>Old English translators of the Bible were trying to retain
>the chiasmus structures and word counts of their sources.
>They were trying to preserve the formal features of their
>originals. See David Howlett, BRITISH BOOKS IN BIBLICAL
>STYLE, Four Courts Press, 1997. Howlett is editor of the
>Dictionary of Medieval Latin at Oxford.
>Tim Romano
There's certainly much of interest in Howlett's book, but I'm not sure I'd
want to buy into all his theories about chiasmus and word count. I'd have
thought the explanation for the OE translators' literalness was more basic
(and the same as for the Septuagint or the Latin versions). When one is
translating the word of God, one changes as little as possible, however
stilted or even unintelligible the result.
Compare St. Jerome (epist. 57): "Ego ... profiteor, me in interpretatione
Graecorum, absque Scripturis sanctis, ubi et verborum ordo mysterium est,
non verbum e verbo, sed sensum exprimere de sensu." ("It is my boast that
in translating from the Greek--EXCEPT from holy scripture, where even the
order of the words is sacred--I do not translate word-for-word, but render
the sense").
In that sense, of course, it's certainly true to say that they were trying
to preserve the formal features of their original. And I'm sure they'd have
been mystified to be rebuked for not "translating like free men"!
Gregory Hays
Dept. of Classics, University of Illinois
4072 Foreign Languages Building
707 S. Mathews, Urbana, IL 61801 USA