Translation Tradition Translation

was an important literary, cultural, political, and intellectual activity in the Renaissance. It was how the majority of English readers came into contact with and appropriated ideas from the much-admired literature and culture of classical Greece and Rome. It was also a way of acknowledging their deference and indebtedness to this past, while simultaneously claiming that they and their society were worthy of that inheritance, and that their language was capable of embodying the ideas contained therein. Additionally, translation was a cornerstone of the school curriculum. students learned style, eloquence, and morality through translation exercises. Moreover, in this era where imitation was the dominant mode of composition—where texts were, in many ways, valued and judged according to how they built on their sources and allowed earlier styles and ideas to resonate in their texts—translation played a significant role in literary composition.

The Renaissance humanist movement led to the wide-scale valorization of the language, culture, literature, philosophy, art, and science of the Greeks and Romans. Translators embraced the important task of making such seminal classical works available to the English public. They were likewise preoccupied with translating many of the most popular French, Italian, and Spanish texts. It was by virtue of these translations that the majority of English people first came into contact with the writings of Cicero, Aristotle, Ovid, Virgil, Dante, Petrarch, and Montaigne. The demand for texts extended beyond the humanist curriculum and far beyond literature. Readers desired, for instance, scientific treatises, medical texts, and manuals of warfare, cookery, and hunting. These demands were usually initially sated by translations, and the translations were then followed by the production and publication of native English texts. Printing also played a large role in the translation tradition, particularly by giving more readers access to more texts. The blurring of class distinctions is connected to the translation tradition, too, as individuals without a classical education could now read classical texts.

Accuracy and fidelity to the source text was not a universally accepted theory of translation in all modes and genres or amongst all translators. Attitudes and practices ranging from literal (word-for-word) translation to free translation (a preservation of the text's ideas) are discernible. The different translation policies adopted are matched only by the sheer generic variety of translations that circulated. Equally varied was the group of people who devoted themselves to translation: nobles, professionals, merchants, and students practiced the art, and a significant proportion of this group comprised women.

In this period, women's educational opportunities and reading material were heavily circumscribed in an attempt to mould them to the ideals of chastity, silence, and obedience. It was deemed indecorous for a woman to speak out or to express her ideas in writing. Such restrictions prevented literate women from participating wholeheartedly in the male-dominated intellectual and literary culture that surrounded them. Translation, however, provided women with an acceptable way into the realm of writing. As the female translator was not deemed to be writing in her own voice or expressing her own ideas, translation was regarded as a suitable female literary activity. As a result, it was often through translations that women became writers. Far from sublimating their voices to those of their source texts, female translators used the translated text as a forum to express personal and original ideas. This practice, of course, was not unique to women. Translators of both sexes recognized the usefulness of the cover that translation provided: Radical, controversial, or touchingly personal thoughts could be expressed in translations, and if ever confronted, translators could profess innocence, ascribing the offending material to their sources.

See also classical tradition, early modern v. Renaissance.

further reading

Barber, Charles. Early Modern English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1976. France, Peter, ed. The Oxford Guide to Literature in English

Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Krontiris, Tina. Oppositional Voices: Women as Writers and Translators of Literature in the English Renaissance. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

Joyce Boro troilus and criseyde Geoffrey Chaucer (1382-1386) Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde provides one of the richest, most lyrical versions of a much larger intertextual tradition detailing the love story of Troilus, younger son of King Priam of Troy, and Criseyde, daughter of the Trojan seer Calkas. in chaucer's version of the narrative, Troilus, younger brother to Hector, Paris, and Deiphoebus (of the epic warrior legends of Troy), falls in love with Criseyde, a young widow whose father has just defected from the Trojan to the Greek camp. Troilus's efforts to court Criseyde are negotiated by Pandarus, Troilus's friend and Criseyde's uncle (Calkas's brother). Although the two lovers consummate their love, ultimately an exchange of prisoners results in Criseyde's transfer to the Greek camp, where she and Troilus can no longer arrange for their secret trysts.

