A post of stuff!

Stuff, it’s happening! On the internets.

For example, archaeologists in Iran have discovered a thirteenth-century observatory.

And RicaManuscript image - a piperrdo Chao created (and uploaded) a new computer font based on 12-th century Spanish chancery script. It’s shiny. Probably too shiny for anything but headings, and not all headings at that. But shiny. [This link and the preceding came via News for Medievalists]

U. Michigan have an online exhibition on Late Antique magical doodads: amulets, gems, recipes, aggressive magics, and something called a Demon Bowl.I <3 nerds

Here are a stack of pictures of medieval and renaissance dancers. Sadly, some of the links are borked.

Wickedday, in a laudable exercise of linguistic geekery, created an Old English scrabble set – and has instructions on how to build your own.

And [I think this was also via News for Medievalists]: renovations on a church in Berkshire have uncovered Britains’ oldest working window. It’s tiny. And adorable.

A week or so ago, Lesboprof posted a handy-dandy list of practical, professional advice for administrators and teachers (at tertiary level, although possibly applicable at other levels) on how to be actively queer-friendly on campus. I I'm in ur history - emphasizin your queerzassume by now you’ve all seen the flurry of blogging and social networking arising from the recent spate of well-reported suicides by queer youth in the US, and carrying on into (US-based) National Coming Out Day. I read a lot of the resulting material, and Lesboprof’s advice is that which I found ‘best’, by the arbitrary standards of ‘things Highly likes’. I urge you to read the post and consider applying some of her suggestions if you are in a position to do so.

Finally, in case you missed it, historians admit to inventing Ancient Greece.


I am alive, I swear

Just stupidly busy. Apparently writing a thesis full-time, taking one unit of study, and teaching four hours a week is exhausting. Who knew?*

I’m having fun, though! This week I get to talk to first-years about Old English. Cotton Claudius B.iv is a gorgeous manuscript, incidentally: we’re showing the students the intro to Genesis in three different forms of English over a three-week period, and since the edition we had of AElfric’s Genesis was taken from Claudius B.iv, I went down to Rare Book and obtained a scan of a couple of pages from the facsimile. It’s beautiful. My heart still belongs to Junius 11, and sadly the Claudius facsimile is only available in black and white, but damn, it’s gorgeous.

Here, have a Horrible Histories account of the death of Edmund Ironside:

Nevermind that they’ve erroneously called him Edmund II. I never knew there was a Horrible Histories TV show at all! Also, why does Death look like Lucius Malfoy?


*Most of you, probably.

We figured it out!

Kayloulee figured out what’s going on with the Cambridge website. They might be dismal, but they’re embracing the finest traditions of Old English literature to express their fortitude in the face of the dismal prospects of academia.

Old English Literature, as enacted, in interpretive dance, on the front lawns of Sydney Uni by Highly and eggs_maledict the other day:1

The Seafarer: I’m all ALONE on a BOAT and I HAVE NO FRIENDS.

The Wanderer: I’m all ALONE on a BOAT and it’s COLD and I HAVE NO FRIENDS.

The Wife’s Lament: I’m all ALONE in a HOLE under a TREE and I HAVE NO FRIENDS.

and for comparison:

The University of Cambridge website for prospective postgrads: You’ll be all ALONE in a LIBRARY and it’s BORING and you’ll HAVE NO COLLEAGUES.


1. No really, we did. Apparently it was highly entertaining for persons standing outside the library watching us.

Allow me to fangirl Tolkien for a moment

Hello again blogosphere, sorry for my long absence :). Final essays swallowing me up. I have one due on Beowulf on Thursday- which I’ve barely started, whoopee, this’ll be fun.

Have I told you before how I have an ingrained dislike of Beowulf? I freely admit that a good slice of this dislike is because it’s hard, and I don’t like things I’m not naturally good at. And a good slice of the dislike is because the mindset of the poem just doesn’t grab me. I don’t understand it, it slips out of view. I understand Roland, so it’s not a dislike of heroic epic. I like Cuchulainn even though I don’t really understand it, so it’s not a dislike of mythological epic either. I just… people have to sit down and spell out all the breathtaking and wonderful things about Beowulf before I can see them, and even then they don’t grab me.

