Tuesday, June 30, 2009

headwords bleg

I'm hoping to enlist your help. I'm generating headwords for an upcoming encyclopedia from Brill on NW Europe in the period 400-1100. I'll likely be posting other groups of headwords and asking for input and even a reader or two (dozen?)to contribute articles. Anyway, the headwords may be found here: headwords for Languages and Linguistics and related matters; just send comments to larsprec@gmail.com.

A brief word about format: its a spreadsheet in Open Office at the moment saved as an html file. Perfectly readable, but not as smooth as I would like it to be.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Connections: Early Medieval and Enlightenment Edition

I've been reading a book about Capt. Cook that I referred to in an earlier post and when I finish the book, I will post here a bit more. Ok, so I've also just finished The University in Ruins which will earn a post over at Modern Medieval, but I digress. Anyway, I like Bede. I like thinking about Bede, and early Anglo-Saxon England, writing about Bede and early Anglo-Saxon England, talking about Bede and Early Anglo-Saxon England.....

So I was a bit surprised to learn that Capt. James Cook (not Kirk who was from Iowa) was not only a Yorkshireman, but spent some time working in Whitby and it is from that town that he first took ship and the fledgling steps on his way to becoming the Captain Cook of well deserved fame. The author refers to the "7th century ruins of an abbey" on an outcrop of hill overlooking the town (ahem: Hild's place). He also attended services as part of a Cook celebration at a Norman era church, St. Mary's that has furnishings and additions that date from many subsequent eras. Being largely a fishing and shipping town, the church has pews made from lumber salvaged from ships and other such features.

I personally have little direct "Cook" connection. I've been to the Bering Sea where he sailed on his third voyage searching for the NW Passage. I've been to Cook's Inlet in AK, and to Vancouver Island, though admittedly I never made it to Nootka Sound...I was too preoccupied then with other beauties on the island and the wonderful city of Victoria (or at least it was 25 years ago). I have more connection in that sense with one of Cook's men, George Vancouver, having sailed and/or driven over much of the territory Vancouver explored after Cook's death.

Nonetheless, the personal connection of having been where Cook went myself as a deckhand, my interest in Whitby, Bede, and Hild, only to find another connection in that way to Cook who lived in the town early in his career. My one and only trip into Yorkshire so far only took me to York, but not to Whitby. So I guess I'm just going to have to go again.

Another item of interest to me in connection to Whitby is that apparently Bram Stoker used the town as a model for the seaside town in Dracula. I had no idea. I have to say that I've never been into vampires and the like, but the of a medievalist I become the more I've come to appreciate Stoker's work in Dracula as a medievalism. Anyway, it was another medievalesque connection that piqued my interest.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hrolf Kraki: Impressions

I mentioned awhile back reading Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Critical Guide and made some comments on its contents and usefulness. I read somewhere in the long ago, in the before time, either by or about C. S. Lewis that for every modern book one reads, one should read an old work. Especially in my reading for my chosen profession, I try to keep this as a rule of thumb: for every scholarly tome I read, I also read a text in primary literature and a journal issue of some journal to which I subscribe or would like to subscribe. So, after reading ONIL mentioned above, I picked up a saga I've read bits in, even translated some from the selection in Gordon's Old Norse I've mentioned previously: The Saga of Hrolf Kraki. I had on hand, on the altar to Penguin, a copy of Penguin Classics' translation and introduction by Jesse Byock, whose web site I only discovered just now while creating this post. I'll have to have a close look at that and I'll enter comments about it then. But anyway, to the saga.....

Written in the 14th century, like so much else in Old Norse, the saga is one of the "tales of ancient times" or fornaldar . The scene is largely the Danish kingdom of the Scyldinga (Skjoldung in ON), and relates the rise of Rolf, the gathering of his heroes, and their final fall.

Its a great story full of all sorts of goodies: heroes, incest, evil lords and husbands, witches and dangerous Finns, a dragon, shape-shifting, magic, revenge, trickery.....all the stuff of a corker! Spoiler alert! If you haven't read it and don't want to know what happens, stop reading here.

There are connections to England: some of the early part of the story takes place in Northumbria. And of course there are connections to Old English literature, specifically Widsith and Beowulf.

Rather than review the story or stories or even the scholarship, I thought I'd just jot down some of my impressions and points that I'd like to teach someday. The thing that I think struck me most was the finale. Seriously, the last battle scene in which all the heroes die is poignant. It brought a brief choke to my throat.

I also liked the beginning which is much different in character, but that is the section that explicitly mentions England and has the story well connected in Northumbria, which since I like studying Northumbria, and am fascinated with the Adventus period, suits me just fine!

