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Translation in Europe during the Middle Ages

by Elisa Borsari (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 316 Pages

Summary

This monograph provides an outlook for the translation in Europe during the Middle Ages. It has been one of the main activities for DHuMAR research project; as such, it is the first volume of a series focused on the history of Medieval translation.
This volume takes the question of textual transmission from the beginning of the Middle Ages until the break of Humanism and relies on the contributions of renowned specialists on the subject.
Each work has been arranged in chronological order: the starting point is the first translations carried out in France, then in the Anglo-Saxon world, in the German and Nordic languages, and finally in the Mediterranean Basin, the Iberian Peninsula and Italy.

Table Of Contents


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Elisa Borsari1

Europe and the Middle Ages: a translatological overview

It is no easy task to speak of an overview of translation during the long period known as the Middle Ages. As earlier studies suggest (Ruiz Casanova 2000; Lafarga & Pegenaute 2004; Santoyo 2009; and Alvar 2010), translation is a human activity inherent to the transmission of knowledge. Translation has only recently received appropriate recognition for its important role in spreading ideas and literary trends2. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that systematic studies emerged in Spain of the “reflections” of those who previously engaged in this type of linguistic transmission and turned them into linguistic theories3. It should also be noted that the first Spanish university programs for translation and interpretation studies appeared in the 1970s and were only finally approved as university degrees in 1991. However, that happened more than 1,300 years after the era studied in this volume.

Translation activity during the Middle Ages is the cornerstone of all posterior literary production to this day. It would be impossible to speak of the history of literature without considering that translation, in its attempts to spread and transmit wisdom, was the basis for the development and the improvement of the Romance and other European languages4. It is enough to recall the magnificent laudatory prologues in some of the translations commissioned by King Alfonso X the Learned5, who, like a new Solomon, recovered treasures that were lost or had become unintelligible:

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Onde nostro señor, el muy noble rey don Alfonso, rey d’España, […] siempre se esforçó de alumbrar et de avivar los saberes que eran perdidos al tiempo que Dios lo mandó regnar en la tierra. Onde este nostro sennor sobredicho, qui tantos et diversos dichos de sabios viera, leyendo que dos cosas son en el mundo que mientre son escondidas non prestan nada, et es la una seso encerrado que non se amostra, et la otra thesoro escondido en tierra, el semeiando a Salamón en buscar et espaladinar los saberes, doliéndose de la pérdida et la mengua que habían los ladinos en las sciencias de las significationes sobredichas… (Libro de las cruzes, prólogo)

[Where our lord, the very noble King Don Alfonso, King of Spain […] always strove to enlighten and enliven the knowledge that was lost at the time God had sent him to rule on earth. Where this our lord, seeing so many and so diverse proverbs by wise men, reading that the things of the world while hidden do not lend to anything, and that which is locked cannot be shown, and the other treasures hidden in the ground, like Solomon seeking and learning the knowledge, grieving the loss and the diminishment of the Ladinos in the sciences and the aforementioned significations…] (Book of the Crosses, prologue)

It is these prologues that have cited frequently to illustrate the method of work by pairs of scholars6—above all in the early days of translation—among the medieval translators in their scriptorium7:

Y de que por este judío [Yudah Mosca el Menor], su físico, hubo entendido el bien y la gran pro que en él yacía, mandóselo trasladar de arábigo en lenguaje castellano por que los hombres lo entendiesen mejor y se supiesen de él más aprovechar. Y ayudole en este trasladamiento Garci Pérez, un su clérigo que era otrosí mucho entendido en este saber de astronomía. (Lapidario, prólogo)

[And it was because of this Jew [Yudah Mosca el Menor], his physician, he had understood the good and the great favor that laid in him, commanded him to translate from Arabic into the Spanish language so that the men could understand it better and be able to take advantage of it. And Garcia Pérez helped him with this translation, one of his clergyman, who was also very much learned in the knowledge of astronomy. (Lapidary, prologue)]

Indeed, in the absence of manuals, it is the paratext—such as prologues, dedications, colophonies, etc.—accompanying these translations, or the letters exchanged between scholars of the time8, which contain the necessary ←8 | 9→information about how translated works were produced. They also contain the opinions of contemporary thinkers about the quality of translation, as well as information on the existence of other translated works of which no testimonies are preserved.

