Plenary speakers include Professor Hugh Magennis (Queen’s University Belfast), Dr Carolyne Larrington (University of Oxford), Dr Chris Jones (University of St Andrew’s) and Dr Heather O’Donoghue (University of Oxford).

Roberta Bassi, Université Stendhal Grenoble 3

What about the Anthologies? Translating Cædmon’s Hymn for a non-specialist audience

The purpose of my paper is to analyse the way in which Old English poems in translation are presented in some anthologies of English Literature designed for us in introductory university courses (including, for example, the Norton Anthology of English Literature), which therefore address a non-specialised audience. Particular attention will be devoted to dmon’s Hymn. This short poem is usually considered the oldest example of oral poetry n Old English; it is therefore emblematic both in view of its fame and because of the complexity of its manuscript tradition and of its many variants. For these reasons, dmon’s Hymn is quite suitable for a modern anthology of English literature. And yet the intricacy of its variants in the different witnesses makes it a very complex example, both from a philological and hermeneutical point of view, thus raising questions also when it comes to its translation. I will look at what kind of editorial and translational choices have been made to illustrate such an important and complex poem to a non-specialised audience. Other poems will also be included in the discussion, in particular the Old English elegies, in order to draw a comparison and see if the same kind of translational issues arise in the different texts.

Helen Brookman and Olivia Robinson, University College London and University of Oxford

‘In the brilliance of their beer-jackets’: Undergraduate English students producing creative translations of medieval poetry

What happens when undergraduate students are asked not simply to translate early medieval poetry or to read modern translations of it, but to produce creative poetic reworkings of their own? This paper will discuss the results of a pedagogic research project, funded by a Teaching Project Award from the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford, that is exploring the use of ‘creative translation’ as a way of engaging first-year undergraduates and sixth-form students with medieval literature and helping them to meet the challenges of learning to interpret literary texts in their original languages.

We will discuss student perspectives (gathered through interviews and class observations) and our teacher-researcher reflections on the activity. We will think particularly about how English students perceive the processes and practices of translation, critical writing, and creative writing, and whether the introduction of the latter as an independent and classroom activity can benefit student learning of the former two. We will also reflect on whether this activity provides a new way for translation to function in learning that, rather than smoothing away cultural and linguistic difference, demands that students engage with a difficult and unfamiliar medieval text (and its content, form, style, and sound) as active and creative translators. Funding permitting, we hope to be joined in our presentation by some of our undergraduate student-translators, who will read from ‘The Mourning after the Empire Before’, their version of the poem usually titled The Ruin, which was produced in a class in November 2013.

Hannah Burrows, Department of English Studies, Durham University

 Reawakening Angantýr: Academic and Literary Translations of an Old Norse Poem

The Old Norse fornaldarsaga ‘saga of ancient time’ Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks includes 22 stanzas of dialogue between a warrior-maiden, Hervör, and the ghost of her dead father, Angantýr. These stanzas gained acclaim as a separate poem, now usually known in English as ‘The Waking of Angantyr’, which was among the first to be translated from Norse into English, appearing in George Hickes’ influential Linguarum veterum septentrionalium thesaurus of 1703-5. The poem’s wide appeal within the development of British interest in northern antiquity, the sublime, and the gothic during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries meant it was reworked regularly in incarnations with varying fidelity to the original. While some strove for linguistic accuracy, others felt accuracy to the spirit of Old Norse poetry, as they perceived it, was more important: an attempt to recover and recreate a lost world in a process not too far distant from what we now call ‘cultural translation’.

I have translated these stanzas myself, for the Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages project; and I am also involved with the project Modern Poets on Viking Poetry, led by Dr Debbie Potts. In the former project, transparency and fidelity to the original were explicit aims; in the latter, literal translations (including mine of ‘The Waking of Angantýr’) were given to modern poets to ‘culturally translate’ in their own style and voice, much as Norse poetry was reworked by poets in earlier centuries. My paper will examine the history of the life of the Hervör stanzas in English, to probe why they have proved so versatile, how literal translation interacts with cultural translation, and what kinds of authenticity matter in context.