There is plenty to entertain the folklorist and keep him busy. Totemism, magic of various kinds and from various sources, men given mammalian forms and abilities, magical objects etc.

The role of women is interesting here as well: nefarious magic all stems from a female person. The little "good" magic comes from men.

There's a dragon!

Beware men who throw bones at you at dinner! Gives whole new meaning to the barbecues of summer!

There is much to keep the Anglo-Saxonist busy: connections galore to Beowulf and Widsith including same setting, same characters or names in some cases, similar difficulties facing the heros, similar name meanings, and so on. There's even a burning hall!

There is also plenty to keep the Tolkienista busy: incestuous relationships originally unknown to the partners and later revealed, rings, dragons, burning halls, unlikely heroes, a final battle scene complete with a bear, of sorts. Most of all though there is a sublime beauty to some of the tragic scenes that I can only imagine is what Tolkien and Lewis meant when they referred to the beauty of northern myth. There were several places where I was honestly moved.

As mentioned above, I translated a short portion in Gordon, but I think someday I'd like to return to this saga and read the whole in Old Norse. I know even with just going through the English translation, there is much to think on and consider and this will be a text that I return to again and again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Connections: Early Modern Edition

So....this might be a long shot. But I was reading my daily dose of the Bestaria Latina Blog and noted that one of today's proverbs is: Induis me leonis exuvium...you dress me in a lion's skin....

This is from Erasmus' Adagia and he there gives it two interpretations, one from myth, the other on fable. In mythology, Hercules is depicted draped in a lion's skin: the first task of Hercules' 12 was to kill the Nemean lion that had been terrorizing, well, Nemea. Hence the skin....imitated later by Alexander the Great, who stressed Herculean connections among others. But later, Hercules becomes reinterpreted as a type of Christ, and so there come to be Christological associations (sorry, an old Dante paper coming in there, but I digress.) Erasmus doesn't really go into that aspect though....

From fable, Erasmus notes Aesop's fable about the ass dressed as a lion. The donkeys note that they are whipped and treated badly by humans, but that humans fear lions. So they decide that they will go and put on lion's skins, and when people see them, they run away. Alas, the donkeys bray, the people realize when they see their feet that they have donkeys in lions' skins and not lions, and the lot of the donkeys is as bad if not worse than previously.

So....now we come to C. S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia. The last book, The Last Battle opens with Shift the ape convincing Puzzle the Donkey that he should wear a lion's skin, improve his and everyone else's lot, and imitate the Narnian Christ figure Aslan. Puzzle, simple though he is, goes along at first and by the time his misgivings come to the fore, it is too late.

I'm sure that others have been here before me, I'm a bit slow like ol' puzzle (hence the name of the blog). Now we have here I think the sources for this part of Lewis' tale. Lewis was familiar with Aesop, Dante, and Erasmus (he quotes them all often enough in his non-fiction that there is no doubt on the question). And Puzzle, like Hercules, is a type of Christ: the falsehood comes in when the type is passed off as the real thing. And of course we have donkeys in lion's skin, just as the fable. And we have both together in the same context just as in Erasmus.

A nice set of connections: a chance reading of a blog entry on a daily Latin fable, brings me to Erasmus who brought me to Greek myth, Christian typology and my beloved Dante (oh, yes, I love my Dante!), and Erasmus, and finally, Lewis. Well done, Jack, well done.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


There are some texts that one returns to again and again. For me, Boethius' Consolatio is one of them. I first encountered this work in undergrad, lo, these many years ago, and have returned to it periodically over the years, both personally and professionally.

I recently returned to the text after some 5-6 years since I've really looked at it, using this time the Penguin translation. Back in 2001, I worked through the first book and part of the second in Latin, and I read P. Walsh's translation in 2003.

Its been a difficult period, both professionally and personally. The dissertation process is one that has nearly removed me any pleasure or desire to ever be in academia. Were it not for an adjunct gig reminding me how much I love being in the classroom, and a couple of projects reminding how much I love to do research, I'd have ended my bid for an academic career. That other than my adjunct gig I don't have an academic career is at the moment beside the point. So, I needed some Consolation.

But it isn't just that that spurred me....there are some texts that I think both personally and professionally I need to return to, to be steeped in, to let those authors and texts become a significant part of me. The Consolation of Philosophy is one such text for me. Now, some of these texts, some of us are able to teach from time to time, Beowulf, The Odyssey, etc are two such texts for me. But there are others that I have yet to be able to teach, the Consolation, Augustine's Confessions and On Christian Doctrine, Dante are a few of these on my list. (Perhaps this is a good time to start a new meme: what texts do you find yourself revisiting often (by desire, not force) and that are important to you.)

