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

fredag 30. august 2019

An antiphon for John the Baptist

Yesterday, August 29, was the feast of the beheading of John the Baptist, also known as Decollatio in liturgical calendars. Decollatio is a minor feast for John the Baptist, as his main feast is his birthday on June 24. I have a particular fascination with this feast, and it is almost entirely owing to a fragment from a liturgical manuscript that I researched as part of a side project during and shortly after my PhD. The fragment in question is one of three fragments used as bindings for a three-volume collection of music by Michael Praetorius, a collection titled Polyhymnia. All the three fragments come from the same manuscript, which I believe to have been a breviary of Northern German provenance, tentatively dated to the fourteenth century.

The reason why this particular fragment, fragment XII, has fuelled my fascination with the feast of the Decollation is that it contains part of the office for precisely this feast. In the picture below, we see the full text of the Magnificat antiphon Preco superni iudicis (CID: 206802). An antiphon is a chant that is performed in connection with another text, for instance as a refrain to its theme. Most antiphons are performed in conjunction with psalms, but the Magnificat antiphon precedes the Magnificat, which is Mary's response to the archangel Gabriel in the Gospel of Luke. It is a fixed text always read at Vesper. This particular antiphon, Preco superni iudicis, was one of the first texts I transcribed as a part of my collaboration with the university library of University of Southern Denmark. My fascination is, in other words, of a sentimental nature, as it reminds me of the exciting detective work of working with a fragment that no one has ever worked on before, while putting your growing experience in transcription, Latin and liturgical studies to test after test.

Detail from the feast of Decollatio
Syddansk Universitet RARA Musik M 4

The text of this fragment has been transcribed in an hitherto unpublished report I wrote as a part of a four-month pilot project which was a collaboration between the university library and the Centre for Medieval Literature. As it was a pilot project and therefore of a very limited duration, I did not have time to work as closely on the individual fragments as I had hoped. For instance, I have not taken the time to translate it, a task I hope to do as a sort of completion of my work on the fragment - even though I'm sure there exist translations of the text elsewhere already. However, in lieu of a proper translation of the text, and on the occasion of yesterday's feast, I here present to you my transcription of the Magnificat antiphon in Fragment XII. I have kept the spelling of the fragment, rather than the standardised spelling you encounter in databases. One day I might take the time to finally translate it. Or rather, one week, as my Latin is quite rusty.

It should be noticed that while the text in the fragment is continuous, I have here chosen to divide the text into its strophes in order to bring out the antiphon's rhyme scheme.

Preco superni iudicis

Preco superni iudicis 
precursor summi uindicis 
paranymphus sponsi ueri 
multa passus ludibria 
triumphauit per omnia 
nec potuit aboleri 
domus in petra posita 
nam iusti recordatio  
pigranti compositio  
ut mel dulcis et musica 
in uini conuiuio 

tirsdag 27. august 2019

A new chapter

This autumn I'm starting a new chapter in my life. Until the end of January, I will be working as a university lecturer in history at the Linnaeus University, and I'm already looking back at my first week. My office is in Växjö, once an important episcopal seat close to the Danish border and the centre of a flourishing medieval church parish. As the pictures below will show - a very modest selection for the time being - it is a beautiful place, marked by lakes and pine forests and a harsh soil that once drove thousands of Swedes from this region to emigrate to America, a higher number than any other region of Sweden. A small town, beautiful in its architecture and one I look forward to explore further in the weeks ahead.

I am immensely glad to have been given this opportunity. I have daunting tasks ahead, and in the process of dealing with these tasks I will learn a lot, and by the end I think I will look back at this time as hectic but immensely rewarding.

I'm slowly settling in, slowly learning the nuances that separate Sweden from Norway, but also the nuances that are shared and familiar. My Swedish improves, a new national literature is awaiting to be explored, and there are new places to visit. It is a new chapter, and I welcome it.

torsdag 1. august 2019

Atlántida – or, the converging of modern medievalism and the legend of Atlantis, part 4

This is the fourth and final blogpost in a series concerned with the application of the Atlantis myth in Ricard Ferrándiz' story Atlántida, a volume in the series El Capitán Trueno.

