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Waerferth's old English translation of the Dialogi of Gregory the Great

Thijs, Christine Bertina (2003) Waerferth's old English translation of the Dialogi of Gregory the Great. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

The full text of this thesis is not available.


This thesis analyses the language and the translation technique of Bishop Waeferth's late ninth-century Old English version of Pope Gregory the Great's four books of Dialogi (composed in Latin c. 593) consisting of a large collection of narratives of early Italian saints' miracles. Because King Alfred the Great (871-899), at whose command Werferth is said to have undertaken the work during the wars with the Vikings, appears to have been inspired inter alia by this text to launch his programme of cultural renaissance, the religious and historical background plays an important role for the interpretation of the text. These issues are addressed in the opening chapters, of which the first investigates the surviving evidence of the importance of St Gregory the Great for the Anglo-Saxons in his role of `Apostle of the English', including a brief discussion of the inspirational function of hagiography in general and especially of the miracles described for the consolidation of faith, and the second provides a cultural and historical context for the Old English Dialogues within the broader post-classical and medieval translation activity and with respect to other Anglo-Saxon translations from Latin during and immediately after Alfred's reign. A third chapter explores late antique and early medieval conceptions and practices with regard to translation, literalness and literary freedom. Because of the status of Latin as the language of the Church, and the difficulty the Anglo-Saxons experienced in learning it, translation from Latin into the vernacular was soon unavoidable in order to transmit religious texts. In the next chapter the history of the literary activity at Worcester is examined, because his connection with the diocese of Worcester is the only background information available for Bishop Waerferth. With regard to the language and translation technique I seek to establish connections between Waerferth's situation and his treatment of the text. To this end a detailed analysis was undertaken of the entire first book in comparison to the Latin original. In spite of what has generally been held to be the case, my findings are that Waerferth does not usually rely narrowly on his copy of the original; he also introduces a substantial number of minor changes, explanatory additions, re-arrangements in the order of phrases or clauses, and adjustments of a syntactical nature, etc. His aim was to provide access to Gregory's teachings at a time of educational decline, modestly and faithfully keeping as close to the original as Old English idiom allows and at the same time producing a text that could be read alongside a copy of the Latin original by beginning students, as Alfred may still have been at this stage. The second volume of this thesis contains two appendices. In the first appendix the Old English and Latin text of the first book, taken respectively from the only and from the most suitable edition of each of these texts, are presented side by side for convenient reference. Also the reading of the editor of the Old English version, Hans Hecht, of the textually inferior but better preserved manuscript is offered here. The second appendix contains a list of all the misprints and/or transcription errors in this edition of the Dialogues as compiled by Pieter Harting.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Depositing User: Ethos Import
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2011 11:09
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2014 11:14
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/1583

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