And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

lørdag 23. juni 2018

History as Poetry - a poem by Geoffrey Hill

Geoffrey Hill is one of my favourite poets in any language,and reading him takes my mind back to the spring of 2011 when I was reading his poems while beginning in earnest to establish myself as a medievalist in the second semester of my MA studies. Much has changed since then, including myself, and the England I explored while exploring his poems now seems like a lost dream, a broken promise, in part due to the political development, in part because I have become disenchanted with English academia, in part because of personal disappointmnts. I was a staunch anglophile once, and I'm still fond of many things English, not least the many medieval buildings I have not yet seen in the flesh - or in the stone, rather - but the youthful, all-encompassing excitement of those spring days of 2011 is now a thing of the past. Occasionally, however, when reading Geoffrey Hill's early poems, I find my way back to that excitement, I reconnect with those feelings of wonder and novelty that made me love England and that made me long for it, and thus, for a brief window of time, as my eyes scan the lines of the poem, I relive that love of England that I no longer can claim.

History as poetry

Poetry as salutation; taste
Of Pentecost's ashen feast. Blue wounds.
The tongue's atrocities. Poetry
Unearths from among the speechless dead

Lazarus mystified, common man
Of death. The lily rears its gouged face
From the provided loam. Fortunate
Auguries; whirrings;tarred golden dung:

'A resurgence' as they say. The old
Laurels wagging with the nw: Selah!
Thus laudable the trodden bone thus
Unanswerable the knack of tongues.

- From King Log (1968)

mandag 18. juni 2018

Working with liturgical manuscripts, part 12 – Many layers, many languages

One of the great joys of working with liturgical fragments in book bindings is that there is always room for surprise. To be sure, it need not be a big surprise, neither does it have to be all that uncommon, but sometimes you do encounter surprises that adjust your understanding of what you are working on, and remind you that history is a bit more complex than you had realised. In the following blogpost, I wish to present you with one such little surprise which I came across while trying my best to identify the texts of a liturgical fragment that was in a rather poor state, namely Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, RARA K 284, a book whose cover I have written about here.

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

The fragment was used as the binding for Zacharias Theobald’s Hussiten Krieg, an account in German about the Hussites in Bohemia and the life and death of Johannes Huss. This edition was printed in Nürnberg in 1621 by Simon Halbmayer. (I am grateful to Jakob Povl Holck at the University Library of University of Southern Denmark for these details.) In the prologue, we see the mixture of German and Latin and the mix of corresponding types that have been used in the printing.

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

This blend of Latin and vernacular is something that is typical to encounter when working with these fragments. In this case, there is a blend of languages not only in the typeset and the text, but also in the content of the book versus the binding of the book, containing, as it does, the Latin of liturgical books.

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

Across the spine: Herlufsholm, the name of the library where this book was last kept
RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

As stated, the cover fragment – and indeed the binding itself – was in a poor state, and in these pictures the poor degree of legibility is not only a matter of the camera’s focus or the light in the room – although these also play a part – but predominantly a matter of how worn the letters and the colours of the manuscript fragment itself are. As we see, even the cover itself is coming apart. Consequently, I had to be very careful, but at the same time I needed to turn and open this book to catch any possible angle in order to uncover even the tiniest strip that could assist me in the identification of the text. Sometimes, one tiny strip showing only one single letter can be the defining factor that allows me just enough to go on when trying to transcribe the text.

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

As I was examining the book, however, I became aware of the many layers of the binding itself. It is easy to forget that the fragment(s) used for the cover of the book is only the most visible, and that there are several other fragments that have been used inside the cover, along the spine, or in any other of the many nooks and crannies of a book. There was, however, one reminder of this multi-layered nature of book-bindings, namely a small flap covered in residual glue and torn paper, peeping out on between the cover and the page, protruding from the bottom of the spine.

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

On the other end of the page, however, I discovered something I had not anticipated, my little surprise that added a significant amount of excitement to my examination, and one that – in hindsight – quite probably made my eyes bulge in astonishment. I found a little scrap of what looked like paper, containing Hebrew script.

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

At first I was dumbfounded, as this was the first time I had encountered Hebrew letters in any of the fragments and bindings I had been examining. As I gathered my wits, however, I realised that this was not as unusual as I at first had thought. After all, early modern printers used a wide array of materials when binding their books, and not only medieval vellum. The vellum seems to have been favoured for the spine and the cover, as vellum is quite strong and can better withstand the pressures and the general wear to which the book is exposed. However, for the inside of the cover, used as a thickener, as it were, it was more common to use paper. This paper often originated from books that had been discarded, such as test printings, botched printings, or books that simply were not selling. The latter is a point to which John Dryden draws our attention when, in the satirical poem “Mack Flecknoe”, he describes the unsold books of what he calls neglected authors as being “Martyrs of pies, and relics of the bum”, referring to how paper was reused as wrapping paper for food, and toilet paper. In short, it is not surprising to find printed paper tucked into the binding to strengthen it. 

