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- Publisher: Paul Hudson; 2 edition (August 25, 2013)
- Publication Date: August 25, 2013
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00ESMMU5O
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Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People in Latin + English (SPQR Study Guides Book 20) Kindle Edition
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The “Study Guide” consists of a Latin text (source edition unspecified), an English translation (by A.M. Sellar; in the public domain, since it dates from 1907; it was itself a revision of a revision), and vocabulary lists. These lists follow each chapter, which are presented first in Latin and then in English, so those trying to use the Latin text don’t have to go far for help. (This is the standard format for Hudson’s SPQR Study Guides, and is also used for Greek, rather than Latin, texts.)
The Latin and the English translation, but not the vocabulary lists, are included, with much other Latin literature, in the expanded edition of Hudson’s app “SPQR,” which is available for iOS (Apple) and, more recently, for Android.
What may be the same Latin text, and is certainly the same translation, can also be found in another Kindle edition, “Complete Historical Works of the Venerable Bede (Illustrated),” in the Delphi Ancient Classics series (Book 45). This Delphi collection also contains translations of a few of Bede’s shorter works, and some whose attribution is dubious, perhaps justifying "The Complete" part of their title, but it does not include the year-by-year Chronicles he attached to some of his other works (on reckoning dates and times). It does not contain anything dedicated to assisting the reader with the Latin text, beyond presenting it by itself and in a chapter-by-chapter dual-text arrangement (much like Hudson’s).
Hudson’s edition is, therefore, probably the best inexpensive choice, in digital format, for those who actually want to try Bede’s Latin (generally considered excellent, and very clear), or who need to have a Latin text available to check references.
For those studying Latin, and not interested in Bede as an historian, another alternative is F.W. Garforth's 2004 collection of excerpts from the Latin text, as "Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica."
The 1930 Loeb Classical Library bilingual edition, available in many libraries, uses as the base text of its translation an Elizabethan [!] rendering. This translation, admittedly, sounds great, but often is harder to follow than necessary.
Fluent Latinists, and cautious students, will certainly want to check Charles Plummer’s classic 1896 edition; both volumes, including the valuable Commentary, are available in pdf format (among others) from archive.org (the Internet Archive). The Oxford Medieval Texts edition by Bertrand Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors (1969, with corrections 1992) includes a translation: Michael Lapidge’s edition of 2005 I have not yet seen.
For those who just want to read the book in English, I will give some alternatives at the end.
The author is named on the cover as “St. Bede.” Now, Bede (or Beda, c. 672-735) is, technically, recognized as a Saint, but he never had much of a following in that role. (He is also the only Englishman to be an official “Doctor of the Church.”) He is most commonly, and recognizably, referred to in historical literature as “the Venerable Bede” (Latin Beda Venerabilis), also an honorific Christian title, if less theologically-charged. And, of course, he is often cited simply as “Bede,” on the assumption that everyone will know who is meant.
So the attribution to “St. Bede” of the present edition of the Latin text plus English translation (and, of course, that helpful chapter-by-chapter Latin vocabulary) of his most famous work may cause some confusion for the uninitiated, but is not wrong.
Of course, “St. Bede” may have been the safest choice, given the ways Amazon (and other) listings of his works have treated the combination of name and title, such as "Bede the Venerable" or “Bede, Venerable, the” (with other variations, including, as is all too frequently the case, jumbling the author’s name with that of an editor or translator).
(Search software, including Amazon’s, sometimes has trouble with the name, since “Bede” is, albeit rarely, used as a modern Christian name, and false hits come up on searches; fortunately, not as often as for some other names.)
In Bede’s own time, and somewhat later, he was probably best known among other clerics for his scriptural commentaries and his works on computing the date of Easter (a difficult mathematical problem, complicated by disputes over the basic rules). Eventually, of course, other commentaries came along, and the “Easter Controversy” became a thing of the past. He is best known to moderns simply as the author of the work presented here, “Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum,” or “Ecclesiastical History of the English People.” (Some have rendered it, for the sake of clarity, as “History of the English Church and People”).
The title reveals that Bede, is concerned with political history mainly as a background to the growth and establishment of Christianity among the “heathen” English, and the establishment of Papal authority (beginning with the Roman date for Easter) in all of Britain, and Ireland. In this, Bede shows the influence of the early Christian historian Eusebius, a contemporary of the Emperor Constantine, with his account of the Christianization of the Roman Empire in his own "Ecclesiastical History."
Despite some attention to the Roman occupation of Britain (beginning with Julius Caesar in Bede’s account), and the early post-Roman period (derived at least in part from the opaque writings of the British cleric Gildas), Bede is mostly concerned with his own people, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (although exactly whom he meant by the latter is disputed). His main concern is their conversion to Christianity, and other inhabitants of the island are often graded according to their contribution to it.
(The British — meaning the Welsh — don’t come off very well, since they seem to have been more concerned with getting rid of the Anglo-Saxon invaders than saving their souls. However, Bede had to admit that there were English Christians before the Roman Church took a hand in missionary endeavors, and a general acknowledgement of the role of the Irish Church may not account for it. Especially because Bede also slides over the role of the British, such as St. Patrick, in converting the "pagan" Irish to the True Faith.)
