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Rethinking Medieval Translation

Rethinking Medieval Translation: Ethics, Politics, Theory

Emma Campbell
Robert Mills
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Rethinking Medieval Translation
    Book Description:

    ‘Engaging and informative to read, challenging in its assertions, and provocative in the best way, inviting the reader to sift, correlate and reflect on the broader applicability of points made in reference to a specific text or exchange.’ Professor Carolyne P. Collette, Mount Holyoke College. Medieval notions of ‘translatio’ raise issues that have since been debated in contemporary translation studies concerning the translator's role as interpreter or author; the ability of translation to reinforce or unsettle linguistic or political dominance; and translation's capacity for establishing cultural contact, or participating in cultural appropriation or effacement. This collection puts these ethical and political issues centre stage, asking whether questions currently being posed by theorists of translation need rethinking or revising when brought into dialogue with medieval examples. Contributors explore translation - as a practice, a necessity, an impossibility and a multi-media form - through multiple perspectives on language, theory, dissemination and cultural transmission. Exploring texts, authors, languages and genres not often brought together in a single volume, individual essays focus on topics such as the politics of multilingualism, the role of translation in conflict situations, the translator's invisibility, hospitality, untranslatability and the limits of translation as a category. Emma Campbell is Associate Professor in French at the University of Warwick; Robert Mills is Lecturer in History of Art at University College London. Contributors: William Burgwinkle, Ardis Butterfield, Emma Campbell, Marilynn Desmond, Simon Gaunt, Jane Gilbert, Miranda Griffin, Noah D. Guynn, Catherine Léglu, Robert Mills, Zrinka Stahuljak, Luke Sunderland

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-059-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Introduction: Rethinking Medieval Translation
    (pp. 1-20)

    Why might medieval translation need rethinking? Why ethics, why politics? In one sense, after all, medievalists are arguably ahead of the game when it comes to exploring the political and ethical dimensions of translation. The Latin concept of translatio, which assumed from at least the ninth century an explicit cultural meaning through its association with the model of translatio studii et imperii, has long been linked with ideas of translation as an ideological as well as a more narrowly linguistic or textual phenomenon. French monarchs, following the death of Charlemagne, sought to assert claims to cultural and political superiority by...

  7. 1 On Not Knowing Greek: Leonzio Pilatus’s Rendition of the Iliad and the Translatio of Mediterranean Identities
    (pp. 21-40)

    Both Francesco Petrarca (1304–74) and Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–75) wished to know Greek and tried to know Greek. Of course, neither Boccaccio nor Petrarch – along with most of the learned elite of the medieval West – ever acquired the facility to read ancient Greek texts.² By Petrarch’s own account, he was nonetheless forever drawn back to Greek, or at least to a few ancient Greek authors, primarily to Homer as well as Euripides and Plato. His interest in these texts led him to undertake private instruction in the Greek language from a Calabrian monk named Barlaam (d. 1348),...

  8. 2 Translation and Transformation in the Ovide moralisé
    (pp. 41-60)

    The Ovide moralisé is an extraordinary text which translates, amplifies and moralizes Ovid’s Metamorphoses.² Whereas Latin is the language of learning in the early Middle Ages, the rise in demand for translations of Latin works into the vernacular to be held in libraries of the French-speaking aristocracy in the fourteenth century implicitly presents French as the idiom of Christian wisdom and virtue. By translating a pre-Christian text, the Ovide moralisé participates in this cultural interest in translation,³ but also explores more explicitly the ethical stakes of translation by transforming Ovid’s metamorphoses into revelations of Christian truth. In this essay, I...

  9. 3 Translating Lucretia: Word, Image and ‘Ethical Non-Indifference’ in Simon de Hesdin’s Translation of Valerius Maximus’s Facta et dicta memorabilia
    (pp. 61-83)

    Written translatio was the transposition of the sense of a work into a new language and context. One of the intriguing developments of the fourteenth-and fifteenth-century vogue for translations of Latin histories into Middle French prose was the combination of translated words with images that also ‘translated’ the text. Some of these texts included their Latin source, and some did not. Where a translated history sits alongside a visual interpretation of the same passage (an histoire), there must be not one but two translating campaigns to be read, viewed and interpreted. The vogue for Roman histories during this period inspired...

  10. 4 Translating Catharsis: Aristotle and Averroës, the Scholastics and the Basochiens
    (pp. 84-106)

    This essay investigates translation, aesthetics and performance in the long Middle Ages,¹ with particular emphasis on the transmission of Aristotle and the politics of festive drama: plays staged in public spaces for heterogeneous audiences during religious holidays. My main interest is κάθαρσις (katharsis), an abstruse term from the Poetics and Politics that gets translated and deployed in diverse, often incompatible ways by premodern and modern scholars and that has been used, both implicitly and explicitly, to account for the dynamics of performance and ritual in medieval festive settings. Though the Politics was widely available in Latin translation from 1260 on,...

