The Works of the Venerable Bede
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People/the Greater Chronicle/Bede's Letter to Egbert
Judith McClure & Bertram Colgrave (Translators), Roger Collins (Editor)
Paperback - 445 pages
Oxford Univ Press, 1995
ISBN: 0192829122

As I'm sure you all know, the 25th of May is the feast day for the Venerable Bede, a churchman and scholar of some note. Bede was a monk at the English monastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow, in Northumbria. He was the first person to write scholarly works in the English language, although unfortunately only fragments of his English writings have survived. He translated the Gospel of John into Old English, and also wrote extensively in Latin. He wrote commentaries on the Pentateuch and other portions of Holy Scripture. He also wrote hymns and other verse, the first martyrology with historical notes, letters and homilies, works on grammar, on chronology and astronomy -- he was aware that the earth is a sphere, and he is the first historian to date events Anno Domini, and the earliest known writer to state that the solar year is not exactly 365 and a quarter days long, so that the Julian calendar (one leap year every four years) requires some adjusting if the months are not to get out of step with the seasons.

His best-known work -- and the one best suited for storytellers looking for material -- is his "History of The English Church and People". It gives a history of Britain up to 729, speaking of the Celtic peoples who were converted to Christianity during the first three centuries of the Christian era, and the invasion of the Anglo-Saxon pagans in the fifth and sixth centuries, and their subsequent conversion by Celtic missionaries from the north and west, and Roman missionaries from the south and east. Bede was careful to try and sort fact from hearsay, and to tell us the sources of his information, but some of the incidents he lists are downright fantastic -- especially the actions of some hermits, monks, and saints. There is, of course, a Penguin edition of Bede's four volumes on English history, but I like the one above (an oversized paperback from Oxford Univ. Press) better. The language is very lively and easy to read. [AY]
Buy Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin)
Buy The Works of the Venerable Bede

Beowulf
Beowulf is arguably the greatest and most important of the Anglo-Saxon epic poems, the 1200-year-old Beowulf is one of the earliest pieces of literature in the English language. Though English, the story is set in Scandinavia, where the Anglo-Saxon races lived before migration to England. It tells of the hero, Beowulf, who battles the monster Grendel after the beast terrorizes Herot, the mead-hall of Hrothgar and Wormtheow, Hrothgar's pride (and later a disaster to his family). In addition, the second half of the poem tells of the death of Beowulf as an old man as he battles (and kills) a dragon that has been harassing his own people (now that he's king, you know!). [MoY]

There are a lot of translations of Beowulf out there; I'm fond of the Burton Raffel verse translation, which is cheap and easy too find. Be warned: a lot of Beowulf scholars turn up their noses at this translation, but I find it very readable. Someone who really wants to dive into the Old Englishness of it, might like to get a dual-language edition -- one with the modern translation and the original on facing pages. I also like Talbot Donaldson's prose translation, although I'm not sure it's still in print. [AY]
Buy the Burton Raffel translation of Beowulf
Buy the Talbot Donaldson translation of Beowulf
Buy the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf (bilingual edition)

Bibliographies of Medieval Writings in English Translation
English Translations from Medieval Sources
Clarissa P. Farrar and Austin P. Evans
Columbia University Press, New York, 1946

Bibliography of English Translations from Medieval Sources, 1943-1967
Mary Anne Heyward Ferguson
Columbia University Press, New York, 1974
ISBN 0-231-03435-0

These books are bibliographies of medieval writings in English translation -- philosophy, law, religion, medicine, and yes, literature. The books cover only the first part of the century to 1967, but a good online library catalog helps make up the lack. They are tremendously useful, not only for locating particular edtions, but for getting a handle on the scholarship. Most of the listings include a short description of the translation.

Sometimes when I see an interesting-looking source in one of these books, the particular edition mentioned is not available at my library, but another (often more recent) edition is. I also use the bibliographies to identify translators by name, and then search the online catalog for translations of other works by those same people, which often turns up new translations since 1967 of medieval sources not listed in the bibliographies at all.

Anybody know if somebody's done a bibliography for 1967 to the present? (How do you know a hopeless book geek? She reads bibliographies as if they were trashy novels. . . ) [AoF]
Buy Bibliography of English Translations from Medieval Sources

The Book of the Courtier
Baldassare Castiglione, George Bull (Translator)
Paperback
Penguin USA, 1976
ISBN: 0140441921

Castiglione was born in 1478, son of an ancient and aristocratic Italian family. He was an artist, a poet (writing in both Latin and Italian), and a professional courtier. After running into some trouble in the court of Mantua, he entered the service of the Duke of Urbino around 1504. There he became and advisor to the Duke and a close confidant. Castiglione was so well-like and respected that after the Duke died in 1508, the new Duke kept him on and a few years later appointed him ambassador to Rome.

Castilglione's great work is The Book of the Courtier. A treatise on how gently born ladies and gentlemen should behave. But the book is not simply an essay or an exhortation, Castiglione gives examples, lessons, and anecdotes to illustrate each point. The Penguin edition I have, translated by George Bull, lists each "chapter" at the top of the page and has a pretty good index to help you find something you liked. Although these are not tales of high adventure or epic romance, these are amusing short stories of the nobles court; Dukes, Kings, Popes, and Bishops run rampant through these stories. [ AY]
Buy The Book of the Courtier

Bostan of Saadi
Barlas M. Aqil-Hossain (Translator)
Octagon, October 1998

Bostan translates to "Orchard" and in his Orchard Saadi plants more short tales of a philosophical bent, this time more concerned with what I thought of as political stuff. The Bostan is very similar to the Gulistan in terms of format (more deceptively simple tales *grin*) but contains different themes.

And with both of these recommendations, my standard disclaimer applies that I cannot read Farsi and so cannot recommend a translation based on closeness to the original, merely ease of obtaining. [TbIaI]
Buy Bostan of Saadi

The Bugarstica
John S. Miletich (Translator)
U. of Illinois Press, 1990
The Bugarstica (say "boo-GAHR-shtee-tseh") is "the earliest extant South Slavic Folk Narrative Song". Surprisingly appropriate, give current events, it tells the story of Sekula's betrothal to the king of Buda, his subsequent death at the battle of Kosovo on 1448, and her lament upon hearing of his death. The Miletich edition (which is still in print), is a facing page translation -- something I always like. Likewise, the song is divided up into 30 or so "chapters", some of which could easily be made into stand alone stories. This is not a political saga, but more an epic in keeping with the Orlando stories; there are strange foreign dignataries, visions and prophesies, and the occassional fantastic creature. [AY]
Buy The Bugarstica
 
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