This week on the Reading Rest I have a short text by Hotrsvit of Gandersheim (cf. OtRR 9 juni 2014): Her 35 hexameters describing scenes related to the Apocalypse of St John.
Research concerning Hrotsvit and her plays is characterized by a remarkable reluctance to make head and tails of the 10th century dramatic texts that Hrotsvit included in the manuscript called Clm 14885 (1). Originally Codices latini monacenses 14885 was a book produced at the Gandersheim canoness abbey where Hrotsvit lived. The book was sent to St. Emmeram’s in Regensburg some time between 968 and 993 ce and sent to Regensburg where it is known to have been 993. Originally the book comprising 346 pages. It was divided into three parts, and it was a purposeful collection composed by the author. The first part of the book consists of eight saints’ legends, the second of eight dramatic texts and the last one is a long poem Gesta Ottonis describing the life of Otto the Great until 965 CE.
The origin of the scholarly ‘Hrotsvit problem’ is rooted in the question: how can a nun in a cloister write plays? And if she did how could they be staged in a nunnery, not least when prostitutes and their clients figure in the plays with very realistic and even ironic lines?
Today, seven of the plays are accepted as indeed plays and Hrotsvit’s very existence is no longer doubted, but most researches aren’t sure that the plays were ever staged. Some, moreover, are convinced that Hrotsvit never expected them to be staged because it would be technically impossible especially in a nunnery. During the last 150 years scholars have asymptotically resisted accepting her plays. Nevertheless, as Katherina Wilson pointed out in the introduction to her translation of the second part of Clm 14885: most Hrotsvit scholars now agree that they [i.e. the plays] were eminently performable. (2)
Performable or performed? One wonders, because looking into the research history from the mid-19th century and onwards, it stands to reason that this question – performed or performable? – would not have been an issue had Hrotsvit been a man. Typical of the Hrotsvit research, her works are dismissed as not being actual theatre if one can suspect that they do not fit or influence a common-place understanding of the development of drama or a common-place understanding of religious institution.
To complicate matters there is the Apocalypse of St John, which Hrotsvit included among the plays. Actually, the last of the seven dialogical plays comes to an end on folio 129 recto leaving the next page, folio 129 verso, empty before the Apocalypse of John commences at the top of folio 130 recto with a first line that is also a revealing title:
John, the male virgin, saw the Heavens disclosed
Instead of letting folio 129 verso be an empty page, a quotation from Bede, four elegiac distics, the very end of a hymn in which the first letters forms the word AMEN, has been inserted to fill the blank and otherwise wasted page. The hymn, moreover, points out female chastity which is a central theme in the plays. The added comment about those who walk the road to salvation points in the same direction – perhaps too pedagogically. As a way of making use of a superfluous page of parchment the solution and is nevertheless relatively elegant since someone – probably with an alert feminine mind – must immediately have understood what to do and advised the a canoness Gandersheim scribe to continue with ‘John’ on top of folio 130 recto – and something dramatic, albeit completely different.
The hexameters concerning the Apocalypse of St John stand out as comments that someone guiding a group of people could read aloud while pointing at a number of pictures with motives from the Book of Revelation. This text, therefore, is not an obvous play – for instance, there is not dialogue – and so one may wonder why it was included among the plays, i.e. the drama section. Guided by Helene Homeyer’s edition (3) and Katherina Wilson translation one could begin with establishing a text and its structure:
1 The virgin John saw the heavens open
and beheld the Father of all on His resplendent throne,
Surrounded by a row of twice twelve elder
Who glittered with gleaming crowns,
5 All dressed in robes of gleaming white;
He also saw at the enthroned King’s right hand
A book whose secret no man can learn.
This angel here, seeking a worthy man, finds none
Who could solve the seal of the secret book.
10 He consoles John who is weeping
As he explains that the lamb can solve the seals.
Behold the secrets of the book lay open for the slain lamb
Whose praise Heaven’s citizens soon sing;
Behold the Faith’s martyrs bearing witness near the altar with clear voices.
15 They receive robes glittering with gleaming whiteness.
The angel, arriving from the direction of the rosy sunrise,
Marks the Eternal King’s servants on their foreheads
Afterwards John beheld many standing there in white,
Praising the lamb, and carrying palm leaves in hand.
20 Behold Heaven’s citizens are silent for half an hour.
He stood at the sacred altar with a censer
And carried incense, symbolizing the faithful’s holy prayers.
Behold, a woman glitters surrounded by the splendid sun.
Adorned with a gleaming crown of twice twelve stars
25 A snake wants to devour her tender young son,
But the dragon is defeated, the boy is lifted to the Lord*
And the dragon has fallen from Heaven and is cast to earth.
Behold the lamb standing here on the Mount the Zion,
And the company of virgins singing new songs.
30 The beast attacks the saint with all the dragon’s might;
But Truth† has laid him low; arriving on a white steed,
He whips the ancient snake to savage Tartarus‡
Behold the books of life are held open to the dead
And alive they rise freed from the chains of death
35 Soon all receive their due according to their merits.
* I have supplied this line since it was lost in Wilson 1989:152.
† Actually Verax – i.e. truth personified.
‡ The line Iste ligat veterem ‘ sub Tartara saeva draconem or in plain
prose: Iste ligat sub Tartara veterem saeva draconem means:
‘He binds under Tartarus the ancient furious dragon’. As it says in
Relevation 20:2-3: ‘ And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent,
which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
 And cast him into the bottomless pit, ….’ Tartarus is a deep
mythological ancient Greek abyss.
The hexameters are a kind of stage directions and pedagogical information pointed out to listeners and spectators, descriptions and information that a guide will tell an audience when guiding it through a series of tableaus illustrating parts of the Apocalypse of John.
There are two elements in these hexameters: the tableaus and the action and movements referred to as happening in them. But there is one tableau without action and some action that doesn’t take place in a scene. These element constitute the beginning of the text – that is the first 11 hexameters. To begin with we see a tableau with no movement, then an angel walks out of it with a book looking for someone. The angel finds John who leads her to next tableau which consequently is a tableau more vivant.
The second tableau or scene is built around an altar in a church.
In the end of the second scene there is the 30 minute intermission, after the opening of the seventh seal, which in practice will allow the audience to leave the church while John is symbolizing payers.
The third scene is outdoors, but before we leave the church there is a point in imagining how the church scenes could be realized. If we look at the plan of a 9/10th c. church, these revelation will make sense.
What happens in the first 22 Hexameters is tied together by bringing a book from the throne of the Lord to a crucifix – or a representation of Christ – at the altar in the other end of the church and later to create a pause in which the audience can leave the church and go outside to the next tableau-vivant, which is a performance divided into two scenes. One is an ascension the other Judgement day.
It is the beast that binds together the last scenes. It may seem difficult to arrange these tableaus, such as illustrating the dead who rise on Judgement Day, but given that there are quite a number of prehistoric inhumation cemeteries next to settlements, it is not impossible to let the dead rise as individuated human being – and that would make quite an impression. Complications such as Christ standing at Mount Zion and at the same time slaying the beast are solved by introducing Verax on the white steed. The beast of course shall have to be masked and dressed up like a beast/dragon/snake and eventually thrown into a pit in order to disappear.
The Ganderheim Abbey, which was a very large estate and engaged in high-quality education of upper-class girls, would not have had any economic problems creating the tableaus. White, symbolically important in the tableaus, was the favourite colour of the church clothes in Gandersheim and a very good contrast to the beast.
The Apocalypse of John is not a theatre play. Instead its affinities with passion plays is obvious. The second part of Clm 14485 therefore blends plays with an affinity to pre-Christian Rome, the first 7 plays, with an example of the more orthodox performances usually seen as typically Medieval. Although the Apocalypse of John is extravagant, it may nevertheless have entertained the Imperial court on its visits to Gandersheim. A central educational institution in the Holy Roman Empire could very well afford the installation, not least why there was quite a lot of singing in the scenes and song education was central to the canoness abbeys.
There is absolutely no reason why these tableaus and small scenes should not have be staged and performed. The poetical value of these matter-of-fact hexameters is negligible since they have no other purpose than guiding and informing someone looking at the tableaus or wanting to build them. Because the performance puts the two sides of Christ – the valiant dragon slayed and the slain lamb – into a meaningful context, they are pedagogically essential in a transitional religious phase. The last scene, to which the others built up, starting with a visions in the church ending with the dead actually rising in the open on Judgement day, is genuinely theatrical and dramatic – that’s Hrotsvit for you, always acutely aware of a dramatic situation and its climax. The monster slayer arriving on the white horse is spectacular, and the idea of ‘holding the books of life open to the dead’, that is above their graves for them to see, rather than just opening them as it says in the Apocalypse (Rev 20:12) is a significant example, since it creates something as mundane a cause and effect situation to the belief that the dead will rise to receive their due. The emphasis on what it says in books — on knowledge and the reproduction of correct knowledge is central to the Apocalypse of John (4).
Even today, similarly to what Chasles did in the 1870s, one finds some very conscious compositions when studying Hrotsvit. Her consciousness must not be overlooked and she must be taken serious, since it is unlikely that we have detected structures and meanings that she never thought of.
Hrotsvit research has for quite a while managed to overlook significant details, and chosen actively to hide behind some suitable kind of doubt rather than accepting the greater pattern of her work and writings. The Apocalypse of St. John, therefore, is seldom mentioned or analyzed in an unprejudiced way. Nobody has though that Bede’s AMEN was a conscious part of the composition of Clm 14485. That book in its turn was not considered a literary work in its own right.
