Old Frisian Summer School 2023: a student’s perspective

This summer, Oxford hosted the third edition of the Old Frisian Summer School. After a successful first edition, which was held in 2019, and an online edition in 2021, the OFSS saw its return to Oxford. The OFSS is a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and is held once every two years in one of these historical university cities. Although this connection might not seem logical right away, both the Bodleian library in Oxford and the University Library in Groningen hold a considerable collection of Old Frisian manuscripts and both universities include departments in the field of Old Germanic and philology. This translates to the background of the participants of the OFSS: some being more advanced within the Old Germanic field, some new to the      field, yet      all being interested in what Old Frisian has to offer. A total of 35 participants travelled to Oxford, with English, Dutch, Czech, Danish, American and Chinese students (among others) being present. Meanwhile, for the first time, a handful of participants (14) attended the summer school online, following this edition from their homes elsewhere in the world, including Australia and the U.S.

OFSS: The programme

Dr Alex Kerkhof giving the second of three lectures on Old Frisian grammar

Dr Alex Kerkhof giving the second of three lectures on Old Frisian grammar

The summer school was structured with a couple of lectures taking place in the mornings and translation seminars in the afternoons. After the summer school was officially opened by organisers dr Johanneke Sytsema (Oxford) and mr. Anne Popkema MA (Groningen), dr Alex Kerkhof (Fryske Akademy, Leeuwarden) started the first of three lectures on Old Frisian grammar and its place within Old Germanic languages.  Old Frisian, an Ingveonic or North Sea Germanic language, bears close resemblance to Old English. Old Frisian used to be spoken in large areas along the current Dutch and German coasts, from the river Sincfal in the south to the river Weser in the east. All surviving manuscripts and text fragments originate from the Frisian lands east of the river Vlie and west of the river Weser. This includes nowadays East Frisia in Germany, the Dutch provinces of Groningen and, finally, Fryslân. The oldest manuscripts date back to the 12th century.

Historical range of Frisian-speaking areas. Note that there are still three Frisian-speaking areas; the province of Fryslân in the Netherlands, North Frisia in Germany and Saterland, also in Germany.

Historical range of Frisian-speaking areas. Note that there are still three Frisian-speaking areas; the province of Fryslân in the Netherlands, North Frisia in Germany and Saterland, also in Germany. URL link: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friezen_%28vroege_middeleeuwen%29#/media/Bestand:Frisians.png

Hilbert Vinkenoog in the Old Dining Hall of St. Edmund Hall on early medieval Anglo-Frisian connections

Hilbert Vinkenoog in the Old Dining Hall of St. Edmund Hall on early medieval Anglo-Frisian connections

The grammar lectures and translation seminars were alternated with lectures focusing on the sociohistorical background. Historian Hilbert Vinkenoog (known for his YouTube channel History with Hilbert) enlightened the audience on the Anglo-Frisian connections and Frisian settlements in early medieval England, explaining how the Frisians might even have had settlements on the Faroe Islands, taking part in a local feud. Local Faroese nursery rhymes still bear Frisian aspects in them! Prof. Andreas Deutsch (Heidelberg) delved into the place of Old Frisian law within the Old Germanic legal landscape, elaborating on the widely recorded Frisian fine registers. These fine registers entail large sets of different crimes and the fines that needed to be paid in order to compensate for these crimes. For example, if one were to cut off his neighbour’s ear, he or she would need to pay the neighbour a certain amount of money. The extensiveness and details of the Old Frisian fine registers makes them truly unique within the Old Germanic legal landscape.

Dr Rafael Pascual in the Taylorian Library on Germanic Philology

Dr Rafael Pascual in the Taylorian Library on Germanic Philology

On Wednesday, Dr Rafael Pascual (Oxford) gave a practical introduction into Germanic philology in the Taylorian Library, discussing various view on the Indo-European language tree and on related linguistic theories. Prof. Arjen Versloot (Amsterdam and Groningen) joined the summer school online, highlighting innovative research methods on determining the age of Old Frisian texts in Codex Unia, one example of a typical Old Frisian compilation between Old Frisian texts and manuscripts. Since the texts are mainly legal in nature, on Friday, Prof. Simon Horobin (Oxford) delved deeper into Old English and Old Frisian studies by Franciscus Junius (1591-1677), whose collection of various Old Frisian manuscripts is kept in the Bodleian Library.

Participants during the translation workshops in the Old Library of St. Edmund Hall

Participants during the translation workshops in the Old Library of St. Edmund Hall

The translation workshops increased in difficulty during the week: at the start, texts such as the Ten Commandments were translated, along with grammar assignments to familiarise participants with Old Frisian morphology and syntax. Although translating was the main focus during these seminars, other aspects of working with medieval texts and manuscripts were also highlighted. Making a critical edition out of a diplomatic edition from part of the early printing of the Freeska Londriucht, for example, proved not to be as easy as one would have thought.

 

Codex Aysma (ms. Junius 78) on display in the Weston Library

Codex Aysma (ms. Junius 78) on display in the Weston Library

While most of the OFSS took place in St. Edmund Hall, which accommodated most of the participants, the participants were also welcomed wholeheartedly in the Taylorian and Weston libraries for lectures, manuscript viewings and tours. In the Weston Library, two Old Frisian manuscripts were viewed (Codex Aysma and Codex Unia), which were originally brought to England in the 17th century by philologist Franciscus Junius. In addition, two copies of the incunabulum Freeska Londriucht also known as ‘Druk’ were also shown. Physically viewing these manuscripts was, perhaps, the highlight of the summer school, as it gave most participants a clearer view and example of what they had previously learned: how are manuscripts written and produced, why certain texts featured in it, how the manuscripts survived, who were their owners, and, most importantly, what exactly do the texts in the manuscript entail? In short, the manuscript viewing brought the content of the Old Frisian Summer School to life.

Old Frisian and Old English cognates

Old Frisian was taught in the context of other Old Germanic languages, especially Old English which with Old Frisian forms the Anglo-Frisian branch of West Germanic.  The tables below show some of the similarities. In the verb conjugation, the personal pronouns are very similar and the present tense endings are near-identical (far/faran).  The verb ‘to be’ had two stems in Old English. The Old Frisian paradigm shows stems correlating both to OE stems wessan and beon. Learning Old Frisian was an interesting experience for those who already knew some Old English.

Example of the present tense of some key verbs in Old Frisian and Old English

pronouns OFR/OE Wessa (to be) OFR wesan – beon (to be) OE Fara

(to go) OFR

Faran

(to go) OE

1st singular ic – ic bin eom – beo fare fare
2nd singular thu – þu bist eart – bist ferest færest
3rd singular hi – he is is – biþ fereth færeþ
1st plural wi – we sind sind – beoþ farath faraþ
2nd plural ji / jemman – ge/ye sind sind – beoþ farath faraþ
3rd plural hia – hie sind sind – beoþ farath faraþ

Example of  some Modern Frisian-English cognate nouns

Old Frisian Modern Frisian Modern English
Ku / ko Ko Cow
Jeft(e) Jefte Gift
Gren(e) Grien Green
Morn Moarn Morning
Hors Hynder Horse

A mix of academia, culture & leisure

The OFSS did not only provide its participants with the opportunity to delve deeper into this gem among Old Germanic languages, it also allowed for a unique glimpse into Oxford university life for those who had not experienced that before. In addition to the formal programme, tours of the Taylorian & Bodleian & St. Edmund Hall Libraries were hosted, to give participants an insight into the enormous variety of books and knowledge that are held there. Furthermore, a pub quiz on Monday, a Conference Dinner on Wednesday and punting on Saturday were the ‘icing on the cake’ of a week that was not only informative, insightful and fascinating, but also much fun. All kinds of participants, older and younger, with diverse backgrounds, interests and research fields met during this week in Oxford, paving the way for a very vibrant, valuable atmosphere, for interesting conversations and for new networks.

The 2023 Old Frisian Summer School participants before the Conference Dinner in St. Edmund Hall

The 2023 Old Frisian Summer School participants before the Conference Dinner in St. Edmund Hall

2025

As the past editions of the OFSS have proven to be successful, each with their own programme, content and with their own activities, the 2025 edition is the first one that will be held in Groningen in person. This new décor will make for a totally new experience, as Groningen is in the middle of the area that used to be Old Frisian speaking centuries ago. Manuscripts, both in Groningen and Leeuwarden, will be viewed and historically significant sites such as the Upstalsbam in Aurich (Germany), the Frisian and Groninger terpen (dwelling mounds) and the Frisian eleven cities will be within reach when the OFSS will take place at Groningen.

Further reading

To get a glimpse of what the OFSS2023 looked like, take a look at the after movie on our Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CvClS9FonDw/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA%3D%3D.

For more information on the 2019 edition of the OFSS, Old Frisian in general, and the connection between the University of Oxford and the University of Groningen, see Dr Johanneke Sytsema’s Taylorian Blog of September 2019 (https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylorian/2019/09/).

A link to the video about Frisians on the Faroe Islands on the History with Hilbert YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leUbHnnFoDk

References to the handbooks used in the OFSS

Hofmann, D. & A.T, Popkema (2008) : Altfriesisches Handwörtebuch. Heidelberg: Winter Verlag.

Bremmer, R.H. (2009) Introduction to Old Frisian: history, grammar, reader, glossary. Amsterdam/Philadelphia : John Benjamins.

 

Sierd Prins,
OFSS Conference assistant,
Groningen University

An exhibition of the Taylor Institution’s collection of Georges de Peyrebrune’s Works

Marie Martine, DPhil in Modern Languages (German and French)

Georges de Peyrebrune, Woman. Writer. Feminist is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution (Voltaire Room) from 12th October until 26th October. It showcases the Taylor’s unique collection of Georges de Peyrebrune’s works.

Georges de Peyrebrune was born Mathilde Marie Georgina Elisabeth de Peyrebrune Judicis on the 18th of April 1841 in the Dordogne as an illegitimate child. She marries at the age of 18 a man ten years older than her, and their marriage is an unhappy one. She starts publishing in regional journals soon after and goes to Paris after the 1870 war, at 30 years old. Despite her literary success, Georges de Peyrebrune will struggle all her life with money and will die in poverty, in 1917. This exhibition is a tribute to her work and feminist engagement.

Because of Peyrebrune having been forgotten and erased from the French literary canon, her works are difficult to access. The Taylor Institution’s collection of her works is therefore unique in the United Kingdom as it holds several first editions of Peyrebrune’s works, as well as a wide range of digitalized ones. In the exhibition, visitors can find first editions of her novels Gatienne (1882), Au Pied du mât (1899), and of the short story ‘Giselle’ (1892). It also shows the new editions of her most successful novel, Victoire la Rouge (1883, republished in 2020), De Fouillis-les-Oies à Paris. Odyssée burlesque (1878) and Jupiter et les bas-bleu (1894). The exhibition also showcases Sarah Bernhardt’s autobiography Ma Double vie (1907) and several texts by the decadent writer Rachilde, both contemporaries of Peyrebrune.

Why rediscover Georges de Peyrebrune today?

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Firstly, Georges de Peyrebrune’s trajectory tells us about what it means to be a woman and a writer in nineteenth-century France. Writers like George Sand and Madame de Staël, among others, have certainly paved the way for the next generation of women wanting to make a career out of writing; but men still reproach women to be too fragile and sentimental. Additionally, writing is seen as a distraction from women’s sole duty: motherhood. It is well-known that women of the time used different strategies to access the literary market: writing under a male pseudonym or using their husbands’ or fathers’ names, under initials, or anonymously. Peyrebrune chose the unisex name of ‘Georges’ that is derived from her birth name, Georgina, but which we can see as a tribute to many other women writers who chose the name George as well. These strategies, however, are limited: the Decadent writer, Barbey d’Aurevilly, claims he can ‘smell’ a woman writer from a book, because the feminine smell always betrays itself, even if the author used a male pseudonym. He uses the qualifier ‘bas-bleu’ to negatively designate women with literary ambitions, a name derived directly from the English ‘blue stockings’. For him and numerous of his contemporaries, women are physically incapable to write books comparable to those by men and are to be labelled as ‘hysterical’. This sexist discourse reveals male anxieties in fin-de-siècle France: not only did men worry about women getting out of their dedicated sphere, the household and motherhood, but they also worried about women writers becoming serious competitors on the literary market.

title page of RomanGeorges de Peyrebrune is aware of those discourses and she proudly reappropriates the term ‘bas-bleu’ to designate herself and her peers. She directly responds to those male anxieties in her play Jupiter et les Bas-bleu published in 1894, which has been republished by Jean-Paul Socard and Lydia de Haro Hernandez (displayed in the exhibition). In this comic play, she stages Emile Zola, one of the main literary figures of the time,  under the traits of Jupiter, posing as a judge putting her contemporaries on trial. Well-known women writers defend themselves in front of an ruthless judge who reject women’s ability to write on principle. The text ends with his definitive judgement: ‘elles n’enteront jamais à l’Académie !’. This is unfortunately true: the French Academy will only admit women as their members in 1980. Ironically, Zola himself will never get admitted either! What is interesting with this recently republished text is that Georges de Peyrebrune smartly mocks the anxieties of men writers fearing the competition from women. She debunks their pseudo-scientific arguments to justify women’s exclusion from public life and shows that the women of her generation have proven their ability to write.