What did surprise me, however, was the Hebrew script, and I contacted by colleague Martin Borysek who was then at University of York as a member of the Centre for Medieval Literature. Martin has worked on Hebrew texts, and I turned to him hoping that he could translate what little text I had found. He was very kind welcoming, and told me to send him whatever I had. In the next few days, however, I decided to go back to the book and see if I could unearth a bit more of the text.              

I decided to be a bit less careful in my handling of the book, and I tried to see how the paper covering the inside of the book cover actually was. It turned out to be quite loose.

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

 Fortunately, the text available was sufficient to provide something tangible, and Martin wrote back to me, saying that that this was some kind of register, list or index. The combination of Latin and Hebrew, along with numerals and references to tomes and folios, suggested to Martin that this was an example of Christian Hebraism, a text in Hebrew intended for a Christian audience, most likely for educational purposes.  

As it stands now, the multi-layered, multi-lingual binding of RARA K 284 has not been fully transcribed, translated or even identified, but it serves as a good reminder of how these treasure troves can yield a relatively wide variety of languages as well as content. It is also a good reminder of how necessary it is to have colleagues expert in fields relatively far removed from your own expertise, and how necessary it is that those colleagues are kind and welcoming.

mandag 28. mai 2018

Time - a poem by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

This week is a busy week as the conference I have been organising for the past month is fast approaching, and there are countless little details to keep track of and to sort out in the few remaining days. In such a flurry of details and hours, it is good to be reminded of the bigger picture and to read Edward Kamau Brathwaite's poetry.


Time is the grey wood
streaked with grain
tears carve a trail down its grave pain

the eyes are in heaven
where the clouds are closed
darkness darkness darkness

breathes through the blind leaves
akee pods crack pollen explodes
the mango fruit falls with its wound

(Printed in Third World Poems, Longman, 1983)

søndag 27. mai 2018

The Dormitory - a poem by Derek Walcott

I have imbibed the poetry of Derek Walcott since my first year at university and I have read and re-read so many of his poems that they are embedded in me. But even after ten years of enthusiastic reading, there are still poems I haven't read, either because they are difficult to come by or because I am deliberately waiting so that I will still have things by him to read. Today I encountered one of Walcott's earliest poems, published in a collection titled Poems from 1957 and now out of print. The poem in question can be found in Glyn Maxwell's selection of Walcott's poetry, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux as The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013.

The Dormitory

Time is the guide that brings all to a crux,
Who hans his map will move
Out of the mere geology of books,
To see his valley's palm wrinkled with loves.

These sleep like islands, and I watch sleep lick
Their arms' flung promontories, remove
With individual erasure all their love
Of muscle. Now towards the sea there, I wlook

Where rippling signatures of water break
Over the sighing dormitories of
The drowned whom soft winds move,
Here these inquiet mouths like rivers speak.

Or from these boys, who in the uncertain luck
Of sleep, except to live,
The breath curls from their separated lips like
Mists of time that over valleys grieve.

torsdag 24. mai 2018

Working with liturgical manuscripts, part 11 - A sequence for the dispersion of the Apostles

Although I am no longer employed to work with liturgical manuscripts at the university library of University of Southern Denmark, I am nonetheless excited whenever I am alerted to a new find in the library's collection of old books. A few weeks back, my colleague Jakob Povl Holck sent me some pictures he had taken of a fragment he had just discovered, and I will share my research on these fragments with you. The pictures are all taken by Jakob, and I have his permission to reproduce these images here.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, RARA K 246
Photo by Jakob Povl Holck

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, RARA K 246
Photo by Jakob Povl Holck

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, RARA K 246
Photo by Jakob Povl Holck

The fragment contains an incomplete sequence - performed during mass - for the feast of the dispersion of the apostles, Divisio Apostolorum, celebrated July 15 in commemoration of the apostles leaving Jerusalem to take up their missionary work. The earliest evidence for a celebration of this feast is a sequence composed by Godescalc (d.1098), a monk at Limburg. I do not know whether this sequence is the one found in the fragment of RARA K 246, however. The book containing this fragment was printed in Strasbourg in 1522, and so it is likely that the manuscript from which the fragment comes was kept at some ecclesiastical institution in Alsace.

The sequence found in this fragment is a long panegyric of the glory of God and a list of the apostles. In the fragment of RARA K 246, only a small part of this sequence has survived (the full text can be found here), and this contains the list of the apostles. I have transcribed the surviving text of the fragment, and this can be read here:

[uerbum] dei creature omni coram regibus [et] princibus. Sicut missit me pater et ego mitto uos in mundum estor[e] ergo prudentes sicut serpents est[ore ut columbe simplices]. H[inc petrus romam apostolorum princeps adiit Paulus greciam ubique docens gratiam ter quatuor hi proceres in plagis terre quatuor euangelisantes trinum et unum]. A[ndre]as iacobus uterque philippus ba[r]tholomeus. Symon tha[de]us io[ha]nnes thomas et matheus. Duodecim iudices non ab u[no sed in un]um diuisi per o[rbem] di[uisos in unum colligunt]

