How To Read Middle English Poetry

By Daniel Sawyer

[Workers rebuild Troy, in a copy of John Lydgate’s Troy Book: Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS Eng 1, f. 31v. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence, CC-BY-NC 4.0.]

For most people, poetry in Middle English—roughly 1100 to 1500—is a world unknown. I’d long thought this a shame, but it was only through shaping How to Read Middle English Poetry as an accessible guide for students that I grasped just how innovative and thrilling the period in truth is.

Did you know, for instance, that someone unwittingly wrote a Shakespearean sonnet more than a century before Shakespeare’s birth? Or that the first poem we can attribute to a named woman displays a unique and startlingly intricate form? And while we think of English blank verse—metrically-regular poetry without regular rhyme or alliteration—as the mainstay of things like early-modern drama and Paradise Lost, the idea occurred to poets at least twice, independently, before the third (re)invention that started its sixteenth-century flourishing. Such facts lurk in the Middle English centuries, making these in some ways the most exciting spell in English poetry’s history.

What made this period so experimental?

For centuries after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, French stuck around as another spoken language alongside English—and a spoken language with more cachet. Latin, meanwhile, filled the role of the normative written language, often coming baked-in with literacy: those who learned to read learned to read in Latin, other literacies coming as a kind of by-product. 

Consequently, English lacked the reach of a prestigious tongue, but it also lacked prestige’s pressures. Several poetic traditions coexisted in English, without a clear hierarchy of prestige sorting them: it would, after all, always seem more elevated to write in Latin or French. As a result, this was the great age of experiment in English poetry.

It is in this period that we first see English poetry in alternating metres descended from post-classical Latin and early French. These metres are the ancestors of most regular verse of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. This was the metrical family in which Chaucer worked; within it, he invented the five-beat line that would one day propel poetry from Thomas Wyatt to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, not to mention the plays of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson.

At the same time, Middle English sustained a separate metrical family of poems descended from Old English verse habits: alliterative verse. Though somewhat changed from the Old English model, the verse of Piers Plowman, (most of) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and of the Alliterative Morte Arthure recognisably sits within English’s original and longest-lasting verse tradition. Such poems have a formal lineage which runs back before English was English. Also in this bucket lurks Layamon or Lawman, whose curious early Middle English Brut provokes expert debate over its classification, and offers the earliest known tales in English of King Arthur and King Lear.

Neither alternating verse nor alliterative verse held a place of straightforward prestige, distinguished from other poetry. The Gawain stanza switches between the two, showing us a poet comfortable shuttling across metrical lineages. Moreover, mixing traditions brought forth a third body of work, alliterative-stanzaic poetry, which married alliterating half-lines in alliterative metre to end-rhyme, often together with a fireworks display of other effects. One example, today known as ‘Three Dead Kings’ and preserved uniquely in the Bodleian, has a claim to the title of the most complex stanza-form in English at any time.

[The start of ‘Three Dead Kings’, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 302, f. 34r.]

In the sixteenth century and after, rising five-beat alternating lines—‘iambic pentameter’—would ascend to prestige as a standard form for art poetry. Through the same centuries, English slowly took over from Latin and French in the worlds of academia, government, religion, and the law. Today, English is a global language, and is the world’s most frequently learned tongue. For some contexts, it has come to hold the kind of roles that French and Latin once held in England: a prestige language, a source of loanwords and models.

In the twenty-first century, then, we might learn a few things by delving into the middle of English’s history, the language’s time of least social importance: Middle English teaches us to see how English is not a transparent default, but a tongue alongside others; it teaches us to appreciate the quirks in English, and in the other languages we meet. And often it is Middle English poetry that offers this lesson most clearly, while also forming a wildly creative and varied body of work in its own right.

Daniel’s book is due out in May 2024 from Oxford University Press. Readers can use the code AAFLYG6 to get 30% off either the hardback or the paperback when ordering How to Read Middle English Poetry direct from OUP.

Poems for the Women of Beowulf: A Creative-Critical Project

Dr Laura Varnam, University College, Oxford

Hwæt

Indeed.

We have heard of the Danes.

We never stop hearing about them.

Those death-and-glory Danes.

Them, their demons, and their glory-

days. Me, I’d prefer a little variation.

