Wednesday 22 September 2010

Modern Glosses

Dr Denis Casey writes:

In recent years the internet has become an indispensable tool for medieval scholars, with websites such as the Early Irish Glossaries Database, Parker Library on the Web and the Celtic Digital Initiative providing access to texts and images to users around the world. Websites, like any other medium, have both their advantages and limitations but an interesting, most likely unplanned, though certainly useful side effect has been produced by That website, as its URL suggests, is a vast archive of useful material not always readily available in every library. The beauty of this service is that some of the actual digitized volumes themselves were formerly owned by well-known scholars and their annotations offer interesting insights into the texts and their interpretations of the texts, just like any medieval gloss or commentary.

To take an interesting example, consider the case of the Ancient Laws of Ireland series. That six-volume edition and translation of the corpus of medieval Irish law was based on the earlier work of the mid-nineteenth-century scholars Eugene O’Curry and John O’Donovan, but not completed until 1901. It was widely castigated for errors in transcription and translation (not necessarily the fault of O’Curry and O’Donovan); to prove the point, Eóin Mac Néill, the great Scholar-Revolutionary, published a translation of two of its texts in 1923, shortly after emerging from jail and taking up the post of Minister for Education in the new Irish Free State, during the civil war. A later scholar and former Free State ambassador to Weimar Germany, D. A. Binchy (who incidentally left fascinating pen-portraits of Hitler, von Bruning and others in the pages of Studies), spent much of his career editing and translating various legal texts and finally produced a six-volume diplomatic transcript of the known legal manuscripts: Corpus Iuris Hibernici (1978). Nonetheless, many of the texts have neither been reedited nor retranslated since the publication of the Ancient Laws series. Luckily, at least some volumes from Binchy’s library found its way into the collection of Stephen B. Roman, who subsequently bequeathed them to J. M. Kelly Library, St Michael’s College, University of Toronto. Among these are at least three volumes of Binchy’s annotated copies of the Ancient Laws, which are now available on Anyone who has dealt with the complexities of (and frustrations attendant upon) working with medieval Irish legal texts will appreciate the help of one of the most notable scholars of medieval Ireland. Here are the links to volume 1, volume 3 and volume 4.

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