The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England

The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England

The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England

The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England

Synopsis

Translation was central to Old English literature as we know it. Most Old English literature, in fact, was either translated or adapted from Latin sources, and this is the first full-length study of Anglo-Saxon translation as a cultural practice. This 'culture of translation' was characterised by changing attitudes towards English: at first a necessary evil, it can be seen developing increasing authority and sophistication. Translation's pedagogical function (already visible in Latin and Old English glosses) flourished in the centralizing translation programme of the ninth-century translator-king Alfred, and English translations of the Bible further confirmed the respectability of English, while ¿lfric's late tenth-century translation theory transformed principles of Latin composition into a new and vigorous language for English preaching and teaching texts. The book will integrate the Anglo-Saxon period more fully into the longer history of English translation.ROBERT STANTON is Assistant Professor of English, Boston College, Massachusetts.

Excerpt

Anglo-Saxon glosses ― notations in a manuscript, made either between the lines or in the margins ― provide a fundamental starting point for the study of translation theory and practice. Manuscripts from all periods and geographical areas in the Middle Ages contain glosses, as both producers and readers annotated their texts in a continuing process of written interpretation. Glosses could be an individual reader's opinion, based on his or her own educational background; they could be the product of a classroom, either the lecturer's prepared notes or the students' own responses; very often they were drawn from an established tradition of previous glosses or commentaries and formed an inseparable part of the received knowledge about a particular text. Above all, glosses were interpretations, and in that sense they met a basic demand of religious, intellectual, and political life in the Middle Ages: to engage with a body of authoritative works (taken individually and together as a tradition) and animate them in a cultural milieu different from that in which they were originally written.

Glosses thus provide an important example of the production of knowledge. As an interpretive method, glossing serves as a measure of the ways in which the Anglo-Saxons made an imported religious culture their own. Glosses were a pedagogical tool to help Anglo-Saxons learn, not just the Latin language, but also the norms and limits of a whole interpretive tradition based on existing models such as commentaries and other glossed manuscripts. But it is the modification of the glossing tradition, I argue, which most closely characterizes the Anglo-Saxons' interpretation of Latin texts: by choosing to focus on particular texts, by dwelling on certain aesthetic aspects of those texts, and by developing interpretive habits of their own, Anglo-Saxon readers, principally monastic and clerical, came to define for themselves an interpretive culture based on their own needs and characterized by their own preoccupations.

At the heart of the interpretive urge is a dynamism that does not merely receive and pass on knowledge, but fundamentally changes the nature of its object, making it the pretext for a new text; this new text justifies its own authority by virtue of its status as an interpretive access to the original. The . . .

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