Monday, July 06, 2009

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know IV: Codex Boernerianus

Returning to the series at last, I'd like to introduce you to Codex Boernerianus. Now the two of you reading this might be thinking, "Hey, that's not "literature", its a manuscript. Swain, you ruminate you, you're stretching the meaning of literature here." And you wouldn't be wrong to say so. But this codex is of interest for several literary reasons.

Boernerianus is a ninth century diglot (well, as we'll see a diglot plus) manuscript probably from St. Gall. For the most part, its contents are the Letters of Paul from the New Testament, though there are lacunae, present in the manuscript's exemplar. The Greek text of the NT is the main text with the Latin text written interlinearly, and is much smaller in size. The Greek text is fairly unique in many ways and belongs to the "Western" text type. Other interesting features are the attempts at word and clause separation,clauses often marked at the beginning with a simple punctus. The Latin text has multiple Insular features, though quite cramped in the interlinear space. Boernerianus is connected to the gospel manuscript Codex Sangallensis, also a Greek/Latin diglot and to another codex containing the letters of Paul, Codex Augiensis.

Anyway, my purpose here isn't to talk about the New Testament text. There are two quite different pieces of literature that interest me. The first is that in the back of this manuscript is a brief commentary on the gospel of Matthew that to date NO ONE has published anything on. I was alerted by email a while back that there is a student in Europe working on it, but I emailed back to inquire if said student wished to do something about the text for Heroic Age or if he would at least alert me when his work was finished. I was met with silence. So should it ever happen that I find myself in a stable job in academia and some time on my hands, I fully intend on offering a diplomatic edition and translation of it. Unless someone publishes one first.

The second literary work I wish to talk about has had some work done on it and some may even recognize the piece from anthologies and such. On folio 23 verso an Old Irish poem is written in the bottom margin. The letter forms bear some similarity to the Latin letter forms suggesting that the scribe is responsible for both. However, I have read that the scribe both was and was not an Irish or native Irish speaker. I haven't reviewed the evidence in detail myself, though so far as I know Old Irish was not a taught language on the continent in the ninth century, and one wonders why a scribe at St. Gall's would write this poem with its message in Old Irish if that were not his native tongue. For a future post, I hope to talk about the provenance of several Old Irish pieces in Latin manuscripts and by then I hope to know more about the details of the debate as to whether this scribe was a native Old Irish speaker. At any rate, here's an English translation of the poem:

To come to Rome, to come to Rome,
Much of trouble, little of profit,
The thing thou seekest here,
If thou bring not with thee, thou
findest not.

Great folly, great madness,
Great ruin of sense, great insanity,
Since thou has set out for death,
That thou shouldest be in disobedience
to the Son of Mary.

Taken from: B. M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1981, p. 104. He's getting it from somewhere else too, but I've forgotten where and can't find my copy at the moment to check.

Folio 23 verso contains I Corinthians 2:9-3:3. The verse *MIGHT* be connected loosely to the passage in that the passage speaks of having received the "spirit of Christ" rather than the spirit of the world. But there is nothing explicit to tie them together. One might speculate that the poet had but recently returned from a pilgrimage to Rome and was disappointed by what he found there. I know only the barest outlines of what was going on at Rome during the ninth century, but considering how much difficulty the popes were having with the senatorial families and Byzantine politics and Frankish politics etc, that might give a monk in search of spiritual things pause. I think others probably can fill in that picture better than I at the moment, but I'll see what I can dig up for a follow-up post on the piece.


Anonymous said...

Oh wow that first stanza is the perfect ending for a paper I have been meaning to finalise for ages now. May I borrow it? Is the translation in the Metzger you cite? and is the evidence for the MS dating also there?

theswain said...

Jonathan: Yes, borrow it all you wish, it isn't mine. And yes, the source of the translation is given there in Metzger. I'll unearth my copy for the bibliography and give Metzger's source.

In fact if you can wait a week or so, I'll do a bibliography on the manuscript and the poem and you'll have plenty to work with for concluding your paper.