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

fredag 31. august 2018

Felix, and Adauctus the added saint

Yesterday, August 30, was the feast of SS Felix and Adauctus, who were believed to have suffered during Diocletian's persecution of Christians, one of the most wide-reaching of such persecutions to have taken place, and the persecution that occupied the most important place in the cultural memory of medieval Christendom. Diocletian, and his co-augustus Maximian were the main antagonists in many of the stories of early and often apocryphal saints, and this includes the story of Felix and Adauctus, a story which Jacobus de Voragine dates to c.287, i.e. before the persecutions were begun.

The story of these two saints is not a long one, and it mostly revolves around Felix. He was a priest, together with his brother whose name was also Felix but who disappears from the story and does not take part in his brother's passion story. The older Felix was brought before the two emperors and commanded to sacrifice in the temple of Serapis. Felix blew in the face of a statue of Serapis and the statue crumbled, a common topos in martyr stories. He was then taken to statues of Mercury and Diana, but with the same result, and the Romans seized him, tortured him and brought him to a sacred tree. Felix blew on the tree as well, and it fell over, crushing an altar as it did.

As Felix was about to be exectued, another man of unknown name and background stepped up and said he was a Christian as well, and the two martyrs-to-be embraced each other and were then killed. According to Jacobus de Voragine in Legenda Aurea, the two saints were buried in the hole of the sacred tree by Christians who managed to retrieve their dead bodies. Since the man who had joined Felix in martyrdom was unknown, he was given the name Adauctus, meaning "added" or "increase", to signify that he was an addition to the martyrdom of Felix.

Collect for the feast of Felix and Adauctus
Syddansk Bibliotek, RARA Musik M 4

onsdag 29. august 2018

A requiem by Duarte Lobo

Since so much of my work consists of researching medieval liturgy, much of the music to which I listen in the course of a workday is also liturgical, albeit early modern rather than medieval. Currently, one composition that both reflects my late-August mood and is well worth sharing is a requiem composed by Duarte Lobo (c.1565-1646), one of the most important composers of polyphonic music in early modern Portugal.


søndag 26. august 2018

Working with liturgical manuscripts, part 13 - the intertextuality of an antiphon

I have recently returned to work on manuscript fragments at Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, and it is very gratifying to sit down with these old treasures again. Currently, my attention is partly focussed on the cover fragment of Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek RARA L 31. This fragment contains parts of the matins of the liturgical office for Sundays, and its most visible feature is the opening antiphon of the first nocturne, marked by strongly blue initial. I already identified this antiphon during previous research on this fragment, but as I sat down to consider it more closely, I noticed just how rife it is with biblical intertextuality.       

Antiphons are relatively short chants that are sung in responses to psalms. The very name, antiphon or counter-sound, points to its function as a kind of refrain. In the regular services of the liturgical year, where there is no major saint or important event to celebrate, the antiphons used are very often drawn from an old repertoire. Accordingly, their dates and the names of their composers are lost to us, and were in all likelihood not known by those who performed the antiphons as a part of the annual liturgical cycle.   

Because of the relationship between the antiphons and the psalms, it comes as no wonder that a lot of antiphons rely on language and imagery based on the psalms themselves. However, it is often easy to forget just how intricate this intertextuality of antiphons can be, and so in this blogpost I wish to show the echoes of the psalms and other biblical passages that can be found in the antiphon Beati qui in lege tua from RARA L 31. It is important to note that my aim here is merely to highlight the intertextual potential of the antiphon as a chant. I do not claim that the biblical echoes of the antiphon that I suggest here are the ones intended by the long-lost composer of the antiphon. It might very well be that he or she aimed for a different intertextuality than the one I present here. This is, in other words, merely an exercise to become more aware of biblical echoes that can be found in the antiphon. Moreover, I wish to emphasise that the antiphon necessarily has a musical side – as can indeed be see in the picture below – and this music could also have its connections to other chants or other musical repertoires, an intermusicality for want of better words. I do not possess the expertise to talk about this aspect, and accordingly I will leave that out of the present discussion. Nonetheless, it is important to be reminded that I here treat merely on the textual level, also had a very significant musical level that affected how it was received and performed in the liturgical setting.                

