Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 10004
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Towell , Julie.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Transforming Power: Mis-Glossing Female Figures in "Beowulf" and "Judith" [Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Medieval Association, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, October 14-16, 1999, Session 4: "Anglo-Saxon Appropriations: Translating, Glossing, Editing Old English Texts."]
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 33, 3 (Spring 2000):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Beowulf, Old English Epic Judith, Old English Poem Literature- Verse Translation Women in Literature
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
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  • Abstract: Any translation of Old English is problematic because no translator can fulfill three conditions considered critical by many translation theorists. One of these principles is that a "translator should have a perfect knowledge of both" the original language and language of the translation (Susan Bassnett-McGuire "Translation Studies" [London: Methuen, 1980], 54). Another requires that a "translator must fully understand the sense and meaning of the original author" (Bassnett-McGuire 54). Finally, since language is an integral part of culture, the translator needs not only proficiency in two languages, he [or she] must also be at home in two cultures. In other words, he [or she] must be bilingual and bicultural" (Mary Snell-Hornby, "Translation Studies: An Integrated Approach," rev. ed. [Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1995], 42). Over the years, Old English scholars have claimed fluency in the Anglo-Saxon language, which in itself is not a sound supposition. Much more tenuous, however, are Saxonists' links to authors of Old English literary texts and assumptions of an authoritative knowledge of Anglo-Saxon culture. Despite the impossibility of full understanding of either Anglo-Saxon language or culture, editors and translators often mistake these assumptions for a comprehensive and empathetic understanding of Anglo-Saxon society. Furthermore, glossators and translators of Old English poetry often do not objectively work with the generally accepted - if imperfect - understanding of the language, but introduce interpretations influenced by the translator's general cultural assumptions of her/his own time and place. As a result, the modern English values assigned to individual words are likely to color the reading of the poetry in ways that are not clearly justified by their actual vocabulary. Two major female figures are considered here: Judith of Bethulia, title figure of an Old English poem; and Grendel's mother, the nameless, but significant, antagonist in the central section of Beowulf. Both of these very different figures are powerful adversaries of male figures. On the one hand, scholars have made word choices that color the presentation of Judith by diminishing or ignoring her powerfulness as a leader while depicting the (presumably) sexually experienced widow and mature woman as a virginal girl. On the other hand, translators of Beowulf deny Grendel's mother her "humanity" by altering the poet's words--interpreting words differently based on the referent--and, intensifying her "monstrosity." Consequently, certain terms are quietly redefined and often become "fixed" in Old English scholarship. Such misinterpretations have been sustained throughout the editorial history of Judith and Beowulf. As a result, the subtle and complex characterizations of the original works are overwritten by later cultures and languages. [Reproduced by permission of the editor Robert L. Schichler and the editors of the Old English Newsletter.]
  • Author's Affiliation: Wayne State University
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2000.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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