The scholarly treatment of Hrotsvit is one of a most impressive and naïvely unconscious downgrades of a very structured female authorship – even by most of those who see themselves as her advocates.
(0) This is an old quotation from Chasles (1876:306), who after having understood that Hrotsvit’s plays were rhymed concluded: Peut-on nommer cela de la prose? Evidemment la religieuse a écrit en vers sans le savoir—‘Can one call this prose? Apparently the religious (fem.) has written in verse without knowing it’. Evidently, Chasles was puzzled by the chimera that emerged when something, which he himself had cleverly figured out, albeit with some difficulty, might perhaps have been intended by a nun 900 years earlier. Chasles, Philarète 1876. Le Moyen Age. Paris. Charpentier et Cie.
(1) Today at WWW one can look at this manuscript from St. Emmeram’s monastery in Regensburg, kept in the collections of the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München
on the web at this address:
(2) See Wilson (1989:xxx) in Wilson, Katherina M. 1989. The plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. New York. Garland Publishing.
(3) Homeyer (1970:376-80) is indispensable. See Homeyer, Helene. 1970. Hrotsvithae Opera. Mit Einleitung und Kommentar. München, Paderborn, Wien. Ferdinand Schöningh.
(4) Lately Julia Becker has discussed the importance of precise knowledge and its transfer in the 9th century – the library at Lorsch being her example. Becker, Julia. 2015. Präsenz, Normierung und Transfer von Wissen: Lorsch als „patristische Zentralbibliothek“. In: Julia Becker, Tino Licht, and Stefan Weinfurter (eds). Karolingische Klöster: Wissenstransfer und Kulturelle Innovation. Walter De Gruyter. Berlin. Pp. 71-87.
9 March, 2015
This week On the Reading Rest I have Codex Regius – well a copy printed from the web: http://www.germanicmythology.com/works/CODEXREGIUS.html
Codex Regius is a manuscript, a compilation of more or less ancient Old Norse texts, mostly poems. In the manuscript, the prose is thought to have been added in the process of compiling the poetry. The actual vellum is a copy of a lost original. Some alterations may nevertheless have been made when the copy was produced. The original collection was based on several different sources and its compilation is dated to the first half of the 13th century CE. Regius dates to the second half. The manuscript consists of two major parts each divided in to two smaller ones and traditionally (in printed editions) it is divided into sections as listed below. Some texts are monologues, mo, some have a prose introduction, pi, others a prose epilogue, pe. Some are pure poetry, some mix prose and poetry and two are just prose.
Originally the manuscript consisted of 96 or 98 pages, but today only 90 pages remain since there is a lacuna between page 64 and 65. In this lacuna c. 200 or c. 270 lines, i.e. 6 or 8 pages have disappeared. Four pages of a poem in the style of Brot af Sigurðarkviðu, that is, ‘A fragment of the poem about Sigurd’, contain c. 300 poetic long lines or c. 75 strophes. On the 6 or 8 pages that once filled up the lacuna both the end of the poem Sigrdrífomál from strophe 38 and onwards and a ‘long’ Siguðarkviða, except for the last 18.5 strophes, must have got room. We can expect either 100 or 130 strophes to have disappeared in the lacuna, given that part of the pages were probably filled with prose. If we can imagine a Siguðarkviða twice the length of the short one (Sigurðarkviða in skamma) and thus about the same length as Hávamál, then we can imagine that only the end of Sigrdrífomál and major part of The long Siguðarkviða were lost. Be this as it may, the loss would have been part of a group of poems centring on Sigurð, Guðrún, Gunnarr, Brynhildr and their world. This series of poems, the second part of the manuscript starting on page 39, is introduced by the poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana I.
It is odd that Codex Regius consists of two components, prose and poetry, rather than just one or the other. Prose is always explanatory or narrative. Direct speech is used in most texts, predominantly in poetry, but even in prose as quotations, quoted strophes or half strophes. In the poetry direct speech occurs in monologues and dialogues. Dialogues may characterize the entire poem or blend with narrative strophes. Dialogues may constitute scenes or they may be used as references. Direct speech is also used when it is not part of a dialogue.
When dialogues are used in scenes, the scenes themselves play a part in the dialogue and the scene is often referred to by those who talk to each other. Stranding in front of her lover Helgi’s mound where the dead Helgi contrary to what she has hoped does not turn up, Sigrún laments: Kominn væri nú ef koma hygði, Sigmundr burr frá sǫlum Óðins—‘he would have come now, if he meant to, Sigmund’s son from Óðinn’s halls’. The strophe explains the situation to us when we see Sigrún by the mound. And it refers to a lost or suppressed dialogue between Sigrún and her maid in which the maid tells her mistress that she had met the dead Helgi and his dead men riding towards his mound. With a great presence of mind the maid had asked him whether what she saw was a delusion or Ragnarök. It was neiher. Formally, when seeing Sigrún by the mound we may wonder where she is and what she is doing. In effect, therefore, the strophe explains something in relation to the dialogue and identifies the mound as Helgi’s rather than one of the other mounds.
Roughly speaking, there are three ways of using dialogue in Eddic poems.
Group I. Dialogue is consistently used in scenes. There may be some explanatory prose lines, half strophes or strophes, e.g. in the beginning of a poem as in Oddrúnargrátr. Prose occurs between the strophes, but it is redundant if the scene is performed. Generally speaking poems in this group have two metrical forms – either A, ljóðahattr or B, fornyrðislag/málaháttr, but meters may also be mixed as in Fáfnismál, or deviant ljóðahattr as in Hárbarzlióð.
Group II. Dialogue is used in scenes within a narrative where direct speech stands out as quotation or explanation. There is also descriptive prose and explanatory strophic poetry. The meter is fornyrðislag/málaháttr except for one strophe in Helgakviða Hundingsbana II (st. 29) and several in Reginsmál, in which ljóðahattr is used. Reginsmál and Fáfnismál is actually one section in the manuscript (page 56:line 30 to page 61:line 19), and Reginsmál, in which there is more prose than poetry, uses strophes from at least two poems, sometimes embedding a strophe in a prose description. Reginsmál pinches together quotations, fragments of scenes and explanatory prose in order to introduce the reader to Fáfnismál, which is dominated by poetry.
Goup III. Narratives that makes use direct speech as quotations. Sometimes the direct speech is organized as dialogues, but not as dramatic scenes in their own right. Dialogues in these poems may be echoes of actual dramatic scenes or composed as referring to fictitious scenes never staged. There is no sharp divide between groups, II and III. The meter used is fornyrðislag as one would expect from a narrative or epic poem.
The poems in Codex Regius sort themselves in different ways. Their point of departure is the obvious performative poems i.e. the monologues, designated mo. These poems are followed by the most dialogical and scenic poems, Goup I. The mixed poems, which blend narrative, direct speech, dialogue and scenes, follow suite. One group of mixed poems, Group II, has scenes embedded in descriptions and direct speech. The latter stands out as quotations. The other, Group, III, lacks genuine scenes inasmuch as the dialogues are meant to support a more straightforward narrative. Passages that formally speaking are dialogues or monologues, therefore, stand out as quotations or references.
In sections which mix poetry and prose (the underlined ones) prose is used either in order to explain something that may actually be inferred from a close reading of the strophes (Fǫr Skirnis and Lokasenna), or it may have been inserted in order to make up for missing parts, i.e. something that cannot be inferred. The beginning of Regius, Part II there are four sections Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, Helgakviða Hiǫrvarzonar, Helgakviða Hundingsbana II and Reginsmál in which one has tried, but not really succeeded, to reconstruct and/or piece together a poem by means of a glue made of prose. Together with the prose section Frá dauða Sinfiǫtla these poems form the introduction to the rest of Regius, Part II. It is their contents rather than their poetic qualities that matters to the compiler.
An instructive example of moderate reconstruction of the contents of lost strophes suggests itself in the poem Vǫlundarkviða between strophe 15 and 18. The manuscript is easy to read and obviously the last part of strophe 15 and most of strophe 16 have not been remembered completely. In order to understand strophe 17 and 18, prose would seem to have been added to make up for what was not readily remembered as poetic strophes.
Looking at Regius as a structured manuscript and at the technical character of its sections, the two main parts I & II stand out as different. Moreover, Regius, Part I is Æsir-centred (from Vǫluspá to Alvissmál) and Part II is Guðrún-centred (from Helgakviða Hundingsbana I to Hamðismál). Each part is marked by specific relations to the future. The Æsir-centred material contains a number text that makes it obvious that ‘now’, when Tyr has lost his hand and Balder is no longer among us, everybody is waiting for the Fimbulwinter and its consequence Ragnarök. Gods, giants and the odd human being are looking towatds inevitable fate looming in a future winter that never ends.
In the Guðrún-centred Part II, nobody of importance pays heed to imminent Ragnarök let alone its prelude. In fact, living their upper-class pre-Fimbulwinter Miðgard life the upper classes cannt be bothered with catastrophe as long as it doesn’t involve family. Guðrún’s life is a complete failure inasmuch as all her seven children die without having reproduced themselves. Name dropping suggests that Guðrún’s was a pre-Ragnarök dysfunctional ‘lifetime’ involving kings and queens of the kind that played a role in 4th, 5th and 6th century affairs. The poems erre composed to satisfy the curiosity of those who were not involved in days of yore. This means that relatively speaking Regius Part I & II are more or less contemporary and pre-Fimbulwinter.
