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20.08.38 Karáth, Richard Rolle

20.08.38 Karáth, Richard Rolle

Scholarship on the fourteenth-century contemplative Richard Rolle has seen a resurgence in the past few years, much of it characterized by intensive scrutiny of manuscript sources, analysis of Rolle's relatively unexamined Latin works, and attention to the posthumous reception of his writings by copyists and compilers. Tamás Karáth joins this wave of studies with the first monograph-length examination of Rolle's legacy and authority as it was shaped by his fifteenth-century translator-editors.

The study is grounded in corpus analysis and philological approaches. Karáth sets out to examine the transformation of Rolle's legacy in the fifteenth century by comparing his translators' renderings with the works in their original languages, whether Latin or English. Particular attention is given to translations that reveal "a palpable awareness of the translated nature of the text" (11). Karáth examines these not as neutral or mechanical instances of "interlingual transfer," but as records of "particular modes in Rolle's reception" that deployed Rolle's authority in specific fifteenth-century contexts, namely, through modification or articulation of his mystical or theological systems (2-3). Translations of Rolle's writings concentrate on a small portion of his oeuvre, but they nonetheless constitute a sizeable corpus. Karáth studies translations of full works, not fragments. Of these, Richard Misyn's English translation of the Incendium amoris survives in three copies; at least seven independent English translations of the popularEmendatio vite are scattered across sixteen manuscripts; and the English Ego dormio and Form of Living were each translated into Latin, now found together in a single manuscript. Karáth works against what he sees to be two prevailing assumptions about translation activity in fifteenth-century England. One holds that medieval translation was a matter of competition between Latinate and vernacular culture, whereby vernacular translation operated in opposition to clerical Latinity. Karáth observes, on the contrary, that the Latin and English translations of Rolle reveal several common concerns and strategies. A second assumption is that a translator's decision to render a source text into English was necessarily a confrontational act, particularly after the promulgation of Thomas Arundel's Constitutiones (1407/9). Karáth makes the salutary reminder, however, that Arundel's strictures competed with other contemporary voices, both in England and on the continent, to provide a context for translators' activities. None of Rolle's translators appears to have been concerned about the risks they might have been assuming in taking up their translation activity.

In four chapters, a conclusion, and a series of appendices, Karáth shows how Rolle's legacy was heavily inflected by the work of his fifteenth-century translators. Chapter 1, "Rolle in Hindsight: Legacy and Translations," begins with a useful preliminary survey of the voices that contributed to Rolle's conflicted authority and reception in the fourteenth century, and provides context for his reception in the fifteenth. Early attempts to cast Rolle in the mold of a saint met with criticism of his theology and the sensory elements of his mysticism by the likes of Walter Hilton and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. This mixed reception, as Nicholas Watson has discussed, has not always been acknowledged in modern popular portraits and scholarship. Much of the available record of Rolle's life comes from the Officium et miracula of Rolle, compiled by Cistercian nuns in a clear attempt to make the case for Rolle's canonization. Yet others mistrusted elements of Rolle's mystical program, particularly his claims about the physical reality of the mystical experiences of calor, dulcor, and canor, and some took issue with his itinerant lifestyle. Karáth's discussion provides the groundwork for understanding the markedly different concerns of the fifteenth-century translators. While it is possible to discern some mild skepticism of elements of Rolle's theological program in some of the translations, the physical sensations of Rolle's mystical scheme appear to have been largely embraced. Chapter 1 also points out that translation and self-interpretation were central concepts in Rolle's own work. Rolle's attempts to communicate his contemplative experiences appeared first in Latin but then moved into English, likely in the later stages of his career, even as he remained primarily a Latin author. In one case, Rolle also brought biblical commentary into the vernacular, namely, the English Psalter, after having first produced a Psalter commentary in Latin. Against this backdrop, Rolle's fifteenth-century translators may be seen as extending a project that Rolle himself began; their work continued the endeavor of transferring Rolle's contemplative system not only into different languages, but also new rhetorical modes, with new emphases, and for new audiences.

