Tuesday, 13 August 2013

King Alfred the Translator

If you get the chance you should watch Michael Wood's BBC TV series King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons.

In part one he tells the tale of King Alfred and his struggle with the 'Vikings' (i.e Danes and others who invaded and settled in England in the 9th century).

Using original sources (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and others), often spoken by a reader of Old English - fascinating to actually hear this beautiful tongue, the foundation of the language we speak today - the programme gives a vivid impression of events as they unfolded at the time (albeit the literate victor's version).

Throughout, Alfred's love of learning and literacy is always keenly felt. He was particularly interested in translation of Latin texts into a language 'capable of being understood by all'.

One of the texts he worked on was the The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, which was translated 'sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense'.

From these last words we understand that the work of translation is ever the same.

The translator must remain faithful to the source, but also translate the ideas and meaning in a way the reader can understand fully.

This is sometimes a very narrow path and it is sometimes hard to keep to it. To my mind it is the mark of a good translator.