Tolkien, on the other hand, does grab me. And Tolkien loves Beowulf. Tonight I read “The Monsters and the Critics” for the first time: I’ve never had to read it before, and my only prior exposure to Tolkien’s academic writing was “On English and Welsh”, which is awfully dull. I realise a lot of Monsters and Critics is out-dated now, and so on, and so forth. But right now, with Tolkien in front of me, I feel I could love this poem, and that’s quite a novel feeling.

So allow me to fangirl some of the best quotes (not necessarily the ones best descriptive of the poem, or most useful for my essay… just the best quotes):

A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold. Even to-day (despite the critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them, who have yet been caught by the fascination of the worm.

On heroism:

Beowulf is not, then, the hero of an heroic lay, precisely. He has no enmeshed loyalties, nor hapless love. He is a man, and that for him and many is sufficient tragedy

and later:

So potent is it, that while the older southern imagination has faded forever into literary ornament, the northern has power, as it were, to revive the spirit even in our own times. It can work, even as it did with the go*th*lauss</EM viking, without gods: martial heroism as its own end. But we may remember that the poet of Beowulf saw clearly: the wages of heroism is death.

On the fusion of pagan and Christian mythology in Beowulf (still a hotly debated topic, I know, and one of the areas in which Tolkien is now a out of date):

The monsters had been the foes of the gods, captains of men, and within Time the monsters would win. In the heroic siege and last defeat men and gods alike had been imagined in the same host. Now the heroic figures, the men of old, haele*th* under heofenum, remained and still fought on until defeat. For the monsters do not depart, whether the gods go or come. A Christian was (and is) still like his forefathers a mortal hemmed in a hostile world.

Er, yes. I realise this is not the SRS academic content one expects. But, regardless of your opinion on Tolkien’s scholarship, consider the lovely prose. Why can’t more academic papers be this well written? I tore through the 45 pages of “Monsters and Critics” in about an hour, complete with fangirly outbursts and making K listen to me reading bits aloud. Gillian R. Overing’s “The Women of Beowulf”, which is about the same length, took me *two days* to wade through, with its incomprehensible prose.

What is ‘Wulfstan’s Commonplace Book’?

Helloo, Blogoverse! I just finished the introduction to my thesis, and am bouncing off the walls. In an endeavour to calm down and get some sleep, let me share with you my historiographical introduction to the study of Wulfstan’s ‘Commonplace Book’. Please excuse the talking-up of myself at the end, I’m told it’s necessary, in order to justify one’s writing a thesis at all, to situate onself in relation to the best scholarship in the field. Also please excuse the inexplicably tiny text, no idea why it’s done that to me.

Mary Bateson, in 1895, first identified four manuscripts, including Nero A.i(B), which contain a common collection of canon law and ecclesiastical tracts in Latin. She posited that the Commonplace Book was a sort of scrapbook for a bishop’s personal use, as a guidebook in diocesan administration.[1] A substantial part of the Latin writings in these manuscripts comprised what was known, on the basis of medieval and early modern textual errors, the Excerptionese Ecgberhti. The Exerptiones have now been shown to be a collection of canon law by earlier authors, not distinct from the similar texts around it, and collected by Wulfstan himself rather than his predecessor Ecgbert.[2]

Dorothy Bethurum repeated Bateson’s assessment of the ‘Commonplace Book’ in her edition of the Homilies,[3] and in her seminal article, ‘Archbishop Wulfstan’s Commonplace Book’, identified a group of eight manuscripts, including Nero A.i(B), which contain a similar series of Latin works, dealing with the affairs of a bishop in administering a diocese. Her opinion was that three of these were compiled during Wulfstan’s lifetime; Nero A.i(B), British Library Cotton Vespasian A.xiv, and Copenhagen Royal Library Gl. Kgl. S 1595. [4] (Another manuscript, held in Rouen, has been added to the list in 1992,[5] and another in Bodleian Ms Barlow 37.[6]) Subsequently, Bethurum systematically worked through the evidence for Wulfstan’s own use of the Commonplace Book, finding numerous examples of large and small excerpts used in Wulfstan’s Anglo-Saxon writings.[7]