  11. 5 The Ethics of Translatio in Rutebeuf’s Miracle de Théophile
    (pp. 107-124)

    Rutebeuf’s Miracle de Théophile is a work connected to translation on a number of different levels. As the essays in this collection attest, translatio (and its vernacular cognates) had a broad range of meanings in the Middle Ages that could be used to refer to textual or linguistic translation but that also denoted non-textual forms of movement, relocation and transfiguration. Rutebeuf’s play, in addition to translating and adapting other versions of the Theophilus legend, participates in this expanded notion of translatio; along with other religious or moralizing works examined in this volume, this text also demonstrates the close relationship between...

  12. 6 Invisible Translation, Language Difference and the Scandal of Becket’s Mother
    (pp. 125-146)

    The translator’s invisibility has been identified by Lawrence Venuti as a major ethical dilemma facing contemporary practitioners of translation. The tendency, especially within English-language translations commissioned by commercial publishers, to efface the translator’s labour through the promotion of ‘fluent’ translation techniques and unreflexive reading practices is symptomatic of an attitude that is, Venuti maintains, ‘imperialistic abroad and xenophobic at home’.¹ Although Venuti’s account of this trend begins in the seventeenth century, after which it becomes increasingly yoked to the demands of corporate capital, invisible translation is also of course a premodern phenomenon.² The story of medieval Europe is a story...

  13. 7 Medieval Fixers: Politics of Interpreting in Western Historiography
    (pp. 147-163)

    The focus of this chapter is the fixer, who plays a pivotal role in a number of Western medieval historiographies. A term I borrow from translation studies, ‘fixer’ has gained new currency since the beginning of the war conflict in Iraq (2003). In translation studies, ‘fixers’ are identified as performing a range of duties in addition to interpretation and/or translation, acting as local informants, guides, negotiators and more. While there is no easy synonym for this term of journalistic provenance, we can think of fixers as mediators, go-betweens endowed with multiple linguistic, social, cultural, topographic, etc., skills. Until Lawrence Venuti’s...

  14. 8 The Task of the Dérimeur: Benjamin and Translation into Prose in Fifteenth-Century French Literature
    (pp. 164-183)

    This chapter proposes a rapprochement between Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Task of the Translator’ (1921) and fifteenth-century works that claim to be translating older French verse into prose. Benjamin’s essay is famous, its meaning obscure. As Paul de Man claimed, it ‘is very well known, both in the sense that it is very widely circulated, and in the sense that in the profession you are nobody unless you have said something about this text’.¹ Contrastingly, the late medieval French prosifications have attracted little critical attention; being considered largely self-explanatory, even banal in their moralizing content and legitimizing programme, they have been...

  15. 9 The Translator as Interpretant: Passing in/on the Work of Ramon Llull
    (pp. 184-203)

    Ramon Llull (1232–1313) seems, at first, a promising figure to examine in relation to medieval translation. For a start, he was a multilingual Majorcan who wrote in Catalan, Latin and Arabic and travelled incessantly for more than forty years, supported by the Majorcan King Jaume II (1267–1327). He proselytized in Cyprus, Armenia, Tunisia, Rome, Genoa, Pisa, Paris, Lyon and Montpellier, halted only by his death at the age of eighty-one. He translated his own writings from and into these languages and, most importantly, by his own admission, transcribed (perhaps even translated as an act of xenoglossia) the word...

  16. 10 Rough Translation: Charles d’Orléans, Lydgate and Hoccleve
    (pp. 204-225)

    Translation is often associated with equivalence.¹ The goal of the translator in modern times is to create a seamless transition between a text and its translation, which is supposed to be marked by the ‘absence of any linguistic or stylistic peculiarities’.² ‘All that is foreign or strange’ should be ‘deleted, every rough corner smoothed’.³ Such an emptying out of the translator’s role as a writer brings the reward of a reader who imagines that he or she is actually reading the original work. But this assumed achievement is impoverished by what many perceive as vitiating costs. Nabokov, while he was...

  17. 11 Bueve d’Hantone/Bovo d’Antona: Exile, Translation and the History of the Chanson de geste
    (pp. 226-242)

    This chapter seeks a dialogue between the chansons de geste and the modern translation theories of Antoine Berman and Lawrence Venuti, to ask questions about the ethics and politics of translation in the medieval and modern periods. Does translation enable an encounter with the ‘foreign’,¹ or does it rather foreclose this possibility by domesticating all that is unfamiliar? Is translation an act of hospitality, a welcoming of the foreign, or is the foreign used as a commodity? Or, to put the question another way: is translation an ethical encounter with alterity, or does it seek to exploit alterity for pragmatic,...

  18. Untranslatable: A Response
    (pp. 243-256)

    Babel, Derrida asserts here in the first paragraph of his seminal essay ‘Des tours de Babel’, is not just a figure among others: Babel retains its status as foundational myth precisely not just because it figures the failure of different languages to correspond to each other, but rather because it figures the inadequacy of all language to man’s aspirational drive for wholeness (figured by ‘one tongue’ and ‘the same speech’ in Genesis 11:1: ‘labii unius et sermonum eorundem’) and mastery (figured by the impossible proposed heights of the offending tower in Genesis 11:4: ‘faciamus nobis civitatem et turrem cuius culmen...

  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-284)
  20. Index
    (pp. 285-292)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-293)