Axton Dylan Crolley, University of Cambridge

Mancynne fram: Accounting for Old English Prepositional Anastrophe

The peculiarities of Old English syntax have long complicated the pursuit of authentic, Modern English translations. Particularly in poetry, where metrical rules regulate the placement of words, certain syntactic-semantic subtleties never surface in modern editions. For example, though ubiquitous in the poetic corpus of Old English, the inverted  word order of prepositions has never satisfactorily received the attention of translators.  Lines like Beowulf 1625 mægenbyrþenne / þara þe he him mid hæfde, with the alliterative preposition mid following its object him, are rendered in modern accounts without regard to their peculiar syntax and metrical character. Previous scholarship on so called ‘prepositional anastrophe’ has largely been confined to purely syntactic inquiry, e.g. Wende (1915) and Mitchell (1978), and the few poetic investigations are more aggregative than explanatory, e.g. Lapidge (2006) and Fakundiny (1970). Consequently, the inadequacy of modern accounts is ascribable to a generally poor understanding of the phenomenon. In this paper, I explore the function of prepositional anastrophe in Old English poetry and suggest some methods of faithful but coherent translation. I show that the widespread occurrence of prepositional anastrophe has a variety of poetic motivations including formulaic constructions and rhetorical parallelism, and that in order to properly account for them we must try to understand the motivations on a case-by-case basis. In doing so, I address a larger issue of medieval vernacular translation: the methods by which modern editions can capture poetic effect.


Bob Hasenfratz, University of Connecticut

The Old English Poetry Project

This presentation will describe a new digital humanities initiative called “The Old English Poetry Project.” The goal of the project is to provide a translation of all 35,000+ lines of Old English poetry. Beyond constructing a static archive, though, we will invite poets, scholars, and students to post their own parallel translations of entire poems, sections of poems, or individual lines and phrases, in English or any other language. We have chosen CommentPress Core, running on WordPress, as a platform because it allows users to annotate and discuss entire texts, sections, individual lines, or even individual words.

After a description and demonstration, the main focus of this talk will be to outline the translation manifesto of the project team.  In our modern English versions of Old English poems we aim to 1) give a strong sense of the radical economy and compression of Old English poetry, 2) approximate the alien beauty of its poetic compounds by rendering them as compounds, however challenging that may sometimes be, 3) find a variety of strategies for giving a taste of the Anglo-Saxon alliterative line, and 4) avoid accepting by default the Victorian translations enshrined in the standard dictionaries of Anglo-Saxon.


Michelle Doran, University College Cork

 Editing Irish Lyrical Verse: Further Observations

In September 2013 I presented a paper at the Colloquim on Genre in Medieval Celtic Literature hosted by the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies: this paper was largely concerned with the scholarly responses to Medieval Irish lyrical poetry.  The aim of the present paper is to further discuss the editorial treatment of Irish lyrical verse.  Whether or not it is explicitly articulated, there exists a de facto model for the editing of medieval Irish lyrical texts.  A comparison of the methodologies espoused by various prominent scholars of the twentieth century reveals certain common assumptions regarding the nature of the manuscript evidence, the role of scribes, the concept of the author and the idea of authoritative text which is usually considered to be synonymous with an authorial one. These theories of textual tradition in turn influence the manner in which editors and ultimately translators of medieval Irish poetry approach their task. Often, poems are selected on the basis that they can demonstrate the existence of an original text and conform to an editorial method designed to uncover such a text. Thus, the reader is presented with a very limited view of medieval Irish lyrical poetry which may create a misunderstanding rather than aid an understanding of medieval Irish literary culture.

