Catching up on Classics (and lots more!) discussion

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
This topic is about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
66 views
Old School Classics, Pre-1900 > Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Spoilers

Comments Showing 1-36 of 36 (36 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Pink | 6556 comments This is the discussion thread for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown, our Old School Classic Group Read for April 2019.

Spoilers allowed here.

Please feel free to discuss anything you wish, relating to the book and let us know what you thought :)


message 2: by Rachel (last edited Apr 01, 2019 09:48AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rachel | 26 comments In Our Time's recent about this text inspired me to read it along with you guys. Not sure if it counts as a spoiler or not, but I thought I'd put it here to be on the safe side: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1428 comments A fine little story. Impressive it is so old. It did not feel old to me.

Some amazing lines even in the O'Donoghue-translation (going for meaning first of all) "desolate birds on the bare branches, / all piping pitifully from the pain of the cold."


Kathleen | 3583 comments I am enjoying this story so much, and am thrilled with the Armitage translation.

This passage, for example, tells so much in a few lines, but delivers it with a playful alliteration that doesn't get tiresome at all--it just makes me feel like I did as a kid listening to a tall tale, even though something about the whole thing feels very grown up at the same time:

"In a strange region he scales steep slopes;
far from his friends he cuts a lonely figure.
Where he bridges a brook or wades through a waterway
ill fortune brings him face-to-face with a foe
so foul or fierce he is bound to use force.
So momentous are his travels among the mountains
to tell just a tenth would be a tall order."


Angie | 522 comments I first encountered this in college and have been wanting to revisit it.
I am enjoying the story thus far. The Armitage translation is so riveting.

I'll have some more detailed comments after I'm a little deeper into the book.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1428 comments Rachel wrote: "In Our Time's recent about this text inspired me to read it along with you guys. Not sure if it counts as a spoiler or not, but I thought I'd put it here to be on the safe side: https://www.bbc.co...."

Thank you for the link to the podcast. Many interesting points.

People at the court expects Gawain to be a womanizer - because that is what they have heard in other romantic tales.

(view spoiler)
The pentagram is described in in 25 = 5 * 5 lines and line 1 and 2525 are almost similar.


Karen Michele Burns (klibrary) | 96 comments Kathleen wrote: "I am enjoying this story so much, and am thrilled with the Armitage translation.

This passage, for example, tells so much in a few lines, but delivers it with a playful alliteration that doesn't ..."


This is what I experienced listening to the Armitage translation as well. I usually appreciate old tales like this from a different perspective. I appreciate the poetry of the language, but also have to work to find the bones of the story itself and pull the meaning out as I go. The story was clear in the Armitage and the wordplay was pure joy to listen to!


Kathleen | 3583 comments I agree this was a joy, Karen Michele. I finished and just loved it. So glad this was chosen for a group read, as I might never have read it otherwise. In fact, I'm thinking it would be a fun tradition to re-read this every New Years!

I had forgotten how much I loved a well-told tale. Couldn't have been happier with the Armitage translation. I'm even going to check out some of his poetry now.


Annette | 442 comments As I posted over in the No Spoilers discussion, I first read Morpurgo’s adaptation, then Tolkien’s translation and now I’m well into Armitage’s translation. They all tell the same story but so differently! Morpurgo tells it in prose form with illustrations for what I assume is a younger audience but I loved it. Tolkien retained the verse form but not with the fun and fancy found in Armitage which is my favorite of the three. (A bit of alliteration!)


message 10: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 4573 comments Mod
My translation was by Marie Borroff, and she kept the meter and the alliteration of the original. It was beautifully done and brought back memories of college lit class. Beautiful selection!


message 11: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (last edited Apr 11, 2019 04:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 2799 comments Mod
Kathleen wrote: "I am enjoying this story so much, and am thrilled with the Armitage translation.

This passage, for example, tells so much in a few lines, but delivers it with a playful alliteration that doesn't ..."


I agree Kathleen, Angie and anyone I missed. The alliterative version by Armitage is really good.

I am reading the Armitage and the Tolkien versions side by side. There is so much variation it is hard to fathom that both come from the same source, or perhaps I should say

Though from the same source, they stray so far.

or

From the same source they surprisingly vary.

