Thursday, 20 November 2014

A hitherto unknown manuscript of Rimbert’s Vita Anskarii in Kiel

by Dr Paul Gazzoli, British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow 

When modern people read a medieval text, they do so through a modern edition, which has been put together through consultation of the manuscripts. When there is more than one manuscript of a text, they will inevitably be different in some way, and it is the task of an editor to sort out which readings from which manuscripts to use in an edition – and even if a manuscript is in general good, we may find places where other, generally ‘worse’ manuscripts may offer better readings. When a text has been edited before, naturally editors want to have access to manuscripts their predecessors didn’t know about, so finding a ‘new’ manuscript is a bit of a dream come true.

For the past two years I have been working on a new edition of the ninth-century text the Life of Anskar, an account of one of the first Christian missionaries to Denmark and Sweden which provides us with our earliest descriptions of life in Viking-Age Scandinavia. It was last edited in 1884 by Georg Waitz for the Monumenta Germaniae historica (the Trillmich text that is often cited is a reprint of Waitz with an abbreviated critical apparatus). When I started, I was aware of two manuscripts of the text Waitz had not known about, one in the monastery of St Agatha near Cuijk in the Netherlands (which I refer to as F in my edition, from its provenance from Frenswegen in Germany) and one in Heiligenkreuz in Austria (which I refer to as N, from its previous location in Neukloster and origins in Bordesholm, the successor to the earlier monastic settlement of Neumünster – see discussion below and also the table of manuscripts at the bottom of this post). Both of these were discovered in the nineteenth century. I’m now pleased to report that I’ve come across another version of the text unknown to previous scholars.

When I sat down to write the section of my introduction that dealt with N, I wanted to learn as much about its history as possible: where and when it was written, where its copyist found the version of the Life of Anskar he copied. The first two questions were both fairly straightforward, as at the top of the contents-page, the scribe wrote: Liber sanctae Mariae uirginis in Bardesholm ordinis canonicorum regularium sancti Augustini Bremensis diocesis. Quem ego frater Johannes cum naso scripsi in diuersis annis. Oretis dominum pro me unum aue Maria. (This book belongs to St. Mary’s in Bordesholm, of the order of regular canons of St Augustine, in the diocese of Bremen. I, Brother John with the Nose, wrote it over several years. Say one Hail Mary for me.) And although he only tells us that he wrote the book in diuersis annis, he does write the year after some of the texts in it: he doesn’t do this for the Life of Anskar, but for the Life of Rimbert, which follows, he gives the year 1512. This Johann Ness or Johannes cum Naso copied numerous other volumes at Bordesholm and won the praise of nineteenth- and twentieth-century textual critics (such as Bernhard Schmeidler) not only for his prodigious output but also for his diligence as a copyist: for some later works, his text is clearly the best.

Thus it was clear that N was copied at Bordesholm. I set about to see if there was anything I could learn about its library, and found that there was, fortunately, rather a lot: not only had relatively many of the volumes survived (though only a fraction of what there was once), most of them now in the Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen and the Universitätsbibliothek in Kiel – no mean feat as the Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War and other conflicts could completely destroy libraries – but among them was a medieval catalogue of the library, completed in 1488 (which you can see online here; a later catalogue is bound in front of it, the medieval portion begins on page 26). This allowed me not only to establish that Bordesholm had an earlier copy of the Life of Anskar, in a volume which bore the shelf-mark L ix, but also the other contents of that volume, among which were a life of Thomas Becket and Provost Sido of Neumünster’s Letter on the Church of Bremen, written in 1195 or 1196. This means that (if this volume was written as a whole, and did not have parts written at different dates stitched together) L ix could probably not be older than c. 1200, but was written sometime before 1488 when the catalogue was made.

With this established, I tried to find out just what had happened to L ix, or if (just possibly) it might still be out there somewhere. I found several works from the nineteenth century that dealt with the fate of the Bordesholm library between the secularisation of the monastery in 1566 and the foundation of the University of Kiel in 1665, when the remaining books were transferred to new library there. The single largest other destination for the books was Gottorf Castle in Schleswig, the ducal seat, from which they were later transferred to the Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen. Copenhagen’s manuscripts have been thoroughly catalogued, but the Bordesholm manuscripts at Kiel, I found, had last been catalogued in 1863, in two pamphlets published to celebrate the birthday of the King of Denmark – the last time that date would be marked with any public festivities in Kiel, as in the following year the Duchy of Schleswig was incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia.

