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Modern languages & literatures professor wins National Endowment for the Humanities grant to edit, translate Franco-Italian epic

October 10, 2013 | By Nick Alexopulos

Leslie Zarker Morgan Loyola University MarylandLeslie Zarker Morgan, Ph.D., professor of Italian and French in the modern languages and literatures department at Loyola University Maryland, has been awarded a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to create a digital edition and modern English translation of the last unedited Franco-Italian epic, Huon d’Auvergne.

Morgan will lead a team of five other scholars from U.S. and European universities over the course of the three-year project that will require them to examine Huon line-by-line. Comprised of three manuscripts and another manuscript fragment from the 14th and 15th centuries, Huon is written in arbitrarily mixed French and Italian without modern-style capitalization, punctuation, or spacing.

“The Huon story is very important because it shows the cultural interaction and the depth of relations between France and Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries,” said Morgan. “But each manuscript is slightly different, and that’s why it’s never been edited.”

The manuscripts tell the fictional story of Huon d’Auvergne, who was sent to hell by King Charles Martel of France to obtain ‘tribute’ – payment from one ruler to another for protection – from the devil. King Martel’s true motivation, however, was jealousy; he desired Huon’s wife and needed him out of the picture indefinitely. The king was confident Huon would never return from hell.

The story also incorporates elements of Dante’s Inferno, and Morgan says Huon could be the first text in history to reference the iconic work.

“From these manuscripts we see how rapidly Dante came into relevance because he died in the first part of the 14th century, and to have something already using quotes from his material in 1341 makes it very significant,” said Morgan.

Her team will modify the spacing for modern readers, add capital letters and punctuation, and create annotations and a glossary. This effort will convert the texts into a readable form. The first, which is more than 12,000 lines in length, will be translated into English. Once the project is complete in late 2016, the readable editions and English translation will be posted online by the University of South Carolina’s humanities computing section.

The NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations grant funds course release time, travel, and computer work. Her collaborators on the project are:

  • Shira Schwam-Baird, Ph.D., professor of French, University of North Florida
  • Stephen Patrick McCormick, Ph.D., assistant professor of French, University of South Carolina
  • Alan Bernstein, Ph.D., emeritus professor of medieval history, University of Arizona
  • Michela Scattolini, Ph.D., completed postdoctoral research at  University of Fribourg (Switzerland); resides in northern Italy
  • Jean-Claude Vallecalle, emeritus professor of medieval French language and literature, Université Lyon-2 (France)

Morgan completed a similar project in 2009. That solo edition took 35 years and covered 17,000 lines of a single medieval manuscript.

Morgan’s team expects to begin this project in January 2014.

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