Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mythic Origins II

Not too far back but far enough I made a post about Mythic Origins. There were several helpful comments, but I'll stop at the top down.

Brandon H. added:
Depending on where you begin or how you classify "origins," Gildas' On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain could be included.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain; there is, however, the complication of Gildas, Bede, and Geoffrey blending together because of the use of compounding sources as each writes.

Would they? I think what I'm after at the moment is works that explain the origins of a people or group. So while Gildas' letter/sermon is a source text, and explains something about early Anglo-Saxon England (maybe), I don't think I'd count it as a text of mythic origins. Likewise Geoffrey's History certainly seeks to justify Norman rule and explain the new state of the world, but is it really "mythic origins?"

SO I guess this is pushing me to define what I mean by "mythic origins" as opposed to "mythic history".

I think the same might go for the Heimskringla, adn the other I confess I only know by name, and haven't read it. A candidate for Medieval Lit I didn't Know....

And I agree, the Quran I think needs to be in the list!

Thanks Brandon!

Matthew Gabriele, co-blogger at Modern Medieval queries:

I'm not trying to be a pain but couldn't almost anything be a story of "origins"? For example, the Oxford Chanson de Roland tells of the "origin" of a monarchy and a nobility, as well as the foundation of Christendom and Francia.

To answer the question, well, I suppose it depends on how you define origins. But I'm attempting in this case to define it as texts which explicitly not just explain the way things are, but explain the beginnings whether of the world, a people, a kingdom, the church etc, produced in the Medieval period.

So I'd disagree about Roland, at least in the Digby mss. What we encounter there is a Francia already centuries old, a "conflict" centuries old, all the nobility have titles and lands and relationships and reputations, and the battle isn't about Charlemagne's monarchy per se. It does I think seek to explain in part the right of the king trumping the right of his nobles if the two come into conflict, but that's not really an origin myth, at least as I am defining it for the purposes of my list.

John Jarret suggested Paul the Deacon's History of the Lombards and the Russian Chronicle. Anything Irish or Welsh that fits the bill? What else?

Here's the original list with the new additions at the bottom:

Bede's Ecclesiastical History
Jordanes Getica
Isidore Gotorum
Gregory of Tours History of the Franks
Planctus for William Longsword
Laymon's The Brut
Snorri Sturlson Prose Edda
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards
Russian Chronicle
Icelandic Landnamabok
the Hadith

Edit: Added Gregory of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain

Song of Roland
Gildas the Wise's Ruin of Britain

Monday, July 28, 2008

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know I.c

After a mere month's break between posts on this wonderful little piece, I finally have cleared the decks enough to return to the questions raised. Just as refreshers, the Original Post is here, the second post is here, and the third here. This is the fourth post, and it deals with comments on the second post.

Brandon commented:

You discuss those names that are and aren't mentioned with interesting notions that could no doubt be probed there. I'm especially interested in the fact that the poet doesn't mention the name Wulfstan--either the Archbishop of York or the Saint. As you write, "the majority come from two periods: they are either mentioned in Bede or come from the Benedictine Reform movement of the 10th and early 11th centuries"--and Wulfstan, Archbishop of York was esp. a product of the Benedictine Reform and vernacular education through preaching, law, and his Institutes. Furthermore, St. Wulfstan was quite a social reformer in his own right, bridging pre- and post-Norman Conquest. Could the lack of either name contribute to a theory of the poem's date before the prominence of these figures--as pre-Conquest, even pointing to a date in the first decade of the 11th century (before Wulfstan became so prominent in legal work and before he composed his Institutes)?

Yes, the absence of Wulfstan(s) is interesting. Particularly so since Alphege is mentioned, d. 1012, when Wulfstan is already on the rise in importance. And if the poem is indeed from Worcester, and copied in Worcester, the absence of Wulfstan is particularly notable and troubling.

The only answer I have to that, and I admit it isn't a satisfactory one, is that those who are specifically mentioned fall into two somewhat overlapping categories: 1) some dealt with Biblical materials (Bede, Alcuin, Aelfric) and 2) they all died before Alphege, 1012. This might suggest a date. If the poet has a criteria that the person has to be dead to be in his list, and has to be known as a teacher of the people, that would put the poem between 1012 and 1023...Wulfstan is not mentioned simply because he is still alive. If the poem is later, and post-Norman I can truly think of no reason at the moment why either Wulfstan (well, Wulfstan the Homilist and Wulfstan II) would be omitted from the list. Tis a sticky wicket.

Dr de Breeze commented:
I'm still not sure I buy the pre-Conquest date, however. Most basically, it just feels like a post-Conquest piece lamenting the displacement of the English people and language as a result of Norman incursions.

I understand what you mean, but I think that that feeling is based in *OUR* stress on 1066. After all, in spite of recent work on 12th century texts, manuscripts, and linguistics, we're taught from the time we're knee high to grasshoppers to see 1066 as a watershed. But let's remember that there was a another take over by a foreign people in 1016, and it wasn't at all peaceful, and it only became smooth when Aethelred and Edmund died and there was no one else left but Canute. It would not appear, that as benevolent as Canute seems in many ways, that the transition was all that smooth (one of the reasons Canute spent so much of his reign in England and married the redoubtable Aelfgifu (Emma--what a woman!)--anything to cement that hold. Meanwhile he could send off his second wife and son by her to rule Denmark, Norway, and his Swedish holdings for him (though they botched it but good). I. E. I think it shows in part that the transition to Canute's reign was not quite as smooth as the sources present it....and the wars leading up to 1016 were devastating on the whole country. Who was left to teach them? ANyway, all of that to say that I agree it feels like a "post-Norman" piece, but I wonder how much of that feeling is due to my conditioning to see 1066 as a watershed event, but to hardly consider 1016 as anything more than a new king coming to the throne, when the facts on the ground indicate something else again.

de Breeze continues:
Also, Brehe's 1990 article "Reassembling the First Worcester Fragment" makes a compelling argument that the poem displays late-12th century versification (which also helps to explain the list of bishops in lines 11-15).