For the previous installments, see part one, part two, and part three.

Final remarks           

Atlántida has been my first proper encounter with the storyworld of Capitán Trueno, and I decided to begin with this lately composed volume solely because it contains an Atlantis fantasy set in the Middle Ages, a rare bird among the innumerable versions of the Atlantis story in modern narrative culture. Due to my interest in the reception of the Atlantis myth, and since I am a medievalist by profession, I have particularly enjoyed how Ricard Ferrándiz has followed certain tropes from the cultural history of Atlantis, while added some details that I have not seen elsewhere.         

The geographical setting of the fabled continent in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean, the temporal setting of pre-cataclysmic Atlantis in the early classical era, the blend of Egyptian and Greek culture visible in costumes, architecture and names, the high technological level of the empire, the subterranean survival following the cataclysm, and the existence of a mirror image in the shape of a technologically backwards culture, all these are common elements found in several of the fantasies spun around the Atlantis myth. There are, however, elements that are, if not entirely novel then at least found only infrequently in other Atlantis fantasies, and which make Ferrándiz’ Atlántida particularly interesting to a reader like me. One such element is the setting of the story in the Middle Ages, more specifically towards the end of the twelfth century. In those cases where the Atlantean culture has survived until the contemporary setting of the story in question, it follows, as that contemporary setting tends to be modern, that Atlantis has also continued through the medieval period, but typically without any contact with people of that time, skipping the Middle Ages altogether. In this way, Atlántida manages to blend a familiar trope with an unfamiliar temporal setting, namely that the final demise of the surviving Atlantean culture – which is the common trope – does not come about in the modern era after centuries of slumber, but instead takes place in the twelfth century, an unfamiliar temporal setting.       

Moreover, one further element that I found very refreshing as a medievalist was that the Atlantean culture is not depicted as impossibly further ahead than the cultures of the story’s temporal setting. Granted, it is a culture that has learned to manufacture explosives of a much more stable quality than any medieval culture can boast of, but since gunpowder can be made without any modern technologies, and since gunpowder even antedates the medieval period, this technological innovation does not seem too far-fetched in twelfth century Atlantis. There are, however, further innovations that appear to be even more sinister, as suggested by the codex containing knowledge for which the world is not ready, according to Djad-dze. But of what this knowledge consists is left unanswered, and might possibly become a good sequel to Atlántida sometime. Aside from the explosives, the most tangible evidence of the Atlantean technology is the codex, which makes Atlantis both further ahead than its pre-cataclysm contemporaries and also on a level very similar to that of the twelfth-century contemporaries of the last surviving Atlantean. That technological advancement can be demonstrated in such a clear, yet plausible way is not common in an Atlantis fantasy, and it is undeniably refreshing.     

All in all, Atlántida is a very welcome addition to the library of Atlantis fantasies, and I hope that it might serve to bring about further fantasies involving the Atlantis myth set in the Middle Ages. I am also very happy that Ferrándiz has brought the Norse world into contact with the Atlantis myth, something which only rarely happens, such as in the case of the Thorgal series, the Captain Newfoundland comic strip, and in the prologue of the animated Disney film Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), both of which involve Vikings. In Atlántida, however, it is the world of twelfth-century kingdoms, a time when the closest link between the Norse culture and Atlantis is a brief reference lifted, albeit most likely second hand, from Timaios found in the Latin chronicle Historia antiquitate regum norwagiensum (History of the old Norwegian kings), authored by Theodoricus Monk and probably written in Trondheim around 1180. This particular medievalist is very happy about that. 

Atlántida – or, the converging of modern medievalism and the legend of Atlantis, part 3

This is the third of four blogposts. For the others, see the first, the second, and the fourth.

Scenes from the cultural history of Atlantis      

In this third part of my blogposts on the application of the Atlantis myth in the comic book series El Capitán Trueno, I will now address what elements of the cultural history of Atlantis have been used by Ricard Ferrándiz in his story Atlántida. Having given a brief introduction to the reception of Atlantis in post-medieval culture and a quick recapitulation of the story itself, I will now talk about how Ferrándiz’ Atlántida compares with other Atlantis fantasies through an investigation of selected elements common to such stories.   


