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

fredag 20. november 2020

Songs for Saint Edmund - liturgy and identity at Bury St Edmunds


Today is the feast of Saint Edmund Martyr, the king of East Anglia who was killed by Danish Vikings in 869, and who became one of the most important native saints of medieval England. This year's feast is, moreover, a special occasion, as it is the millennial anniversary of the founding of the monastic community at Edmund's shrine in the town that came to be Bury St Edmunds, and which is referred to in Edmund's saint-biography by Abbo of Fleury from c.987 as Bedricurtis, or Bedricsworth. The shrine of Edmund had been established shortly after his death, although the actual historical circumstances were in all likelihood very different from how they are depicted in Abbo's Passio Eadmundi. What we do know, however, is that Edmund's shrine was the centre of a local cult for most of the tenth century, but one that attracted the veneration of several magnates and bishops and was a significant feature in the religious life of East Anglia. Based on the miracle stories included in Passio Eadmundi, this shrine was maintained by priests and recluse women, and it had amassed a trove of wealth that was sufficiently large to attract the attention of a group of thieves. So while it was not a monastic community, it certainly had both monastic elements and a great status - which is probably why the shrine was selected to be reformed as a Benedictine abbey. 

The reformation of the community took place under the auspices of King Knud I of England, Denmark and Norway. Knud was an active patron of religious houses in England, and Bury St Edmunds was one of several to which he turned his attention. However, the Danish background of the king must have been particularly poignant aspect of Knud's patronage of Bury, as his father, Svend Forkbeard, had died only six years prior during his invasion of Denmark, and according to the local legends it was Saint Edmund himself who had killed the Danish king for having exacted a heavy tribute from Edmund's shrine. This episode became one of the most iconic scenes to be depicted in pictorial renditions of Edmund's legend. 

In its first few decades, the change to a monastic community at Bury is likely to have been important, but not necessarily dramatic beyond the introduction of a monastic liturgical use, which was more elaborate than the one that was performed previously - although we do not know anything about the details of that liturgy. In the second half of the eleventh century, however, Bury became a major cult centre that established connections with other religious houses on the continent, and that actively promoted and disseminated Edmund's cult beyond its own territory. The man in charge of this dissemination programme was Abbot Baldwin, a former monk at Saint-Denis who had been the physician of Edward the Confessor, and who was appointed by the king to the abbacy. During Baldwin's reign, Bury was the location of a significant textual production, which included the copying of books as well as the composition of new material. Arguably, the most important of the new productions was the liturgical office, because it was through this medium that the abbey formulated its own relationship to its patron saints, and formulated its own identity through its presentation of the life and history of that patron. This identity - this blend of history and iconography - was taught to the monks of Bury through the annual celebrations of Edmund's feast day, November 20, and through this communal, immersive performance the community reminded itself of its role in the holy scheme of God, of the merits of its patron, and of the place of Bury St Edmunds in the fabric of Creation. This kind of identity-construction and identity-perpetuation was a key element of liturgy, and one of the reasons why a new monastic office was composed under the auspices of Abbot Baldwin. It is perfectly possible that another monastic office existed prior to Baldwin's abbacy, but I for my part find it unlikely. 

The office for Saint Edmund is of great interest to us, not only because of its key position in the cult of Edmund and the life and identity of the abbey, but because it has come down to us in one of the oldest surviving sources from Bury: A manuscript dated to around 1070, København Kongelige Bibliotek GKS 1588, in which an almost-complete version of the office can be found, along with the earliest known copy of Passio Eadmundi. For the millenary of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, I here present a little selection of the content of this office. The translations are based transcriptions and translations from my PhD thesis. A modern arrangement of the office of Saint Edmund can be found here.  

København Kongelige Bibliotek GKS 1588, f.28r

The first song of the office as it has come down to us from MS GKS 1588 is the Magnificat antiphon, performed in conjunction with a psalm during the hour of Vesper. In this chant, Bury's identity vis-à-vis its wider geography, as the chant asks the church of the entire English people - i.e. not only the local branch of East Anglia - to celebrate Saint Edmund. This imparts the idea that Edmund is of so great a standing in the senate of God - a typical metaphor for Heaven - that he can intercede for all the English people, not just those of his own community at Bury. 