So, serendipity struck again and I found myself wanting to return to this text at the intersections of professional and personal needs. I was surprised after all this time how much of the Latin text I remembered and naturally how much more of those portions I recalled than the parts I've only ever known in translation. Of course, I know this to be true, nothing sticks in your memory as well as some text on which you've worked in another language. Still though, since its been 8 years now since I've even looked at the Latin, I was a bit surprised.

Boethius is always an odd read, I think. He posits a divine figure that controls all things, and in that we should take comfort because even those things that are evil are not so, but simply part of the plan so to speak. It is such a view that gave rise to Calvinism and that system's strict predestination, like Boethius, meant to be a comfort to the believer that God has it all in hand. There is no theology of accident. Unlike Calvinism and other deterministic views, though, for Boethius there seems to be plenty of room for free choice of individuals. Evil people choose to do evil things, but doing so is still part of the plan.

And I always laugh at Philosophy's rebuke of the Muses in Book I, so very Platonic in form and tone. Yet I've found that literature, and poetry in particular, often help me more that Plato or Aristotle....and poets I think probably overall had a greater impact on how people view themselves and the world that philosophy ever did, no matter how highly philosophy is held. Nonetheless, it is an amusing scene, particularly since in rejecting the Muses Philosophy herself engages in the Muses' activity by composing and singing poetry in largely traditional Classical meters!

As I read the text again I was reminded too of many things in manuscripts: coming across a phrase in the text where a manuscript gets the Greek wrong, and then tracing where that particular error arose...yet the interlinear commentary on the Greek phrase renders it's meaning correctly.....or in how many manuscripts I looked at, there is significant evidence of the first couple of books having been read carefully, but much less evidence of it thereafter...so as highly influential as Boethius was on Medieval thought, I would hazard a guess that it was the first two books that were the most influential and most well known.

I've always meant to get to the 14 or so Boethius manuscripts from A-S England, but this whole PhD and dissertation thing got in the way and has taken my time. Since then Malcolm Godden and other scholars have done a lot of work on them and Bruce Gilchrist informed me that Godden's work on the Old English Boethius, with Susan Irvine, book is now out and weighs in at over $200. Just looking it up, it's $365 from Oxford here. Just let me say how very jealous I am....but nonetheless I think there is still some great work to be done on the Latin commentary tradition, both within and without England. No one has really done substantial work on that since Edmund Silk's 1935 Saeculi Noni Auctoris in Boetii Consolationem Philosophiae Commentarius--a magnificent piece of work, but Silk was wrong in many of his conclusions, and there is still a great deal of work to do. I confess that I've always had an interest in Alfred's Boethius, mentioned above, but when I started looking at Boethius, Nicole Discenza had already been doing her dissertation on it, and has now published a book based on her work and published other materials. With Godden and Irvine's work, Discenza's, and a couple of conferences on Alfred's Boethius, there seems to be quite a lot of attention going that way these days...and that's a good thing even if I'm sitting on the sidelines.

In another vein, I can't help but think of Boethius' influence on Tolkien and Lewis. In Lewis, I think the influence much more obvious and even in some ways acknowledged. I think the influence on Tolkien much more subtle. Unless some has or will beat me to it, I do plan an article someday on Boethius and Tolkien. A few comments here though: one place where I've always seen such an influence is a comparison between Lady Philosophy and Galadriel. Many have drawn the parallels between Galadriel and Mary, and a few others have seen the influence of the Middle English poem The Pearl on the conception of Lothlorien, especially as we enter Lothlorien from Moria. And in many ways, the "pearl" character of the poem, who stands in the place of Mary, is influenced by Dante's Beatrice, both as standins for Mary, and all three I'd maintain influenced by Boethius' Philosophia. More directly I think Galadriel, for example, in seeming both young and old, changing in size, her role as healer of hurts of body, but even more so of soul and spirit, font of wisdom and knowledge, who sees into hearts and minds, owes a great deal to Boethius' Philosophia.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Heroic Age Issue 12

Please forward the following:

The Editorial Board of The Heroic Age is very pleased to announce the publication of our twelfth issue. Point your browsers to http://www.heroicage.org and click on "Current Issue." Information elsewhere on the site has also been updated including the staff, links pages, and the Call for Papers. Please take a look; comments are always welcome. I have taken the liberty of pasting below the Letter from the Editor which has some items of interest in it.

§1. Sumer is icumen in! Or so said the poet, in agreement with the weather prognosticators for once. It is both a frustration and an embarrassment that the Winter issue is seeing the light of day as summer is fast approaching, but regrettably that is too often the state of affairs in academic publishing. But it isn't for lack of trying.