The location of Atlantis        

As mentioned, the location of Atlantis in this story is not specified, beyond that it lies in the Atlantic Ocean and that its vegetation suggests a subtropical climate. The fact that there is an active volcano on the island makes it tempting to point to a location near the Canary Islands (which were not known to European sailors until the fourteenth century), although it seems that the accuracy of this matter has been deliberately avoided by Ferrándiz. That Atlantis is situated in the ocean with which it is onomastically linked is not surprising, although it bears pointing out since some stories place Atlantis in North Africa (as we shall see below), and the Mediterranean has likewise been held as a good candidate for the location of the fabled empire. In particular, the island of Santorini is suggested to have served as an inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis myth, and the islanders themselves seem to encourage this suggestion, as Santorini has restaurants, hotels and even a bookshop carrying Atlantis in their names. However, the Atlantic Ocean is by far the most common location of the lost continent in most of its reception history, although there are differences of opinion as to where in the Atlantic Ocean it can be found. Olof Rudbeck the Elder equated Atlantis with Scandinavia, while the iconic map found in William Scott-Elliott’s Story of Atlantis depicts the continent as stretching between the Caribbean and Europe. Arthur Conan Doyle, in his novel The Maracot Deep (1929), situates Atlantis in a submarine ravine in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge some days’ voyage south of the Canary Islands. The continent has even been suggested to have changed location, as in Pezzin and Da Vita’s Topolino e l’Atlantide continente perduto, where a comet strikes Atlantis which such force that it is moved south and becomes the modern-day continent of Antarctica. These few examples, in short, indicate that Ferrándiz follows the general consensus of Atlantis’ reception history in placing the remnant of the continent somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.


Aside from the geographical location, another feature to be noted is that in Atlántida the surviving Atlanteans have moved underground. This, too, is a topos very common to the Atlantis stories, and it comes in several variations. In The Maracot Deep, the surviving part of Atlantis is buried under tons of mud on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and although the inhabitants utilise this terrain as a hunting ground through their diving gear, it is a world that can only be accessed temporarily, which means that in practical terms the Arthur Conan Doyle’s Atlanteans are subterranean. In the Thorgal comic book series, the location of Atlantis is expressly revealed in volume 26 (from 2001), Le Royaume sous le Sable (the kingdom under the sand), where it is found under the mountains somewhere in North Africa. In this location, Jean van Hamme possibly follows Pierre Benoit’s L’Atlantide, who situates the surviving remnants and the descendants in the Ahaggar Mountains of Southern Algeria. It should be noted, however, that although Benoit has placed the Atlantean court in a system of man-made caves, and although most of the exchanges between the protagonists and the Queen Antinea’s retinue take place inside the mountain, the Atlanteans are able to leave their caverns as they please, so their lives are not entirely subterranean. In Atlántida, the subterranean life of Djad-dze and his fellow Atlanteans is on the one hand similar to that of Benoit’s story, in that they live in caves in the mountains, like moles, as Djad-dze himself says. On the other hand, this subterranean lifestyle is also similar to the kind of confinement we see in The Maracot Deep, in that Dajd-dze and his compatriots have grown so unaccustomed to sunlight that overexposure can prove fatal – as evidenced by the dead crew encountered by Capitán Trueno, Sigrid, and the others. What allows Djad-dze to move about on the island – albeit in safe distance from the red men – is its perpetual fog owing to the volcano. Consequently, although Atlántida deals with the topos of subterranean dwellings in a manner that is unique to the way Ferrándiz has constructed his version of Atlantis, it nonetheless fits with established tradition.   


