The songs known as the Carmina Burana constitute the largest and most famous surviving collection of medieval Latin lyric. These two lovely volumes in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) series present for the first time the whole contents of the manuscript in Latin with English facing-page translation. They are edited and translated by classicist David Traill, who brings to this ambitious project deep knowledge of medieval Latin poetry and the Carmina Burana manuscript.
The two volumes of Traill’s edition and translation amount to over 1,300 pages of text, with enormously helpful apparatus that aims to make the contents available to “English-speaking scholars and general readers.” The twenty-three-page introduction covers a lot of material compactly. The more discursive parts of the “Notes to the Translation” are a delight, at once deeply learned and approachable, a wonderful aid to understanding these often difficult lyrics.
On the whole, Traill’s translations are far more interesting and thoughtful than a simple trot, but will enable anyone with a modicum of Latin to appreciate the poem as it was written. These are, indeed, translations worth having. For anyone who ever contemplated teaching the medieval Latin lyric to undergraduates, the DOML Carmina Burana is a wonderful resource. As Jan Ziolkowski in his role as general editor of the DOML emphasized in a 2010 Harvard Magazine interview: “You have to appeal to a wide audience, but also satisfy the erudite.” These volumes should do both.
Thomas C. Moser, Jr.