Beati qui in lege tua
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek RARA L 31
Photograph by Jakob Povl Holck

The text of the antiphon is as follows (I have dissolved abbreviations but retained the spelling otherwise):

Beati qui in lege tua iugiter meditantur domine beati qui in te confidentes tibi seruiunt in timore de monte sancto tuo nos clemens exaudi nec nos arguas in die furoris tui

This translates roughly to (with modernised punctuation):

Blessed are they who continuously meditate on your law, Lord. Blessed are they who trust in you and who serve you in fear. From your holy hill, listen to us in clemency, and do not accuse us on the day of your fury.                  

In order to unpack some of the potential intertextuality of this antiphon, I will in the following list some strings of words which can be found, either verbatim or with minimal difference in text, in biblical passages. The text in Latin is taken from the Vulgate, while the translations into English are from the Douay-Rheims edition.                 

Beati qui      

See Psalm 83:5: Beati qui habitant in domo tua, Domine; in saecula saeculorum laudabunt te

(Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord: they shall praise thee for ever and ever)       

in lege tua iugiter meditantur                 

See Psalm 1:2: in lege ejus meditabitur die ac nocte (and on his law he shall meditate day and night)

beati qui in te confidentes

See Psalm 10:2: In Domino confido; quomodo dicitis animae meae : Transmigra in montem sicut passer? (In the Lord I put my trust: how then do you say to my soul: Get thee away from hence to the mountain like a sparrow?)

See also Wisdom 16:24: Creatura enim tibi Factori deserviens, exardescit in tormentum adversus injustos, et lenior fit ad benefaciendum pro his qui in te confidunt (For the creature serving thee the Creator, is made fierce against the unjust for their punishment; and abateth its strength for the benefit of them that trust in thee)

tibi seruiunt 

See Psalm 118:91: Ordinatione tua perseverat dies, quoniam omnia serviunt tibi (By thy ordinance the day goeth on: for all things serve thee)    

in timore      

See Psalm 2:11: Servite Domino in timore, et exsultate ei cum tremore (Serve ye the Lord with fear: and rejoice unto him with trembling)

See also Psalm 5:8: Ego autem in multitudine misericordiae tuae introibo in domum tuam; adorabo ad templum sanctum tuum in timore tuo (as for me in the multitude of thy mercy, I will come into thy house; I will worship towards thy holy temple, in thy fear)

See also Psalm 118:38: Statue servo tuo eloquium tuum in timore tuo (Establish thy word to thy servant, in thy fear)                     

de monte sancto tuo          

See Psalm 3:5: Voce mea ad Dominum clamavi; et exaudivit me de monte sancto suo (I have cried to the Lord with my voice: and he hath heard me from his holy hill)

See also Psalm 14:1: Domine, quis habitabit in tabernaculo tuo? aut quis requiescet in monte sancto tuo? (Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? or who shall rest in thy holy hill?)       

nos clemens exaudi           

See Psalm 19:9: Domine, salvum fac regem, et exaudi nos in die qua invocaverimus te (O Lord, save the king: and hear us in the day that we shall call upon thee)            

See also Psalm 64:6: Exaudi nos, Deus, salutaris noster, spes omnium finium terrae, et in mari longe (Hear us, O God our saviour, who art the hope of all the ends of the earth, and in the sea afar off)

nec nos arguas in die furoris tui            

See Psalm 6:2: Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me, neque in ira tua corripias me (O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation, nor chastise me in thy wrath)                    

This verse is also found in Psalm 37:2.   

This is not an exhaustive list of references, neither to biblical passages in general nor to psalm verses in particular. The psalms provided the backbone of the liturgical performance at a monastic or a secular church, as can be seen from the Rule of Saint Benedict where it states that all 150 psalms should be performed in the course of one week. It is therefore no wonder that antiphons were composed in order to resonate with this foundation. In order to comprehend this intertextuality, we must keep in mind that the monks or priests who performed the antiphon found in RARA L 31 were well familiar with the psalter. Each psalm was performed at least once a week, sometimes more often depending on the calendar of the institution, and the performers of the antiphon Beati qui in lege tua would have no difficulty recognising its intertextuality. For each of the phrases taken from another psalm, or reminiscent of another psalm, the performers would catch in during their own performance of the antiphon, and they would connect it to the other psalms in question.                    

