TOEBI Panel II: Translating Early English

Mike Bintley 2Seminar Room 2

Translation is a necessary part of teaching and researching early English literature, whether it takes place with or for the benefit of students and readers. This panel interrogates translation as process and practice, considering how translation intersects with (amongst other things): ecocriticism and the material turn; cross-period discussions of landscape, place, and identity; and as a means of introducing general audiences to the complexities of early medieval England’s multilingualism. Together, these papers consider the way in which translation, as a fundamental element of teaching and research in early English studies, is being used to address issues including decolonization, environment, and transhistorical readings of the past and present.

‘Translating the Nonhuman: Early Medieval ‘Things’ in Modern English Verse’
James Paz, Lecturer in Early Medieval Literature, University of Manchester

Translation theory has shown that translators can appropriate a source text by accommodating it to the worldview of the dominant target language and culture, effacing its otherness and silencing the voice of the subaltern speaker. Concurrently, the rise of eco-materialist approaches in medieval studies has directed our attention to the marginalised perspectives of nonhumans in Old English riddles, challenging anthropocentricism by exploring the point of view of the material world. This paper will explore the confluence between translation theory and eco-materialism in order to examine how translators of early medieval riddles appropriate nonhuman speakers for modern audiences. Translation is often defined as the transposition of words across time or space. But the translation of Old English riddles can also carry language across ‘ontologies’ or boundaries of being.

‘“Crowland-diawliaidd/ Wealisc-man lingo speaking?”: Rereading the early medieval lives of Guthlac with David Jones’
Francesca Brooks, Teaching Fellow, UCL

This paper will explore the macaronic translation of the life of Saint Guthlac by David Jones in the third sequence of his poem The Anathemata (1952), ‘Angle-Land’. Here, Jones mounts a poetic search for the surviving Britons in the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ fenland by reading the Old English poems Guthlac A and B and Felix’s Vita Sancti Guthlaci alongside recent archaeological finds from Caistor-by-Norwich. In one of the most densely multilingual and allusive passages of his poem, Jones stages an encounter between three of the languages of early medieval Britain in order to, to paraphrase Seamus Heaney, recirculate the hidden wealth of Modern English. This paper will argue that this reimagining of Guthlac as a trilingual, Anglo-Welsh saint allows Jones to tell a different story of early medieval Britain, remapping the history or early ‘England’ or ‘Angle-Land’.

‘The Riddle Ages: Translating Beyond the Classroom’
Megan Cavell, Birmingham Fellow, University of Birmingham

Several hundred poetic riddles record the minutiae of daily life and worldly wisdom in early medieval England. They tell us that onions could be the butt of a rude joke, cats were then (as now) fiercely independent, and violence did not go unquestioned when swords were given the chance to speak. This paper will focus on the Old English and Anglo-Latin riddle tradition’s potential for engaging audiences in the culture of early medieval England through translation projects that are open-access and consciously playful. Case studies examine how close reading skills are modelled through commentary posts narrating the process of translation on The Riddle Ages website, and how language learning can be gamified through a medieval library-themed ‘escape room’ to be hosted at Sutton Hoo. With a concerted effort to translate the riddle tradition’s texts and contexts, its potential for fostering public engagement with the history of England and (some of) its languages can be realized.


LEARNED SOCIETIES STRAND: Teaching Old English in Britain and Ireland

Fri 3:30 pm - 4:45 pm