Author Archives: ferrarij

Literatures of Multilingual Europe: an introduction to Modern Greek

It would be difficult to account for the whole of Modern Greek literature in a single lecture; indeed, the only possible approach is through selected highlights. This is precisely what Peter Mackridge, Oxford Professor of Modern Greek (1996-2003), contrived to do in his lecture in the Bodleian Libraries lecture series ‘Literatures of Multilingual Europe’, which took place in Michaelmas Term 2018. [You can see the full podcast of the lecture at http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/introduction-modern-greek-literature.]

Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857)

Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857)

In a wide-ranging talk, which began with the nineteenth century Romantic poet Dionysios Solomos and then circled back to him by way of Medieval, Renaissance and Modern writings, Peter took his audience on a whistle-stop tour of the major landmarks of Modern Greek Literature.

Beginning with the humorous Medieval begging poems of an author known to us only by his pseudonym, ‘Poor Prodromos’, Prof. Mackridge went on to delineate the 16th-17th century Cretan ‘Renaissance’ verse romances and the beginnings of the Modern period in the Greek revolution of 1821. Apart from Solomos, the ‘Father of Modern Greek Poetry’, Prof. Mackridge noted the two most prominent exemplars of 19th century Greek prose, Emmanouil Roidis (author of the subversive satire ‘Pope Joan’, first translated into English in an abbreviated version by Lawrence Durrell) and Papadiamandis, whose extraordinary realist novel ‘The Murderess’ has recently been retranslated by Liadain Sherrard. Prof. Mackridge himself has translated the long short story, ‘Around the Lagoon’.

Around the lagoon by Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851-1911), translated by Peter Mackridge.

Around the lagoon by Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851-1911), translated by Peter Mackridge.

As Prof. Mackridge pointed out, the astonishing continuity of Greek literature (defined as literature in Greek) is largely inherent in poetry. C.P. Cavafy, the best-known and most-translated Greek poet, who died in 1933, preceded the so-called Generation of 1930, whose shining lights include George Seferis, Yannis Ritsos and Odysseas Elytis.

 Seferis and Elytis both won the Nobel Prize for Literature, whilst Ritsos was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. All three poets have had their work set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, whose settings have proved hugely popular with people from all walks of life.

Among the issues discussed by Prof. Mackridge were the school syllabus, with its emphasis on national pride and the glorification of heroes of the War of Independence, and the related emphasis in Greek culture (including the arts) on identity: what it means to be Greek. Here, there were humorous references to “Zorba the Greek” (Kazantzakis) and the stereoptyping to which English translations of this work (there is no “the Greek” in the Greek title) have contributed.

Zorba the Greek (1964) by Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)

Zorba the Greek (1964) by Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)

Finally, Prof. Mackridge referred to more recent writings, including the poetry anthology inspired by the Greek financial crisis: “Austerity Measures” (edited by his former D. Phil. student, Prof. Karen Van Dyck).

At the beginning of his talk, Prof. Mackridge apologised for his exclusion of women writers. In fact, much of the period under discussion yields no well-known female authors, but the twentieth century has produced women novelists and poets of some stature, including Maro Douka, Rea Galanaki, Jenny Mastoraki, Maria Laïna, Evgenia Fakinou and Kiki Dimoula. There were also earlier poets, such as Maria Polydouri, who was popular in her day though her work has not really stood the test of time. The one woman writer referred to, the poet and novelist Ersi Sotiropoulou, was mentioned in connection with her recent fictionalised account of an episode in the life of C. P. Cavafy.

Ersi Sotiropoulou, 'What's left of the night', (Patakis, 2015).

Ersi Sotiropoulou, ‘What’s left of the night’, (Patakis, 2015). A fictionalised account of an episode in the life of C. P. Cavafy.

Rea Galanaki’s acclaimed novel, ‘The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha’, translated by Kay Cicellis,  makes an interesting companion volume to the Nobel laureate Ivo Andric’s last novel, ‘Omer Pasha Latas’ (1968), recently translated by Celia Hawkesworth (winner of the 2019 Weidenfeld Translation Prize for this volume). ‘The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha’ has been described as an ‘elaboration’ on Borges’ traitor-hero theme (Beaton, An Introduction to Modern Greek Literature, p. 291). It creates a biography for a historical figure about whom almost nothing is known. Seized in Crete as a child by the Ottomans and sold as a slave in Egypt, Ismail eventually becomes the leader of the Ottoman Egyptian army and  returns to Crete to quell a local revolt. In parallel to Ismail, Andric’s Omer Pasha is a Christian boy who converts to Islam and becomes commander-in-chief of the Sultan’s armies.

Maria Iordanidou’s autobiographical novel Loxandra is set in pre-1922 Constantinople/Istanbul. This is an earlier version of the world of the popular Greek film ‘Politiki Kouzina’/’A Touch of Spice’ (Tassos Boulmetis, 2003).

Karen van Dyck has done much to bring contemporary Greek women poets to an English-speaking audience and the leading translator of Modern Greek Literature, David Conolley, has produced sensitive renderings of Kiki Dimoula.

Dr Sarah Ekdawi

Faculty Research Fellow
Reviews Editor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies
Assistant Director of Studies, Oxford School of English


For readers who would like to read some Modern Greek literature in excellent translations, the following selection is highly recommended. This select bibliography (compiled by Sarah Ekdawi) is followed by Prof. Mackridge’s more extensive bibliography, used to illustrate his talk.

* Names marked with an asterisk are Oxford alumni

Select Bibliography

Overview

Roderick Beaton, An Introduction to Modern Greek Literature (Oxford Clarendon Press,1994

Poetry

P. Cavafy, The Collected Poems, translated by Evangelos Sachperoglou, with an introduction by Peter Mackridge, bilingual edition (Oxford World Classics, OUP, 2007)

George Seferis, Novel and Other Poems, translated by Roderick Beaton (Aiora Press, 2016)

Yannis Ritsos Among his Contemporaries. Twentieth-Century Greek Poetry Translated by Marjorie Chambers (Colenso Books, 2018)

Rhea Galanaki, Jenny Mastoraki and Maria Laina, The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding. Three Collections by Contemporary Greek Women Poets, translated and introduced by Karen van Dyck, bilingual edition. Wesleyan University Press, 1998

Kiki Dimoula, Lethe’s Adolescence, translated by David Conolly (Nostos Books, 1996)

Novels

Alexandros Papadiamantis, The Murderess, translated by Liadain Sherrard (Denise Harvey Publisher, 2011)

Maria Iordanidou, Loxandra, translated by Norma Aynsley Sourmeli (Denise Harvey Publisher, 2107)

Rhea Galanaki, The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha, translated by Kay Cicellis (Peter Owen Publishers, 1999)

Evgenia Fakinou, The Seventh Garment, translated by Ed Emery (Serpent’s Tail, 1991)

Menis Koumandareas, Their Smell Makes me Want to Cry, translated by Patricia Felisa Barbeito and Vangelis Calotychos, (University of Birmingham, 2004)

 

Prof. Mackridge’s Bibliography

Cretan Renaissance literature (16th-17th c.)
1. Georgios Chortatsis (c. 1550-c. 1610), Plays of the Veneto-Cretan Renaissance: a bilingual Greek-English edition, ed. & tr. Rosemary Bancroft-Marcus*, vol. 1 (OUP, 2014) [PA5610.C45 A2 CHO 2013]
2. D. Papamarkos* and G. Ragkos, Erōtokritos tou Vintsentzou Kornarou (graphic novel, Polaris, 2016) [PN6790.G73 G68 GOU 2016]

The War of Independence (1820s)
3. Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857), The Free Besieged and other poems, ed. Prof. Mackridge* bilingual edn (Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2000 [22015])

Mid-19th c.
4. Emmanouil Roidis, Papissa Ioanna (graphic novel, illustrated by Dimitris Hantzopoulos, Athens 2018; also forthcoming edn translated as Pope Joan by Prof. Mackridge*)

Turn of 19th-20th c.
5. Alexandros Papadiamandis, The Boundless Garden: selected short stories (Denise Harvey, 2007) [PA2104.P2.A3.B7]
5a. Alexandros Papadiamandis, Around the Lagoon: reminiscences to a Friend. Bilingual edn, tr. Prof. Mackridge* (Denise Harvey, 2014).

20th century
6. C. P. Cavafy, The collected poems, tr. Evangelos Sachperoglou, intro. Prof. Mackridge, bilingual edn (Oxford World Classics, 2007) [PA2105.K5.A14.2007; also Bod]
7. Kostas Karyotakis, Battered guitars: poems and prose, tr. William W. Reader and Keith Taylor (Birmingham: Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, 2006) [PA2105.K4.A2.B3.E5]
8. Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek (Faber Modern Classics, 2016) [Bod]
9. Robert Levesque (tr.), Seferis: choix de poèmes traduits et accompagnés du texte grec avec une préface (1945) [PA2105.S4.A4.L6.F8]
10. Roderick Beaton, George Seferis: waiting for the angel (Yale UP, 2003) [PA2105.S4.Z6.B3.W1 + Bod.]
11. Yannis Ritsos, Selected poems, tr. Nikos Stangos (Penguin, 1974) [Bod]
12. Odysseas Elytis, Selected poems, ed. Edmund Keeley* and Philip Sherrard (Penguin, 1981) [PA5610.E43 A213 ELY 1991]

21st c.
13. Haris Vlavianos*, History of western philosophy in 100 haiku, tr. Prof. Mackridge (Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2015)
14. Karen Van Dyck*, Austerity measures: the new Greek poetry, bilingual edn (Penguin, 2016) [PA5289.E6 AUS 2016]

Battle of the Russian Greats

‘Dostoevsky’s dead,’ said the citizeness, but somehow not very confidently.