It is also worth noting that Georges de Peyrebrune herself was awarded the prize of the Académie Française twice in her life, once in 1896 for Vers l’amour and another time in 1899 for Au pied du mât (displayed in the exhibition). This institutional recognition shows that she was read and appreciated by her contemporaries. Even if many best-sellers of any period have been forgotten and might not be interesting for us as contemporary readers, it is important to recognize that the erasure of women writers from our canon is complex and cannot be justified by saying that women’s writing was less qualitative and interesting than their male contemporaries’. Rediscovering Georges de Peyrebrune thus means rediscovering an author who was deeply aware of the contemporary discourses on femininity and authorship and who used literature to counter sexist ideas.

Secondly, Peyrebrune’s literary career gives us a glimpse of feminine and feminist literary networks of the Belle Epoque. Peyrebrune’s correspondence show that she stood in solidarity with other women writers and tried to build a literary network made of women. We unfortunately have few archives left from Georges de Peyrebrune, but some letters she received enable us to see how her contemporaries considered her as a generous mentor figure. For instance, in a letter from September 1912, Julia Daudet (the wife of the well-known writer Alphonse Daudet) asks Peyrebrune to support the publication of another woman writer. She writes: ‘Pourquoi favoriser toujours le travail masculin qui a toutes les chances, toutes les facilités ? […] Enfin je m’adresse à vous dont l’œuvre est toute généreuse et remarquable à tant de titres, dans un élan de justice féminine ou féministe, si vous aimez mieux’ (Why always favour men’s work which has all the chances, all the opportunities? […] I address you whose work is so generous and remarkable in so many ways, in a spirit of feminine or feminist justice, if you prefer). Here, Daudet reflects on the numerous opportunities given to men to get their works published and publicized, compared to the few women get. I also find her conscious choice of the word ‘feminist’ very telling: Peyrebrune’s ambition to have the value of women’s writing recognized as a feminist project. Daudet’s letter also demonstrates her confidence in Peyrebrune’s influence, highlighting that we are dealing with a respected and influential player on the literary market. Other letters from Georges de Peyrebrune’s correspondence show her as ready to help young writers by sharing her contacts within the publishing world and by giving them advice. One could think that in a society so hostile to women’s writing, the few who dared to publish would jealously protect their secret, but Georges de Peyrebrune was clearly a woman who valued other talents and strived to help other writers.

This work towards promoting women’s writing led Georges de Peyrebrune to be part of the first jury of the Prix de la Vie Heureuse. In 1904, several feminist and women intellectuals were tired to see that the prestigious Prix Goncourt was again given to a man despite the talent of a potential female candidate Myriam Harry with her novel La Conquête de Jérusalem. They thus decided to build their own literary prize to finally recognize and reward women’s talents, as well as encourage contacts among women writers. Among Georges de Peyrebrune, we find in the jury Anna de Noailles, Julia Daudet, Daniel Lesueur, Marcelle Tinayre, Gabrielle Réval, Séverine and Lucie Delarue-Maldrus all brilliant and influential writers of the time and well-established on the Parisian literary scene. This prize will become the Femina prize in 1917 and is still awarded today.

Her friendship with her contemporary, Rachilde, is also fascinating. Both women had opposite worldviews and ways to respond to literary trends of their time, but their literary ambitions brought them together. Both come from the Périgord and tried their luck as writers in Paris. At first, Georges de Peyrebrune appears as a mentor for the young Rachilde who tries to navigate the capital city and its literary circles. As she marries Alfred Valette, director of the influential journal Mercure de France, Rachilde gains more influence. It was now Georges de Peyrebrune’s turn to ask for Rachilde’s support through her literary critiques to publicize Peyrebrune’s new publications.

title page of "Une Décadente"Rachilde is known for being ‘the queen of the Decadents’ in fin-de-siècle France. She scandalized French audiences with her bold portraits of independent and sadistic heroines in her novels Monsieur Vénus (1889) and La Marquise de Sade (1887). Interestingly, she claimed loud and clear that she was not a feminist and often refused to be associated with other women writers, instead calling herself ‘homme de lettres’ (man of letters). Her pamphlet Pourquoi je ne suis pas féministe (1908 – a signed first edition is displayed in the exhibition) illustrates her anti-feminist stance, but this text could also be interpreted as a marketing move to make herself relevant. Georges de Peyrebrune, on the contrary, clearly revendicated to be a feminist, but her female characters can seem rather tame compared to the ones of Rachilde. Rachilde published several critiques of Georges de Peyrebrune’s novels in the Mercure de France and underlined her moralising tone. Georges de Peyrebrune makes Rachilde appear under fictional traits in the novel Une Décadente (The Decadent Woman – displayed in the exhibition) in which she criticizes the morbid values of the Decadents. A friendship between the two can thus seem quite surprising, but their letters (see Nelly Sanchez’s edition of Georges de Peyrebrune’s correspondence, Correspondance. De La Société des gens de lettres au jury du prix Vie heureuse from 2016) show that they shared worries and advice on how to navigate the Parisian literary circles, making for a true literary friendship.

Finally, Peyrebrune’s concern with sexual violence in her fiction makes her works strikingly relevant for readers today. In a letter from June 1886, addressed to Georges de Peyrebrune, Rachilde mentions the way sexual harassment is a banal occurrence for young women writers: ‘En bonne franchise, quand une femme de lettres n’est pas une catin il faut au moins qu’elle puisse avoir l’air de l’être et au fond vous ne pouvez pas trop me donner tort, vous qui connaissez notre siècle’ (To be perfectly frank, when a woman of letters is not a whore, she at least needs to look like one and you cannot really disagree with me, you know our century all too well). All have to deal with unwanted sexual advances from publishers and journalists and sometimes have to compromise to get published. Georges de Peyrebrune deals with this issue in Le Roman d’un bas-bleu (The novel of a Blue-Stockings, 1892) which tells the destiny of a young writer who falls into despair as she refuses to compromise her self-worth for literary success. This novel poignantly reflects the debates started by the #MeToo movement which unveiled the harassment and abuse faced by women, particularly in their professional lives. Already in the nineteenth century, Georges de Peyrebrune denounced this harassment and how it kept women from accessing the public sphere as equals to men. Her message strongly resonates with contemporary debates.

This is not the only aspect which makes Peyrebrune’s works worth rediscovering today: as you will see in the exhibition, Georges de Peyrebrune wrote across genres, always finding new styles to reflect sometimes with humor, other times with pathos, on issues of class, sexuality, and modernity. We hope this exhibition will encourage more readers to discover this fascinating figure of French literature whose versatile style and political messages deserve to be rediscovered today.

You can listen to the episode from the French History Podcast on Georges de Peyrebrune to learn more information on her trajectory as a woman writer in fin-de-siècle France: https://www.thefrenchhistorypodcast.com/rediscovering-georges-de-peyrebrune-by-marie-martine/

With many thanks to Nick Hearn, French Subject Librarian, Taylor Institution Library.

Languages, Literature, and Afterlives: Medieval Irish and Welsh Collections in the Taylor Library

This blog post and book display for June is a showcase of the library’s excellent range of books on medieval Wales and Ireland. To limit the vast number of books on the subject, we have chosen a small selection on the following three themes: languages, literature and afterlives.

Languages 

         

While Welsh and Irish are the obvious languages spoken in medieval Wales and Ireland, both cultures had many points of contact with other languages. After all, the precursor language to Welsh – British – was spoken in areas all across the island of Britain, not just where Wales is today, ranging from around southern Scotland right down to modern day Cornwall. This meant that, during the Roman rule of Britain and into the fifth century, many British speakers also spoke Latin. Some Latin loan-words still survive into today’s Welsh: for example, the word for ‘ship’ – llong – stems from the Latin navis longa. Thomas Charles-Edwards offers an excellent account of this mixing pot of languages in the early medieval period in chapters one and two of Wales and the Britons.

Ireland, by contrast, had a very different introduction to the Latin language. Ireland never came under the rule of the Roman Empire: thus, inhabitants of the island only began to learn Latin when they began to convert to Christianity, in order to read the vulgate Bible and celebrate the liturgy. Elva Johnston has carefully explored the tension between the use of the vernacular Irish language and Latin in Literacy and Identity in Early Medieval Ireland: for example, she places medieval Irish writing into context with continental rhetorical education, and explores the interdependence of literacy in the vernacular with literacy in Latin.

       

Interest in Latin was not solely linked to dealings with the Roman empire, nor to the Christian church. Two books in the Taylor’s collections exemplify Irish and Welsh authors’ complex engagement with texts and stories from classical antiquity. Brent Miles’ Heroic Saga and Classical Epic in Medieval Ireland explores how medieval Irish authors used classical epics as an interpretive lens or inspiration for their own vernacular literature. From a different angle, Paul Russell explores the engagement of medieval Welsh scribes and authors with one specific Roman author in his Reading Ovid in Medieval Wales.

       

Beyond Latin, several other languages were spoken and understood in medieval Wales and Ireland. In this display, we have taken Wales as a particular example. Borders and frontiers became more pronounced between Welsh speakers and English speakers in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as Welsh speakers had gradually become more confined to beyond the Severn river. While interactions between these groups are usually characterised as antagonistic, the first chapter of Lindy Brady’s Writing the Welsh borderlands in Anglo-Saxon England offers a more cooperative picture of this multi-lingual landscape. In it, she studies a charter drawn up by both Welsh and English speakers, who collaborated in order to tackle the problem of cattle theft in the eleventh century.

The collection of essays, The Welsh and the Medieval World: Travel Migration and Exile, offers a number of different angles onto medieval Wales’ connections to courts and peoples living across Europe. In particular, Gideon Brough’s chapter examines Welsh diplomacy with the French court in the medieval period, demonstrating that Welsh princes and military leaders were in direct contact with continental courts and kings, rather than being isolated from continental politics or using England as a sole intermediary.

Literature 

         

A rich literary corpus has survived from both medieval Ireland and Wales, and the Taylor boasts a wide collection of editions and studies of such texts. For those not immediately familiar with literature from these cultures, you may nevertheless have heard of two particularly notable prose tales: the Irish Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) and the Welsh Mabinogion. The Taylor holds several translations of both, but we have chosen one of each for this display. Thomas Kinsella’s edition is a classic version, with some beautiful ink illustrations by Louis Le Brocquy accompanying the text. Sioned Davies’s work is a translation of the eleven tales that make up the Welsh masterpiece known as the Mabinogion. Davies also includes a comprehensive introduction to medieval Welsh literature and the culture which gave rise to such stories in this book.

Some of the earliest poems in the Welsh language are preserved in monumental compilations, such as those in the Llyfr Taliesin (The Book of Taliesin). The poems in this manuscript have recently been translated and edited by Gwyneth Lewis and Rowan Williams in a beautiful edition for Penguin. You might have heard more about this particular collection of poems at this year’s O’Donnell Lecture, where Dr Rowan Williams spoke about ‘The Book of Taliesin: Welsh Identity and Poetic Identities’. Another very early Welsh poem is Y Gododdin (The Gododdin), a battle eulogy written by the early Welsh poet Aneirin. It has received a recent edition and translation by Gillian Clarke.