As for the content and the meanings of these psalm verses, the understanding would vary from individual to individual. There were commentaries on the psalms which expounded the different layers of meaning, most famously the one by Cassiodorus, but this knowledge is not likely to have been evenly distributed. We therefore do not know the full depth of the intertextuality of this antiphon that was accessible to the members of the institution from which the fragment of RARA L 31 derived. What is clear, however, is that even the novices would be able to recognise what psalms were echoed in this antiphon, and depending on individual levels of knowledge and insight, they would understand the theological depth of the antiphon beyond the words of the antiphon itself.   

søndag 19. august 2018

Difficult writes - or, the unexpected challenges of an otherwise ordinary article text

So much of academic life is writing, and the amount of writing you are supposed to do only increases as you delve farther into an academic career, imagined here not as a pathway but as a nebulous, immaterial murk. Ever since I finished my MA degree in the autumn of 2012, I have written a lot of texts aimed at different audiences and requiring different degrees of preparation and sophistication. Some of these texts have been demanding because they have required a lot of research, such as my PhD thesis. Other texts have been challenging because of constraints regarding length. However, such demands do not necessarily make a text difficult to write. It often depends on the process itself and how prepared you are to write what must be written. In the case of my thesis, for instance, I had to write a lot and then edit a lot, meaning that I inevitably wrote much more than what ended up as a part of my submitted product. While this writing process was both challenging and demanding, taking a lot of time, and lot of thinking, and a lot of trial and error, I did not think of it as difficult to write, simply because I had, from the very beginning, a very clear idea of what I would write about and what I found find in my research. This is not to say that I had my thesis all prepared from the onset. Quite the contrary, there were a wide range of details and a great degree of knowledge that I had not foreseen or prepared for, and that I picked up along the way. But I had the structure in place, I had my remit set, and I knew enough of the literature to begin quite comfortably with my preparations. Consequently, despite the labour required to complete the thesis I knew where I would end up, more or less at least, and this made it easier to claw myself in that direction when things were at their hardest.

This month, however, I'm seeing the end of what is unquestionably the most difficult thing I have written since earning my MA degree. The text in question is an article of regular length whose subject is taken from one of my thesis chapters. I will say no more about it here, but if it gets published I will no doubt express my relief and happiness in a future blogpost. Be that as it may, this text, ca. 20 pages in length and on a subject with which I am very familiar, is the most difficult thing I have written since November 2012. There is nothing in the article itself to explain this, and it all comes down to how prepared the author needs to be in order for the writing not to become too difficult.

The article in question was one I was offered to write by the editor of a collection towards the end of 2017. I was very happy to be offered this contribution since I had seen the volume advertised and since I knew that it was well within my own field of interest. Naturally, I felt very confident about my ability to churn out a suitable article in time - after all, I had had a busy autumn of conferences and I thought I could recycle my main points and my sources from one of my presentations. I started writing, and the pressure got to me right away.

The reason why the pressure got to me that easily was that by this time it was the Christmas holiday and I needed to prepare for my viva. I still thought that I would be able to write a good text with time enough to spare, but it turned out that the things I had organised so nicely in my head did not convert into words on paper that easily. I wrote a lot in those last days of Christmas, sitting down in the old-fashioned way with pen and paper, writing by hand as frantically as I could. I wrote several pages, and threw them all away and began again. Fortunately, I got an extension and could pick it up after the viva was over, and so in the last half of January I did manage to submit something I thought was good enough, and which was in effect the second draft of the article. I was glad it was done.

Months later, however, I received the feedback, and while there were several positive things, Reviewer number one pointed out several flaws and weak spots in my work, and I realised that I had taken the task too lightly. I waited a few months, simply because I dreaded the task I knew to be required of my, and tried not to think about it. It didn't help that this feedback came just as I was organising a conference and finishing up a four-month position of work. In the beginning of May, however, I began rewriting, tossing out material that I thought to be problematic, and in the end I had a third draft, most of it completely new-written. By this time, I wanted to let it rest before submitting it, and I wanted a few things checked by friends first. I then tried to forget about it.

In late July, however, I was contacted by the editor, who expressed kind concern about the progress, and I promised to have it done in August. Thanks to my friends I was able to have some quality control, and, thanks to one friend in particular, I was made aware of some problems such as lexical repetition and visible lack of confidence in my own work. She provided me with solid feedback, and the most basic issues have now been corrected. The final details will be sorted in the course of next week - God willing.

I am, in other words, in the fourth round of writing on this article, and this despite there being nothing particularly new or demanding about its subject or the sources I rely on. It simply comes down to timing, and to me being overconfident, and to my lack of a coherent plan for all the parts of the article before I started writing. It is a good reminder, at least for myself, that difficulty does not depend on length or topic, but on the writer's own vision of the text.