Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Glossal Translation in the Lindisfarne Gospel According to Saint Matthew

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Glossal Translation in the Lindisfarne Gospel According to Saint Matthew

Article excerpt

1. Everyone who has ever looked at Old English manuscripts in the British Museum remembers the Lindisfarne Gospels. This beautiful specimen of medieval scriptorium works, illuminated in the Hiberno-Saxon style is hardy comparable in its artistic maturity to any medieval manuscript except perhaps, the Book of Kells. But this work is memorable not only for its ornamentally rich decorative motifs but also for the Northumbrian variety of Old English which is used in the glosses added to the Latin text. For a historical linguist they are an invaluable source of directly accessible information of the dialect on the one hand, and of the Latin-English grammatical relations, on the other hand. Much has been said about the dialectal characteristics of the glossal language, which was written some time in the tenth century by a priest named Aldred; the English dependence of this text on Latin has also attracted some attention. Little research, however, has been done on the glossator's art of transmitting one language int o another. (1) In this paper I shall try to show how the glossator managed to render the Latin original into his native language.

1.1. From time to time one reads about the ignorance of Latin on the part of the medieval scribe or even a glossator, who in many instances was the same man. (2) It happens that for lack of good knowledge of Latin and for often poor education, and the meagre intelligence of monks who were copyists their works are not free from errors of various kind. (3) This almost proverbially bad opinion about the reliability of a medieval scribe can be partly attributed to the status the scriptoria had. It was there that the monks did their penitential work: "in the scriptoria of the monasteries scribere, to copy manuscripts, was regarded as manual labor and consequently as a form of penitence" (Le Goff 1985: 81). Since books were produced manually, medieval scholars did not necessarily have to have the ability to write, they could dictate their works to a scribe, as is reminded by some historical linguists like Derolez (1992: 25), or Mitchell (1995: [section]292), both making references to earlier sources. This is only o ne very important aspect of the medieval religious culture and learning. There is a second, very different aspect: a painful demand of written literature not only in Latin, but also, and above all, in the vernacular translations (see Alfred's and AElfric's Prefaces to their works). Although scribere was manual labour, "the very lowest form of an activity widely held in contempt" (Le Goff 1985: 80), this labour was desperately needed for providing a means for the clergy to better realize and achieve their essential aim: to pray, to contemplate and to preach. Obviously, to make a translation or a glossal adaptation of the Latin original did require of their authors a good competence, even bilingualism, in church Latin, as well as some gift of rendering Latin into an acceptable and understandable vernacular language. That the problem of the accuracy and the reliability of a medieval scribe is far from being settled is clearly seen in Lapidge (1994) who in note five to his article cites two extreme views: scribes as monastic 'blockheads' and scribes as competent translators. He himself is of the opinion that the truth is in between the two extremes.

1.2. That glosses in the Lindisfarne Gospels are not one-to-one mechanical renderings, but rather conscious, occasionally very careful "interpretive translations" make one appreciate Aldred's creative labour of glossating so differently from the scribe's copying in the scriptoria. The linguistic aspects of these verbal efforts show clearly that the strict sense or the word "gloss" that the medieval scholar knows so well, in this respect is not a most fortunate one. I would rather refrain from calling the Lindisfarne interlinear texts glosses and would rather suggest other terms: either a glossal translation or continuous interlinear glosses, the latter expression is sometimes used by glossologists. …

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