If you’d like to,

listen–

this is our sisters’ side of the story.

This is the opening poem in the collection that I’m currently working on, inspired by the women of the Old English epic Beowulf. It deliberately subverts and upends the original poem’s call to attention and lays the foundation for my own feminist re-imagining of the world of Beowulf. How you deal with Beowulf’s opening hwæt is a litmus test for a poet or translator and it sets the tone for what’s to follow; think of Tolkien’s grand ‘lo’, Seamus Heaney’s dignified ‘so’, and Maria Dahvana Headley’s unapologetic ‘bro’. My ‘indeed’ raises an eyebrow at the original poem’s confidence that of course we’ve heard of the Spear-Danes, of the glory of the kings of that people. In Old English hwæt can means both ‘what’ and ‘why’ and in this poem I want to draw the reader’s attention to the masculine heroism that we never cease hearing about in order to question what other stories might be hiding between the lines. My project asks, what might happen if we imagined a female poet or scop reciting Beowulf? How might the poem’s monsters and queens appear through her eyes? And if we unlock this new wordhoard, how might a change of perspective enable and encourage more new voices and stories to emerge?

            This project, as I’ve discussed in detail in my 2022 article in postmedieval, arose directly from my teaching (‘Poems for the Women of Beowulf: A “Contemporary” Medieval Project’, postmedieval 13, 105-21). Beowulf is a poem that over the last seventeen years has taken root in my mental landscape and returning to it, year on year with new groups of students, has only increased my fascination with the ways in which the poem is able to speak to our present moment– and for our present moment to speak back. And for women’s writing and rewriting, the question of speech is all important. It is striking that only one woman in Beowulf speaks, Queen Wealhtheow, and when she does so, no one answers her. The Old English Maxims declares that ‘gleawe men sceolon gieddum wrixlan’ [wise men must exchange songs or tales] but what about wise women? How can they speak when they have been silenced by the original text?

            The feminist poet and critic Adrienne Rich famously asserted in her essay ‘When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision’ (1972) that for women:

            Re-vision– the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text          from a new critical direction– is for us more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an   act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we    cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for women, is more than a           search for identity: it is part of her refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-          dominated society.

Rich’s ‘act of survival’ is a driving force of my collection, especially when it comes to Grendel’s Mother, the so-called ‘monster’ at the centre of the poem, whose gender, ferocity, and very existence poses a threat to the patriarchal society represented by King Hrothgar and his hall. In my poems I give Grendel’s Mother a voice, both to ‘answer back’ to the poets and translators who deal with her troubling presence by silencing and misrepresenting her, and to give her an afterlife outside of the original text– to give her the gift of survival.

            A selection of my Grendel’s Mother poems will be published by Nine Arches Press in August 2024 in Primers Volume Seven (https://ninearchespress.com/primers) and this poem gives a flavour of the voice and approach:

Grendel’s Mother addresses the Author

For all your bluster, warrior-poet,

Your puffed-up preening,

Your sword-swagger and shield-shuffling,

You still won’t look at me.

Petrifying people? That’s not my style.

It’s not my stare that needles your braggadocio.

Any road, you started it.

Edging me out, making me your mearcstapa,

your boundary-stalker, border-controller.

I never wanted to shoulder those lines.

You kettle me into the corners of your compounds,

Tuck me into the bottom drawer of your wordhoard,

Shushed and smothered by your fabrications.

Water-witch, she-wolf of the deep, troll-dam?

Give over. Don’t be so nesh.   

This poem was inspired by the moment when the Beowulf-poet introduces Grendel’s Mother into the narrative but can’t quite keep his eyes on her (lines 1265-76). His narrative focus is drawn back to Grendel, to the relative safety of the comprehensible male monster, as though giving Grendel’s Mother too much attention might be to draw a dangerous, Medusa-like, gaze. In my poem, Grendel’s Mother uses the northern dialect of my foremothers (‘nesh’ being a dialect word for feeble or wimpy) and she calls out the ways in which her presentation by translators, too, has caused her to ‘shoulder’ the burden of men’s anxieties about female power. It’s striking that in Tolkien’s field-changing 1936 lecture and essay ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’ that for all his insistence that the monsters are at the imaginative heart of the poem, he only focuses on Grendel and the dragon. Grendel’s Mother only merits a brief footnote.

