And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

onsdag 26. juli 2017

The Summer Office



Academic summers are not like other summers, and for me who am now at the tail-end of my PhD work this summer has been particularly marked by the need to get thesis work done. I have eschewed conferences to gain more time, although I have allowed myself time off in the first two weeks of July. Now, however, I have had to resume my work, and since I am currently living in the house of my late grandparents, I'm making use of my grandfather's room as my office. I am very happy for this temporary office, as the room is bright and the desk - which I bought during my university days for my student apartment - is situated so that I can see the mountains descending into the fjord, the lake by the side of the house, and the ripening cherries which are just out of reach for anyone but the thrushes who feast on them.














mandag 17. juli 2017

To a tyrant - a poem by Joseph Brodsky


I am in my native village of Hyen for the month of July, and when I am home I have a selection of poets whose verse I especially enjoy as I think them particularly suitable to be enjoyed in this setting. One of these poets is Joseph Brodsky, whom I only read in Norwegian or English translations. Among those of his poems which have stayed with me the most strongly, is the poem "To a tyrant" from his collection A Part of Speech, and it is this poem I wish to present to you here. Although I first read this poem in a beautiful Norwegian rendition - and therefore always read it in this rendition - I here give you the translation into English as published in Collected poems in English, published by Carcanet in 2001. It is not specified which of the various translators of the volume who wrought the translation of "To a tyrant", or whether it was Brodsky himself who did all of it.

To a tyrant

He used to come here til he donned gold braid,
a good topcoat on, self-controlled, stoop-shouldered.
Arresting these café habitués -
he started snuffing out world culture somewhat later -
seemed sweet revenge (on Time, that is, not them)
for all the lack of cash, the sneers and insults,
the lousy coffee, boredom, and the battles
at vingt-et-un he lost time and again.

And time has had to stomach that revenge.
The place is now quite crowded; bursts of laughter,
records boom out. But just before you sit
you seem to feel an urge to turn your head around.
Plastic and chrome are everywhere - not right;
the pastries have an aftertaste of bromide.
Sometimes before the place shuts down he'll enter
straight from a theater, anonymous, no fuss.

When he comes in, the lot of them stand up.
Some out of duty, the rest in unfeigned joy.
Limp-wristed, with a languid sweep of palm,
he gives the evening back its cozy feel.
He drinks his coffee - better, nowadays -
and bites a roll, while perching on his chair,
so tasty that the very dead would cry
"Oh, yes!" if only they could rise and be there.

torsdag 29. juni 2017

The apochryphal saint-king and the king who never was




When researching the cult and literature of saints, one is very often dealing with figures whose historicity is doubtful, and sometimes even figures that clearly have not existed. In some cases, the non-existent figures were not the saints themselves, but instead people featuring in the stories about them. These secondary figures of historical non-existence very often contribute to obscuring that kernel of the saint's legend which does seem to have some historical basis. This is the case with Saint Richard and King Otto of England.

In my research I recently came across the story of Saint Richard in an incunabula housed at the university library of the University of Southern Denmark (Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek). According to the front matter of the book, replicated by hand after the original printed front matter was somehow lost, the book is a collection of saints' lives in German called Das Leuend der Hÿlghen, or The Lives of the Saints, printed in Lübeck in 1492.


Saint Richard, son of King Otto of England
Das leuend der hÿlghen, a collection of stories about saints, Lübeck, 1492
Incunabula RARA M 15, Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek


I was quite intrigued to see this story of Saint Richard. I had never heard of him, and since I have been working quite a bit with English saints I was excited to learn of one more. As the vignette to the story indicates, Richard was noted as a pilgrim, shown by the pilgrim's hat and the pilgrim's badges of the scallop, which is the symbol of Santiago in Compostela, but which is also seems to be used as a shorthand for denoting the pilgrim in medieval iconography. I was, however, very surprised to read that he was the son of King Otto of England, because there has never been any such king in the history of the kings of England.

As for the historical nature of Saint Richard, this is, according to David Farmer, a name that is given to the father of Saint Willibald, Saint Winnibald, and Saint Walburga, three figures whose historicity is certain, and who were Anglo-Saxons pilgrims who became important ecclesiastical figures in Germany. The story of their pilgrimage were written down by the nun Huneberc of Heidenheim (fl.780) in the book Hodoeporican, and Reginald of Eichstatt (d.991) appears to be the one responsible for introducing Richard as their father. According to the legend, Richard died at Lucca where his relics were venerated "at least from the twelfth century" (Farmer 2004: 454).

Accordingly, Saint Richard is a figure of dubious historicity, woven around the possible fate of the historical father of the three Anglo-Saxons who became saints in their turn. It seems clear, however, that Richard was not at any point a king. What then, of the mystical King Otto of England?

It is possible that Otto is here the result of an intended German translation of Offa. This is a name of two historical kings, the eldest being a king of the East Saxons who was active around 709, the youngest being the more famous king Offa of Mercia (d.796). Chronologically speaking, if Otto is indeed Offa, it is likely to be Offa of the East Saxons. But even if this is the intended identity of Richard's father, it is safe to say that Richard himself does not appear to have ever been the son of Offa, and that this is rather a product of later legends accrued around the cult of Saint Richard who was venerated not only in Lucca but also in Eichstatt where Reginald wrote his legend.





Bibliography

Farmer, David, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, 2004

Huneberc's Hodoeporican:  https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/willibald.asp

Das leuend der hÿlghen, a collection of stories about saints, Lübeck, 1492 (Incunabula RARA M 15, Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek)



tirsdag 27. juni 2017

Music for writing a thesis



I am nearing the end of my PhD thesis, at least that is what the calendar tells me. For the next few months I will be shoulder-deep in writing and editing, trying to tie together the loose ends and bringing three years of research to an orderly and legible conclusion. I also want to combine this with continuous blogging, which has provided me with a great outlet for thinking of and reflecting on my work and various things related to my work. But how to write blogposts when you're so tired of writing, and when you don't want to write about the things you really want to write about out of fear that it will take too much time? For this reason, I'm now cheating a bit and present to you two albums which have been of great relish to me in the past few weeks during my thesis writing.