Exulta sancta ecclesia totias gentis anglice ecce in manibus est laudatio eadmundi regis inclyti et martyris inuictissimi qui triumphato mundi principe celos ascendit uictoriosissime sancta pater eadmundo tuis supplicibus intende

Rejoice, holy church of the entire English people, behold in [whose] hands is Edmund praised, the illustrious king and invincible martyr, who triumphing over the prince of the world ascended victoriously in heaven. Holy father Edmund, hold out your prayers

København Kongelige Bibliotek GKS 1588, f.28v

The next chant I want to emphasise is third antiphon of Matins. The hour of Matins was the climax of the liturgical celebration of the feast day. This was the longest of the eight services of the daily round, and it was here that the community shared in the story of their patron to chants and readings. The chants of the office were chanted by all the monks, and chants are thus an immensely powerful vehicle of identity construction since the singing makes each individual monk of the community take part in the perpetuation of the institution's collective memory.

This antiphon, Legem dedit, is of particular interest because it adds a new element to the iconography of Saint Edmund. It introduces the idea that the Danish chieftain, Hingwar, threatened Edmund with exile lest he submit to him. The invocation of exile is not mentioned in Passio Eadmundi, but it is a signficant addition in the liturgy, because even though the legend does include an exile for Edmund, the mere threat invokes the image of the exile, and the archetype of exiles for all saints was Christ, who had gone into exile as a child to escape the slaughter by Herod. Since the efficaciousness of saints was often measured in the extent to which they imitated Christ, an added element of this imitation, the threat of exile, served to impress upon the community at Bury how Christlike was their patron.  

Legem dedit rex crudelis hinguuar / ut eadmundus exilio relegarent / aut capite potius detruncarent / si eum suis legibus inclinare aut subdere non possent

The cruel king Hingwar gave the condition / so that Edmund would be banished into exile / or else decapitated, if he could not / bend to his laws and place himself under them

København Kongelige Bibliotek GKS 1588, f.29r

The final example for this millenary blogpost is the first responsory of the office, also performed during Matins. A responsory is a chant sung after a lesson, and it is comprised of three parts: The main part which is the responsum (literally, the response, as it responds to the lesson), then comes the verse, v, and then finally the repetenda, r, which repeats the last line of the responsum for emphasis.

The first responsory comes after the first lesson, in which we learn about Edmund's characteristics and his merits as a king and saint. The responsory emphasises that Edmund was pre-destined to become a saint, and that his entire life was planned by God so that Edmund would join him in Heaven as one of his soldiers in the fight against the devil. This pre-ordained destiny was typical of all saints and not unique to Edmund, but it was nonetheless an important trait, and by repeating this aspect of Edmund twice in the same chant, the community at Bury were reminded, and reminded themselves, that their patron was one of the elect of God, and could therefore aid them in their needs. Such a comfort, the idea of a patron who was especially beloved by God, should be understood as a crucial aspect of a cult centre's identity construction.

Sancte indolis puer eadmundus ex antiquorum personis regum natiuitatis sumpsit exordium quem sue milicie informauit rex celestis ut sibi coheredem transferet in celis.
[v] Cuius infantium illustrauit spiritus sancti gratia quoniam complacuit sibi in illo anima domini iesu

[r] ut sibi

With inborn holiness, the boy Edmund, born from old royal lineage, was taken from the beginning, whom the heavenly king shaped [into] his soldier so that as His coinheritor He could transfer him to heaven.
[v] Whose childhood shone with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, since it was acceptable to him in this soul
[r] so that

The examples I have pointed to here are only three of many. The office is of course a unit in the sense that it conveys a unified legend in a short space of time, but it is also comprised of episodes in which particular aspects of the saint, the saint's qualities and the institution's identity are given particular attention. The full scope of the programme of identity construction begun under Abbot Baldwin requires an immersion in the entire office, not just its texts but its texts performed with music, but even by these few examples we manage to see some of the key aspects of this identity-construction. 