            In Transforming Memories in Contemporary Women’s Rewriting (2011), Liedeke Plate comments that ‘in women’s rewriting, distrust, disbelief, anger, and a desire to set things right converge to give shape to a reader’s response in the productive reception of literature’ (p.42). This ‘re-righting’ impulse has particularly shaped my poems on grief and mourning when it comes to Grendel’s Mother. In Beowulf itself, ritual mourning is a fundamental part of the poetic economy; indeed, Gale Owen-Crocker famously argued that the structure of the poem revolves around funerals, beginning with Scyld Scefing and concluding with Beowulf’s own funeral pyre (The Four Funerals in Beowulf, 2000). But Grendel’s Mother is accorded no such commemorative rituals in the poem nor is she given the space to mourn her only son, outside of her violent revenge. And yet there are hints that the Beowulf-poet, and even Beowulf himself, recognises the legitimacy of maternal grief, despite the fact that it causes Grendel’s Mother kill Aeschere, Hrothgar’s counsellor. When he returns to the Geatish kingdom and relives his adventures for King Hygelac, Beowulf admits that she travelled on her ‘sorhfull’ (grief-filled) journey in pursuit of ‘gyrnwræc’ (revenge for injury, 2118-19). In my poetry collection, I have a number of poems which perform the work of mourning for Grendel’s Mother: poems where she laments the loss of her son; an elegy for the loss of Grendel’s Mother herself in the voice of Queen Wealhtheow; and a poem which constructs a textual burial for her.

            In this poem, entitled ‘Grave for an Uncuð Woman’, I use both the content and form of the poem to create a resting place for Grendel’s Mother. In Old English ‘uncuð’ means both strange and unknown, and in the poem I play with the paradox that by burying her, we both honour her memory and, paradoxically, pin her down to a safe location. While the monsters in Beowulf are left unceremoniously for dead– the decapitated Grendel with his mother on the floor of the mere, the dragon pushed off the cliff as Beowulf’s own funeral pyre is erected– there is an imaginative freedom in their refusal to be bound by human rituals of mourning.

Grave for an Uncuð Woman

In this poem, I construct a burial for Grendel’s Mother that reflects, and aims to compensate for, her marginalised status in the original poem. The fox-tail and cowrie-shell are symbols of maternal ferocity and fecundity; the seax or dagger is her weapon of choice in her mere. The goose-flute offers her the voice she was denied and the shoes dignify the joyless journey she makes into death, mirroring her grief-fuelled approach to Heorot.

            In the opening poem in my collection, I invite the reader to ‘listen’ to my alternative version of Beowulf, ‘if you’d like to.’ In these poems, and in the collection as a whole, I aim to open up a space for different voices to be heard and new perspectives to uncovered in a manner that is welcoming and hospitable to new readers too. Beowulf’s opening hwæt is as insistent as ever when it calls for our attention but perhaps in returning our gaze we might look afresh and askance at the stories it discloses. In a piece of creative non-fiction in Annie Journal last year, combining poetry and prose, I even went so far as to translate hwæt as ‘welcome’ (https://www.anniejournal.com/g%C3%A6sthus-with-beowolf-laura-varnam). I hope that by shaping new approaches to Beowulf, in the content and form of my poetry and creative-critical reflections, that readers will be similarly inspired to welcome the poem anew into their own imaginative landscapes… and see where it might lead them.

Dr Laura Varnam is the Lecturer in Old and Middle English Literature at University College, Oxford. She is the author of The Church as Sacred Space in Middle English Literature and Culture (2018) and the co-editor of Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe (2021). A selection of her Grendel’s Mother poems are forthcoming in Primers Volume Seven (Nine Arches Press, August 2024). You can find out more about her work on her website: https://drlauravarnam.wordpress.com/ Or on twitter/X: https://twitter.com/lauravarnam

INTRODUCING THE OXFORD MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS GROUP

By Mathilde Mioche

The Oxford Medieval Manuscripts Group (OMMG) is a collective of eight postgraduate students and early-career researchers who bonded in Oxford over their passion for medieval manuscripts. We host a seminar series through which we hope to gather a community of emerging scholars, from the University of Oxford and beyond, around the study of medieval books and the art of illumination.