The first one is a collection of twelfth-century chants, some of which are taken from Santiago de Compostela and are composed in honour of Saint James the Greater, also known as Santiago, while some are taken from the monastery of Saint-Martial in Limoges.

The second album is a collection of chants for the office of Saint Louis IX of France (d.1270) who was canonized in 1297 and who became a saint of major importance in fourteenth-century France.

These albums have brought me much happiness and much calm in the past weeks, so I leave it to my faithful readers to explore their wonders on their own.





The martyrdom of Saint James the Greater
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, RARA M 15
German translation of Legenda Aurea with additions, Lübeck, 1492







Chants from Santiago de Compostela, and Saint-Martial in Limoges



Chants for the office of Saint Louis IX







fredag 23. juni 2017

From Derek Walcott's Midsummer


For the Vigil of Saint John the Baptist, which is when Norwegians and Danes celebrate midsummer with a great bonfire, I give you an extract from Derek Walcott's book-length poem, Midsummer, printed in 1984 and here taken from Collected Poems - 1948-1984, printed by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1986.


From Midsummer

XI

My double, tired of morning, closes the door
of the motel bathroom; then, wiping the steamed mirror,
refuses to acknowledge me staring back at him.
With the softest grunt, he stretches my throat for the function
of scraping it clean, his dispassionate care
like a barber's lathering a corpse - extreme unction.
The old ritual would have been as grim
if the small wisps that curled there in the basin
were not hairs but minuscular seraphim.
He clips our moustache with a snickering scissors,
then stops, reflecting, in midair. Certain sadnesses
are not immense, but fatal, like the sense of sin
while shaving. And empty cupboards where her dresses
shone. But why flushing a faucet, its vortex
swivelling with bits of hair, could make some men's
hands quietly put aside their razors,
and sense their veins as filth floating downriver
after the dolorous industries of sex,
is a question swans may raise with their white necks,
that the cockerel answers quietyl, treading his hens.

onsdag 14. juni 2017

The typology of decapitation - the case of Edmund Martyr and John the Baptist



When working on the cult and literature of saints, one of the most noteworthy aspects one comes across is the many ways in which one holy person is typologically connected with other holy men and women of Christian and biblical history. This means a saint is understood as the antitype, i.e. as a kind of later reconfiguration, of an earlier type, hence typology. All saints are expected to be an antitype to Christ, but one saint can be typologically connected to a number of saints, either by shared features, belonging to the same category of saints, by intertextuality, or by other means. Mapping these connections is sometimes the most fun part of working with saints.

These days I am returning to Edmund Martyr, the king of East Anglia who in 869 was killed by Danish Vikings and who was venerated as a saint from at least the late ninth century. The first biography of Saint Edmund was written by Abbo of Fleury c.985, and this was the foundation for the later texts that were produced at Bury St Edmunds, the centre of his cult.


Edmund tortured by Vikings
BL MS Harley 2278, John Lydgate's life of Edmund and Fremund, England, between 1434 and 1439
(Courtesy of British Library)


In Abbo of Fleury's Passio Eadmundi, we are told how Edmund was tied to a tree and pierced by arrows while the Danish chieftain Hingwar (usually identified as Ivar Boneless) tried to make him subdue to Danish overlordship. When Edmund refused, his head was chopped off and thrown into the bushes lest a veneration of the deceased monarch should emerge. The head was later found, guarded by a wolf, and when it had been interred in a simple wooden chapel, the head and body miraculously merged into an intact unit.
 

The finding of Edmund's head
BL MS Harley 2278, John Lydgate's life of Edmund and Fremund, between 1434-39
(Courtesy of British Library) 


 Passio Eadmundi was the fundamental text for the later composition of a liturgical office at Bury St Edmunds. This office is today recorded almost completely in Pierpont Morgan MS 736, which was written and put together c.1130. The office for Edmund's feast day - November 20 - consists of a collection of chants and readings to be performed at the hour of Matins on the night of his dies natalis, his heavenly birthday and his death-day on earth. This office forms the centrepiece of my chapter on Saint Edmund for my doctoral thesis.

One night I was playing with one of my most important research tools, the CANTUS database in which liturgical chants from the Middle Ages are catalogued. While doing so, I serendipitously discovered that one of the chants for Saint Edmund - the seventh antiphon, i.e. a chant sung before the seventh of the psalms during the night office - shared some features with an antiphon for the feast of the beheading of John the Baptist.


Decollation of John the Baptist
Amiens - BM - ms. 0195, f.133v, pontifical of Corbie, thirteenth century, Northern France
(Courtesy of enluminures.culture.fr)

According to Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, John the Baptist was beheaded on the orders of King Herod Antipas. The reason for the beheading was that Herod's wife Herodias hated John the Baptist and told her daughter Salome that should Herod ask what she wanted as a gift, Salome would request the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. Salome then danced for the king, and Herod was overcome with delight and told his step-daughter to ask for anything she wanted as a reward for her dance. Salome then heeded her mother's words, and John the Baptist was duly beheaded.

The death of Saint John the Baptist is marked with its own feast in the Catholic liturgical calendar, and it is celebrated on August 29. Unlike most other saints, however, the death-day of John the Baptist is not his principal feast, which is his nativity on June 24. Nor is the day marking the day of his beheading, but instead it marks the finding of his head. This is why the day is known as the feast of the decollation, rather than the dies natalis.


Even the marginal hybrids turn their face away in sorrow 
Limoges - BM - ms. 0002, f.182v, gradual, Fontevrault, c.1250-c.1260
(Courtesy of enluminures.culture.fr)

Since both John the Baptist and Edmund Martyr were beheaded, it is no wonder that the venerators of Saint Edmund should think that the two saints were typologically connected, especially the hagiographers and liturgists at Bury whose job it was to emphasize such connections through musical borrowings, textual allusions, and iconographic similarities. To illustrate how this was done, I will here present you the antiphon of Edmund and that of the feast of the decollation to illustrate how this typological connection was made through liturgical borrowings.

The antiphon for Saint Edmund:

Misso spiculatore de crevit tyrannus
dei adletam eadmundus dum capite
detruncari sicque ymnum deo personuit
et animam celo gaudens intulit.