In line with the objectives of the DHuMAR research project and the upsurge in studies of translations over the last ten years, we consider it timely to prepare a monograph on medieval translation in different volumes, each focusing on a specific aspect. In carrying out this task, we have had the collaboration of some of the most renowned researchers into medieval translation and literature.

This first volume is devoted an analytical overview of translation in Europe until the dawn of humanism. It contains eleven contributions together with an analysis of the Latin-Greek glosses, which follows this brief presentation, and an onomastic index of ancient authors and works. The contributions are arranged in chronological order beginning with the first translations that were made in France, then in the Anglo-Saxon world, Germany and the Nordic countries. They then move on to translation in the Mediterranean world (after some remarks on the so-called dark matter, the missing knowledge which is required to understand the work of translation in the Iberian Peninsula), first Castile, then Portugal and the translations of the Crown of Aragon. Italy closes the circle, with a focus on what would become known as humanism.

We hope that readers will enjoy this work and find it useful in the best spirit of docere delectando.

Bibliography

Alvar, Carlos (2010), Traducciones y traductores. Materiales para una historia de la traducción en Castilla durante la Edad Media, Alcalá de Henares, Centro de Estudios Cervantinos, (Colección Historia y Literatura 2).

Borsari, Elisa (2016), Nuevo catálogo de traducciones anónimas al castellano de los siglos XIV al XVI, en bibliotecas de España, Italia y Portugal, Barcelona, Calambur.

Gómez Redondo, Fernando (1998), Historia de la prosa medieval castellana, vol. I, Madrid, Cátedra.

González Rolán, Tomás & López Fonseca, Antonio (2014), Traducción y elementos paratextuales: los prólogos a las versiones castellanas de textos latinos en el siglo XV. Introducción general, edición y estudio, Madrid, Escolar y Mayo.

Lafarga, Francisco & Pegenaute, Luis (ed.) (2004), Historia de la traducción en España, Salamanca, Ambos mundos [Alicante, Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de ←9 | 10→Cervantes, 2008]. Link: <http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/nd/ark:/59851/bmc0p1h0> [Consulted: 04/22/2018].

Pegenaute, Luis (2009), “Pensamiento y la investigación sobre la traducción, El”, in Francisco Lafarga & Luis Pegenaute (ed.), Diccionario histórico de la traducción en España, Madrid, Gredos, pp. 872–881.

Ruiz Casanova, José Francisco (2000), Aproximación a una historia de la traducción en España, Madrid, Cátedra.

Santoyo, Julio-César (2009), La traducción medieval en la Península Ibérica (Siglos III-XV), León, Publicaciones Universidad de León, (Colección Estudios Medievales 1).

Santoyo, Julio-César (2011), Sobre la traducción: textos clásicos y medievales, León, Publicaciones Universidad de León, (Colección Estudios Medievales 3).


1 University of Córdoba/University of La Rioja. Mail: elisa.borsari@uco.es. This study has been made possible by a Postdoctoral Talento 2016 grant (University of La Rioja – Gobierno de La Rioja).

2 Taking as a point of reference the span of the entire history of written literature.

3 For a general review of the trajectory of translatological thought see: Pegenaute 2009.

4 González Rolán & López Fonseca (2014: 15) wrote about Castilla: “translation had an outstanding importance as an ‘accelerator’ of culture and the development of the vulgar romance language”. See also: Borsari 2016: 13–16.

5 In his royal campaign the king promoted the use of the Romance language in his chancellery, as well as in the works that were translated and written during his reign.

6 See the chapter by Alvar & Borsari in this volume.

7 On the importance of the study of paratextual elements in medieval Castilian translations of the 15th century, I refer to the aforementioned study by González Rolán & López Fonseca 2014. There is a very interesting compilation of texts from the origins in Santoyo 2011.

8 For example, the famous Epistola ad Pammachium, or the one which Don Iñigo López de Mendoza, Marquis of Santillana, directs to his son Pedro González about the translation of the Iliad he had received from Italy.

