Pseudo-Seneca: Octavia (transl. 1561)

Where: Wolfson College Buttery
When: Friday, April 26 2024 at 1.15.

David Wiles (Emeritus Professor of Drama, University of Exeter) is performing the pseudo-Senecan Roman history play Octavia in the exuberant rhetorical language of the 1561 translation by Thomas Nuce with a group of players from Iffley and the University of Oxford.

  • Octavia, daughter of Claudius, wife of Nero – Imogen Lewis
  • Agrippina, wife and killer of Claudius, now dead – Laurence Nagy
  • Nero, son of Agrippina, now Emperor, killed his mother – Abigail Pole
  • Poppaea, mistress of Nero – Priya Toberman
  • Octavia’s nurse – Laura Laubeova
  • Seneca – Alex Marshall
  • Prefect – Andrew Stilborn
  • Messenger– Ivana Kuric
  • Chorus of Roman citizens – members of the company
  • Violin – Jessica Qiao
  • Director – David Wiles

Production sponsored by the Ancient World Research Cluster, Wolfson College Oxford.

Performance filmed by Henrike Lähnemann at Iffley Church Hall on April 21st.

The tragedy of Octavia is a unique example of the Roman history play, and survives because it was bound up with the tragedies of Seneca. The chorus, unlike those of Seneca, is engaged in the action as it rises up in rebellion against Nero. We are performing the play in the student translation of c.1561. Elizabeth had recently come to the throne, and in a polarised world the performance of religious plays seemed increasingly problematic. It was logical to turn to the classics, but the question arose, how to render Seneca in an equivalent English. It was not a matter of searching out what the words meant, but rather of forging a language with an equivalent rhetorical force, which in the Erasmus age meant a more copious language. The translator, Thomas Nuce, had an ear for performance, and did not attempt to find any pedantic metrical equivalence for the Latin. We have stripped the text down to a half-hour version, and have relished playing with the rhythms, rhymes and alliteration. Parsing the Latinate grammar was often a challenge.    

The story was scarcely a safe choice in 1561. It tells how Nero cast off his first wife, Octavia, whom he had married for domestic reasons, and contracted a love match. Henry VIII had likewise terminated a dynastic marriage, to the great displeasure of his people, and the fruit of that love match had just come to the throne.     

We are a mixed cast of students and community players, and on four occasions have worked on mediaeval plays for the festival at St Edmund Hall. The present production was put together for the annual conference of the Classical Association in Warwick on 24 March. If you are interested in participating in a production at St Edmund Hall in 2025, please contact David Wiles

Interfaith Harmony: Singing from Manuscripts

10 February 2024, 11:15-12:00, organised by the Oxford Interfaith Forum  as part of the One World Family Festival at the Ashmolean Museum.

Venue: Cast Gallery, Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont St, Oxford. OX1 2PH.

Shofar player opening Psalm 80, with the caption ‘Sing a new song unto the Lord’ in a Psalter manuscript from the German convent of Medingen, ca. 1500, Bodleian Library, MS. Don. e. 248, fol. 145v

This event will begin with music from medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library. The performance will also feature songs in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, and English for all to join, and will be interspersed with the sound of shofar and shell horn.

Music list: Shofar: Call to celebrating unity; ‘Cantate domino’ (Bodleian, MS. Don. e. 248, 247v); ‘Cantate domino’ (Giuseppe Pitoni); ‘Lumen ad revelacionem’ (MS. Lat. liturg. e. 18, 8r); Shell horn: Call to preserving nature; ‘Every part of this earth shall holy be for us’ (round by Stephan Vesper); Sea weed horn: Call to peace; ‘Hinema tov’ (round, orally transmitted); Horn: ‘Üsküdar’a gider iken’; ‘Victime paschali’ & ‘Christ ist erstanden’ (Bodleian, MS. Lat. liturg. f. 4); ‘Dona nobis pacem’ (round, orally transmitted).