Starting in Hilary Term 2024, OMMG seminars will take place twice monthly on Friday afternoons. We will discuss the most exciting recent research; share our own projects and ideas in a supportive environment; learn from lectures and tutorials given by experienced colleagues; and examine medieval manuscripts together during library visits.

By promoting exchange between scholars with diverse specialisms and different levels of experience, OMMG aims to turn the study of medieval books and illuminations into a more collaborative pursuit. We know that working with manuscripts is often a solitary business, where knowledge is acquired over silent and cautious one-on-one meetings with a delicate object. We want to share the wonder we experience before the material, visual and textual complexity of illuminated codices, as well as the interrogations or frustrations we have as we encounter obstacles in our research. The OMMG seminar series will provide manuscript enthusiasts with a stimulating platform for learning practical and analytical skills from peers as well as experts. We would love you to join us!

To subscribe to our mailing list, participate in library visits, propose a presentation of your research for work-in-progress meetings, or submit any queries, please write to:

elena.lichmanova@merton.ox.ac.uk.

You can find our schedule here:

https://talks.ox.ac.uk/talks/series/id/df485bd9-62b9-4beb-83f3-2cc238e003c9.

About Us

Irina Boeru is a third-year DPhil student with a background in Medieval and Modern Languages and Medieval Studies. Her research analyses travel narratives in French and Latin illuminated manuscripts, specifically chronicles of the fifteenth-century conquest of the Canary Islands.

Fergus Bovill graduated with a BA in History of Art from the University of York. He is currently pursuing an MSt in Medieval Studies, with a dissertation on the assemblage of medieval manuscript cuttings into albums by nineteenth-century bibliophiles and connoisseurs.

Charly Driscoll completed an MSc in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh and is now studying for a DPhil in Medieval English. Her project investigates how the material features of medieval manuscripts reveal their individual histories.

Elena Lichmanova is a third-year DPhil student with a background in History of Art and Medieval Studies. Her research examines the origins and early history of marginalia in medieval manuscripts, focusing on illuminated English Psalters of the thirteenth century.

Mathilde Mioche completed an MSt in History of Art and Visual Culture with a dissertation on illuminated Insular Gospels. She is currently preparing a doctoral project on the formal and medial mutations of the Dance of Death since its emergence in the fifteenth century.

Ana de Oliveira Dias is a historian of early medieval visual and intellectual culture with a specialisation in manuscript studies. She received a PhD in Medieval History from Durham University in 2019 and is now a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the project Crafting Documents, c. 500—c. 800 CE at the University of Oxford.

Celeste Pan is a third-year DPhil student with a background in English and Medieval Studies. Her research considers the production of illuminated Hebrew manuscripts in medieval northern Europe, specifically a group of liturgical Bibles from the Rheno-Mosan region.

Klara Zhao is a first-year MPhil student in Egyptology preparing a dissertation inspired by Umberto Eco’s Infinity of Lists. She developed a special interest in medieval French poetry during her BA in French and Linguistics, which she continues to nurture.

Image: Saint Augustine teaching. Paris, Bibl. Mazarine, MS 616, fol. 1r.

Scales of Governance: Local Agency and Political Authority in Eurasia, 1000-1500

Worcester College, Oxford – 12th and 13th January 2024

by Annabel Hancock, Bee Jones, James Cogbill, and Susannah Bain

This workshop grew out of a discussion group the four of us started in Michaelmas term 2022 on ‘Governability across the Medieval Globe’. By ‘governability’ we meant why and how certain people and societies were more or less easily governed, although we had several big discussions about the usefulness of the term. Our conversations kept coming back to the utility of thinking from localities when trying to conceptualise how governance functioned in the central and later Middle Ages, and to how both medieval governance and our analysis of it had to operate across large differences in scale – from local officials and forms to (often unsubstantiated) claims of regional or even universal hegemony.

These questions relate to a great deal of cutting-edge work in medieval history, particularly in terms of new ‘global’ approaches and how we read sources to get at political culture. As a result, we decided to organise a workshop to bring together scholars pushing our understanding forward to assess where we are as a field and where we are going.