I love the alliterative long line. There should be two stressed syllables in the first half of the line with the same consonant sound to match the first stressed syllable in the second part of the line. I would not have noticed the alliteration in Tolkien without studying the technique in Armitage. Armitage's use is somehow much heavier and more noticable. His heavy hand is humorous and delightful. Tolkien, on the other hand, has a very distinctive voice. I could hear any one of his noble characters from Lord of the Rings saying the lines of this poems. (Of course, I realize they never would.)


message 12: by Terris (last edited Apr 12, 2019 08:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Terris | 2338 comments I was first listening on LibriVox with just an OK reader and mostly didn't have any idea what was going on! Then a friend suggested a different translation -- a new verse translation by Simon Armitage read by Bill Wallis, who was wonderful!! And I enjoyed it so much. This one really showed me that the translation and reader really make a difference! Loved it!


message 13: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments I don't know if this has been mentioned in any of the several (other) discussion threads for "Sir Gawain," but back in 2006, Simon Armitage had an article in "The Guardian" (https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...) which described his experiences with, and some of his reasons for, translating the poem. I think it is better as an afterward to the translation than it is at attracting potential readers, but that may be my prejudice.

He includes his various research efforts: including understanding the term "gralloching" for 'disassembling' a deer, a topic which also came up in a Goodreads discussion of T.H. White's "The Once and Future King" last year (where I referred the really curious to some on-line information on the subject: https://www.realtree.com/global-hunti...). Even Armitage's summary of what he witnessed is, as he warns, not for those with a sensitive stomach (all the more so for the how-to article).

Armitage's whole article is worth reading, though. For those comparing translations, he includes references to Marie Borroff's translation, and also to Tolkien's (as well as a reference to Tolkien's edition). He finds the latter more literal (as befits the work of an editor of the Middle English text).

I would add that while Tolkien is usually very precise, and very much at home in the modern alliterative meter he used, he didn't feel bound to always use the modern form of a Middle English word, but substituted a modern synonym if he thought it clearer, or perhaps that it sounded better. Which, back when I knew the original text better than I do now, I sometimes found disconcerting.

There is a good article by Tom Shippey (a very reliable scholar) on Tolkien's work with alliterative verse in modern English, but it unfortunately confines itself (due to limits of space in the original appearance) to his adaptations to the Old English version, not of the various Middle English varieties (https://www.academia.edu/36579546/Tol...)


Angie | 522 comments Lynn wrote: "Kathleen wrote: "I am enjoying this story so much, and am thrilled with the Armitage translation.

This passage, for example, tells so much in a few lines, but delivers it with a playful alliterat..."


That's interesting, Lynn. I have the Tolkien version. I should pull it out and compare them, too. My students didn't take to the Tolkien version very well when I assigned it.


message 15: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (last edited Apr 13, 2019 01:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 2799 comments Mod
Angie wrote: "Lynn wrote: "Kathleen wrote: "I am enjoying this story so much, and am thrilled with the Armitage translation.

This passage, for example, tells so much in a few lines, but delivers it with a play..."


I am almost finished with my reading. So far I listened to a short audiobook by translator Marie Borroff. This was a great introduction to the plot and characters. Then I read Tolkien and Armitage's versions side by side. Tolkien's feels heavier. After Fitt 3 I dropped the Tolkien entirely and am simply reading Armitage. Armitage is quicker, lighter, more humorous. I may still go back to Tolkien, because I do still want to read Pearl and Sir Orfeo, but if I keep comparing the two side by side I will never actually finish either it seems! I think I will rate Armitage's version 5 stars and Tolkien 4 stars.

Oh, and while I was reading something jogged my memory about Reynard the Fox. Somewhere in my youth I must have read a children's book with that title. Plus there is a Disney Robin Hood book we had where Robin is a fox. Anyway this book has inspired me to order Reynard the Fox: A New Translation .

Sorry your students did not like it Angie. I find it refreshing. I teach things like The Outsiders, The Pearl, and The Diary of Anne Frank: And Related Readings. I find the medieval romances a nice break from a diet of overwhelming modern social problems.


Gabby | 2 comments I listened to the audiobook of the Armitage translation narrated by Bill Wallis as I thought it was an appropriate way to initially digest it. This was my first time reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and now I'm honestly regretting not taking the Middle English course taught by one of my favorite professors for undergrad. He would have made this reading so much more fun.

I found myself thinking of Beowulf and the Grinch throughout. The stranger who lives off on his own and imposes himself in someone else's hall as a challenge and all that. Two literally green and the other green with envy. Overall, it was delightful to listen to and I plan on reading the print version of Armitage and Tolkien soon.