        

If you want to read beyond an edition of a text, the Taylor has copies of the most important studies of medieval Irish and Welsh literature. Ralph O’Connor’s The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel is a fantastic case-study in reading an Irish scél (saga or story), and provides an excellent foundation from which to read other such stories. Togail Bruidne Da Derga (earliest portion of the text written c. 1050-1100) concerns Conaire Mór, an Irish king who is doomed to contradict the increasingly impossible conditions of a curse (geis in Irish) laid upon him. This eventually results in his gruesome demise. Scholarly attention had previously focused on philological aspects of the text, or the sources standing behind it. By contrast, O’Connor advocates for reading Togail Bruidne as a literary creation in its own right, examining the structural coherence of the text as a whole.

Another study takes a more thematic approach to Irish literature: Mark Williams explores the literary portrayal of the remnants of Ireland’s pagan pantheon in Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth. Williams’ study is sweeping in its chronological range, and guides readers from the earliest original medieval Irish texts, through the late medieval and early modern period, and finishes by analysing their reworking of Irish deities in modern texts such as those by W. B. Yeats and James Joyce. If you have ever heard of some Irish divinities – like the dread war goddess, the Morrigan, or Mannanán mac Lir, the mysterious deity of the sea – but wanted to know more about how such figures actually appear in Irish literature, this is the book for you.

One of the most enigmatic texts connected to medieval Wales is the Latin De Gestis Britonum (On the Deeds of the Britons). It was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth (fl. early- to mid-twelfth century) at some point between 1123 and 1139. Geoffrey pretended that his work was a translation of a book he discovered in either Welsh or Breton into Latin. While Geoffrey drew upon some earlier works in medieval Latin or Welsh, scholars are now agreed that he creatively filled the gaps between such sources with his own fictional material. The De Gestis is credited with popularising the story of King Arthur across Europe: before Geoffrey, Arthur was only mentioned briefly in a handful of early medieval Welsh poems and texts, where he is presented as an idealised warrior figure. Geoffrey moulded this Welsh Arthur into a very different character, making him a king as well as a fierce military leader. To read more about Geoffrey’s text and the immense impact it had upon medieval European literature and beyond, you can read the excellent collection of essays in the Taylor’s copy of A Companion to Geoffrey of Monmouth, edited by Georgia Henley and Joshua Byron-Smith. The essays within range from the manuscript dissemination of the text, its connections to other Welsh and English historical writing, through to its reception in cultures as far spread from Iceland to Byzantium.

Afterlives

         

The languages and literature of medieval Wales and Ireland continued to capture the imagination of authors into the early modern period and beyond. One such fascinating, but poorly-read, author is Elis Gruffydd (c. 1490–c. 1552). Elis was born in Flintshire in Wales, but served as a soldier in the English army and eventually ended up living in the English garrison in Calais. What makes Elis unique is that he poured a vast amount of energy into writing his Chronicl y Wech Oesoedd (Chronicle of the Six Ages), an ambitious history of the world from its beginning to Elis’ own lifetime and one of the longest texts in the Welsh language. Elis’ eyewitness accounts in the second volume are particularly exciting, where he reveals an insider’s view of life in London under the Tudors, or life in the trenches as a soldier in Calais or across Europe. For example, he gleefully records gossip he heard from other Welsh speakers who worked as servants in Catherine of Aragon’s household. A rich tapestry of these stories has been translated this year by Patrick Ford, along with an excellent introduction to Elis’ life and times by Jerry Hunter, in Tales of Merlin, Arthur, and the magic arts: from the Welsh Chronicle of the six ages of the world.

Another important author from the Tudor period is John Prise. We encountered Geoffrey of Monmouth in the previous section of this blog post, but his influence continued well beyond the twelfth century. By the mid-1500s, many had begun to doubt the historical veracity of Geoffrey’s work. Yet, Prise enthusiastically believed in the events of the De Gestis, and produced the Historiae Britannicae Defensio (The Defence of the British History) in order to defend its contents. Prise’s Defensio saw some of the earliest analysis in print applied to medieval Welsh poetry: he quoted mentions of Arthur in such poems in an attempt to corroborate his historical existence (although, as we now know, Prise was sadly somewhat misguided). Prise was also the author of the earliest printed book in Welsh – Yny lhyvyr hwnn (In This Book). Ceri Davies offers an excellent biography of Prise in his edition of the Historiae Britannicae Defensio.

As we move further into the modern period, some readers were not content simply to peruse the canon of Irish and Welsh literature: they wished to add their own works to this corpus, and pretend that their creations were genuine medieval artifacts. The Taylor holds two excellent studies of such authors. First, a collection of essays edited by Geraint Jenkins – A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg – explores the life and works of Iolo Morganwg. He was most famous for founding the Welsh Eisteddfod, but he also forged a number of poems by Dafydd ap Gwilym, one of the most important medieval Welsh authors and a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. Second, Fiona Stafford’s The Sublime Savage: A Study of James MacPherson and the Poems of Ossian delves further into the biography of the Scotsman James MacPherson, who claimed to find a corpus of poetry written by Fionn Mac Cumaill’s son, Ossian, which he had actually written himself. Fionn was an important figure in Irish and Scottish fianna literature: you may have heard of Fionn through his anglicised name, Finn MacCool, or Ossian spelled as Oisín. Both MacPherson and Morganwg were genuinely talented poets in their own right, but shared an irresistible draw to the authority of their medieval predecessors.

      

Finally, the Taylor holds a number of volumes showcasing the influence of medieval Welsh and Irish literature on modern literature. We have chosen two books to exemplify this: first, Dimitra Fimi has examined the legacy of such stories in Celtic myth in contemporary children’s fantasy. In a different vein to an academic study, Matthew Francis has creatively re-translated and re-written the Mabinogion in a 2017 publication for Faber & Faber.

There are many more books on medieval Welsh and Irish culture and literature in the basement of the Taylor. We hope this small selection will inspire you to explore it further, if you haven’t done so already.

Jenyth Evans, Reader Services Supervisor, Bodleian Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library & DPhil Candidate, Faculty of English

With many thanks for additional bibliography and advice to Janet Foot, Celtic Subject Librarian, Taylor Institution Library

Bibliography

Aneirin. The Gododdin: Lament for the Fallen. Edited by Gillian Clarke, Faber & Faber, 2021.

Brady, Lindy. Writing the Welsh Borderlands in Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester University Press, 2017.

Charles-Edwards, Thomas. Wales and the Britons, 350-1064. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Davies, Sioned, editor. The Mabinogion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Fimi, Dimitra. Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Francis, Matthew. The Mabinogi. Faber & Faber, 2017.

Gruffydd, Elis. Tales of Merlin, Arthur, and the Magic Arts: From the Welsh Chronicle of the Six Ages of the World. Translated by Patrick K. Ford, introduction by Jerry Hunter, University of California Press, 2023.

Henley, Georgia, and Joshua Byron Smith, editors. A Companion to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Brill, 2020.

Jenkins, Geraint H., editor. A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg. University of Wales Press, 2005.

Johnston, Elva. Literacy and Identity in Early Medieval Ireland. Boydell & Brewer, 2013.

Kinsella, Thomas. The Táin. Illustrated by Louis Le Brocquy. Oxford University Press, 1970.

Lewis, Gwyneth, and Rowan Williams, translators. The Book of Taliesin: Poems of Warfare and Praise in an Enchanted Britain. Penguin Classics, 2019.

Miles, Brent. Heroic Saga and Classical Epic in Medieval Ireland. Boydell and Brewer Limited, 2012.

O’Connor, Ralph. The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel: Kingship and Narrative Artistry in a Mediaeval Irish Saga. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Prise, John. Historiae Britannicae Defensio: A Defence of the British History. Edited by Ceri Davies, Bodleian Library, 2015.

Russell, Paul. Reading Ovid in Medieval Wales. Ohio State University Press, 2017.

Skinner, Patricia. The Welsh and the Medieval World: Travel, Migration and Exile. University of Wales Press, 2018.

Stafford, Fiona J. The Sublime Savage: A Study of James MacPherson and the Poems of Ossian. Edinburgh University Press, 1988.

Williams, Mark. Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth. Princeton University Press, 2016.

Romanian in Oxford: Celebrating 10 Years of the Romanian Lectorate

Romanian in Oxford. An exhibition to mark ten years of the Romanian Lectorate. 15 May - 9 June 2023. Voltaire Room, Taylor Institution Library. Romanian in Oxford is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution Library from 15th May to 9th June 2023. It showcases the library collections and related research on Romanian language from the 19th century to the present day.

What is Romanian?

The clue is in the name. Romanian originates in the language of the Romans, namely Latin. It therefore is a Romance language, one that descends from the Latin of the Roman Empire, and this makes it a ‘sister’ of languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Occitan, French, Italian, Sardinian, and many other languages besides. Romanian is today the official language of Romania (and the mother tongue of 90% of its approximately 22 million inhabitants), and of Moldova, where it is the mother tongue of about three quarters of a population of 3.4 millions. Emigration has meant that it is also extensively spoken outside Romania.

Map of the Romance languages showing the geographical isolation of Romania.

Map of the Romance languages

This map of the Romance languages shows how geographically isolated Romanian is from its ‘sisters’. In fact, it has been isolated for well over a millennium. Unlike other Romance languages, Romanian has been subject to major influences from Slavonic, Hungarian, and Turkish, mainly in vocabulary. What has emerged is a language which is still demonstrably related to other Romance varieties, but whose sound system, grammar, and lexicon also display striking, sometimes mysterious, differences. We have relatively little evidence of the history of the language: the earliest documents in Romanian to have survived date only from around the turn of the sixteenth century. Moreover, Romanian was written in the Cyrillic, rather than Roman, alphabet until well into the nineteenth century.

Romanian is actually just the principal member of the ‘Daco-Romance’ branch of the Romance languages. This branch comprises four major sub- branches: the ‘Daco-Romanian’ dialects (to which standard Romanian belongs), and Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, and Istro-Romanian.

Map of Romania and neighbouring countries.

Map of Romania and neighbouring countries, with linguistic areas marked in red.

Aromanian probably split of from the rest of Daco-Romance before the 11th century, whilst Istro-Romanian and Megleno-Romanian seem to have become detached no earlier than the 13th. Istro-Romanian—the object of one of our major research interests in Oxford—is spoken in the north-eastern Istrian peninsula (in Croatia). The Aromanians are widespread in the Balkan area, particularly Albania, central and northern Greece and south-western North Macedonia. Megleno-Romanian has a few thousand speakers, settled in villages in northern Greece, and in Northern Macedonia.

Why is Romanian important?

There are multiple answers. One is academic. An understanding of the modern structure and historical development of the Romance languages — and, beyond that, understanding of what the Romance languages can tell us about the nature of language change generally—is not really possible unless we take Romanian into account alongside other Romance languages such as Italian, French, etc. In a memorable metaphor, the Swedish Romanianist Alf Lombard wrote (Le Verbe roumain 1954:1) [our translation]:

Any comparative enquiry that does not take Eastern Latinity into account is more or less pointless, or at any rate incomplete. Actually, it rather brings to mind a table for which the carpenter has been content to make just three legs rather than four—think of the three principal sister languages: French, Spanish, and Italian—leaving the fourth corner unsupported and worryingly unstable.

The study of Romanian is simply essential to doing Romance linguistics: otherwise, our ‘table’ is forever destined to be rickety and unreliable. Actually, Romanian already possesses a most impressive body of detailed descriptive linguistic studies assembled over the past 70 years, largely under the aegis of the Romanian Academy, by Romanian scholars. These are mainly written in Romanian and therefore not easily accessible internationally. The quality of the scholarship is extraordinarily high, yet too few linguistic scholars have appreciated it or made use of it.

Another reason why Romanian is important is ‘social’. The recent Census for England and Wales revealed that Romanian is now the third most widely spoken language after English and Polish. We can ill afford not to be curious about the language spoken by one of our most significant communities. Romanian is being spoken all around us, as a stroll through central Oxford with one’s ears open will confirm!

