By Paul Fattig
If Lois Wilson still raised sheep on the family’s Eagle Point farm, she figures she could flip through a 14th-century French book on sheep husbandry for advice.
“The interesting thing, except for antibiotics, you could raise sheep by it today,” said Wilson, 86, a retired sheep farmer.
Perhaps just as interesting, although not surprising to those who know her, Wilson collaborated with a longtime language professor at Oregon State University to translate the book published in 1379 from old French into English.
Written by Jean de Brie as “Le Bon Berger,” the book, dubbed “The Medieval Shepherd” in English, was edited and translated by Wilson and Carleton W. Carroll, Oregon State University emeritus professor of French.
The book cover, depicting a pastoral scene with a shepherd sitting under a tree while his flock grazes, was created by artist Sue Kupillas, a former member of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
Published by the Arizona Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, the 224-page hardcover is available for $50.
Considered one of the original “how to” books in French, the book was chock full of practical information for the medieval shepherd, Wilson said.
In the translated book, which came out late last year, the reader can pore over what is known as middle French on one page and sneak a peek at the English translation on the facing page.
The publication includes a detailed index with proper names found in both the text and the translation, and lists the names of plants and diseases used in the 14th century.
Wilson also has collaborated with Carroll to edit and translate Olivier de La Marche’s 1483 book, “Le Chevalier Deliber’E” into English with the title “The Resolute Knight.”
That hardcover book, published in 1999, is available by the same publisher for $30.
“It’s fun, just great fun,” said Wilson of making the translations. “My head lives in words.
“The spelling is a different, the verbs are slightly different,” she adds of today’s French versus middle French. “It’s a little like translating olde English into modern English.”
Carroll, who retired after 27 years of teaching at OSU, indicated via email that the translation was completed through working together.
“I can say right off that this was a totally collaborative effort, each of us contributing his/her own expertise; neither of us could have produced the book without the contribution of the other,” he wrote.
“Lois’s primary contribution was the translation into English, which I vetted and which gave rise to much give-and-take about just how to express many ideas,” he added. “She did a huge amount of research into the names of plants (those that are beneficial and those that are harmful to sheep) and the diseases to which sheep were prone.”
Hailing from Illinois where she learned French in high school, Wilson and her late husband settled in the Rogue Valley in 1960, and began raising a family and sheep.
When her children fledged, she attended what is now Southern Oregon University in Ashland, earning a bachelor’s degree in general studies because the school didn’t offer a French degree. She and her family have also visited France.
Wilson, a longtime community activist who has served on the Jackson County Fair Board, Jackson County 4-H, Jackson County Fire District 3, Southern Oregon Historical Society Board and other activities, raised sheep on the family farm until her husband passed away in the early 1990s. She now volunteers at Eagle Point High School to help students with their senior projects.
When she found out about the 1379 book on raising sheep, she jumped at the chance to work on the translation with Carroll.
Sheep were an important part of the 14th century French economy, she said.
“The first part of the book has to do with history and economics, what farmers were expecting of their sheep,” she said. “These days an ewe may weigh 80 to 90 pounds. Back then, an ewe was 60 pounds max, maybe closer to 50 pounds.”
Sheep were bred for wool, although the French also ate mutton, she said.
“They didn’t have fences like we do,” she said. “They were mostly raised in flocks on fiefdoms. They grazed them all over the country.”
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.