one of the reasons that old texts are being mistranslated is that most of the work done on them was done before and during the nineteenth century when the academic mind was building on assumptions which are now easily seen to be invalid. in the nineteenth century, it was firmly believed that the precise time of the creation of the universe right down to the time of day had been accurately calculated, and what with the churches and the universities going at it hammer and tongs over everyone’s head, charles darwin was having a hard time getting his work read. that was the intellectual climate, the academic position.
if the nineteenth century scholars were romantics, swept up in the heady newness of it all after long centuries of repression and anathema; and if their work smacks strongly of their impassioned fantasies of the magical lands of their ancestors, the renaissance collectors and translators of old texts were worse. they brought forth many of their texts from undisclosed hiding places and published them if they dared to publish them at all under false pretences, passing them off as fictional works they’d written themselves. this applies to dante’s inferno equally with the faerie queene, many of shakespeare’s plays, tirant lo blanc, and most of the arthurian texts.
the reason why this was so is still lost in the mists, but it’s easy to see that these texts, if historical at all, clash wildly and howlingly with the history of the world as produced for us out of the texts from which the bible’s old and new testaments were concocted, and the church was very intolerant of alternative beliefs about anything.
the amount of work these several centuries of scholars have done is vast, the structures of ‘knowledge’ and belief arising from it are extensive, unwieldy and precarious, and they are straining present day credence to the limit. we must believe, for example, that if an entry in the famed dictionary of the irish language, taken from a old glossary made under unknown (or even falsely portrayed) conditions by a person whose knowledge of irish was clearly inadequate, gives bizarre translations of all passages in which it occurs except a very few, it is not because the suspect glossary, dil and centuries of scholarship are wrong, it is because the irish were bizarre, and since this is what the ancient romans always maintained, it must be right.
similarly, we must not disturb the slumber of that miracle baby born of god and an intact-hymen virgin, by dating mss according to the most persuasive evidence; we must date all mss mentioning evidence of christianity, a church, a priesthood, a worldwide network of monasteries and abbeys, as later than this event.
similarly we must not see the eons old succession of ruler-priests called jesus and josephus (jose’uses) and joses and jo cephas, and caiaphas and cheop’s. we have to believe this even though it means that the whole of the arthurian history has to fit into the time after the roman occupation and before the anglo-saxon period, and scholars have looked for it in vain and have started to proclaim that anyway, it doesn’t really matter if it was real or not, the myth is what inspires us most.
only a few fanatics, ferocious in their defence of their falsehoods, as enraged against heretics as any old-time cleric ever was, archaic in their methodology, lacking any epistemology and abysmal at dialectic, and their fans, dupes, and equally error-driven scholars working in dependent related disciplines such as numismatics, history and comparative philology (called historical linguistics by some) still believe that the ancient texts from homer to snorri and even shakespeare and spenser, have all been accurately translated, their lexicography pretty close to perfect, their meanings well-understood and their contexts satisfactorily worked out, or else emerging as scholars steeped in the established hermeneutical traditions continue their work.
one can appreciate their predicament. the body of opinion that determines how old texts will be translated and what sense will be made of the translations will be profoundly shocked by the paradigm shift that would occur within it as a result of anyone of its fundamental assumptions being recognised as false. and each discovery of the falsity of an assumption would lead inevitably to the examination of all assumptions, and many others would be seen to be false and there’d be a total collapse of all the screen memories currently in the way of progress towards the achievement of a more realistic approach to cultural memory retrieval and maintenance from the evidence of texts.
this is rendered more painful by the fact that currently one cannot progress in the academic arena unless one is dedicated in a peculiarly archaic fashion. i have discovered in the most painful way possible that i cannot offer a word of critique upon an instance of current dogma without deeply wounding or offending the scholar i’m addressing, as if the fabric of their body of opinion is the flesh of their bones. this serves as a kind of emotional blackmail: only a nasty person would persist in presenting academics studying old irish texts with evidence that their translations are wrong. they can’t defend themselves, so they resort to personal attack, insults and defamation, trying to discredit me by proving that i have not exhibited the same commitment to their methodologies as they do. their friends rally round.
this leads me to the conclusion that independent, free-thinking intellectuals with an instinct for critique and a conscientious love of truth get weeded out of these disciplines early in their career, and those that make it through to post-graduate levels are acutely aware (if they’re not repressing it) that there is ‘only one opinion’ as an oxford scholar assert to me a short while ago (on the subject of historical linguistics) and their career depends on their not wavering from it, making their tiny little edges of progress only within existing paradigms as driven by prevailing opinion.
when it gets that seriously stultifyingly up itself, you suspect the church. but you have to dare to say: the bible is a fraud, and that immediately drops you head first into the slush-category. no truly intelligent person could say that, or even if, well okay, everybody kno-o-o-ows that, but nobody really cares, what does it matter if it’s wrong or right, what does it matter if all history derivable from old texts is twisted insanely around their petty fibs and outside frauds, such that truths are no longer accessible through them, what does it matter if all chronologies are way off the mark, and all ancestral lineages horribly distorted and all cultures of the past hopelessly misrepresented, most to their detriment. after all it’s the myth that drives our dreams, shapes our culture’s evolution, makes us what we are.
so okay, cu chullain when ever he lost his temper had a stream of blood shooting out of the top of his head like a fountain and his knees went on backwards.
wouldn’t have been that he had a red plume on his helmet and they were wrong about the knees, would it? all those scholars wouldn’t be wrong?
and irish kings just did fuck horses, didn’t they? wouldn’t be that some translator mistook the word for a woman for a word for a mare, in a linguistic situation in which confusion about that word was eminently possible, with emer, mari(e) mare, myrgh, margh, mary, marry, maere etc, all meaning either horse, mare, wife or girl, depending where and who says it and which dialect, would it? and even if it were, it’s the myth we’re all enamoured of, isn’t it???
and there wouldn’t have been circle ceremony, with quarters and a centre and peace throughout the whole world, would there, just brehon law, which is really rather good, in keeping with bizarre magician kings who fucked their horses and rolled themselves up in bloody bullskins to find out whatever they needed to know (wouldn’t have books, would they?)
oh, breath-blast them all! let their eyes be skinnyfat and a terrible soft slipperiness to their gibberish!! i’m going to translate them sanely. and just admit it when i don’t know what a word means. sometimes the meaning’s just lost forever… until we learn to time travel, anyway.