‘I protest!’ Behemoth exclaimed hotly. ‘Dostoevsky is immortal!’

― Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

There is no prerequisite to know Russian if you work at the Taylor. The Slavonic collections returned to our St Giles’ location only three years ago from their home in Wellington Square, the newest layer to our nesting-doll of a library. We even have a cheat sheet for staff to navigate the Cyrillic alphabet, lest they be asked about a book they cannot read.

And yet somehow Russian—the language, the literature, the culture—permeates the building like a foundational block, the missing sister to the European languages carved as goddesses on our Eastern façade. Cyrillic, learned or cheated, is part of our daily rhythm.

After two years working in the Taylor and seeing some mention of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky on a daily basis, I decided it was time to fill the gap in my education and read some of the classics. I started with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in Hilary term and spent Trinity term and the summer holiday reading Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

“Every person is either a Tolstoy person or a Dostoevsky

person,” one of my colleagues told me as

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Nikolai Ge, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Nikolai Ge, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

we discussed my progress.

“Well, which are you?” I asked.

“Oh, Tolstoy,” she said firmly.

Another colleague passed by—Nick, our Russian subject librarian.

“How about you?” I asked him. “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?”

He paused. “Oh, that’s a hard one. But I have to go with Dostoevsky.”

We asked another colleague later—

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Trevor, who studied Russian and French as an undergraduate before pursuing a career in libraries.

“Tolstoy,” he answered, nodding enthusiastically.

One by one, we asked the rest of our staff the ultimate Russian literature desert island question: if you had to choose, would you read Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?

The results:

Tolstoy: 9

Dostoevsky: 6

Neither: 2

Abstain: 3

Interestingly, the results are reflected in our collection: we hold 1131 books related to Tolstoy and 986 to Dostoevsky, almost the same ratio. Why, then, the preference for Tolstoy?

His visual language appeals to many of us who find reading Tolstoy like watching a movie, the scenes of Natasha’s dance or Anna’s descent a vivid picture that lingers long after reading. Dostoevsky, in contrast, sends us deep into the human psyche in works that read almost like plays, with harrowing insight into fundamental truths. That depth, though engendering strong loyalty from those who choose him, is daunting for others.

I spoke to one of my Russian colleagues to see how she felt about these two pillars of her national canon.

“For us [Russians], these people are like monuments like Lenin,” she explained. Reading them, especially Dostoevsky, draws her back to a childhood spent playing on snowy streets in the dark Russian winter.

So whom does she choose?

“Chekhov,” she answered after deliberating for a while, preferring his shorter form, lively language, and humour.

A small selection of our Chekhov books

A small selection of our Chekhov books

As for me? I find myself in the majority camp choosing Tolstoy, drawn in by the empathetic way he writes women and the sweeping scale of his stories. I must admit, however, that I think of The Grand Inquisitor and Ivan’s conversation with the Devil more than any individual Tolstoy scene.

We would love to know what our readers think about this battle of the greats. Let us know on our Facebook poll!

Link to Facebook poll

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Alexandra Zaleski

Taylor Institution Library

The First Oxford-Groningen Old Frisian Summer School

In the lovely sunny week of 8-12th July, twenty-four students gathered in St Edmund Hall for the first edition of the Old Frisian Summer School. Eleven students came from the University of Groningen, most of them Frisian speakers. Others hailed from Oxford or from as far afield as  St Petersburg and Toronto, a mix of undergraduates, postgraduates and post-doctoral researchers. Sessions were held in St Edmund Hall, the Taylor Institution Library and the Weston Library.

Why Old Frisian?

Old Frisian was an Old Germanic language, spoken along the mainland North Sea coast, as far south as the river ‘Zwin’ or, in Old Frisian, ‘Sincfal’, which is nowadays the border between the Netherlands and Belgium, and as far east as to the river Weser in Germany. The area shrunk over time, by 800 AD the river Rhine was the southern border, by the year 1000 the western border was formed by the river Flee. Over time, the area diminished as Prof. Rolf Bremmer (Leiden University) showed in his first lecture ‘The Scope of Old Frisian Studies’.

Map of Frisia in King Radbod’s time, 8th century. Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frisia_716-la.svg Attribution: Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-fr.svg: Sémhur, Eric.dane 800nc ex leg.jpg: RACM & TNO derivative work: Richardprins [CC BY-SA 3.0] River names added by J. Sytsema.

Map of Frisia in King Radbod’s time, 8th century. Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frisia_716-la.svg Attribution: Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-fr.svg: Sémhur, Eric.dane 800nc ex leg.jpg: RACM & TNO derivative work: Richardprins [CC BY-SA 3.0] River names added by J. Sytsema.

Linguistically, Old Frisian is related to Gothic and Old Norse, more closely to Old High German and Old Saxon and most closely to Old English. The Anglo-Frisian connection is so close that some scholars assumed that both languages must stem from one Anglo-Frisian ancestor, before they split into Old English and Old Frisian, the so-called ‘Anglo-Frisian hypothesis’.

Archaeological evidence shows that there were plenty of Anglo-Frisian connections during the 7th and 8th centuries, proven by very similar jewellery and other finds either side of the North Sea, as Nelleke IJssennagger, former curator of the Frisian Museum and co-author of Frisians and their North-Sea Neighbours, showed in her lecture. There was ongoing trade after the settlement of Britain, so language contact must have been maintained in the following centuries.

Dr Nelleke IJssennagger with an image of artefacts from Kent and from Frisia.

Dr Nelleke IJssennagger with an image of artefacts from Kent and from Frisia.

Linguistic similarities between Modern English and Modern Frisian still show the close connection between the two in comparison with German and Dutch:

  Frisian English   German Dutch
vocabulary kaai key Schluessel sleutel
Irregular plurals ko – kij cow – kine (archaic) Kuh-Kühe koe-koeien
goes – gees (archaic) goose – geese Gans – Gänse Gans – ganzen
skiep – skiep sheep – sheep Schaf – Schafe schaap – schapen
Palalisation of k/g tsjerke church Kirche kerk
dei day Tag dag

These similarities are just an example of connections that were much closer at the time of Old English and Old Frisian. The closeness of the two Old Germanic languages led to the Anglo-Frisian hypothesis, the assumption of one common Anglo-Frisian ancestor from which both Old English and Old Frisian descended. Scholars adhered to this hypothesis for a long time, until 1995 when Dr Patrick Stiles (UCL) denounced the theory on phonological grounds. Dr Stiles explained that many supposed ‘Anglo-Frisian’ sound changes are in fact also shared with Old Saxon or Old High German. The only sound changes that are exclusively Anglo-Frisian are the fronting of West Germanic long ā > ē or ǣ and the fronting of West Germanic short a > e or æ. The West Germanic vowel remains unchanged in Old High German, as shown in the table below.

WGmc OE OFris OHG gloss
*dād- dǣd dēd tāt ‘deed’
*dag- dæg dei tag ‘day’

Why a Summer School?

Old Frisian may be regarded as a ‘niche’ subject within the study of Old Germanic languages and is not always part of the curriculum at universities that offer Old Germanic. To enable students and early career researchers with an interest in Old Germanic to familiarise themselves with the Old Frisian language, its history and its textual sources, the Old Frisian Summer School was organised outside of term time. It was a great advantage to have such an international group of delegates, and many were amazed how much they learned in a week, enough to actually translate Old Frisian texts.

Why in Oxford?

Some unique Old Frisian sources are found at Oxford in the Bodleian Library. These manuscripts are the main source of our knowledge of Old West Frisian[1].  Collections of law texts, the manuscripts came to Oxford by Franciscus Junius’ bequest, dated 1677. Junius was a polymath who had taught himself Old Frisian by copying parts of Codex Unia, now ms Junius 49 and ms Junius 109.   He had borrowed Codex Unia from the Frisian history writer Simon Abbes Gabbema, and failed to return it. (Nothing new under the sun!) He must have borrowed Codex Aysma, now Junius 78, from Gabbema, too. These two manuscripts constitute the base of Old Frisian studies at Oxford.

Codex Aysma, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 78

Codex Aysma, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 78

The first lines of Codex Unia, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 49, in the hand of Franciscus Junius.

The first lines of Codex Unia, Bodleian Library, ms Junius 49, in the hand of Franciscus Junius.

 Junius had an interest in Old Frisian as an Old Germanic language. Having studied Gothic, Old English and Old High German, he clearly considered his knowledge of Old Germanic incomplete without knowledge of Old Frisian.  So, unknowingly, he paved the way for further comparative Old Germanic studies at Oxford, and provided a good reason for the choice of Oxford as the first university to host the Old Frisian Summer School.

Was it fun or hard work?