(The thrown stabs increased by the tyrant, the athlete of God, Edmund, when his head was cut off, and thus resounded with hymns for God and brought the soul rejoicing to Heaven)

The antiphon for the decollation of John the Baptist:

Misso Herodes spiculatore praecepit
amputare caput Joannis in carcere
quo audito discipuli ejus venerunt et
tulerunt corpus ejus et posuerunt
illud in monumento
(The thrown stabs ordered by Herod amputated the head of John while in prison. When his disciples heard this, they came and interred his body and placed it in a monument.)


Praecepit amputare caput Joannis in carcere
Cambrai - BM - ms. 0189, f.161v, Evangeliar, Use of Cambrai, c.1266, Cambrai
(Courtesy of enluminures.culture.fr)


As can be seen from the words put in bold, it is likely that the antiphon for the feast of the decollation served as the foundation for the antiphon of Edmund Martyr. This relationship is also strengthened by some of the words that are not identical but nonetheless carry the same meaning. While the Edmund antiphon uses "detruncari" and the decollation antiphon uses "amputare", it is nonetheless clear that they signify the same form of execution. Similarly, while the primary antagonist in the antiphon for the decollation is identified as Herod, the antagonist of the Emund antiphon is not named but instead referred to as "tyrannus", a term which in medieval liturgical chants is sometimes used about Herod (such as this hymn verse for the feast of the Holy Innocents).

These two antiphons, therefore, provide a good example of how the typological connection of two saints could be emphasized through liturgy. By borrowing key words and phrases from an antiphon for the decollation, the liturgists pointed to the fact that Edmund and John the Baptist both were beheaded, and that they therefore had a relationship in the collegium of saints. Such connections were important to bring out because that way the typological roster of Saint Edmund - i.e. the list of his features shared with other saints - could be mapped out more completely, and thus Saint Edmund's role in the history of Creation could be understood more clearly. This in turn would mean that he could be addressed more accurately, more flatteringly, which might bring about his help more effectively.

Although such a connection might seem arcane to us who do not perform medieval liturgy, we must remember that the monks at Bury St Edmunds would sing both these antiphons. And even though the antiphons were sung at different times in the year, they would nonetheless be performed by the same monks year after year, and thus be remembered. In this way, the monks who venerated Saint Edmund would be reminded that their patron also shared features with the forerunner of Jesus Christ.













onsdag 31. mai 2017

Learning to transcribe - a few personal notes on working with Saint Edmund Martyr




One of the recurring sensations in my time in academia is the feeling that there are things with which you never really finish. Today this feeling was brought on by a revision of a transcription of the office for Saint Edmund which I undertook back in 2015, and which forms one of the main pillars for the research of my doctoral thesis.

The offices for the vigil and feast of Saint Edmund Martyr are contained in a manuscript produced at Bury St Edmunds around 1130, together with the first saint-biography of Edmund, Abbo's Passio Eadmundi, and collections of miracles related to Saint Edmund. This manuscript contains the most complete version of the office for the feast of Saint Edmund that has survived, and also the only version of the office for the vigil. For my chapter on Saint Edmund, I have gone into great detail about the chants and readings for the office for the feast day, but now it was time to turn to the office for the vigil instead and get a better overview of what it contains.

The office for the vigil was performed on the eve before the feast of Edmund (November 20), and contains one nocturn of four lessons with responsories in accordance with the monastic model. The chants and lessons all take their material from the miracle collection written down by Herman the Archdeacon around 1080-90. The selection of miracle stories is not wide, as they all focus on one of the most salient episodes in the history of the cult of Saint Edmund, namely the divine punishment of Svein Estrithsson.

The story which Herman wrote down tells of how the Danish king Svein Estrithsson (d.1074/76) invaded England and demanded tribute from the English. He also demanded tribute from the monks at Bury St Edmunds and sought to despoil the riches that had accumulated at the shrine of Saint Edmund Martyr. The monks turned to Edmund for help, and their heavenly ambassador brought divine wrath down upon the Danish king to such a degree that the king exempted Bury from paying tribute. At the time when Herman composed his collection of miracles this story had not been in circulation for many years, but it tied in with another punitive miracle that had been included in the Passio written by Abbo of Fleury in the 980s and so the punishment of the Danish king became one of the most iconic miracles attributed to the merits of Saint Edmund (but performed by God).



Opening of the office for the vigil of Saint Edmund
MS Pierpont Morgan 736, Bury St. Edmunds, c.1130 (photocopy)

I find the miracle story fascinating, especially in the way it cemented Saint Edmund Martyr's reputation as a guardian of his own shrine and ensured that this reputation would be a recurring feature in later writings at Bury St Edmunds, such as the chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond from c.1200.

In the coming days I will immerse myself further into the miracles of Saint Edmund, which I left off in 2015 so that I could focus more single-mindedly on the office of the feast itself. To return to this text was a reminder that those things on which you work the most are sometimes the things most likely to stay with you. This feeling of return was perhaps also exacerbated by the fact that back in 2015, the office for the vigil of Saint Edmund was the first text I ever transcribed from a medieval manuscript - or rather, from a printed out photocopied version of the manuscript.

I remember very well the excitement of those summer days in June 2015 where I had a 27-page document to transcribe and make sense of - without any prior experience of transcription. Foolhardy and stupidly optimistic as I sometimes can be, I nonetheless thought that I would be able to do it. And sure enough, I did manage to tackle the text after two intense weeks of work, and I remember feeling overly proud of myself for getting this done.

Today, close to two years later, my experience with transcription is significantly greater, and armed with more experience - and much greater knowledge of the textual corpus in question - I set out to see how much of the transcription work of my 2015 self I had to correct.

It turned out that there was quite a lot to correct, both in terms of things I had misread, things I had failed to understand, things that were close to unintelligible, and also in terms of lack of standardized practices for how to deal with scribal inaccuracies. This was perhaps particularly noticeable in the office for the vigil, since this is the very beginning of the manuscript and the very first text with which I had to try my inexperienced brain.

