Power, Skill and Virtue in the Old English Boethius

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In Alfred's famous Preface to his translation of the Regula pastoralis, the king writes that he translated ‘hwilum word be worde, hwilum andgit of andgiete’ (7.19–20); a similar phrase occurs in the proem to the Boethius (1.2–3). Yet words in different languages are rarely exact equivalents. Translators select words which they feel capture the primary sense of source words and match secondary meanings and connotations only if they can. Similarities between two terms in different languages can reveal where the conceptual systems of the source and target cultures overlap and which denotations and connotations of a complex word were most important to the translator. Differences can indicate how cultures differ and what other conceptual systems might have influenced the translator. In a well-established system of translation, certain terms become accepted as standard equivalents to particular terms in other languages. Alfred, however, was in the position not of employing accepted equivalidents but of trying to create them. By the time he worked on the Boethius, Wærferth had probably translated Gregory's Dialogi, and Alfred's own Regula pastoralis was most likely complete, but no other models were available. As one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon translators, producing translations of the De consolatione, Gregory's Regula pastoralis, Augustine's Soliloquia and the first fifty psalms, Alfred had to solve translation problems himself.

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Anglo-Saxon England, v. 26, p. 81-108