By ucyow3c, on 16 October 2014
Written by Charlotte Hyde (third-year student, UCL English)
Can two translations of the same text have a relationship? How can we define this relationship? Experienced practitioners and novices of Old English alike were treated to a fascinating exploration of the link between the Prose and Prosimetrical translations of Boethius as part of the Translation in History lecture series, given by Quain Professor of English Language and Literature, Susan Irvine.
Having devoted much of her career to advancing our understanding of both versions of the Old English Boethius, Professor Irvine was able to give the audience a detailed history of the text, explaining the Latin origins of ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’ and outlining the programme of translation established by Alfred in the 9th Century. Concerned by declining literacy in Latin, Alfred placed great importance on raising the cultural status of the vernacular and as such introduced a radical programme of intellectual reform, translating seminal works into English.
One of the most important insights revealed here was the nature of translation. Quoting from Alfred’s ‘Preface to Gregory’s ‘Pastoral Care’, Professor Irvine brought to light the nature of translation at the time as being ‘sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense’. Translation according to Alfred comprised first of gaining an understanding of the text before being able to convey that ‘sense’ into the vernacular. It is interesting to keep this in mind when considering any translation into Old English from the Alfredian programme as the meaning of the text can be altered during the process.