Kathleen | 3583 comments Interesting comparisons, Ian and Lynn. Happy as I was with the Armitage translation, I would love to read the Tolkien someday, and the Borroff too.

The Guardian article is so informative, Ian--thanks! I love how he says reading the alliterative lines "suggest a physical relationship with the action being described."

The gralloching was a bit much for me, but in the documentary that Lynn posted in the non-spoiler thread, you can see a step-by-step of the process I squinted through that part, but highly recommend watching it. He walks you through the story in the most delightful way.

And Gabby--the Grinch! I had no idea, but of course!


Shirley (stampartiste) | 600 comments I am curious if anyone knows whether Cervantes got his idea for writing Don Quixote from reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I immediately thought of the character Don Quixote when I read this passage (from Tolkien's translation):

... it pleased him [King Arthur] not to eat
upon festival so fair, ere he first were apprised
of some strange story or stirring adventure,
or some moving marvel that he might believe in
of noble men, knighthood, or new adventures
;
...

This passage reminded me so much of Don Quixote and how his obsession with reading about knights and chivalry led him to seek out his own adventures as a knight-errant.

(I'm reading Tolkien side-by-side with Armitage for clarification of some passages, but I'm really loving Tolkien's translation.)


message 19: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments Shirley (stampartiste) wrote: "I am curious if anyone knows whether Cervantes got his idea for writing Don Quixote from reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I immediately thought of the character Don Quixote when..."

The short answer is no.

The Gawain/Pearl Manuscript (both descriptions are current) was pretty much unknown from some time after it was written down in the fourteenth century to the Victorian era (first published 1839), although there is a group of later English Gawain poems that also use the motif of the beheading Game, one of them now known as "The Greene Knight" -- see the Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Gaw...

There certainly wasn't a sixteenth-century Spanish translation for Cervantes to read.

But you are close enough to the general idea behind "Don Quixote."

What Cervantes was responding to was the vogue in the Iberian peninsula (e.g., Castile and Catalonia, and possibly other regions) for mostly late imitations of medieval prose romances. They were full of things like brave knights single-handedly overthrowing hordes of non-Christians, along with giants, etc.

The best-known, and best, of these, was "Amadis of Gaul," which Cervantes mentions with some praise, but there were others, such as "Palmerin of England," and the Catalan "Tirant lo Blanc." The bibliography and basic history of these is extremely complicated. For example, the original version of "Amadis" may have been in 14th-century Portuguese, but the oldest text is in early sixteenth-century Castilian: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amad%C3...

The most successful of them generated sequels, which were happily printed by publishers cashing in on the vogue.

Cervantes was exaggerating for effect the impact of these books on the Spanish mind-set of the sixteenth century. But we have some idea of how widespread they were from the plain-spoken Bernal Diaz del Castillo, whose "True History of the Conquest of New Spain" is our best account the invasion of Mexico under Cortez. In the closest thing he comes to a literary flourish, he compares the first sight of Aztec Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) to something from "Amadis of Gaul." He obviously expects his readers to know what he is talking about.

Some have tried to make the case that their popularity produced unrealistic expectations among Spaniards for the real word, contributing to Philip II's long war against the Protestants in the Netherlands, and the related disastrous attempts to conquer England (there was more than one Armada).

Philip II doesn't seem to have been the sort to be influenced by popular literature, no matter what his subjects were reading. While some of the Spanish participants in the (successful) sea-battle with the Ottoman Turks at Lepanto (1571) may have had notions from chivalric romances in their heads, I doubt that anything of the sort influenced the senior commanders, including Spain's hard-headed Venetian allies.


Shirley (stampartiste) | 600 comments Ian wrote: "Shirley (stampartiste) wrote: "I am curious if anyone knows whether Cervantes got his idea for writing Don Quixote from reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I immediately thought of..."

Thank you so much for your wonderful treatise on my question, Ian! I had completely forgotten Cervantes' repeated references to Amadis of Gaul in Don Quixote. I couldn't help but wonder at the similarity between the Sir Gawain passage and Quixote's obsession with chivalry. But I was not aware that this poem lay undiscovered until the 1800s. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your response.