Chaucer's poem survives in 16 manuscripts and a number of fragments. He chose iambic pentameter in rhyme royal for its meter. Chaucer drew on various sources for his version of this narrative, including most prominently Benoît de Sainte-Maure's Roman de Troie (late 1150s), Guido delle Colonne's History of the Destruction of Troy (1287), and Giovanni Boccaccio's Boccaccio's Il Filostrato (late 1330s). Chaucer's chief source is dramatic narrative. Chaucer adapts Il Filos-trato freely, distilling Boccaccio's nine-book structure into five books and, in the process, inventing new scenes, developing his main characters more fully, demonstrating more empathy for Criseyde than previous versions demonstrate, and deepening the philosophical vision of the poem. Some critics argue that Chaucer's new five-book structure and the poem's larger focus on exile versus return to the divinity point to the influence of his reading of Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy (Boece, which Chaucer was known to be translating from Latin into Middle English during the years he worked on Troilus and Criseyde). The narrative develops as follows:

Book 1

Troilus sees Criseyde in the temple, is smitten by her beauty (and Cupid's arrow), makes a long, anguished complaint about how to catch her attention.

Book 2

Pandarus goes to visit Criseyde to convince her to consider Troilus as a lover. He urges friendship, though his clear design is to see Troilus and Criseyde consummate their love. This book is famous for Criseyde's interior monologue in which she contemplates the pros and cons of loving Troilus only to be interrupted in her musings by his return from battle in full marshal valor. Her subsequent dream of the eagle suggests the combination of terror and ecstasy she feels at the prospect of loving Troilus. At the end of this book, Troilus and Criseyde eventually meet at a dinner party at the home of Deiphoebus, Troilus's brother.

Book 3

After the dinner party, Pandarus schemes about how he will arrange a meeting time and place for their consummation. He brings the lovers together at his house (where Troilus is hiding in a small alcove) after prevailing upon Criseyde to stay the night because of an unusually powerful "smoky reyn" (smoky rain). Troilus and Criseyde consummate their love. Dawn comes and the lovers can barely part.

Book 4

Criseyde is traded to the Greeks in exchange for Anten-or's return to Troy. Chaucer explores the various levels of irony attending the "chaungynge of Criseyde": the exchange is a less than auspicious exchange politically (since Antenor is, in part, responsible for the acceptance of the Trojan Horse within the walls of Troy). As Troilus and Criseyde take their leave from one another, Criseyde swears she will return on the 10th day.

Book 5

Upon her departure from Troy, Diomede arrives to lead Criseyde into the Greek camp. She never returns to Troy (in spite of an exchange of letters in which she and Troilus discuss schemes for doing so), becoming instead Diomede's paramour to assure her safety in the Greek camp. Distraught over the "chaungynge of Criseyde" and disturbed by his inability to construe his dream of a Criseyde lying in the arms of a boar, Troilus seeks out Diomede in battle but is not successful in avenging himself. He is killed by Achilles, and his soul ascends to the eighth sphere. The poem ends with a prayer to God and the Trinity.

Troilus and Criseyde has been described as fulfilling the expectations of many different genres. (To this extent, it anticipates Chaucer's later more explicit experiments with genre in The Canterbury Tales.) An extended narrative poem, it includes vivid dramatic scenes with lively dialogue exchanges. As a result, some critics emphasize its dramatic qualities most. In addition, it shares in the characteristics of the following genres:


Chaucer's narrative has its origins in medieval versions of Homeric epic, and he invokes epic at the start of the poem.


For many of his details, Chaucer draws on the historical narrative of Guido delle Colonne's History of the Destruction of Troy, and relies, as well, on Joseph of Exeter's explanation of supposed histories for the details he includes in his literary account.


The poem is replete with lyrical moments that recall sub-genres of the lyric, such as lamentation and AUBADE.


Pandarus's behavior as entremetteur, his voyeuristic involvement in the lover's exchanges, and forthright naughty behavior all call to mind the fabliau.


Chaucer uses the love story as an extended meditation on the conventions of romance, in particular: private versus public morality; the chivalric code; the value and definitions of honor and truth. Modern readers have also sometimes compared the poem to a novel because of its psychological realism. Chaucer himself called his poem "litel myn tragedgye," and probably had in mind the de casibus tradition (rise and fall of princes), connecting it to the Mirrors for Princes genre.

Recent critical approaches have explored, quite thoroughly, the poem's tangled gender structure (e.g., examining Chaucer's remaking of Criseyde within the tradition of Troilus and Criseyde intertexts). Queer readings have focused on Pandarus's triangulated relation with Troilus and Criseyde, as well as on Troilus's masculinity, particularly in relation to lovesickness. Feminist critics have been divided into two main camps—those who attempt to redeem Criseyde, deploring the misogynistic tradition behind more traditional readings, and those who attempt to disavow her as a creation meant to satirize. Still other readings have examined the poem's anticipation of "postmodern" concerns in its complex construction of narrative voice. See also chivalry, "Testament of Cresseid."

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