Culture of the Atlanteans      

Despite Atlantis most often being situated somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, most, if not all, stories of the mythic kingdom depict its culture as being related to that of Ancient Greece or Ancient Egypt, and sometimes – as in the case of Atlántida – a mixture of the two. This is perhaps only to be expected, given that the oldest known textual source for the transmission of the story is one of Plato’s dialogues, and that Plato claims that this knowledge has been transmitted from the Egyptians. In the case of Edgar P. Jacobs’ L’Énigme de l’Atlantide, the subterranean Atlantis – accessible through a system of caves on one of the islands of the Azores – has continued its culture which resembles that of Ancient Greece in its mythology, part of its clothing, and its titles. For instance, the leader of the Atlantean air force is called aerostratego, meaning air-general, the leader is addressed as Basileus, i.e. king, and its capital is named Poseidopolis. In the long-running story arc of the Scandinavian The Phantom universe Mörkrets hjärta (Heart of Darkness) written by Claes Reimerthi and drawn by Joan Boix, the prologue which takes place in Atlantis shows architecture and ships clearly modelled on Ancient Egypt. In Topolino e l’Atlantide continente perduto, on the other hand, Atlantis of 10 000 years ago resembles a Mesopotamian culture with ziggurats and beards modelled on Assyrian and Babylonian reliefs. Moreover, a joint Mesopotamian and Egyptian inspiration can be seen in the name of the culture’s divinity, Ishta-Ra, combining the names of the Assyrian goddess Ishtar with the Egyptian god Ra. In what seems to be a curious attempt at emphasising the chronological otherness of the high-cultured Atlantis, dinosaurs have survived and are used as domestic animals.         

In Ferrándiz’ story of Capitán Trueno, the cultural affiliation of Atlantis is somewhat more mixed and curious. Its architecture and its pantheon, judging from what little we see of either, are both decidedly Greek, and soldiers depicted in a flashback wear typical Greek helmets. Yet the ship encountered by Trueno and Sigrid underway to Atlantis bears a stronger resemblance to Egyptian ships than the triremes of Greece, and the name Djad-dze seems modelled on some idea of Egyptian names rather than Greek names. (I would like to note that its similarity to the contemporary Malian name Djadja, as exemplified in Aya Nakamura’s 2018 single, could be used to connect Ferrándiz’ Atlantis with the Saharan location of Benoit’s L’Atlantide, but this is merely a fun coincidence.)


What is curious about Ferrándiz Atlantis and its culture is not its blend of Greek and Egyptian elements, as these are fairly well established in the reception history of the fabled continent. What is curious, and, to my knowledge, a novel detail, is the Atlanteans’ ability to communicate in Latin, as this language – at least as a written language – presumably postdates the apogee of Atlantis. Naturally, Ferrándiz has chosen Latin so as to enable a medieval European like Trueno, presumably receiving some basic education in the cathedral schools of Spain, to read the message and to read the volumes of Atlantean knowledge bestowed upon the group by Djad-dze. The curious nature of Latin being used by an Atlantean need not be unduly problematised since it mainly serves to make the story possible, but it does open up for a lot of interesting implications of Atlantis’ place in the storyworld of Capitán Trueno. Have the Atlanteans managed to monitor the development of the outside world to keep up with some of its linguistic developments, for instance?    

One final point of interest with regards to the cultural affiliation of Atlantis is the so-called red men. These serve as the cultural and intellectual foils of the Atlantean empire, and they are presented as living in the stone age, eating raw meat, clothed in furs, and their appearance is reminiscent in part of the stereotypical relict Neanderthal of pulp fiction, in part of Conan the Barbarian. If the latter resemblance is more than a mere coincidence, Ferrándiz might have created a reversal of Robert E. Howard’s origin story of the Cimmerians of his story world, who were descendants of colonists from Atlantis. In Ferrándiz’ story, however, it is the Atlantean empire that has been colonised by these men of the perpetual stone age. Be that as it may, the term “hombres rojos” for this people is also noteworthy and might contain some suggestion of Ferrándiz’ inspiration. One possibility is that it is drawn from the theosophical Atlantis mythology, as exemplified by, but not unique to, William Scott-Elliot, where the red men were degenerate Atlanteans. Another possibility is that they are meant to invoke the Native Americans, suggesting perhaps that Atlantis once connected Europe and America, and that the stone age appearance of these red men provides another indicator of the antiquity of Atlantean cataclysm. The idea of contact between Atlantis as Native American cultures is far from new to Ferrándiz’ story. For instance, in L’Énigme de l’Atlantide, Edgar P. Jacobs has imagined a neighbouring subterranean culture whose technological level is inferior to that of Atlantis, but which is modelled on the apogees of the Meso-American cultures of the Maya and the Aztecs. There are, of course, other possible sources for Férrandiz’ hombres rojos, but they do nonetheless seem to fit with one of the tropes of the reception of Atlantis in popular culture, namely the counterpart to the high culture of the Atlanteans, be that culture Greek, Egyptian, Mesopotamian or a conglomerate of all. 