I have not yet had the time to translate this text or to write more carefully about it, but I hope to return to it in the near future.

fredag 18. mai 2018

Article - The North in the Latin History Writing of Twelfth-Century Norway

Earlier this week, I received a copy of my first printed, peer-reviewed article, titled The North in the Latin History Writing of Twelfth-Century Norway (available for download here). The article was published in the article collection Visions of North in Premodern Europe, edited by Dolly Jørgensen and Virginia Langum. The full table of content can be seen on the publisher's website. I was delighted to hold the physical copy in my hands and leaf through it to get a proper sense of the volume itself. I had seen the details of the book in the course of my correspondence with the editors, but being able to browse the physical book itself gave me a much better idea of how the volume worked, how the volume was organised, and how I as a reader might engage with it.

The book collects articles that engage with how various European cultures have engaged with the idea of north at different points in time, drawing on classical heritage, biblical typology, travelogues and various cultural encounters. My own article focussed on how history-writers of twelfth-century Norway described their own country in their efforts to record its history, and how these efforts relied on biblical and classical formulations of the north in an attempt to anchor Norway in the wider Christian history.

My then unopened copy, seconds before the plastic came off

I enjoyed writing the article, since I could combine several of my academic interests: History writing, identity construction, the cult of saints (because of the importance of Saint Olaf), and geographical descriptions. I was also very happy to hold the book two years after I submitted the first draft of my chapter, but I do not know when I will be able to read it. By the time I wrote the article, it contained the full extent of my knowledge on the subject, but a few months after it was submitted in an updated and improved form, I began writing my thesis chapter on Saint Olaf and the textual tradition of twelfth-century Norway. Since then I have learned many things that I would have included in the article if I were to rewrite it, and so my contribution to this wonderful volume is more of a work-in-progress article. Eventually, I hope I will be able to fill in the gaps through other publications, and until then I will enjoy reading the other articles of the book.

mandag 30. april 2018

Conference - Saints and their several images

At the end of May and the beginning of June, I'm organising a conference in Odense on the various representations of saints in different texts and in different media. A brief description of the event itself can be found on the website of the Centre for Medieval Literature (here), the organisation funding the conference. Below you will find the programme. This is a conference that will hopefully inspire fruitful discussions and contribute to important perspectives in the study of the medieval cult of saints.

Edward the Confessor carrying Gillemichel
BL MS Egerton 745, French collection of saints, first half og the 14th century
Courtesy of British Library

Saints and their several images – programme            

International conference – May 31st – June 1st             

Noble Women’s Convent, Albani Torv 6, 5000 Odense C                

Day 1           

09.30 – 10.00: Registration                     

10.00 – 10.15: Welcome    

10.15 – 11.00: Keynote, Roman Hankeln
(Norwegian University of Science and Technology): The forged saint and his chants: reflections of identity in text and music in honour of St. Dionysius of St. Emmeram

11.00 – 11.15: Coffee break                   

11.15 – 12.45:  Session 1 – Ireland and England         

Elva Johnston
(University College Dublin): Changing Saints in the Medieval Irish Martyrologies: Patterns of Topography and Gender   

Rebecca Browett
(University of London): The image of St Æthelwold of Winchester: adaptation and survival                     

Steffen Hope
(University of Southern Denmark): Edward the Confessor’s three images – historiography, saint-biography and liturgy        

12.45-14.00: Lunch, including a guided tour of Odense Cathedral and the shrine of Saint Knud Rex

14.00 – 15.00: Session 2 – Scandinavia and Germany 

Sara Ellis Nilsson
(Malmö University): Shifts in Perception and Veneration – the case of two regional saints from the medieval Skara Bishopric, Sweden         

Danette Brink (University of Regensburg): Alternative facts in the liturgical office: a study of St. Maximinus of Trier                                                         

15.00 – 15.30: Coffee break and discussion                 

18.00: Dinner                     

Day 2           

10.00 – 11.15: Session 3 – Rus and Byzantium                                 

Monica White
(University of Nottingham): Constantine the Great in Byzantium and Rus: A Case Study       

Christian Høgel
(University of Southern Denmark): On the enkomion and the office by Psellos in celebration of Symeon Metaphrastes       

Susana Torres Prieto
(IE University): Hagiography beyond the Church                 

11.15-11.30: Coffee break

11.30 – 12.45: Session 4 – Central Europe                  

Grzegorz Pac
(University of Warsaw): St Adalbert – two-headed bishop of two sees                

Nora Berend
(University of Cambridge): The Lives of St Stephen of Hungary     
12.45 – 14.00: Lunch        

14.00 – 15.00: Session 5 – Southern Europe                

Pilar Herráiz Oliva
(Medeniyet University, Istanbul): St. Thomas Aquinas: from condemnation to canonisation                     

Amy Fuller
(University of Nottingham): Sowing the Seeds of Empire: rehabilitating the reputation of San Hermenegildo and rewriting the history of Spain        

15.00 – 15.15: Coffee break                   

15.15 – 16.00: Discussion and closing remarks