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

mandag 12. mars 2018

Working with liturgical manuscripts, part 10 - Breviary or Missal?

One of the primary tasks of my research of the fragments at Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, is to assess - as far as possible - what type of books these fragments once belonged to. This is sometimes a frustratingly difficult question, as there is a wide variety of books used for the various liturgical services. As I have mentioned in a previous blogpost, there are some books that contain material for the mass, such as graduals and missals, and books that contain material for the office, such as breviaries and antiphonaries. With some fragments it is easy enough to assess whether a fragment belongs to the office or the mass, as there are some types of chants that are used exclusively for one type of celebration. In other cases, however, the fragment simply does not contain enough information to be certain. For instance, although text types such as antiphons and responsories are primarily chants belonging to the office cycle, they do also appear in masses.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

One such challenge was posed by the fragment shown above, an apparently single-column folio page with water damage and wormholes. Rubrics and some chants made it easy enough to ascertain that the fragment contains texts for the feasts of the birthday of John the Baptist (June 23) and the feast of Peter and Paul (June 29). Due to the large script of the fragment, the page does not contain much information despite its size, and what does appear are texts that are in some cases too general to allow for any conclusion as to whether fragment comes from a missal or from a breviary (or any of the other options). This question was also made difficult by the fact that I was for a long time working only from pictures, and it was not until relatively recently that I had a chance to see the fragment for myself and take a few pictures of my own. 

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

It was then that the question could be answered. I had taken a few pictures but without paying very much attention to the fragment itself, because I had other priorities at the time. But when I had uploaded my pictures and as I was looking through them, I noticed that the texts for the vigil were easier to read than I had thought, and I could even make out a few of the incipits. I also saw that one rubric that I had failed to identified earlier could be read as GR, a responsory for the gradual, a type of chant uniquely belonging to the missal (as seen below just before the blue A). I looked further at the texts for the vigil, and I was able to make out indications for the offertorium, another chant exclusively for the mass, and then a "co" which belongs to the communion, also only found in the celebration of the mass.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

It turned out that the answers had been there all along, and I only needed to come closer to the fragment to take some more detailed pictures. It also reminded me how necessary it is to continuously return to the fragments to check and check again, because there are sometimes details that are unclear or difficult to identify at first, but which can appear more clearly the second or third time around. One reason for this hermeneutics of fragments, as it were, is due to a very basic but very important point: In some fragments, certain items might be difficult to identify, especially if you have not encountered them before. Later on, however, as one progresses in the studies of other fragments, one might come across this item in such a condition that it can be identified with greater ease, and it is then possible to return to earlier investigations and fill in the gaps. This is why I have been working on around thirteen different fragments over and over again for four months.

tirsdag 27. februar 2018

Dies Irae - by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

It is a near-quotidian occurrence here at work, that at the beginning of sunset the great flocks of crows and jackdaws and rooks that inhabit the woods and fields around the university rise up in their entire numbers and seem to wage war on one another. I caught this image of them as they were flying across the campus buildings, and it appears as if they are rising out of the very earth itself. There is always a certain apocalyptic undercurrent, despite its daily repetition, and it also gives me a very good excuse to present to you the poem Dies Irae by Barbadian poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite, printed in his 1983 poetry collection Third World Poems.

Dies Irae

Dies irae dreadful day
when the world shall pass away
so the priests and shomen say

what gaunt phantoms shall affront me
mi lai sharpville wounded knee
arthur kissorcallatme

to what judgement meekly led
shall men gather trumpeted
by Louis Armstrong from the dead

life and death shall here be voice
less rising from their moist
interment hoist-

ing all their flags before them
poniard poison rocket bomb
nations of the earth shall come

and his record page on page
forever building he shall scan and give each age
sentences of righteous rage

if the pious then shall shake me
what reply can merchants make me
what defences can they fake?

mighty and majestic god-
head saviour of the broken herd
grant me mercy at thy word

day of fire dreadful day
day for which all sufferers pray
grant me vengeance with thy sword

søndag 25. februar 2018

Working with liturgical manuscripts, part 9 - Terribilis est locus iste

One of the many challenges of working with liturgical sources - not only fragments but also complete survivals - is the condensation of information that takes place on the liturgical page. Books containing liturgical material were intended to provide the texts for a wide range of feasts with various degrees of completion. Certain types of books contained only certain chants, such as the antiphonary, so named for its predominant focus on the antiphons, a text sung before and/or after the psalms and, in the case of a saint's feast, often containing material specific to the saint of the day. In other cases, books that contained several types of texts, such as breviaries, could be divided so that one breviary contained the material for the summer season and the other contained the material for the winter season.