The reality for much Irish lyrical verse is altogether different and attests to a living tradition in which scribes continuously reworked the material. Utilising the example of ‘King and Hermit’ a poem attested by a unique source, British Museum Harleian MS. 5280, f. 42b (sixteenth century), which has been edited and translated on a number of occasions, I wish to examine the impact this implicit editorial method has on the translation of Medieval Irish lyrical verse. Furthermore, I hope to demonstrate that such translations may ultimately impede a proper understanding of this complex and multi-faceted poetic genre.


Cyril Edwards (University of Oxford)

 How close can you get? Translating narrative texts and lyrics of the Middle High German Classical Period (höfische Blütezeit)

‘Being true to the author is all.’ (Naveed Chaudhri). This paper will look at some problems posed by that Holy Grail of translation, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, with its idiosyncratic syntax, and his erotic dawn-songs. The latter merit a line-by-line approach, which I also adopted for Hartmann von Aue’s Iwein, or the Knight with the Lion. Both narrative texts are themselves translations and adaptations of the Old French romances of Chrétien de Troyes. Translating the Nibelungenlied (Oxford World’s Classics) led, quite unexpectedly, to a new problem: the conflict between translation and the text’s censorship in the Third Reich, which affects the way in which the youthful Sivrit (Wagner’s Siegfried) is portrayed. Referring, if only out of politeness, to previous translations, raises the problem of the rapidity of linguistic change in the target language, for example with regard to Gottfried von Straßburg’s Tristan, which, like the Nibelungenlied, was translated by Arthur Hatto in the 1960s (Penguin Classics). A second problem is: how far is a verse translation feasible? In the United States verse translations have once more become fashionable, including a recent verse translation of the Nibelungenlied, whilst in Britain this tendency has virtually died out.

Gareth Evans and Hannah Ryley, University of Oxford

Reflecting on ‘Medieval Storytelling: Engaging the Next Generation’

This paper will report on the progress of our AHRC-funded, student-led collaborative project, ‘Medieval Storytelling: Engaging the Next Generation’. The project seeks to harness the enjoyment (and in some cases, specific research interests) of a range of graduate students and ECRs across all branches of medieval studies, in order to foster interest in medieval narratives among younger audiences. The core of the project is a training workshop, in which professional storytellers Daniel Morden and Jenny Moon will hone participants’ adaptation and performance skills. One of the key components of this training will be the translation of often complex medieval stories into audience-appropriate, accessible oral tales, designed for performance. This ‘translation’ therefore includes the use of gesture, choice of vocabulary familiar to the age group, and the crafting of an engaging narrative that utilises the right pace and organising structures to capture the imaginations of our listeners. After this initial training a series of events, in schools and in other more publicly accessible venues, will showcase the storytellers and their work. Medieval stories are increasingly in demand at KS1 and KS2, as they tie in well with the new curriculum recommendations for ‘tales from the British Isles’ in both English and History. In particular, we will focus in this paper on the ways in which our storytelling project has trained graduate students and ECRs to approach translating medieval stories for today’s schoolchildren.

Denis Ferhatović, Connecticut College

Turkish Beowulf’s Composite Face: What Nazmi Ağıl Takes from Heaney

When the first complete Turkish translation of Beowulf came out in 2012, its author, Nazmi Ağıl, did not hide the fact that he translated not from the Anglo-Saxon, but from the now-famous Modern English rendition by Seamus Heaney. Ağıl, a poet in his own right, claims in his preface that Heaney has enabled him to depart from his impossible dream of translating the Old English legend into the language and style of a comparably ancient Turkish epic (most likely, the Oğuz Book of Dede Korkut). “An unbelievable naturalness… in Heaney’s verse” [“Heaney’nin şiirinde… inanılmaz bir doğallık” (29)] leads Ağıl away from imposing a nomadic, Turkic face on the pagan Scandinavian hero, and towards a more composite and interesting mask, one that I will argue is consciously cobbled from all major sources of Modern Turkish vocabulary:  Turkic, Ottoman, and European. Because he does not attempt to put patina of a specific past context on his Turkish Beowulf, Ağıl illuminates the poem’s many possible points of intersection with Turkey then and now, with a lexical wealth that even includes borrowings from French and English with Germanic roots found in the original Old English. This is yet another proof of the short-sightedness of Heaney’s resentful Anglo-Saxonist opponents, as Heaneywolf openly encourages engagement with Beowulf in other languages and in previously unimagined ways.