§2. So, I'd like to begin by mentioning the important people who volunteer their time to make The Heroic Age happen each issue. First, and foremost, there are three people who work very hard to make each issue come together, edited, polished, and coded. Deanna Forsman, our webster, formats and codes each page on our website, including each issue, taking time from her own academic duties and courses, family, and leisure to do so. Without her efforts, there would be no The Heroic Age. Eileen Joy has done an enormous amount of work for the journal. Not only is she now editing a column for us, but she has been a reader, an editor, and copy editor. It is not as if she is not busy elsewhere: in addition to her work for us, she has been editing volumes of essays (http://www.siue.edu/babel/ProspectusFragmentsVolume.htm), putting together a new journal (www.palgrave-journals.com/pmed/), blogging at In the Middle (www.inthemedievalmiddle.com), and other activities. I am very grateful for all her efforts with The Heroic Age. Last but certainly not least, Bill Schipper is our archivist and is another of those wonderful people whose helping hand is everywhere. In addition to his work with us, Bill is planning and hosting the next meeting of The International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, hosts and manages several well-known email lists in early Medieval Studies, and of course has his own work to undertake. My very grateful thanks to each of these three for their very hard work on my behalf.

§3. In addition to those three, others have had a hand in producing this issue who should be mentioned: Rolf Bremer, Tim Clarkson, Michael Treschow, Linda Malcor, Rolf Bremmer, Dan O'Donnell, and Michel Aaij have all undertaken editing at several levels. Finally, I will mention our readers, who will remain nameless for obvious reasons, but they know who they are. The only reward I can offer all these people is my sincere gratitude. If you have a moment whether via email or at a conference, please say "thanks" to these folk who have made this issue possible.

§4. Before turning to the issue itself, there are some exciting developments in connection with the links pages hosted at the journal's site. For this issue, the Anglo-Saxon links have been culled, weeded, and expanded. Ten years ago, in winter 1999, when I first split the Anglo-Saxon links off into their own subpage, I had grand plans to do the same for other subfields within the journal's purview. While it won't make it for Issue 12, there is at least one subsection and possibly two in development that will make debut appearances in Issue 13.

§5. More importantly, and in my view far more exciting, is a new development for some older but useful tools. As many know, the Richard Rawlinson Center at the Medieval Institute (http://www.wmich.edu/medieval) of Western Michigan University once hosted several online bibliographies and other projects that covered a range of subjects in Early Medieval Studies. A few years ago, some decisions were made that caused the removal of these tools from the Richard Rawlinson Center website, at that time intended to be a temporary situation. Several years later, however, the bibliographies remain inaccessible to the medieval researcher. These bibliographies are now in the process of being migrated to The Heroic Age site and will be linked off the HA links pages. There are many to thank for these developments. First, and foremost, Paul E. Szarmach, now Director of the Medieval Academy of America (http://www.medievalacademy.org), James M. Murray and Elizabeth Teviotdale of the Medieval Institute, and Bill Schipper and the good folks at Memorial University of Newfoundland (http://www.mun.ca) are all owed a deep debt of gratitude for allowing this to happen and making the migration possible. As of this writing, the first such bibliography, Robert Fulk and Kari Ellen Gade's online edition of A Bibliography of Germanic Alliterative Meters, is almost ready to go to its new home and may be included in Issue 12's update links release.

§6. Turning to our regular features for this issue, I would like to draw your attention to a new column: Philological Inquiry written by Michael Drout and Scott Kleinman. The plan is for this to be a recurring column on philological approaches to the field. This first foray examines the word "Merovingian" in Beowulf in order to "illuminate culture, history and politics and shed new light on an old problem." Please join me in welcoming Mike and Scott and this new contribution to our columns.

§7. Eileen Joy has edited a second offering in our still new "babelisms" column. The column is devoted to publishing essays that explore convergences between early medieval and modern texts and ideas. In this issue's column, Helen T. Bennett offers a meditation on halls in Beowulf: "The Postmodern Hall in Beowulf: Endings Embedded in Beginnings."

§8. In Michel Aaij's Continental Business column, Michel reviews and discusses recent scholarly works on Rabanus Maurus, and Dan O'Donnell returns as columnist of Electronic Medievalia with "Byte me: Technological Education and the Humanities." This rounds out our recurring columns.