Another type of challenge that comes with the compression of information on the liturgical page, is to be able to identify a text when the only identifying feaure is the first word, the so-called incipit. Thanks to the work of numerous academics, there are great databases in place to help identifying chants, such as and Even when the chant is identified, however, there sometimes remains a question of the chant's intertextuality: What does the chant point to, what texts are it meant to invoke?

RARA Musik M 4
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

One example of such intertextuality can be found in the fragment RARA Musik M 4, as seen above. The picture shows a section from the office for the feast of the dedication of a church. This was a feast held on the anniversary of the church's dedication, and the date itself therefore varies from church to church, but the texts were for the most part common to all Latin churches.

The picture shows a responsory, a text which follows the lesson and serves as a response to the theme of the lesson, hence the name. Only the incipit is recorded, but this is also all that is needed, as this is a case of biblical intertextuality that would be well known to most of the literate members of the clerical community. The incipit refers to the exclamation of Jacob after he has wrestled the angel in Genesis 28:17, saying "terribilis est, inquit, locus iste, non est hic aliud nisi domus Dei, et porta caeli", which in the Douay-Rheims edition is translated as: "he said: How terrible is this place! this is no other but the house of God and the gate of heaven". Jacob then takes the stone that served as his pillow during the night, sets it erects, pours oil on it, and renames the place Bethel (previously called Luza).

This quotation should also indicate very clearly why this text is used in chant for the feast of the dedication of a church: When Jacob utters his exclamation, he locates on earth a locality that serves as the house of God, a place where the divine presence is particularly strongly felt. In Christianity, the church is exactly such a place, a house of God where mankind can more easily contemplate and become aware of God and the divine mystery. In this way, Jacob's words, as well as his dedication of Bethel onto God, becomes a typological forerunner for every single church in Christendom, and in singing the responsory Terribilis est, the clerical community binds its own church typologically to Bethel, to the proto-church of the Old Testament, and in this way makes itself a part of the long history of Christendom.

torsdag 22. februar 2018

Working with liturgical fragments, part 8 - The case of the blindingly obvious

RARA K 248
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

When working with medieval fragments, difficulties present themselves in many different forms. The main problem tends to be a lack of information, which is the nature of fragments. Other times, the problem can be to assess the information that is actually there, either because of the state of the fragment or one's own inexperience, or both. Yet other times, there can be a combination of these two, as is the case for the fragment I'm currently working on, as shown above.

This fragment is from a missal, which can be made clear from the red letters on the left-hand column say "Off", meaning "offertory", which is a part of the mass. The fragment is also badly worn, and the letters have in many cases vanished or can only be identified with limited certainty, which means that for the most part I only have a handful of words from each section of the page from which to attempt an identification. Well, a handful is an exaggeration, because in most cases I do not have even five words from which to start.

I struggled for a long time with the text in the above picture, slowly identifying individual letters, marking them down on print-outs of pictures showing the section in question, and trying to find enough material to put through the relevant databases in hope that something would come out of it. It took me a long time, but I was finally able to identify the words "Surge et", "rise and". This was not very much to go on, especially since the word "et" is so common as to provide numerous useless results in any search query. But I knew at least that the sentence started with "surge", and I had an inkling that the text might belong to the text further down on the column. This inkling might seem as a no-brainer but when you look at the way the fragment is used to bind the book, you see that the spine is quite thick and creates an artificial break in the column itself.  