On the one hand, correcting my mistakes from two years ago gave me a sense of how inexperienced I still am when it comes to manuscript work, even though I have gained a lot more since 2015, and many of the mistakes had the very dirty tinge of the dilettante about them. On the other hand, however, it made me realize just how much I had learned in the two years that had passed, and it also gave me an optimistic sense of all the things I have yet to learn and hopefully will learn as I continue to carve my path through the dense forest that is academia. It is a pleasing thought, and such thoughts are always welcome in the thesis process.




søndag 28. mai 2017

Saint George in Odense, part 2




One of the first blogposts I put together after I had moved to Odense in 2014 presented two separate depictions of Saint George which I had come across during my first travels around town. Since then, I have come to understand that Saint George occupies an important place among the saints who in various ways contribute to the urban landscape and memory of Odense. There are, for instance, both a public garden and a public park which are named Sankt Jørgens Haven and Sankt Jørgens Park respectively, both of which lie close to the street Sankt Jørgens Gade. Jørgen is the Scandinavian name for George.

Yesterday, I came across another depiction of Saint George, placed on the facade of Sankt Georgs Hjemmet, Saint George's Home. It is worth noting that in this case the name of the saint is given as George, not as Jørgen, and this is probably due to the fact that the house was erected with the financial help of the Guild of Saint George, which is a modern boyscout organization. I presume they have taken Saint George as their figurehead after inspiration from the English boyscouts.

Even though it is a small detail in the Odense cityscape, it is nonetheless a nice reminder that aspects of the medieval cult of saints are still present in our postmedieval world, having been sifted through centuries of cultural interpretation.


















mandag 22. mai 2017

The tooth of time - a little nugget from Ribe




As mentioned in the previous blogpost, the beginning of last week was spent in the southwestern Danish town of Ribe, an important medieval bishopric and now a quaint, lovely, old-fashioned, seemingly timelocked settlement near the Jutland coast. There are several gems to be found around the town, some of which are big and striking like the medieval cathedral, some of which are small and easy to overlook like the many beautifully and creatively painted doors.

One such little gem is a bronze sculpture situated outside Ribe Viking Museum. The sculpture was created by the Danish artist John Olesen (b. 1938) in 1995, and now welcomes visitors who seek to get closer to ages past by exploring the many treasures of the museum. The idea of "the tooth of time", which is "tidens tand" in Danish and "tidens tann/tidas tann" in Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk respectively), is a Scandinavian expression to denote the passing of time left visibly on objects. We say that something has been marked by the tooth of time, an image of quiet nibbling that I find very pleasing and immensely poetic. A very fitting concept to be reminded of before stepping into a museum to behold items that have been gnawed away by the tooth of time.














fredag 19. mai 2017

Saint George in Ribe





Earler this week, my colleages and I went to Ribe for our annual gathering, the one time of the year when our two branches of the Centre for Medieval Literature meet to discuss academic matters, catch up on each others' research, and to socialise in a place with medieval connections. Ribe is a small town in the southwest of Jutland. It is colloquially known as Denmark's oldest town, as it was one of Scandinavia's most important trading sites during the pre-conversion period. After the conversion of Denmark, Ribe became a bishopric and its cathedral has still layers from the twelfth and the thirteenth century.

I hope to return to a more general description of the church itself later, but for now I present you with one of my favourite details from the church space, found at the western end of the northern side naves, namely a glorious depiction of Saint George fighting the dragon. I'm tempted to think that the female figure placed above the two combatants is princess Alexandra, the maiden saved by Saint George - and in older calendars she was also venerated as a saint - but it might also be a different figure altogether, possibly the Virgin Mary.

I have not found any information about when this set of wooden sculptures were made, but I hazard to guess early sixteenth century. It is certainly not modern, and it is a wonderful depiction of one of my favourite scenes from hagiographic art.




























fredag 28. april 2017

A Caribbean Werewolf Tale - from Derek Walcott's Tales of the Islands


I have recently been reading some articles touching on one of  perhaps most memorable anecdotes from Gerald of Wales' Topographia Hibernica (which I have written about more extensively here). The anecdote concerns an Irish priest who once was approached by a wolf who spoke to to him as if he were a human, and begged the priest to follow him. The priest went with the wolf who brought him to where another wolf was about to die, and the wolves asked the priest to adminster the last rites to the dying, for they were humans who had been cursed and therefore had been turned into wolves. The priest administered the rites.

This story is one of many werewolf stories found throughout the history of literature. The werewolf is a pervasive figure in folklore and continues to attract the fascination and attentions from scholars and non-scholars alike.



The priest and the wolf
BL MS Royal 13 B VIII, f.17v, Topograhpia Hiberniae, Gerald of Wales, England, c.1196-c.1223
Courtesy of British Library


One story depicting a werewolf can be found in Derek Walcott's poem Tales of the Islands, a sequence of ten sonnets depicting aspects of life in the Caribbean, often highlighting the multilingualism of that life by an elegant use of the Patois French native to Walcott's Saint Lucia. The story in question, which Walcott himself styles "A curious tale" in the opening of the poem, is detailed in the ninth sonnet, titled "Le Loupgarou", which is French for "werewolf". The sequence is included in Walcott's collection of poems In a Green Night from 1962.



From Tales of the Islands
Chapter IX/"Le Loupgarou"

A curious tale that threaded through the town
Through greying women sewing under eaves,
Was how his greed had brought ld Le Brun down,
Greeted by slowly shutting jalousies
When he approached them in white linen suit,
Pink glasses, Cork hat, and tap-tapping cane,
A dying man licensed to sell sick fruit,
Ruined by fiends with whom he'd made a bargain.
It seems one night, these Christian witches said,
He changed himself to an Alsatian hound,
A slavering lycanthrope hot on a scent,
But his own watchman dealt the thing a wound.
It howled and lugged its entrails, trailing wet
With blood, back to its doorstep, almost dead.


tirsdag 25. april 2017

Distractions along the thesis road - an antiphon for Saint Laurentius


As every academic knows, the road towards completing the PhD thesis is a long-winded one, and it is full of major and minor distractions. In this brief blogpost I want to present you with an example of just such a little distraction from my current research.

These days I am researching the liturgical office for Saint Knud the king, also known as Canute or Kanutus Rex, who died in Odense in 1086 following a rebellion that spread across the estates of eleventh-century Danish society, at least according to some of the earliest sources. The liturgical office - which occupies a prominent part in my thesis - contains the chants and readings for the feast of Knud's death (July 10). We do not know when the office was composed as the manuscript sources for it only survive in fragments, and few conclusions can be drawn with certainty. The office survives, however, in printed breviaries from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and therefore I have for the past two days been immersed in the structure and the content of this office.