Pre-war ritual of the neighbouring civilization to the Atlanteans
From Edgar P. Jacobs’ L’Énigme de l’Atlantide

Despite the obviously high technological level of the underground civilisation based on the Maya culture, they nonetheless serve as the barbarian foil to the even more technologically advanced Atlanteans in Edgar P. Jacobs'  L’Énigme de l’Atlantide
The red men, hombres rojos, serving as the technological foil to Ferrándiz' Atlanteans

Tecnhological advancement  

Perhaps the most famous common denominator of all Atlantis fantasies is its culture’s high technological level. In some cases, the height of this technology level is relative to other contemporary cultures, meaning that Atlantis is a culture of its time. An example of this can be seen in Topolino e l’Atlantide continente perduto, where the architectural and astronomical achievements on the one hand antedates the Mesopotamian cultures which inspired it by millennia, but where the anachronisms do not extend to modern technology. In other cases, the technological level of Atlantis is imagined to have been higher than even the technology of the twentieth century. This latter group can be further divided into stories where this high level of technology was reached already prior to the cataclysm, and stories where the high technological level is reached after the cataclysm has happened.

n the case of Atlantis in the storyworld of Capitán Trueno, its technological and scientific advancement is an interesting case when seen in comparison with other Atlantis fantasies. There are no inventions that appear wildly and even ludicrously anachronistic, neither with regards to the pre-classical origin of Atlantean history or the twelfth-century setting of the story. The one item that is notable for its sophistication are the explosives, which appear to be far more volatile yet far more controllable than anything known from the Middle Ages, resembling nitro-glycerine rather than the grenades that would be produced centuries later. In other words, these explosives seem impossibly out of place and time in the twelfth century. On the other hand, as the manufacture of these explosives is not explained, the disbelief is suspended, and the technology behind it appears advanced yet not necessarily far-fetched. Another item worth noting is the invention of a ventilation system designed to enable the mole-like subterranean continuation of the Atlantean culture. This is also an element found in other Atlantis fantasies where the surviving Atlanteans are trapped underground, as in the case of The Maracot Deep.    

One final technological detail worth mentioning is interesting because it at first appears almost mundane, but which really points to the advancement of the Atlantean culture in Ferrándiz’ version. This is the invention of the codex, which is a ubiquitous feature in Djad-dze’s library. By making the codex the primary form of textual transmission in the Atlantean culture, Ferrándiz has both made this culture centuries ahead of its contemporaries of the classical era – supposing that the invention of the codex either antedated or followed shortly after the cataclysm – and also on the level of the medieval setting of the story. While scrolls also have an important part in Atlantean textual culture, a flashback during Djad-dze’s recounting of the survival of the Atlanteans shows that already during its early stage of survival, Atlantis had made good use of the codex. This is significant, as the invention of the codex in the classical world appears to be in the first century CE, with the codex taking over the importance of the scroll by the early seventh century. While the Atlantean codex of Atlántida is not as eye-catchingly advanced as the explosives, or as the sundry machines of other Atlantis fantasies, to a historian of text such as myself, the codex remains the most interesting invention of Ferrándiz’ Atlantis, and also a sublimely elegant way of signalling how the technology of Atlantis has advanced relative to its contemporaries of the classical era but without reaching an impossibly advanced level. 



In the next and final blogpost in this series, I will summarise some of my reflections on Ferrándiz' Atlántida.