This follows on from previous events organised by Henrike Lähnemann and Andrew Dunning ‘Singing from Manuscripts’. Click here to learn more about singing from Medieval Sources in the Bodleian Library.


The Reading and Reception of the Homeric Poems and the Nibelungenlied in Germany and Europe from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

Saturday, 25 May 2024
Organised by John Butcher (Meran Academy, South Tyrol) together with Oxford Medieval Studies

The workshop is open to all with no attendance fee. The papers will also be livestreamed. Please register your interest by emailing John Butcher; for online attendance, a link will be sent out 24 hours in advance. A selection of the papers and the two guided tours will also later be made available as podcasts.

10.15-13.05 Taylor Institution Library (St Giles’, Oxford OX1 3NA), Room 2. Workshop chaired by Nigel Wilson and Henrike Lähnemann

Chair: Nigel Wilson

10.15-10.20 Welcome – John Butcher

10.20-10.40 Angus Bowie (University of Oxford) – A Homerist on Looking into the Nibelungenlied: Cortés or a Panamanian? 

10.40-11.00 John Butcher (Meran Academy) – Henry Fuseli, Homer and the Nibelungenlied 

11.00-11.20 Andrea Doda (University of Oxford) – Power and Passion: The Role of Women (and Female Figures) in Homer and the Nibelungenlied

11.20-11.35 Discussion I

11.35-11.50 Break

Chair: Henrike Lähnemann

11.50-12.10 Joanna Raisbeck (University of Verona) – Between Homer and the Nibelungenlied: Literary and Aesthetic Debates in Heidelberg around 1800

12.10-12.30 Alan Murray (University of Leeds) – Chivalric Warfare and Heroic Combat in the Nibelungenlied   

12.30-12.50 Christoph Schmitt-Maaß (University of Oxford) – The Reception of the Nibelungenlied in Eighteenth-century Leipzig

12.50-13.05 Discussion II

13.15-14.00 Lunch  

14.00-15.00 Weston Library (Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG), Bahari Room – First viewing of Homeric manuscripts with Peter Tóth and Nigel Wilson (no more than twenty participants) 

15.00-16.00 Weston Library (Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG), Bahari Room – Second viewing of Homeric manuscripts with Peter Tóth and Nigel Wilson (no more than twenty participants)  

16.15-17.30 Taylor Institution Library, Voltaire Room. Guided tour of an exhibition of editions of the Homeric poems and the Nibelungenlied with Mary Boyle and Philip Flacke (University of Oxford); drinks reception  

Image: Johann Heinrich Füssli: Kriemhild mourns Siegfried (1805)

Middle High German Lecture Series

In Michaelmas 2023, Dr Nikolaus Ruge (Universität Trier) returned to Oxford as Visiting Lecturer in German Historical Linguistics at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and delivered an updated lecture series on Middle High German. This was mainly designed as an introductory course for students of the German Paper IV ‘Historical Linguistics’ but the recordings are available to a general audience interested in medieval languages. The first two lectures were recorded by Dr Ruge in person in the Taylor Institution Library, Room 2, lectures 3, 4, and 7 were recorded by him, lectures 5, 6 and 8 from his script on his behalf by the Oxford tutors for Paper IV. The first lecture also saw the launch of the 11th edition of the popular study guide ‘Old and Middle High German’ (utb Sept 2023).