Richard Hawtree, University College Cork   

‘Ofett edniwe’ / ‘new fruit’ (The Phoenix, l. 77a). Meditative Translation and the Shaping of the Exeter Book

The Old English poem The Phoenix opens with lines adapted from Lactantius’ fourth-century Latin text De aue Phoenice which describe an earthly paradise, a ‘locus…felix…remotus’. The ‘ordaining Lord’ allows no evil-doers to encroach upon this fertile land, in contrast to the situation in the Guthlac poems which precede The Phoenix in the Exeter Book, in which the embattled saint is required to drive hordes of demons from his chosen place of spiritual meditation. This paper suggests that the Exeter Book as a whole functions as a textual ‘locus…felix…remotus’, as an English-language manuscript designed to link the rhetorical range of Christian Latin tradition with the distinctive resources of the Anglo-Saxon vernacular. The concept of translation plays a fundamental role in the reader’s experience of the Exeter Book, extending from the renderings of advent liturgical texts at its opening to the riddles at the manuscript’s close.

The Exeter Book is shaped by a concern for ‘meditative translation’. It does not function as a simple gloss or key to earlier literary traditions but strikingly illuminates aspects of the textual inheritance, offering ‘new fruit’ to its ruminative readers.

 Chris Jones, University of St Andrews

Old English and Twenty-First Century Poetry

 Alison Killilea, University College Cork

ides aglæcwif – “Monstrous ogress” or “female warrior”?: Translation and Gender in Beowulf

Since the early translations of Beowulf, Grendel’s Mother has been characterised as a “monstrous ogress” (ides aglæcwif as translated by Alexander), a “swamp-thing from hell” (grund-wyrgenne, Heaney), with “horrible claws” (atolan clommum, Chickering) and “savage talons” (laþan fingrum, Heaney). From John Mitchell Kemble’s 1835 edition, up to the most recent by Douglas Wilson in 2013, Grendel’s Mother has been transformed into a beast or monster-woman, with very little grounding in the original Old English text, in which she is not characterised as monstrous, but rather as a formidable female warrior. Relying on previous translations of Beowulf has led to the widespread assumption of Grendel’s Mother’s monstrosity – most notable is Frederick Klaeber’s 1922 Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, still one of the most widely used and influential editions of the poem, whose glossary translates ides aglæcwif as “wretch, or monster of a woman”. Consequently, the term has taken on a meaning that was not likely intended by the original author. Translated as “monstrous ogress” (Alexander), “monster of a woman” (Gummere) and “monstrous hell-bride” (Heaney), I will argue that ides aglæcwif was originally intended as a term of respect, or at the very least a respectful recognition of her strength. In this paper I will examine the alternative view of Grendel’s Mother as human through close attention to the language used in the Old English corpus and the translation history of this particular episode, focusing on the alternative translation of ides aglæcwif as “female warrior”, first proposed by Sherman Kuhn in 1979 as a response to Klaeber’s definition. Through this, I will discuss the issues of subjectivity in translation and the apparent tendency of translators to rely on previous editions and glossaries, while also looking at the issue of feminine monstrosity.