During my transcription of the office text, however, I was briefly distracted by a rubric breaking off the flow of the office itself, placed between the chants for Vesper and the chants for Matins. This rubric points to a chant for Saint Laurentius of Rome (3rd century) whose feast is celebrated August 10, i.e. one month after the feast of Knud. The text and the position of the chant can be seen in the picture below, which - don't worry - is not a photograph of the breviary itself but of a printout.



Antiphona Sancti Laurentii
Breviarium Othoniense 1497, f.262r (print-out with personal notes)
(Courtesy of Copenhagen Royal Library


The chant in question is an antiphon with a versicle belonging to the repertoire of chants for Saint Laurentius. The antiphon can be found on this website, while the versicle can be found here. An antiphon is a short text in verse chanted before and after a psalm. In the office of a saint, the antiphons were often composed specifically for the saint in question, as we see here. The text reads:



Antiphon:

Laurentius ingressus est
martir et confessus est
nomine domini nostri ihesu cristi


Versicle:

Dispersit [dedit pauperibus justitia ejus manet in saeculum saeculi]



This can be translated (by me) as:
Laurentius martyr is entering, and the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is confessed.

He disperses and gives the poor, His [God's] justice endures in all eternity.


The text itself is typical of a generic chant for a saint and contains nothing special about Saint Laurentius of Rome. I was nonetheless distracted by it in part because it is a beautiful little poem, and because its placement in the office of Saint Knud was a bit puzzling to me. As mentioned, Knud is celebrated exactly one month before Laurentius, and therefore this rubric can not be a commemoratio, a chant celebrating the less important of two saints when the feasts of those two saints overlap. What I do know is that Saint Laurentius was the patron of the metropolitan see of Lund. Although the city of Lund now lies in Sweden, it was Danish in the Middle Ages and housed the archbishop of the Danish church. The patronage of Laurentius in Lund and the bishopric of Odense's subordination to the archbishop of Lund might go some way to explain this rubric. But at the current time, however, I have no satisfactory explanation to give.

I have paused to reflect a bit on this little piece simply because it is a distraction and because it is something I do not yet have a satisfactory answer to. It is a good example of those thousand little things that can lead to a wild goose chase in the academic writing process. Hopefully, with this current blogpost, I have managed to vent my curiosity and prevented the distraction from leading me too far astray .




søndag 23. april 2017

Spanish poetry for World Book Day


Today, April 23rd, is World Book Day, an international celebration of books that has taken its date from the death-day of Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare, and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. The tradition of World Book Day began in 1926. In honour of this wonderful day, I will here present some of my favourite Spanish poetry to mark that this day is a Spanish invention, founded by the writer Vicente Clavel (1888-1967). The poems below are taken from The Penguin Book of Spanish Poetry, and the translations are made by the book's editor, J. M. Cohen.



Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola

Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola (1559-1613) was poet and historian, and this untitled poem was one of my first exposures to the Spanish sonnet. I learned of it through a reworking of the poem into English by Geoffrey Hill, and it remains one of my favourite poems.


Llevó tras sí los pámpanos otubre,
y con las grandes lluvias insolente,
no sufre Ibero márgenes ni puente,
mas antes los vecinos campos cubre.

Moncayo, como suele, ya descubre
coronada de nieve la alta frente,
y el sol apenas vemos en Oriente
cuando la opaca tierra nos lo encubre.

Sienten el mar y selvas ya la saña
del aquilón, y encierra su bramido
gente en el puerto y gente en la cabaña.

Y Fabio, en el umbral de Tais tendido,
con vergonzosos lágrimas lo baña,
debiéndolas al tiempo que ha perdido.

(October has taken the vine-leaves with it, and swollen with the great rains, Ebro will suffer neither banks nor bridges, but rather covers the neighbouring fields.
Moncayo, as usual, now reveals her tall brow crowned with snow, and no sooner do we see the sun in the East than the opaque earth conceals it from us.
Now the sea and the woods feel the north-wind's anger, and its roaring shuts people up in port and people in their cottages.
And Fabio, lying on Thais' threshold, wets it with shameful tears, his debt to the time that he has wasted.)


Lope de Vega Carpio

Lope de Vega (1562-1613) is one of the foremost writers of Spanish literature. He is predominantly remembered for his numerous plays, but his religious poetry has also achieved well-deserved fame. The following untitled poem is another verse to which I came through a reworking by Geoffrey Hill, and it is a hauntingly direct, unvarnished grappling with issues of personal faith.


Qué tengo yo que mi amistad procuras?
Qué interés se te sigue, Jesús mío,
que a mi puerta, cubierto de rocío,
pasas las noches del invierno escuras?

Oh, cuánto fueron mis entrañas duras
pues no te abrí! Qué extraño desvarío
si de mi ingratitud el hielo frío
secó las llagas de tus plantas puras!

Cuántas veces el ángel me decía:
"Alma, asómate agora a la ventana,
verás con cuanto amor llamar porfía!"

Y cuántas, hermosura soberana:
"Mañana te abriremos" - repondía,
para lo mismo responder mañana!

(What have I that you should sue for my friendship? What interest brings you, dear Jesus, to spend the dark winter nights at my door, covered in dew?
Oh how hard was my heart that I did not open to you! What strange madness was it if the cold frost of my ingratitude chapped the wounds on your pure feet?
How many times did the angel say to me: 'Now, soul, look out of your window, and you will see how lovingly he persists in knocking!'
And how many times, oh supreme beauty, did I reply: 'I will open tomorrow', only to make the same reply upon the morrow!)


Miguel de Guevara

This final poem is a religious sonnet is attributed to the sixteenth-century Mexican priest Miguel de Guevara (dates unknown), and it is one of the most moving religious poems that I know of.


A Cristo crucificado

No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte,
el cielo que me tienes prometido,
ni me mueve el infierno tan temido
para dejar pos eso de ofenderte.

Tú me mueves, Señor; muéveme el verte
clavado en esa cru, y escarnecido;
muéveme el ver tu cuerpo tan herido,
muévenme tus afrentas, y tu muerte.