I. Teaching Middle High German: time, space, language (panopto recording, handout), 13 Oct 2023
II. Early Middle High German (1050-1170) (panopto recording, handout), live on 20 Oct 2023
III. ‘Classical’ Middle High German (1170-1250) (panopto recording, handout) recorded on 14 Oct 2023
IV. Late Middle High German (1250-1350) (panopto recording, handout) recorded on 14 Oct 2023
V. Graphemics and Phonology (panopto recordinghandout), recorded on 9 November 2023 by William Thurlwell
VI. Morphology (panopto recordinghandout), recorded on 9 November 2023 by William Thurlwell
VII. Word formation and Lexis (panopto recordinghandout), recorded on 19 October 2023
VIII. Morphosyntax and Syntax (panopto recordinghandout), recorded on 9 November 2023 by Joshua Booth

Lectures are accessible once they are recorded via the Panopto folder Paper IV, all lectures are included in the playlist “German Historical Linguistics” Thanks for help with the English translation of the lectures to William Thurlwell, for technical and topical support to Henrike Lähnemann.

The textbook for this lecture course is The Oxford Guide to Middle High German. The set text for Middle High German is Helmbrecht in the edition by Karl-Heinz Göttert (2015). Oxford students can access further resources such as reading lists and essay topics via the Canvas page.

Distance: Medieval and Modern Languages Conference

When? 19 June 2023
Where? Taylor Institution Library (St Giles, OX1), Main Hall

9am Panel One ‘Distance’ in Pre- and Early Modern Times (Panel Chair: Sebastian Dows-Miller)

  • Jack Nunn, University of Oxford: ‘Distant voices’: The Making of Late-Medieval Anthologies
  • Marlene Schilling, University of Oxford: ‘Defying Distance’: The Rhetorical Potential of Personifications of Time in the Prayerbooks of the Northern German Convent Medingen
  • Samuel FitzGibbon, University of Cambridge: Windows to New Worlds: Illustrations as Conveyors of Eyewitness Testimony in 16th Century Travel Accounts

10:40 Panel 2 ‘Distance’ in Translation, Reception and Adaptation (Panel Chair: Alexia Ji Wang)

  • Edward Voet, University of Oxford: Sanskrit to Korean transliteration in the Ansimsa-pon Chinŏn chip (1569)
  • Xiyuan Meng, University of St. Andrews: Performing ‘Distance’ on Chinese Stages: Translation, Adaption, and (Re-)Performance of Euripides’ Medea
  • Mariachiara Leteo, University of Oxford: The Distant Perspective of Greek Tragedy in Woolf’s Jacob’s Room

13:00 Panel Three Distance, Oppression and Transgression (Panel Chair: Mathieu Farizier)

  • Jake Robertson, University of Oxford: Art on the Edge: Patronage and Precarity in Gulag Theaters on the Soviet ‘Periphery’
  • Audrey Gosset, Université Bordeaux-Montaigne and EHESS: From Stasis to Democratic Ex-stasis: Bridging the Distance through Shared Art
  • Georgina Fooks, University of Oxford: Susana Thénon’s Distancias: Poetry as Choreography

14:35 Panel Four ‘Distance’ in Literary Correspondences (Panel Chair: Aditi Gupta)

  • Tess Eastgate, University of Oxford: The implications of distance in Marie-Antoinette’s correspondence
  • Valery Goutorova, University of St.Andrews: “My plan is to treat you as detached spirit”: Virginia Woolf’s Effigy to Beloved Women

15:40 Panel Five ‘Distance’ in Migration and Diasporic Literature (Panel Chair: Ola Sidorkiewicz)

  • Ruming Yang, University of Miami: Orientalism and Auto-orientalism in Contemporary Peruvian Literature
  • Madeleine Pulman-Jones, SOAS University of London: The Love Poems of Debora Vogel: A Jewish-Modernist Aesthetics of Longing
  • Kendsey Clements, University College London: Through Her Eyes: An Analysis of écriture migrante au féminin in Québec

17:15 Keynote: Karolina Watroba

Conference programme flyer designed by Anna Glieden

CAT – Conversations Across Time

What do horses, medievalists, black hole orbits, boardrooms, and quantum computers have in common? Inspired by the Medieval Mystery Plays, artist in residence at the Physics Department Pam Davis has developed an art-piece ‘Conversations Across Time’ which links medieval theatre, women in science, and Quantum future. Free tickets for the performances in the unique Beecroft Building (Physics) on June 15th, 17:30-18:30 | June 16th, 17:30-18:30 | June 17th, 14:30-15:30 | June 17th, 17:30-18:30 available via the website

Poster for the play

Night Office in 15th-Century Oxford

A re-enactment of a forgotten liturgy for St Thomas Becket

When: Tuesday 6 June at 9 pm
Where: New College Chapel

Free entry. All welcome!