Gods and members of the upper classes think differently about Ragnarök. Gods are preoccupied by their fate and freak out, the upper classes cannot be bothered as they have their hands full of fighting, loving, hating, and killing each other. Thus the loyalty of the maid is deviant, cleverly seeking information to pass on to her mistress. Sigrún herself couldn’t have asked her lover Helgi whether he had become an illusion or gone Ragnarök, but since her maid knows that Sigrún wants to know she asks the stupid question and gets the reassuring answer.
Codex Regius is not a collection of old verse, it is a composition that aims at compiling a base for describing the trauma and moral dissolution among gods and upper classes in the years leading up to the Fimbulwinter (the cold decade 536-45 CE) and the ensuing Ragnarök. The imminent outcome of these events is known: nearly all gods will die and some humans survive. The audience therefore consists of the progeny of those who survived the decade and populate the new world overseen by surviving goddesses and new gods like Rigr and the resurrected Balder. The audience will not be surprised to hear that in the past the upper classes proved themselves fighting, loving and hating each other in much the same way as they have continued to do after Ragnarök, when society started from scratch although spite and iniquity hadn’t been stamped out.
Obviously, composing poems in the Æsir-centred Part I makes sense only in order to settle the scores. Having done that, this kind of poetry will stand out as a critical conclusion to the era of old gods. This is an interesting genre allowing a poet to compose grotesque works like Lokasenna, but in the long run it will not be as productive as poems concerning the lives of the upper classes, who, accepting the end of the old society, see themselves as ancestors to the old gods as well as survivors of Ragnarök.
Codex Regius, therefore, is a purposeful collection of works compiled to describe the mid-6th c. end of the old society and its gods. The balance between the two parts – Part I being shorter than Part II – suggests that composing poems in the Guðrún-centred genre, digging up the historical roots of the surviving upper classes, was more popular than composing Æsir-centred works. But this is of minor importance in a collection composed to point out a traumatic past rather than collecting old poems. Regius is a collection of material needed and ordered by someone who wanted to write an epic poem about the world that disappeared in the middle to the 6th century. Writing about this period is nothing unique, Beowulf treats the same period albeit from a purely human point of view. Contrary to Regius, people in Beowulf are forced to experience the breakdown of society with little hope of surviving. Beowulf offers a simple explanation: this happens to a society that doesn’t know God! Today we are not convinced, but in Beowulf as well as Regius, we can appreciate their dystopic end in which death signals that nothing but silence remains.
Regius is a collection of texts needed to compose a long poem juxtaposing the harsh fate of the gods and the arrogant recklessness of the horrible old regime. It is easy to see that such a poem could start by criticizing the gods, their appalling behaviour, which helped to bring about catastrophe, and continue focusing on the equally appalling behaviour of the worldly upper classes – a poem about a rotten Ásgard mentality making itself felt in Miðgard. If we want a hero like Beowulf to be the protagonist of the poem we might opt for Skirnir, the Gods’ messanger.
Without really interfering with fate, the story and its digressions, adding some Christian points of view in the simplistic way characteristic of Beowulf could easily explain the cultural breakdown and deranged behaviour referring to the fact that people didn’t know God. In short: we don’t know whether Regius was ever composed as a poem or written down, luckily, however, the compilation lived a literary life of its own.
This week On the Reading Rest I have a play, Pafnutius, by Canoness Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, who lived and wrote in the middle of the 10th century CE. In practice a canoness is an upper-class woman who lives in a cloister without being a nun, i.e. without in this case abiding the Benedictine rules of the convent. Hrotsvit’s six plays are interesting mostly because they were written in the 10th century by a self-confident author prefacing her plays with devotional formula (cf. OtRR 19 August 2013) befitting her social status and power. In the century around 1900 their authenticity was of course doubted, mostly by male researchers. Less gender skeptical female researchers were not equally reluctant to believe that there was once such a thing as a female 10th century playwright. Sometimes as in the case of Marguerite Butler as late as in the 1960s, female researchers were peevishly reviewed with a blind eye to novel contributions, even by women (0). And by the way, if she (Hrotsvit) did write the plays, how can we be sure that they were staged in her life time. There is no description of a performance written by someone who actually saw a performance.
When a contemporary of Hrotsvit’s, Ethelwold of Winchester, wrote instruction guiding the performance of the trope Quem Quaeritis (Who do you seek) during the Easter liturgy, nobody doubted that these instructions were immediately followed nor that performance took place within his life time. Yet there is obviously no substantial proof, i.e. record of a Quem Quaeritis performance during the last decades of the 10th century CE. It would seem that researchers tend to expect a bishop, but not a canoness to be obeyed because they think that bishops have power. Nevertheless, the upper classes, to which Hrotsvit happened to belong, are quite capable of staging their female authors, whatever reforming Ethelwold or 19th and 20th century bourgeoises researchers may think. Today, nevertheless, most researchers are content to say that Hrotsvits plays may well have been staged, but at the same time, they represent a type of drama that wasn’t in vogues in 11th and 12th century Western Europe. Indirectly, the fact that they survived these centuries is a sign of their importance – not many plays did.
Hrotsvit set out to rewrite Terentius’ popular plays, i.e. to reform them so that they would be acceptable to a Christian society. This adaptaion of 2nd c. BCE secular Roman culture, was not the way the Church when it became powerful enough wished to make drama useful. And while mystery plays became popular, Hrotsvit was not staged for centuries.
It so happens that an essential point in dramatic performance described by Ethelwold when he tells us how to perform the scene when the three Marias and the Angel meet at Christ’s sepulcher after he has left it, coincides with a similar point in Hrotsvit’s plays. Having referred to the texts accompanying this scene Ethelwold continues:
This said, let the one, still sitting there (i. e. he who plays the angel sitting on Christ’s grave) and as if recalling them (i.e the three Marias), say the anthem Venite et videte locum—come and see the place. And saying this, let him rise, and lift the veil, and show them the place bare of the cross and only the cloths laid there in which the cross was wrapped. And when they have seen this …(1)
Ethelwold’s point is to let the Marias and the audience look into a secrete room behind the veil and behold that Christ has left it. The audience thus focusses on the material reality of a significant place. This scenic context – looking into a significant room, occurs also in Hrotsvit’s plays Pafnutius. The scene is very prophane, but it attracts the audience in the same way that Ethelwold devised.
In order to bring about the conversion of the harlot Thaïs, the hermit Pafnutius decides to work under cover disguising himself as a lover. In this capacity he asks the whore whether there is a room in her house where the two of them may speak secretly. Thaïs, true to her profession, suggests her cozy bedroom which she points out to Pafnutius. The dramaticality employed by Hrotsvit’s character when she points out her bed to Pafnutius parallels the way Ethelwold’s Angel shows Christ’s grave to the Marias. The point is the dramatic technique which allows the audience to look into a secret place and satisfy their curiosity. It is a truly theatrical technique, an illusion based on the curiousness of the audience allowing it to imagine what’s necessary – Christ’s resurrection as well as Thaïs shagging her costumer. With such techniques at hand, no wonder that Ethelwold was specific when he gave instruction on how to perform the scene at the grave.
– ○ –
Nevertheless, I read Hrotsvit for technical reasons being interested in the way she wrote dialogue for the stage in the 10th c. when poems in alliterative verse could still be recited and poems in trimeter read aloud. Did she employ a poetic-style dialogue?
Usually researchers agree that Hrotsvit wrote rhythmic prose with rhymes, i.e. not verse, but precisely how she did it and why is seldom discussed. Katherine Wilson is the exception and in her translations of Hrotsvit’s plays she preserves the rhymes (2). Because there may be more to Hrotsvit’s way of using rhymes than meets the eye I have picked out a scene from Pafnutius and looked more formally at its prosody – the way Hrotsvit treats syllables, rhythm, stress and intonation in the speech she writes down as dialogue. I start with a translation.
Pafnutius, Scene II: The forum in Alexandria, translation
01a Paf: There are some young men in the square. I will address them first and ask where I can find the woman I am looking for.
01b Young: Look, there’s one who has lost his way approaching us. Let’s find out what he wants.
02a Paf: Hello youngsters, who are you?
02b Young: Citizens of this township
03a Paf: Good day to you
03b Young: And welcome to you, whether you are local or foreign
04a Paf: A foreigner – I have just arrived
04b Young: Why have you come? What are you looking for?
05a Paf: I am not telling you.
05b Young: Why not?
06a Paf: Because it is my secret.
06b Young: It would be better if you told us. Since if you are not one of ours, then you will hardly be able to do any business among us without following the residents’ advice.
07a Paf: But if I tell it, then by saying something I might have built myself a hindrance.
07b Young: Not among us.
08a Paf: Happy with that promise and your trust, I will proceed with confidence and explain my secret.
08b Young: No unfaithfulness on our part, no opposition shall prevent you.
09a Paf: I have been told for certain that a woman staying among you is lovable to everybody – kind to everybody.
09b Young: Do you know her name?
10a Paf: I do!
10b Young: What is she called?
11a Paf: Thaïs.
11b Young: She is fire among us.
12a Paf: They declared this woman very beautiful – and being most attractive to all.
12b Young: Telling you this, they made no mistake.