The top ten main languages spoken in England and Wales, excluding English (English or Welsh in Wales)

The top ten main languages spoken in England and Wales, excluding English (English or Welsh in Wales). Total usual resident population, aged three years and over, who speak each language as their main language, 2011 and 2021, England and Wales.

Total usual resident population, aged three years and over, who speak each language as their main language, 2011 and 2021, England and Wales.

Of course there are many other reasons why Romanian is important. Not least the fact that it is the language of a major European culture, with a literary tradition dating back to the sixteenth century but which is still little known outside Romania. Ignorance of Romania and Romanian is no longer excusable as a result of the historical isolation of the country and its culture.

How long has Romanian been studied in Oxford?

It’s hard to say how long Romanian has been of interest to Oxford scholars. Romanian is a Romance language, and the history of the Romance languages has been studied in Oxford since at least the late nineteenth century. By 1877, the University had realized the international importance of the historical and comparative study of the Romance languages (a subject already flourishing in the German-speaking world), and the proposal was made to establish a Professorship of the Romance Languages, although the Chair was not established until 1909.  It is fair to say that the main focus of interest of the first eight Professors of the Romance Languages throughout the 20th century was French, with other Romance languages receiving less attention and Romanian being neglected.

However, this does not mean that no attention was paid to Romanian. Several Oxford scholars took a lively academic interest in the language. One of these was Frank Barnett, Fellow in French at Trinity College from 1952 to 1986, who visited Romania, knew the language well, and encouraged his students to learn  the language and visit Romania. Among these students was John Charles Smith, later to become Fellow and Tutor in French Linguistics at St Catherine’s College and now Emeritus Fellow of the College, whose work displays a constant awareness of the importance of Romanian. For example, a forthcoming paper by Smith addresses the vexed question of why ‘Moldovan’ has historically been considered a different language from Romanian (they are not different languages, in fact!).

Another Oxford scholar who contributed to Romanian studies was Graham Mallinson, Lecturer in Linguistics in Oxford in the 1970s, who was the author of one of the first descriptions of the Romanian language in English (e.g., 1979 The History and Structure of Romanian and 1986 Rumanian. Mallinson was also the author of the article on Romanian in The World’s Major Languages (ed. B. Comrie), recently revised and updated (2018) by our lector in Romanian, Dr Oana Uță Bărbulescu.

The other  Oxford scholar to explore Romanian was Dr Tony Hurren, who in the late 1970s taught Linguistics at Wadham College. Hurren’s Oxford doctoral thesis focused not on standard Romanian (although he knew the language very well) but on one of the four major branches of Romanian, ‘Istro-Romanian’ spoken in modern Croatia. Hurren’s fieldwork, thesis, and publications have formed the basis of a major research project in Oxford in the past few years, the ISTROX project. Others, too, have published on Romanian, for example Margaret Renwick, a postdoctoral research associate and later postdoctoral researcher in Oxford, author of a work on Romanian phonology.

The current, and ninth, Professor of the Romance Languages, Martin Maiden, arrived in Oxford in 1996. He is the first holder of the Chair to develop a major research interest in the Romanian language and its history. Before he came to Oxford Romanian was not, however, a particular theme of his research. His interest in the language developed slowly, over many years, but began with an attempt to learn Romanian from a grammar book in his teens, at the height of the Cold War, when Romania was a distant, inaccessible, country. It seemed to Maiden that he was so unlikely ever to meet a native speaker of the language or even hear it spoken, and that Romanian was anyway so dauntingly difficult (he was quite wrong), that he decided that he might as well give up trying to learn it!  Many years later, however, in 1987, he took an opportunity to attend the month-long Curs de Vară (Summer Course) in Romanian language and culture organized annually by the Romanian authorities in Bucharest. (By the way, Oxford now sends students from Oxford almost every year on the continuant of this course).

In 2003 Maiden spent part of a sabbatical year in Romania exploring dialectological materials held by the Romanian Academy. This renewed acquaintance with the language encouraged him to take more account of it in his work on the comparative history of the Romance languages, and after his arrival in Oxford he published a number of articles focusing on aspects of the history of Romanian morphology (word structure), notably the highly complex systems of plural formation and nouns and of diminutive derivation.

The creation of the Lectorate in Romanian in Oxford: a revolution

A crucial moment in the study of Romanian in Oxford occurred in late 2010, when Maiden was contacted by the then Romanian Ambassador to London, H.E. Ion Jinga, who wanted to discuss ‘a proposal’. This turned out to be nothing less than an extraordinarily generous offer by the Romanian government to fund a lectorate in Romanian at Oxford, administered via Institutul Limbii Române (the Institute of the Romanian Language). The Lectorate, situated within Oxford’s Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics, commenced in October 2012, and the Lector sent to us from the University of Bucharest, Dr Oana Uță Bărbulescu, has had her mandate renewed ever since. Dr Uță is a specialist in Romanian language and linguistics and a member of Institutul de Studii Sud-Est Europene of the Romanian Academy.

The creation of the Lectorate was also marked in 2013 by a one-day conference Romanian in Oxford: language, culture, and history, supported by the Ertegün Foundation, and attended by scholars from Britain, the US, and Romania, including the late Prof. Marius Sala, one of the world’s foremost experts on Romanian and its dialects.

It is no exaggeration that the creation of the Lectorate revolutionized the study of Romanian in Oxford. First, it made it possible to provide weekly courses, open to any member of the University (students, postdoctoral researchers, lecturers, professors), in Romanian language, at beginners’, intermediate, and advanced levels. These courses have been enthusiastically attended, and they have also provided the basis for a specialist examination subject in Romanian language and linguistics, taught by the Lector in Romanian and Professor Maiden. This subject covers the Romanian language in its historical and cultural context, and major aspects of the structure and evolution of the Romanian language and dialects. We are pleased to report that half of the students who have taken the special option to date have achieved a First Class result.

Not only has the creation of the Lectorate enabled our students (and others) to learn Romanian and about Romania, but it has given a major impetus to research into the Romanian language and its structure and history. This work, mainly led by Professor Maiden, has yielded numerous results in the past ten years: we have produced over 40 publications on Romanian linguistics in refereed journals and volumes over the past 10 years. We have also published various studies designed to introduce general readers to Romanian, such as Maiden’s general introduction to Romanian grammar, an article which came out of a course on the Romanian language and its history held by Maiden in France in 2014.

In all this, we are immensely grateful for the presence of the Lector in Romanian, who has repeatedly been a major stimulus and source of advice, and has herself been very academically productive. These publications have also been the basis for over thirty lectures and presentations at international conferences. Romanian also occupies a prominent place in our research and publications on general Romance linguistics (e.g., the chapter on Romanian and related dialects in the Cambridge History of the Romance Languages (2016), or the OUP volume The Romance Verb (2018). This is one case where you can judge a book by its cover: the cover is an image from one of the earliest Romanian linguistic atlases, and it reflects the importance accorded to Romanian in the book, which is a comparative-historical study of Romance verb morphology.

Maiden, Martin. The Romance Verb : Morphomic Structure and Diachrony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Taylor Institution Library Shelfmark PC145.M35 MAI 2018

Maiden, Martin. The Romance Verb : Morphomic Structure and Diachrony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Taylor Institution Library Shelfmark PC145.M35 MAI 2018

The Bodleian Libraries support research into Romanian through their very good collection of works on the Romanian language, and their willingness to acquire new works in the subject. A major element in the research into Romanian linguistics conducted in Oxford has been the study of Romanian dialects, and a major source of information is the remarkably detailed collection of Romanian linguistic atlases. They have all been vital research tools and without them many of our recent publications would have been impossible.

Some of these atlases are displayed in the exhibition, ranging from Gustav Weigand’s Linguistischer Atlas de dacoromunischen Sprachgebietes (1909), the earliest Romanian linguistic atlas, through Atlasul lingvistic român: this was produced in the 1960s under the aegis of the Romanian Academy – which has also overseen the production of a major series of regional linguistic atlases. Atlasul lingvistic român pe regiuni: sinteza is a synoptic synthesis of many of the valuable data contained in those regional atlases. We also show Atlasul lingvistik moldovenesk, the linguistic atlas of (what was then) the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The atlas is published in Romanian but, as was normal at that period in Moldova, it is written in a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet, based on that used for Russian. All of the maps on display from these atlases show aspects of Romanian dialect verb morphology, a topic on which we have published a great deal of research in Oxford.

Equally important is our collection of dictionaries and grammars of the language, some going back to the mid nineteenth century, and an extensive range of works describing Romanian dialects. A magnificent example from the Bodleian’s collections of old manuscripts and books from Romanian is presented by Dr Cristina Neagu (Christ Church) on Digital.Bodleian.[1]

Fol. 006v from the Bodleian Library's MS. Canon. Gr. 122, 'Gospels of Gavril'. Image from Digital.Bodleian.

Fol. 006v from the Bodleian Library’s MS. Canon. Gr. 122, ‘Gospels of Gavril’. Image from Digital.Bodleian.

A recently completed doctoral dissertation (2022) by Constanța Burlacu (Medieval and Modern Languages, supervised by Martin Maiden and Ralph Cleminson) breaks new ground: Translation and Circulation of Romanian and Slavonic of Romanian and Slavonic biblical books in the Romanian lands: a textual analysis of the sixteenth century Apostolos and Psalter texts.[2]

Romanian linguistics and Oxford University Press

Our strong links with Romanian linguistic scholars are reflected in a number of recent publications with Oxford University Press. These works, subject to OUP’s extremely rigorous processes of peer-review and quality control, are giving a much greater international prominence to knowledge of the Romanian language and its history than has ever been possible before. They include:

The Grammar of Romanian. 2013 (G. Pană Dindelegan, ed.; consultant ed. M. Maiden)
Verb Movement and Clause Structure in Old Romanian. 2016 (V. Hill, G. Alboiu)
The Syntax of Old Romanian. 2016 (G. Pană Dindelegan, ed.; consultant editor M. Maiden)
Word Order and Parameter Change in Romanian. 2019 (A. Nicolae)
The Diachrony of Differential Object Marking in Romanian. 2021 (V. Hill, A. Mardale)
The Oxford History of Romanian Morphology. 2021 (jointly by M. Maiden, A. Dragomirescu, G. Pană Dindelegan, O, Uță Bărbulescu, R. Zafiu)

Several of these items are displayed in the exhibition.

A number of these are collaborative works between Oxford linguists and Romanian linguists. Among them is what is undoubtedly the most thorough description of Romanian grammar (The Grammar of Romanian) ever published in any language other than Romanian. The most recent publication is The Oxford History of Romanian Morphology a collaborative work led by Maiden and involving our Lector, Dr Uță Bărbulescu, and three other colleagues from the linguistics institute of the Romanian Academy.

The intellectual legacy of Tony Hurren and the ISTROX project

In the late 1960s the Oxford linguist Tony Hurren (1933-2006) studied the already highly endangered language which linguists call ‘Istro-Romanian’. It was spoken by only a few hundred people in the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia and today it is recognized by UNESCO as being severely endangered. The result was Hurren’s Oxford DPhil thesis on the language: A linguistic description of Istro-Rumanian,[3]and his Istro-Rumanian: a functionalist phonology and grammar.[4] Hurren also published an article on a remarkable facet of the Istro-Romanian verb system, its grammatical ‘aspect’ system.

In 2010, Tony Hurren’s widow, Mrs Vera Hurren, generously donated to the University over thirty hours of sound recordings made by her husband in the 1960s together with his field notebooks. She later gave us other material, including photographs from the fieldwork of the 1960s where Tony Hurren interviewed Istro-Romanian speakers, making recordings and taking notes of the language.

Since 2018 the Hurren donation has inspired new research into Istro-Romanian in Oxford, funded hitherto by Oxford’s John Fell Fund, PER Seed fund project, and TORCH Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund. In particular, we have conducted our own fieldwork on Istro-Romanian (some photos of our fieldwork are displayed). We have been exploring how this language has changed since the 1960s, and also traced how the population of speakers has dwindled over the past half-century, innovatively using online methods and social media to establish contacts with members of the speech community in émigré communities in the US and Australia.

Žejane, 2019. Visit to the ć family. Mrs ć, her older sister Mrs ć, and their families, met with us in their family home in Ž. Just over 50 years earlier, recorded both sisters, as well as their mother, Mrs ć who was 37 at the time.