The summer school programme consisted of lectures in the mornings and workshops in the afternoons, interspersed with some social events and library tours and with excellent lunches. The morning lectures covered the grammar and phonology and aspects of the overarching theme of Anglo-Frisian Connections.  Delegates were presented with an introduction to the field of Old Frisian Studies by Prof Rolf Bremmer (Leiden) to set the scene. Dr Leneghan (Oxford) , whose forthcoming monograph on Beowulf will contain a section on the role of the Frisians, a gave a lecture on Frisians in Beowulf, showing the presence of Frisians in Old English Literature.

Viewing Old Frisian manuscripts at the Weston Library.

The Old Frisian manuscripts were viewed during a visit to the Weston Library. The Junius specialist Dr Kees Dekker had come from Groningen to talk about the manuscripts with the help of a visualizer, (a projector showing the text of a manuscript on a screen), in the Visiting Scholars Centre of the Weston Library.

The delegates had to learn Old Frisian grammar in just three lectures; though most students had some prior knowledge of at least one other Old Germanic language, this was still felt to be a crash course.  Following two grammar lectures by Prof Bremmer and Dr Sytsema, Dr Nelson Goering (BA Research Fellow, Somerville College) explained eight sound changes that are typical for Old Frisian. For those interested in comparative Old Germanic, Dr Howard Jones (Oxford) offered a more in-depth comparison of the verbal classes in the Old Germanic languages.

It may have felt like a crash course, but delegates proved to be able to translate some Old Frisian texts with the help of the grammar and the dictionary (see references) of which each delegate had a copy. The translation classes were valued so much so that none of the students wanted to stop at 5pm when they had not finished their assignment! Since the groups were multilingual in a modern sense (English, Frisian and German) and also in an ‘Old Germanic’ sense – knowledge of Old Norse, Old English, Old High German, Old Frisian and Gothic were present in the group – students were able to benefit from each other’s knowledge.

Prof. Nigel Palmer, Emeritus Professor of German Medieval and Linguistic Studies and Fellow  of St Edmund Hall, placed Old Frisian in a wider European context by introducing the 15 Signs of Doomsday, a text based on various Latin exemplars that circulated in Europe in the 13th century. In addition to the many extant medieval High and Low German versions of this text, there is one Old Frisian version. Students translated this into English in the translation workshop. Their English translation will appear on the Old Frisian Summer School website as one of the Summer School outcomes.

Delegates were shown round the Bodleian Library, the Taylor Institution Library and St Edmund Hall Old and New library, thus seeing the places where the Old Frisian manuscripts in the Junius and Marshall collections and Frisian items in the Alistair Campbell Collections are kept.

 

Taylor Institution Library

Main Reading Room, Taylor Institution Library, Oxford

The public lectures on the Anglo-Frisian thesis in the Taylor Library were attended by a wider audience. Some came to see Alistair Campbell’s Frisian collection in the Taylorian. As Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon (1963-1974), Alistair Campbell had shown a great interest in Anglo-Frisian connections and was co-founder of the Frisian Academy.  Some items in the Taylorian collections bear witness of his contacts with other Old Frisian scholars.

Students agreed that the summer school was intensive, but also a lot of fun, as proven by these photographs!

Video report

Fardau Visser compiled this excellent video report of the summer school:

 What’s next?

 Partnership with Groningen University

The OFSS was the first event in the Oxford-Groningen partnership. Groningen University is traditionally the university in the Netherlands where Old Frisian is taught and the library at Groningen holds precious Old Frisian manuscripts, as does the Bodleian in Oxford. Nearly half of the delegates came from Groningen University, and next year it will be Groningen’s turn to organise the summer school. Hopefully, the OFSS will continue to be held on an annual basis in Oxford, Groningen or elsewhere. The spreading of knowledge of Old Frisian language and history should continue, ‘salang’t de wyn fan ‘e wolkens waait’ (as long as the wind blows from the clouds).

Funding

The OFSS could not have happened without the generous funding of TORCH International Partnership Fund and of TORCH Oxford Medieval Small Grants. Also, the studentships made available by the Faculties of Linguistics and of English have enabled some Oxford students to take part. Groningen University has also contributed in various ways, not least in allowing the Old Frisian lecturer Anne Popkema to co-organise the summer school.

Summer school convenors and participants

Summer school convenors and participants

A number of students told me they wanted to come to the summer school again next year in Groningen. There will be a different special topic, as well as an opportunity to see the different manuscripts held by Groningen.

 Old Frisian Network

A mailing list will ensure that delegates, speakers and any other scholars or students with a research interest in Old Frisian can keep in touch and share news. If you would like to join the mailing list, please contact me by email: johanneke.sytsema@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

 

Johanneke Sytsema

Subject Librarian for Linguistics, Dutch and Frisian, Bodleian Libraries

Linguistics lecturer, St Edmund Hall

 

[1] Old East Frisian manuscripts are kept in Leeuwarden, Groningen and Oldenburg.

References

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

Dekker, C. (2000) ‘Francis Junius (1591-1677): copyist or editor?’, In: M. Lapidge, M. Godden, & S. Keynes (Eds.), Anglo-Saxon England Volume 29 (pp. 279 – 296). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hofmann, D and A. Popkema (2008) Altfriesisches Handwörterbuch. Heidelberg : Winter.

Leneghan, F. (forthcoming) The Dynastic Drama of “Beowulf”.

Hines, J. & IJssennagger, N. (2017) Frisians and their North-Sea Neighbours. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK : The Boydell Press.

Gerhardt, Ch. & N. Palmer (1992) Das Münchner Gedicht von den fünfzehn Zeichen vor dem Jüngsten Gericht : nach der Handschrift der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek Cgm 717 : Edition und Kommentar.

Giliberto, C. (2007) ‘The Fifteen Signs of Doomsday of the First Riustring Manuscript’, in Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik, 2007, Vol.64(1), pp.129-152.

Stiles, P. (1995) ‘Remarks on the ‘Anglo-Frisian’ Thesis’, in: Friesische Studien II: Beiträge des Föhrer Symposiums zur Friesischen Philologie vom 7.–8. April 1994.
Herausgegeben von Volkert F. Faltings, Alastair G.H. Walker und Ommo Wilts
[
NOWELE Supplement Series 12]. 177-220.

Sytsema, J. (2012) Diplomatic Edition Codex Unia http://tdb.fryske-akademy.eu/tdb/index-unia.html

Sytsema, J. (2018) ‘Old Frisian studies in Oxford’, in: It Beaken, vol.80, 3-4. 202-220.

 

Bodies and Embodiment: An Introduction to the 2018-2019 MML Graduate Network Conference

Sei Shōnagon—an author, poet and court lady who served the Empress Teishi during Japan’s Heian period—mused in her famed The Pillow Book (completed in 1002 CE) that “In life there are two things which are dependable. The pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of literature.” Some of the objectives of the conference organised by this academic year’s MML Graduate Network—which is themed “Bodies and Embodiment”—include interrogation of the possible paths of interconnection between these two dependable pleasures, and consideration of the various ways by which these pleasures may sour into miseries and/or give way to innumerable ambiguities. The MML Graduate Network recognises that the body and all of the attendant splendours and weirdness of being embodied have long preoccupied writers. Publications such as The Cambridge Companion to the Body in Literature (2015), with its introductory references to the fictions and poetries of the likes of Woolf, Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Rimbaud, seek to provide a survey of the body’s old but also endlessly generative multivalence in literary production. Equally, creators of filmic and sonic works have probed and prodded the many layers of human epidermis, sinew and ick for resonance, inspiration and answers to questions both broad and pointed.

Conference poster for Oxford MML Graduate Network Conference 2019

Conference poster for Oxford MML Graduate Network Conference 2019

For this year’s conference, the MML Graduate Network advertised a Call for Papers that encouraged postgraduate students to submit original, scholarly explorations of the many interpretations of the body and embodiment that exist within literary, visual, sonic, and filmic realms—the possible mediums and genres-for-analysis expanded to include namely film and poetry. The number of abstracts submitted was sizeable. Dished up for consideration were diverse contemplations of body talk and bodily themes from different time periods, languages, and geographic regions. More specifically, all interested postgraduate students demonstrated in their submitted abstracts keen engagement with the teaser prompts included in the Call for Papers: ‘Naked and clothed bodies; bodies at the peak of their physical and bodies in all their abject materiality; bodies experiencing pleasure and bodies racked with pain; culturally coded bodies; marginalised bodies; queer bodies; bodies performing violence and bodies performing all sorts of gestures across historical, cultural, and physical spaces; hybrid bodies incorporating technological and animal elements; bodies of text, film or artwork.’

A shift from East to West: with one exception, all of the essays selected for presentation during this academic year’s conference find their topics in the creative productions of both contemporary and past Europe(s). Such European-focused tacklings of all things body and embodiment include: an intellectual and linguistic mapping of Medieval Ireland’s engagement with the notion of shape shifters and the problems posed by this contentiously believed possibility for corporeal mutability on understood divisions between mind and body (Kristýna Zoé Syrová, Oxford), and an exploration of the depiction of hermaphroditism in the contemporary German prose of authors Ulrike Draesner and Sibylle Berg, specifically Draesner’s Mitgift (2005) and Berg’s Vielen Dank für das Leben (2012), that takes into consideration the German Parliament’s 2018 decision to introduce a ‘third sex’ for birth certificates (Francesco Albè, Oxford).