Muéveme, al fin, tu amor, y en tal manera,
que aunque no hubiera cielo, yo te amara,
y aunque no hubiera infierno te temiera.

No me tienes que dar porque te quiera;
pues aunque lo que espero no esperara,
lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.

(To Christ Crucified
It is not heaven that You have promised me, my God, that moves me to love You, nor is it the hell I so fear that moves me to cease sinning against You.
You move me, Lord; it moves me to see You nailed to that cross and despised; it moves me to see Your body so wounded; the insults You suffered and Your death move me.
Finally, Your love moves m, and so much that even if there were no heaven, I should love You; and even in there were no hell, I should fear You.
You have not to give me anything to make me love You; for even if I did not hope for what I do hope for, I should love You just as I do.)



onsdag 19. april 2017

Writer's block - a poem by Emelihter Kihleng


This month is nearing its end and this is the first blogpost of the month. It has, in other words, been a very hectic month, but hectic in various ways. The first week passed by in a frantic writing process which saw the finishing of the first half of the thesis chapter on which I am currently working. The second week was spent in Norway during the Easter holiday. But now that I have returned from home and I am once again back at the office, I can turn my attention to this blog again, since my brain is neither too narrowly focussed, nor too relaxed to write new posts.

As a start for the April blogposts, I present to you a poem by Emelihter Kihleng, a poet from the Federation of Micronesia. I have a particular interest in geographical localities that are peripheral to my own cultural standing, and which are small - particularly so if they are islands, for reasons I do not entirely comprehend myself. Therefore, I was very happy to discover Emelihter Kihleng and her first collection of poems. The collection is titled My Urohs. An urohs is a long skirt worn by Micronesian women, and this is a recurring feature of identity marking in Kihleng's collection, a collection in which matters of identity are dealt with in several - and sometimes gripping - ways.

For this blogpost, however, I give you a poem which, as the title shows, deals with writer's block, a suitable way to mark the resuming of activity here on this blog.


Writer's block

I'm finally sitting down to write a poem
Is it the heat?
the quiet,
not a tree stirring,
a single leaf falls from the mahi

the house darkens
the tin roof holds its breath
rain pounds the cement
and everyone in Kolonia sighs
steam rising from the pavement

what is it about this place?


(Published in My Urohs, Kahuaomanoa Press, Honolulu, 2008)

fredag 31. mars 2017

Language and embrace - ruminations for March 31



In the medievalist section of social media, March 31 is International Hug A Medievalist Day, founded by Doctor Sarah Laseke, currently of Leiden University. This is the day when social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook explode with images of embraces from medieval manuscripts, using scenes of demons battling, furtive and illegal embraces, amorous encounters, scenes of the Visitatio Mariae, the kiss of Judas, and so on.

As a medievalist, I find these displays of virtual intimacy somewhat heart-warming, and it made me remember an often quoted passage from Derek Walcott's book-length poem Omeros, in which he states:

Because Rhyme remains the parentheses of palms
shielding a candle's tongue, it is the language's
desire to enclose the loved world in its arms


I have loved this verse ever since I first read it in the spring of 2008, which was the second term of my first year at university, and a time when I had just starting to explore unfamiliar literatures. It is a pleasing thought that language seeks to contain what is loved in its embrace, and the equation of language and love through this imagery is one that I find immensely moving.

The further I venture into the fields of medieval studies, and the more I explore the literatures of the medieval period, the more aware I become that Derek Walcott's description of language is a highly idealized one, and one that should be sought but one which often is discarded. Instead, the sad truth is this: Language is often used to destructive ends, even when it is cloaked in a semblance of love and goodness.

There is nothing uniquely medieval about this. In the modern world we see more than sufficient examples of how the choice of words marks up delineations between us and them. This is why, for instance, a Syrian child coming to the UK is termed a migrant, whereas a Brit settling down in Spain refers to himself as an expat.

Using words as tools of alienation appears to be a human constant, and is just as much a modern feature as it is a medieval feature. For me, however, the medieval use of words and language in this way has been very much on my mind recently, as research has brought me more closely into how medieval writers would talk about language to identify the cultural others, and how language was an important way to emphasize someone's degree of humanity.

I recently worked on an article where I noted the frequency of sources that would remark about this and that people that they spoke unintelligibly or like animals. One favourite example comes from Adam of Bremen's Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum, in which he refers to the Northern Norwegians as not so much speaking as gnashing their teeth together, so that their neighbours can barely understand them. (It is worth noting that he probably received this information in Denmark.)

Another example that I have worked a lot on lately is the Gesta Swenomagni regis et filiorum eius et passione gloriosissimi Canuti regis et martyris. This work, a saint-biography of Knud IV of Denmark, also known as Saint Knud Rex, was written in the 1110s by the English monk Aelnoth of Canterbury, and records how Saint Knud was killed by an angry mob of Danish noblemen and commoners in Odense in 1086. In order to emphasize the uncivilised behaviour of the regicides, Aelnoth often depicts them as raging, and in one memorable instance states that they behaved "more porcorum", in the manner of swine.

This connection of language and beastly behaviour has deep roots in Christian literature. Among the most famous early examples is perhaps the encounter between Saint Antony of Egypt and a satyr, as told by Jerome in his Life of Paul of Thebes. Here, the satyr, and also the hippocentaur, are speaking in a manner that is difficult to understand. In this way, their lack of language, their semi-animal composition, and their uncivilised inhabitation all combine to emphasize their otherness. The trope is an often repeated one, and draws on the same old approach to language and civilization that once made the Ancient Greeks coin the term "barbar" for someone outside the Greek world, meaning someone speaking unintelligibly.

In light of all these instances where languages are employed as demarcators of us and them, as fences you set up to identify yourself as inhabiting a different space than your neighbour, it is comforting to sometimes embrace the notion of Walcott's verse that it is the language's desire to enclose the loved world in its arms.

And this is also what medievalists will be doing tomorrow, when we engage in the social media phenomenon of #Whanthataprille, an online celebration of medieval languages.

Sometimes, it is good for the soul to be a medievalist.

mandag 20. mars 2017

Little Lives - a modern hymn for Saint Cuthbert



Today, March 20, is the feast of Saint Cuthbert, bishop of Lindisfarne who died in 687, and whose body was later moved to Durham after Viking raids. Durham thus became the cult centre, and his body was ultimately translated to its present location in the Norman cathedral in 1104.