13a Paf: For this difficult matter I have traveled long-winding roads, I have come just to see her.
13b Young: Nothing prevents you from seeing her
14a Paf: Where does she live?
14b Young: Here in the house next to us
15a Paf: The one you point to?
15b Young: The same
16a Paf: I will go there
16b Young: If you like, we can go with you.
17a Paf: I’d rather go alone.
17b Young: As you please.
– ○ –
If we divide the dialogue into prosodic sections and define the syllables involved with the rhyming as relatively speaking short (blue) in relation to the long (red) ones, and sometimes as semi-long (green) then we get a perspective on Hrotsvit’s poetic technique. Several of the short syllables could be considered semi-long, but since it is the relation to the long ones and the rhythmic parallelism between the rhymes that matters, most semi-long syllables are in effect short.
Comments on rhymes, rhythm and lines may center on a handful of Points:
In these cases the rhymes mark the end of a sentence, or a part of a sentence or it creates a pause.
These are the standard variations resulting in the main or formal style of the dialogue, but there are lots of deviances from these patterns used to give the dialogue a less formal style, such as:
Rhyming speech (using the standard structures 1 to 5) is a sign of well-formulated and organized speech. Deviances (such as A to D) are caused by context and they add a bit of life to the scenes.
The prosody is relatively free with the rhyming relatively speaking short syllables nearly always falling after a long one:
Although there are more examples of not-so-clear- rhymes, Hrotsvit, nevertheless, treated prosody in a structured way free. This approach to form also governs the length of the prosodic lines as it can be seen if we sort them in (1) lines with no rhymes; (2) lines with two rhymes and (3) lines with three rhymes.
Lines with no rhyme are usually short. The ‘long one’, 8 syllables, was probably supposed to generate an answer rhyming with the question: Haec quam indice proditis? But the urban youngsters, whom Hrotsvit has made a bit toplofty, albeit nice to country cousins, can’t be bothered. This hints that Hrotsvit used rhyme and line length consciously.
On average, when a pair of lines are rhyming the lines become longer and although there are pairs consisting of a long and a short line, most pairs consist of lines being equally long, irrespective of their length. The average pair consists of lines that are c. 9 syllables long and circa half the paired lines have a length between 7 and 10 syllables. By and large the trend in line length is slightly exponential.
Although there are only two cases of three lines rhyming in the same way these cases consist of longer lines that the rhyming pairs or the un-rhyming lines. There are two principles at work in these sections. First rhymes are a way of keeping lines together. Second, when much needs to be said within one sequence of the dialogue the rhymes cannot be allowed to interfere with the message, i.e. the actual meaning of the words spoken. Nor must they be forgotten. This means that on average line length, although varied, will grow and rhyme become less regular.
By and large rhymes are related to a general pace in the dialogue. Moreover, variation in line length and rhymes are used to make the dialogue more lively. Hrotsvit doesn’t count stress, being uninterested in alliteration, but well length and rhythm. Parallel rhythmic patterns in the syllables leading up the rhymes seems to be as important. Rhythmic patterns, therefore, signal the rhymes.
How then would Hrotsvit let Thaïs speak and use rhyme when she shows Pafnutius her bedroom? The scene is significant, but not many words are needed to point it out so Hrotsvit decides to symbolize the elegance or coziness of the room by means of rhythm and rhyme:
A true saleswoman pointing out a piece of real estate up for short-term rent, she decorates her speech with rhymes. She starts with two seemingly not-rhyming short lines. The second and shorter line is a calm and simple rhythmic repetition, which answers the first slightly more lively line. The last lines are longer and full of short syllables. The rhymes and no less than six short syllables, lead up to the final, long, syllable that announces the second rhyme.
To a modern ear Thaïs may not be convincing, Hrotsvit, nevertheless seems to have been careful when she constructed her speech, letting rhythm and rhyme interact with the meaning of the words spoken by Thaïs. If Hrotsvit had insisted on true rhymes the lines would have been tedious, instead her rhyme and rhythm creates a kind of harmony and gentle pace.
(0) In 1960 Marguerite Butler called her book Hrotsvitha: the theatricality of her plays. Searching the JSTOR database for ‘Marguerite Butler’ will lead the reader to several outdated reviews.
(1) quoted after Glynne Wickham. The Medieval Theater, 3rd ed. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1987:38.
(2) If one wants to acquaint oneself with Hrotsvit plays Katherine Wilson’s books are a good point of departure e.g. Katherine M. Wilson (introduction and translation): The plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim.New York, Garland Publishing. 1989. And KatherineM. Wilson: Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: The Ethics of Authorial Stance. Leiden, E.J. Brill. 1988.
14 April, 2014
This week On the Reading Rest I have an article in German (with a small summary in English and French) on an Early Medieval settlement, Gladbach, with long houses and pit houses on the right bank of the Middle Rhine in the Neuwied basin. Gladbach is not the most romantic of places on the Middle Rhine — Heine and Wagner had little to say about the village, but nevertheless at the border between the Lower and the Upper Middle Rhine.
It is a pity that the site is called Gladbach since it is obviously not today’s Gladbach, which may well be as old as the archaeological site.
Grunewald, Lutz & Schreg, Rainer. 2013. Frühmittelalterliche Siedlungen und Gräberfelder in der Gemarkung von Neuwied-Gladbach – Forschungsgeschichte, Quellenbestand und Auswertung einer Altgrabung—Early Medieval settlements and cemeteries in the area of Neuwied-Gladbach – history of research, sources and analysis of an old excavation. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt, Jahrg 43 4:2013:569-85. Acronym: LuGRaSch.
During excavations in 1937 dark features in the light pumice layers at Gladbach revealed themselves as pit houses. In fact the term Grubenhaus was coined here although it wasn’t the fist time one was excavated. The excavations were caused by the exploitation of the pumice resources and prior to the excavations, part of the settlement north of the excavated area had been destroyed. But not large parts since already in 1936 cemeteries surrounding the settlement had come to light as a result of the quarrying of pumice. To begin with when quarrying the pumice, machines remove the top soil and then the actual pumice layer. Afterwards the top soil is brought back and cultivation continues on a lower level.
Early excavations of settlements characterized by pit houses tend not to have been published and in that respect Gladbach resembles the first Danish excavation a decade later of the early Aggersborg settlement mixing long houses and pit houses (mentioned briefly OtRR 28 November, 2011). Even here the pit houses were recognized already during the excavation. Aggersborg, owing not least to the Late Carolingian Iron Age ring fort (10th c. CE) is about to be published and LuGRaSch’ article shows that the Gladbach excavations too deserve a publication.
LuGRaSch sketches the history of the settlement and its cemeteries in the light of new chronological analyses. Their discussion makes it clear that there was an overlap in time in the Carolingian Iron Age (750-1025 CE) for instance between Gladbach and Aggersborg, which LuGRaSch is obviously not discussing. Perhaps as a typical settlement expansion, Gladbach starts already in the 6th c. However, both settlements thrive in the 8th and 9th c. and come to an end in the 10th – Gladbach in the early part of the period and Aggersborg in the later part of the Century when it becomes the ring fort. Although they are sites far apart both are exponents of a specific kind of settlement characterizing large parts of northwest Europe: rural sites where long houses are matched by clusters of pit houses. I think there are economic as well as social reasons behind this kind of farm structure. In Scandinavia, the further north we go the later the examples of these mixed farms. This chronological trait suggests that general Middle Age economic change makes this kind of farms obsolete.
Gladbach is situated just below alluvial depositions in a gentle slope towards the Southwest on the easily cultivated Bims (the light and well-drained soils, typical not least of the eastern Neuwied Basin. They are trachyte turfs and thus rich in pumice (0)). The situation at Gladbach – a loosely planned settlement surrounded by cemeteries is the expected Early Medieval settlement structure and the historical villages surrounding the site are exactly that, but the excavated settlement never becomes a historical village instead the site is abandoned in the early 10th century. Historically speaking its lands were swallowed up by historical and present-day Gladbach, a village c. 1.3 km to the East.
LuGRaSch shows that the settlement is expanding a little within its settlement area beginning in the Northeast. The 8th century may be the zenith and in the 10th century it seems to have become a relatively small settlement. Whether it is a village or not, it is organized along a road that can probably be seen today. If we allow ourselves to think of its Eastside as the earliest part of the settlement and its Westside as the later expansion, then it meets the eye that the eastern part of the settlement is more orderly and indeed more spread-out than the two units on the westside. LuGRaSch writes very informative about the site, but also cautiously in such a way that the reader is not allowed to draw any conclusions since when conclusions may be reached readers are immediately told that nothing can be known for sure. If, e.g. we want to interpret the plan we are told that preservation varied, but how, where and to what extent is not discussed. In principle therefore we cannot know whether there are fewer pit houses in the southwestern part of the settlement and whether the freestanding building is not surrounded by pit houses. The reader, therefore, shall have to draw a number of very basic conclusions in order to make this article more than an announcement of the authors’ claim to the Gladbach site. One might even venture to say that owing to the character of the article one has a duty to interpret the site.
