Friday, January 23, 2009


For those interested, there's a somewhat corrected version of my diss up at my site: I'll be submitting this version to the graduate school on Monday. It will have to come down then, as I'm signing the piece of paper that says DIA or whatever their called has permission etc and so on. BUT I'll leave the page up with my email so that anyone who wants to circumvent that may contact me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Announcing PEAA Awards

Award for Best Blog Entry of the Year

There is no award for this category. There were nominations: some nominated a post from a history oriented blog, some from theory blogs, some literature, our humorists gained votes. And in a few cases, some blogs received multiple votes, but utterly different individual posts were suggested! So no single blog entry received more than one vote. The problem isn't with my colleagues' blogs, methinks, but with the category's very general nature. Should I do this next year, I will refine.

Award for Blog Entry that Fueled Research

This too is a category not worded properly. But the intent is to find out what blog entry written by someone other than the nominator caused the nominator to take on some research (though there were some who nominated their own blog entries, that once written, fueled research and are now being written up into papers).

The winner getting the most votes is Jonathan Jarrett's Carolingian Charters Series.

Award for Blog That Best Serves the Medieval Community

This was a hard one, many votes. There were 2 that came out on top, but the winner by a nose is The Great Nokes' Unlocked Wordhoard. Congratulations Scott!

Recognition for Best Electronic Article on a Medieval Topic

No nominations in this category. So I'll propose one. Really 4 articles in a column, but three began as blog posts before showing up in the Heroic Age. State of the Field in Anglo-Saxon Studies

Award for Best Entry Making Fun of Ourselves

Well, the monkey manuscript images at Got Medieval received some votes, but the most votes went to Geoffrey Chaucer Hath A Blog

Best New Medieval Book of the Year

Only one nomination in this category, and it was for a 2007 book: Alaric Hall's Elves in Anglo-Saxon England

Best Medievalism Web Site of the Year

the PEAA goes to: Got Medieval?

Best Podcast on Medieval Subject

There were several nominees in this category, which surprised me especially as I added it late. The nominees are all worth mentioning:

Scott Farrell's was a frequent vote getter.

All Things Medieval also received some nods, a site I had not known about before.

Scott Nokes podcasts for Old English class was mentioned, though I don't know that he was able to finish the podcasts or get them collected into a site.

But the PEAA goes to: Anglo-Saxon Aloud--what a great project. I would love to see some similar endeavors in other Medieval literatures!

There were several categories that nothing was nominated in. Obviously some refinement is necessary.

But let me say that I always find my fellow medieval bloggers a collegial and informative group. Thank you all, even those not mentioned, for all you do for the field and for me personally. Keep writing!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know III: Within

For this installment, I finally blog the piece that actually inspired the series! It was this poem I had in mind, but then I ran into the Worcester Fragment and was thinking a lot about it and so blogged that instead, and then I've spent the last several months on the beast, in which Worcester Frag A makes an appearance, and voila...the first two installments in the series were done. So here I return to a piece of literature that I dearly love and want to return to and write on.

More than 20 years ago now I had opportunity to take part in a course called Medieval Latin Poetry. I was already at that point thinking about grad schools and being a medievalist and how to go about that. The professor for the course advised me not to do it through a Classics dept, which was what I was thinking at the time. Anyway, one of the poems we read that semester was this one, what I personally call the Within poem, after the main character in the tale. It is technically called De quodam piscatore quem ballena absorbuit, About a Certain Fisherman Whom a Whale Swallowed.

The poem is written by a French monk named Letaldus in the late 10th century. Letaldus is a well known figure, attached to abbeys Le Mans and Micy. He entered the latter c. 960-970 (making him a contemporary of Aelfric by the way). He is best known for a series of hagiographical pieces, the first written between 970-980, the Miracula S. Maximini. In this work, he wove together a story out of previous lives of Maxminus and Carolingian era documents regarding the foundation of the house at Micy and told his story in such a way as to try to wrest Micy from the control of the bishops of Orleans. Some of his works are available here. He also wrote a life of Martin of Vertou, on St. Junianus, a heroic poem titled Versus de eversione monasterii Glomnensis, and other works. Overall his career is marked by concerns for monastic rights over against bishops and secular lords and the cult of saints and saints' lives, often using the latter to say something about the former. He even led a rebellion of sorts against Robert of Blois that Abbo of Fleury disdained calling Letaldus the "head" of the stiinking affair. It was unsuccessful.

In the midst of all this politicking and attempts to establish monastic rights in France, Letaldus writes this tale about a fisherman swallowed by a whale. The story is a fairly simple one: an English fisherman named Within from Rochester sets about his business one day in his coracle. Its a routine day of fishing in the channel, until that is Within and his coracle are swallowed by a whale. For four days and five nights the poor fisherman tries to free himself, eventually setting fire to his boat and grabbing his sword, he kills the whale. The whale washes up miraculously near Rochester, and the villagers come out to get a free meal of whale meat. Within cries out to the townspeople, and they think the whale is possessed of a demon, flee, and fetch the priest. The priest comes, performs an exorcism, and then Within is allowed to tell his story. In the scene when the priest is trying to figure out what's up, he asks who is within and the answer is "Within" which naturally causes all sorts of confusion and misunderstanding. Once all is straightened out, the townspeople free Within by cutting the whale open, and the fisherman emerges bald, blind, and his fingernails protrude, the skin having been eaten away in the whale's belly. But he shortly recovers his hair, sight, and skin and returns to a normal life.

Its a charming, graceful little poem. 208 dactylic hexameters tell the story. Its a mock heroic epic and alludes to the Aeneid and other Latin epics frequently, as well as the obvious Jonah connections. Letaldus creates then a "high literary" tale reserved usually for high matters, kings, national importance etc, and in stead applies all that "high literary" toolbox to a humble fisherman with the unlikely name Within from Rochester. The disjunction and the obvious Old English pun on the name create the humor in the piece that the author claims to have heard.

The audience is obviously one familiar with both oral traditions and stories and with the Bible and Latin epics. Not only told in dactylic hexameters and referring to Latin epic, Letaldus also employs leonine rhymes in imitation of oral poetry.

The poem survived in two manuscripts: one a twelfth century and the other an eleventh century. The 12th century manuscript was destroyed in a fire in 1940. In the 11th century, the piece survives after a copy of Bede's Ecclesiastical History. It's a lovely little poem. In my next post, I'll outline some of the things I've been thinking about it. Well, the PEAA awards need to be compiled first, then a return to Within!