Carolyne Larrington, University of Oxford

Translating and Re-translating the Poetic Edda


Hugh Magennis, Queen’s University Belfast

The Old English Translations of Edwin Morgan


Michael Matto, Adelphi University

 Remainders: Reading an Old English Poem through Multiple Translations

Discussions of teaching Old English literature to undergraduates always come around to debating which translation to use.  Teachers of literature surveys or medieval literature classes in translation face many trade-offs: accurate prose or artful poetry; imitative meter or a modern “equivalent”; resonant archaisms or contemporary language. But generally assumed, and often expressed, is the notion that we must choose only one translation. This paper argues that this self-imposed limitation is in fact not justified, and that multiple translations can be fruitfully used in classes to get at not only matters of translation, but the central concerns of interpretation.

Using Jean-Jacques Lecercle’s notion of a “remainder,” I suggest that such “inscriptions of domestic values in foreign texts” (which Lecercle argues are inevitable in translations) become an aid to the teacher trying to help students uncover the central interpretive issues not only of the translation, but of the translated text itself. Using a kind of triangulation, students are drawn to the moments of interpretive cruces, or even crises, that define the original work from a critical and interpretive perspective. Students are therefore able to write with greater authority about word choice, style, syntax, and other hallmarks of close reading and formalism without access to the original language, exercising those skills on the translations instead, but in the service of a larger critical examination of the original. Drawing from examples of my own students’ papers, I demonstrate the kinds of arguments that can be developed when students confront multiple translations of one text.

Inna Matyushina, Russian State University for the Humanities – Exeter University

Gains and Losses in Translating Anglo-Saxon Poetry into Modern English and into Russian

Translators of Anglo-Saxon poetry have used a variety of meters (ballad, rhymed, blank), as well as rhythmical prose, trying to reproduce the rhythm of alliterative verse. The commonest meter is tonic verse with caesura and alliteration. Whatever meter is used, alliteration can hardly be functional in lines flooded with unstressed auxiliary words, no matter how frequently it is used. For the sake of alliteration translators are prepared to get involved in daring linguistic experiments, including the use of Anglo-Saxon words in their original orthography (e.g. æðeling – prince’, ‘man’, weard – ‘guardian’, weird – ‘fate’, byrne – ‘coat of mail’).

Anglo-Saxon poetic words, kennings and occasional words, built according to productive word-building models, function in alliterative verse within highly organised synonymic systems, with special poetic ranks assigned to each word which determines its use within the line as well as its inclusion into alliteration. A most important synonymic group, which only in one poem, ‘The Wanderer’, consists of ten highly expressive synonyms (e.g. goldwine, winedryhten, manndryhten, swæsa, waldend, þeoden), is transformed into universal ‘lord’ or ‘friend’. Some translators try to compensate for the immense richness of the Old English poetic vocabulary by using etymologically equivalent words which can be misleading if the words developed a different meaning (e.g. ‘wane’, ‘fallow’, ‘fain’) or acquired special, sometimes ironic, connotations (e.g. OE duguð – ‘body of noble or tried retainers’, as against ‘the doughty’). Compound words are usually rendered by translators with the help of hyphenated word-combinations (e.g. gold-giver, warrior-comrades, firm-minds), in the hope that the power of hyphenation can cement a group of words into a compound. An attempt to retain the metaphoric power of the Anglo-Saxon word leads to translating words like eardstapa (lit. meaning ‘treading the earth’) as ‘grasshopper’, winsele (meaning ‘a hall for feasting’) as ‘winehall’, inevitably associated with winehouse, dreorighleor (sad in countenance) as ‘drearcheeked’.

Translations of Old English verse into Russian are based on different principles, sometimes alien or even hostile to the nature of alliterative verse. Thus, instead of alliteration the organising principle of lines becomes deep internal rhyme and assonance of root morphemes. The vocabulary is largely based on archaic, dialectal, potential, or compound words created according to the productive models of the Russian language and enabling the translator to show differences in the stylistic overtones of poetic words. Thus instead of trying to recreate isolated elements of the original, Russian translations are aimed at re-composing ancient poetry by means of a foreign language.