Žejane, 2019. Visit to the Sanković family. Mrs Vesna Sanković, her older sister Mrs Laura Sanković, and their families, met with us in their family home in Žejane. Just over 50 years earlier, Tony Hurren recorded both sisters, as well as their mother, Mrs Maria Sanković who was 37 at the time.

Click here to listen to Vesna Sanković (‘Kljomina‘), 8 years old, as recorded by Tony Hurren in the 1960s.

You can hear further recordings of Istro-Romanian and read more about current research projects at the following pages:

All the materials associated with this project are preserved in the Oxford Research Archive.[5].

From 26 June to 24 August 2022, the ISTROX project and Hurren’s work was the subject of an exhibition (in English and Croatian) at the Lapidarium Museum in Novigrad, Croatia, entitled ISTROX 50 years of the Istro-Romanian Language: from the Oxford Hurren Collection to the ISTROX project. At the opening of the exhibition, many members of the surviving Istro-Romanian-speaking community attended – photographs below.

The Oxford tradition of research into Istro-Romanian is also now being carried forward by a doctoral student, Fabian Helmrich, who is working on a subject which also fascinated Hurren: the expression of ‘aspect’ in the Istro-Romanian verb system. Helmrich is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Maiden and Uță Bărbulescu are also involved, in collaboration with scholars at Universitatea de Vest in Timișoara, Romania, in editing and preparing for publication the fifth and final volume of P. Neiescu’s dictionary of the Istro-Romanian language, left unfinished when the author died in 2021.

Our work on Istro-Romanian in the diasporic community has earned such appreciation that one of its members, Mr Libero Soldatić, now resident in Australia, has generously endowed the annual Anton Soldatić and Antonija Soldatić (née Skalir) Memorial Prize, in memory of his parents, for the best piece of work by a student on Istro-Romanian or other languages of the Istrian peninsula.

The long-term aim of Oxford research into Istro-Romanian is to publish a comprehensive history of the language and its speakers.

Martin Maiden

Statutory Professor of the Romance Languages
Director, Research Centre for Romance Linguistics
Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics & Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages
Fellow of Trinity College
University of Oxford

Footnotes

[1]Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Canon. Gr. 122. Four Gospels (‘Gospels of Gavril’): https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/47dff5d9-d2a0-46a9-b28a-44f974aa1861/

[2] Burlacu, C. Translation and Circulation of Romanian and Slavonic Biblical Books in the Romanian Lands: a Textual Analysis of the Sixteenth Century Apostolos and Psalter Texts. University of Oxford, 2022. http://dx.doi.org/10.5287/ora-erej81xna

[3] Hurren, H.A. A Linguistic Description of Istro-Rumanian. University of Oxford, 1971. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:bfb29e35-e2b8-4613-97cf-3b62bdb6a1f6

[4]Hurren, H.A. Istro-Rumanian : A Functionalist Phonology and Grammar. Unpublished manuscript. Oxford, 1999.

[5]ISTROX Dataset. The Oxford University Hurren Donation and the Istro-Romanian language, 2021. http://dx.doi.org/10.5287/bodleian:GOrqZkzVJ

 

 

An example of Vytynanka, an ornamental decoration of a dwelling, which is cut out of paper (both white and coloured) .

Pioneering women in Ukraine

Text: Clara McGrane
Images: Olena Marchyshyna

Pioneering Women in Ukraine is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution Library from 25th January until 19th May 2023. It showcases the stories of fourteen women from Ukraine’s past and present.

Seven women, who were historically pioneers in their fields, are paired with seven contemporary trailblazers. Each pair is linked by a shared background such as activism, military service, medicine or education. All are connected by the important role they played in Ukrainian women’s history. The seven figures, with their different professions, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexual identities, provide a snapshot of Ukrainian society. However, the exhibition aims to be neither representative nor canon-shaping. Rather, it is positioned as just one amongst a range of projects promoting women’s achievements.

The exhibition is an outcome of a collaborative project, funded by the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, the University of St Andrews and Heinrich Boell Foundation, Ukraine.  Starting in 2020, this project was led by Dr Margarita Vaysman (School of Modern Languages, St Andrews) and her Ukraine-based collaborators: Dr Tamara Zlobina and Anna Dovgopol at Gender in Detail, a media platform that aims to promote the understanding of gender issues in Ukraine, and Dasha Nepochatova at Creative Women Space, a collective that provides a platform for projects that empower women.

This exhibition draws attention to the stereotypical ways in which women are portrayed in national histories and to general preconceptions that form as a result of this limited representation. Dasha Nepochatova, co-founder of Creative Women Space and the co-curator, along with Dr Vaysman, of the exhibition, emphasises that the team wanted to showcase the ‘complexity of these women’s lives’: their relationships, duties and achievements. The exhibition aims to make these women’s stories more widely known whilst championing different perspectives. According to Nepochatova, the power of this visible female representation is particularly important: ‘What can inspire women in Ukraine? Particularly those from very rural and poor villages. How can they believe in themselves? What can help them? I strongly believe that such stories, true stories, of women in the past who achieved great things and did so in spite of the challenges they faced are so important. It shows that if they did it, you can too.’

Each woman’s story is brought to life by the Ukrainian artist and graphic designer Olena Marchyshyna. Using the traditional paper-cutting method of vytynanka, Marchyshyna created individual portraits of the fourteen women to accompany their short biographies, also on display alongside the striking images. As Marchyshyna explains, she chose the vytynanka technique to reflect the project’s goal:

An example of Vytynanka, an ornamental decoration of a dwelling, which is cut out of paper (both white and coloured) . ‘Vytynanka is one of the traditional decorative arts in Ukraine. It first appeared in China, where people started to cut patterns from the moment when paper was invented. However, this idea came to us in the west in the mid-nineteenth century. Vytynanka is an ornamental decoration of a dwelling, which is cut out of paper (both white and coloured) using a knife or scissors. Vytynanka in Ukraine was used to decorate various corners of a home, such as windows, walls, shelves, etc. The idea of using vytynanka as a technique for working on the project was a team decision. I believe that this technique best emphasises the fact that women are sometimes “invisible”, and “unrepresented” in social life. It can be as difficult for women who “carved” new paths for themselves as it is to see a vytynanka on a blank sheet of paper. It requires illumination, manifestation, and highlighting of the silhouette to make it visible. The goal of this project was to highlight the important role of women in Ukraine by illuminating, highlighting, and displaying their stories.’

The use of vytynanka links each portrait, providing a sense of cohesion and connection. Yet, with their varied backgrounds and striking headshots that capture the spirit of their subjects, the portraits are noticeably individual, at the same time. This reflects Marchyshyna’s creative process: ‘It was an intriguing exploration for me, particularly when dealing with historical figures. I conducted extensive research in the archives, studied biographies of these women, and photographs (if available), to envision where the heroines lived, how they dressed, and what they might have liked. Afterwards, I selected the patterns that, I believed, would best accentuate their individual identities. With the contemporary heroines, I made sure that the images I chose personally appealed to them and accurately reflected their characters.’

The exhibition contains another, fifteenth portrait, titled ‘The Unknown Ukrainian Woman’. This image represents the exclusion of women’s experiences from Ukrainian history and emphasises the need to champion female voices. For Marchyshyna, creating this image

‘was the most difficult task, as I needed to reflect everyone in one image: my own generation of Ukrainian women, as well as our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. I wanted the heroine to have a direct, strong gaze, so that she would not forget her roots, that she is Ukrainian, proud of it, and that she can achieve her goals by walking her path with dignity and relying on the experience of many generations of Ukrainian women.’

Portrait, titled ‘The Unknown Ukrainian Woman’According to the curators, ‘Pioneering Women in Ukraine’ showcases women’s innovative contribution to Ukrainian history: ‘I’ve always connected this project with my story and my experience. I often wonder if somebody will remember us in one hundred years. I believe that it is our duty to find the story of women who came before us. We are a kind of pyramid. We are standing on the shoulders of each other. What we have right now – it is only because they worked so hard to get it for us. It is our duty to find their names, to dig them up and talk about them. Even if there is very little information. It’s very important. Without this, we can’t expect that future generations will remember us’, says Nepochatova.

After the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022, Dasha Nepochatova, Olena Marchyshyna, as well as many other Ukrainian women, were forced to leave their homes and have found refuge abroad. This exhibition is a small token of respect for these women’s continuous fortitude in the face of war, death, and destruction.

The Pioneering Women in Ukraine Exhibition has been produced with the financial and organisational support from St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and Barbara Costa, St Catherine’s college librarian, in 2022. We would also like to acknowledge the help of Elisabet Almunia (Bodleian Libraries Finance and Administration Officer), Matthew Smith (Taylor Institution Library Premises Supervisor) who put up the portraits so expertly and Dr Johanneke Sytsema (Linguistics and Dutch and Frisian subject specialist) who coordinates the Taylorian blog.  The exhibition is currently on loan to the Taylor Institution Library before it transfers to Scotland in autumn 2023. The digital version of this exhibition can be found here in Ukrainian and in English (translated by Dr Sasha Dovzhyk).

Manx in Oxford: Discoveries in the Taylorian Basement

The Taylor Institution Library is well known for its extensive research and teaching collections, which cover many major European languages, including French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Russian. However, if you spend time browsing the Taylor’s shelves, you might be surprised by sections of the collections dedicated to lesser-known languages.

I discovered one such section as I was procrastinating writing an essay on French literature during the final year of my undergraduate degree. My wanderings through the library took me to the Celtic section, located in the basement stacks. I picked my way through the shelves dedicated to Irish and Welsh for some time, until I landed on a section of works on Manx. This is the native language of the Isle of Man – called Gaelg or Gailck (pronounced “gilk”) by its speakers. As a speaker of this language and a resident of the Isle of Man, it was a joy for me to find this collection in my favourite library.

Unless you are a Celticist, or have an interest in endangered languages, it is likely that you have never heard of Manx. As its aforementioned autonym may suggest, this is a Gaelic language, closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and less closely related to the other Celtic languages – Welsh, Breton, and Cornish. Although Manx clearly derives from Old or Middle Irish, Manx is its own language, with its own associated history, literature, folklore, and music. Due to the influence of the Vikings, who settled extensively on Mann, a few modern Manx words are of Norse origin, e.g. skeeal (“story”).

Satellite Image of Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man).

Satellite Image of Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man). Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As was the case with many smaller languages, the number of Manx speakers slowly declined, especially from the 19th century onwards, in this case in favour of English. Manx is often regarded to have “died” in 1974, with the death of the so-called “last native speaker”, Ned Maddrell. Although the situation was dire for Manx, a small number of enthusiasts kept the language alive by learning and teaching it, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Manx Language pre-school Mooinjer Veggey (“Little People” – a reference to a traditional Manx euphemism for the fairy folk) and the Manx-Language primary school (Bunscoill Ghaelgagh). By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Manx language and culture revival movement had enjoyed some measure of success. As a result, according to the Isle of Man Government Census in 2011, around 1,800 people claimed to be able to speak, read, or write Manx, which amounts to around 2% of the Island’s population. This number has likely since increased. The language now has a stronger base amongst young people; Manx is present in the education system from ages 4-18, and it is often heard at cultural events.

The Taylorian’s collections hold a wealth of works on Manx, including books and journal articles on the language, its literature, and music, as well as language-learning materials. Readers can also access CDs, including the Manx Language Archive Recordings, which consist of recordings of elderly native speakers made in the mid-20th century. These recordings, made by researchers from the Irish Folklore Commission, are immensely important for linguists to know what the language sounded like prior to its revival.

If you can brave Manx’s slightly odd spelling, the Taylorian has all the resources you need to learn to speak a little of the language yourself. Harrison’s Manx Words gives examples of frequently-used vocabulary, while Cain’s Manx Phrases will help with the “please”s and “thank you”s. Stowell’s comprehensive Y Coorse Mooar (“The Big Course”) guides the reader through the language and provides learning exercises to test knowledge. For the more linguistically-minded, Draskau’s Practical Manx is an up-to-date guide to the rules of the language, complete with examples of attested and correct usage. Every language-learner will need to use a dictionary at some stage, and the Taylorian’s collection holds both Fargher’s English-Manx Dictionary and Cregeen’s Manx-English Dictionary, as well as Kneen’s English-Manx Pronouncing Dictionary; all essential tools for the solo language-learner.