Cover of Ulrike Draesner, Mitgift

Ulrike Draesner, Mitgift. München : Luchterhand, 2002. Taylor Institution Library TNR7560

Next, a deep dive, or perhaps one should say a studied ascent, into Canto IX of Dante’s Purgatorio and what seem to be the fluctuating levels of involvement required of the body when dreaming—the purpose and corporeal politics of purgatorial dreams (Aistė Kiltinavičiūtė, Cambridge). Then, an analysis of the importance of hands and touch in Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (variously published and revised in the last decades of the 16th century), with close reading of the chapter ‘Of Thumbs’, that gives way to a larger exploration of the relationship between hands and writings that proves necessary for comprehending the French writer and philosopher’s attitudes towards the creative process (Vittoria Fallanca, Oxford).

Plate 53 from Dante Alighieri, La Divina commedia, illustration by Gustave Doré

Plate 53 from Dante Alighieri, La Divina commedia. Milano : Società editrici Sonzogno, 1900
Illustrations by Gustave Doré.
Taylor Institution Library REP.X.119

In addition, an analysis of the Russian stage’s only dramatic rendition of the myth of Acteon and Diana, Nikolai Gumilev’s Acteon (1913), that seeks to track Gumilev’s (likely historically and ideologically contextualisable) recasting or redistribution of the mental and bodily potencies accorded to the two figures in earlier tellings of the myth—changing orientations of the division between mind and body made evident through reconceptualisations of old standards (Katherine New, Oxford), and a joint engagement with two popular series of medievalist novels, Maurice Druon’s Les Rois maudit (published between 1955 and 1977) and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (1996-present), that analyses depiction of the maternal body in these respective strings of fictions, whose worlds are replete with binding, patriarchal sexisms that are both reified and undermined by the potential for a woman’s body to swell with new life (Rebecca Elton, Leeds).

 

Moving on to an ingenious probing of the able-body/disabled binary that is grounded in investigation of differing portrayals of disabled bodies in seventeenth-century French lyric poetry, specifically contrasted in this essay are metaphorical versus grotesque (and grotesquely real) thematic employments of the body’s many, potential ‘defects’ in love poetry and cabaret verse respectively (Sam Bailey, Durham); and the last of these European-focused tacklings of the conference’s proposed subject is exploration of Portuguese masculinities and masculine bodies—their construction and maintenance not only metaphorically paralleled but also more immediately necessitated by the mechanics of colonial empire-building and empire-preservation (in particular the events of the Portuguese Colonial War (1961-74), promoted by the Estado Novo)—in Lídia Jorge’s A Costa dos Murmúrios (1988), Isabela Figueiredo’s Caderno de Memorias Coloniais (2009), and Dulce Maria Cardoso’s O Retorno (2011) (Olivia Glaze, Oxford). Moving back easterly: the conference features presentation of a paper that is preoccupied with the feminist-motivated weaponisation of breasts in the writings of Mahasweta Devi and Indira Goswami, and with the various ways by which both these South Asian writers—Devi with her story, ‘Dopdi’, and Goswami with her poem, ‘Ode to a Whore’—have sought to simultaneously reclaim and decolonise literary representations of these organic mounds.

The MML Graduate Network has settled on a ‘tripartite body’ for the structuring of the conference—three panels around which these nine essays are categorized and dialogue: 1) Body/Mind; 2) Breaking Binarism: Subversion, Trauma and Recovery; and 3) In the Flesh. Desired of this structuring is a sort of dance between these three panels, a compelling clashing of limbs that gives fresh shape to and perspective on the body, considered by the MML Graduate Network a fleshly ‘intersecting point between crucial issues of social and political relevance such as identity, gender, sexuality, race and marginalisation.’[1] To complement the discussion generated by these three panels, keynote speaker, Professor Santiago Fouz Hernández of Durham University, was invited to give an address titled ‘Uses and Abuses of the Male Body in Contemporary Film & Media.’ The dynamism of the topic of this year’s MML Graduate Network conference hinges on the belief that there exist educating discomforts swirling around the empty spaces in Shōnagon’s claim for the unfailing feel-good-factor of letters and flesh—dozens of (or, more specifically, nine) microbodies of pioneering thought poised for extraction and examination.

Sawnie Smith
Library Officer, MML Graduate Network

[1] Quoted portions of text are taken from the official Call for Papers.

The conference took place on June 24th, 2019 (Trinity Term, Week 9) in Room 2 of the Taylor Institution Library. A companion exhibition was also on display in the Voltaire Room from 20th May – 1st July, curated by Sawnie Smith and entitled ‘Desde el cuerpo: Contemporary explorations of the body authored by Latin American Women.’ Click here for the exhibition catalogue

A born-digital edition of Voltaire’s Dialogue entre un brahmane et un jésuite

This article was originally posted on the blog of the Voltaire Foundation, and is reposted here with permission of the author. See the original post here

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Just as the print edition of the Œuvres Complètes de Voltaire is fast approaching its completion, we at the Voltaire Foundation are starting work on two new, highly ambitious digital projects thanks to the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: a digital edition of Voltaire’s works based on the Œuvres complètes (Digital Voltaire), and a born-digital edition of the works of Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach (Digital d’Holbach).

With a view to gaining the necessary skills required to begin my work on Digital d’Holbach, in autumn 2018 I attended an intensive course on digital editions run by the Taylorian Institution Library. Taught by Emma Huber in collaboration with Frank Egerton and Johanneke Sytsema, the course takes students through all the phases of the digital edition workflow, from transcription to publication and dissemination. It is a goal-focused, hands-on course during which students are warmly encouraged to create a born-digital edition of a short text from the Taylorian’s collections.

Although short and apparently light in tone, the piece that I chose to edit – Voltaire’s Dialogue entre un brahmane et un jésuite sur la nécessité et l’enchaînement des choses – is a key text in the evolution of Voltaire’s philosophical views. As the title suggests, the Dialogue hinges on the question of determinism (or fatalisme, in eighteenth-century French parlance) and touches on such crucial notions as moral freedom, causation, and the problem of evil. It was first published anonymously in the Abeille du Parnasse of 5 February 1752, and it then went through several reprints during Voltaire’s lifetime, with very few variants.

My edition of the Dialogue is of course not meant to replace the one already available in OCV. Rather, it was conceived to meet the needs of the broader public – and more specifically those of students. A very short introduction, displayed on the right-hand side, provides essential information on the philosophical issues at stake while situating the Dialogue in relation to other key texts by Voltaire. An original translation into English by Kelsey Rubin-Detlev makes the text more widely accessible, allowing students working in fields other than modern languages (e.g. philosophy) to engage with Voltaire’s ideas. High-quality pictures of the 1756 edition, which provides the base text, aim to give non-specialists a taste of what it feels like to leaf through a (dusty) eighteenth-century book. Finally, a modernised version of the text is available next to the facsimile, and a rich corpus of annotations – displaying in both the French transcription and the English translation and featuring links to several other digital resources (the ARTFL Encyclopédie and Tout Voltaire, but also Wikipedia and BibleGateway!) – aims to render the reading experience as informative and rewarding as possible.

But there is more to this edition than first meets the eye! For example, by clicking on ‘Downloads’ in the menu bar, a fifth column will appear from which the user is invited to download pictures as well as TEI/XML files, which can then be used as models to generate further digital editions. Also, a drop-down menu in the transcription column allows users to choose between two different versions of the text in addition to the modernised version displayed by default: a diplomatic transcription of the 1756 edition and a diplomatic transcription of a 1768 edition, which comes with its own set of images that are also available for download under a Creative Commons Licence. By looking at these texts, users will get a sense of how radically French spelling evolved in the mid-eighteenth century.

Readers of this blog are most cordially invited to browse my edition. Any feedback on content or presentation (e.g. the way footnotes or variants are displayed) would be greatly appreciated as I work towards an edition of a considerably longer text by d’Holbach. But more on that in the coming months!

Ruggero Sciuto

Postdoctoral Researcher at Hertford College and the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford

Alexander Solzhenitsyn Centenary Exhibition

Alexander Solzhenitsyn December 11th 1918- August 3rd 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn December 11th 1918- August 3rd 2008

“Cast in bronze, set to music, choreographed, subject of poems, jokes and novels, of dozens of monographs, a score of American doctoral dissertations, innumerable articles, and even a scatological sally in Hustler magazine, parodied and plagiarized, quoted and interpreted in countless incompatible combinations – Solzhenitsyn has produced an impact which, in its extensity, if not its intensity, has been equalled by no other writer in recent times.”[1]  These words, written after the first two decades of Solzhenitsyn’s extraordinary reception in East and West, have, of course, lost their topicality, but there is much to mark as the centenary of his birth approaches.

The Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born on 11 December 1918, when the Revolution had just marked its first anniversary. Despite the efforts of his widowed mother, his upbringing in Kislovodsk and Rostov, in housing makeshift or nomadic, was fraught with the privations and uncertainties of the time.  His obsession with becoming a writer began around the age of ten, and for much of his youth he pursued it where and when he could.