 Rory McTurk, University of Leeds

Henryson, Heaney, and Beowulf

In the Preface to his translation from the Middle Scots of Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid (London, 2009), Heaney writes (p. ix) of Henryson’s ‘Cresseid (stress on second syllable)’. It is true that in Chaucer the stress in the name Criseyde is nearly always on the second syllable; in the case of Henryson’s Cresseid, however, there is a subtle alternation between the second and the first syllable in the placing of the stress, and it is by no means certain that Heaney recognises this, as comparison with the original, facing his translation in the book where it appears, shows. This raises the question of how sensitive he is to the language of his original. The same question is raised by his handling of parallelism in Beowulf. If parallelism in Old English poetry involves the use of two equivalent expressions of which the second could be removed without detriment to syntax or essential meaning, one wonders why there is an intrusive ‘and’ in his translation of l. 8 of Beowulf, not to mention the fact that his translation ignores the chiasmus in this line. As published in 1999, Heaney’s Beowulf translation is a facing translation only on the first page, and it is perhaps best read without reference to the original, i.e. as a work in its own right. I shall suggest in my paper that, whatever literary qualities Heaney’s Beowulf may be thought to have when so read, it should be used with great caution, if at all, in the teaching of Old English.


Howard Needler, Wesleyan University

Eating His Heart Out and Other Diversions: Provençal Troubadour Poetry for the 21st Century

 A proper objective for verse translation of medieval poetry is the creation of a new English poem. This paper will also argue that this goal is compatible with efforts to create metrical structures and patterns of rhyme and assonance that closely reflect, although they cannot replicate, those of the original. Further, it will discuss the various problems that arise in the pursuit of this approach, and some ways in which the present translator has sought to solve them. This will of course involve discussion of the larger issue, fundamental in the contemporary translation of all medieval poetry, of seeking to effect a plausible transition between two utterly different temporal and cultural matrixes, while succeeding in intimating to contemporary readers something of the way in which these poems were experienced by their creators and their audience. That effort also obliges the translator to convey the striking differences among Provençal poetic genres, from the satirical sirventes to the plangent alba or planh. Some of the paradigms for the translation of Provençal troubadour poetry into English are the work of translators who elected to avoid the difficulties of verse translation by producing prose renderings, but there are memorable poetic versions by such gifted translators as Ezra Pound and Paul Blackburn. However, their achievement may be too rich in creative exuberance, making the qualities of the originals fade from view. I will argue that the translator must find a subtle middle way.

Caitríona Ó Dochartaigh, University College Cork

Modern Adaptations of Old Irish Hymn: The case of St Patrick’s Lorica

St Patrick’s Lorica or Breastplate is a popular hymn which is currently included in the English Language Roman Catholic hymnal in Ireland, the Church of Ireland hymnal, the English Hymnal, the North American Lutheran Service Book and the hymnal of the American Episcopal Church. However, the translations of the original medieval Irish work included in these collections varies in some minor yet significant details. Ever since George Petrie first published his translation of the Lorica in 1837, the meaning of certain ambiguous passages has been much debated. This debate took on a sectarian dimension in the late nineteenth century when the text was employed as evidence for the unorthodox and above all non-Roman beliefs current in medieval Ireland. In the twentieth century the hymn was used as proof for a counter-argument stressing the universality and continuity of Catholic doctrine in Ireland; and more recent times, the text has been hailed as a relic of druidic belief systems and as a pagan incantation. The way in which doctrinal bias has influenced the translation process as well as the contexts in which the Lorica is employed will beaddressed in this paper.

