juliette Dor, in "John of Trevisa légitimise la traduction en langue anglaise (vers 1387)" (143-154) examines the fictive dialogue between a clerk and lord in John of Trevisa's translation of Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon. Dor situates the dialogue in the context of the larger contemporary debates about language in Oxford circles and suggests that "Sous le couvert d'un débat, l'auteur soulève tour à tour, parfois en les entrecroisant, les grandes questions et les grands axes de l'avencée de la vernacularité en Angleterre" (153). In "L'autorité et le développement d'une terminologie médicale aux XIVe et XVe siècles" (155-170), Ildiko Van Tricht presents a detailed analysis of the challenges facing medieval French translators of medical treatises to argue that, with some exceptions, "la terminologie latine reste omniprésente dans les traductions en moyen français, même si les procèdes utilisés par les traducteurs sont parfois fort divers, allant due xénisme à la périphrase" (170). In "Les traductions de l'Opus Agriculturae de Rutilius Aemilianus Palladius aux XIVe-XVe siècles et la création de néologismes" (171-190), Moreno Campetella catalogues and analyzes a number of neologisms in these translations of Palladius, concluding that they "constituait déjà le fleuron de la jeune République florentine, avant de former, à partir de 1410 environ, le cénacle culturel gravitant autour de la 'cour' médicéenne" (189). Although medieval translation usually calls to mind translations from Latin, Greek, or Arabic into vernaculars, Christine Gadrat-Ouerfelli examines the reverse in "Les traductions latines du livre de Marco Polo et l'autorité du texte" (191-202). Devisement du monde was immensely popular and translated into many languages, including into Latin. Gadrat-Ouerfelli offers some suggestions, though no definitive conclusions, on how the Latin translation affected the perceived authority of the text. An Smets, in "The Middle English Translation of the De falconibus by Albertus Magnus in The Kerdeston Cynegetical Manuscripts" (203-214), presents a description and starting analysis of translations of De Falconibus as found in the Kerdeston Hunting Book and the Kerdeston Hawking Book to lay the groundwork for future study. Anne Mouron, in "'Help thin Godric in Francrice': An Old French Life of Saint Godric" (215-228), calls attention to the "surprising" fact that although there is no "extant Middle English life of St Godric," there is "an Old French translation [that] has survived in a manuscript in the Mazarine Library in Paris, MS 1716" and that is worthy of further study in the context of medieval writings on Godric (220). in "À propos de la première traduction de l'Enfer de Dante: un modèle poétique?" (229-240), Stefania Vignali takes up the "indéniable" interest of this text as it is not only "la première traduction de cet ouvrage en langue française, mais aussi et surtout de la toute première œuvre du poète toscan á avoir été mise en français" (229). Vignali argues that the translator is demonstrably engaged in positioning French as a language of literary merit on par with Dante's Italian.

The final group of essays looks at who the audiences of translations were and how they received and used translations. In "Mechtild of Hackeborn as Spiritual Authority: The Middle English Translation of the Liber Specialis Gratiae" (241-254), Naoë Kukita Yoshikawa demonstrates that the choice of metaphors "retained in the Middle English translation" was strategic, and that they "seem to have been suited to an early fifteenth-century English audience who participated in the spirit of reform and rejuvenation of the church" (253). Thus, Mechtild can be received as "a spiritual authority for an English readership" (253). In "The Re-Invention of Authority in the Fifteenth-Century Translations of Richard Rolle's Emendatio Vitae" (255-274), Tamás Karáth shows that translations of Rolle "proved to be profitable in combating adherents of universal salvation" (274) and that that "polemical context" was created specifically and purposefully by the translation strategies used. In "Walter Hilton translateur d'auctoritates" (275-288), Marthe Mensah and Claude Schwerzig focus on the Mixed Life to show that although Hilton's writings "tirent leur authorité du fair que celle-ci leur vient de la tradition patristique et des théologiens auxquels ils se réfèrent," there were many ways in which he was actually a "novateur" (288) who carried authoritative weight for his readers. In "Interpretative Etymologies in Translations of the Golden Legend" (289-302), Courtney Rydell looks at how writers such as Chaucer, Jean de Vignay, William Caxton, Nicholas Bozon, and Osbern Bokenham valued the authority and authorship of Jacobus de Voragine through use and adaption of his etymologies, an oft-neglected part of the Golden Legend that may have been more important to its audiences than modern scholars give it credit for. In "Translating Christian Symbolism into Old Norse Mythology in Thirteenth-Century Norway" (303-314), Stefka G. Eriksen proposes reading a pragmatic equivalence between the original symbol of the Cross in the chanson de geste Elye de Saint Gille and the symbol of mead in its translation in the Elíss saga. Eriksen uses this interpretation to expand upon our understanding of "a dynamic and complex, but holistic Old Norse literary culture" (314). In "Vulgate Versus Vetus Latina: The Choices of Caesarius of Arles" (315-328), Igor Filippov points out that beyond knowing merely whether a Christian writer cited the Vulgate or the Vetus Latina in any given passage, we must also begin to decipher why that choice was made. Filippov uses Caesarius of Arles as a case study to demonstrate that such analysis is possible and valuable. In "Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram as a Commentary on the De anima. A Significant Case of Comparison between Authority and Translations in the Thirteenth Century" (329-344), Andrea Colli argues that medieval writers did not only cite and adapt authoritative quotations--at times "some adages were made similar to other authorities" (329). The effect is that each author's authority becomes part and parcel of the translation of one author's text. In "Chauntecleer'sSmall Latin and the Meaning of Confusio in the Nun's Priest's Tale" (345-356), Stefania D'Agata D'Ottavi investigates the reasons behind Chauntecleer's mistranslation to suggest that part of what is at stake is the idea of "sin[ning] against language" (355). Finally, in "Aggressive Chaucer: Of Dolls, Drink and Dante" (357-376), Alastair Minnis (whose work has been foundational to many of the essays in this volume) takes issue with the long-standing and well-worn idea of Chaucer's self-portrayal as an "incompetent, bumbling narrator" (359). Instead, he calls attention to moments where Chaucer's self-portrayal is one of "confiden[ce] in the knowledge that whatever authority he may have is of his own making" (376).

Note: Chapters can also be purchased individually from their site in pdf format.