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  • Rethinking Medieval Translation: Ethics, Politics, Theory ed. by Emma Campbell and Robert Mills
  • Barbara Zimbalist
Rethinking Medieval Translation: Ethics, Politics, Theory, ed. Emma Campbell and Robert Mills (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer 2012) 292 pp., ill.

Translation studies encourages dynamic modes of intellectual engagement and critical self-reflection, not only within medieval studies and contemporary theory, but also within ongoing discourses of nationalism, postcolonialism, and global ethics. As critics such as Lawrence Venuti have argued, the act of translation reveals and encodes linguistic, cultural, and racialized hierarchies and power structures. In recent years translation studies has aspired to unsettle and interrogate such power structures in addition to exposing them; as the essays Emma Campbell and Robert Mills have collected demonstrate, medieval [End Page 326] texts not only participate in such negotiations of power, but also can give us new insight into postmodern efforts to think through such structures critically, revealing “the need for an ethics of translation that is self-reflexive about its past and about the modernist assumptions on which it has sometimes relied” (7). Rethinking Medieval Translation offers new readings of well-known and critically neglected medieval texts through the analytical frameworks of translation studies, producing fruitful new lines of inquiry into central questions of politics and ethics at the heart of the ongoing enterprise of translation.

The eleven essays and two framing chapters gathered in Rethinking Medieval Translation cover a wide temporal and generic range of material. The titular goal of “rethinking” translation through the lenses of ethics, politics, and theory structures the collection through a shared concern with reexamining critical convention and destabilizing hierarchies, linguistic or otherwise. The interdisciplinary roster of contributors, ranging from art historians to literature scholars in French, English, and Italian, analyze texts, manuscripts, and art objects from across Western Europe with the stated intention of putting the definition of “translation” itself into further question. While most of the contributors are Francophone in their institutional and disciplinary affiliations (with three exceptions), the shared comparative focus brings many texts and authors beyond France and England into the discussion. Notably, William Burgwinkle’s essay on Ramon Llull’s polylingual translations of divine revelation and Marilynn Desmond’s contribution on the Italian translatio of Greek language and culture demonstrate the productive potential of multi-lingual comparative work, particularly within the rapidly growing field of medieval Mediterranean studies.

The ethics of translation, particularly within concepts of empire and hospitality in both medieval and modern terms, resonates throughout the volume. For example, Desmond reads Petrarch’s and Boccacio’s conflicting receptions of Greek antiquity through their respective interactions with enigmatic Greek translator and tutor Leonzio Pilatus. She tests the extent to which their own ability to translate Greek texts allowed them to participate in a process of translatio studii that understood Greek language and literature as accessible and appropriable. In a similar fashion, Catharine Léglu reads fourteenth-century French translations of Valerius Maximus’s Roman history of Lucretia as commentaries on royal and empirical power during the reign of Charles V. Particularly engaging is Noah Guynn’s re-examination of the translation and reception of Aristotelian catharsis in the festive drama of the Basoches, specifically, Pierre Gringore’s 1512 Le jeu du Prince des Sotz et de Mere Sotte, which he terms “a utopian imagining that discreetly promotes fantasies of resistance and unobtrusive acts of rebellion” (94). Positing that farce functioned as a demand for social justice as well as a release of social tensions, Guynn calls for a reconsideration of the methodological assumptions of catharsis subtending medieval theatre criticism, suggesting instead that unresolved farcical conflict creates ethical space for social struggle that could empower audiences.

While Guynn charts new paths of inquiry for questions of ethics within medieval drama, Ardis Butterfield proposes the critical stance of “thinking bilingually” as an approach to late-medieval political writing. Butterfield [End Page 327] demonstrates the fundamental linguistic reciprocity of English and French within the poetry of Charles d’Orléans, John Lydgate, and Thomas Hoccleve, and shows how “England”—as a linguistic, national, and political entity—should be more fully understood through “the variable articulacy of plurilingual writers of English” (682). In a similar vein, editor Robert Mills...


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pp. 326-328
Launched on MUSE
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