We were very fortunate to be offered funding from the Past & Present Society, the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research, and the Oxford Medieval Studies Network. This funding allowed us to bring a fantastic set of speakers and respondents to Oxford, including a mix of established, early-career, and doctoral scholars. We wanted to centre discussion and use our eight papers and four responses to stimulate broader conversations on governance in this period. The papers were pre-circulated and speakers summarised their thoughts on the day, which afforded us more time for discussion. Our contributions covered Iberia, France, Germany, China, Egypt, Byzantium, Italy, and north Africa from the eleventh to fifteenth centuries, which provided some range in our coverage even though we could not possibly do justice to the entirety of Eurasia across five centuries.

The workshop went absolutely brilliantly: we were delighted with the papers and responses, and we thought that the discussion was stimulating, wide-ranging, and very fruitful. Although not without important questions and possible issues, ‘scales of governance’ emerged as a useful conceptual lens to cut across ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ models of political organisation, drawing attention to sets of local and bureaucratic knowledges and highlighting the critical importance of varied social relationships to governance, both within a given locality and as an imposition upon it by rulers and/or bureaucracies. Governance was also closely related to the socialisation of elite men into certain kinds of authoritative masculinity, and to gendered social relationships between individuals and families. These dynamics are more difficult to access in most of the sources available to us for this period, but they enrich our understanding of how people and communities were actually governed.

Many of the papers highlighted the roles of different kinds of intermediaries situated between their communities and regional rulers. These figures, mediating and translating between knowledges at different scales, in many cases actually did most of the governing in a given locality. In some cases, local players seem to have been torn between evading oversight and control by rulers or larger political units on the one hand, and maintaining and strengthening their own power and position in their community on the other, including in some cases by steepening local hierarchies in their own favour. Recognising this led us to a discussion of how important it is to consider how formal or informal governance in a particular locality was, and hence the importance of processes of ‘formalisation’ of power through bureaucracies, regulations, and the imposition of officials.

Through the papers and discussions, we gained glimpses of medieval people of all social strata operating across different scales to get things done, such as Arabic-speakers leveraging their expertise in privileged documentary practices in twelfth-century Toledo or non-noble property-owners in thirteenth-century Carcassonne appropriating the language and frameworks of royal justice and official historical memory. Medieval people were in many cases capable of appropriating the language of their rulers and the procedures of governing institutions, and were not afraid to buy into the claims of rulers where it suited their own purposes, even while avoiding control from above in other ways.

We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the funders of the workshop, as well as to all the speakers, respondents, and other participants.

Curating ‘Chaucer Here and Now’

by Professor Marion Turner (English).
All images by Ian Wallman. 

Chaucer Here and Now, a major exhibition at the Bodleian Library, was opened on December 7th by Sir Ben Okri, and it runs until April 28th. I’ve curated this exhibition about Chaucer across time; about inspiration, creativity, and readers. It brings extraordinary medieval manuscripts and early printed books together with modern film, animation, cartoons, and contemporary poetry. Across time, Chaucer has been re-imagined in many different ‘heres and nows,’ made to fit changing expectations and tastes. The show is accompanied by a lavishly-illustrated book of essays about the ideas and themes of the exhibition.

The exhibition includes the oldest Canterbury Tales manuscript, the Hengwrt Chaucer, on loan from the National Library of Wales. It also showcases some of the most beautiful illuminated Chaucer manuscripts, alongside particularly gorgeous manuscripts of Dante and Boccaccio’s work. The first and second editions of the Canterbury Tales, printed by William Caxton in 1476 and 1483 are some of the most important early printed books in existence. William Morris’s Kelmscott Chaucer, perhaps the loveliest of all Victorian books, is another jewel, and there are also collections of Victorian children’s Chaucers, eighteenth-century Chaucerian ballads, and a cluster of translations into languages such as Ukrainian, Japanese, Farsi, Esperanto, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Hebrew, French, and Korean.

The exhibition reveals that readers have always been actively responding to Chaucer’s texts. In the first case, three manuscripts are open at the same tale, Chaucer’s unfinished Cook’s Tale. While one scribe simply says that Chaucer did not finish the tale, another finishes it off for him, while a third adds a completely different tale (not by Chaucer) calling it a second Cook’s Tale. Early scribes and editors did not treat the text with reverence – indeed they had to make decisions about what to do with the unfinished texts that Chaucer had left behind.

