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Judith, Juliana, and Elene

Three Fighting Saints


Marie Nelson

The stories of female heroes of Old English poetry have been more read about than read, but Judith, Juliana, and Elene: Three Fighting Saints now makes the stories of Judith, a female hero of Old Testament times, and Juliana and Helena, who lived in the patristic era, newly accessible. Each new story is accompanied by a facing Old English text and an Afterword that, without over-reliance on critical jargon, gives attention to Marie Nelson's own translation strategies and to her awareness of choices Anglo-Saxon translators made as they re-created the lives of female heroes for readers of their own time.


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INTRODUCTION Vox audita perit; littera scripta manet "The voice heard perishes; the written letter remains," the Latin proverb reads. But the words of the proverb seem to have lost some of their truth. Whether we read them in Latin or in English is not what makes the difference, it seems. What makes the difference is our consciousness that things have changed. The sounds of the human voice no longer vanish without a trace the moment their sound waves become still. Our new found ability to slip a cassette into a slot and push two buttons, one marked PLAY the other RECORD, has changed all that. The voice heard may not, after all, perish. And the other half of the proverb also seems less firmly true. Roman letters inscribed in stone remain, and Old English letters boldly written with ink distilled from oak galls remain visible as long as good strong parchment lasts. Letters of the Roman alphabet and the Old English thorns and ashes and eths I typed twenty years ago on my sturdy Smith-Corona can still be read, along with their xeroxed copies. But yesterday in my neighborhood the power surged and the bright green words on my black screen-written words, because a moment before I saw them and could read them-were suddenly, and irretrievably, gone. Perhaps both parts of the proverb were always a bit untrue. In the Old English bookworm riddle-and in "Tinea," its Latin predecessor, as well-the riddle speaker claims to eat, swallow, consume the written...

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