I'll have to reread it. I remember not being convinced, particularly in light of some of latest things coming out about how early Middle English is (i. e. what we call early Middle English in the 12th century, is actually the spoken English of the late "Old English" period, the written language we know as Old English in the 10th and 11th century is archaic, deliberately so, and literary, and not the spoken language at all. Add to that some of Tom Bredehoft's analyses of LATE Old English poetry and meter, and Brehe's article in my memory begins to come apart at the seams. ) But I'll have to reread it to make sure my memory isn't playing tricks on me.

But let's say for the moment that Brehe is right: how do we know that this is the original form of the poem and not the Tremulous Hand's doing? He's known to change texts as well as get things wrong....can we really get behind his text in terms of meter and orthography and say definitively that it represents the original of the poem? Sure, I'm aware that raising that issue, we have ask the same question about the content of the poem. But I'm prepared to think that he got most of the content more or less right, while the way he recites poetry might be off a bit. Still thinking.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Carnivalesque XLI

The latest CARNIVALESQUE is up and running. Great job by Meg at XOOM. Ancient and early Medieval focus this time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Kalamazoo 2009

HMMM...well, I got Internet service back last Tuesday and have been catching up on email and the blogosphere, and well, actually writing....I noticed that there were a few posts complaining about the lack of history in the 2009 CFP and that its becoming a "literature conference" more and more every year.

Huh? Have you people looked at the same CFP I did? I counted 214 Sponsored Sessions, of those I counted 61 organizations, or 28.5%, that are offering specifically and unquestionably history sessions. Nor are the remainder "literature", the field isn't divided into history vs. lit: there are sessions on Philosophy (not literature), theology (not literature), Biblical Exegesis (arguably having something to do with literature, but just as arguably having something to do with intellectual history, and thus, history), Art, Music, Science, Manuscript Studies (of the 5 people from whom I've learned the most about manuscripts and related topics, 1 is in English, 1 is an historian, the 3rd was a PhD in history and then librarian specializing in rare books, the fourth is a museum curator, and the fifth is in an art dept---so I count Mss studies as truly interdisciplinary, but also a discipline in itself, and so not literature or history), linguistics, digitation, teaching the Middle Ages, sessions in honor of specific scholars, sessions on or using interdisciplinarity to approach a topic (Boydell's history as lit, lit as history) and of course medievalism topics (such as Tolkien at K'zoo). Take all of those away, and yes, there's a nice chunk of literature left, 57 by my count not including medievalisms. So it looks pretty even to me.

Harder to classify are those sessions like Latin Antiquity I-III, that could as described involve anything. I didn't count those in either category.

What is underrepresented is LATIN and EARLY medieval (other than Anglo-Saxon studies). Easily fixed by sending in a plethora of early medieval papers to the General pile. Or offer sessions on early stuff next year.....which might be more problematic than one expects.....

OK, next post taking up Worcester Frag A again.....

P. S. I might add that in the Special Sessions I found some 34 sessions dedicated to history or historical subjects. Probably more literature sessions there, but then there are also a smaller number of sessions altogether.....

Friday, July 04, 2008


I am moving,and since I didn't think ahead far enough, I will be without consistent Internet access until somewhere about July 15, so I will not be posting material here until then, even though I very much want to continue the ongoing discussions here on Worcester Fragment A, Latin Education, and cogitating on the Allen furor, owing Nokes a response.....who knows, I may use the internetless time to finish the dissertation.....*gasp*!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Heroic Age 11

On behalf of the Board and editors of The Heroic Age, I would like
to announce the publication of Issue 11. My special thanks go out
to Linda Malcor, Deanna Forsman, and Bill Schipper and all of our
readers who went beyond the call of duty to finally bring it
together and released to the world.

There are many things to enjoy in this issue. Board member Linda
Malcor and colleagues have put together an interesting collection
of papers exploring various aspects of Arthur and folklore. In
addition to those four articles, there is a short article on a new
textual find.

Turning to our regular features, we have the usual suspects. Michel
Aaij continues to inform us about medieval studies in Europe in
Continental Business and Dan O’Donnell continues his series of
reflections in Electronic Medievalia. In the Forum, we have several
pieces addressing the State of the Field in Anglo-Saxon Studies.
And we have a new column beginning in this issue. The Babel group
has joined forces with us at The Heroic Age and will be publishing
a column in every issue generally addressing the application of
theoretical approaches to early medieval studies. In this inaugural
column, Daniel Murtaugh weighs in with an article focused on
Beowulf. Further, Aaron Kleist introduces us to the Electronic
Aelfric project. I almost neglected to mention an excerpt from
Martin Foys' recent book, Virtually Anglo-Saxon.

Please take a look at our upcoming Calls for Papers. In addition
to specific, themed sections, The Heroic Age accepts papers on any
aspect of the early Medieval period (300-1100) dealing or touching
on NW Europe (loosely defined) at any time.