I have to tell you how amazed and ecstatic I was to read your comments about The Conquest of New Spain. I just recently ordered a copy of this book to read for my Classic Bingo Challenge here. It seemed like such a fascinating book (I read an excerpt of this book online). It doesn't seem to have much of a following, so I was amazed when you referenced this book. I love it when I read a book, and an author references another book I've read. Sweet!

Again, thanks, Ian!


message 21: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments You're welcome.

A lot of my Freshman English Lit. course (i.e., part of the Norton Anthology..., Volume 1) was unknown or neglected for centuries. It is sometimes assumed that some works were part of the general inheritance of English literature, but they had to be discovered or revived in the nineteenth, and even the twentieth century. I've seen anachronistic references to studying or reading them in historical novels, and even some academic writings.

The disappearance of Old English was understandable, although it seems to have been read and even copied well into the twelfth century, but only a few selected literary works of later Middle English made it into print, mostly from Caxton, the first English printer, at the end of the fifteenth century. (He also printed some old encyclopedic works, and other non-literary prose.) Caxton's use of a very conservative spelling, then still used by professional scribes, and in older manuscripts, is partly responsible for words in the dictionary that are still spelled much as they were pronounced in Middle English, instead of modern English.

Some of the poetry had a following, e.g., Chaucer (Caxton did two editions, the second based on a better manuscript, and there was even an annotated editon), and Alexander Pope read him in the early eighteenth century. Langland's allegorical "Piers Ploughman" was read as anti-papal, and thus useful and acceptable post-Reformation, although it was accompanied by some spurious works (as also happened to Chaucer).

A few other works were reprinted in Elizabethan times, and thereafter, as in Hakluyt's "Voyages," because they had some special non-literary interest. A bad text of a Middle English translation of "Mandeville's Travels" was reprinted repeatedly, with increasing levels of corruption, but managed to retain its entertainment value for generations.

Malory wasn't reprinted between the last quarter of the seventeenth century, and then in a mangled text, and the early nineteenth century, so English Arthurian literature was known from surviving copies of a badly edited black-letter text. The poet Southey was partly responsible for its revival, in a modern typeface, and an attempt was made to go back to Caxton's first edition, but a true critical edition had to wait for almost 1890 (ed. Sommer), although a good popular edition based on it was published fairly quickly, in 1903 (ed. Pollard).

I could go on at length, but I no longer have the bibliographic resources for things like this.

What translation of Bernal Diaz are you going to be reading?

The one I own in hard copy is the 1963 Cohen translation for Penguin Classics, which is heavily abridged. I have the Hakluyt Society translation by A.P. Maudslay, from about 1912, in pdf, which is complete: I keep meaning to make time to get to it, but my TBR list is unmanageably large...

And I read a nineteenth century translation in High School: it was part of a Xerox-sponsored edition of reproductions of early American literature. That probably wasn't the best introduction, but I was reading it along with Prescott's "History of the Conquest of Mexico" (1843), so it kind of fit.


Shirley (stampartiste) | 600 comments That must have been a fascinating English Lit class you took. Your review of works written during the Middle English period makes me appreciate the commitment of the scholars who spend years translating these texts into modern English while still retaining the author's voice and intent. Even though I had never heard of Caxton, it's obvious literature owes him a big debt of gratitude for preserving these priceless manuscripts.

As to the Bernal Diaz translation I purchased. It is the 1963 Penguin Classics one translated by J. M. Cohen that you mentioned. The synopsis did not state that it was an abridged version! Is it severe enough that I should maybe try to locate the A.P. Maudslay version you mention? I appreciate your letting me know about this. I always try to find translations that are as near to the originals as possible.


message 23: by Ian (last edited Apr 17, 2019 01:53PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments The class was just English 101 (or some such number), required at UCLA for all English majors (and others were encouraged to take it). "The Norton Anthology of English Literature," then in its second or third edition, in two fat, heavy, volumes, was, and is, packed with first-rate material. It remains a standard textbook, and is now in, I think, its tenth edition.

[Addendum, April 17: in the interest of accuracy, I checked up on the UCLA English department, and the three-quarter course is currently 10 (10A, 10B, 10C), not 101. I suspect that my memory was at fault, since I was uncertain of 101 to begin with, but couldn't think of a more likely number.]