The dominant approach to the study of this manuscript group, until Patrick Wormald, was in this vein. Mary Bateson had seen the Commonplace Book as a personal administrative tool for a bishop; Dorothy Bethurum then went on to show that Wulfstan personally used the collections of Latin ecclesiastical writing as a core resource for his Anglo-Saxon compositions. H. R. Loyn, in his introduction to the facsimile edition of Nero A.i(B), applied the same principle to the Anglo-Saxon texts therein, pointing out that the manuscript contains an almost comprehensive survey of English law up until the rein of Cnut, and was thus ‘an indispensible source-book’ for Wulfstan in the composition of his final law code, I-II Cnut.[8]

Patrick Wormald, in his article ‘Archbishop Wulfstan and the Holiness of Society’, called for a change in the focus when it came to the study of these manuscripts. In his study of Nero A.i(B), he demonstrates that Wulfstan’s compilation of Latin ecclesiastical matter is by no means a simple collection of sources for further writings: rather, it represents an early attempt at a comprehensive collection of canon law, comparable to those of being composed on the Continent at the time, although less well structured than its European counterparts.[9] Furthermore, he argues that the Anglo-Saxon portion of the manuscript is not only a collection of English legal writing, but ‘the realisation in secular law’ of the teachings found in the canon law collection.

Canon law collections are not meant to be used by one man alone as a reference work: they are intended to be circulated in the present and to be referred to into the future. Wormald, in ‘the Holiness of Society’, notes that the revisions of Nero A.i(B), combined with the fact that section a went on to a life of its own after removal from the main texts, suggests a ‘production line’ for the composition of such manuscripts.[10] In The Making of English Law he went one step further, suggesting that perhaps Nero A.i(B) was not originally a single manuscript, but two or more books or parts of ‘books intended not to make a point… but to serve a purpose’.[11]

This is the direction in which the study of the ‘Commonplace Book’ manuscripts is proceeding: the study, not of Wulfstan’s personal literary sources, but the study of collections of texts made for his lifelong purpose, the restoration of Christian social order in England. The ‘Excerptiones’ have been re-edited as Wulfstan’s Canon Law Collection, in which Cross and Hamer present not an editorial attempt to reconstruct Wulfstan’s personal exemplar, but two distinct recensions of the collection, which more accurately reflects its circulation in the late Anglo-Saxon period and subsequent centuries. I, for my part, have examined the Anglo-Saxon part of the manuscript, and the claims Wulfstan makes within the vernacular text about the use and purpose which he intended for his books.

[1] Mary Bateson, ‘A Worcester Cathedral Book of Ecclesiastical Collections’, The English Historical Review 10 (1985), pp. 712-731.

[2] Wormald, ‘Holiness of Society’, pp. 196-203.

[3] Dorothy Bethurum, The Homilies of Wulfstan, p. 99.

[4] Dorothy Bethurum, ‘Archbishop Wulfstan’s Commonplace Book’, PMLA 57 (1942), pp. 916-929.

[5] J. E. Cross, ‘A Newly-Identified Manuscript of Wulfstan’s “Commonplace Book”, Rouen, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS. 1382 (U. 109), fols. 173r-198v’, Journal of Medieval Latin 2 (1992), 63-83.

[6] Wormald, ‘Holiness of Society’, p. 197.

[7] Dorothy Bethurum, ‘Archbishop Wulfstan’s Commonplace Book’, PMLA 57 (1942), pp. 916-929.

[8] Loyn, A Wulfstan Manuscript, p. 48,

[9] Wormald, ‘Holiness of Society’, p. 202-3.

[10] Wormald, ‘Holiness of Society’, p. 195.

[11] Wormald, The Making of English Law, p. 202.