onsdag 28. oktober 2020

Material minutiae - the curious case of the discoloured incunable page

One of the books to which I often return in the course of my research is a 1492 edition of the collection of saints' lives Das Leuend der Hÿlghen, printed by Steffen Arndes in Lübeck. This book is now kept in the library of the University of Southern Denmark, which is where I encountered it in the course of a brief employment as a research assistant there. The book is magnificent for many reasons, and one of the many aspects that continue to delight me is the material evidence of use - various clues as to how its readers interacted with the book. Since this edition came to the university library from a Danish school established in the mid-sixteenth century, these clues are particularly interesting for what light they might shed on the reception of these saint stories in a post-Reformation Scandinavian context.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek RARA M 15, f.403v

The material clues come in various forms, often as marginal notations of different kinds - scribbled notes or simply marks to highlight a passage - and sometimes these clues are more accidental. One such accidental clue can be seen on page 403v, the last page in the collection's chapter on Saint Erik of Sweden. As can be seen in the photograph above, the left column of the page is curiously streaked by some kind of discolouration. At the time of writing, I do not know how to explain this or what it might tell us about how this book has been used, but I'm opening this up to readers with more experience in codicology, in the hope that some suggestions might appear.

lørdag 24. oktober 2020

The paradox of historical imagination


The Vikings probably went to the moon
- David Mitchell, QI S17E14

Truth, it is often said, is stranger than fiction. As a medievalist I have often found this to be correct, in the sense that the source material with which I engage has confounded my prejudice or my neophyte imagination time after time, and continues to do so. It is partly this never-ending itinerary from revelation to revelation – moments both big and small – that makes it so very fulfilling to immerse oneself in the past, and to have one’s comprehension of reality expanded by this unsteady pulse of learning and discovery. Truth is strange – but mostly because how we conceive of truth is laughably narrow, and because our ability to measure truth is hemmed in by our expectations of what is possible. This often yields strange results in how we conceive of the past, or at least certain iconic moments of aspects from the past, because very often we tend to conceive of these as they have been handed down from previous generations, as a second- or third-hand idea shaped by the prejudice and state of the art of a bygone period. The past provides a template for how the future thinks of an even more distant past, and it can be difficult to realise how that template needs to be altered to fit with the knowledge and understanding that have accumulated in the interim. This inability to properly modify the received template often leads to a paradoxical thinking about the human potential in historical epochs: We sometimes tend to think both too broadly and too narrowly at one and the same time. Our historical imagination often becomes like a lake bursting from a dam and spreading broadly in all directions, but without creating the depth needed to sustain it or to acquire substance.     

In an attempt to write this in a clearer way, I will take as my example how neatly people tend to categorise humanity into different nations, groups, tribes, ethnicities, or – to those who cling to an anachronistic, unnecessary and harmful lexicon – races and civilisations. This very neat categorisation – too neat for reality to fit into it – has provided a foundation for ideas about the immutable relationship between ethnicity and geography. This foundation has been used to build delusions such as the one that the concept of the nation-state is somehow natural and old, as suggested by well-known demagogue Nigel Farage, or that there is such a thing as an Urheimat, an original home, for certain ethnicities. The human past, even if we only look to the last two millennia, is infinitely more complex and brimming with nuance than such neat categorisations can capture.          

In the field of medieval studies, this neat categorisation along ethnic lines has recently sparked a lot of controversy, because people bottle-fed on nationalistic notions inherited from the nineteenth century struggle to accept the idea of the Middle Ages as a temporal space that can be conceived as multi-cultural. The idea that the cultures of medieval Europe kept to themselves and were separated by these neatly demarcated categories has presided over a lot of historical thinking, both within academia and without, and this idea has been shaped by very modern notions of ethnic differences. In short, it is very difficult for a certain type of modern humans to envisage a medieval past in which ethnicity – or its perverted double, “race”, – was not such a wall-maker as that type of modern humans would wish it to be. The racist ideologies of the modern world are simply incompatible with the truth of the source material, and truth becomes much stranger – or at least much more complex – than the fictions these people tend to weave. 