Caption: Manx learning materials on the Taylorian’s New Books Display

Caption: Manx learning materials on the Taylorian’s New Books Display.     Image Credit: Erin McNulty

Those interested in the academic study of the language may also wish to read the work of early scholars, such as Sir John Rhys, who wrote extensively on the philology of the Celtic languages. Rhys, the first Professor of Celtic at the University of Oxford, was one of the first academics to devote serious study to the Manx language. His 1894 work, The Outlines of the Phonology of Manx Gaelic, remains an incredibly important contribution to the field. In addition, Thomson’s The Study of Manx Gaelic and Outline of Manx Language and Literature are both key texts in Manx studies. As modern speakers and researchers we owe much to the works of these two men.

For a historical overview of Manx, Stowell’s A Short History of the Manx Language is also invaluable. Broderick’s Handbook of Late Spoken Manx is an exhaustive resource focussing on how the language was used by speakers in the 19th and 20th centuries, just prior to its “death”. Broderick’s Language Death in the Isle of Man charts the changes that the language went through during its decline, as well as discussing some of the economic and social factors that led to this decline.

The linguistic study of Manx as it is spoken in the 21st century is a small but growing field. A number of articles have been written on the subject, all of which are well worth a read. For example, Wilson, Johnson, and Sallabank’s I’m not dead yet’: a comparative study of indigenous language revitalization in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey discusses how the Manx language has been and is being revived in the Isle of Man, and how its situation compares to that of the native Norman French of Jersey and Guernsey. Lewin’s Scholarship and Language Revival: Language Ideologies in Corpus Development for Revived Manx deals with issues of language ideology in modern Manx, and Ó hIfearnáin’s Sociolinguistic Vitality of Manx after Extreme Language Shift focusses on the effects of the sociology of Manx’s environment on the language.

The Taylorian also holds works on the Manx language expressed through the arts. Carswell’s Mannanan’s Cloak: An Anthology of Manx Literature is a good place to start a foray into the literary works in the language. Faragher’s Skeealyn ‘sy Ghailck (“Stories in Manx”), a collection of short traditional stories in the language, is also worth a look. Much of the reading material produced in modern Manx consists of translations of works in Irish or English, such as Kemmyrkagh (“Refugee”), a Manx translation of Pól Ó Muirí’s Irish-language novel, Teifeach. The book tells the story of Marika, a young Bosnian woman living with her daughter in a village in rural Ireland. Manx also has a rich musical history, a sample of which is given in Moore’s Manx Ballads and Music.

We can also find works on Manx folklore and history in the Taylorian’s collections. Examples of the former include Sir John Rhys’ Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx, as well as Moore’s The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man. For the latter, Kelly’s New Manx Worthies contains biographies of notable historical Manxmen and -women. MacQuarrie and Nagy’s The Medieval cultures of the Irish Sea and the North Sea: Manannán and his neighbors also looks at the interconnected history of the Isle of Man and surrounding areas in the Middle Ages. Finally, Broderick’s A Dictionary of Manx Place-Names and Kneen’s The Personal Names of the Isle of Man are useful for anyone interested in the onomastics of Manx.

Caption: Kelly’s New Manx Worthies on display at the Taylor

Caption: Kelly’s New Manx Worthies on display at the Taylor.
Image Credit: Erin McNulty

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the resources on Manx available in the Bodleian Libraries and wider Oxford collections should consult the LibGuide page for Celtic, maintained by the Celtic Subject Librarian, Janet Foot. Here you can also find links to language-learning websites and online dictionaries, as well as further resources on many aspects of Manx Studies.

Gura mie eu as shiu lhiah! Thanks for reading!

Erin McNulty, Graduate Library Trainee (2019-20)

screenshot of digital edition

Digitising the European Cult of Saint Margarete of Antioch

Reposted from the History of the Book blog.

“Launch” of the completed edition at the Weston Library Coffee Morning on 11 November 2022 (Lucian Shepherd presenting from the Bibelsaal of the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel)

One Wednesday afternoon, Week 1 of Trinity term 2022, I was perusing through the Digital Bodleian database. Having finally set aside the time for Emma Huber’s Taylor Edition course, I was in search of a text to edit. When I first came across Douce MM 493, my interest was instantly piqued with its printed illustrations and hagiographical content, namely a Middle French ‘Life of Saint Margarete of Antioch’. However, as soon as I started scanning through the other folios, I very quickly found much more than Middle French. It contained folios in Middle English, Dutch, Latin and even some woodcuts cut out of an Early Modern Spanish text, and what ties them all together is their joint focus on St Margarete of Antioch. It was at that moment that I knew — this was the text for me.

Figure 1: MS Douce MM 493, Upper flyleaf verso and fol. A2r

Digital Humanities is an area of research which I have only recently discovered. In Oxford, we are quite fortunate to be in the company of many researchers who do use and lecture on digital techniques such as textual encoding, quantitative analysis, and stemmatics. Last year, I attended a ‘History of the Book’ digital launch which showcased the work of graduate students who had digitised their own selected texts, such as Philippe de Thaon’s Bestiary encoded in TEI P5 XML by Sebastian Dows-Miller (Oxford, Merton College Library, MS 249). (For more on this text, see Sebastian Dow-Miller’s post.) This was a truly eye-opening experience for me as Digital Humanities represented a way to merge my passion for language and literature with the mathematical side of me which I had left behind at A-level. After a discussion with Emma Huber, I knew this was an area I wanted to explore.

As two Oxford terms flew by, I felt the growing sense of urgency to start the course this Trinity term before the stress of fourth year, and now that I had finally found a suitable text, I felt more enthused than ever. To summarise briefly the main contents of the miscellany, I have laid them out as bullet points below:

  • Front and rear endleaves: Two woodcuts of the life of St Margaret taken from Pedro de la Vega’s ‘Flos sanctorum’, Medina del Campo, 1578.
  • ff. A2r – B8v: A printed Middle French ‘La Vie de sainte Marguerite’ from c.1495? with woodcuts throughout.  It, however, is missing folio A8.
  • ff. 2r – 5v: Folios 2 and 5 of a fragmentary printed Middle English ‘Life of Saint Margarete’, suggested to be from 1493.
  • pp. 369 – 372: Two folios from a Dutch book ‘Den Roomschen Uylen-Spiegel’, ed. J. Lydius (Dordrecht, 1671), containing a hymn for St Margaret in Latin and in Dutch.
Figure 2: MS Douce MM 493, Lower flyleaf recto

The main reason for the eclectic nature of this miscellany is its collector, Francis Douce (1757–1834). Well known by archivists for perfecting the “cut-and-paste” technique, he often disassembled volumes and cut out woodcuts to be glued down in other copies or held in guard books for fragments. This can best be seen here with the front and rear woodcuts bound into the volume and on the lower flyleaf recto where you can see an image, the size of a stamp, glued on to the page. For more on Douce, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

When looking for a suitable text, I learned that there are a number of points which you should consider: Firstly, it should be of a suitable length to transcribe and encode over the time period of the project, in this case the eight weeks of an Oxford term. Secondly, it should be a manageable project with a clear plan from the start. You might think about whether you are going to transcribe the whole text or only an extract from it and which codicological features you are going to include, such as marginalia, shifting hands (i.e. scribes), and ownership inscriptions. Thirdly, you of course must consider any ethical and legal issues which may arise. For example, you should always doublecheck the copyright license of any text or photo you plan on using, as any derivative work, such as a digital critical edition, would still fall under the license’s jurisdiction. For this reason, I chose to work with a text held by the Bodleian libraries, which was out of copyright and already digitised so I did not need to worry about taking images of the volume myself either.

Figure 3: MS Douce MM 493, fol. A6r in Digital Bodleian

The second hurdle to overcome was how to transcribe the text. Transcription is when you record whatever is on the pages of a text, either very literally or with some leniency. I ended up choosing to make two transcriptions: one diplomatic which corresponded strongly with the text, and one standardised which I edited to make more readable and accessible. Thus, my edition could be used by an audience with a broader range of experience with Middle French. One particular advantage that this twofold approach had was that it highlighted common contemporary writing and printing practices, such as a lack of distinction between i’s and j’s, and u’s and v’s, and the frequent mixing up of u’s and n’s by the typesetter. For example, I struggled over the word ‘duue’ on fol. A6r (see the image above the title) which could be read as either ‘duve’ or ‘dune’, before realising that it was meant to be ‘d’une’. Whilst I did start transcribing entirely by “eye”, I discovered mid-way through Week 2 a platform called ‘Transkribus’ which uses Artificial Intelligence to recognise text and transcribe it. While a free version is accessible to anyone, you can also use pre-paid credits to train the software yourself to recognise a particular typeface or hand for a large corpus of texts, thus making it an effective time-saving tool for quantitative research. For MS Douce MM 493, its free AI models were very effective for the Middle English and Dutch parts, producing very few errors. Hence, I found the best approach to be a combination of the latest technology and a trained eye glancing from folio back to Word document.

Figure 4: MS Douce MM 493, p.372.

Having completed both versions of my transcription and painstakingly perfected them under the guidance of Professor Daron Burrows and my dear friend, Michael Angerer, it was time to encode. Whilst I was certainly hesitant at first, I would say to any prospective course participants, “Don’t be so scared!” Following the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) guidelines is not as complicated as you might think. TEI is a type of XML (Extensible Markup Language) used to describe our data (here: an early printed text transcription) which can then be read and interpreted by a computer. Through a set of guidelines agreed upon by the TEI community, a consistent standard can be adhered to with fixed meanings, as defined in the online guidelines. For example, the following line describes the catchword ‘Dat’ on p. 372 of MS Douce MM 493:

<fw type=”catch” place=”bottom-right”>Dat</fw>

<fw> is an element which stands for ‘forme work’ and describes headers, footers, catchwords, etc. The type attribute specifies the type of ‘forme work’ (here: a catchword) and the place attribute describes the location of the ‘forme work’ on the page. The marked-up XML document can then be transformed via XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) into various other formats such as HTML for a webpage, PDF, or EPUB for a publication. For my project, TEI enabled the text to become a searchable critical edition as opposed to mere online facsimiles. Looking to the future, both the Middle French and Middle English verse narratives can now be used for linguistic analysis to compare with other versions of the ‘Life of Saint Margarete of Antioch’. In addition, this could further lead to stemmatological research where you examine the codicological relationships between the various versions in terms of time, language, and degree of influence, etc. Hence, textual encoding is just as important as transcription as it opens up new methodologies for research in the humanities.

Figure 5: MS Douce C subt. 249, fol. clxl

Once the encoding was complete and I had checked through everything again, my digital edition was ready for publication. What at first seemed to be a challenging project was now a complete critical edition, free for anyone to access and use. Over the course of these eight weeks, I have even been fortunate enough to be able to examine my volume up close, see its beauty in real life and then try to highlight its most interesting features through digitisation. At times, this project has almost become like a detective game, questioning how accurate the catalogue entry is and hunting down other copies in Oxford for comparison (metadata can be found both in the entry for La vie de sainte Marguerite [French] and for The Life of St. Margaret [English verse]). For example, whilst the catalogue entry claims that the Spanish woodcuts are connected to MS Douce adds. 125, I can say with near absolute certainty that this is not true. Out of the three editions of Pedro de la Vega’s ‘Flos sanctorum’ held in the Bodleian Libraries (MS Douce C subt. 249, MS Douce adds. 125, and MS Balliol College Library, St Cross, 0550 e 05), only MS Douce C subt. 249 contains a printed illustration of St Margarete of Antioch which corresponds exactly with the rear endleaf woodcut (see above and the rear woodcut), thus proving that the woodcut was cut out from this version of ‘Flos sanctorum’. Through the Taylor Edition course, I have learnt a lot about the history of this miscellany: compiled in the 19th century, yet stretching from the late 15thcentury Middle French verses to the 19th century note on the upper flyleaf, and now available for all future students to read and admire for its eclectic nature.

To see my digital edition of MS Douce MM 493, click this link.

