Translation, Authorship, and Gender: The Case of the Jane Seager's Divine Prophecies of the Ten Sibills
KeywordsPN0441 Literary History
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AbstractIn 1589, Jane Seager presented Elizabeth I with a small volume containing Filippo Barbieri?s Sibyllarum et prophetarum de Christo vaticinia (1481) which she had translated into English verse. It is a short collection: ten poems (Seager omitted two of the Latin texts), written in Seager?s beautiful italic hand, bound in a velvet cover which she had embroidered, and?a great novelty?containing the same texts copied in the new shorthand system devised the previous year by Timothy Bright. The poem have been printed twice in recent years, once with a brief introductory note in Early Modern Women?s Manuscript Poetry, eds. Millman and Wright (2005), and once by Jessica L. Malay (in ELR 2006, pp. 173-193) in an article which explores the manuscript?s place in the gift economy of books. The literary aspects of the text?particularly of the text as a translated piece?have not, however, been explored. Nonetheless, I think these are significant. Firstly, the choice of Seager?s source-text is unusual: other women active in translation typically chose scriptural works, like the psalms, or rendered new doctrinal works into English. Seager?s decision to work on the sibylline prophecies points to the traditional status of the sibyls as the prophets sent to the pagans, and it is interesting to see her choose poems uttered by female figures. Perhaps it is more telling that her translation demonstrates some particularly Protestant convictions: she interpolates biblical references at various points, turning a faithful translation into a paraphrases; and (beyond the names of the sibyls) she carefully omits pagan references, so that, for instance, ?Olympus? is translated as ?heaven?. This decision aligns her with a school of Protestant poetry which insisted on the segregation of sacred and secular material?although, ironically, this approach was already diminishing, in part due to the popularity of figures like the sibyls, who transcended such divisions. Seager?s sibyl translations can also usefully be seen in the context of other contemporary versions of the same poems. John Napier?s use of the sibyls as anti-papal authorities in 1593, and his decision to set his source-text to verse, demonstrates that her work, with its emphasis (not present in her source) on the risk posed by foes to true religion, is part of the same Protestant polemical movement. On the other hand, Richard Verstegan?s inclusion of his version of the texts in a Catholic compendium of verse in 1601 serves to highlight the suppression of visual icons of the sibyls in both Protestant versions, but also casts into relief the?perhaps unexpected?Marian emphasis of Seager?s version, suggesting another important model and authority for sixteenth-century women, regardless of denominational allegiance.
Serjeantson, D (2013) 'Translation, Authorship, and Gender: The Case of the Jane Seager's Divine Prophecies of the Ten Sibills.' In: Schmidt, G, (ed.) Elizabethan Translation and Literary Culture. Pluralisierung & Autorit�t . Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Press, 227 - 254. ISBN 9783110293029