The limited nature of this historical imagination, an imagination that cannot imagine a Europe that is not monolithically white in its skin, is paradoxical. And what makes the limitation of this historical imagination so paradoxical is that the very figureheads by which they seek support for their ideas are proof of the exact opposite of what they believe. The figureheads in questions vary, but very often they tend to be Vikings or crusaders, Europeans who are best known and even celebrated by these racist groups for the well-documented breadth of their travels. We know that the Norse reached the coasts of modern-day Canada, and connected with the trade routes of Central Asia. We know that the crusaders established themselves forcefully in the Levant and attempted to gain footholds in Northern Africa. And there are fantasies about these figureheads reaching even further. There are fantasies about Vikings and Knights Templars reaching further south along the American landmass. In some cases, these fantasies are just that, fantasies, and they revel in an imaginative exuberance that can easily be enjoyed without the need of embracing them as facts. We have, for instance, Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant who joins a Viking expedition into the forests of West Africa. Or the case of Hugo Pratt’s Mu, the latest instalment in his series about Corto Maltese, in which the lost continent of Mu is found in the depths of Amazonas – or perhaps the depths of the earth, it’s not very clear in the story – and we learn that it was reached by both Vikings and Templars. Similarly, there are several Italian Disney stories in which proof of Viking settlements are found near Duckburg – and as aficionados will remember, Duckburg is located in the fictional state of Calisota, located somewhere along the Pacific coast, an entire continent away from where we know that the Norse actually landed.          

The ability of popular culture to envisage a medieval world that is in effect boundless and in which cultures from very different geographical locations can meet one another is boon to the historical imagination. This pop-cultural vision is of course tempered by reality, in which we know that the Norse never reached the Pacific Ocean, the subterranean depths, or the moon, yet this vision provides is with a reminder that we should not think too narrowly about the possibilities furnished by the world of medieval travel. And because we should not think too narrowly of this world, we also come to the realisation that the cultures that comprised the medieval period, the groups and tribes and peoples whose histories we try to comprehend through a frustratingly incomplete source material, they were part of a unified geographical world – the Afro-Eurasian landmass – whose connectedness and whose roads and infrastructure facilitated cultural encounters and sustained contacts that were probably much deeper and long-standing than we often realise. This reminds us, in turn, that we should not think too narrowly along the lines of modern concepts of ethnicities, because people of the Middle Ages were not – at least to the same extent.

Granted, we know that the peoples of the medieval period – as people have always done to various extents – had clear ideas about geographical belonging. I am currently reading Jordanes’ Gothic History (translated by Mierow), in which the sixth-century Gothic scholar unequivocally locates the Gothic place of origin in the island of Scandza, calling it a womb of nations, an idea that has fuelled later ideas about the Urheimat. In this sense, the historical imagination of Jordanes is quite narrow, in that we today would – or at least should – hesitate to accept such a clear geographical starting point for any group identified by an ethnic label, unless – of course – one belongs to those groups who pathetically cling to fictions of belonging as if their worldview depended on it (which it does).         

Yet at the same time, Jordanes also paints a picture of the history of the Goths that envisage a known world in which cultures met, interacted and intermarried. In the first few chapters of the History, we learn how the Goths left the island of Scandza – often identified as Scandinavia – and then roamed across the known world, coming into contact with, and often marrying into, peoples such as the Scythians, the Seres (traditionally but not uncontestedly identified as the Chinese) and the Persians, and even pushing as far south as into Egypt, hindered only by the fortifications erected to keep out the Ethiopians (a reminder that the term “Ethiopian” meant something less precise in the world of Late Antiquity than it does today). In short, the historical imagination of Jordanes had no problem accepting as truth these ideas that a people from an island in the far north could, in the course of generations, reach distant corners of Asia and even into Egypt, and that these northerners established relationships with and married into people very different from themselves. The historical imagination of the learned medieval world, in other words, as far less narrow in its limits and constraints of geographical thinking than several of those of the modern era who venerate idealised figures of that same medieval past.       

This is the paradox of historical imagination: To accept, and to even expand, the geographical vista suggested by the medieval source material, yet to deny the very human implications of that vista for how we think about culture, cultural exchange, and multiculturalism. This is the paradox of a type of modern mind that embraces the forgery of the Kensington rune stone as authentic, yet that struggles, or refuses, to understand that the Roman Empire of the time of Jordanes, for instance, was a hodgepodge of ethnicities and cultural impulses that demonstrated the interwoven world of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, connecting through a range of intermediaries all the different coasts of Africa, Asia and Europe. It is in this refusal to accept cultural contacts as sustained and having a long-term impact rather than being ephemeral or interpreted as proving the dominance of one’s favoured culture, that the modern racist mind fails to comprehend that truth is both much stranger and much more interesting than the fictions of its narrow confines. 

