Trevisa, John


Trevisa, John
(ca. 1342–ca. 1402)
   John Trevisa was influential in making the English language an acceptable vehicle for important written works. His translations of the Latin texts of Ranulf HIGDEN’s Polychronicon (ca. 1385–87) and Bartholomaeus Anglicus’s De proprietatibus rerum (On the properties of things) (1398) gave common people access to important works. Trevisa was born at Crocadon, St. Mellion, in Cornwall around 1342. He was a fellow at Exeter College, Oxford, from 1362–69 and at Queen’s Hall from 1369–79. In 1379 he was expelled, along with two other students, for “unworthiness,” but later reinstated. It has been speculated that the expulsion was due to their sympathies with the doctrines of John WYCLIFFE. (Kunitz, 522)
   Prior to 1387 he became vicar of Berkeley in Gloucestershire, as well as chaplain to Thomas, Lord Berkeley. He also acted as a nonresidential canon at Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol. Lord Berkeley and his two sons remained Trevisa’s patrons until his death at Berkeley circa 1402. It was Lord Berkeley for whom Trevisa translated the Polychronicon, the De proprietatibus rerum, and the De regimine principum. In the preface to the Polychronicon, he wrote A Dialogue in Translation Between a Lord and a Clerk, in which he describes how he overcame Berkeley’s reluctance about translating books into the “vulgar tongue” and thus making them accessible to the common people. Trevisa finished his translation of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon in the period 1385–87.Higden (d. 1364) was a monk in Chester whose book was a history of the world from Creation to medieval times. Trevisa not only translated the work, but also annotated it and updated the history through 1385–87. Additionally he included a famous description of the English language and its various dialects as of the year 1385.
   Trevisa completed his annotated translation of the Latin encyclopedia De proprietatibus rerum in February 1398. It was originally written by Bartholomaeus Anglicus (Bartholomew the Englishman) in the early 12th century. It was a 19-book work, each volume of which dealt with a different facet of living, such as spirituality or the natural world. The De regimine principum (Concerning the rule of princes) was a translation of a 1280s Latin work by the Augustinian friar, Aegidius Romanus (Giles of Rome). It was meant as an all-inclusive guide to rulers.Although the translation cannot be exactly dated, the length suggests it was written between his other major translations.His translation of De regimine principum was one of the sources for Thomas HOCCLEVE’s most famous work, the Regiment of Princes.
   Trevisa’s translations are brilliant not only in their ease of reading, but also in the conscientiousness he showed in making them. He was careful to translate the works as exactly as he could, and when two interpretations were possible, he would include both translations. Trevisa would also include translations of entries he did not understand with the notation “God wot what this is to mean” (Kunitz 1952, 522–523).
   Trevisa remains an important translator and popularizer of Latin texts. His English versions of Higden’s Polychronicon and Bartholomaeus Anglicus’s De proprietatibus rerum were instrumental in raising the perception of English as a language for learned discussion.
   Bibliography
   ■ Babington, Churchill, and Lumby, J. R., eds. Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden Monachi Cestrensis; Together with the English Translations of John Trevisa and of an Unknown Writer of the Fifteenth Century. 9 vols. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green, 1865–1886.
   ■ Fowler, David C. The Life and Times of John Trevisa, Medieval Scholar. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995.
   ■ Kim, H. C., ed. “The Gospel of Nichodemus, translated by John Trevisa.” Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1963.
   ■ Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: H.W.Wilson, 1952.
   ■ Seymour,M. C., et al., eds. On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa’s translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum. 3 vols. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1975–1988.
   ■ Waldron, Ronald. “Trevisa’s Original Prefaces on Translation: A Critical Edition,” in Medieval English Studies Presented to George Kane, edited by Edward Donald Kennedy, Ronald Waldron, and Joseph S.Wittig.Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 1988, 285–299.
   Malene A. Little

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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