Transmission and translation

In A. S. McGrade (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy. 328-346 (2003)
The pitfalls of the Wadding edition of John Duns Scotus illustrate a general feature of the study of medieval philosophy: the gap that separates the authentic words of the medieval thinker one wishes to study from the Latin words one sees on the pages of a printed edition — and further still from the English words one sees in a translation.  The aim of this essay is to make clear both the nature and the size of that gap, not in order to dismay prospective students of medieval philosophy, but in order to explain the hazards in such a way that students can equip themselves properly to meet them.  I will begin by discussing in a general way the channels of transmission by which medieval philosophy has made its way down to us.  I then turn to three specific cases by which I illustrate some of those general points as they apply to texts of different sorts and from different periods.  Along the way I draw attention to the kinds of errors that are liable to be introduced at the various stages of transmission between a medieval lecturer’s spoken words and the text of a modern critical edition, and I outline the tools and techniques that the careful historian of medieval philosophy will use in order to minimize such errors, especially where no critical edition is available. In the second half of the essay I turn to problems of translation.  I provide an example that shows how a reader can sometimes detect errors in a translation even without checking the Latin text, and another to illustrate how translations sometimes reflect controversial views about how a text is to be interpreted.  I then conclude with a look at the translation of particular terms, discussing a number of standard translations that are apt to be misleading, and giving some idea of the range of translation of certain key terms.
Keywords transmission of medieval texts  translation of medieval texts  editing of medieval texts  paleography
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