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Visiting Scholar Interview: Mary Clayton

Posted On May 19, 2015 | 10:49 am | by meredithb | Permalink

Raquel Begleiter sat down with Mary Clayton to discuss Clayton’s forthcoming volume in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) series, Ælfric’s Lives of Saints, and her recent stay at Dumbarton Oaks.

Raquel Begleiter: In 2013, you produced a facing-page translation of Old English Poems of Christ and His Saints with DOML. You have come to Dumbarton Oaks to work on a forthcoming DOML volume of Ælfric’s Lives of Saints. Can you talk about how this project and translation process differ from the last?

Mary Clayton: Ælfric’s Lives of Saints is a series of prose texts by an author that I have never edited, but on whom I’ve worked a lot in the past. The forty texts of saints’ lives and sermons haven’t been edited since the 1880s, and they have been crying out for a new edition for a long, long time. So once I realized the series [DOML] was moving to Old English prose, I was very tempted. It’s quite a daunting project but I’m doing it with a colleague, Juliet Mullins, so I think with the two of us it should be manageable.

It’s very different from working on the poetry, because almost all of the poems [from Poems of Christ and His Saints] are extant in only one manuscript, but most of them have been edited multiple times. There’s one manuscript at Princeton of the Lives of Saints. Each of the forty texts—well, many of them, as there are other manuscripts depending on how popular they were—have been copied at different times and in different contexts. It’s a matter of looking at the history of each text, one by one, and each one is a sort of a separate mini-project.

RB: And how did you find your time here at Dumbarton Oaks? I know that the library does not have an abundance of materials for Old English scholars.

MC: No, but you’ve got the Harvard online library. I’ve certainly loved my time here. The library has been a haven to work in. I was teaching right up to when I left Dublin, so having all of this time and an environment that is so conducive to work is just a real pleasure. Lunch every day with people working in very different fields is also very stimulating. The other great thing about being here was the marvelous new microfilm reader, which meant I could scan the Princeton manuscript onto a USB, something that I had been trying in vain to do in Ireland. That’s actually going to stand me for the rest of the project. But it’s a wonderful place to work.

RB: You have been preparing the Old English text and the translation?

MC: Yes, so I’ve done one complete edition and translation of a straightforward text, just the one Princeton manuscript. And then I had started on another more complicated one, one of the lives of English saints, which tend to be copied more often. But I’ve finished the editing of that and did the translation while I was here, so it was pretty productive. If I could keep up that pace, I would be finished in no time. There are two of us doing it, but for the moment we’ve taken a volume each and then we’ll scrutinize each other’s work and standardize everything.

RB: How did you find the community here?

MC: I found the community very welcoming and really interesting. The obvious cross-pollination for me is with Byzantine Studies, though in fact I’ve had a lot of conversations with people in Landscape Studies and some in Pre-Columbian, as well. In fact, some of the saints in the series I am working on are Byzantine saints, though obviously I’m coming at them from translation through Latin into vernacular in the late tenth century, so it’s a very different take on something that people here are working on from very different angles, and that’s also been very good. Also, something I think is very healthy is that when you’re talking to somebody completely outside your field, they ask some of the basic questions that you tend to take for granted, so it makes you think again in an attempt to answer those questions.

RB: That is interesting because you bring up a mechanism that addresses a challenge we face all of the time when producing DOML volumes. Translations, while meeting rigorous standards of scholarship, should still be intelligible to educated nonexpert readers.

MC: It’s very salutary to be reminded that this is your own little field but that it is very specialized.

RB: For this project, in which you are actively trying to make something accessible to a broader community, it seems particularly relevant. I always say that if someone here can’t understand it, then . . .

MC: . . . you are in serious trouble.

RB: Or if it is too specialized for someone here, then maybe it could be a little more clear.

MC: This time has been so great.