'Hungrie Shadows': Pierre Sala and His Yvain

Article excerpt

Pierre Sala's intralingual translation of Chrétien's Yvain (1520) inflects the source text not simply linguistically but also ideologically, to chime with the tastes and preferences of his sixteenth-century readers. (JHMT)

Pierre Sala has never had a particularly good press: this unscrupulous plagiarist, it used to be said, copied Chrétien's Yvain more or less verbatim, with only a scattering of meschans vers de sa façon [wretched verses of his own composition].1 This is all the sadder in that Pierre Sala's Yvain-or more precisely, to use his own title, Le Chevalier au Lion-completed in about 1522, is the work of an enthusiast,2 what would later3 be called an 'antiquarian.' Yvain is not his only Arthurian adaptation: he also translated or adapted a version of the Tristan legend, Le Roman de Tristan de Leonnois et de la belle Reine Yseulte;4 he compiled a volume of Antiquitez de Lyon, and another devoted to the Hardiesses de plusieurs roys et empereurs;5 he collected antiquities, sedulously, and built himself what amounted to a small medieval château, l'Antiquaille, in Lyon. True, more recent critics have been kinder: François Suard uncovered a preamble where Pierre makes his debt to Chrétien perfectly clear,6 and the text's recent editor, Pierre Servet, salutes the Renaissance Yvain as presenting at the very least a réécriture 'fût-elle de moindre envergure que celle du maÎtre' [even if of less merit than his master's].'7

What I intend in this paper is not rehabilitation, on aesthetic or translational grounds: Servet's excellent edition, and especially its long and very full introduction, has done much to show just how Pierre Sala's translation, which seems at first sight so close as to be often slavish, in fact cuts, extends, and rewrites the original, in the interests of simplification, narrative logic, clarity, vraisemblance. This paper argues, however, that there is an important additional dimension, an ideological component, to his proceedings (something Servet touches on, but does not elaborate). What I say will be based in the first instance on Pierre Sala's 'translation' of Kay (Keu), one of whose interventions he subjects to a number of what could seem to be minor cuts and simple abridgments, unremarkable tricks of style;8 I then move on to two other crucial rewritings, the first recounting the remarkable change of heart that brings Laudine to accept Yvain as her husband, the second the scene where Gauvain unscrupulously persuades a suspiciously willing Yvain that for the sake of his reputation he must leave the wife he has just married and pursue chivalric renown. I suggest that the translational moves in these three sections of the text, many of which seem quite minor, amount in fact to a process characteristic of late-medieval and Renaissance romance adaptation and intralingual translation:9 a process of what I have elsewhere called 'textual management,'10 whereby the social language of romance-myths, legends, rituals, symbols, stock characters, topoi-is appropriated, as a rhetorical and ideological enterprise, to affirm the nostalgic values assigned to Arthurian romance. Translation, of course, is always a hermeneutic enterprise, a process of reception and appropriation, however little this is expressed and however little conscious it is11-and Pierre Sala, contrary to appearances, has a complex, dialectical relationship with his source text, and no doubt too with his target audience,12 one that may allow us privileged insights into socio-cultural phenomena in his own, the target, culture.

Let me start, then, with an episode whose editorial moves, in the transition from twelfth- to sixteenth-century verse, will, I hope, begin to show precisely how revealing are the text-management processes deployed by Pierre: a sour little commentary from Kay to be found in the opening episode of Chrétien's Yvain. The reader will remember that, having heard about Calogrenant's debacle at the Fountain in the Forest of Broceliande, Yvain, with a sort of grandiloquent verbal fanfare, had sworn to salvage his cousin's honor. …


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