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

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.