Date of Degree
Access restricted until 09/04/2021
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
My dissertation takes a translation studies approach to four medieval works that are both translations and depictions of translation in metaphorical senses (namely, migration and spiritual transformation/conversion): the Exodus of the Old English Illustrated Hexateuch, the Old English verse Exodus, Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, and the Exodus of the Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament. I approach these narratives through a lens of modern translation theory, while at the same time, I investigate the texts with an eye toward classical and medieval theories of translation as espoused by Jerome, Augustine, and King Alfred. By examining these works through a diachronical lens of translation, I show how understanding medieval translation practice can inform our understanding of how the English conceived of themselves in the Middle Ages.
The origins of England, or of English Christianity, were a recurring theme throughout the Middle Ages, and the texts in this dissertation all materially touch on narratives related to those origins. The two Old English Exodus translations participate in an early English literary trend that deploys the Exodus narrative as part of a fantasy of re-casting the English takeover of Britain as establishing a new chosen people. This populus israhel mythos, as Andrew Scheil terms it, served as a common thread in Anglo-Saxon self-mythology. In the Middle English period, Chaucer’s revisits the origins of English Christianity in the Man of Law’s Tale, a tale that involves numerous sea-crossings and the unveiling of the hidden inclination toward Christianity among the people of England. Meanwhile, the Exodus of the Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament touches less on English origins and reveals more the emerging English sense of whiteness as a racial category. By exploring the nascent notions of whiteness and its (in)applicability to Moses and Jews at large in the text, I examine how the poet of the Paraphrase was able to call upon contemporary concerns about race and participate in establishing, through difference to the Jews, the idea of English whiteness.
Translation was a major component of the development of English literary sensibility and thus the emerging sense of what Englishness is. It is particularly important that these translations narrate versions of the past because the ability to re-shape the past for a present need allowed the English to take ownership of history, just as Augustine’s image of the Israelites taking ownership of the Egyptian treasure after the crossing of the Red Sea sees the Egyptian past superseded by the Hebrews (and the Hebrews superseded by Christianity, following Augustine’s argument). By taking up the treasures of the past on the shoreline of the present, English translators assumed a right of ownership over history and how to use it. Through representations of the past in translation, the English developed a sense of English-ness that they would then export globally. I demonstrate that by translating texts that deal with migrations, conversion, and the origins of the Israelites and of the peoples of the British Isles, the English crafted for themselves an image, a history, a literature that grows and thrives to this day.
Chaucer, Exodus, Literary Studies, Medieval, Middle English, Old English
viii, 183 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 165-183).
Copyright © 2019 Spenser Santos
Santos, Spenser. "Translating the past: medieval English Exodus narratives." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2019.
Available for download on Saturday, September 04, 2021