Figure 6: MS Douce MM 493, p. 372 on the Taylor Editions website

For more on the numerous ‘Vies de sainte Marguerite’, see their entry on ARLIMA (Archives de littérature du Moyen Âge)

For more on the Middle English ‘Life of Saint Margaret’, see the catalogue entry and this entry in the Digital Index of Middle English Verse. I also later found a transcription from the University of Otago with some interesting metadata.

Lucian Shepherd is a 2nd year undergraduate student at Oriel College, University of Oxford . He studies Modern Languages (French and German) and is hoping to pursue a career in academia in the future.

Exhibition launch poster

Violent Victorian Medievalism

Taylor Institution Library, 21st Nov-2 Dec 2022 and online

medievalism, n.

‘the reception, interpretation or recreation of the European Middle Ages in post-medieval cultures’

Louise D’Arcens, 2016

‘Violent Victorian Medievalism’ was an exhibition which took place at the Taylor Institution Library (21st November-2nd December 2022) and continues online. It tells part of the story of how ‘medieval’ often becomes synonymous with ‘violent’ in later responses to the Middle Ages by bringing together some of the Bodleian’s collection of Victorian and Edwardian English-language adaptations of the Nibelungenlied and related material. These publications are accompanied by eye-catching images, often focusing on some of the more violent aspects of the narrative.

The Nibelungenlied is the most famous medieval German version of a collection of heroic legends known also in various Scandinavian incarnations. It tells of the hero Siegfried, his courtship of the Burgundian princess, Kriemhild, and his involvement in facilitating the marriage between Kriemhild’s brother, King Gunther, and the warrior queen, Brünhild. Siegfried is subsequently betrayed and murdered by Gunther and Hagen, the king’s vassal. The widowed Kriemhild subsequently marries Etzel, King of the Huns, and engineers a catastrophic revenge, resulting in the complete annihilation of the Burgundian men.

Rediscovered in the eighteenth century, the Nibelungenlied was quickly acclaimed the German national epic, but over the course of the nineteenth century, various anglophone writers also identified it as their own cultural inheritance, based on a belief in a shared so-called Germanic ancestry. Particularly after the premiere of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen, English-language adaptations proliferated, often illustrated, and many aimed at children. While – given the Nibelungenlied’s plot – references to violence are unavoidable in adaptations, it is striking how often editors or adapters chose to highlight these events in illustration.

Panels

Panel 1: Doomed Heroes

Here we see heroes who will not go on to triumph, whether they are to meet their deaths in a blaze of glory, or as a result of betrayal. Two images show Hagen’s cowardly murder of the great hero, Siegfried, whose strength and invulnerability mean that he can only be destroyed through deception. One image shows Hagen’s desperate and violent attempt to disprove a dreadful prophecy that all but one of the Burgundians are doomed, should they continue with their journey. The other images depict the Burgundian warriors, fighting unrelentingly in the face of certain death. This panel shows courage and pathos, bravery and treachery, and it tells a complex tale: Hagen is the aggressor in several of the images, yet one of the valiant warriors fighting against the odds in the others.

The Nibelungenlied was viewed as the German national epic, but anglophone writers often also staked their own claims to it. The underdog’s struggle against immeasurable odds is a frequent feature of national narratives, including in this country, and we see here warriors depicted at their defining moment, characterised not necessarily by their virtues or achievements, but by their most desperate experiences.

Panel 2: Women and Violence

The chief architect of much of the violence in the Nibelungenlied is the beautiful Queen Kriemhild, seeking revenge for Siegfried’s death. This was a source of difficulty for many nineteenth-century adapters, who sought variously to make an example of her, to make excuses for her, or to rehabilitate her entirely. But even where there was an attempt to explain her actions, the temptation to depict her at her most transgressive – brandishing the decapitated head of her brother – was almost irresistible. And the scale of that transgression also gave illustrators licence to depict Kriemhild’s own violent death, with her final victim, Hagen, lying at her feet.

Kriemhild is not the only violent woman in the Nibelungen material. Her sister-in-law, Brünhild, who is a valkyrie in both Norse legend and Wagner’s Ring, was possessed of immense physical strength before her marriage, and children’s books in particular often include images of her with her spear. In contrast to Kriemhild, there is ultimately no direct victim of Brünhild’s violence, but the illustrators commonly show the fear of the male heroes, as they cower behind a shield, emphasising the threat offered by a physically strong woman.

Panel 3: Fantasy Violence

In this panel, we see the continuities between nineteenth-century medievalism and more recent medievalist fantasy material, particularly onscreen (e.g. Game of ThronesThe HobbitMerlinHarry Potter). Siegfried’s fight with the dragon takes place entirely off-stage in the Nibelungenlied, and it is only mentioned once or twice in passing. It is, though, far more prominent in other traditions, and its appeal to illustrators, especially of children’s adaptations, needs no explanation.

These versions for younger readers frequently avoid adapting, or fully adapting, the second half of the narrative, with its focus on brutal vengeance. This has the effect of rebalancing the story into one focused entirely on Siegfried’s heroics, with Kriemhild simply functioning as a mild and beautiful love interest. Such adaptations also tend to bring in material which is omitted from, or played down in, the Nibelungenlied itself. While Siegfried’s violent death prevents such adaptations from culminating in a traditionally child-friendly happy ending, their emphasis on fantasy elements like the dragon give them a fairy-tale quality which we recognise today.

Visit the digital exhibition

Amazing inventions : printing from the 15th – 21st Century

Exhibition for Oxford Open Doors 10 September 2022

The Taylor Library opened its doors to the public on 10th September 2022, including an exhibition on the history of printing designed to fit in with the general theme of Oxford Open Doors: ‘Amazing inventions’.

Johannes Gutenberg started printing with moveable type in the early 1450s. The oldest printed books kept in the Taylor Library date back to 1470 and 1472.

Books printed before 1501 were called incunabula, literally meaning prints in swaddling clothes, i.e. in their infancy. They still imitated manuscripts in their layout and in the variety of letter forms used. Also, initials and other forms of rubrication were added later by hand, just like in manuscripts.

The Taylor Institution Library is fortunate enough to have enough early printings to be able to show some features of the manufacturing process from books in its collections.

The two oldest incunabuls in the Taylor collection are two copies of the Liber de vita ac moribus philosophorum poetarumque veterum . These were printed by different printers, close to each other in time, not in location (Nuremberg and Cologne). The printing was done with black ink only, so anything in a different colour needed to be added later manually, e.g. initials and highlighting of letters.

In this Spanish incunable (1491) (below) the printing and colouring process is clearly visible: the black text was printed first, the red heading separately in a second pull of the press; space for a large initial was left blank except for the so-called “guard letter”, a letter indicating which initial to fill in by hand. It would have been left to the person buying the printed book to decide how costly and ornate a decoration they would want. Sadly, he (or she! women owned books and illustrated them) did not bother to have the guard letter expanded to a fully fledged initial and never found the time (or the materials?) to do so.

Page from La primera parte de Plutarcho. Publisher e ambos volumines se imprimierō en seuilla : cō[n] industria de Paulo de Colonia: e Johannes de Nurenberg e de Magno: e de Thomas Alemanes e todos son quadernos. ARCH.FOL.Sp.1491

La primera parte de Plutarcho.
Publisher: e ambos volumines se imprimierō en seuilla : cō[n] industria de Paulo de Colonia: e Johannes de Nurenberg e de Magno: e de Thomas Alemanes e todos son quadernos. ARCH.FOL.Sp.1491

The Taylorian also holds two copies (shown below) of a commentary on Dante’s Commedia.

Both editions of the same text were printed in Venice, though by different printers. Bernardino Benali & Matthio di Parma printed the book in 1491 and Piero de zuanne di quarengii in 1497.  Marginal woodcuts were added around the text in the 1497 edition.

The same woodblock was used for the main image in both copies. Woodblocks were harder wearing than type, so they would often be passed on or sold to other workshops. When printer Piero di Quarengii reused it in 1497, he had God the Father cut out from the semi-circle near the top, possibly to allow for the insertion of hand-painted coat of arms – there is already a blank shield ready for personalisation at the bottom but book owners liked to splash their identity all over the page. The second printer obviously had to typeset the text, so he could add woodcut borders. He had to use a smaller initial N to make the text fit.

Page from DANTE, La Commedia, commento di Cristophoro Landino. Publisher: Venice: Bernardino Benali & Matthio di Parma [B. Benalius & Mathaeus [Capcasa] de Parma], 3 Mar. 1491. Folio. ARCH.FOL.IT.1491.

DANTE, La Commedia, commento di Cristophoro Landino.
Publisher: Venice: Bernardino Benali & Matthio di Parma [B. Benalius & Mathaeus [Capcasa] de Parma], 3 Mar. 1491. Folio. ARCH.FOL.IT.1491.

Page from DANTE, La Commedia, commento di Cristophoro Landino. Publisher: Venice: Piero de zuanne di quarengii da palazago bergamasco. [Petrus de Quarengiis], 11 Oct. 1497. Folio. ARCH.FOL.IT.1497.

DANTE, La Commedia, commento di Cristophoro Landino.
Publisher: Venice: Piero de zuanne di quarengii da palazago bergamasco. [Petrus de Quarengiis], 11 Oct. 1497. Folio. ARCH.FOL.IT.1497.

Early 16th Century

Below are two editions of Le Rommant de la Rose printed in Paris in 1505 and 1538 by different Parisian printers, N. Desprez (1505) and Arnoul et Charles L’Angelier (1538), the first printed in folio format and the second in octavo.

Written between 1225 and 1280, the Roman de la Rose enjoyed an immense success first in manuscript form and then in print, so it is not surprising that two printers have produced an edition.  The 1538 edition in octavo is much smaller than the 1505 in folio edition.

In the 16th century, Luther used printing to spread Reformation ideas, cooperating closely with the Wittenberg workshops. Thin pamphlets and the hefty Bible translations which Luther wrote, could easily be printed in multiple copies and spread over the country and beyond. The pamphlets often only consisted of one or two broadsheets folded into quires. The volume below, which contains 19 Luther pamphlets printed between 1519-1521, was bound together in one 16th century leather binding by a collector and thus survived. Each of the ‘tabs’ indicates another pamphlet.

LUTHER, Martin, 1483-1546 Doctoris Martini Luther Appellation odder beruffung an eyn Christlich frey Cōciliū von dem Bapst Leo vnd seynem vnrechtem freuell vornerveret vnd repetiret.. ARCH.8o.G.1519(11)

LUTHER, Martin, 1483-1546
Doctoris Martini Luther Appellation odder beruffung an eyn Christlich frey Cōciliū von dem Bapst Leo vnd seynem vnrechtem freuell vornerveret vnd repetiret..
ARCH.8o.G.1519(11)

The two anti-papist pamphlets below use woodcut illustrations for greater impact; the Taylorian owns two copies of the 1527 pamphlet, one of them coloured in with stencils.

Page from CRANACH, Lucas, 1472-1553; LUTHER, Martin, 1483-1546; MELANCHTHON, Philipp, 1497-1560; SCHWERTFEGER, Johann, active 1521; CRANACH, Hans, -1537, Passional Christi vnnd Antichristi. Publisher: Erfurt: Matthaeus Maler, 1521. ARCH.8o.G.1521(19)

CRANACH, Lucas, 1472-1553; LUTHER, Martin, 1483-1546; MELANCHTHON, Philipp, 1497-1560; SCHWERTFEGER, Johann, active 1521; CRANACH, Hans, -1537,
Passional Christi vnnd Antichristi.
Publisher: Erfurt: Matthaeus Maler, 1521. ARCH.8o.G.1521(19)

A polemic in the form of thirteen pairs of woodcuts (with captions) depicting scenes from the life of Christ contrasted with scenes from the life of the Pope.

The Passional Christi vnnd Antichristi, a translation of the Antithesis figurata vitae Christi et Antichristi was published in 1521 shortly after the Diet of Worms in Wittenberg. The work features 26 woodcuts designed by Lucas Cranach in which scenes from the life of Christ are contrasted with those of the Antichrist, identified as the Pope. The Taylorian copy was published later that year in Erfurt.

