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Library Scholar Translates Medieval Text

Cambridge University Press has published the first complete translation into English of the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Library cataloger and Medievalist Wendy Lewis helped prepare the annotated translation from the original Latin in collaboration with Stephen Barney, Emeritus Professor of English.

Librarian Manuel Urrizola interviewed Lewis about the project.

MU: Who is Isidore of Seville?

WL: Isidore was the archbishop of Seville, Spain, in the early 7th century. He was one of the major scholars in Western Europe at that time and authored several works on theology, history, and natural science.

MU: How would you describe the Etymologies?

WL: It is an encyclopedia covering a huge range of topics, compiled by Isidore from texts by dozens of earlier authors, that was influential throughout the Middle Ages and into the early Renaissance. About 1,000 manuscript copies survive, an enormous number that reflects its early popularity. Isidore died before he could complete the work, so single terms appear here and there with no further information. We assume that these are entries he didn't have time to complete before his death.

MU: How did the translation come about?

WL: It originated in a Latin reading group at UCI led by Steve Barney. In 1996 he and I, along with some other members of the group, began writing a first draft which took about six years to complete. We then spent another three years rewriting and revising.

MU: What were some of the challenges?

WL: Isidore seems to misunderstand or otherwise distort some of his sources. It was sometimes tempting to “correct” such text, which would, of course, have made the translation less accurate. Instead, we chose to point out these discrepancies in footnotes. Terms for specific plants, animals, rocks, and other objects also presented problems, since some modern equivalents are ambiguous.

Lewis’s next project is to translate sections of the Compendium Medicinae by Gilbertus Anglicus, a 13th-century medical treatise for which no complete modern English translation exists. For more information, please contact Lewis at wjlewis@uci.edu or x48938.




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