Three Things:

1. You have no idea how much I hate the Sermo Lupi ad Anglos right now (unless of course you read my LJ, in which case you saw all the frothing at the mouth). Every time I think I have an idea, I can’t pin it down; it turns out to be wrong; it turns out I have two contradictory ideas; it turns out someone else already thought it and it’s not quite right; or despite the fact that my gut and a reasonable amount of historical evidence tells me that Wulfstan did not particularly want AEthelred back in 1014, I still can’t figure out how to read the Sermo except as advocating the return of AEthelred. What kind of person presides over the ordination of a new bishop of London, despite said bishop not being in your province, and despite the current bishop of London being in exile with your exiled king, and then turns around the next day and says ‘you know, it’s very sinful to kick out the king, we should get him back’. AND THEN KEEPS PREACHING SAID SERMON FOR FOUR OR FIVE YEARS, even after said king has been exiled and the young Viking dude you rejected in 1014 is now on the throne.  WTF, Wulfstan, WTF?

Oh, and the Thing is due in three weeks. Someone please preside over my execution immediately.

2. Hey, a medieval blog I didn’t know about! Hannah is studying at Melbourne with Stephanie Trigg, and is writing her honours thesis on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. She’s talking about “Duality and Ambiguity”, being the ways in which the poet sets things up with two possible interpretations; and about the relationships between devotional and romantic literature in SGGK. Gawain, however, is not all she talks about: check out her blogo-biography of Henry VI.

3. Oh, and I can tell my blog’s up and running again when I start getting loopy porn search hits on a daily basis. To the person hunting for Gawain slash fic, try a Google advanced search restricted to livejournal.com, that should do the trick.

For the benefit of the person who wanted to see medieval women naked, here are both Eve AND Adam naked. Eve is the one on the right, who appears to have two nipple rings. Adam is the one with the pot belly. (Apologies to the illuminator of MS Junius 11 for my terrible LOLmanuscript):

To the Students of “Myths, Legends and Heroes”:

I assume you’re responsible for the sudden spate of AElfric-related search strings which have been bringing people to this blog, particularly the ‘aelfric cult of saints’ string and the ‘St Eadmund’ string.

For those wanting to know about English attitudes to the Vikings- there are some half-decent sources out there on that, but not much (that I know of) in the way of scholarly sources online. Sadly, almost everything which is of use to you in book form is currently either loaned out to me or to K (which is why I know about your assignment, as she is in MLH with you), and as your essay is due on Tuesday you’re not going to get hold of it by then.

When it comes to St Edmund, you might as well give up- K tells me there is one article out there on the depiction of the Vikings in the St Edmund homily, but I don’t know the citation for it since I didn’t look at Vikings when I worked on Edmund. Best to work from your lecture notes or come up with your own interpretation.

Instead of googling, I recommend you use the Old English Bibliography Database to find articles which you can use for your essay. You will need to register- put down your university as your affiliation, and then you’ll need to read their ‘how to search’ instructions as the search function is a bit complicated. But that will find you everything written on Old English lit or history up to 2004.

If you are going to research using google, can I please encourage you to consider some principles for using online sources before doing so? I know all of your teachers: your lecturer is my supervisor; one of the tutors is my mentor and the other two I like to consider friends. (“Some Principles” was vetted by said mentor, so you can trust it as a reliable guide to reliability). They are none of them silly people; they will notice if you’ve plagiarised or used unreliable sources. For the love of Bede, do not use anything from this blog- don’t plagiarise, they can all use google, and don’t cite me, they all know who I am. Finally, if you do use any online source, please consider the example citation which I gave in “Some Principles”. Your markers will feel less like strangling you if you have all the appropriate details in your citation.

Yours Sincerely,


P.S. If any of you are doing the ‘decay and destruction’ question, can I recommend the Sermo Lupi ad Anglos? I think it’s not a text about Viking invasion so much as about social decay. One day, I will write a paper or a thesis or a book about this, but for now, consider it a free idea and I’ll be glad to have influenced young minds.