The last person to write on the subject I could find was Steffenhagen (Die Klosterbibliothek zu Bordesholm und die Gottorfer Bibliothek. Kiel, 1884), who identified L ix with N – but I knew this could not be so, as not only had N not yet been written when the catalogue was made, but the two did not have the same contents. But the first person to print the medieval library catalogue of Bordesholm, Merzdorf (Bibliothekarische Unterhaltungen, Neue Folge. Oldenburg, 1850) tentatively identified L ix with no. 297 of a later catalogue of the Bordesholm library (made sometime in the mid-seventeenth century before the collection was transferred to Kiel). This meant that if Merzdorf was right, there was a possibility that L ix had made it to Kiel after all: indeed, Steffenhagen identified no. 297 with a manuscript at Kiel with the designation Cod. ms. Bord. 95.

What further ignited my curiosity was Steffenhagen’s description in which he denies the manuscript could be L ix: ‘Von Ratjen als Sermones bezeichnet und nicht identificiert. Mit L ix des alten Katalogs nicht identisch, welcher Codex jetzt in Wiener-Neustadt liegt.’ (Called Sermones by Ratjen [author of the 1863 catalogue] and not identified. Not identical with L ix of the old catalogue, which is now in Wiener Neustadt.)

It was the words nicht identisch in particular that set me off – this suggested that the volume had not identical, but similar content – in other words, it could be L ix, which shared some content with N, but not all (and as I mentioned above, I knew Steffenhagen was wrong about L ix being N). I became even more curious when I turned to Ratjen’s 1863 catalogue and only found the description: ‘Sermones. 187 Bll. 4. Die Handschrift hat von Feuchtigkeit sehr gelitten.’ (Sermones. 187 pages, quarto. The manuscript has suffered badly from damp.) Evidently, it was in a bad condition and neither Ratjen nor Steffenhagen could be troubled to report its contents.

The only thing to do then was to see if someone at Kiel could give me further information. To my good fortune, an internet search revealed that only last year a project had begun to produce a modern catalogue of the Bordesholm manuscripts. I got in touch with Kerstin Schnabel of the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, who is working on the project and who has written a dissertation on the Bordesholm library.

She was able to tell me that, in fact, L ix is still lost, and it did not live on as Cod. ms. Bord. 95. But the latter did, among other things, contain a copy of The Life of Anskar! Although the manuscript (from the fifteenth century) is severely damaged by water and mildew (it seems Ratjen was understating things badly when he merely referred to Feuchtigkeit), she told me that the contents-page is at least still somewhat legible, and lists the Life of Anskar at folia 170 to 178. This indicates it must be a condensed version, notably shorter than the abbreviated version to be found in the manuscript I designate F in my edition (from Frenswegen in Germany, now just across the border in the Netherlands at Sint Agatha, Erfgoedcentrum Nederlands Kloosterleven, St Agatha C 13), but not to be confused with the short legend which only takes up a couple of pages (of which Kiel also has a copy in Cod. ms. Bord. 3).

Thus, this manuscript provides us with evidence of a hitherto unknown shortened version of the Life of Anskar, which although it may not be of the greatest value as a witness to the original text, will be able to tell us more about how the Life was known in later medieval northern Europe. I would suspect that the text may be related to F, which also shares some significant variants with a seventeenth-century copy of the text in Amiens (which I call m). But in any event I will have to wait to find out, as the manuscript needs to be restored first. Ms Schnabel told me that the pages are all badly mildewed (and moreover, are fragmentarily preserved and have come out of their proper place in the manuscript) and cleaning them and putting them in order again will be a time-consuming process, which will begin next year as part of the ongoing project to catalogue the Bordesholm collection – which, no doubt, will turn up other things of great value to medievalists interested in northern Germany and Scandinavia.

Table of manuscripts mentioned

F Sint Agatha (Netherlands), Erfgoedcentrum Nederlands Kloosterleven, St Agatha C 13. Fifteenth century, originally from Frenswegen in Germany. Contains a version of the Life of Anskar, abbreviated by the omission of several chapters. Discovered in 1894, ten years after the publication of Waitz’ edition.