To begin with it would seem that the settlement east of the road is occupied by a large farm with a reasonable main house, c. 7 x 14m, in the south in some sort of ‘splendid isolation’. This might be a small manor and needless to say it may have been short-lived because the economy of the farm is the northern part of the Eastside, where pit houses cluster around a number of long houses that are probably no contemporary. The easternmost and the westernmost long house on the settlement have (not yet?) been interpreted as buildings, but if they are, it means that the Westside consists of two settlement units characterized by one long house and a cluster of pit houses. These clusters are of the same kind as the ones next to the freestanding houses in the Northeast. The relation between long house and pit houses is relatively exceptional since there are many pit houses – on average 8 pit houses in one freestanding building, if we count all possible freestanding ones. The pattern with clusters next to farm houses and areas characterized by sparsely distributed pit houses and no long houses, as if the pit houses were situated on the common is not unique to Gladbach (1). It is characteristic on the other hand that the settlement planning is more orderly on the Westside than on the Eastside. The orientation of the houses testifies to this. On the Eastside the extremes of the pit houses, which are not very extreme compared to the pit houses on the Westside, actually constitutes a small group of diverging houses. On the late Westside order simply doesn’t seem to be equally important. Spatial order is characteristic of those who can afford to invest in it. In that case the heyday of the settlement seems to have been the 8th century CE, before order was allowed to deteriorate. Gladbach is a miniature Aggersborg inasmuch as it may be a manor investing in production and handicraft in the pit houses to a degree more than usual on its dependent farms. Basically, pit houses are multi-purpose building characterized, when compared to freestanding post buildings, by their uniformly moderate size and the moderate costs involved in constructing them. They are not high standard housing and those who live in them will understand the difference between living in a pit house and a large capacious building. On a rainy day in the Neuwied basin when the pumice layers drain the water swiftly down the gentle slope and through the pit house at Gladbach, one feels the difference and thanks God that the subsoil isn’t clay. Settlement such as Gladbach or Aggersborg fit a society where there are a number of workers and craftsmen who are not landowners, but live from what they produce on farms that feed them, inasmuch as they are linked to or associated with the household. Seventh or eighth century Northwest European rural settlements with a pit house:long house ratio higher than 5 – pit houses to one Long house – are probably production settlements producing goods such as cloths or other relatively expensive commodities for towns as well as royal or religious institutions. That a rural household engaged solely in agriculture and husbandry, that is, in subsistence would be in need of more than one or two pit houses is unlikely. It is impossible to know whether looking into the Gladbach excavations will result in any socio-economic interpretations, but it is worth trying and worth suggesting that the Late Iron Age in Scandinavia or the Early Middle Ages in northwest Europe would seem to allow us to benefit from a rather crude socio-economic model befitting the rural settlement landscape as well as breaking up the usual internal interpretation of pit house-infested settlements: NOTES
(0) On the Geography of the Ndeuwied Basin see Elkins, Thomas. H. and YATES, Edward. M. 1960. The Neuwied Basin. Geography, Vol. 45, No. 1/2 (January-April 1960), pp. 39-51 URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40565106 .
(1) See Fig. 3 in: Schreg, Rainer. 2012. Farmsteads in early medieval Germany – architecture and organization. ARQUEOLOGÍA DE LA ARQUITECTURA, 9, enero-diciembre 2012, págs. 247-265. ISSN: 1695-2731. Pit houses situated on the common exists in Scandiavia too, e.g. at St Darum OtRR 16 April, 2012.
19 August, 2013
In a new era of growing neo-fascist European nationalism, i.e. today, Ernst Robert Curtius and his historical research stands out as model. From the early 1930s and onwards he redirected his skills to a project that was feasible in his day and age, as well as possibly rewarding after an inner German excile. His research is a historical analysis, triggered by a threathening horrid future and designed to help society to understand itself, if it survives. The different ways his life and research is sketched in today’s German, French and English wikipedia articles is a paragon too. The German article treating him as a national phenomenon, finds it essential to criticize his frankness towards other Germans and comes through as irrelevant, rhetorical and commonplace
In 1948, 16 years after his latest book (Deutscher Geist in Gefahr—German spirit in danger, ), Curtius published Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter or La Littérature européenne et le Moyen Âge latin or European literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Rather than several national phenomena, he saw this literature up and until Goethe as a European experience heavily dependant on Latin writers. A similar attitude acknowleding a Latin legacy was evident also in Frederick Klaebers third edition of Beowulf and the fight at Finnsburg (1950) another fruit of a German scholar in inner excile. And they were right: a varying, but large number of European intellectuals have always been critical of European politics. Some of these intellectuals were nationalists others such as Curtius were Europeans. Until the 1950s nevertheless, they were all taught a much earlier Latin in school. This meant that even if you aspire so become a glowing nationalist you could know that the roots of your rhetoric were Latin. This heritage may not have bothered you, but being aware of it, one must at least take the conscious decision not to be bothered.
Since I am interested in South Scandianvia c. 400 to 750 ce – that is, interested in the 19th-century paragon of Germanic, i.e. non-Latin, barbarian myth and darkness – I balance my interest reading Curtius: the main text when I have forgotten something and the excursions, which make up one third of the book on European literature, when I need some frankness. I have forgotten the definition of topos. I am almost sure where to find it, so I look it up in the index – it’s on page 70:
Now, there is a whole series of such arguments, which can be used on the most diverse occasions. They are intellectual themes, suitable for development and modification at the orator’s pleasure. In Greek they are called, κοινοὶ τόποι [commmon sites]; in Latin loci communes; in early German, Gemeinörter. Lessing and Kant still use the word. About 1770, Gemeinplatz was formed after the English “commonplace”. We cannot use the word since it has lost its original application. We shall therefore retain the Greek topos. To elucidate its meaning—a topos of the most general sort is “emphasis on inability to do justice to the subject”; a topos of panegyric: “praise of forbears and their deeds”. In Antiquity collections of such topoi were made. The science of topoi—called “topics”—was set forth in separate treatises.
Originally, then, topoi are helps towards composing orations. They are as Quintilians (V 10, 20,) says, “storehouses of trains of thought” (“argumentorum sedes “), and thus can serve practical purposes.
This came to an end when topoi invaded poetry and prose from the end of the Republic and onwards with less and less practical purpose.
One of the most widespread and long-lived topoi was Affected Modesty, which includes devotional formula as well as expressions of humility and submission. These concepts are discussed in Curtius’ second excurse: Devotional Formula and Humility. Curtius starts by pointing out that Bresslau in his Handbuch der Urkundenlehre made a distinction between devotion and humility and Curtius defends this distinction against scholars, who despite the their references to Bresslau insist on blurring the it – this is where Curtius becomes frank. And he is right. There is a distinction. Devotional and submissive formulae are different topoi in the vast field of thousands of similar and different topoi. ‘Thousands’ by the way is the topos of large, perhaps exaggerated, even numbers. Picking two different topoi believing them to be similar is a serious mistake, because topoi have a direct meaning, which is often of minor importance (dozens, scores, hundreds or thousands – who cares?) as well as hidden and important albeit somewhat obscure meanings (e.g. ‘thousands’, which also means “more topoi than you would think”). Consequently, the choice of one topos above another is sometimes important. And frankly, scholarship grounding its arguments and interpretations on misconstrued and overlooked topoi must be criticized. Curtius does just that.
To Bresslau’s mind, Devotional Formula is a technical term which verbalizes the opinion that God has granted us our earthly position from which we act. In written Medieval instruments and often in the beginning, expressions such as Gratia Dei (by the grace of God) or servus servorum Dei (the servant of the servants of God) are in other words examples of Devotional Formula. The fact that this devotion is not passive, although it may seem to be, is essential. Take e.g. the ostensibly modest position in life of someone who calls himself servus servorum Dei. Its appearance is deceptive, since the formula – first used by Gregory the Great (590-604 CE) – was invented to designate the Pope when he introduces himself in a papal bull, i.e. when he is about to take firm action rather than profess his modest humility. Curtius demonstrates that whatever scholars such as Schmitz or Schwietering may think, the devotional formula has little to do with humility because those who profess to this devotion allow themselves to act autonomously on behalf of the superior power to whom they refer their devotion, i.e., they act on the power extended to them by their devotion. They have been appointed a mission by their superior, who’s ours too, and in that sense their actions are lawful. That’s why ‘devoted’ teachers in loco parentes (in a position where they substitute parents) have beaten up children for centuries.
Nevertheless, the idea behind the devotional formula is its reference to an accepted hierarchic social order (e.g. headed by Deus) to which belongs the person who speaks (the servus servorum) as well as the listeners (the servi Dei and the rest of us)—servus servorum Dei, in short, demonstrates the right of the devoted.
In Bresslau’s sense devotional formula belongs in a room of its own walled by institutions and separated from formula that express belittlement and personal feeling, be it modesty or humility or submission or incapacity. Thus if someone calls himself servus, servant, thrall etc., then the humbleness implied must not be taken at face value. The word alone it not enough to designate the formula in which it occurs – its context must be taken into account. This as it happens is Curtius’ critical method in the excurse. Frankly, sloppy contextual analyses have let some scholars astray.
As readers of On the Reading Rest will perhaps remember there are some difficulties understanding early runic names ending in – þewaz, A-S theow, i. e. servus, servant, thrall. Similarly, we may wonder why Mary in Hêliand (the Saxon Gospel harmony written c- 830 CE) when talking to Gabriel designates herself thus: thiu … … theodgodes, i. e. ‘maid servant … … of the folk god’. Perhaps analyzing this passage from the perspective of devotional formula will bring some clarity.