In any edition, either volume contains more than can be covered in a quarter (or a semester), so a lot depends on who is teaching the course. (Even in a three-quarter course, A, B, and C., covering successive periods, as was the practice at UCLA.) Some people teaching the course go in for a more in-depth look at specific works, with long assigned readings, while some try to cover more ground, with more variety. (There may be just as much reading involved, but of more shorter works and excerpts.)

So far as my memory goes, William Caxton didn't actually save any manuscripts: we mostly have to trust that what he printed fairly represented what he had to work with, but we know that he sometimes acted as an editor. Fortunately, some of the works he printed exist in other copies, sometimes a great many (e.g. Chaucer).

I think that one manuscript that was in his printing shop, or that of his successor, Wynkyn de Worde (who chose the second part of his name as advertising), has been identified. This is the "Winchester Manuscript" of Malory's "Morte D'Arthur" (Caxton's title).

There are marks on the pages showing that it was in a printer's shop, and Caxton's was the only one in England. It may have been used in preparing Caxton's edition, but Wynkyn de Worde's re-issue certainly used it to correct certain passages that were obscure in the original printed edition. (Ironically, these changes formerly were automatically distrusted by textual scholarship, there being no reason not to think that they were just someone's bright ideas.)

However, Caxton's main manuscript for his edition of Malory has vanished.

A lot of the manuscripts may have belonged to wealthy or important people who were Caxton's patrons, and were returned to them when Caxton was finished with them. What happened to them thereafter depended on chance, like any other medieval manuscript. Several major fires in London, and elsewhere, may have destroyed some, while others may have discarded by the later heirs who saw only an old-fashioned, and unfashionable, book cluttering up the house. Some "illustrious" families only discovered an interest in what they owned when they saw it had some financial value.

Those belonging to religious institutions, whose libraries were not confined to religious books, may have been destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which was accompanied by a good deal of book-burning.

As for the Conquest of New Spain, I was under the impression that I had the complete Maudslay translation in PDFs from archive.org (The Internet Archive), but a close look now reveals that the files I have are all of volumes 1 or 4, out of 5, and I can't find any others: so I wouldn't go looking for it on-line as an alternative to Cohen.

Sorry for being misleading. I downloaded them some years ago, and really should have opened all of the files at the time, not just some of them.

A lot of what Cohen omits is pretty dry: Bernal Diaz was given to extended lists of who was part of an expedition, what supplies they had with them, and other stuff that quickly gets tedious. (Although it is invaluable to a serious historian, and does give a good look at Spanish resources during the conquest.)

However, Bernal Diaz's pre-Cortez adventures in the Americas are also missing, and with them a first-hand account of Spanish imperialism in Cuba and the West Indies, and those *are* in Maudslay's Volume 1, so you can take a look at them if you are interested.


message 24: by Terry (new) - added it

Terry | 1357 comments Hi Ian, I also went to UCLA, class of 1975, and took a few lit classes, although not the the 101 to which you refer. It was there that I first read The Sound and the Fury, which set me off on a Faulkner binge read that lasted a long time! Anyway, I also enjoyed reading the above exchange, even though I was not a big fan of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I just found only mildly amusing.


message 25: by Ian (last edited Apr 28, 2019 09:56AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments Looking back, I seem to have digressed a good bit beyond what I intended. My apologies for thread drift.

My original point, from which I was distracted by remembering where and when I had come across some of the information, was that "Sir Gawain," (let alone "Pearl," and the two other poems. "Patience" and "Purity/Cleanness," in the unique manuscript) has been an actual part of the English literary heritage for less than two hundred years -- a good deal less, considering the limited circulation of the original edition, and other problems with the subsequent nineteenth-century editions.

The manuscript is technically known as Cotton Nero A.x, and was once part of the library of the seventeenth-century antiquarian Robert Bruce Cotton. The weird catalogue label reflects his practice of putting busts of Roman emperors on his book cases, and further designating the context by shelf and order.

Cotton's collection became part of the Old Royal Library, which was absorbed by the British Museum (and now the British Library), but not before it was nearly destroyed by a fire in the eighteenth century: the Gawain manuscript survived unharmed, but the Beowulf manuscript was damaged. (It is customary to note that they were then housed in the ominously-named Ashburnham House: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashburn....)

