Last Monday, our ENGL 229 Professor asked us to choose a manuscript among a list of many others, each in different languages such as Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and Middle English. My instinct led me to immediately choose the text that was closest to a language I mastered; French. Little did I know, transcribing a piece of Marie of France’s Fable – “De Leone agreoto” ; taken from the British library, was harder than keeping all of my hair inside one rubber band.
The manuscript I had in front of me looked like this:
British Library, 1260s ms
The first thing that struck me as beautiful was the way the columns were perfectly arranged; let’s just say it’s very OCD-Satisfying. The first letter of each verse seemed to be fixed in such a way that it would fit a specific zone. Ergo a certain attraction of the eye to these symbols, that look like letters (or so I thought), but I’ll get back to that later.
First, let’s contemplate the way the verses are perfectly aligned, or should I say “columned” in front of each other. The piece I got enclosed has most of the writing in brown, the beginning of the verses striped in orange but most importantly; both the big “J” and “O” in orange and blue respectively, reminded me of fairy tales books. The “O” has a lot of scribbles, some kind of designs attached to it. One would think that this would be were the story starts. Then I asked myself, if it were the case, why draw the “J” this way?
As I began my first attempt to untie the words lost in the scribbles, I realized that this was far from being simple. The first obstacle I encountered was distinguishing the “s” from the “f” and sometimes even from the “t”. The handwriting had multiple ways of writing the latter. Moreover, the first letters, which I thought would be attached to the first words, rather looked detached from them, it made no sense!
What I did find interesting though (throughout the 10th or 20th attempt), was the similarity of most words which were situated specifically at the end of the verses; almost all of them were very close to modern French. For example, “petit”, “chien”, and “seignur” weren’t hard for me to recognize.
Struggling to find out the meaning behind the initial letters, I started looking online for a different version of the manuscript, one that’s typed. Here’s a Snapshot of what I found, that includes the verses I chose to transcribe.
The Fables of Marie de France; an English Translation, XV. De asino adulante
The English Translation functioned as a spoiler; my task was to try and transcribe what I saw, which was very different from the picture above.
The electronic version did help though, in understanding what those initials I was talking about meant. Apparently, the writers back then had this way of abbreviating words, in most cases coordination conjunctions.
“Qui” is written as a “q” that is struck through with an orange “C” or an “F”.
“Que” on the other hand, is written as a “q” and some kind of weird accent over it.
Also, a new chapter begins in the English version, right where I started transcribing.It is displayed by “XV” roman numbers and a clear title. However in the manuscript, it’s not very clear whether they’re moving on to another story, or if the passage is a subdivision of the whole page.
Now this is what the handwritten version of my transcription looks like:
The next step was to try and type the passage on our computers; here is the result:
Or un riche hume cunte escrit
Qui aveit un chenet petit
Su u entefeiz a lui rua
C un fun aines les guarda
En sun courage entendi bien
Qui tuit lautre aiment le chien
Pur le seigneur quil cherisseit
E ki odlui le dedueit
Suz fun mantel le fut muscier
Su fut lel autres dur abaier
Mut seit li asnel ppensez
Que mellz del chien vaallt asez
Que de bunte e de grudur
Mielz saverait a sun seignur
When I compared the manuscript with the English version, I learned how “ppensez”, written in the manuscript with “pp” and a wavy-like accent over, really spelled; “purpenser”. Another interesting note would be how in the English version some words seem to be missing out.
What I did here is something called “remediation”.
According to the Oxford English Dictionnary, remediation is : “The action of remedying something, in particular of reversing or stopping environmental damage” (oxforddictionnaries.com), or : “The giving of remedial teaching or therapy” (oxforddictionnaries.com).
While searching for a clear and concise definition of the latter, I found a WordPress post by Caitlinelizabethmullen, published the 30th of October, 2012. I think the image enclosed below that she had posted describes remediation in regards to media studies and communication;
I have to say that after my tentative transcription writing, remediation seems very complicated. It might omit some words, misunderstand them, see words as symbols and vice versa, or write them in different meanings. It feels as though every time a literary text was remediated, some truth about it went away. Still, we can’t blame transcribers and researchers, since understanding these writings would be jumping into another era, a whole new world, and getting lost in translation.