In Luke, we (i. e. God, the Archangel Gabriel and the rest of us) as well as Mary herself see her as a virgin and an instrument or ‘a vessel of selfless service’, to quote the 1587 Lithany of the blessed Virgin Mary. We take her statement to the angel as proof of this: ‘And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done to me according to your words’—dixit autem Maria ecce ancilla Domini fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum (Luke 1:38). She is not supposed to act, since: ‘the Holy Ghost shall come upon you and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’. The angel has delivered his message and she has understood that she has received it. Her behaviour is significant because it differs from Zachary’s in verse 18. He doubts that his 80 year old wife will become pregnant and starts to discuss reproduction with Gabriel and he was duly punished because he expressed doubts. Mary doesn’t doubt the angel, she just wonders what is going to happen and informs him that she is a virgin. When she calls herself ancilla—maid servant/handmaid, this is not a devotional formula, but a fact, because Mary’s humility is a fact, which makes ancilla Domini a submissive formula.
In Hêliand things are different because Mary Hêliand is a different person than Mary Gospel, ‘virgin’ and ‘handmaid’. Mary Hêliand, even before the angel addresses her, is described to us as a woman that God knows, a lovable maid, a forward young woman, a daughter of King David, a dear and a devoted woman.
A member of the upper and cultivated classes, she is a bit astonished when the angel, whom she perceives as a man, comes up in front of her and addresses her by her name and starts flattering her calling her ‘loved by her master, worthy of the Lord, because she has wits, in short a most pleasant woman. The angel understands that his brusque manners need to be balance by a more polite behaviour and starts to explain himself pointing out that he is not delusion and that he means no evil. Then he sketches a series of happy events (1) she will become our Lord’s (2) become a mother, (3) give birth to a son (4) who is the son of the Lord. (5) This new king will become the ‘splendid king of (all) people’—mâri theodan.
In the Gospel, Mary was told that ‘the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever’, but in Hêliand Joseph is already sitting on David’s throne (albeit quietly) and the ruling of the house of Jacob (i.e. the Jewish nation) is a petty ruler ship compared to many others. Mary Hêliand expects more, because reasonably her future son by Joseph will sit on David’s throne and why not rule Israel too.
In the Gospel Mary humbly asks: how will this to be done?— quomodo fiet istud?. Far from being humble and submissive Mary Hêliand asks the angel: huô mag that giuuerðen sô that ic magu fôdie?—how may that become so that I may give birth? That is: How is it possible? Not: How will it be done?
The answer to Mary Hêliand’s question is simple enough: By the strength of God the Holy Spirit will come to her from the meadow of Heaven and see to that the she will get pregnant. an thi scal hêlag gêst fon heƀanuuange cuman thurh craft godes. Thanan scal thi kind ôdan uuerðan an thesaro uueroldi—to you the Holy Spirit shall come from Heaven Meadow through God’s strength (as of body or externals) and thereof you shall have a child in this world. The angel indicates that the strength of the Heaven King will be on top of her and ends by pointing out that this procedure and its result is the very best.
Mary Hêliand is pleased with the answer and feels that her ‘mind is thrown to God’s will´’ i.e. she is devoted. Consequently she uses the word serva – thiu – maid, when she says: Than ic hêr garu standu,’ quað siu, `te sulicun ambahtskepi, sô he mi êgan uuili. Thiu bium ic theodgodes—‘Then, here I stand prepared, she said, to whatever servant’s task he wants to use me. I am the Folk-god’s maid servant’. As the not-so-orthodox Hêliand context shows, this formula, which in Latin would be serva Dei, is devotional. Having asked the angel to clarify himself on an essential point, Mary Hêliand has accepted her devotion and a mission. There is agreement and a form of contract – ‘here I stand prepared’. Mary Hêliand is far from submissive.
In their respective contexts Ancilla Dei is submissive and thiu theodgodes is devotional. In the Gospel the submissive ancilla Dei signifies the end of the story, but In Hêliand the devotional formula thiu theodgodes signifies the beginning of Mary’s mission. In Hêliand John is already born and Mary, instead of visiting Elisabeth, whom she doesn’t know, starts telling people, those she wants to talk to, that she has become pregnant through God’s holy strength from Heaven. Doing so creates some problems of legal and moral character. Mary isn’t bothered Joseph is, but Gabriel talks some sense into him helping Mary in her mission.
Because Mary, the mother of God’s son, had to be construed as a woman of royal decent, I think it was impossible for a Saxon poet, such as the Hêliand author, still close to pagan ideals, simply to look at Mary as in reality an ancilla Dei. To avoid this, he had to fall back on Roman/Pagan social contracts of mission and devotion in a socially stratified earthly society in which the upper classes and royalty had affinities with deities. He had to give Mary an active social position, similar to that of other upper-class women. Moreover, I think that Scandinavian Iron Age names ending in –þewaz—servant, which contrary to the Continental ones never became conventional, are reminiscent of pagan devotional formula referring to missions and social contracts with superior deities and members of society. A þewaz does the job because he or she is devoted to the social order.
This, and needless to say my incapacity to treat any relevant topic in a satisfactory way, I humbly confess.
15 April, 2013
This week On the Reading Rest I have no less than four books on West European history mostly concerned with the later part of the first millennium CE. I read the introductions because historiography is my focus. Historiography is important when researchers of European decent think about the 5-6th c. and onwards as the beginning of a passage more or less in its own right from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Two of the books are anthologies and two are monographs.
Gillett, Andrew. 2003 (ed.). On Barbarian Identity. Critical approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages. Brepols publishers, Turnhout.
Noble, Thomas F. X. 2006 (ed.). From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms. Routledge. London
Smith, Julia M. H. (2005). Europe after Rome: a New Cultural History 500-1000. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Olson, Lynette. (2007). The Early Middle Ages: The Birth of Europe Palgrave Macmillan. New York.
O mi germane – ubi es? is a pun, and a very old one too (Quintilian c. 95 CE referring to Cicero (01)), because germanus means ‘(full) brother’ as well as ‘German’, thus the mock sentimental: Oh ‘my brother’ ’my German’ where art thou? Today, we may ironically ask this remembering the rambling ways of German brothers now that they are not as dangerous as they were. To begin with this pun wasn’t always funny and Strabo in earnest suggested the following:
Now the parts beyond the Rhenus, immediately after the country of the Celti, slope towards the east and are occupied by the Germans, who, though they vary slightly from the Celtic stock in that they are wilder, taller, and have yellower hair, are in all other respects similar, for in build, habits, and modes of life they are such as I have said the Celti are. And I also think that it was for this reason that the Romans assigned to them the name “Germani,” as though they wished to indicate thereby that they were “genuine” Galatae, for in the language of the Romans “germani” means “genuine.” Strabo Geography Book 7:1:2.
Later on his etymology lost its significance, but in Tacitus there remains a measure of Barbarian virtue in Germani. From the 2nd c. CE and onwards into the 5th Germani and Germania were more often depicted in traditional poses on coins as defeated. In the same period Gaul is depicted as restored.
In part the two anthologies discuss the same problems. One concerns the barbarians as a political phenomenon: did migrating barbarians organized in nations put an end to Rome? The other question concerns the ethnic unity of Germanic tribes and kingdoms: was there a common core identity among people called Franks, Alemanni, Visigoths etc.? Gillett (ed.) doesn’t think so being especially critical of the construction of ethnicity. In his anthology Derek Fewster, who doesn’t write about the middle of the first millennium ce., come closest to understanding ethnicity as the outcome of bad historical analyses. Noble (ed.) qualifies these questions, since revision is the model for all the books in the series to which this particular volume belongs. Instead of relying on the fall of Rome and the origin of the Germanic Early Medieval kingdoms it has been common, since the 1990s, to talk of the ‘transformation’ of the Roman world. I textbooks suitable for first year students the first sentence would point out that although Rome in the West disappeared as a political system – Roman civilization had already profoundly changed societies in northern Europe among those the people the Romans called Germans. The ongoing transformation of what was formally Rome is the complement of, and thus complemented by, the ongoing transformation of what was formally not-Rome in North and West Europe.
Even to Romans there was something about Germanic ways that transformed the land where Germani lived, i.e. Germania. When the poet Venantius Fortunatus wrote a wedding poem to King Sigebert and his Visigoth Queen Brunhild, who came to Metz in what we would term Gaul from Toledo in Spain. Venantius expressed his astonishment that there was a marriage bed for her in Germania – not in Gallia. Rhetorically he asks:
Quis crederet autem / Hispanam tibimet dominam, Germania nasci? –
Who would have believed / that with you there was born I Spain a mistress for Germania? (Venantius Fortunatus, Book 6, Poem 1, ll. 117-18).
Since he presented the poem to the couple at their wedding, and became a popular court poet, his analysis of the Merovingian court was commonly accepted, emblematic of Germania and consequently of the Germanic ways. Spain, on the other hand did not qualify as Germania, despite its Visigoth court in La Mancha. The Visigoths were lords in Spain while the Franks had moved Germania into Gaul, at least into its northern parts, when they settled there. The examples suffice to show that the questions discussed in the two anthologies have been ‘with us’ and difficult to handle for the last 2000 years at least.
