Un-Editing Alfred: Rethinking Modern Editions of Pre-modern Texts from a Post-modern Sensibility
Martin, Christopher John-Francis
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This dissertation investigates the relationships of texts that have contributed to the reception and authorization of the Anglo-Latin monument studied here under the title Vita Ælfredi regis ("The Life of King Alfred"), including the eleventh- and twelfth- century witnesses, sixteenth-century transcriptions, and editions that have appeared since the sixteenth century. Since the destruction of the bulk of the (ostensibly early eleventh-century) Cottonian witness by fire in 1731, it has become clear that the uneven reporting of the texts transmitted by the early printed editions, and in their associated transcripts, has permanently eliminated the possibility of definitively reconstructing the Cottonian text, let alone a pre-Cottonian exemplar. The extracts from the Vita Ælfredi reproduced in the eleventh-century Byrhtferthian redactions and Encomium Emmae reginae, as well as multiple twelfth-century chronicles also offered imperfect representations of their exemplars. Even here, however, important aspects of the transmission-history of the Vita Ælfredi emerge with close consideration of the readings in these sources and in neglected texts such as the variant versions of the Vita S. Æthelberti associated with Giraldus Cambrensis. It is well known that the author-question has framed the bulk of existing scholarship on the Vita Ælfredi, particularly as it relates to the historical ninth- and early tenth- century Welsh bishop Asser of St. Davids and Sherborne. Nevertheless, this dissertation presents a more detailed account than has been achieved previously regarding the recovery of the Cottonian text and the attribution to Asser by the antiquary John Leland, as well as the role of Leland's associate, John Bale, as well as the subsequent undertakings of Parker, his circle, and the eighteenth-century scholar and editor Francis Wise. Regarding Wise, for example, it becomes clear that there is conflicting evidence relating to that editor's claims, and that his collations largely were the work of his assistant, to the extent that it appears that wise may never have seen the textus receptus at first hand. The main focus of this dissertation, however, is on the application of textual theory to the case of the Vita Ælfredi, specifically as it relates to scholarly discourse about ontology, the Vita Ælfredi is here evaluated in the context of three major resistances (a resistance of meaning to medium, a resistance to the "work" to its constituent "texts," and a resistance to hermeneutics). The dissertation outlines a scholarly discourse of textual ontology and then places the Vita Ælfredi within that framework with the purpose of examining the ideological aims of its translators and editors. Finally, it offers a supplemental collation, for the first time since William H. Stevenson's 1904 edition, of the first thirty-five chapters of the Vita Ælfredi.
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