N Heiligenkreuz (Austria), Stiftsbibliothek, Fonds Neukloster D 21. Late fifteenth/early sixteenth century, originally from Bordesholm, written by Johannes cum Naso. Discovered in 1853 but unknown to Waitz.

m Some seventeenth-century pages added to Amiens, Bibliothèque Louis Aragon, 461 (a Corbie manuscript from around 1300; the first few chapters of the Life of Anskar was removed at some point. The writer of these pages supplied the missing text from a manuscript which shares many variant readings with F, and added the note telling us the name of the cleric he thought had taken the missing leaves).

L ix the lost exemplar of N, from Bordesholm, probably written sometime between c. 1200 and 1488.

Kiel, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. ms. Bord. 95. Fifteenth century, collection of saints’ lives, including Anskar. The full contents are still unpublished.


Monday, 17 November 2014

The Seventh Bangor Colloquium on Medieval Wales, 7-9 November 2014

 ASNC MPhil student Rebecca Thomas writes:

The journey may have been somewhat tedious, and the sky menacingly dark on arrival, but such trivial matters were soon forgotten in face of a fantastic weekend of papers on medieval Wales, spanning the fields of history, literature and archaeology. Opening proceedings with the J. E. Lloyd lecture was Dr David Stephenson, examining ‘Empires in Wales: from Gruffudd ap Llywelyn to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’. Despite paying tribute to him as one of the greatest historians of medieval Wales, Stephenson nonetheless sought to deconstruct Lloyd’s narrative through demonstrating the complexity of power relations in the ‘age of Princes’. His stimulating lecture pinpointed many avenues for future research, raising questions over the articulation of power, presentation of rulers, and ideological control. 

On Saturday morning Dr Alex Woolf attempted to relocate Gwynedd. Using a mixture of inscriptions and evidence from the Historia Brittonum he argued for the moving of the heartland of Gwynedd eastwards, in a paper which left many pondering the implications of his alternative map of Wales over their coffee. Dr Sue Johns and Dr Emma Cavell broached questions of identity and perception, with the former examining the way seals were used by noblemen and women to convey identity, and the latter looking at later depictions of Matilda de St Valery as a giantess and witch by the Welsh. An introduction to the ‘Seintiau Cymru’ project by Dr David Parsons drew morning proceedings to a close. 

As tempting as it was to linger over lunch, the afternoon promised to be as stimulating as the morning, with papers covering homage (Philip Fernandes), Welsh law (Dr Sara Elin Roberts), education (Dr Rhun Emlyn) and chronicles (Georgia Henley and Dr Owain Wyn Jones). In an exceptional analysis of the poetry of Llywarch Brydydd y Moch to Llywelyn ab Iorweth and Rhys Gryg, Dr Rhian Andrews examined the role of the poet as an ambassador, deconstructing every line of the poetry and placing it in its historical context. Her analysis of the purpose of the poetry was fascinating, and her readings of the Canu i Rys Gryg so powerful and convincing as to recreate Rhys Gryg’s court in the Sir Ifor Williams Room in Bangor. 

An early start on Sunday morning saw two different approaches to the study of places, with Dr Philip Dunshea discussing the meaning of ‘Eidyn’ in insular texts, whilst Paul Watkins deconstructed charter evidence in an attempt to locate the land of the Abbey of Pendar in Senghennydd.  After a paper by Richard Suggett concluding that the high status hall was re-created in the peasant household, Professor Tim Thornton brought proceedings to a close and dragged us forward to the early modern period in an examination of English historiographies of medieval Wales. 

The breadth and depth of the papers on offer at the Seventh Bangor Colloquium on Medieval Wales was truly astonishing, and whilst Professor Ralph Griffiths joked that the organisers (Professor Huw Pryce and Dr Euryn Rhys Roberts) would not want to start thinking about the eighth colloquium for some time, I for one would already like the date for my diary.  

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Festival of Ideas 2014: a visitor's impression

Sandra Leaton-Gray reports on the ASNC Festival of Ideas. 

I was delighted to be able to visit ASNC during the Festival of Ideas recently to learn about all things Viking and more besides. Initially I was merely planning on going in a coat-holding capacity with my 16 year old son, Conrad, who has a passion for runes, Norse military tactics, and so on.  However I was soon swept along by the different talks and started to understand what all the fuss was about. First of all we attended a lecture on the beginning of writing. I had never really thought this through at all and had rather taken writing for granted, What baffled me was how I could not have realised people would initially be writing on wood with knives, as some vague part of my brain assumed it was all about ink and vellum, which with hindsight was a major and fairly obvious misconception. You can't just bump off a goat for its skin every time you want to write down something quickly, after all. I was also fascinated by the accounts of marginalia written by early scribes, who appear to have spent their days rather cold and damp, with errant pets and similar kinds of utilitarian concerns we share today. 