Solzhenitysn’s home-produced newspaper “20th century”

Solzhenitysn’s home-produced newspaper “20th century”

 After university, the War and military service kept him on the move, and it was while he was at the front that he was first arrested in 1945. Eight years of imprisonment, ‘writing’ largely in his head/memory, were followed seamlessly by ‘eternal’ exile, which took him to a remote corner of Kazakhstan and the beginnings of his treatment for cancer. It was not until ‘eternity’ was curtailed by fiat during the Khrushchev Thaw that Solzhenitsyn could move to the relative security and stability of Ryazan.  There, in 1959, he began writing a story ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, taking the line of greatest resistance: that is, eschewing the horrific and chronicling routine life on a relatively benign day in a Stalinist labour camp. In November 1962, the publication, at Nikita Khrushchev’s behest of a work so obviously unpublishable caused a political and literary sensation.  Solzhenitsyn’s brief interval of celebrity gave way in the East to years as unperson, target for KGB assassination, arrestee and then as forcible deportee.  In the West, admiration for his personal courage and for the novels which found their way out of Russia faltered once he turned his attention to the failings of the West. With his return to a new post-Soviet Russia in the early nineties, his reputation in the West entered its eclipse.  In his homeland he remains uncomfortably poised as a tolerated classic.

Oxford can boast a modest claim to association with Solzhenitsyn, principally thanks to three Fellows of St Antony’s College.  In the scramble to translate ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ into English, Max Hayward and Ronald Hingley’s version emerged as superior to the other four early attempts. Their reviews of this and later works did much to promote Solzhenitsyn’s reception in this country, and one of the first British doctoral dissertations devoted to the author appeared at Oxford under their guidance. Solzhenitsyn has remained on the list of optional ‘special authors’ in the Oxford BA syllabus for more than thirty years. In exile from Russia in the 1970s, Solzhenitsyn discovered the translations of a third St Antony’s Fellow, the historian Harry Willetts, who henceforth became his unconditionally preferred English translator until Harry’s death in 2005.

The Taylor Institution’s exhibition of books and illustrations to mark Solzhenitsyn’s centenary is open from 22 November to 17 December.  Though beginning with the author’s celebrated début in 1962, the exhibition then casts back to his literary origins — the juvenilia and labour-camp writing that led up to his break-through in 1962.

A sample of Solzhenitsyn’s juvenilia written when he was a boy. Titles of the stories: Morskoi razboi (Robbery at sea); Siniaia strela (Blue arrow); Strana piraniia (Land of the piranhas)

A sample of Solzhenitsyn’s juvenilia written when he was a boy. Titles of the stories: Morskoi razboi (Robbery at sea); Siniaia strela (Blue arrow); Strana piramid (Land of the pyramids)

 It then returns to the works associated in the West with the Solzhenitsyn of the late sixties and seventies (The First Circle, Cancer Ward and The Gulag Archipelago).   Some exhibits relate to the the intense official campaign mounted against him in connection with his arrest, loss of citizenship and forcible exile in 1974. Others to the Western reaction—veneration, bewilderment or irritation — as he expounded his views in speeches and lectures in America and Europe.

We have tried to capture something of that sustained mythologizing and debunking to which his larger-than-life image was subjected over several decades.  For example, at the height of his political notoriety in the East and his not uncontroversial fame in the West, at least four novels were published presenting fictionalized incarnations of Solzhenitsyn now as heroic  dissident, now as squalid ingrate befouling his own nest, or as slightly batty would-be prophet, preparing to return to a liberated Russia, triumphantly mounted on a white charger, and even (in response to persistent rumours in the seventies) as a malevolent imposter sent to foment hostilities between East and West, while the ‘real’ Solzhenitsyn languishes in captivity.

Such curiosities are included in the exhibition, together with pirate editions, and miscellaneous examples of the accusatory and denunciatory genres.  Together they attest, albeit sometimes obliquely, to Solzhenitsyn’s remarkable and varied impact in East and West over half a century.

Dr Michael Nicholson

University College, Oxford

[1] M. Nicholson, Solzhenitsyn: Effigies and Oddities, in Dunlop, Haugh & Nicholson (eds.), Solzhenitsyn in Exile: critical essays and documentary materials (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1985), p. 132.

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Take a look at the following podcast for Dr Nicholson’s lecture on the event of Solzhenitsyn’s centenary:

The exhibition continues at the Taylor Institution until 17 December. You can link to the exhibition chronology and catalogue below:

Solzhenitsyn exhibition chronology

Solzhenitsyn exhibition catalogue

Digital Editions at the Taylorian : the making of a mazarinade

As a participant in Emma Huber’s[1] inaugural Digital Editions course, I created a digital edition and accompanying transcription of a primary text held by the Taylor Institution Library. I chose to digitize, transcribe and encode a ‘mazarinade,’ dating from 1649 (title-page featured above). This piece belongs to the Taylorian’s vast collection of ‘mazarinades,’ or political pamphlets consisting of ‘short satirical or burlesque texts, in verse or prose, about Cardinal Mazarin, written at the time of the Fronde (1648-1653), a time of uprising and revolt in France while King Louis XIV was still a minor.’ The mazarinades satirize Cardinal Mazarin, who succeeded Richelieu as Minister of State and were the propagandist arm of the political revolution against the French Crown. The reasoning behind my choice of material was grounded in the pamphlet’s convenience for digitization, or ‘digitizability’: it is quarto-sized which means it is easy to photograph, legibly printed, which made it accessible to transcribe, and relatively short, making it a convenient choice for a contained project and first attempt at creating a digital edition. Furthermore, the Taylor Institution Library holds a large number of mazarinades that are not individually catalogued. I hope that the digital edition of the ‘Covrier de la Covr’ is a small contribution to the ongoing project to digitize them to raise awareness of their existence, improve access and, subsequently, promote their incorporation into research on early modern French history, literature and culture.

As a graduate student in early modern French literature, I was equally as curious about the medium of the pamphlet as I was about creating a digital edition; the mazarinades are explicitly polemical products, designed to undermine the Crown’s authority but simultaneously written in verse and therefore perhaps also blurring the line between art and politics. On a theoretical level, I was intrigued by the parallelism between the pamphlet and the digital edition, both being media designed for mass dissemination. By imitating the process of textual editing implicit in the mazarinade’s original creation in the re-production of the pamphlet as a digital artefact, I was made aware of the intricacies undergirding such production in the first place.

This mazarinade is written in rhyming couplets, the playful, sing-song nature of which lends itself well to ridiculing the Cardinal and the Queen. It tells the story of the French court under attack by Spanish forces. The courier who arrives tells the Queen that the only way to save the country is to get rid of the insolent ‘ministre de France,’ who flees the country by the end of the poem. When Mazarin informs the king of his decision, the latter promptly ‘se prit a rire/Disant c’est que ie desire. [began to laugh/saying “that’s what I desire.”]’ further undermining Mazarin’s authority.  What follows in the rest of this blog post is devoted to the process of creating this digital edition for those who want to learn more, but if you’re curious about the text itself, check it out here!

In the creation of this digital edition, editorial decisions began with the act of digitization itself. Under the guidance of Emma Huber, I learned about the various processes behind the creation of a digital edition, a process starting with digitization. In this case, the analog paper pamphlet was turned into a digital document by capturing its image. We used the Library’s camera to photograph each page of the mazarinade, which could be easily saved and transferred to our computers. Already at this stage, the bias of the editor/digitizer crept in, for I initially had not photographed the blank back-side of the pamphlet’s cover page. It contained no information I thought was valuable. And yet, this editorial decision resulted in an incomplete, bastardized version of the pamphlet that, though it was a digital facsimile, was already different from the original. Lots of factors went into the taking of these images such as the care of the book, making sure not to overextend the edges, using lead snakes to hold the pages down, natural lighting and using the maximum resolution possible on the camera.

Once we had all the images, we needed to ‘compress’ the images so that they could be easily represented as thumbnails on the digital editions website; Emma walked us through the various available formats and their purposes. We learned to use the TIFF format for our master images as it is the large preservation format. PNG files compress the file, but don’t lose any data in the process—which is why it can be called ‘lossless’ compression. The reason for not using a .jpeg file is because it creates a small file but loses data every time the file is saved (lossy compression). After converting the images to TIFF files then we cropped them to a standard format that makes the image easily viewable. Emma emphasized the importance of always retaining the original image and saving any changes made as a separate file. The importance of this is to ensure that no data is lost, since with every new save and/or change you lose information about the original image. She also emphasized the importance of providing metadata about the images such as which camera was used, the resolution, date of the picture, the shelfmark of the document captured, the holding library and then a description of the content of the image. This metadata should always be in open format that is available to anyone. And the description should use a controlled vocabulary in order to describe the content of the image so that it is more easily searchable for interested viewers.

It should be noted here that using a camera for the creation of digital text is useful when wanting to display that text alongside a transcription, but since cameras are unable to perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR), these digital documents alone are often insufficient for researchers, as they are not searchable or in a format that can be manipulated into other formats. As such, transcription was an essential component of this project; I chose to create a semi-diplomatic transcription, which attempts to preserve as much of the original textual presentation as possible, except where making small orthographic changes greatly enhances the readability for a modern audience. In my edition, all original spelling has been maintained, including the interchangeable use of u and v and other spelling variations. All accents and original punctuation have been reproduced, although editorial choices about spacing were made; where I felt the original lack of spacing between words would have made the document less readable or unclear, I used modern spacing practices. On line 210, there appears to be a printer error: it reads “lny” instead of “luy” however I maintained the mistake as such and signalled it in my editorial note.

