Gower Bibliography

John Gower: Confesión del Amante. Traducción de Juan de Cuenca (S. XV). Edición Paleográfica.

Alvar, Elena, ed. "John Gower: Confesión del Amante. Traducción de Juan de Cuenca (S. XV). Edición Paleográfica." Anejos del Boletín de la Real Academia Española (45). Madrid: Real Academia Española, 1990


This new edition of the Spanish translation of CA is the first of two products of the recent flurry of interest in Gower's work among Spanish scholars. It fills an obvious and longstanding need. Gower was the first major English author to be translated into a contemporary vernacular, shortly after his death. The surviving Spanish translation, by Juan de Cuenca, is actually based on an earlier Portuguese translation by one Robert Payn which is no longer extant, and thus by the middle of the fifteenth century CA had already been made available in two languages other than the author's, an unexpected tribute to Gower's reputation and an interesting opportunity to examine how the work has endured the transformation. The only existing edition of the Spanish version, published by Adolf Birch-Hirschfeld (using a transcription begun by Hermann Knust) in 1909, is now nearly impossible to find, and even when it is available, it cannot be relied upon. R.W. Hamm estimated in 1975 that it contained at least 17,500 errors of transcription, and it appears that this calculation may even have been somewhat low. Alvar's work serves at very least to make the translation more widely available, and for that reason alone is to be welcomed. Alvar presents the text in what she calls a "paleographic edition." Following scrupulously the presentation in the manuscript, Alvar not only uses the conventional editorial devices (italics for expanded abbreviations, brackets for other letters supplied by the editor), but she also distinguishes typographically the two different forms of s, and indicates both the beginning of each new column and, with a slash and superscript, the beginning of each new line. (Where is Edmund Wilson?) The punctuation is also that of the MS. A bit confusingly, however, she has adopted modern capitalization, and she has also regularized the use of accents. What she has not done is to give any indication (apart from the running head identifying the book number) of the corresponding line numbers in the English text, making reference from one version to another extremely tedious. Notes (indicated by a superscript within parentheses, almost impossible to find quickly among all the superscripts recording the line numbers) record other observable features of the manuscript, some of the more obvious differences from Gower's text, and the more important differences from Birch-Hirschfeld. As the passage quoted illustrates, the translation entirely omits the Latin epigrams of the original, and incorporates the longer marginalia in shortened form into the text column, treating them as chapter headings. Alvar records in the notes each place in which an epigram or a gloss that appears in Macaulay's edition has been omitted, though Manuel Alvar argues in the introduction that these were probably already lacking in the English MS from which the Spanish translation ultimately derives. It is not to be expected that an edited text of such complexity should be entirely free of mistakes. Bernardo Santano Moreno, in his review of this edition in Fifteenth-Century Studies 19 (1992): 147-64, points out some inconsistencies in the editor's treatment of abbreviations, and he finds a small number of errors in the passages that he compared, evidently painstakingly, to the MS. In the entire Prologue, these amount to five errors of transcription, three failures to indicate an expanded abbreviation with italics, one failure to expand an abbreviation, one failure to correct an obvious scribal error, and one scribal mistake corrected without a note. If this rate of error is consistent through the entire work, the level of accuracy is still very high, and Santano Moreno rightly concludes that though this is not yet a definitive text, it is still an enormous improvement on Birch-Hirschfeld. Perhaps we can hope for an errata list at some time in the near future; evidently it would not be very long, and we should not have to wait for an entirely new edition. The text is preceded by a long, 137-page introduction by Manuel Alvar, treating a wide variety of topics concerning both Gower's work and the translation. The opening portions are the least original, and also the least trustworthy. In the account of Gower's life, we learn that Chaucer conducted him to Italy in 1378; and the date that is offered for the lost Portuguese translation, between 1399 and 1415, is exactly the period that is excluded by P.E. Russell, whom Alvar cites. (Both errors are also noted by Santano Moreno in his review.) The entire discussion of the dating of both Portuguese and Spanish translations is now superseded by the findings of Santano Moreno, presented most fully in his book (reviewed below). Alvar's dating of the MS, to 1454-1490, is not inconsistent with Santano Moreno's, though Santano Moreno would choose the end rather than the beginning of this period. Alvar's discussion of the English MS from which the translations derive is much more detailed than that of Macaulay, who knew the Spanish version only from short extracts. His conclusion, that the Portuguese translator had a copy of recension "one," is the same, but Alvar goes further in pointing out that the absence of the Latin lyrics and the abbreviation of the marginalia suggest a very late copy, perhaps resembling Bodleian Ashmole 35. The reviewer is not qualified to evaluate Alvar's treatment of the language of the translation; Santano Moreno judges it competent and helpful. Alvar's greatest interest, however, is in the art of the translator, and the longest part of his introduction is concerned with the relation between the Spanish and English versions. He sees the translator's task as the faithful reproduction of the text of his original, and he is led to some speculations on what exactly that might mean, at one point defining it as presenting the poem as Gower would have had he written it had he written in Spanish. But most of the discussion is concerned with the devices by which the translator achieves this goal, concluding that, except in the case of the most obvious errors, he has been successful in doing so. The passages that Alvar examines includes some in which the translator follows Gower very closely, some in which he has expanded the text, some which he has shortened, and some that he has simply altered in some way. All provide an opportunity for Alvar to discuss the confron¬tation between two languages and two cultures; and such things as the translator's attempts to make more explicit or concrete what is only implied in English, or to transfer a comparison into more familiar imagery, are treated by Alvar as different ways of creating equivalencies. He gives special attention to the difficulty of translating certain key terms, concluding, as always, with his praise of the translator's precision. The discussion is complicated, of course, by the existence of the lost intermediary Portuguese version, but Alvar is not hesitant to give full credit for the successfully realized translation to both translators. As an introduction to the relation between the Spanish and English texts, Alvar's discussion is well worth reading, but it should be used alongside the very different treatment (discussing many of the same passages) by Bernardo Santano Moreno, in entry #131. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 14.1]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Facsimiles, Editions, and Translations
Confessio Amantis

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