It first appeared in an expensive compendium of metrical romances, "Sir Gawayne: A Collection of Ancient Romance-Poems" by Scotish [sic] and English Authors Related to that Celebrated Knight of the Round Table, edited by Sir Frederic Madden for the Bannatyne Club in 1839, which had a limited circulation. Madden was better as a paleographer (a specialist in handwriting) than as a philologist, so his readings were more (although not completely) reliable than his interpretations. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederi...). "Sir Gawayn and the Grene Knygt" leads off the volume, Madden apparently considering it the best of them. The Internet Archive has a copy available for download: https://archive.org/details/cu3192405...

(At least one of the poems Madden included was definitely of Scottish origin, but he so identified several others, possibly with the membership of the Bannantyne Club in mind. His description of the manuscript is interesting, but his Introduction to the whole volume is, for reasons beyond his control, of no real help to the reader -- he was the victim of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century mis-datings of many romances, which put them in reverse order.)

The quality of the poem was recognized by some of those who read it there, and it was re-edited separately by Richard Morris for the Early English Text Society appearing in 1864, with a revised printing in 1869. It was part of the Society's Original Series of publication, and appeared as EETS #4: the other poems in the manuscript were edited as EETS #1, so the whole project may have have been given some priority. (These editions of "Gawain" are also available at The Internet Archive (archive.org): a https://archive.org/details/sirgawayn... and
https://archive.org/details/sirgawayn...)

(Robert Morris' edition presumably had much better distribution: individual EETS books could be purchased separately, so it was not limited to subscribers, and many were available in a less expensive paperbound form -- probably the first English paperback editions of scholarly works. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_E...)

Unfortunately, Morris, who was an industrious editor, but also not a fully qualified philologist (he could not read the extensive material published in German), merely reprinted, with some additions and corrections, Madden's "Glossarial Index," which was quite comprehensive, but gave minimal information: just the supposed meaning of the word, possibly based only on context. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard...

The poem began to come into its own with the 1925 edition by J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon, and probably got a boost from the new Early English Text Society edition (Original Series 210), which had been re-edited by Sir Israel Gollancz before his death in 1930, but did not appear in print until 1940. Both contained new information, and have been absorbed into the general tradition of scholarship regarding the poem, but are still worth consulting: Tolkien-Gordon in a revised edition of 1967.

(On Gollancz, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_... Unfortunately, although it mentions his translation of "Pearl," it doesn't mention "Sir Gawain.")

There are a number of later text editions (how many I'm not sure), some for the general reader/beginning student, like the Everyman version, with marginal glosses, and some aimed at more advanced scholars who are supposed to be competent to deal directly with the Middle English. The latter have full (or fuller) glossaries which go into etymologies, and appearances elsewhere in Middle English, if any.

I say "if any" because, although the language of the four poems in the Gawain manuscript is largely very traditional, with words often going back to Old English verse, it also contains some vocabulary that seems to be unique, and has had to be puzzled out: e.g., some have roots, or known cognates, in Old Norse instead of Old English or French. The vocabulary would probably be less difficult if we had more texts written in the same dialect, but we don't.


message 26: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments Terry wrote: "Hi Ian, I also went to UCLA, class of 1975, and took a few lit classes, although not the the 101 to which you refer. It was there that I first read The Sound and the Fury, which set me off on a Fau..."

Our times at UCLA overlapped: and I attended graduate school there as well.

Thinking about it again, the course would probably have been English 10A-10B-10C -- and I find online that that is the current numbering. (It has been a very long time.) The periods covered in each quarter may have changed a bit I thought that the first course ran only to the Restoration, but it is currently: A to 1700, B from 1700-1850, and C from 1850 to present.


Shirley (stampartiste) | 600 comments Ian wrote: "Looking back, I seem to have digressed a good bit beyond what I intended. My apologies for thread drift.

My original point, from which I was distracted by remembering where and when I had come acr..."


I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments on Sir Gawain... and the history of older manuscripts. It makes for fascinating reading. Thank you!

In reading Tolkien side-by-side with Armitage, I can see where the translations are often quite different in meaning. I've wondered if this is similar to the Starkey/Grossman translations of Don Quixote I read, where one translator may choose readability over faithfulness to text, or whether the Middle English text is so obscure to modern meaning that each translator uses his best judgment in interpreting the text.