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Jairo Javier García Sánchez1

The Latin-Greek glosses as a product of translation and a source of the Romance languages (saccare > Span. & Port. sacar)

From the continuous contact between Latin and Greek to medieval Latin and Romance

At the beginning of the history of Latin literature, around the middle of the 3rd century BC, the translation of Homer’s Odyssey by Livius Andronicus occupies a prominent place. The success of his Odusia was such that it became a textbook for Roman children. Thanks to him and those who followed him, major literary genres emerged as adaptations of Greek themes and models. Plautus, the first author whose complete works (written between the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 2nd century BC) are preserved, had no qualms about recognizing that he converted his comedies from Greek originals to Latin, which was still a barbarous language from a Hellenic point of view (“uortit barbare”) (Traina 1970). It is true that those versions are not translations in the way we understand translation today but original recreations in many respects of Greek arguments. But in any case, the work of cultural translation is, to greater or lesser extent, pervasive and palpable in the first Roman literary creations.

As the Latin literary tradition developed, the fervor of Hellenic inspiration declined but did not disappear in the literature of the classical and imperial periods, particularly when new genres were introduced. Versions of technical treatises were produced incessantly, a case in point being the great encyclopaedia of natural sciences compiled by Pliny the Elder, who died during the eruption of Vesuvius, perhaps a victim of his scientific curiosity. Glosses and commentaries can be found on the works of any Latin author, however old or recent, but are more frequent in the cases of writers like Cicero, Sallust, Virgil and Horace, no doubt due to their greater or lesser presence in the scholarly activity (Alvar 2010: 32).

Once Christianity was in place as the official religion of the empire in the 4th century, translation activity grew with unusual intensity, first in the Eastern ←11 | 12→church, then in the Western. Christian Latin emerged as a special language feeding on the translation of biblical texts and propitiating the inexorable introduction of Greek and Semitic words into Latin2. Hebrew become an important language of output into Greek and, consequently, Latin, in terms not only of forms of thought but also of lexical expressions and syntactic constructions that would filter into the Romance languages.

By the end of Antiquity, there was, on the one hand, a rich glossographic tradition emanating from the Latin grammatical and lexicographic tradition (Varro, Festus, Aulus Gellius, Nonius Marcellus, Aelius Donatus, Priscian, etc.) and the commentaries on great authors like Terence and Virgil by Donatus and Servius, and on the other hand, increasing exegesis of biblical texts, the greatest exegete being St. Jerome, a disciple of Donatus and inveterate translator, reviewer and commentator.

Both currents converged in the great work of synthesis carried out around 600 by Isidore of Seville, chiefly in the twenty books of the Etymologiae. This imposing mass of text, whose originals often go back beyond Latin to Greek and Hebrew, meant that its early medieval commentators had their hands full while also battling with the problems posed by the nascent Romance languages and their particular contribution of substrates, adstrates and superstrates.

From the beginning of Roman literature, a Latin lexicon of translation had been developing the number of whose items, in Latin and then in Romance languages, expanded during the Middle Ages. Rubio Tovar (2011) has analyzed the terms concerning the concepts of ‘traducir’ (‘to translate’) and ‘traducción’ (‘translation’) in Latin and Romance languages over almost eighteen centuries.

If there is a morpho-semantic aspect that surprises the reader it is the large number of verbs that carry the preverb trans- ‘from one side to the other’. Without pretending to be exhaustive, here is a list of Spanish verbs extracted from Tovar’s book, for which the Latin root and corresponding verbs in other Romance languages are not hard to guess: traducir, transcribir, transferir, transponer, transportar, trasladar, traspasar (translate, transcribe, transfer, transpose, transport, move, transfer), etc.

The recurrence of the preverb trans- and its variants, which indicate movement ‘from one side to the other’ with respect to a dividing line3, can help us define translation as a ‘transversal’ activity that continually removes the barriers that separate two languages placed in parallel. The ‘transversal’ route in which ←12 | 13→all translation consists has a starting point in the output language and a term of arrival in the receptor language. Both are also marked with preverbal morphemes or with prepositions. The first in an ‘ablative’ sense (Span. extraer de, sacar de, etc. Eng. extract from, get out of, etc.) and the second a ‘lative’ sense (Span. exponer en, poner en, tornar en, verter en, volver en, etc.; Eng. expound in in, put in, turn into, pour/transfer into, come/go back into, etc.). Often both perspectives come together in the same expression: pasar de/a, traer de/a, mudar de/en, sacar de/a, (pass from/to, bring from/ to, move from/to, remove from/to, etc.) (Santoyo 2009: 370).

The main condition of translation from one language to another is the preservation of textual sense. This is a well-recognized postulate from Cicero and St. Jerome, which the humanist Juan Luis Vives formulated in these terms: “versio est a lingua in linguam verborum traductio sensu servato” [The version is a verbal translation from one language to another preserving its meaning] (Coseriu 1977: 88). The integration of the meaning begins with the knowledge of the content of the words, and therefore the glossographic tradition was a very useful lexicographical instrument before the arrival of the dictionaries.