§9. Elsewhere in this issue's Forum, Jonathan Jarrett, well-known to many as the blogger behind A Corner of Tenth Century Europe (http://tenthmedieval.wordpress.com) and author of the forthcoming Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia: Charters and Connections on a medieval frontier from the Royal Historical Society, contributes to our ongoing series about current developments in subfields of medieval studies. He offers us "Digitizing Numismatics: getting the Fitzwilliam Museum's coins to the world-wide web." As this issue's installment of our series introducing projects in the field, Margaret Cormack introduces us to her site and asks for readers' aid in a column titled "Saints and Sacred Space: An Interactive Database—A Call for Collaborators." Howard Wiseman offers a review essay on a fiction novel, Albion. Finally, Cullen Chandler offers a review essay discussing several recent books on things Carolingian in his contribution titled "Regna et Regnum: Studies of Regions within the Carolingian Empire."

§10. We have three excellent articles in this issue. Karmen Lenz examines the liturgy for St. Cuthbert in her Liturgical Readings of the Cathedral Office for Saint Cuthbert. This is followed by Douglas Simms who contributes an article focused on linguistics titled Heavy Hypermetrical Foregrounding in the Old Saxon Heliand and Genesis Poems. Rounding out the General Article section is a team-sponsored article titled King Alfred's Scholarly Writings and the Authorship of the First Fifty Prose Psalms by Michael Treschow, Paramjit Gill, and Tim B. Swartz that examines the attribution of these psalms to Alfred. These three very solid and interesting articles complete the issue.

§11. Looking ahead, Issue 13 is already well under way. Originally imagined as an issue to focus on medieval manuscripts, as it turns out, the issue will instead focus on translations from early medieval texts! Nonetheless, the issue will also include articles on Old Norse, Hincmar, and Arthur plus our usual columns.

§12. Issue 14 is in development as well. Its a twin-themed issue guest-edited by Andrew Rabin and Eileen Joy. Andrew is collecting and editing a group of essays on Early Medieval Law. Eileen has gathered and is editing a number of essays on the topic of theory and early medeival literature. I myself enjoy the juxtaposition of a traditional topic with a more cutting-edge, perhaps even edgeless topic and placing these in conversation. If all goes well, this issue should be published in early 2010.

§13. The Heroic Age will celebrate its first decade in 2010. We formed the board in late 1999 and published our inaugural issue in Spring 2000, imagined then as appearing quarterly. That first issue was all about Arthur. Our fifteenth issue is scheduled to be published in mid-2010 and is seeking papers on "Arthur-related" topics, revisiting the edges of that first issue. The three sections currently planned for that issue will cover the world of Late Antique Britain and Gaul, connections with the rest of the continent in Late Antiquity, and new views of the Adventus Saxonum. The second section will examine Arthur and Arthurian literature. The third section will include studies of Late Antique and Early Medieval authors.

§14. Even further ahead, Issue 16 is already gathering papers. A special section on Alcuin is being guest-edited by James LePree. Issues 17 and 18 are in the planning stages as well. One will be guest-edited by Jonathan Jarrett, mentioned above, on "Carolingian Border-lands" and Issue 18 will focus on Old French/Provencal/Occitan studies. That takes the editorial planning up through the beginning of 2012.

§15. As always, feedback is appreciated. I now turn you over to the issue itself, lest this note become as long as what it introduces! On behalf of the editorial board, our readers, and editors, I hope you the reader enjoy the issue.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Medieval Literature I Didn't Know III.b Bibliography

Way back a long, long time ago now, I introduced Within, aka as De quodam piscatore quem ballena absorbuit. I eventually followed it up with some discussion that suggested that the Latin poem written by Letaldus may actually be a lost Old English piece of literature. I close off my dear Within poem with the following bibliography. It certainly isn't a vast collection of works, nor is the following necessarily complete. It is interesting to note that even those items I don't list here, what interest there has been in the poem generally is from French scholarship by and large. Paul Pascal, by the way, is the professor of the course in which I first encountered this poem mentioned in the first post. Anyway, here it is....

Ziolkowski, Jan. "Folklore and Learned Lore in Letaldus's Whale Poem" in Viator v. 15 (1984), 107-18.

Haureau, Barthelemy, "Versus Laetaldi monachi de quodam piscatore quem ballena absorbuit," in Bulletin du Comite historique des monuments ecrits de l'histoire de France (1849) 178-83.

Wilmart, Andre, "Le poeme heroique de Letald sur Within le pecheur." Studi Medievali n. s. 9 (1936) 188-203.

Pascal, Paul, "The Poem of Letaldus: A New Edition," in Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: Rara Avis in Saxonia ed. Katherina M. Wilson, Medieval and Renaissance Monograph Series 7 (Ann Arbor: MARC, 1987) 211-28.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007.