Page from OSIANDER, Andreas, 1498-1552; SACHS, Hans, 1494-1576, Eyn wunderliche Weyssagung, von dem Bapstum, wie es yhm bisz an das endt der welt gehen sol: in Figuren,ode/ gemäl begriffen, gefunden zu Nürmberg ym Cartheuser Closter, vnd ist seher alt. Publisher: Nürmberg: Gedrückt durch Hans Güldenmundt, 1525. ARCH.8o.G.1527(7) f.3v-4r

OSIANDER, Andreas, 1498-1552; SACHS, Hans, 1494-1576,
Eyn wunderliche Weyssagung, von dem Bapstum, wie es yhm bisz an das endt der welt gehen sol: in Figuren,ode/ gemäl begriffen, gefunden zu Nürmberg ym Cartheuser Closter, vnd ist seher alt.
Publisher: Nürmberg: Gedrückt durch Hans Güldenmundt, 1525. ARCH.8o.G.1527(7) f.3v-4r

A Pamphlet with allegorical woodcuts illustrating the history and ultimate defeat of the papacy, each accompanied by an explanation by Andreas Osiander and two rhyming couplets by Hans Sachs. The wood cuts by Erhard Schön have been printed first and then coloured in by hand. Staying within the lines with a brush was difficult, see the Pope’s cross (3v) and the Pope’s banner (4r).

For more information about early printing and incunabula, explore these two blogs: https://historyofthebook.mml.ox.ac.uk/ and https://teachingthecodex.com/blog/

17th Century

The art of printing had developed further again and it was now possible to print in two colours. There are still many differences between the title pages of these two English-Dutch dictionaries whereas the 1721 publication looks much more regular.

Three books printed by father, wife and (heirs of) son Leers in 1658/60, 1675 and 1721 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. It seems that the printer’s workshop was continued by the widow and later the son of Arnold Leers. The author of the dictionaries was Henry Hexham who was bilingual, having spent many years in the Dutch army. Hexham’s dictionary was the first bilingual English-Dutch dictionary. It comprises an English-Dutch and a Dutch-English part, as well as a grammar ‘for the instruction of the learner’.

Printing in different alphabets required whole new sets of type. It is remarkable that Cyrillic matrices were available in Oxford. The University Press had bought them from an Amsterdam printer to publish the first ever printed Russian grammar. In the basement of the Sheldonian Theatre, the first home of Oxford University Press, Ludolf‘s grammar rolled off the press.

Page from LUDOLF, Heinrich Wilhelm, 1655-1712, Grammatica russica. Publisher: Oxford: e Theatro Sheldoniano, 1696. ARCH.MORF.G268.696

LUDOLF, Heinrich Wilhelm, 1655-1712, Grammatica russica.
Publisher: Oxford: e Theatro Sheldoniano, 1696. ARCH.MORF.G268.696

20th Century: printing as art

The art of printing was perfected over time, until there was a return to manual printing in the 20th century for small sections of the printing spectrum: art or samizdat literature or a combination of the two. In South America art was used in cordel literature, cheaply produced folk tales. Manual or small-scale printing allowed for artistic expression and for the use of cheap materials. Small print runs also allowed for distribution away from the public eye, e.g. by post.

East-German samizdat publications have used various creative ways of printing in small print runs. The Taylor Institution Library is fortunate to have some of these items in their collections.

Page from HAVEMEISTER, Heinz; SCHLEYER, Susanne. (hrsg.). Liane. 8 : Berlin, 1989/94 Manufactured by: Berlin : SILKeScreen Tacheles

HAVEMEISTER, Heinz; SCHLEYER, Susanne. (hrsg.). Liane. 8 : Berlin, 1989/94
Manufactured by: Berlin : SILKeScreen Tacheles

The avantgarde publication Liane started in 1989 before the end of communism and continued afterwards. Jacket illustration: “Gewalt” by Moritz Götze, signed, 1989. The Taylorian is proud to own one of the of the 30 copies of this limited edition, a kind donation from the editors Susanne Schleyer and Heinz Havemeister who presented the book with original drawings and graphics in various techniques in person.  It started as samizdat literature, using printing as art.

Uni/vers(;) was an East German illegally published journal, so called ‘samizdat’ literature.

Guillermo Deisler was a visual poet who had been imprisoned under the Pinochet regime in Chile in 1973 and went into exile, settling in Halle, East-Germany in 1986. He produced mail art (sent by mail to subscribers) and visual poetry between 1987 and 1995 in 35 issues.

Printing was used as art and as poetry.

Cordel literature

From Brazil, cordel (string) literature is a popular and affordable means of publishing, in which small pamphlets are sold from strings, often in local markets. These include ballads, folktales, and educational works. Most have brightly coloured covers and include an eye-catching woodcut design. Woodcuts (same technique as in the 15th/16th Century!) were used to illustrate the cordel books, as the materials required were relatively inexpensive. Although the cordel form is usually associated with cheap, throwaway works, we find books on socially important themes made available to a wider audience. Cordel literature is an important tool for literacy and literary culture in the Brazilian northeast, an area with a rich folkloric tradition but high levels of poverty. Originally, the ballads of cordel literature came to Brazil from Portugal in the late 18th century and were passed down in the oral tradition, sung to audiences who could often neither read nor write. Now, cordel literature has spread in popularity across Brazil and a new generation of cordelistas even disseminate their work online.

Several items of rare cordel books, published by the Academia Brasileira de literatura de Cordel. featured in the exhibition.

 

Printing has been an amazing invention, many technical hurdles had to be overcome which took some time. As an early form of mass communication, it has changed society. It has become the precursor of modern electronic forms of communication, whilst the art of printing has become art itself on the one hand and child’s play on the other.

Children’s printing set, 1950s

Children’s printing set, 1950s

Johanneke Sytsema
Taylor Institution Library

 

Visiting our Pre-Covid Past: Artists’ Books on Display at the Taylor Institution Library

Viewing Walter J. Strachan’s Livre d’artiste Collection with Geoffrey Strachan

Remember the Taylor Institution Library in the days before Covid? A busy place, full of academics, students and visitors en route to lectures — and to the library. Indeed, some individuals were attending seminars and other events at which the library’s special collections were on view. In this post we look back twelve months, to (as you will discover if you read on) one of our more memorable special collections events……

Giullaume Apollinaire. Si je mourais là-bas. Illustrated by Georges Braque (Paris: L. Broder, 1962)

 

In May 1945, less than a fortnight after the German surrender marking the end of  World War II in Europe, a British schoolteacher took his French language students on a trip to London. They were going to the National Gallery (whose collection of paintings had been transferred to Wales for the duration of the War) to see an exhibition of livres d’artistes, or artists’ books, a still relatively minor avant-garde art form imported from the Continent — principally Paris; one can assume that for the students the exhibition was little more than an excuse to experience a post-VE Day London still ecstatic with the new, incompre-hensible peace in Europe.

 

Whatever the students thought of it, the exhibition was nothing short of life-changing for their teacher, Walter Strachan, who described first seeing the livres d’artistes as simply “over-whelming”. He took his pupils home and returned not long after, traveling to Paris as soon as the Channel was re-opened to tourists. There he met the artists, authors, printmakers, typesetters and publishers in situ, with a dream of stimulating interest in the livre d’artiste genre back home in the UK. Strachan’s advocacy was greeted with open arms in France and he returned home rich with examples of recently-created works to show to potential collectors, such as V&A curators and librarians who, thanks to his urging, ultimately acquired over 60 such pieces. This trip was followed by another, and then another, until an annual tradition began.

Paul Verlaine. Parallèlement. Illustrated by Pierre Bonnard (Paris: A. Vollard, 1900)

By the time he was 80, Strachan had formed a working collection of over 250 complete and semi-complete livres d’artistes, spanning works incorporating lithographs designed by Pierre Bonnard (1900) to Pierre Tal-Coat etchings (1983). Strachan sought a permanent home for his collection, where it could be used as it had been throughout his life—not untouched in a collector’s drawer, but as a living body of work that would continue to promote the genre as a wildly creative and important art form.

Jean Cocteau. La voix humaine. Illustrated by Bernard Buffet (Paris: Parenthèses, 1957. Pierre Reverdy. Le chant de morts (Paris: Teriade, 1948)

In 1987, after a commemorative exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Strachan found that home at the Taylor Institution Library. Thirty-two years later, the collection is still used by both researchers and students from across the University—and occasionally shown to visiting groups, as happened in July 2019.

It was the hottest day on record in Oxford’s history: not the kind of day one would choose to mount a display of our livres d’artistes. With the support  of our premises manager, Piotr Skzonter—without whom the whole display would have fallen apart—we exhibited a selection of pieces chosen for a visit by the Charlbury Art Group, led by Walter Strachan’s son, Geoffrey. The Taylorian’s lecture  hall was mercifully cool, its high windows, blinds and thick walls protecting us from the inferno outside; still, we wondered, given the heat would anyone come?

Slowly, the hall filled up and, despite the  temperature,  soon the whole group was with us. The afternoon was introduced by Clare Hills-Nova, Librarian in Charge, Sackler Library, where the collection is now held (on long-term loan) in a climate-controlled environment. Clare noted that this was the largest livre d’artiste event that the Taylor had yet hosted. As library staff – together with Geoffrey Strachan — brought together selected works to show our visitors, we discovered pieces that we had never seen before; one example—Mario Prassinos’ rendering of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, with its many iterations of the raven image—reminding us what an unparalleled didactic tool the collection serves for University of Oxford researchers and students. Since Strachan’s pieces were often page proofs, ‘off-cuts’ and/or working drafts, or even rejects from the artists (the finalized works too valuable to give away) our collection reveals the thought processes behind livres d’artiste production and the 30 works we showed that day represented a microcosm of this artistic dynamic.

Edgar Allan Poe. The Raven. Illustrated by Mario Prassinos (Paris: Pierre Worms, 1952

Alongside our selections of semi-complete artists’ books were a few complete works, either owned by the Taylorian or held by other libraries, to show how each of the incomplete works fitted into the finished whole, and what might have changed between Strachan’s visits with the artists and their books’ completion.

Aeschylus. Agamemnon. Illustrated by Abram Krol (Paris: A. Krol, 1965)

Geoffrey Strachan gave a stimulating talk, setting the stage by walking us through his father’s journey from that momentous National Gallery exhibition to his pivotal role promoting the livre d’artiste in Britain. That we have this collection is not only thanks to his father’s passion, Strachan reminded us, but also thanks to the generosity of the artists he met.

With that in mind, the group was invited to explore the display, spread across the shaded lecture hall. Grouped by theme and/or period, the pieces held different attractions for different viewers; some mulled over the more famous pieces such as Pierre Bonnard’s illustrations for Parallèlement, by Paul Verlaine, or Georges Braque’s images for Si je mourais là-bas by Guillaume Apollinaire; while others were drawn to lesser-known works such as the compelling line-images of Agamemnon, illustrated by Polish émigré Abram Krol or the fairy-tale-esque etchings in Hélène Iliadz’s Brigadnii – Un de la Brigade, by another émigrée artist, the Ukranian Anna Staritsky. One of the most popular works was French cultural icon (and Minister of Culture) André Malraux’s La Tentation de L’Occident, illustrated by Zao Wou-Ki (an émigré from 1940s China), combining emotive and explosive abstract images with an elegant typographical design.

While each work had a magic of its own, viewing the display as a whole had a kaleidoscopic effect, showing the variety of technique, colour, authors and artists within a once side-lined genre. This was magnified further by these artists’ books’  donation home: a library where the content of much-read and consequently battered texts normally takes precedence over the visual materiality of the publications themselves; a library temporarily transformed into a gallery for books whose physicality is their raison d’être. It is easy to see how this radical and at times very powerful marriage of word and image, content and form swept Strachan away in a lifelong love affair that we, with much appreciation, are still learning from.

Alex Zaleski, Library Assistant, Taylor Institution Library

Photo credits: Clare Hills-Nova, Justine Provino and Alex Zaleski

Further reading

Le livre d’artiste: a catalogue of the W.J. Strachan gift to the Taylor Institution: exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum, Ox, 1987 (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum and Taylor Institution, 1987).

W.J. Strachan. The artist and the book in France: the 20th century livre d’artiste (London: Owen, 1969)