Our transcriptions were created in the oXygen text editing software application, which creates ‘plain text’ that conforms easily to the XML markup language and thus also lends itself more easily to the process of ‘encoding.’ During this process, we also learned about the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) which has set out the rules for various elements used by XML to encode a transcribed text. These various codes and tags not only delineate the format elements, such as the title, body, quote, but also where verse appears and where editorial choices have been made. By doing this ‘structural encoding,’ it makes it possible for the encoded text to serve as the base for a variety of ‘transformations,’ in which the XML document is transformed into HTML (webpages), a PDF, EPUB (e-publication), DOCx or ODT (open data document). For me, the most important implication of having an xml-encoded text is that it opens up the possibilities of where you can take the scholarship from there. Although I did not extend the project this term, I would have been able to extract much data from a set of mazarinades. Hopefully when the corpus of digital mazarinades grows, scholars will be able to query the data sets using methods such as content analysis, social network analysis and corpus linguistics in order to expand the research being done on these texts. By turning qualitative observations into quantitative data, it might be possible to reach more audiences with more information. For example, now that I have the XML version, I could create a visualization that tracks the number of times the Queen regent is mentioned in the mazarinades, compared with how many times Cardinal Mazarin occurs, and compared with how often their names are mentioned in conjunction. I would have to ‘code’ the occurrences of each of these incidents, but once I have the quantitative data, I could use data visualization tools to present this information clearly and succinctly on a visual graphic.

While this seems to be a bit superfluous and redundant for a short pamphlet that can easily be studied by a literary scholar, the potential for data visualizations is particularly useful to researchers looking at massive corpora of texts, because it allows them to look at the information from a distance in a way that might lead to new research questions. And secondly, this merging of quantitative methods and qualitative data in sources such as literary texts, makes the research more easily accessible to a lay audience. Rather than needing to possess the skills of an Oxford graduate student, information can be communicated effectively in a matter of minutes with a good visualization and a thorough legend for the graphic. Therefore, the creation of digital editions is significant not only because they break open access to documents by making texts freely available online, but because the creation of ‘metadata’ about the texts and the quantification of humanities-based observations gives rise to different kinds of research methodologies that ask different kinds of questions; not only does this give the humanities researcher more breadth to contextualize and deepen her own research, it also provides the space for interdisciplinary collaboration on textual or historical artefacts that become the point of convergence for researchers from fields ranging from comparative literature to anthropology to computer science. Such collaboration inevitably results in, or has the capacity to result in, a deeper understanding not only of historical narratives and literary methods, but also of the socio-political structures governing access to information and its distribution in the modern day.

For me personally, the digitization of this mazarinade allowed me to connect to the text and the conditions of its original production that would not have been apparent had I been studying it online as an already digitized document. Going through the entire process of creating the digital document, its text and its context, as well as publishing it online for a variety of audiences brought to mind questions about the various layers of decision-making behind the creation of a text by a multitude of actors, from the author to the editor to the printer and the distributor. Although these questions would arise with any digital edition, the choice of the mazarinade aligned well with this one, especially when thinking about the polemical and ethical dimensions of mass textual dissemination. It is my hope that this blog post will serve as a small means of contextualizing the creation of this digital edition and prompt readers—researchers, teachers, students, historians, librarians, mazarinade enthusiasts alike—to think about how we acquire, process, and package information in the modern age and whether or not universities and libraries, as major guardians of this information, have an ethical responsibility to disseminate it so that texts, like the mazarinades, that were intended for a public readership, can reach one in the modern day.

[1] Emma Huber is the German subject librarian at the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford.

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Eileen Jakeway, MSt French and German

Ancient Scripts : Ogham – Old Irish inscriptions

On 1st November 2017 Dr Dominique Santos, a visiting scholar at the Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity from the University of Blumenau, Brazil, gave a lecture on Ogham in the series ‘Introducing Ancient Scripts’. He kindly sent us a summary of his lecture. We are pleased to include this in our blog especially since he spent many months in the Taylor Institution Library for his research on Ogham, the script used for Old Irish, mainly inscribed on stones in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Remarkably, the inscriptions were not made on the face but on the edge of the stones.

FARDEL Stone, from Devon, England (THOMAS, 1994, Fig. 16.6).

FARDEL Stone, from Devon, England (THOMAS, 1994, Fig. 16.6).

Some of the Ogham Stones are bilingual Ogham – Latin. In the studies on Latin language and bilingualism in Britannia Romana (Roman Britain), Ogham Stones are not often discussed. Aside from very specific studies, mainly conducted by Celtic scholars, little is said about the contexts of bilingualism (ADAMS, 2004) considering these monuments. There is a propensity in Roman epigraphic studies, including the most recent ones, to disregard bilingual Ogham Stones, even when focused on Late Antiquity.

That is why I have spent a year studying mainly the Ogham Stones. In the Taylorian I had access not only to the most important publications in the field of Ogham but also to the history of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man as well. The Library has a wonderful staff and the team is very knowledgeable about the collection and ready to help scholars research and explore this material.

During my working days at the Institutio Tayloriana, I have been asking myself the following questions: what could Ogham Stones tell us about exchanges and connections across the Irish Sea in Late Antiquity? Will the knowledge of this specific corpus be able to increase our understanding of the interaction among diverse cultures that inhabited, traded and communicated in (post-) Roman Britannia? Besides what has already been produced in other disciplines, how far could a historical approach to the subject contribute to its comprehension? Will these monuments have a broader role in historical books, being appreciated not only as merely illustrative ‘narrative appendices’ or an epigraphic object working as complement to other written sources? These are some of the issues I was concerned about.

‘Ogham Stones’ is the name the researchers of this field use to make reference to some erected stone monuments in Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales, England and Scotland. This designation is based on the main alphabet, Ogham, created to carve short written messages on these monuments, which enabled the sound representation of the Irish language in its infancy. Because of this, Ogham Stones are considered national monuments in Ireland and controlled by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, an official government body. In fact, the majority of the stones are in Ireland, mainly in the South, in the counties of Kerry, Cork and Waterford, from where 247 inscriptions are registered. It would be a very hard task to keep them apart from their Irish background and the debate about the idea of Irishness. However, Ogham Stones are not restricted to Ireland; they are fundamental evidence for elucidating many aspects of the history of the places where they are found (MCMANUS, 1991; SANTOS, 2015) and, above all, the exchanges and connections across the Irish Sea in Late Antiquity, the object of this research.

Lewannick Ogham Stone – Cornwall - England

Lewannick Ogham Stone – Cornwall – England

In order to carve the messages using the Ogham alphabet, incisions were made around the edges of a stone, interpreted like a ‘natural line’, from bottom to top and left to right. The meaning was determined by the number, position and direction of the notches in this ‘line’. The marks were grouped in four blocks (aicmí) of five, corresponding to 20 letters. When they stand to the right of this central stemline they are consonants: one incision makes a ‘b’, two a ‘l’, three a ‘v/f/w’, four a ‘s’, and five a ‘n’. Following the same pattern, but to the left side: ‘h/y’, ‘d’, ‘t’, ‘c’, and ‘q’. Five diagonal marks across the stemline make the sequence ‘m’, ‘g’, ‘gw’, ‘st’, and ‘r’. The vowels were made with dots or horizontal lines crossing the stemline of the rock, also following the same logic. Thus, ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘u’, ‘e’ and ‘i’ (THURNEYSEN, 2003). A graphical example can be seen on the figure below.

The Ogham alphabet (CHARLES-EDWARDS, 2000, p. 165).

The Ogham alphabet (CHARLES-EDWARDS, 2000, p. 165).

The inscriptions to be carved were conceived by the ‘Oghamist’, a certain scholar with a deep knowledge of Irish tradition, mainly of the Early Irish Language (MCMANUS, 2006). In order to achieve a better quality, this scholar designed a sample, perhaps modelled on wax or a wooden piece and then a craftsman would have the task of carving the inscription at its final destination, the stone itself. It is possible that the person hired to do the job had little or no knowledge at all of the content of the writing, which could lead to misunderstandings and mistakes (MACALISTER, 1945/1996).

Ogham inscriptions have a similar pattern; they usually consist of personal names, ancestry or tribal affiliation. Fionnbarr Moore explains the inscriptions have a specific number of formulae: X MAQI Y, in English ‘X son of Y’; X AVI Y, in which AVI means ‘grandson’; X MAQI MUCOI Y, in this case, MAQI means ‘descendant’ and MUCOI perhaps stands for  some ancestral deity; another common Irish word is ANM, meaning ‘name of’; some stones also have inscriptions with KOI, which means ‘here’, this being the equivalent to the Latin Hic Iacit (Iacet) ‘here lies’; another important word is CELI, like in the formula X CELI Y, which means, ‘X follower of Y’. These phrases can be mixed to generate formulae like: X MAQI Y MUCOI Z; X KOI MAQI MUCOI Y (MOORE, 2010). In several occasions there is no formula at all, but just isolated names (MCMANUS, 2006, p. 98-99).