Nevertheless: The fall of Rome? and Germanic ethnogenesis? are questions typical of a post-war discussion presently dismissed by most. For theoretical reasons such discussions should have been abandoned already in the 1980s, but obviously that was not the case and pointless dichotomies such as: did Rome fall or did it not fall? Was there a core ethnicity or not? – continued to dominate the discussion whether researchers agreed or disagreed with one another or agreed to disagree. Especially Ethnicity and Identity continued to preoccupy researchers and only in recent years has the relation between ethnicity – heralded by ancient or modern voices – and bad historical analysis (a very common phenomenon then and now) been emphasized.
It should not be forgotten that the Romans themselves introduced the idea of ‘the political fall’ such as the Republic and bad ‘ethno-historical analysis’ such as Tacitus’ ‘Germania’. Caesar writing about the Civil War and Tacitus writing about Germans both wrote of something else too, and so do Gillett (ed.) and Noble (ed.). They write in the flickering torches of the EU and the comfortable straight jacket of Eurocentric post-war history departments, i.e. – paragons of the 6th c. royal and petty-royal halls; the nodes of a political network and prestige economy; a gender-controlled environment engaged in introspect historical narrative.
Using the concept of Ethnicity as a discursive node tying it to whatever source material available, is a way of ordering the discourse of a discipline in times when its male dominance is questioned. This shows already in Laura Bohannan’s essay ‘Shakespeare in the Bush’ (1966) (02) in which the patronizing ethnicity-driven claim to the correct interpretation of Hamlet rests equally well with Bohannan’s male friend in Oxford, England and elders in Tivland, Nigeria, despite the fundamental discrepancies between their correct interpretations, Both her friend and the elders are convinced that Laura Bohannan being a foreigner, but in reality a woman and thus not quite up to male standards, is not able fully to grasp ‘correct interpretation’. As the obvious representatives of each their ethnic group, they are both capable of contextualizing Hamlet as their story using ‘Hamlet’ as a discursive node. The capacity to see ethnicity in relation to border lines between the individual and a group, thus defining the individual as either inside or outside its social territory, makes it easy not least for conventional males to look at discipline as (my) territory and defend the discipline by discussing ethnicity taking its status as a discursive node for granted and disagreeing with others about ‘ethnicity and correct interpretation’. Arguing about the correct interpretation of ethnicity strengthens the structure of the discipline inasmuch as it creates schools combating each other without questioning the discursive node even if relabeling or subdividing it – ethnicity/identity – may be part of the struggle.
Scholars who think that ethnicity is unimportant or indeed the outcome of inferior historical analysis, are thus automatically excluded from the disciplinary discourse. In this case they tend to be women. Scholars who comprise traditional discursive nodes are included in the disciplinary discourse. In this case they tend to be men. Some prominent historians therefore figure in Noble ed. as well as Gillett ed. And some have two chapters in Noble (ed.). Most of the authors in Gillett (ed.) are obviously the young and sometimes angry generation. Nevertheless they all belong to a group we may call the Anthology Group.
Reading an introduction as a text in its own right means reading it as an epilogue as well as an introduction and in the case of the anthologies we are probably right in suggesting that the introductions were not written until all the contributions were available to the editor, who then sat down to analyse and explain what the anthology was all about in some ways knowing it already. Therefore, reading the introduction to an anthology as an epilogue is a method rather than simply unfair.
Writing a monograph one could do more or less the same, i.e. write the introduction when the rest of the book was already finished. But even so, the introduction would often have brewed in the author as the result of an interaction between the book as imagined and what has so far been written. The introduction develops and colours the book in the process of writing it.
Significantly there are some concepts that are consciously avoided in both Smith and Olson such as ethnicity and its correlate identity. Moreover, the European core area Germany, southern England and northern France is not anymore a must in a book pointing out the diversity of the Early Middle Ages. Cognitive history holds a prominent place and the break with the revisionist view is central:
The awareness that archaeology doesn’t simply confirm or question the written sources, but make up ‘brand new evidence for the Early Middle Ages’ is another important component of both Olson’s and Smith’s books.
In the end of her introduction in a most typical way, Olson refers to a picture of the front of the Franks Casket commenting upon it in the following distinctly non-ethnic way:
Representing a radical break with the tradition of the anthologies, one is not surprised to find that one of the younger anthology authors has written a review, fault-finding and territory-defining, demonstrating a formidable inability to grasp Lynette Olson’s general approach and a sniper’s attitude, if not craftsmanship, to scientific discourse.
The anthology group, including the reviewer, is a good illustration to Fredrik Barth’s views upon ethnicity. Quoting Barth on almost anything, why not on his third approach – on boundaries: If a group maintains its identity when members interact with others, this entails criteria for determining membership and ways of signalling membership and exclusion (03) – and remembering the way the reviewer takes ethnogenesis and thus also ethnicity to be a discursive node in the sense of Discourse Theory, it becomes obvious that the anthology group interacts and struggle within itself to dominate the this node. Both the Noble (ed.) and the Gillett (ed.) group acknowledge the ethnicity node and the reviewer, who doesn’t forget to mention ethnogenesis as self-evident (although in his opinion misunderstood by Olson beyond comments), takes every opportunity to exclude Lynette Olson, as he would probably have tried to exclude Julie Smith, from the group. That is a safe thing to do because they would not contemplate membership. Thus he shows his group membership, his individuality and his loyalty as s boundary defender. Nevertheless, ethnicity, whether performed by groups of the past or a male anthology tribe, is just a reflection of bad historical analysis of the past or the present.
There is an interesting socio-biological component of the male defense of what seems primarily to be a scholarly territory perhaps not understood as social boundaries. Fredrik Barth, none the less, would have advised that the Anthology Group understood itself in terms of social boundaries.
(01) According to Quintilian, Cicero used the pun thus: Cimber hic fuit, a quo fratrem necatum; hoc Ciceronis dicto notatum est: Germanum Cimber occidit—There was this Cimber who murdered his brother; a fact recorded by Cicero in the words: “Cimber killed his ‘full brother’/’German’.” Quintilian Institutio Oratoria Book 8, 3, 29.
(02) The essay can be found at: http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/editors_pick/1966_08-09_pick.html
4 March, 2013
This week On the Reading Rest I have a translation of an essay in historical anthropology first published in French 2010.
Le Geoff, Jacques. Money and the Middle Ages: An Essay in historical anthropology. Cambridge. Polity Press. ISBN-13: 978-0-7456-5299-3
Because money is embedded and entangled in social relations, not least in the Middle Ages, money eludes definition. In the end of his essay Jaques Le Goff (JaLGo) points to these two characteristics – the first insight is a legacy of Karl Polanyi’s http://sv.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Karl_Polanyi , the second, which he brings in from the historian Albert Rigaudière http://www.aibl.fr/ membres/academiciens-depuis-1663/article/rigaudiere-albert-jean-marie , is made significant not least by himself.
JaLGo points to these characteristics because they guided him all the way through his analyses. To prove his point in a not too formal way, he quotes Le Petit Robert on the word ‘money’ demonstrating the elusiveness of any definition. The quotation breaks off after some of the colloquial terms before it becomes tedious, but also before the tangled embeddedness becomes reflected in the sheer mass of words and varieties. However, if we surf to http://thesaurus.com/browse/money?s=t there is a list of almost 300 words, nouns most, but also verbs and adjectives, making up a muddle of synonyms. There are useful phrases too: a quote, in Latin, from Ovid, about bearable barbarians, one more in Latin (anonymous, slightly distorted, but nevertheless Cicero about the sinews of war), a German saying, which also explains war, and a gentle line by Tennyson, i.e. not the one about ‘lust of gold … … war of old’, which is too long and pompous for a dinner conversation. Moreover, to complete the entry there is a warning not to confuse ‘Capitol’ and ‘Capital’ because ‘the similarity between the words is purely coincidental’ – well not ‘purely’. Who would have thought that Latin was so important when making economic conversation and not a fool of oneself.
In Money and the Middle Ages (MoMa) JaLGo devotes 19 pages, an introduction and three short chapters, to arrive at the glorious and long 13th c. — 1160 to 1330 CE. It takes the following 62 pages and five chapters to bring us to the second half of the 14th c. and 66 pages and 7 chapters to analyze the last 100 years and the end of the Middle Ages in the 15th c. always taking the glorious (long) 13th c. into account eventually defending his thesis that there was no capitalism in the Middle Ages. This thesis, rather than stated as a point of departure stands out as an outcome, and capitalism thus ‘turns out’ to refer to the kind we associate with liberalism and the free market. A student paper structured that way, defending that thesis, would alert the serious wisdom and advice of any academic teacher – even kindly professors – unless of course the student could write as interestingly as JaLGo about MoMa.
The reason why I read the book is twofold. (1) I think it is essential to discuss history analyzing concepts which, similar to money, evade traditional definition. (2) I think that next e.g. to money one of these concepts is ‘modernity’, which in my opinion is not an era commencing sometime after the Middle Ages, but a confident relation with the future as defined and predicted by the past. The modern writes the structure and dynamics of the present into the future, preferably by presenting the future as solution. Consequently, the future when seen as a predicament triggers the less-modern, i.e. revision and an interest in the historic as a means to understanding the future. No era or century is either modern or non-modern and modernity may well exist as a subculture within a society structured by canonical obedience or historical revision.
In this perspective the history of the modern becomes interesting, and so does wealth and money, because they make up a sometimes open and sometimes
restricted field for modernity. On the road to modernity the long 13th c. is eventually checked by crises highlighting the non-modern. The late 14th to early 15th century, on the other hand, lay the foundation for a much more assured modernity, based on a new historical understanding.
