MA Medieval and Early Modern Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Wondrous Transformations: Translating the Medieval Past

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL60872
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


‘Translation’ refers not only to the shift of words or texts from one language to another, but also to the movement of a person, idea or thing across time, cultures and contexts. Translation, as they say, is always also interpretation – both creative and destructive. Medieval writers were also sensitive to this and they regard the translation of texts as anything but straightforward. We can see many writers thinking about their practice in overtly theoretical texts, but also in poetic and literary ones. Their concerns reflect issues we are all familiar with as students of literature: interpretation, meaning, language, form, pleasure, truth. 


In this module we look at a range of texts, beginning in the early Middle Ages, going on to the later part of the period, and finally turning to the reception and refashioning of these texts and their ideas in modernity. We focus particularly on marvellous beings and their transformations, from their presence in Anglo-Latin enigmas, Old English riddles, late medieval travel writing  -  to J. L. Borges’s The Book of Imaginary Beings. Medieval and contemporary translation theories will inform our encounter with these medieval texts and their reworkings in different times and places. Key themes are: mistranslation and the reinterpretation of the past; medieval and modern translation theories; sacred and secular languages and verse-forms; named poets and anonymous voices; tradition, influence and innovation. While there will be engagement with the original language in which the texts were written, all texts are studied (naturally) in translation.


  • Further an understanding of the processes of literary and cultural translation;
  • Examine the theory of translation relation to medieval texts and theories;
  • Introduce students to ‘translation’ as metaphor;
  • Familiarise students with the ways in which medieval literary texts have been understood and reimagined in modernity and today;
  •  Aims to familiarise students with a range of primary and critical texts, from early medieval to modern.


Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand contemporary translation theory, especially in relation to literary translation;
  • Understand ‘translation’ as cultural process;
  • Understand aspects of premodern literary culture;
  • Understand the role of translation in premodern culture;
  • Understand crucial concepts of ‘literariness’ through an engagement with translations and translation theory.

Intellectual skills

  • Familiarity with the most recent debates surrounding literary and cultural translation;
  • Analyse textual material in terms of its context of production and transmission;
  • Gain experience in primary source analysis;
  • Devise research questions and engage with existing scholarship;
  • Ability to identify and examine rhetorical and formal features and their effects.

Practical skills

  • Sustain intellectual debate, informed by current scholarship on the literature of a premodern period;
  • Develop research and essay writing techniques, appropriate to the required assessment;
  • Understand the application of general course themes to specific textual instances discussed in the class;
  • Gain some familiarity with medieval languages

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop oral presentation skills through participation in class discussions;
  • Manage time through preparation of assignments;
  • Think flexibly and intelligently about cultural difference and change;
  • Write fluent and persuasive argumentative prose.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Recommended reading

Indicative Reading List


Borges, Jorge Luis, The Book of Imaginary Beings (London: Vintage, 2002)


Delanty, Greg and Michael Matto (eds), The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation (New York and London: Norton, 2011)


Eco, Umberto, Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2003)


Francis, Matthew, Mandeville (London: Faber, 2008)


Fresco, Karen, and Charles D. Wright (eds), Translating the Middle Ages (London: Routledge, 2012)


Juster, A.M. (trans.), St Aldhelm’s Riddles (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015)


Mandeville, Sir John, The Book of Marvels and Travels (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)


Stanton, Robert, The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2002)


Venuti, Lawrence (ed.), The Translation Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2012)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 16.5
Independent study hours
Independent study 133.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
James Paz Unit coordinator

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