Despite the nomenclature and the epigraphic tradition, Ogham was not exclusively carved on stones, but also on other objects including bones, a wooden weaver’s sword, and a knife-handle (MCMANUS, 2006). From the 7th century on there are manuscripts written in Ogham. The most important of them is the Auraicept na nÉces, preserved at the fol. 169r- 180v of the Book of Ballymote, which explains how the alphabet works.

First page of the Auraicept na n-Éces from The Book of Ballymote. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS. 23 p 12, F. 170r.

First page of the Auraicept na n-Éces from The Book of Ballymote. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS. 23 p 12, F. 170r.

The tradition according to which the name of the letters of the Ogham alphabet comes from names of trees originated in this document; another fundamental text is the De dúilib feda na forfid, a manuscript that explains the functionality of the Ogham additional characters; In Lebor Ogaim, in its turn, is the most ancient treatise written in Old Irish about Ogham.

A definitive or absolute chronology for Ogham inscriptions cannot be provided. Since dendrochronology, thermoluminescence, carbon-14 and other modern dating methods are not useful to give a precise year of a stone, we can only try to figure out a relative chronology and this is what specialists have done. By using a philological approach and comparing the findings with other written sources and historical facts, finally, it is believed that Ogham Stones were probably carved since the middle 4th or the beginnings of the 5th century. However, it is possible that the alphabet employed to write the first graphical signs of Old Irish language was in use by the 2nd century (HARVEY, 1990, p. 13-14), or even the 1st (CARNEY, 1975, p. 53-65), and continued to be produced until the 9th (MCMANUS, 1991).

A late printed copy of the Book of Leinster manuscript containing the Epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, in which the Irish hero Cúchulainn exchanges messages in Ogham [The Book of Leinster, (Dublin : Royal Irish Academy, 1880) Taylor Institution Library shelfmark C.625.22[O]]

A late printed copy of the Book of Leinster manuscript containing the Epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, in which the Irish hero Cúchulainn exchanges messages in Ogham [The Book of Leinster, (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1880) Taylor Institution Library shelfmark C.625.22[O]].

Over such a vast period, some changes in this Irish epigraphical tradition can be noticed. Perhaps, the most remarkable could be the way the marks were carved. From the 4th until the 6th century they were made over the edge of the stones, interpreted as a ‘natural line’; since the 7th century, the stemline started to be drawn on the surface of the stone.

Ogham and Runic inscriptins on Maughold Stone (c. 800-899), from Kirk Maughold, Isle of Man (KERMODE, 1907, Plate LXIV).

Ogham and Runic inscriptins on Maughold Stone (c. 800-899), from Kirk Maughold, Isle of Man (KERMODE, 1907, Plate LXIV).

Generally, the first group of inscriptions is denominated as ‘orthodox’; the second is called ‘scholastic’.

The first Ogham Stone to be registered was found in 1702, in a place called Emlagh East (IMLEACH DHÚN SÉANN), in Co. Kerry, in the Dingle peninsula, Ireland, by the Welsh antiquarian Edward Lhuyd.  Nowadays, about 400 stones are known and recorded in Macalister’s Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum (CIIC). However, little attention has been given to the 33 bilingual corpora of Britannia. They were erected in Britannia Romana (and post-Roman Britain) and carved with Ogham alphabet and Roman capital letters in order to register messages in two languages, Irish and Latin. Some examples, are: Ogham Stone CIIC 368, that reads ‘MAQI MUCOI DUMELEDONAS’, in Ogham, for Irish language, and ‘BARRIVENDI FILIVS VENDVBARI HIC IACIT’, in Roman capitals, for Latin; CIIC 500, from which follows the inscription ‘[E]B[I]CATOS M[A]QI ROC[A]T[O]S’, in Ogham, and ‘ANMECATI FILIVS ROCATI HIC IACIT’, in Roman capitals; there are stones that contain only names in Ogham, but more information is given in Latin from the Roman capitals. These are the cases of CIIC 353, in which can be read ‘TRENACCATLO’, in Ogham, and ‘TRENACATVS IC IACIT FILIVS MAGLAGNI’, in Roman capitals; CIIC 358, that reads ‘VOTECORIGAS’, in Ogham, and ‘MEMORIA VOTEPORIGIS PROTICTORIS’, in Roman capitals; CIIC 380, from which one can read ‘ICORIGAS’, in Ogham, and ‘ICORI FILIVS POTENTINI’, in Roman capitals; and CIIC 422, that reads ‘VENDOGNI’, in Ogham, and [U]ENDOGNI [F]ILI [H]OCIDEGNI, in Roman capitals.

If Britannia Romana made an impact on Hibernia (the Latin name for Ireland), the opposite also happened. John Roche states that forts and cities in the region of what is Wales today, such as Cardiff and Caerwent, were designed to withstand Irish attacks, which saw the region as a potential slave market like the one in which (Saint) Patrick was captured. Many Roman coins were found in Ireland and are evidence for both trade and Irish incursions. This movement helps us to understand the later Irish colonies in Britain, evidence of much more permanent diplomatic relationships (ROCHE, 1993, p. 7-9). Anthony Harvey explains this is not surprising at all as the sea at the time was more a way than an impediment. Thus, the Irish Sea must have formed what he calls ‘an effective block to cultural communication for hundreds of years’ (HARVEY, 1990, p. 14). According to Charles Thomas, Irish presence in Britain may go back to the 3rd century and have lasted until the Viking incursions and is attested by the existence of personal names, nouns and conjunctions in Ogham inscriptions from the region (THOMAS, 1973, p. 5-13).

Thomas Charles-Edwards has pointed out that these inscriptions in Ogham indicate a desire to elevate Old Irish language to the same level and status as Latin (CHARLES-EDWARDS, 2000, p. 176-177).

To investigate Ogham Stones as evidence of historical connections across the Irish Sea was the challenge of my research, developed as part of my Sabbatical Leave at Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity. It would hardly have been possible without having access to the Taylorian Celtic Collection.

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Dr. Dominique Santos – Lecturer in Ancient and Medieval History at FURB – University of Blumenau – Santa Catarina – Brazil, was a Visiting Scholar at Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity in 2017.

References

(Titles available in the Taylor Institution Library)

ADAMS, J.N. Bilingualism and the Latin Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

ATKINSON, Robert. The Book of Leinster: sometime called the Book of Glendalough: a collection of pieces, prose and verse, in the Irish language, compiled in part, about the middle of the twelfth century: now for the first time published from the original manuscript in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1880.

BRUUN, Christer; EDMONDSON, Jonathan. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Epigraphy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

CARNEY, James. The Invention of the Ogom Cipher. Ériu, Vol. 26, 1975, p. 53-65.

CHARLES-EDWARDS, T. M.  Early Christian Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

COOLEY, Alisson E. The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

DI MARTINO, Vittorio. Roman Ireland, London: The Collins Press. 2003.

FORSYTH, Katherine Stuart. The Ogham Inscriptions of Scotland: An Edited Corpus. PhD Thesis, Harvard University, 1996. p. L.

FREEMAN, Philip. Ireland and the Classical World. Houston: University of Texas Press. 2001.

GUARINELLO, N. L. . Uma Morfologia da História: as formas da História Antiga. Politéia (Vitória da Conquista), Vitória da Conquista, v. 3, n.1, p. 41-62, 2003.

HARVEY, Anthony. The Ogham Inscriptions and the Roman Alphabet: Two Traditions or One? Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 4, Nº1, 1990. p. 13-14.

HINGLEY, Richard. Hadrian’s Wall: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012.

KERMODE, P.M.C. Manx Crosses. London: Bemrose & Sons Ltd, 1907.

MACALISTER, R.A.S. Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum, Vol I. Dublin, Stationery Office, 1945.

MACALISTER, R.A.S. Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum, Vol I. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996.

MCMANUS, Damian. A Guide to Ogam. Maynooth, 1991.

MCMANUS, Damian. Written on Stone. Irish Arts Review. Vol. 23, Nº3, 2006, pp. 98-99.

MOORE, Fionnbarr. The Ogham Stones of County Kerry. In: MURRAY, Griffin. Medieval Treasures of County Kerry. Tralee : Kerry County Museum 2010.

Ó CRÓINÍN, Dáibhi. Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200. Londres: Longman, 1995.

REDNAP, Mark. A corpus of early medieval inscribed stones and stone sculpture in Wales. Cardiff : University of Wales Press, 2007-2013.

ROCHE, John. The Influence of Ireland on Roman Britain…:…Cursus Unicus? Archaeology Ireland. Vol. 7, nº 1, 1993, p. 7-9.

SANTOS, Dominique. Patrício: A Construção da Imagem de um Santo/How the Historical Patrick Was Transformed into the St. Patrick of Religious Faith. 1. ed. New York; Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2013.

SANTOS, Dominique. A Cultura Hiberno-Latina na Bretanha romana e pós-romana: evidências a partir das Ogham Stones. In: Anais eletrônicos do XXVIII Simpósio Nacional de História da ANPUH, Florianópolis, 2015.