Cuthbert is the subject of many legends, and his importance and popularity have ensured him - and been ensured by - a range of biographical accounts. I hope to return to the subject of his legend in future blogposts. For the present post, however, I rather wish to present a poem of my own composition taking as its starting point one of the perhaps most beloved stories about Cuthbert in recent times. The story, recorded in a twelfth-century manuscript now in the British Library (MS Yates Thompson 26, folio 24r), tells of how Cuthbert was meditating by the sea and decided to go for a swim. When he returned, some otters came up to him and dried his feet with their warm breath. Several modern depictions of Saint Cuthbert have embraced this story.


Cuthbert and the otters, a story in three parts
MS. Yates Thompson 26, f.24r, prose life of Cuthbert, Durham, late 12th century
Courtesy of British Library


Little lives - a hymn for St. Cuthbert

After an illumination in BL MS. Yates Thompson 26, f. 24r

I thought of Cuthbert sitting by the water,
his head in Heaven and his feet on earth,
and how the little otters crept up to him
to keep him warm. He must have seen the worth
of little lives inhabiting Creation
whose time was praise for Him who gave them birth.
Perhaps he also felt this strange sensation:
that he was also small and still had worth.

- April 06 2014



søndag 19. mars 2017

Sea Grapes - a poem, and a reading, by Derek Walcott



Two days ago, on March 17 2017, Derek Walcott died in his home country Saint Lucia at the age of 87. I was deeply saddened by these unwelcome news. Derek Walcott is my favourite poet, not just in the English language but in any language. His verse has meant a great deal to me, both for my personal engagement with my own background and my own life, but also for my intellectual maturing and development.

When my head has cleared a bit from this initial sadness, I hope to put together a more coherent explanation of my relationship with Derek Walcott's verse and why I hold his poetry in such high esteem, a kind of epitaph as a tribute to a man to whom - despite his flaws - I feel indebted, and whose verse has marked my life in a way no other verse has done.

In this blogpost, however, as a kind of preface, I only wish to present one of his more famous poems, Sea Grapes, a poem which is in a way a foreshadowing of the book-length poem Omeros which he wrote in 1990, as Sea Grapes likewise presents a fusion of homeric and Caribbean imagery in an upheaval of chronology and a merging of history.

The text of the poem is taken from this website.



Sea Grapes

That sail which leans on light,
tired of islands,
a schooner beating up the Caribbean

for home, could be Odysseus,
home-bound on the Aegean;
that father and husband's

longing, under gnarled sour grapes, is
like the adulterer hearing Nausicaa's name
in every gull's outcry.

This brings nobody peace. The ancient war
between obsession and responsibility
will never finish and has been the same

for the sea-wanderer or the one on shore
now wriggling on his sandals to walk home,
since Troy sighed its last flame,

and the blind giant's boulder heaved the trough
from whose groundswell the great hexameters come
to the conclusions of exhausted surf.

The classics can console. But not enough. 


Derek Walcott reading Sea Grapes




For similar blogposts, see:








fredag 10. mars 2017

The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius and the nations of the north



Recently, I finished writing an article in which I explored aspects of medieval otherness in texts concerned in one way or another with peripheral geographies. The article grew out of a paper I gave at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds in 2016, and allowed me to further develop the ideas I had been playing with then. The writing of this article brought me into contact with a wide range of texts which somehow engaged with geography and ideas of the monstrous, and especially texts wich contained some inclusion of the story of Gog and Magog. (I here refrain from using the term "legend", largely because to scholars in the Middle Ages, Gog and Magog were part of historical - and theological - reality.)

Gog and Magog entered the historical awareness of medieval scholars through the Bible, and have become synonymous with forces of destruction and evil. The names first appear in Ezekiel (38-39) where Gog, king of the land Magog, will be unleashed from the north as punishment for the iniquities of the Israelites. The situation of Magog to the north also tied this vision in with the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah where the north is likewise presented as a house of evil forces. Although Gog and Magog are not featured in either Isaiah or Jeremiah, they nonetheless contribute to the same biblical typology of the north. In the Revelation of Saint John (19:11-21:8), however, Gog and Magog reappear, this time as two separate persons and allies of Satan in the battle at the end of days.


Jeremiah and the vision of the cauldron
Bourges - BM - ms. 0003, f.196v, Bible, last quarter of the twelfth century, Central France
Courtesy of enluminures.culture.fr


One of the several texts with which I became engaged in my research for this article was the Apocalypse of the so-called Pseudo-Methodius. This work of prophetic historiography was originally written in Syriac by an anonymous author situated somewhere northwest of Mosul, a location based on the Syriac preface where it says that Saint Methodius received the vision disseminated in the book on a mountain in this area (Garstad 2012: viii). The attribution of the Apocalypse to Methodius of Olympus is difficult to explain but of great significance in one respect, namely the book's function as a prophectic writ. Saint Methodius, reportedly bishop of Tyre, is said to have been martyred in 311 according to Jerome. That Methodius could have written the book is impossible, as it has been dated to around 690, and since it was written not far from Mosul in today's Iraq. Impossible though it be, the attribution of the authorship to such an important and historic figure as Methodius serves perhaps first of all to give weight to this book's value as a prophecy. After all, it purports to have been written almost four hundred years before the times of the book's first readers. For this reason, the anonymous author has been eternized as Pseudo-Methodius.

The Apocalypse was written in response to the political situation of the time. The area around Mosul had earlier in the century been conquered and was under Muslim overlordship by the time the book was written. By the beginning of the 690s, the Muslim government increased their taxation of the Christian communities, and this resulted in conversion to Islam, or apostasy from the Christian faith as was how the author would have seen it. Apostasy is one of the signs of the end times in biblical chiliastic typology, and throughout the Apocalypse this point is emphasized by references to 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (Garstad 2012: ix). In short, the Apocalypse is a work of historical exegesis which presents the Muslims, referred to as Ishmaelites, as a sign of the beginning of the endtimes, and which chastises those who converted to Islam from Christianity as the apostates whose apostasy confirmed the role of the Ishmaelites as the heralds of the apocalypse.