The service has been prepared specially by Dr Henry Parkes (University of Nottingham), currently Albi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow in Music at the Bodleian Library. His research project ‘Music in the Shadows: Staging the Medieval Night Office’ explores the cultural history of Christian night worship through a mixture of archival, performance-led and ethnographic research.

Many Oxford colleges preserve the late evening office of Compline, once sung daily. But in medieval times there was a much more substantial service to follow, known as Nocturns, Vigils, or the Night Office.

New College Choir will enact a short-form Night Office as it might have been known in 15th-century Oxford, to explore how this now- forgotten liturgy worked in performance. In southern England from the late 14th century on, Tuesdays were commonly given over to the veneration of St Thomas Becket. This service recreates a ‘commemorative’ Tuesday Becket office, as precribed in late medieval books of the Sarum Use—many of which survive in Oxford libraries.

For an introduction to the service, watch a presentation of some of the manuscripts in the Bodleian Library

The Pursuit of Musick. The Taverner Consort at 50

When: 1 June 2023, 3-4pm
Where: Taylor Institution Library, Room 2

Andrew Parrott will be in conversation with Henrike Lähnemann on musical life in medieval and early modern Europe. This is a celebration of 50 years of the Taverner Consort and Andrew Parrott’s The Pursuit of Musick: Musical Life in Original Writings & Art c1200–1770, a uniquely colourful compendium of almost everything to do with pre-modern musical life. The lecture will take as its starting point how the examples on music in the everyday life of medieval and early modern Germany can be used as a teaching tool and will also discuss questions of translation of premodern sources. All original source material is open access available on the publication website, e.g.

With over 60 albums under its wing, the Consort is internationally renowned not only for Parrott’s insights into early music like Taverner, Tallis and Josquin des Prez, but also for award-winning recordings of composers including Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, Bach, and unexpected carols. To announce the 50-year milestone, the Consort has made a special two-track recording involving Fretwork and boys from New College choir with a total of some 30 assorted instrumentalists. The tracks are being released on June 16th via Avie Records:
J. S. Bach, ‘O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht’ (BWV 118, version I), c1736/37
Giaches de Wert, ‘Egressus Jesus’ (a7) / Michael Praetorius

Commercial pre-save link for Apple, Spotify, etc. Previous recordings have clocked up over 1,000,000 listens (for his 2018 Bach Magnificat alone).

Followed at 7pm by a reception hosted by Merton College and Benjamin Nicholas on the cherry tree lawn outside the chapel after evensong for informal drinks and chats.
Buy the book: £35.00, 560 pages, ISBN: 978-1-915229-54-0

Bodleian Library Auct. M 3.14, fol. 1r

Nigel Palmer’s Books in the Bodleian

A presentation by Dr Alan Coates, Assistant Librarian, Rare Books, Dept. of Special Collections and Subject Librarian, Bibliography & History of the Book on the occasion of the Memorial Colloquium for Nigel Palmer and as part of the Weston Library Medievalists Coffee Mornings. This builds on the work the late Nigel F. Palmer did with the Incunable Catalogue of the Bodleian Library, available as Bod-Inc. He contributed the text of descriptions for the section on blockbooks and wood- and metalcut prints. All digitised incunabula and blockbooks are available on digital.bodleian.

