Wednesday, November 18, 2020


Shocking Blunders

Mark Thakkar, "Duces caecorum: On Two Recent Translations of Wyclif," Vivarium 58 (2020) 357-383, is a review of Stephen Penn, John Wyclif: Selected Latin Works in Translation (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), and Stephen Lahey, Wyclif, Trialogus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Some of the errors Thakkar exposes are quite shocking. I select two (both from Penn's translation) as exhibits for my gallery of howlers.

Thakkar, p. 367:
Jesus's famous aphorism that "many are called, but few are chosen" (multi sunt vocati, pauci vero electi) is jaw-droppingly mistranslated as "many of the elect are called poor" (p. 292).
Id., p. 368:
... both the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed contain professions of belief in the Catholic church ('credo ecclesiam catholicam' dicit utrumque simbolum), which Penn translates as: "the words 'I believe in the Catholic church' represent a symbol everywhere!" (p. 173).
Thakkar concludes his review with this observation (pp. 382-383, footnotes omitted):
[I]n countries like the UK and the US, where secondary-school Latin has collapsed outside the private sector, where few medievalists have an undergraduate background in Classics, and where lecturers would be embarrassed to sit in on language classes, most medievalists are only ever taught Latin while they are graduate students. What's more, we have already reached the stage where, in some universities, medieval Latin is taught from scratch to graduate students by people who were taught it from scratch when they were graduate students. This is not necessarily unsustainable, but it can only be sustainable if the language is taught seriously and intensively as a major component of graduate study, which it almost never is. And of course the problems we are storing up here are not confined to Wyclif: they will affect almost all areas of medieval studies. If, therefore, we do not drastically improve the level of graduate training in medieval Latin, hopeless misunderstandings of medieval sources will increasingly come to scar the scholarly landscape. In the meantime, it is evidently worth reminding translators and reviewers alike, as Wyclif used to remind his contemporaries, that "if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit."
Thanks to the friend who sent me a copy of Thakkar's review.

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