Chapter Six, ‘Money and the Nascant States’, discusses the way the booming coin- and currency-related activities included merchants, King and Church among their actors. The Merchants were obviously the ones who knew how to make profit by means of trade and world systems, the Kings were obviously the ones most interested in the administration of the values of the state, thus partly creating the state, and the Church took pains to keep the moral issues alive arguing against usurers — cautiously transferring money (sometimes with a questionable profit) between private and limited public spheres.
Because of the boom, the North European exploitation of natural resources with roots at least in the Roman Iron Age, became visible in the Hanseatic trade echoing the pre-Medieval North European ingot and weight based economy, now hampered by the lack of a heavy silver coins belonging to a common currency — probably because it was impossible to convince trappers to use money with no guaranties against inflation. Failing to do so is the sure sign of a not-working non-liberal market. The Hanseatic system, like the Royal European systems, modeled or revived Roman and Iron Age systems. The great difference and the main problem for those trying to develop the administration of wealth and the practice of trade into a modern economic system was no doubt the Church, because it wasn’t able to create a discussion on morals in relation to a concept of modernity nor to create a discussion of the need to revise history in view of future or imminent problems.
JaLGo’s discussion of lending, debt and usury (p. 63 ff.) highlights the confrontation between scholastics and the ‘new intellectuals of the 13th c’. To the scholastics the past as guideline was described in the Bible in such a way that the present and thus the outcome of the future was given, while at the same time the present and future road to this outcome was in practice traumatic. To the ‘new intellectuals’ a study of mankind and the past, e.g. through Aristotle and later Graeco-Roman philosophy, was necessary in order to manage the present and the imminent future. The mixture of scholastic and non-scholastic views is typical of the in-between fundamentalism and modernity of the long 13th century. In the eyes of the scholastics teachers, those who received payment for their teaching (as if they were ancient sophists) were like ‘merchants of knowledge’ selling ‘words’, which rightfully belonged to God – i.e. they sold the value of His words in a way similar to the usurer, who acquired a profit without working and thus without the sweat of his face – earning money even as he slept. JaLGo points out this conflicting way of reasoning – drawing on the value of work and eventually on value and risk – and he defines it as something new to the long 13th century. This means that he probably doesn’t appreciate the significance of the following passage from a dialogue by Aelfric written c. 1000 CE:
Merchant: I embark on board ship with my wares and I sail over remote seas, sell my wares and buy precious objects that are unknown in this country. I bring these things to you over the sea enduring great danger and shipwreck with the whole of my goods hurled overboard and with me hardly escaping with my life.
Teacher: What sort of wares do you bring us?
Merchant: I bring purple cloth and silk, precious stones and gold, various sorts of clothes and dyes, wine and oil, ebony and brass, tin and brimstone, glass and like products.
Teacher; Do you want to sell your goods here when you have bought them elsewhere?
Merchant: I don’t want to, but where else can I make a profit from my work? I want the selling price to be dearer than the purchase price so that I can make some money to feed my wife and sons. (Translation from Latin: Ann E Watkins)
To scholastics, nevertheless, value and profit make up a dangerous path to follow because we may wonder how long, without getting sweaty, should the value or profit of one’s work last? Can risk and danger not teach a man to sweat? Is inheritance not a way of acquiring wealth without labour, even if your father is not an usurer? And if a merchant makes a profit that covers more than his needs when selling his goods is that not usury? But then again what are his needs and those of ‘wife and sons’?
The criticism of usury comes from everyday life in dynamic and flowering times when people think that the costs for surviving are too high – not primarily from the Bible. As JaLGo shows usury as a moral complex is not a great problem in the countryside, where subsistence is under the control of household economy. This economy produces a surplus of people, who for want of something better supply the towns with people because living in a town stands out as better than vagabonding in the countryside. If you belong to the rural community the value of you time is relatively constant given the modes of production, but in the towns, i.e. in the urban practice the value of time fluctuates, not so much in the productions of the crafts as in the time it takes to subsist. In the towns the remedy is money as long as there is food to buy.
In the chapter that concludes those concerning the glorious 13th c. ‘A New Wealth and a New Poverty’ – a convincing paradox – JaLGo introduces a couple relation that guides the distribution of money while at the same time it is unable to distribute it more evenly. In MoMa the subject is money, but the theoretical problem seems to be the way urbanized people think about their universe trapped between wealth and poverty, secular and Heavenly justice, merchant companies and mendicant orders or between vice and virtue — unable not to embrace both.
In this connection JaLGo draws attention to Nicolas Oresme’s ‘De Moneta’ since his analysis is the beginning of the modern or the proto modern analysis inasmuch as it is a new historical analysis, i.e. an analysis of Classical, Roman and Byzantine authors as a means to explain the principles that should guide our future. This kind of analysis will remedy future predicaments, such as those already experienced. In theory Nicholas Oresme represents emancipation from the unfruitful couple relation of the long 13th century.
An early paragon of the ‘new intellectual’, John of Salisbury, brought the ethical discussion of political science back from antiquity in order to inform Kings of the needs of their subjects, i.e., their responsibilities as secular monarchs towards their subjects. He is critical of the urban life of his day and age and sets out to reform the couple relation between the ruler as a ‘moral person’ and the ‘divine law’ by introducing the needs of the subjects – a very modern or non-canonical view on subjects. Characteristically, John is not as radical as the anonymous author of the 6th c. Dialogue on Political Science discussed OtRR 30 April 2012. Nevertheless, John, who writes between 1150 and 1180, introduces a new a kind of analysis emphasizing the citizen. Nicholas who writes in the mid-14th c. writes in the middle of a demographic crisis that led to war in the 14th and 15th century and his message to those in power is thus urgent.
We may see the depth of the demographic crisis in the 14th-15th century as consisting of an economic crisis in the beginning of the century resulting in famine later turned into a demographic catastrophe by the Plague. But why was a state of continuous warfare the outcome of famine and plague? Why did a population reduced by 30-50% start to fight each other? Why didn’t ‘the long 16th’ century commence immediately after the long 13th century?
In MoMa JaLGo argues that money is embedded in social relations, but also that progress in the form of capitalism and a real market economy (an embryonic Liberal capitalism) could not develop till after the Middle Ages, i.e. only after the Middle Age when we have done away with the Biblical understanding of money, usury, caritas etc. are we able to step into modernity. The reason for this, on the one hand, rests with the fact that the use of money is embedded in social relations, on the other (seemingly) it rests with the fact that history proceeds in cultural steps forever putting eras such as the Middle Ages behind us.
When capitalism enters the scene following in the footsteps of risk, credit and justifiable profit its steps are irreversible. Nevertheless, this view doesn’t sit well with the idea that money eludes traditional definition because it is embedded in social relations, which do not proceed in a series of stages excluding each other. As soon as money, the commensurable, is introduced risk, credit, fair profit, usury, caritas and so on must always be taken into account, irrespective of their being important or not. Defining day one of capitalism let alone the end of canonical financial moral is impossible.
When Aelfric, c. 1000 CE, indicated that merchants should be compensated for the risk they take, when John of Salisbury pointed to the needs of the subject as being on par with the rights of the King, and when Richard FitzNeal described the fairness of the Exchequer system of account, split tallies, administration and justice c. 1180, the arguments pointed towards social relations that became popular with JaLGo’s capitalism and modernity. But in JaLGo’s discussion important elements of capitalism cannot have been around for two or three hundreds of years without resulting in any change. Modernity cannot be a substratum of the Medieval. To many, not least British historians this is nevertheless quite possible. The reviewer of MoMa in Times Literary Supplement (01 Feb 2013) for one, is as good an exponent of this tradition as ever Aelfric, or John of Salisbury or Richard FitzNeal.
Let us return to the questions posed above: Why was there such as thing as the squeezed 14th-15th century? To JaLGo this question is irrelevant because the period is just one in which capitalism doesn’t happen. That is why the answers one might point to are not likely to be accepted by JaLGo. Nonetheless, one may point to the following: In the dwindling and soon drastically reduced populations, the amount of money per capita grew. And since coin economy, owing to all the circumstances put forward by JaLGo, was not spread to every corner of society and since there was thus a surplus of money, money was invested in wars. Instead of pointing to the anachronistic understanding of the early 14th century frescos in Siena as allegories of good and bad government, as JaLGo does, one might instead stick to their original topic, the difference between war and peace. War, not bad government was the problem of the squeezed 14th and 15th centuries.
A demographic crisis may be the result of inadequate energy regimes perhaps caused by factors such as the Little Ice Age and a subsequent breakdown in subsistence systems, which causes people to die of starvation. In the 14th century this kind of crisis was followed by the plague which reduced the population drastically and money thus became relatively speaking abundant and of limited use. In this situation it is typical of the wealthy capital owner with access to money, i.e. when money is cheap and populations decreasing, to start investing in wars, to follow the interests of power policies because it pays although it destroys the countryside. Rebuilding the economic system from its foundations is not the first capitalistic option – not even today. The point is simple: because there was an embryonic capitalism, investors followed the hopes of Kings lending them money to invest in wars because as bankers they had money. Both Investors and Kings thought it would be profitable; to begin with it was, in the end it wasn’t.
It is difficult to embrace JaLGo’s view upon capitalism, but in the end one finds that that is not a problem because MoMa is a book that should be read not for its thesis but for its ‘plaidoyer’.