, Volume 91, Issue 1, pp 149-173
Date: 06 Feb 2007

Early Old English Translation: Practice Before Theory?

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Abstract

This study of early Old English translation attempts a conceptual refocusing of its function as a literary activity in general and more specifically in connection with King Alfred the Great’s programme. It traces influences on the theory of translation and on how translation was perceived from Cicero and Horace to Alfred, and it concentrates on the prefatory material and translation practice employed in Wærferth’s Old English Dialogues and the Alfredian versions of the Cura Pastoralis, the De Consolatione Philosophiae and the Soliloquia. This article examines the principles and aims that underlie some of the oldest surviving vernacular translations. It observes how values such as modesty, authority of the source text, the author’s objectives, and concern for the targeted audience all play a part in the development of a translator-specific and perhaps even a text-specific translation theory. At its core lies the dilemma between freedom and fidelity, which informs all theory of translation, regardless of language, culture, or purpose.