torsdag 22. oktober 2020

Harmonious disharmony - Pär Lagerkvist and Carlo Gesualdo

This evening I finished reading the novel Dvärgen (The Dwarf) by the Swedish novelist Pär Lagerkvist. The novel is narrated by the dwarf of a late-medieval Italian prince, who is an extreme misanthrope and observes the world through a filter of hatred and incomprehension, interpreting the actions and natures of those around him from his vantage point of the outsider who is often mocked and ignored, yet who thereby manages to come closer to the realities of courtly life. It is a wonderful novel, but in an extremely discomforting way. Since the protagonist considers himself in opposition to the doings of humans - whom he considers a different species of beings altogether - he also breaks norms, performs impieties, and presents the twisted, childish view of the world of a supreme egotist who feels insufficiently powerful and who is dissatisfied with everything - everything but violence, that is. This contradictory nature of the protagonist runs like a jarringly discordant note through the entire novel, a note made all the more discordant because his hatred is of such a petulant nature. It has taken me significantly longer to finish this novel than I expected, and it is precisely because of this disharmony.

As I began reading the novel, I was struck by the idea that a fitting soundtrack to my reading would be something by Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), one of the most notorious composers of Renaissance music, known for his heavy use of dissonance which is in notable contrast to earlier Italian composers. It is not quite clear to me why his music came to mind, as I have not listened to it since the months following a conference in Italy back in 2013, which coincided with the anniversary of his death. Perhaps it was the late-medieval/Renaissance setting of Lagerkvist's novel that prompted the connection. Perhaps it was that like the novel's protagonist, Gesualdo also broke the norms of his day and also committed murder (I misremembered and thought he had murdered his father - I realised later that he had murdered his wife and her lover). Whatever the reason, I found that the homicidal composer's disharmonious music suited the murderous disharmony of the novel's narrator disconcertingly well, as if the two horrible human beings - one real, one fictional - echoed each other and brought something more living into the art. It was an uncomfortable exercise at times, but one that was rewarding in strange ways, as the disharmony of it all allowed me to immerse myself somewhat more deeply into the twisted reality of the novel's nameless misfit of a protagonist. And it served also as a reminder that - as shown by both the novel and the music - the idea of the Renaissance as a time of glory is a gross misconception that only survives because it fits certain grand narratives, and because we give too much credence to the art it left behind and not the circumstances in which that art was made, or by whom or to whose cost that art came into being. Although fictional, Lagerkvist's misanthropic narrator helps us remember that.    

søndag 18. oktober 2020

A medieval view of Växjö

Yesterday I walked into town for the first time in several weeks, and I had selected a route which I had not travelled before. It turned out to be a very rewarding choice, as the road took me to the top of a hill sloping down into the centre, as it cut through an allotment. This angle gave me a lovely view of Växjö cathedral, and it struck me as a notably medieval view, because from this perspective there were no tall houses to rival the height of the cathedral or to obscure its spires, there was no industrial or mercantile complex to remind me of the present times.

I call this view medieval, not because there were no modern components in the vista. After all, the cathedral itself is to a large extent an early modern renovation of the medieval structure, remnants of which can still be found inside and around the church. Yet at the same time, this view - with the cathedral clearly outlined against the sky, dominating the horizon and foregrounded by patch of cultivated greensward - would have been essentially the same as the view of medieval churchgoers wending their way down the slope in the Middle Ages, when Växjö was the frontier zone between medieval Sweden and medieval Denmark, and when the bishops of the city claimed to preside over the oldest of all the Swedish dioceses (a claim still made).  

There was something lovely and peaceful in the stability and permanence offered by this view. And even though that stability and that permanence are belied by the very features that make up the view, it is enough to give a calming sense that while the individual pieces might have changed significantly in the past thousand years, a lot of it still remains the same, and this allows us to get a better sense of how this landscape was experienced by its inhabitants several centuries ago. There is something to be said for that kind of sensations. 

onsdag 30. september 2020

Leikanger Church in Norway

This summer, my family and I undertook a couple of excursions to medieval churches in the fjords. I have previously written about another of these churches, Hopperstad, here, here, and here. In this blogpost, I will give a brief introduction to another church that has elements dating back to the Middle Ages, but which has undergone significant rebuilding in the modern period. This is Leikanger Church, situated in Sogn, and a the centre of a large parish in the medieval period.