Alexander enclosing the nations in the north
BL MS Harley 4979, f.47, prose Roman d'Alexandre, the Netherlands, 1st quarter of the 14th century
Courtesy of British Library

The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius was translated into Greek and Latin within fifty years of its composition, and in those languages the book spread to Byzantium and Europe. Among the works it affected was the so-called Primary Chronicle of Novgorod, a monastic chronicle written at the monastery of Caves in the first quarter of the twelfth century. In this chronicle, an extract from the Apocalypse was included, having possibly made its way to Novgorod via an Old Slavonic translation. The extract included in the Primary Chronicle concerns the unclean nations to the north which, according to Pseudo-Methodius, had been enclosed behind a great wall by Alexander the Great when he beheld how filthy their habits were (Lunde and Stone 2012: 180-81). Among these nations were, unsurprisingly, Gog and Magog. This combination of the story of Alexander's Wall with the nations of the north so familiar to the Abrahamic religions is not a novel feature in the Apocalypse, it can already be glimpsed in the Quranic story of D'hul Quarnayn, but it has no doubt popularized the conflation and helped bringing its imagery to new audiences, as evidenced by the inclusion of the story in the Primary Chronicle.

The story of the enclosed nations is found in chapter eight of the Apocalypse, and is one of the longest chapters in the book. It begins by recording Alexander's heritage, being - according to Pseudo-Methodius - born of the Ethiopian princess Chouseth and King Philip of Macedonia. After Alexander's victory over Darius, he sojourned to the "Country of the Son" where he encountered the sons of Japheth, son of Noah. The nations descending from Japheth were found abominable by Alexander and he was repulsed by their unclean, cadaverous diet, and out of fear that they would "pollute the whole earth" and, most importantly, the Holy Land, he sought aid from God and then began to round up the sons of Japheth and drive them into the north. Pseudo-Methodius says:

And he drove tehm out of the land of th dawn and pursud close behind them, until they were brought into the lands beyond the North, and there is neither a way in nor a way out for them from east to west, through which one might come in to them or might go out. (Garstad 2012: 25)

Alexander then prays to God for help again, and God makes two mountains move closer together, so that the passage between them is small enough to be covered with a gate. This gate is made of brass and covered with a material, asyncite, seemingly Pseudo-Methodius' own invention (Garstad 2012: 339, n. 20),  that resists fire and iron. When the wall was finished:

So these accursed, false, and foul nations employed all kinds of magical intrigues, and in these things he [Alexander] rendered their sordid and inhuman, or to put it more strongly, godless sorcery ineffectual, so that they were not able by fire or iron or any other device to force open gates such as these and make their escape. (Garstad 2012: 27)

Among these nations are Gog and Magog, and by a reference to the prophecy of Ezekiel, Pseudo-Methodius states that they will break free from their enclosure at the end of times.


Alexander fighting dragons and firebreathing, horse-headed men
BL MS Royal 20 A V, f.73 Roman d'Alexandre, first quarter of 14th century, French
Courtesy of British Library


Among the nations of the north, there are both historical peoples such as the Sarmatians and the Alans, but also the mythical Dogheads. The Ishmaelites, however, are not found in this monstrous catalogue, and therefore serve a different role in the apocalyptic drama of the latter days than Gog and Magog. Pseudo-Methodius records that the Ishmaelites emerged from the desert of Yathrib, i.e. the Arabian peninsula, and this is of course in keeping with the first spread of Islam, and we are reminded that what the Apocalypse does is to weave historical events into a tapestry whose ending has been foretold in the Bible. Consequently, the role of the Ishmaelites is not to emerge onto the world at the endtimes, but to facilitate the emerging of Satan and the nations of the north and thus usher in the Apocalypse. This should be understood as a reference to the Muslim government, under whose rule many Christians converted to Islam and thus committed the apostasy of which Paul spoke in 2 Thessalonians. This also partly explains why the biblical intertextuality of the Apocalypse is as curiously selective as it is, with no reference to Revelation, and with an emphasis on the brief prophectic extract from 2 Thessalonians described above.

Nonethelss, the nations of the north will emerge in the end. Pseudo-Methodius describes how the oppression by the Ishmaelites will be overturned and things will resume their happy state once more. This happiness, however, will then be followed by this:

 Then the gates of the North will be opened up and out will come the powers of the nations which were enclosed within, and the whole earth will reel from their face and men will cry aloud and flee and hide themselves in the mountains and in the caves and among the gravestones. And they will be deadened with fear and many will perish and there will be none to bury their bodies. (Garstad 2012: 61-63)

Of course, in the end the nations of the north and Lucifer will alike be vanquished, and Pseudo-Methodius identifies the champion of Christianity as Rome. This is the Rome that descended from the kings of Ethiopia, according to a novel historical twist brought into the story by Pseudo-Methodius. As mentioned above, Alexander the Great was descended from the Ethiopian royal house by way of his mother Chouseth, the king's daughter. After Alexander's death, however, Chouseth married one of Alexander's general and bore him a daughter, Byzantia. Byzantia then became the mother of three sons, each of whom became the leader of an important city: Alexandria, Byzantium, and Rome. Therefore, the future leader of Rome will be a new Alexander, the antitype in the typology of history, and just as the half-Ethiopian conquerer enclosed the nations in the past, so will Rome, descendants of the Ethiopian kingdom, enclose the the nations at the end of the world. In this way, Pseudo-Methodius tells us, we see a fulfillment of Psalm 68:31, "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God".

The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius is a fascinating little work, and it is fascinating for many reasons. When I was working on my article, it provided me with a terrific, and horrific, example of how the typology of the north inherited both from the biblical and the Graeco-Roman cultures could be used in a specific context. I also came to better understand how that use could travel beyond its initial context and still carry meaning, all thanks to the spread of the typology handed down through the Bible and also the Graeco-Roman traditions that influenced the Alexander legends.


Bibliography


Anonymous, The Primary Chronicle, translated extract in Lunde, Paul, and Stone, Caroline, Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness - Arab Travellers in the Far North, Penguin Books, 2012: 180-81

Garstad, Benjamin, introduction to The Apocalypse fo Pseudo-Methodius, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 2012

Pseudo-Methodius, The Apocalypse, edited and translated from its Greek version by Benjamin Garstad, Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 2012