Karáth's second chapter, "The Latin Translations of Ego dormio and The Form of Living," examines how these translations deployed Rolle's authority to espouse theological and contemplative emphases that were not explicit concerns in the original English. In the Latin Ego dormio, Karáth marks what he considers to be two of the anonymous translator's systematic strategies. The first is to adjust the narrative frame of the text to fit a new institutional context. The intimacy of address to a solitary female contemplative in Rolle's original is channeled through a more pronounced dialogic form to suit what may have been a monastic community. The second strategy is to stress the nature and consequence of sins in order to deploy Rolle's established authority to refute the concept of universal situation. Karáth treats the Latin translation of The Form of Living (De modo vivendi), which comes before the Latin Ego dormio in the same manuscript, as an "afterthought" (73-75). He suggests that the lack of significant revision in this text stems from the fact that the English version was already cast as an instructive tract, and thus already adhered closely to the translator's ideological objectives (if indeed the same person translated this and the Ego dormio). It seems clear, however, that the text has been adjusted to address a (possibly male) community, rather than a single female, and the translator has removed explicit references to female readers.

Chapter 3, "Richard Misyn's Translation of Incendium amoris," argues that Misyn's interventions position him as a translator-editor whose own attitudes toward the affectivity of Rolle's contemplative system do not always overlap with what he found in the original Latin. While Misyn affirms the sensory experiences of Rolle's mysticism, the warmth that Rolle associates with the mystical ascent is discernible but muted. Associations of the mystical union with sweetness and song are also much less pronounced in the translation, and Misyn pays less attention to the involuntary responses to contemplative experience, like groaning and sighing. There are even signs that Misyn revised some of Rolle's claims about the deification of the soul. The result, Karáth claims, is a more disciplined text that caters to a less emotional contemplative experience.

Karáth's final chapter, "The English Translations of Rolle's Emendatio vite," presents an extensive and detailed study of the ways in which all seven main translations of theEmendatio overwrite the affectivity and theology of Rolle's Latin original. Karáth notes that the disparate translations are remarkably cohesive. This observation leads him to read isolated passages in terms of "a process indicating new sensitivities in the late medieval discourse of mysticism" (141). He briefly surveys the manuscript contexts of the translations for evidence of reception and intended audience. These translations, he notes, followed normal circulation patterns for devotional writings in the fifteenth century, though wealthy lay readership seems to have been more instrumental in their production and use than were religious orders such as the Carthusians. The chapter than moves to discuss the translation strategies of each primary variant. These range from cautious, word-for-word approaches to those that take more license and foreground the translator's work in elucidating, amplifying, reducing, or interpolating Rolle's Latin original. Karáth marks the greatest variance in renderings of the language of canor. Several translators mute or gloss over some of Rolle's eschatological language or modify apparent references to universal salvation. Translators also manipulate Rolle's language of the vocalized contemplative affects of sighing and groaning. The impression, as seen earlier in Misyn's translation of the Incendium, is that many of the translators of the Emendatio tamed such language in the interest of providing a more restrained or disciplined contemplative program.

Karáth observes in his conclusion that translations of Rolle's writings into both languages, far from being instances of rote interlingual transfer, shaped Rolle's authority for the devotional needs and contexts of fifteenth-century readers. He notes that scholarship of Rolle's fifteenth-century reception does not commonly address the translations, but that these represent valuable evidence of the ways in which his mysticism, theology, and authority were shaped and received.

The conclusion is followed by seven appendices that provide more evidence from Karáth's corpus analysis than was possible to include in the chapters themselves. The first five of these pertain to Richard Misyn's translations of the Incendium amoris and Emendatio vite. The first presents Misyn's additions to his translation of the Incendium in tabular form, categorized by type (long, short, error, added pronoun, etc.). The next lists Misyn's omissions to the same text. Appendix III classifies the instances in which Misyn's interventions in the Incendium present errors that change the meaning of what can be perceived in the Latin original (based on Deanesley's edition of the latter). The fourth appendix then charts the ways in which Misyn rendered terms pertaining to calor in the Incendium. Appendix V similarly presents Misyn's renderings of language associated with calor, canor, and the bodily responses to emotional fervor in the Emendatio. The sixth appendix lists omissions and additions to the C version translation of the Emendatio (New Haven, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Takamiya Collection, MS 66). Appendix VII lists mistranslations and original additions in the F translation of theEmendatio (Worcester, Cathedral Library, MS F.172).