I absolutely LOVE Tolkien's translation (I had forgotten how much I loved his books). I find Armitage too vernacular for my taste. As an example:

Tolkien: Stanza 25, Line 19
"...and all the goodly gear to guard him whatever betide;"

Armitage: Line 584
"all the trimmings and trappings of a knight tricked out to ride:"

For me, I want the poem to read more like it might have been written in 1390.


message 28: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments Shirley (stampartiste) wrote: "where one translator may choose readability over faithfulness to text, or whether the Middle English text is so obscure to modern meaning that each translator uses his best judgment in interpreting the text. ..."

"Sir Gawain" is debatable in places, such as those where the meaning of a word is itself disputable, and can give rise to different interpretations from context, but it is not overwhelmingly difficult.

I suspect that Armitage didn't feel he had to render the text very exactly, as he had in mind a popular translation, whereas Tolkien may have had possible students in mind -- and in any case came to the task of translation as a seasoned professional in Old and Middle English, probably with strong opinions about what the poet was saying, and how he said it, and not as a poet who was fresh to the text.

(By the way, thanks for your comment.)


Kathleen | 3583 comments Ian wrote: "Looking back, I seem to have digressed a good bit beyond what I intended. My apologies for thread drift.

My original point, from which I was distracted by remembering where and when I had come acr..."


Ian, you've contributed so much to this read for me! Thanks for being here and sharing this fascinating info.

I have to say, this really tickled me: "his practice of putting busts of Roman emperors on his book cases, and further designating the context by shelf and order." What an idea. Makes me want to catalog my books this way, based on shelf decoration!


Kathleen | 3583 comments Shirley (stampartiste) wrote: "I absolutely LOVE Tolkien's translation (I had forgotten how much I loved his books). I find Armitage too vernacular for my taste. As an example: ..."

Shirley, this is so helpful. I can see why you would enjoy Tolkien's translation so much. I want to read that one next!


message 31: by Ian (last edited Apr 18, 2019 11:54AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments Kathleen wrote: "Thanks for being here and sharing this fascinating info. ..."

Thank you.

I threw in the information about Cotton designations for manuscripts because they baffled me when I first encountered them in Junior High (Middle School), in relation to the Beowulf and Gawain manuscripts, and then again, later, in a comparison of Middle English versions of "Mandeville's Travels" (in a Dover reprint of an early twentieth century modernized-spelling edition), and later still as a designation of some of the manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

I was in college before I found a good explanation of who Cotton was, and what Roman emperors had to do with it, instead of just that it was a catalogue number with the name of a seventeenth-century collector.

The emperor issue was (and is) partly confused by his like use of a bust of Cleopatra -- I don't know if he was expressing an opinion of her, or just happened to own a bust, and put it to practical use.

I learned somewhat more due to a coincidence. UCLA had a copy of an unfinished biography, "A Fly in Amber: Being an Extravagant Biography of the Romantic Antiquary Sir Robert Bruce Cotton" (1962), which was by Hope Mirrlees, whose fantasy novel "Lud-in-the-Mist" (1926) was, and is, one of my favorite examples of pre-Tolkien English fantasy. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_Mi... and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lud-in-...)

Fortunately, these days there is a Wikipedia article on Cotton himself: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Rob...

And there is another on the library (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotton_...), and a third gives a long, but incomplete, list of the manuscripts (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...)

In the 1620s his 1000-volume collection of manuscripts was used to support Parliamentarian claims against the Stuart monarchy with medieval precedents, and the library was temporarily confiscated as politically dangerous. It was returned to his family after his death, and a descendant donated it to the nation: there was then no national library, and it became part of the nucleus of the British Museum, and then part the British Library when that institution was set up in 1973, and re-housed in 1997 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British...)


Kathleen | 3583 comments Wow, what a story about Cotton! Preservation and persecution.

And now you've introduced me to another fascinating character, Hope Mirrlees, and I've added Lud-in-the-Mist based on your endorsement as well as the really interesting reviews I read. She sounds like someone I would really enjoy. Thank you Ian.


message 33: by Ian (last edited Apr 18, 2019 02:50PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments I just noticed that Lud-in-the-Mist is currently available from Amazon as a Kindle Unlimited book, so you may be able to try it free.

Addendum: my own reviews, for different editions, have been lumped together by Amazon with another 90-some reviews (there are other duplicates), for a variety of editions. If you didn't notice my most recent version (for the Kindle edition), you might want to look at it: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re...