The list of books is as follows:

Missale Cisterciense ([Strasbourg: Johann Reinhard Grüninger], 1487) [from Eberbach]
Shelfmark: Auct. 6Q 2.20 [= Bod-inc. M-245(1)]

Apocalypse [Edition V] [Germany, c.1468/70, impression c.1472] Blockbook
Shelfmark: Auct. M 3.14 [= Bod-inc. BB-3]

Death and the Last Judgement ([England (Syon Abbey?), c.1499])
Woodcut, with Latin typographic text
Shelfmark: MS. Rawlinson D. 403, fol. 3v [= Bod-inc. XYL-19]

St George; St Maurelius ([Italy (Ferrara), c.1520])
Woodcut book cover with Italian inscriptions
Shelfmark: Broxb. 30.13 [= Bod-inc. XYL-23]

Büchlein von den peinen (Strasbourg: Bartholomaeus Kistler, 1506)
Shelfmark: Douce L 189

Büchlein von den peinen (Strasbourg: Bartholomaeus Kistler, 1506)
Shelfmark: Vet. E1 e.217

Bodleian Library Auct. M 3.14 in the digital.bodleian viewer.

Literary, religious and manuscript cultures of the  German-speaking lands:  a  symposium  in memory of Nigel F. Palmer (1946-2022) 

Friday 19 – Saturday 20 May 2023

To celebrate the life and scholarship of Nigel F. Palmer, Professor of  German  Medieval Literary and Linguistic  Studies at the University of Oxford, the academic community honoured his memory with a symposium, which brought together colleagues from around the world. Their presentations spoke to the wide spectrum of Nigel’s intellectual interests, which ranged extensively within the broad scope of the literary and religious history of the German- and Dutch-speaking lands, treating Latin alongside the vernaculars, the early printed book alongside the manuscript, and the court and the city alongside the monastery and the convent.

Friday, 19 May 2023 

10:30-11:30         Weston Library, Visiting Scholars Centre

  • Presentation of incunables and blockbooks linked with Nigel F. Palmer in the Bodleian Library by Alan Coates.

13:00-13:45             Taylor Institution Library. Main Hall

  • Welcome and introduction. Video by Jeffrey Hamburger in honour of Nigel Palmer

14:00-15:00             Taylorian Main Hall: Chair: Racha Kirakosian

  • Henrike Manuwald, ‘German-language pericopes between retelling, exegesis and prayer: the case of the Begerin Prayer Book’
  • Martina Backes and Barbara Fleith, Extraordinary or conventional? Überlegungen zu einem un­ge­wöhnlichen Bildmotiv im Begerin-Gebetbuch

14:00-15:30             Weston Library. Horton Room: Chair: Henrike Lähnemann

  • Erik Kwakkel, ‘The problem of dating medieval manuscripts’.  Recording.
  • Victor Millet and Lorena Pérez Ben, ‘‘Fragmentology’ around Hartmann von Aue’s Iwein’.  Recording.

16:00-17:30             Taylorian Main Hall: Chair: Almut Suerbaum

  • Ben Morgan, ‘Critiquing critique: how Erich Fromm’s reading of Meister Eckhart can transform contemporary conceptualisations of human flourishing’
  • Freimut Löser, ‘Latest news on Nigel Palmer’s Meister Eckhart’
  • Racha Kirakosian, ‘Philology meets visionary practice’

16:00-17:30             Weston Library: Chair: Martin Kauffmann

  • Andrew Honey, ‘‘I believe they were fixed in some low places in the Church, Chapell or House’: further investigations into the glue stains of Douce 248, a blockbook Biblia pauperum of c.1465-1470’. Recording.
  • Geert Warnar, ‘The Roman van Limborch in a European framework’. Recording.
  • Luise Morawetz, ‘Gregory the Great in Old High German: the newly discovered glosses of MS. Canon. Pat. Lat. 57’.

Saturday, 20 May 2023

A small exhibition of medieval German manuscripts used by Nigel Palmer for teaching Palaeography and History of the Book was on display in the Voltaire Room of the Taylor Institution Library, including the two manuscripts from Erfurt Charterhouse Taylor Institution Library MS. 8° Germ. 1 and MS. 8° Germ. 2 (comment by Balázs Nemes).

