Translations of empire and identity in De ortu Waluuanii : a commentary upon the text with a translation and substantial introduction

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Date

2003-08

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Larkin, Peter, 1955-

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Abstract

De ortu Waluuanii is a prose romance in Latin that recounts the birth and early adventures of Gawain. Among the more vexing issues presented by this text, its authorship is unsettled, and its historical context and literary affiliations remain unclear. Hindering analysis, this level of uncertainty has obscured the text’s sophistication and coherence. To establish a framework for addressing the uncertainty, part of my dissertation provides a Commentary upon the text. A repository of scholarship, this Commentary serves as a structure for displaying De ortu’s rich intertextuality. Producing the Commentary has generated a number of arguments. The most substantial of these appear in the Introduction to the Commentary. “Sources and Parallels: Gawain’s Enfances” establishes relations between four texts: the legend of pope Gregory, and three rival versions of Gawain’s youth. Lexical and thematic evidence indicates that both the legend of pope Gregory and Les Enfances Gauvain directly influenced De ortu. The comparisons required to establish these relations reveal patterns in De ortu’s alteration of sources. These patterns, in turn, elucidate the text’s main themes. In “Authorship and Date,” I suggest that Ranulph Higden, a Benedictine monk and historian, wrote De ortu Waluuanii and a related romance, Historia Meriadoci, in Chester during the first half of the fourteenth century. Though speculative, this identification may illuminate the text. Positing a fourteenthcentury context, for example, helps to reveal that De ortu, a work long considered a collection of disparate parts, is thematically coherent. This coherence, I suggest, issues from the cultural processes that formed the English nation. Through its use of foundational myths and ethnographic discourse, in its systematic alteration of sources, and especially in the body of its hero, whose composite identity—British, Roman, and English—encompasses the contested ethnic character of AngloNorman England, De ortu constitutes the discourse of an emerging nation. In addition to the Commentary and Introduction, my dissertation provides a new translation of the Latin text. Building upon two previous translations, my effort attempts to reproduce the author’s sophisticated rhetorical usage.

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