Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


30.11.06
  Karlamagnús saga - The Translations

Found an English abstract about a lecture I held (in German) at a conference in 1998. I hope I don't scare people off my blog with that stuff. But maybe I'd get back into my PhD if I post some of my research here.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

The Chansons de geste represented in the Old Norse Karlamagnús saga: Translations or Adaptations?

The Karlamagnús saga is a compilation of texts about the life of Charlemagne and his heroes, deriving mostly from Old French and Latin originals. Most of them were written during the reign of Håkon Håkonarson (1217-1263) at the Norwegian Court though some parts might have been translated in Iceland at an earlier date. The texts compiled in the KMS are of special interest because some of them represent older versions of French chansons de geste than those that are still left in manuscripts, among them a version of Ogier li Danois and one of the Saxon War older than that of Jehan Bodel. But only three of the texts in the KMS allow a close comparison with the French originals because the existing mss. are very close to the ones used by the authors of the Norse versions. These texts are: Otvels þáttr (Chanson d'Otinel), Jórsalaferð (Voyage de Charlemagne en Orient) and Runzivals þáttr (Chanson de Roland).

These texts are commonly regarded as translations, the estimation ranging from 'very faithful albeit somewhat shortened' (e.g. Koschwitz, Treutler) to 'really bad, the translator not even knowing enough Old French to do his task properly' (Aebischer, with whom I disagree). The problem is that some of the academics use a linguistic translation model that does not suit Mediaeval translation. In recent years scientists have become more aware of the transfer problems of translations and realised deliberate cultural (Halvorsen) and structural (Clover) changes to make the texts more easily accessible to an audience with a different cultural background and different literary conventions.

I will pick up some chosen examples from the different levels where changes vis-à-vis the originals do occur: the problem of style (the Old Norse versions are in prose), of verbal equivalence (literal translations don't always work), and formal aspects as the shortening and omitting of similair laisses (especially in the Runzivals þáttr) and aligning the scenes of the French texts to the tripartite scene scheme shown by C. Clover. Most important are the cultural changes, e.g. the tuning down of the sexual monemt (in the famous gab of Oliver to sleep with the emperor's daughter a hundred times in one night in the Voyage de Charlemagne), or the difficulties the authors had to describe fighting on horseback with the lance which was unknown in the North; the shortening of emotional passages and elaborate descriptions, both of which are still left to a considerable degree in the Old Norse versions contrary to what is usually said about this point.

While the three French texts are rather different in their structure within the range of the structure of the chansons de geste itself, the authors of the Old Norse versions had to make different degrees of changes. It is commonly assumed that the Jórsalaferð is the best translation of the three but that is because the French original is closer to the Norse conventions than the other texts. Most uncommmon is the elaborate structure of the Chanson de Roland with ist intertwined and similair laisses that forced the author to make considerable changes. But the ways of adapting the cultural aspects are nearly the same in all three texts.

With regard to the widespread range of Mediaeval translation I decide to call these three texts for translations rather than adaptations although they are adapted to the background of the Norse audience. When comparing the Norse versions of no longer existing French chansons de geste we will have to bear in mind that they are no 'close' or 'faithful' translations but rather 'adaptated' translations, fortunately following a pattern that makes the changes predictable to a certain extent.
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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