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Rhetoric and Vernacular Translation in the Middle Ages Rita Copeland University a/Texas at Austin Tis anicle examines the historical and theomical ftamewotk of vernacular translation in the Middle Ages. 1 My concern here is to make visible not so much the pragmatics of particular translations as the histor­ ical conditions and the structures of interpretation that inform and legit­ imize medieval translation.2 Literary history has traditionally accorded translation a secondary status as acritical issue. 3 Yet, as the development of medieval literary culture shows, and as some recent studies have suggested, translation dramatizes the most central problems of historical and textual mediation in the Middle Ages.4 I argue here that medieval vernacular translation is grounded in a historical intersecting of hermeneutical prac1 This article does not consider the problems of scientific, utilitarian, biblical, or histo­ riographical translation in the Middle Ages. For extensive bibliography on these aspects of translationin the Middle English tradition, and on related areas, such as mystical, devotional, instructional, and medical translation, see the valuable essays in A. S. G. Edwards, ed., Middle English Prose: A Critical Guide to Major Authors and Genres (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1984). 2 One of the most important studies to make visible the theoretical structures of vernacular translation is that of Gianfranco Folena, "'Volgarizzare' e'tradurre': Idea e terminologia della traduzione dal media evo italiano e romanzo all'umanesimo europeo," inLa traduzione: saggi e studi (Trieste: Lint, 1973), pp. 57-120. 3 Conversely, the idea of translation as a prior condition of all writing has become an important theme in critical theory. The locus classicus here is Walter Benjamin, "The Task of the Translator," trans. Harry Zohn, in Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), pp. 69-82. 4 Among recent studies that directly address the theoretical components of translation in the Middle Ages, see Eugene Vance, "Chaucer, Spenser, and the Ideology of Translation," CRCL 8 (1981):217-38; Douglas Kelly, "Translatio Studii: Translation, Adaptation, and Allegory in Medieval French Literature," PQ 57 (1978):287-310; Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, "Literary Translation and Its Social Conditioning in the Middle Ages: Four Spanish Romance Texts of the Thirteenth Century," YFS 51 (1974):205-22. For broader thematic concerns, see R. A. Shoaf, "Notes Toward Chaucer's Poetics of Translation," SAC 1 (1979):55-66. 41 STIJDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER tice with rhetorical theory. Rhetoric, itself a function of hermeneia,5 pro­ vides thetheoreticalframeworkfor medieval translativepractice, as transla­ tion takes over rhetorical principles ofdiscovery and interpretation, that is, of invention. As a rhetorical enterprise embodying a process of reception and appropriation, translation, I suggest, is intrinsic to an understanding of textual production in the Middle Ages; it is, here, a primary critical issue. By rhetoric and rhetorical theory I do not mean "rhetoric restrained," or modern "neorhetoric" or tropology, that is, a subject whose field ofcompe­ tence has been contracted to denote a theory of figures, with metaphor presiding at the center of this generalized art of elocutio.6 To be sure, for the medievals as well as for the ancients, troping, and particularly meta­ phor,translatio, maintained an implicit importance and at times centrality. But troping is only part ofa matrix ofa rhetorical concern with the way that language creates meanings by turning- "troping" in its literal sense-and appropriating signifiers from one context to another, forcing a revaluation of understood meanings through new figurations.7 As is well known, the standard rhetorical term for metaphor, translatio, also denoted translation in medieval usage. But in Latin, translatio as a term for translation long competed with the word interpretatio, a term from hermeneutics.8 Indeed, in England the word "translation" from translatio achieved full currency only in thefourteenth century.9 The word interpretatio, however, is also the Latin term equivalent to the Greek hermeneia, and it is this idea of interpretatz'o that informs both uses of translatio, as interlingual para­ phrase and as metaphor. Both, as linguistic acts of turning meaning, are acts of interpretation. 5 See Wilhelm Dilthey, "The Rise of Hermeneutics," trans. Fredric Jameson, NLH 3 (1972):229-44. See also Poetique 23 (1979), an issue devoted to the subject...


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