RARA K 284
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

As stated, I suspected that the text on the one cover might be connected somehow with the text on the other cover. Since I had already managed to identify the text on the other cover as belonging to the Book of Jonah, I thought that this might be the case with the text I was then working on as well. This proved to be true, and I also discovered that not only was the text connected, it was one and the same section of the fragment, running across the spine and connecting both the covers with the opening of chapter 3 of the Book of Jonah. I was elated. Both because I had finally managed to solve a rather pernicious puzzle, but also because having the text run all the way down the surviving part of the text column meant that those lines which were worn away, especially on the folds of the spine, could reasonably be filled in or reconstructed from the Book of Jonah. This in turn meant that I did not run the risk of having a single, recalcitrant, truculent line from some minor section that could not be identified.

After the excitement had abated somewhat - but only somewhat - I looked through some of the pictures I had taken, and some of the excitement started to fade because now that I had solved the puzzle, the solution seemed very clear, the letters did not seem as worn as I first had thought. And then, finally, I noticed that me identifying this text as belonging to the Book of Jonah was as unimpressive and as un-miraculous as you could possibly get. For right above the beginning of the passage from the Book of Jonah, four red letters clearly indicated "ione", Jonah, showing that if I had been more aware I would have gone to the Book of Jonah right away. I had seen those letters during my research, but I had failed to understand them, simply due to a lack of experience. I had never come across  such an indication before, and I did not know that this was done. In this way, my difficulty consisted both of lacking material - such as lacking a vast amount of the letters - and also lacking experience, not being able to read the information that was actually on the page, until after it was all sorted.

I am now prepared for another rubric indicating that the text is taken from the Book of Jonah, but I somehow suspect that if I see an indication for another biblical book, I might overlook it for the same reason I overlooked the rubric in RARA K 284.

mandag 19. februar 2018

Working with liturgical fragments, part 7 - A minor breakthrough

The world of medieval fragments can be an immensely small world sometimes, with very narrow confines for what is at all possible, and for how far you can go and how much information can possibly be found. Sometimes this can be frustrating, and sometimes this frustration comes from the tantalising possibility that there might just be enough of a clue to solve the entire riddle with only one piece of information that stands out and that makes it possible to pin some sort of identification on the fragment in question. Such breakthroughs do happen more often than one might fear, and they are always frightfully rewarding, no matter the size of the ground that has just been gained.

I recently had one such minor breakthrough, and it was a great relief to be able to solve yet one more clue and fill in one more tiny scrap of information.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek 534.11

The fragment that yielded this minor breakthrough belongs to the book shown above, the so-called Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek 534.11, which is a seventeenth-century herbal by the German doctor and herbalist Jakob Dieter (1522-90), also known by his nome de plume Tabernaemontanus. As can be seen above, the massive book has yielded seven tiny little fragment strips, some of which have been identified, some of which are still very far from being identified. In a previous blogpost I presented one of these seven fragments, found on the top of the spine and containing text from a sequence for the mass of Saint Stephen (December 26).

The fragment on the top of the spine was easy to read and consequently easy to identify. The fragment on the bottom of the spine, however, was much more difficult as many of the letters were obscured by pieces of string that had fastened to the vellum and made parts of the words illegible. Even though I was able to read some of the letters, it remained very difficult to assess how the word was written in full, which is always essential when dealing with Latin, as a search in the databases can yield very different results. For instance, as seen above, it was possible to make out the letters "gaudi", but it was difficult to say whether it should be "gaudia" or "gaudie" (which is the medieval spelling of "gaudiae").

Fortunately, however, there was one single word which was written in full: "baratra", meaning depth or abyss, and often used as a synonym for hell. I was very excited about this find, I typed it into the database - and nothing at all came out of it. This came as a bit of a shock to me, because even though I'm used to not finding the texts I'm looking for even though I have at least one complete word to go by, I thought "baratra" would be sufficiently special to make it possible to track it down. No such luck.