The Glossae latino-graecae (CGL II, 1-212) and their romance projection

From within the magnificent edition of the Corpus Glossariorum Latinorum (CGL), initiated by G. Loewe and continued by G. Goetz, we have chosen the Glossae latino-graecae, preserved in the late-9th century codex Parisinus lat. 7651 and covering rather more than the first two hundred pages of volume II4. As the title indicates, lemmas are Latin words followed by their Greek interpretations, which appear without rough breathings or accents, although a stroke points to the accent position in a few cases5. The influence of the Greek even manages to alter the alphabetical order in two places, so that the words starting with G-occupy the third place in the alphabet, corresponding to the gamma (Γ) in the Greek alphabet, while the terms starting with C- are found under kappa (Κ), between those of I- and L-.

It is clear that the glosses are not a discursive text reflecting the translation process thoroughly. Within the same language the glosses fulfill the function of ←13 | 14→explaining and clarifying meaning, but when they move from monolingual to bilingual, as it happens here, they also become an exercise, albeit elementary, in translation. Glossaries are, first and foremost, lexical and expressive repertoires that serve to clarify interpretation; but, as if they were fledgling bilingual dictionaries, they never cease to exhibit the expressive and semantic analysis proper to translation6.

The present glosses of the CGL II are peculiar in that the Latin language, influenced by Greek throughout its literary development, is interpreted in its own terms. The researcher therefore is permitted a double focus that often comes to illuminate the evolution of romance languages as well. From this diachronic perspective, our analysis will concentrate on certain Romance results, thereby conferring a trilingual dimension on these glosses.

Bilingual translators perform, more or less implicitly, a semasiological analysis of the expressions of the origin language, that is, proceeds from the expressive form to its content. They then try to transfer it into the expressions of the input language, this second stage in the process becoming onomasiological. As the Latin-Greek glossary is ordered and presented, Latin is taken to be the starting language and Greek as the receptor language. The fact that a single Latin word corresponds to two or more Greek words confirms this approach because the commentator analyzes the polysemy of the given word and proposes different translations for it. This is the case with burrum, gentes or decipio, where the content is translated by three Greek verbs:

Burrum: ξανθόν, πυρρόν (31, 42: ‘russet’: ‘blonde’, ‘red’).

Gentes: γένη, ἔθνη (32, 44: ‘nation’: ‘race’, ‘people’).

Decipio: ἐνεδρεύω, ἐπιβουλεύω, αθετῶ (38, 34: ‘to cheat’: ‘make a trap’, ‘conspire’, ‘act with perfidy’).

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In some glosses the procedure is given in reverse, so that they are double or triple lemmas interpreted by a single Greek word:

Aridum, siccum: ξηρόν (24, 45: ‘arid’, ‘dry’: ‘dry’).

Diues et locuples et fortunatus: πλούσιος (53, 47: ‘rich’ and ‘opulent’ and ‘with fortune’: ‘rich’).

Sometimes the subject and the interpretation are pluriverbal:

Circus et circuitus: κύκλος… ἱπποδρομίαι… (101, 1: ‘circus’ and ‘circuit’: ‘cycle’ … ‘horse racing’ …).

Coniugium et conubium: συνζυγία… συμβίωσις (109, 43: ‘conjugal union’ and ‘marriage’: ‘conjugal union’ … ‘cohabitation’).

In such cases, after the first word of the subject, the alphabetical order is broken, and the primacy of Latin seems to yield to the accuracy of dissymmetrical correspondence between the two languages. But if this apparent concession is examined carefully, in the double or triple subject expressions the words are observed to be strict synonyms, so there is no complete break in the expressive plane characteristic of the output language. In contrast, the double or triple interpretation is not aimed at meaning, but at the significant diversity of polysemy.

Biographical notes

Elisa Borsari (Volume editor)

Elisa Borsari teaches and researches in the area of Medieval literature at the University of Cordoba. She holds a PhD from the University of Alcalá (mention of European Doctor and Extraordinary Doctorate Award). She has won the Bibliography Award of the National Library of Spain (BNE). The scope of her research also includes digital humanities, textual criticism and editorial management.

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Title: Translation in Europe during the Middle Ages