An email arrived late yesterday from the library, advising me that a book had arrived, and apologising in case someone else had notified me already. This was not the case, so I infer that my book had been sat there at the library for some time. This morning I went in and collected it, and paid the interlibrary loan fee. I walked down the street in a thin rain to a cafe, and sat there, with a scone and a diet coke, and examined the treasure.
The book is a monograph by Elaine Treharne, The Old English Life of St Nicholas with the Old English Life of St Giles, Leeds University (1997). Google Books had alerted me that it contained interesting things, but I was unable to locate a PDF.
A google search on the author suggests that Dr Treharne must have been about the age of twelve when she wrote it, because she seems to be a young scholar even now.
To my delight, in an appendix it contains a Latin text of John the Deacon, while not actually saying so. This is a transcription from a Cotton manuscript which is not online. I have already scanned those pages and made a machine comparison with the Mombritius edition which has become my reference text.
The monograph is a very dry volume, as most are, and quite rightly. I’ve seen two reviews, which merely highlight how useful it is to have a text and translation. There is also a rather acid review by Bengt Lindström, highlighting a load of errors in the translation and suggesting that the book should not have been accepted for publication. I cannot comment on any of that, knowing no Anglo-Saxon, but I do know from experience that anybody can improve a translation, and find errors. It’s very easy. Actually making the first translation is the hard bit. However what is indeed useful in the Lindström review is the very many corrections. It also highlights that many reviewers are not really doing their job. Improving the book is what a review should do.
Working with the Nicholas literature is hard, because we lack proper critical editions of the texts. So all that anybody can do is to take small steps forward. Publishing the Old English text and translation is a very useful thing to do, therefore. I noticed that in some ways Dr T. was in the same position as I am. I can’t do a proper job on the Latin text, because the Greek on which it is based has never been translated and is very hard to work with. So I ignore it as best I can. Dr T is working on the Old English, so has to bodge her way a bit with what she says about the Latin, because this too has not been studied properly. This is what everybody will have to do.
I’m doing bits and pieces at the moment. Meisen’s Nikolauskult volume has reached me, and I have OCR’d, but no more. I will need to look through it. I’ve been creating a file with the Latin miracle stories in it, that infest the manuscripts of John the Deacon, and a draft translation of each. Currently it contains about 30 episodes. I hope to do a few more, and then I will post it online purely as a tool, for others and for myself, to aid with working with the Latin Nicholas literature. Then I need to get back to the text of John the Deacon.
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