 Colmán Ó Raghallaigh

The graphic novel An Táin

Miller Oberman, University of Connecticut

 Wolf in the Ruin

 In a recent article that considers the current state of translation of Anglo Saxon poems into Modern English, Daniel C. Remein outlines the ways in which smooth, narrative translations often “follow the direction of dominant and conservative poetics.” Translations based on an idea of what a poem is about contribute to what Lawrence Venuti calls the “domestication of the foreign text,” and work to make the poem more accessible to contemporary audiences. In this paper, I use a similar critique to examine modes of translation for two poems in the Exeter Book, “Wulf and Eadwacer,” and “The Ruin,” and offer my own translations. “Wulf and Eadwacer” is notoriously difficult to translate, which, I contend, works to reveal the frequency with which assimilationist strategies are used to translate Anglo Saxon verse. Translations of this kind are in danger of taking the subject matter as the object in need of transmission or translation, and the poetics of sound and diction as objects in need of transformation in ways that render the barriers to contemporary understanding invisible.

This readability is a problem, particularly in books such as the 2011 collection The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation, which obscure the ragged edges of their source texts. Yusef Komunyaka’s translation of “The Ruin,” for example, has substantial poetic merit, but also removes any sense of the ruined and unreadable sections of the poem, so that nothing seems to be missing. I propose that rather than homogenizing a text to make it accessible, we might choose not to “assimilate” it, and instead scavenge the strangeness of language, allowing some of what is rough or ragged to our ears to remain so. Translation of Anglo Saxon poetry can be more porous, and more radical or radically literal, an example of which I provide here with my own radically literal translations of these two poems.

Heather O’Donoghue, University of Oxford

Old Norse myth and poetry in English: contemporary developments


Bernard O’Donoghue, University College Cork

Translating Piers Plowman


Katelin Parsons, University of Iceland

The Saga and the Translators: Unsealing Egils saga

The first complete English translation of Egils saga dates from 1893, more than three decades after the publication of George Dasent’s translation of Njáls saga. Prior to this, however, partial or abridged translations of the saga and its poetry had appeared in print on several occasions, including translations by Sabine Baring-Gould (1863) and Edmund Gosse (1870). These early translations are by no means seminal, and the translators themselves seem to have been unaware of earlier efforts to introduce Egill Skallagrímsson and his poetry to an English audience, most notably Thomas Percy’s “The Ransome of Egill the Scald” in his Five Runic Pieces (1763). Gosse describes Egils saga and its poetry as “absolutely uninterpreted” and compares the saga text to a still-sealed letter, its contents unknowable without the translator’s timely intervention.

A particular challenge posed by Egils saga is the central role of skaldic verse; William Morris, who abandoned his own attempt to render the saga text into English, characterised its poetry as “quite untranslatable”. This paper examines the very different approaches and solutions offered by pioneering English translators in handling the act of unsealing Egils saga: presenting – and representing – an “unopened” saga and its skaldic protagonist to a wider literary audience.

Edel Porter, Universidad de Castilla – La Mancha

Translating Mistakes: The Case of Skaldic Poetry

The poetry of the Icelandic skalds is well known for its intricate metaphors, complicated syntax, and metonymic allusions, factors which make it notoriously challenging to render into other languages. Added to this are all the other difficulties commonly associated with medieval texts. While it is true that the formal complexity of the dróttkvætt metre means that those skaldic stanzas which have survived are relatively intact, mistakes do occur due to copyists’ errors, misunderstandings of obsolete or archaic language, and damaged manuscripts. Once one word becomes garbled, the sense of a phrase, or indeed of the whole stanza can often be lost. The aim of this paper will be to explore the implications of such a scenario for the translator, with particular focus on stanza 39 in Gísla saga Súrssonar, an example where the meaning of the strophe was misunderstood even by the writer of the saga in which it was preserved. Later scholarship has shown that the prose author is mistaken in his reading of the term ‘læmingja’ as a type of bird, but as yet no entirely convincing solution has been offered and most translations follow the traditional interpretation. This paper will investigate the motivation behind this approach, and raise the question as to whether or not it is the responsibility of the translator to ‘correct’ a mistake of this nature.