10:00-11:30             Taylorian Main Hall: Chair: Annette Volfing

  • Elke Brüggen, ‘Parzival-Lektüren im komplexen Zusammenspiel von Edition, Übersetzung und Kommentierung’
  • Daniela Mairhofer, ‘Almost lost in transmission: the peculiar case of a Staufer song’
  • Nikolaus Henkel, ‘Liturgie im Schulunterricht um 1500. Der Osterhymnus ‚Salve festa dies‘ des Venantius Fortunatus und seine deutsche Reimpaarübersetzung’

10:00-11:30             Taylorian Room 2: Chair: Stephen Mossman

  • Adam Poznański and Reima Välimäki, ‘Petrus Zwicker’s Cum dormirent homines: transmission history and prospects for a critical edition of a popular anti-heretical treatise’
  • Linus Ubl, ‘Palm(er)ing material culture – medieval German manuscripts in the
    National State Library of Israel’
  • Astrid Breith, ‘Locked away for love – the Vita Wilbirgis inclusae and the manuscript holdings of St. Florian (Upper Austria)’

13:00-14:30             Taylorian Main Hall: Chair: Sarah Bowden

  • Jonas Hermann, ‘What gives? Marquard von Lindau and the ›Buch von geistlicher Armut‹’
  • Anne Winston-Allen, ‘Sibilla von Bondorf’s art of reform’
  • Edmund Wareham Wanitzek, ‘Soror in Christo dilectissima: Learning and exchange in the correspondence of Nikolaus Ellenbog and his sister Barbara’

13:00-14:30             Taylorian Room 2: Chair: Elizabeth Andersen

  • Peter Rückert, ‘Bücher zwischen Kloster und Hof. Neues zur literarischen Topographie in Württemberg’
  • Monica Brinzei and Giacomo Signore, ‘The rise of ars moriendi at the University of Vienna before the printing press’
  • Nigel Harris, ‘“Nach dem text und etwen nach dem sin”. Heinrich Haller und das Cordiale de quattuor novissimis des Gerard van Vliederhoven’

15:00-16:30             Taylorian Main Hall: Chair: Christine Putzo

  • Ralph Hanna, ‘On exempla: “Hoc contra malos religiosos”‘
  • Peter Tóth, ‘The early history of the Meditationes Vitae Christi: quotations and references’
  • Hans-Jochen Schiewer, ‘Kollektive Autorschaft und Baukastenprinzip. Geistliche Literatur dominikanischer Provenienz um 1300’

15:00-16:30             Taylorian Room 2: Chair: Lydia Wegener

  • Sarah Griffin, ‘Unfolding time in a late medieval German concertina-fold almanac (SPKB, Libr. pict. A 92)
  • Youri Desplenter, ‘Newly discovered interlinear Middle Dutch translation of the Psalms (c. 1300?). Analysis and contextualization within the Middle Dutch and medieval Psalm translations’
  • Wybren Scheepsma, ‘Laudate dominum in sanctis eius: a Limburg sermon with French roots’

17:00-19:00 Old Library of St Edmund Hall

Followed by speeches in honour of Nigel F. Palmer

  • The Pro Principal of St Edmund Hall, Rob Whittaker. Recording.
  • A performance of a medieval poem by Ruth Wiederkehr, Monika Studer, Claudia Lingscheid-Andersen and Racha Kirakosian
  • Words of memory by Eva Schlotheuber and in dialogue by Hans-Jochen Schiewer and Michael Stolz

The event was supported by the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, the Meister-Eckhart-Gesellschaft, SSMLL, Oxford Medieval Studies and St Edmund Hall. Here a link to the call of papers; please contact Henrike Lähnemann if you have any comments on the content of this page.