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Continuities Between Medieval and Humanist Translation Theory and Practice

Réka Forrai writes about this conference, co-organized by the Centre for Medieval Literature in collaboration with the project Cultural Encounter as a Precondition for European Identity.

Centre for Medieval Literature, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, 23-24 February 2018. Organizers: Anne den Haas and Réka Forrai 

The conference was organized by the Centre for Medieval Literature in collaboration with the project Cultural Encounter as a Precondition for European Identity, funded by the Carlsberg Foundation and the Danish Council for Independent Research.

Although there are numerous studies on medieval and Renaissance translation, the two periods are rarely compared systematically. This is due not only to the fact that philologists and paleographers are divided by disciplinary boundaries, but mainly because the humanists successfully convinced later generations that they broke away from medieval practice. Their translation theory was firmly rooted in Antiquity, with Cicero as their main example, and their translation method and language differed fundamentally from that of their medieval predecessors - or so they would have us believe. 

However, Medieval and Renaissance scholarly practices share more features than Humanists would ever admit; indeed, continuities between the two periods are increasingly in the focus of current scholarship. 

We have investigated such continuities in the special case of translations. Over the two days, participants contrasted medieval and humanist practices in a variety of cases. Papers addressed issues like the social status of the translators, the materiality of the translation, differences between translation into vernacular and learned languages, the problem of translation and literary genres, the discrepancies between translation theories and practices, the geography of translation, the connection between textual translation and the translator’s personal network, the techniques of retranslation and many more. 

The conference succeeded to complicate a simplistic picture and discover new avenues for research. It concluded that if translation practices are studied in the larger historico-cultural-ideological frame of the two periods, the connections between medieval and humanist practices are more visible and the differences lay elsewhere than in the spots claimed by the Humanists. The finding of similarities and continuities thus also makes differences more interesting, shedding new light on them. 

Editing was completed: 14.09.2018