Additional note: My original, longer, review, from 2004, is at https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re...


message 34: by Ian (last edited Apr 20, 2019 01:01PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 199 comments Shirley (stampartiste) wrote: "I had completely forgotten Cervantes' repeated references to Amadis of Gaul in Don Quixote. I couldn't help but wonder at the similarity between the Sir Gawain passage and Quixote's obsession with chivalry..."

While looking back at my comments, I realized that I omitted a possible example of the influence of Amadis et al. on real-life behavior: but not among the Spanish. Probably because it would have required a considerable digression to make sense.

The case of Sir Philip Sidney, an Elizabethan courtier and poet, at least arouses suspicion about what he had been reading.

He had presented himself as a "Protestant Knight Errant," and actually joined the Dutch (mainly Calvinist) rebellion against Spanish (Catholic) rule, as part of an English contingent that was partly responsible for the whole Armada project. There, as Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_...) describes it:

"[In 1586] he joined Sir John Norris in the Battle of Zutphen, fighting for the Protestant cause against the Spanish. During the battle, he was shot in the thigh and died of gangrene 26 days later, at the age of 31. One account says this death was avoidable and heroic. Sidney noticed that one of his men was not fully armored. He put off his thigh armor on the grounds that it would be wrong to be better armored than his men. As he lay dying, Sidney composed a song to be sung by his deathbed. According to the story, while lying wounded he gave his water to another wounded soldier, saying, "Thy necessity is yet greater than mine". This became possibly the most famous story about Sir Philip, intended to illustrate his noble and gallant character."

(It has been reported that Philip II, who had married Elizabeth's older sister, Mary Tudor, and was briefly King of England until her death, and against whom the Dutch were fighting, noted, on receiving a report of Sidney's death, "He was my god-son.")

The Wikipedia article on Sidney seems reasonably comprehensive, and contains links to articles on his prose and verse writings.

Digression on one of Sidney's works, which may or may not be considered relevant to the issue at hand:

The Wikipedia biography contains a short description of his "Arcadia," and its complicated bibliography. There are "The Old Arcadia" (the first part of which survives only in manuscripts, none the original), "The New Arcadia," a new opening section, never completed, and the original printed composite forms, as "The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia," assembled under the authority of his sister (under her title from her marriage).

For a more extensive treatment, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cou...

For the Renaissance genre, see see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastora...

On occasion Sidney dismissed "Arcadia" as a trifling work, but he spent a lot of time writing and re-writing it, and it may have been intended as part of his project to advance English literature: he died before the full flowering of the Elizabethan Renaissance, with Spenser, Donne, Jonson, and of course Shakespeare (who borrowed part of "Arcadia" for a sub-plot in "King Lear").

As suggested above, its original inspiration was a European vogue for stories in a pastoral setting, in mixed prose and verse, inspired by bucolic works of classical poets such as Theocritus and Virgil, and Greek romances, like "Daphnis and Chloe" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphnis...) replete with shepherds and shepherdesses, but also disguised or rusticated nobles, even Kings and Princes, etc., etc. (Shakespeare adapted some shorter English versions of the genre in "As You Like It" and 'The Winter's Tale.")

Sidney's mixture of chivalry, ancient Greece, and landscapes that seem more English than Mediterranean, has gone in and out of favor over the centuries.

I reviewed the Penguin edition, with notes on others, back in 2004 (with some later updates): https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re...


Shirley (stampartiste) | 600 comments Kathleen wrote: "Shirley (stampartiste) wrote: "I absolutely LOVE Tolkien's translation (I had forgotten how much I loved his books). I find Armitage too vernacular for my taste. As an example: ..."

Shirley, this ..."


Thank you, Kathleen! You definitely can't go wrong with Tolkien. I absolutely love his style.


Shirley (stampartiste) | 600 comments Ian wrote: "Shirley (stampartiste) wrote: "I had completely forgotten Cervantes' repeated references to Amadis of Gaul in Don Quixote. I couldn't help but wonder at the similarity between the Sir Gawain passag..."

What a fascinating account of Sir Philip Sidney, someone I had never even heard of until now! The selfless way in which he fought and died was quite amazing. He must have truly felt like a knight-errant for the Protestant cause.

But even more fascinating is the influence his book, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, played in elevating English Literature from a second-rate language to the stature it became shortly after with the writings of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Donne. Until I read your comments, it just never occurred to me that, at one time, English literature had to overcome the prejudices of the more established Continental European literature.

I'm really enjoying your sharing all of these fascinating facts with us!


back to top