Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shivering me timbers

Wow. I was just at In The Middle and read Eileen Joy's post, ending with the introductory lines of one of her short stories. Here it is below. Fabulous line!

"History has many skins, layer upon layer of fragile papyrus, a thick apocrypha of facts and fictions, strands of white hair, cups full of brown teeth and jewelry gone green with rust."

I'm gonna have to steal that.....

Friday, November 07, 2008

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know II.a Bibliography

Just a quick one here. Not much has been written on the Letter to Sigeweard. Its a rich text, and it is now beginning to attract attention beyond just my own work. By the way, it has traveled under 3 names: Letter to Sigeweard (its a letter and its addressed to Sigeweard), Treatise on the Old and New Testaments (translation of the incipit in Laud 509), and Libellus or Libellus de veteri testamento et novo, the Latin incipit in Laud 509. In my work, I opted for "Letter to Sigeweard" since the text of the letter contains so much more than simply a discussion of the Bible.

At the time I started, this was just in process:
Hall, Thomas N. "Ælfric and the Epistle to the Laodiceans." Apocryphal Texts and Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England. Ed. Kathryn Powell and Donald Scragg. Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies 2. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003. 65-83.

Then followed news that Richard Marsden was updating the EETS volume edited by Crawford, S. J. The Old English Version of the Heptateuch, The Treatise on the Old and New Testament, and His Preface to Genesis, EETS os 160 (London: 1922) and will someday appear as The Old English Heptateuch and Ælfric's Libellus de veteri testamento et novo for EETS os 330 by OUP. When I exchanged emails with Dr. Marsden, it was to appear in Dec. 2006. Last May it was advertised at K'zoo by Boydell who handles EETS volumes as appearing in October. But the Oxford site now says Nov. 21, 2008. We'll see. And that's only volume 1!

The first editor of the text was William L'Isle whom I mentioned in my original post on the subject. He is the first modern editor, publishing in 1623 and stands as a bridge figure between Parker, Cotton and that generation of Old English scholars and Junius later in the 17th century. He was interested in establishing the theology of the Anglo-Saxon church to use in the ongoing Protestant Reformation especially in terms of the Bible in the vernacular and the Eucharist. Thus, his interest in the letter. His work is: A Saxon Treatise on the Old and New Testaments written at the time of King Edgar (Aboute 700 Yeares Agoe) by Aelfricus Abbas....(the title is hugely long) Printed by John Haviland for Henrie Seile, 1623. In 1638, after L'Isle's death, the book was reiussed as Divers Ancient Monuments....I should mention too that in addition to the Letter, L'Isle reprinted Matthew Parker's edition of an Easter sermon by Aelfric, that itself was the first printed Old English.

I'm told that the great Hugh Magennis has published a translation of the text in Metaphrastes, or, gained in translation: essays and translations in honour of Robert H. Jordan, Edited by Margaret Mullett and published by the Belfast Byzantine Texts and Translations series in 2004. I haven't seen it. Magennis also wrote an entry on it for the membership driven The Literary Encyclopedia that is online, but one can only read the first snippet for free. But from that, it appears to be mostly descriptive.

But that's all. There are no other articles or books on the Letter that I know of. There are many places, though not as many as one might think, where some aspect of the letter is discussed such as Paul Remley's Old English Biblical Verse or Hugh Magennis' Images of Community in Old English Verse. One curious reference is in Allen Frantzen's Before the Closet where Frantzen says that Sigeweard is a priest, which he wasn't. But these references usually have a paragraph or two to illustrate some point and move on. I should compile all these, but well, I have other projects to finish, including my editing!

Canon II

Wow, what a 2 months! I'm returning to catch up on a couple posts in the wings before moving on to new material. As the title to this one indicates, this post is responding to some issues raised in the comments on the first post on Canon that I thought better answered here than in the comments section, especially after more than a month has passed.

Ed Gallagher wrote in the comments:

A difficulty with your take on the rabbinic discussion of what "defiles the hands" is that the rabbis not only discuss writing material and styles, but also specific books. For instance, Ecclesiastes or Song of Songs (m. Yad 3.5). This seems to mean that certain books would not defile the hands under any conditions, while other books would defile the hands if they are written in a certain way. So the issue is one of sanctity (= defiling the hands), which can only occur if certain conditions are met. The book itself has to be holy (= canonical), and it has to be written in a certain way and on certain material. You are right to point out that more than just canonicity is involved, but I think that canonicity (= status as scripture) is one of the things involved.

First, let me challenge your definition of canonicity. I do not believe that we can equate "status as scripture", a religious and theological category with "canonical status" a literary category. The two may certainly overlap, especially in Judaism and Christianity, but both also developed canonical works and lists that are "scriptural", for example, and certainly the Greco-Roman world around them had canonical texts that were not scriptural, if they even understood what "scriptural" might be.

Second, you report the typical interpretation of the phrase. The problem as I see it is that it lacks evidence, and of course is contradicted by other dicta in the Mishnah's corpus. There is no evidence that the rabbis had in mind ALL copies of Ecclesiastes say and all translations in their pronouncement, and of course had no way to enforce it even if they did so mean it. Further, they don't bother to list for us all the books that "defile the hands." There is also that lovely debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees regarding the books of Homer, which according to the Pharisees the Saducees believe make the hands unclean. Are we seriously to believe that the keepers of the Temple and the High Priest's party placed Homer on a par with Moses, David, and the Prophets? Or reduce the comment to mere insult hurling, and the rabbis simply don't record the Saduceean response? The last speaker in rabbinic lit usually is the winner.

So here it is in a nutshell for me:
1) there is no evidence directly connecting the idea of sanctity to canonicity: i. e. that sanctity is the cause for a text to be considered canonical

2) There seems in some groups any way to be a way in which a holy text is not necessarily canonical: how else do we explain the reference to Homer and the Sadducees without a reduction to absurdity?

I rather think the direction flows the other way: the book was canonical, copies of it were in the Temple, it therefore must be determined if the object is holy or not. Thus, the canonical status comes first, the sanctity second rather than the majority of thinkers who have it the other way round.

I realize that this isn't an adequate response, especially for a view that goes against the usual interpretation and understanding. But it will have to do for now.