STEVENSON, Jane. The Beginnings of Literacy in Ireland. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature. Vol. 89C, 1989. p. 127-165.

SWIFT, Catherine. Ogam Stones and the Earliest Irish Christians. Maynooth Monographs Series Minor II. Maynooth: St. Patrick’s College. 1997. p. 90.

THOMAS, Charles. Irish Colonists in South-West Britain. World Archaeology. Vol. 5, nº 1, Colonization, 1973, p. 5-13.

THOMAS, Charles. And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994.

THURNEYSEN, E. R. A Grammar of Old Irish. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 2003.

 

 

Ancient Scripts and language

In a packed lecture room in the Taylor Institution Library, John Coleman, Professor of Phonetics at Oxford, gave a fascinating seminar on the connection between Ancient Scripts and language. He focused on the following questions; “What might writing systems reveal about how people think (or thought) about their languages? How are differences between writing systems relate to differences between languages?”

He pointed out that script is relatively young, as the earliest examples of writing date back only 6000 years (to 4000 BC), whereas 200,000 years ago homo sapiens already had speech. The importance of writing language down was illustrated by the request to the University from a non-literate speaker of Nipode Uitoto, an oral South American language, to invent a writing system for his language. The request reached Oxford via a linguistics student when he did fieldwork in the area. In the recorded message the speaker said “…We truly want to know about our language so that we can teach our word to our children. […] if it is truly possible to write down our language, I want to know how this can be done.”

In the Middle East, script developed from ideographs (characters representing concepts) to syllabic script (characters representing sounds). The oldest texts were either written on stone or on clay tablets, some of which have survived. In Oxford, we don’t have far to go to see examples: the Ashmolean Museum holds clay tablets as well as engraved stones. The stone monument pictured below is engraved with Hieroglyphic Luwian, where some symbols represent a whole word but most represent syllables.

Stone monument from Carchemish (modern Jarablus, Syria) written in Hieroglyphic Luwian.

Stone monument, Ashmolean Museum.

Syllabic scripts were regarded as systems of sounds that could be listed in syllabaries; lists of symbols that represent syllables with a consonant and a vowel in one symbol or element. There are examples of such syllabaries in various languages, including the Native American language Cherokee, Japanese, Amharic (Ethiopic) and the Linear B writing system used to write Mycenean Greek. Since the symbols consist of just one element representing sounds like ‘da’ or ‘ja’, these symbols show no understanding of the distinction between consonants and vowels.

Mycenaean Greek (Linear B)

Bilingual texts can help us to decipher scripts and translate unknown languages. For example, the extract below from an Old Babylonian grammar with Sumerian translation gives us an insight into both languages. We can see in the chart below that Sumerian has more inflections than Babylonian.  Members of the Babylonian elite were keen to learn the Sumerian language as it was seen as more prestigious.

Extract from Old Babylonian Grammatical Text I (c.1600 BC)

Ancient Chinese writing, which is entirely separate from the Middle Eastern tradition, also shows some awareness of sound structure. The majority of Chinese characters are picto-phonetic, so every character has a meaning in itself, but can also be used for its phonetic value as a sound.  Even in the case of pictograms that do not have an internal structure, there are some examples indicating that scholars analysed the syllable in two parts as in the rhyme tables below.

Ancient Chinese (700 AD)

In conclusion, the earliest writing is based on both meaning and sounds, so even the oldest symbols could already represent sounds. “Sounds” usually means syllables or parts of syllables. Moving to writing based on sounds makes literacy easier to acquire and makes it possible to read and write almost anything, including intangible meanings and foreign names. Almost as soon as scribal education started, we have documents about language: sign-lists, lists of vocabulary, lists of translations, grammatical paradigms … in other words, what we once called Grammar and now call Linguistics.

Many thanks to Prof. Coleman for the content of this blog. You can listen to the full lecture and see the slides here.

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Johanneke Sytsema, Linguistics Librarian

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Further reading

Senner, W. M. ed. 1991. The Origins of Writing. University of Nebraska Press.

Naveh, Joseph. 1982. Early history of the alphabet : an introduction to West Semitic epigraphy and palaeography. Jerusalem : Magnes Press, Hebrew University ; Leiden : E.J. Brill.

Powell, Barry B. 2012. Writing : theory and history of the technology of civilization. Chichester : Wiley-Blackwell.

Robinson, Andrew. 2009. Writing and script : a very short introduction Oxford : Oxford University Press

Jean, Georges. 1992. Writing : the story of alphabets and scripts. London : Thames & Hudson.

Harris, Roy. 1986. The origin of writing.  La Salle, Ill : Open Court.

Daniels, Peter T. and William Bright, eds. 1996. The World’s Writing Systems. OUP.

Coulmas, Florian. 1989. The Writing Systems of the World. Blackwell.

Sampson, Geoffrey.1985. Writing Systems, a Linguistic Introduction. London: Hutchinson.

Cohen, Marcel. 1958. La grande invention de l’écriture et son evolution. Paris : Impr. Nationale.

Baines, John. J.Bennet and S.D.Houston. 2008. The disappearance of writing systems : perspectives on literacy and communication. London : Equinox.

Asher, R. E. and E. J. A. Henderson, eds. 1981. Towards a History of Phonetics. Edinburgh University Press.

Jacobsen, T. ‘Very Ancient Linguistics’, in: Hymes, D.ed., Studies in the History of Linguistics: Traditions and Paradigms. Indiana University Press. pp.41-62.

Veldhuis, Niek. 2014. History of the Cuneiform Lexical Tradition. Münster : Ugarit-Verlag.

Glassner, Jean-Jacques. 2003. The Invention of Cuneiform. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Melchert, H. Craig, ed. 2003. The Luwians. Brill.

Han, Jiantang. 2012. Chinese characters. Cambridge University Press

Tsien, Tsuen-hsuin. 2013. Written on bamboo and silk : the beginnings of Chinese books and inscriptions. Chicago ; London : University of Chicago Press.

Drucker, Johanna. 1995. The alphabetic labyrinth : the letters in history and imagination. London : Thames & Hudson.

Martin Luther: ein Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen – An Open Letter on Translating (1530)

500 years ago, on 31st October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ Church (known as the Castle Church) in Wittenberg; this became known as the start of the Reformation.

Not many years later, in 1522, Luther finished his Bible translation into German, thus making the Bible accessible to people who did not know Latin. They could now read the Bible for themselves, and were no longer solely dependent on explanations and interpretations given by priests. Not only was this Bible translation hugely important in the breakthrough of the Reformation; it also was the deciding factor in determining the main language used in Germany. Since Luther wrote in his own High German dialect, this – rather than Low German – became the main language of Germany.

It was not just the fact that Luther had translated the Bible that was important: it was also the way he did it. Like others before him, Luther cultivated a sense-for-sense, as opposed to a word-for-word, approach. His great innovation was a translation style close in register to colloquial speech, but with a simple eloquence that brought the original text alive. (Jones 2017: xiv)

Luther explained his ideas about sense-for-sense translating of the Bible in an Open Letter, Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen (Open Letter on Translating). This Sendbrief or Open Letter is one of the Luther pamphlets the Taylorian is fortunate to hold. These pamphlets were acquired from several University Libraries, notably Heidelberg, in 1878. The Sendbrief was chosen for re-publication on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Subsequently, it has been published online, and including a translation into English, and can be freely downloaded from http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylor/about/exhibitions-and-publications (print copies for sale in the library). Howard Jones translated the text into English, Henrike Lähnemann wrote the introduction and Emma Huber (German Librarian) prepared the digital publication.

Image of the Taylorian publication of Luther's Ein Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen - an open letter on translating.

The Sendbrief was read out in full on 25th May 2017 at the Taylor Institution by over 30 readers who read one or two paragraphs each. This reading event brought the text to life in a new way. The entire event is available on video from http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/sendbrief-vom-dolmetschen.

As an author, Luther came across as a witty person who knew how to engage with his audience of ordinary people. He criticised his opponents for being ‘Esel’ (donkeys), not clever enough to understand that the real purpose of the Bible was to be read by all, whether educated or not.

Luther’s thoughts about translation also became clear to me when I heard the letter read aloud.  His thoughts on how to translate in such a manner that the ordinary person could understand the text can be regarded as an early example of translation theory. One of Luther’s arguments against literal translation was illustrated by the angel’s greeting to Mary ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord be with you’. Luther goes on to say ‘Tell me, is this good German? Show me any German who says, ‘You are full of grace’. For that matter, what German will understand the meaning of ‘full of grace’? They’re going to think of a barrel full of beer or a bag full of money. That’s why I rendered it into German as ‘gracious one’, to make it easier for a German to actually work out what the angel means by his greeting.’ Luther’s concern was that the language of the Bible should not be a barrier to understanding for those listening to it read aloud, or reading it themselves.

The facsimile and transcription can be found on https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylor-reformation/digital-library/ein-sendbrief-vom-dolmetschen/.

 

References

Martin Luther, translated by Howard Jones (2017) Ein Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen = An open letter on translating. Treasures of the Taylorian. Series one. Reformation pamphlets. Oxford : Taylor Institution Library.

Taylor Institution Library Main Stack BR333.L88 LUT 2017

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Johanneke Sytsema, Linguistics Librarian