Karáth's monograph is the most comprehensive treatment of the late-medieval translations of Rolle to date. It makes an important contribution to our knowledge of Rolle's continued significance in the fifteenth century, the period when the vast majority of surviving Rolle manuscripts of any kind were produced. The comments I offer here do not touch on what is essential to Karáth's main argument, which is sound and impressive, but rather point to possible further directions of research.

This volume provides a thorough examination of the work of Rolle's translator-editors and is grounded in a generous enumeration of evidence in the appendices. One could hardly expect more to have been included, though there are a couple of points that might have been addressed or framed somewhat differently. The first is the claim, found most explicitly on p. 3 and again on p. 244, that the translators' editorial work "allowed for more spectacular leaps in the interpretation of the text as opposed to the "silent" or almost imperceptible revisions via copying the untranslated original" (244). The evidence for intricate re-casting of Rolle's writing and authority by his translators is clear from this study. It is likely true that translators did more to re-cast Rolle than did copyists of the works in the original languages, at least on the level of the text, though the claim must remain provisional, given the spotty state of critical editions of Rolle's Latin works in particular. There is plenty of evidence, however, that copyists and compilers of the untranslated works actively shaped Rolle's legacy in other relevant ways. Karáth helpfully examines the manuscript contexts of the translations and uses them to offer speculation about the patronage and reception of these texts. Yet compilations of the untranslated material also provide evidence for the shaping of Rolle's authority to suit a variety of fifteenth-century contexts and interests. For example, several collections of his Latin writings (e.g., Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 861 and Oxford, Corpus Christ College, MS 193) appear to be attempts to compile Rolle's opera omnia. But they are certainly collections for which Rolle's authorship is the organizing principle--a phenomenon that is increasingly pronounced in fifteenth-century Europe. Other cases outside of England show how Rolle's authority was redeployed without inter-lingual transfer. Prague, Narodní knihovna, MS X.B.22 divides up much of Rolle's Latin Psalter and arranges it with Gorranus as a series of glosses around the central Psalter text. The copy of Rolle's Emendatio vite in Bautzen, MS 4o 25 situates the text amidst controversial writings of Jan Hus and John Wyclif (many similar examples could be adduced). My point is not that the author should have made these compilations his subject, but rather that significant reframing of Rolle's authorship and ethos can be discerned in fascinating ways in contexts that do not involve inter-lingual translation.

Perhaps closer to the author's subject are the Wycliffite revisions of Rolle's English Psalter, which are mentioned briefly in this study but might have been treated more fully. The Wycliffite revisions do not present translations from one language to another, but they certainly do re-cast Rolle ("translate," in the broader sense in which the term is used in this volume) for new audiences in ways that seem consistent with many of the concerns of this study.

Finally, Karáth's observation that the variants of the English Emendatio share much in common is intriguing and worth considering further. He uses the observation to make a claim about shared sensitivities in the development of fifteenth-century mysticism in England, which seems sensible. It might also be interesting to point out the unlikelihood that the production of these variants was centrally planned or executed (nor does the author claim that it was), or that the various translators were even aware that others were translating the same text. In fact, the likelihood that these translations were produced without knowledge of the others, each for a specific audience or reader, makes the popularity of the text even more impressive and adds to the picture of widespread copying of the Latin versions (in England and on the continent). The fact that these translations are so cohesive suggests that the contemplative emphases that they share (again, independently) were likewise widespread, not the pet project of a single translator or institution.

This thorough analysis makes an important and welcome contribution to Rolle studies, particularly for those interested in the making of Rolle as an author in late-medieval England. It also offers significant insights for the study of late-medieval authorship and translation more generally. Karáth's monograph shows that corpus analysis and manuscript source study continue to be fruitful and essential activities in each of these areas.​