After a while, however, it dawned on me that the database I'm relying on, the CANTUS index, is notoriously unwilling to accept medieval Latin spelling, and I then remembered that in classical Latin "baratra" is spelled with an h, "barathra". I tried again, and I was immensely happy to find that not only could the chant be identified, it also belonged to the same text as the fragment on the top of the spine: It belonged to a sequence for the mass of Saint Stephen, and it came from the very same page and belonged even to the same section, as only three and a half words separated the text of the first fragment with the text of the second fragment. I was elated at this, as it allowed me not only to identify yet another of the seven fragments, but also to reconstruct more fully a small portion of the original book as there were now two fragments from the same page.

A minor breakthrough, but one that made all other dead ends completely worthwhile.

onsdag 31. januar 2018

From an elegy by Nicolás Guillén

In a previous blogpost, I talked about my excitement in discovering that I could read a collection of poems by Octavio Paz in Spanish, only relying on an English translation for the odd word I did not know. Incited by this literary triumph, I decided to venture further into Latin-American poetry, and while searching for poets from Cuba I found the name Nicolás Guillén (1902-89) and found, to my delight, that there existed a dual-language edition of one of his works. The work in question is the poem "En algún sitio de la primavera: Elegía", a poem in fifteen parts that was made public shortly after Guillén's death, and edited with a facing-page translation by Keith Ellis in 1994. It was a pleasure to read this poem, and although it was more difficult than the shorter sentences in Paz' work, I felt able to enjoy it in its original language, which heightened the enjoyment significantly. In the present blogpost, I give you one of the poem's fifteen parts plus translation, taken from Ellis' edition from 1994, titled New Love Poetry and published by University of Toronto Press.

En algún sitio de la primavera: Elegía


La forma de la muerte no es una calavera.
Es tu ausencia
como una llanura calcinada.
Una llanura a sol y fuego por el día,
reverberante y sin un árbol.
Una llanura damasquinada por la Luna,
una extensión metálica
en la frialdad nocturna.

Si grito, no me oyen.
Si llamo, nadie viene.
En qué planta estoy viviendo?
Ah dios, si lo supiera!
Estoy muerto,
tendid al sol y al cielo,
un cadáber sin ojos
picoteado de pájaros.

Me oyes, me estás oyendo?
Ayer no más, el mismo,
el tuyo para siempre.

Ni aun el viento.

In Some Springtime Place: Elegy

(translated by Keith Ellis)


The form of death is not a skull.
It is your absence
like a scorched plain.
A plain burned by sun and fire by day,
shimmering and treeless.
A plain
mottled by the Moon,
a metallic expanse
in the nocturnal cold.

If I shout, they don't hear me.
If I call, nobody comes.
What planet am I living on?
Oh God, if I only knew!
I am dead,
laid out under sun and sky,
an eyeless corpse,
picked over by birds.

Do you hear me, are you hearing me?
Only yesterday, hte same,
yours forever

Not even the wind.

tirsdag 30. januar 2018

Working with liturgical manuscripts, part 6 - Penmanship practice from pages past

As mentioned in previous blogposts, I'm currently engaged in a projects researching manuscript fragments in bindings from a book collection formerly at Herlufsholm School at Næstved, and purchased by the university library of University of Southern Denmark in 1968. In these relics there are many little details that provide interesting and curious glimpses of the past lives who have at various points been engaged with these books, either with the manuscripts before they were cut up for binding, or with the books in their manuscript bindings. One such case is Jacob, presumably a young boy who studied at Herlufsholm School (founded in 1565 and treated more extensively here), who seems to have practiced his penmanship, and his Latin, in a scrap of residual vellum on the inside of the covers of one of these books.

Inside of the back cover
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek RARA Musik L 43

The book in question is a booklet of musical notation and lyrics by various composers, and its estimated date of print is sometime in the 1580s. It is one of several collections of songs that were kept at the school. We do not, to my knowledge, know how these books were used in the the study of music, whether they were handed out to students or not, but it is clear that young Jacob did have this book in his possession for long enough - and sufficiently out of sight - for him to practice writing his name, first in Latin and then in Danish, both of which were presumably taught at Herlufsholm.

Of Jacob nothing more is known to me at least, although I am sure his name can be located in school registers, and possibly also in other books throughout the collection, serving as evidence for his efforts to write his own name correctly in two languages.