Bede’s book was written in the early eighth century (and completed about 731). It was recognized as important from an early date — as witnessed by copies sent to or made on the Continent, as well as in Britain — and survives from the early Middle Ages in an impressive number of manuscripts; enough to warrant a Wikipedia article listing them (and later ones, too: quite apart from the article on Bede himself, another specifically on the “Ecclesiastical History,” and an article on Bede’s works in general.)
As a mark of the increasing importance given to the work in England, there was in the late ninth century an abridged translation into Old English (Anglo-Saxon) — which scholars used to associate with Alfred the Great, although this connection is now discounted.
As for straight translations, which I promised to discuss, there are inexpensive digital editions of some nineteenth-century translations (and more expensive hard-copy reprints of them), none of which I can recommend with any confidence. The one most likely to be used is by an industrious Victorian, J.A. Giles (1847), who was revising an earlier translation by John Stevens from 1723. Giles also edited the Latin text, but (besides problems with the translation itself) his work rests on an insecure base, as the problems (and solutions) of dealing with the many Bede manuscripts had yet to be fully recognized.
[Note: I have included more detailed bibliographic notes on the various translations in my review of the Penguin Classics "Ecclesiastical History."]
A.M. Sellar had the advantage of working with Charles Plummer’s exemplary text edition, which, although it is now seen as having some shortcomings, was clearly superior to anything that had gone before. Sellar's reworking of Giles/Stevens is certainly passable. However, it is, to my mind, rather stodgy reading, and I think that its nineteenth-century assumptions about the Medieval past sometimes show through. If you are going to read his version, it might as well be with the Latin text as a back-up — so the SPQR or Delphi versions are indicated.
So far as I can tell, for almost half of the twentieth century the translation most likely to be used by the student was the Penguin Classics rendering by Leo Sherley-Price, initially as “The History of the English Church and People.” This has been expanded with additional material translated by D.H. Farmer, and with Sherley-Price’s translation and notes revised, with the title being changed along the way to the more literal “Ecclesiastical History of the English People.” Despite the original translator’s somewhat obtrusive concern that his readers come down on the right (orthodox) side of the theological disputes Bede mentions, it has considerable merits as a piece of engaging writing (in my opinion, anyway). It originally appeared in 1955, was reprinted with revisions in 1965, revised again in 1968, and revised and expanded in 1990. The 1990 edition, frequently reprinted, is currently available in Kindle as well as paperback; and hardcover reprints of an earlier edition are sometimes available from dealers. In the expanded editions it appears as “Ecclesiastical History of the English People: With Bede’s Letter to Egbert and Cuthbert’s Letter on the Death of Bede.”
Penguin also offers a volume of translations of other works, under the title of "The Age of Bede" (originally published in shorter form as "Lives of the Saints," and expanded and revised several times), which contains Bede's "Life of St. Cuthbert" and his "Lives of the Abbots" (of his home monastery), besides other early documents. I have reviewed "The Age of Bede" (and also the "Lives of the Saints" edition) separately. Again, this is available in Kindle format.
Slightly more recent than the last revision of the Penguin "Ecclesiastical History," and also with supplementary material, some of it additional to the later Penguin editions, is the Oxford World’s Classics revision of the translation by Bertrand Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors in their 1969 Oxford Medieval Texts edition. The OWC version was edited by Judith McClure and Roger Collins, appearing in 1994, under the title of "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People: The Greater Chronicle: Bede's Letter to Egbert." As the title indicates, it is supplemented by a translation of Bede’s “Greater Chronicle” (from one of his works on time-keeping and dating), and of his “Letter to Egbert” concerning the condition of society and the Church in Bede’s later years. It was originally under the "World's Classics" label, and was reissued in the renamed series in 1999. Although it is not mentioned in the title, this volume also contains "Cuthbert's Letter on the Death of Bede." It too is available in both paperback and Kindle editions.
Annoyingly, although the Oxford World's Classics is my favorite translation (as a translation), I have to report that the conversion to Kindle format was not very thorough. There are no separate Table of Contents links to the five "books" of the History, let alone to the individual chapters in each. Cross-references in the notes are given by pages -- which are not evident in the digital form -- with no hyperlinks provided. The same is true of the excellent index, so the reader has to use the Search function (which is inconvenient at best). The map of Bede's England is included, but treated as an image, so that the lettering in the most crowded portions seems (to me, at least) to blur together.
On the other hand, the Kindle edition of the Penguin translation (which is also quite good as a translation) is quite thoroughly hyperlinked, including the chapter titles and the index. The maps and genealogical trees of various dynasties of Anglo-Saxon rulers are legible, although for some reason these do not appear at all when I use the Cloud Reader. (Amazon lists this as a 2003 edition, but the copyright page indicates no revisions after 1990; presumably the reference is to one of the reprintings, as it is too early to be the Kindle release itself.)
Of course, both the paperback and Kindle editions of the Penguin and Oxford translations are considerably more expensive than the SPQR Study Guide, not to mention the various antiquated public-domain versions available.