It is late and I am tired, so today’s post is pretty short. It is also about translations. 

I have in mind a particular text: this is Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England, a translation of some Anglo-Saxon medical texts made in the 1860s by Oswald Cockayne. While looking for something or other (I didn’t find it) I read through these texts, and I was struck not by the content of the translation but by the translation itself. Click on the link; you can see the whole thing in facsimile. It is awesome. 

Anyway, my point is that Cockayne’s translation is full of fancy, using words with close relationships to the Old English words to make his text sound all theesy-thousy (so, for instance, he says “hight” instead of “called” a lot). But what really struck me was how squeamish he is about some things. For instance, there’s a section on what to do if a female patient misses her period. Cockayne translates this as: 

In case mulieribus menstrua suppressa sunt; boil in ale brooklime, and the two centauries, give her this to drink … 

OK, so, Victorian clergyman a bit prudish, no surprise there. But later on the same page Cockayne is happily talking about how you should take a certain mixture and “apply to the netherward part of the vulva”. I checked; it’s not in Latin in the original. It’s all in Old English. So Cockayne is translating this to Latin while translating everything else to modern English. He’s also totally happy telling you to collect goat turds (he says “tords,” but whatever) and apply them to various symptoms, so it’s just this one thing that seems to need to be rendered into Latin, so that … what? So that ladies and the lower orders won’t read it? But it’s OK for them to read about bathing vulvas and goat shit. It’s all a bit … I don’t know!

Anyway, the main point is that you should read that book if you want to find out what to do in case someone you know is being messed with by elves. My comment is just a side note. 


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