Lahney Preston-Matto, Adelphi University

Aislinge Meic Conglinne: Challenges for Translator and Audience

Aislinge Meic Conglinne is a Middle Irish “romance” tale which seen only two translations into English since Kuno Meyer’s version in 1892. This is astonishing, as the tale is full of political and religious intrigue, is hilariously funny and comments quite profoundly on life in Ireland in the late twelfth century. My translation of the text came out in 2010.

The multiple references to food were one of the biggest challenges to me as a translator, and also possibly one of the reasons the tale may not have been translated recently: the references are often arcane at best, and at worst, the food being mentioned can no longer be determined (worse yet, the reader might wish that some food had never been identified). My paper focuses on these references to food, the challenges I faced trying to piece together exactly what food was being mentioned, what these food references can tell us about twelfth century cultural life in Ireland, and why this might matter to a twenty-first century English-reading audience. For example, when Mac Conglinne, the (anti-)hero of the tale, travels to Cork from Ulster to rescue Cathal mac Finguine, king of Munster, from a “demon of gluttony” which has possessed him, he stops at a guest house run by the monks of Cork. Here he receives abominable hospitality, including a well-satirized dearth of quality food, or indeed, any food beyond whey-water. Mac Conglinne is infuriated the more when he realizes that the monks, and particularly the abbot of the religious institution where he is staying, get much better food than he does. This situation comments upon a number of cultural institutions: treatment of and hospitality toward guests, which was a legal obligation; how the Church viewed itself in relationship to others; and hierarchies among professions in general, as Mac Conglinne is a religious scholar, but also a poet. There is much implicit and explicit criticism of Christianity and its attitude towards certain secular cultural responsibilities. Later, when Mac Conglinne meets Cathal mac Finguine, food plays a crucial role. As king of Munster, Cathal is entitled to a certain amount of stores from the local túatha in his demesne, but because of the “demon of gluttony,” Cathal has overeaten his entire kingdom. This is a direct threat to his kingship itself, as a king is directly responsible for the wealth and plenty of his people; a good king ensures bumper crops, but should not then endanger his people’s welfare by eating the entirety of those crops. So food becomes not only a religious issue, but also a political one in this text.

Of course, food is one of the basic components for human survival (as is clothing, and there is also plenty of sartorial commentary in this text, but I’m choosing to focus on the role of food in this paper), and as such, has correspondences to all aspects of human life. In an effort to keep this paper to twenty minutes, I will focus on food issues.


M.J. Toswell, University of Western Ontario

Jorge Luis Borges as translator of Old English

Borges first became interested in the ancient Germanic literatures early in his life, producing a monograph analyzing Old Gothic, Old English, Old Norse and Old High German literary texts in 1951. In the mid-1960’s, as he was going blind, he rediscovered his love of Old English and Old Norse, reworking and republishing the monograph with a second collaborator. And just before his death, he worked with his then-secretary and later wife, Maria Kodama, on translating some of the Old English lyric poems, particularly the elegies, into Spanish. Throughout his life he commented at length on the sound qualities of Old English and on its literary power, and he found the Old Norse sagas deeply moving, the first novels. He produced poems in Spanish that evoked this material, and he even worked on Bede’s two apocalyptic visionary texts, the visions of Fursey and of Drihthelm, for his study of Dante as a great later visionary author. In other words, Borges had a lifelong interest in the literatures of the North Sea. In this paper I want to examine his last studies in the field, the translations done in his last years.  Although Borges is famous as a postmodern figure of the twentieth century, I want to argue that his work is highly medievalist in its approach, and that he falls much closer to the centre of modern medievalism that has hitherto been realized. By his own account, one of the major influences on his writing and thinking were the “ancianas literaturas germánicas” (ancient German Literatures); his tombstone in the Pleinpalais in Geneva has images and inscriptions from Old English and Old Norse, not by chance or random whim.

For more information please contact Dr Tom Birkett  or Dr Kirsty March, School of English, University College Cork, ealdtonew2014@ucc.ie


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