Next I heard all about Vikings in Cleveland, which was surprising as I had previously imagined Vikings to be horn-helmeted types, largely confined to the area immediately around the Jorvik centre, various Scottish and Northumbrian islands wherever monks did their thing, and most of Lincolnshire. This is on account of my embarrassingly patchy mental map of the Viking world that, prior to the ASNC visit, apparently embracing nearly all the popular myths in a manner wholly unfitting for someone whose ancestors came from the Viking village of North Thoresby.  I was particularly intrigued to hear about the various forms of impact Vikings had had on Cleveland, and that it was possible to track their language even still in local dialect (as it seems to be, to some extent, in Lincolnshire today). 

I then spent a bit of time surfing the Internet looking at Viking ships, with the help of someone from the department who had taken note of my horrified question about female sacrifices and who encouraged me to learn more about the context of this. I am still convinced I had a narrow escape, being born in the 20th century, although my son assured me that I shouldn't worry as the Vikings took the good looking ones home with them, which was diplomatic of him in the circumstances, I felt. 

Finally the high spot of the day for me was being invited to judge an Icelandic warrior, aka obvious psychopath, who was clearly not the kind of person that you should let loose with a sword after the consumption of mead. We were allowed to vote on the various moral dilemmas in the story, and consult with historical and legal experts in order to come to our decision, but whatever we did, the situation got worse and worse for the poor victims of the psychopath's crimes until they were left destitute and without issue. What was really lovely about this session however is that the children present took it incredibly seriously and asked some really astute questions that helped the debate along a great deal. Perhaps we should stick them in a time machine and get them to arbitrate in 10th century Iceland next time? 

All in all this was a terrific day out and I left a lot wiser.

Many thanks to Sandra for this report. We also are grateful, of course, to Dr Debby Banham, Ben Guy, Julianne Pigott, Jo  Shortt Butler and all of our undergraduate volunteers for putting on such a wonderful programme for our guests.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Visiting Saints and Dragons

Over the next few days we'll be publishing some reports from this year's Festival of Ideas, which has been another big success for the department. Here's the first, from ASNC graduate student Julianne Pigott:

"Charting geographic and historical territory from St Columba’s defeat of the Loch Ness Monster to the dragon vanquished by St George, ‘Saints and Dragons’, a Festival of Ideas session presented by the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic on Saturday October 25th was created with an audience of under 10s in mind but ultimately attracted the attention of a selection of visitors of all ages. Designed by graduate student Julianne Pigott, as part of the Isaac Newton Trust funded Mapping Miracles project which examines miracle accounts from hagiographical texts composed across the regions of the medieval Insular world, ‘Saints and Dragons’ encouraged participants to explore the patterns, convergent and divergent, in miraculous animal encounters recorded in texts composed about saints associated with modern-day Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. 
St Brigit of Ireland (image courtesy of Aidan Hart icons)
The subject of no fewer than eight hagiographical texts in Latin and Old/ Middle Irish, St Brigit, was the first of six saints to whom attendees’ attention was drawn. Drawing on accounts from the seventh century Latin text composed by Irish author Cogitosus, listeners were introduced to twelve Brigidine miracles, as they handcrafted crosses in accordance with a pattern attributed in modern folkloric tradition to the fifth-century nun. From the wondrous reproduction of meat she had previously fed to a stray dog, to her ability to calm wild horses and straying cattle, younger audience members were enthusiastic about the fantastical elements of the Brigit narrative.  Crossing the Irish Sea to Scotland, the audience was introduced to Adomnán’s Vita Columbae, a seminal source for historians of the period, but also the first literary account of the Loch Ness Monster. The holy man’s victory over his watery foe marks the only textual sighting of the monster before 1933 but this earliest identification of Nessie is often known only to medievalists and Latinate scholars; the adult participants in ‘Saints and Dragons’ certainly appreciated the value in familiarising themselves with the medieval roots of a modern legend. 

A St Brigit's cross created by a participant
In a further exploration of the connections between past and present, the younger cohort was presented with a brief introduction to the manuscript and textual history of these tales, with particular reference to the ninth century Irish poem Pangur Bán and its adaptation by contemporary filmmakers as a customised narrative for today’s Disney saturated audience. The account of the journey of this text, from ninth century European manuscript to twenty-first century animated movie replete with child-friendly musical accompaniment, provided an appropriate preface to a consideration of Welsh Saint Melangell’s position in popular lore as the saviour of hares. 