The oldest parts of the church are elements of the stone choir, and a wooden crucifix which is currently housed in Bergen University Museum. It is likely that an older church made out of timber stood on this spot before the building of the stone church, but this has not yet been ascertained. The few medieval remnants only allow for a rough dating of the church to sometime in the thirteenth century, with a tendency to favour the latter half of the 1200s. 

The church appears to have been in continuous use throughout the medieval and early modern period, and there are several items - such as the altarpiece, the pulpit, and fragments of a baptismal font, all of which are seventeenth century. The building itself received its current appearance in the course of two restorations, one in 1872 and one in 1955. It was during the first of these restorations that the church received its octagonal apse.  

While the church has undergone significant changes since the medieval period, it is nonetheless a very beautiful church with a lot of interesting details. It is located in a wonderful landscape that was once busy with trade from far and near, and it served as the religious centre for many of the far-flung villages surrounding it. For me, the most important aspect of this church was that it was the church that my mother attended during her years as a kindergarten teacher in Leikanger in the 1970s. At a time when a lot of the old features of the villages in the fjords are changing and disappearing, it feels very heartening that although Leikanger church has also changed significantly through the times, it still allows a connection with the past and a sense of permanence.  

Copy of the medieval crucifix. The original is probably thirteenth century

søndag 27. september 2020

SS Cosmas and Damian in Segovia


Today is the feast of SS Cosmas and Damian, the famous saintly brothers who were medical practitioners in the time of Diocletian (284-306). According to legend, they refused to accept payment for their cures, and they were executed as a part of Diocletian's persecution of Christians. There is a great likelihood that they never existed, but their cult seems to be an old one, and their feast can be found in calendars and liturgical books from all over Latin Christendom. I have several times come across them in Spain, and their widespread distribution in the northern parts of the country would suggest that the cult was introduced to Spain already in Late Antiquity. However, this is merely an hypothesis. 

I have written about elements of the cult of Cosmas and Damian in previous blogposts (here and here), but this time I will have a quick look at a spectacular representation from one of the early modern chapels in Segovia Cathedral. The chapel in question is the Chapel of SS Cosmas and Damian, and can be seen in a more complete view here.

Upon the death of Damián Alonso Berrocal in 1603, the archpriest of Pedraza, one of the villages within Segovia's jurisdiction, the cathedral chapter donated this chapel for his inhumation. It appears that the dedication of the chapel to the saintly brothers was occasioned by the archpriest's connection to his namesake saint. In 1629, the retable of the chapel was commissioned, and in the early 1630s the sculptures decorating the retable were completed by a carver. 

Cosmas and Damian as envisioned in the 1630s

One of the many interesting elements of this retable is how it conveys the legend of the two saints. As is typical of medieval and early modern Christian art, stories become compressed into a sequence of highlights, capturing the most important points of the legend of the saints, reminding the viewers about the story, and demonstrating to the saints in Heaven that their ministrants on earth were familiar with their story and therefore worthy of their help and prayers. In this, the retable in Segovia Cathedral is typical and in no way unique, but nonetheless fascinating and astounding in the way it communicates the story of the brothers.

At the base of the retable we can follow the story. The two brothers heal a man bitten by a serpent, a miracle that is likely to be an echo of one of the stories about Saint Paul, who reportedly was bitten by a snake during one of his missions and was unharmed. The second and final scene of the base is their execution before the seated emperor. It is noteworthy that their death by decapitation - a very common way of dying for late-antique saints - follows after a failed attempt at killing them by arrows, as the arrows redounded back onto their would-be executioners. 

Lifting the eyes from the base - which seems to be logical sequence of reading this retable - we see the brothers safe and sound and with their heads reattached to their bodies, signifying their current state as saints in Heaven. Above them, we see - though not in these pictures - the Virgin Mary. 

There are several elements of the legend of Cosmas and Damian that have not been included in the version of the retable. The story of how their sanctity was confirmed by a speaking camel, and the miraculous cure of how they performed a leg transplant are not to be found, for instance. The absence of these episodes, however, are only natural given the limited space for visual storytelling in the retable, and by looking at what is kept and what is omitted, we can understand what was considered to be the most important elements of the story.