Tracing the ahistorical Melangell from a putative lifespan in the sixth century, through a text likely written in the twelfth, committed to vellum in the sixteenth and reports of a traveller to the region in the eighteenth, mature participants became more familiar with the particular challenges encountered by the historian seeking to disinter the truth of these tale. Meanwhile younger audience members were entranced by the vision of St Melangell sheltering the hares and rabbits under her voluminous skirts! 

The most popular storytelling section of the event was St George’s defeat of the dragon in Cappadocia, though listeners were taken aback to discover that the infamous victory by England’s patron saint occurred in modern Turkey rather than on local soil. The theme of 2014’s Festival of Ideas was ‘identity’ and the St George narrative challenged assumptions readily made by modern readers about the origin and reliability of narratives accepted in today’s popular culture as unassailable truths. Seeking to refocus attention on the sometimes very localised nature of identities, both medieval and modern, the final saint’s tale recounted was that of St Æthelthryth of Ely, whose association with the Cambridgeshire region is historically attested and confirmed in bountiful literary productions. 

‘Saints and Dragons’, though originally intended to serve only younger Festival attendees, evolved on the day of delivery to meet the expectations of a more diverse audience than anticipated. From the lively pictures and colourful crosses produced by the youngest participants to the probing questions raised by teenaged Classicists, the session exemplified the continued resonances of medieval saints’ stories for modern audiences, as narrative accounts in which certain aspects of identity are firmly implicated. The miracle accounts relied upon in the session explored how the relationship between place and people is neither fixed nor finite and challenged long, and often fondly held, assumptions about Insular patron saints and the intimacy of the connections upon which modern regional identities are, at least in part, founded. The work done by the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic lends itself exceptionally well to exploring and bridging the gaps, both perceived and real, between disparate Cambridge communities. Audience members in attendance at ‘Saints and Dragons’ cannot have failed to notice the universal themes, with personal relevance, which suffuse narratives composed in wildly different times and areas across the medieval Insular world. Those connections remain as relevant and requisite to good political and personal relationships today, as then."

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Festival of Ideas, October 22‒25

One week into the new term, it's time to announce the first big ASNC event of the year. This is our now traditional involvement with the University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas, an annual exploration of the arts, humanities and social sciences where we take the opportunity to share some of our interests with the public. In keeping with this year's theme ('Curating Cambridge: our cities, our stories, our stuff'), several of the events will have a local focus.

On the evening of Wednesday 22nd October, Philip Dunshea will get things up and running with a talk, 'A tour of Cambridge and its surroundings before the University'. Dr Dunshea will try to get from London to the centre of Cambridge at the beginning of the seventh century, looking along the way at how early medieval authors wrote about the surrounding landscapes, and introducing some traces which survive out in the fields of South Cambridgeshire today. 22nd October, 67 p.m., Room G-R06/07, Faculty of English, 9 West Road

Then on Saturday afternoon, Dr Debby Banham  will pick up where Dr Dunshea left off, with a Walking Tour of Early Medieval Cambridge. Dr Banham's tour comes highly recommended, and will cover some of the exciting finds archaeologists have made in Cambridge in recent years.
Saturday 25 October: 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Saturday 25 October: 1:00pm - 3:00pm
25 October, 13 p.m., Meeting in Foyer of English Faculty, 9 West Road. Please wear appropriate footwear and clothing suitable for the weather!

Please wear appropriate footwear and clothing suitable for the weather. - See more at:
Please wear appropriate footwear and clothing suitable for the weather. - See more at:
On the same day, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic will host a series of talks and interactive sessions, many of them aimed at children. These will run the whole day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., beginning and ending with some medieval story-telling performances. In between, there will be an introductions to medieval writing, the world of the vikings, crime and punishment in medieval Iceland, and the role of genealogies in the early middle ages. It looks like a rich and very entertaining programme; for full details, see the Festival of Ideas guide which you can download here.

We look forward to welcoming you to the department!

Faculty of English, 9 West Road

Meet in Foyer of English Faculty Building, 9 West Road, CB3 9DP - See more at:
Meet in Foyer of English Faculty Building, 9 West Road, CB3 9DP - See more at:
Saturday 25 October: 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Saturday 25 October: 1:00pm - 3:00pm