In later centuries, translators and adaptors became concerned about Chaucer’s discussions of sex and the body, and censored his texts heavily. Pope’s translation of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue cuts out all the references to sex, the genitals, desire, and the body, leaving a short and fairly unrecognisable text. In the nineteenth century, the popular tales included the Clerk’s (about female submissiveness), the Knight’s (about chivalry and courtly love), the Nun’s Priest’s (an animal fable), and the Man of Law’s (female suffering again). The tales about farting, adultery, and sex in trees, were less popular. In contrast, in the twentieth-century, many readers focused exclusively on those fabliaux tales – the prime example being Pasolini’s film.

While in the nineteenth-century, Chaucer was seen as a poet of empire, whose texts should be sent out around the world to promote a certain kind of Englishness, in more recent decades, Chaucer has been reimagined as a poet of diaspora and refugees. The exhibition brings together the Refugee Tales volumes (from 2016 onwards), the records of a project whereby refugees and writers walk the pilgrimage route and tell their stories. Other texts that link Chaucer’s focus on travel and giving voice to diverse storytellers to modern diasporas include Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze’s translation of part of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue into Jamaican English, Marilyn Nelson’s Cachoeira Tales, which uses the Canterbury Tales as an inspiration for writing about the forced migration of enslaved people, and Zadie Smith’s Wife of Willesden which transposes the Wife of Bath’s Tale from Arthurian Britain to a community of Maroons (the descendants of formerly enslaved people) in eighteenth-century Jamaica.

This exhibition shows how the idea of Chaucer as the Father of English Literature developed, and became firmly established in sixteenth century printed editions, which featured dominating portraits of father Chaucer, positioned in such a way as to construct him as the Father of the Nation. This authoritative idea of Englishness elides the multilingual background of Chaucer’s own texts and life: the exhibition showcases Chaucer’s multilingual sources, his own translations, and his use of different languages in his texts. The global author of today – translated into many languages, and inspiring many writers from diverse backgrounds – is not so far away from the fourteenth-century traveller and diplomat.

The exhibition offers various ways to engage with Chaucer’s texts. You can put on headphones and watch some of the BBC animated Canterbury Tales. On the back wall, the opening couplet of the Tales is projected in multiple languages. Every seven minutes, a one-minute monologue is projected onto one wall: the Knight, Miller, or Wife of Bath, talks about themselves in modern English. And just outside the main exhibition, in the transept, there is a pilgrimage wall, with graphics of the pilgrimage route, onto which visitors are encouraged to stick their own pilgrim creations. Craft materials are provided, along with video tutorials by artists about how to draw Chaucer cartoons or make Chaucer puppets.

Students have been involved in various aspects of the exhibition: the review in the Times opened with discussing the area of the exhibition which features photos of current Oxford students and quotations about what Chaucer means to them. The journalist singled out the student who has a Chaucer tattoo on her forearm.

In his opening speech, Sir Ben Okri talked about the fundamental importance of Chaucer, saying that his work and ideas were like a river running underneath world literary culture. He walked on to the podium to the song ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale,’ which faded after the line ‘as the Miller told his tale.’ It was a great example of how Chaucer seeps into people’s consciousness, and continues to inspire poets, playwrights, artists, students, and all kinds of other people, from all over the world, in many different heres and nows. I hope people have fun in the exhibition, and that it surprises them.

The exhibition runs from 8 December 2023 to 28 April 2024 at the St Lee Gallery, Weston Library (Bodleian Libraries). Admission is free. Find out more on the Bodleian Libraries website.

There are two upcoming FREE special events:

  • Friday 2 February 2024: Chaucer Now: an event to celebrate recent rewritings of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. (click here to find out more)
  • Saturday 27 April 2024: Creating Chaucer: join us to explore Chaucer’s world through creative activities, talks and discussion. (click here to find out more)

Völuspá: a performative journey

To herald the new year, poet and DPhil student, Clare Mulley, recounts her experience of interpreting, translating and performing one of the most famous poems in the Old Norse canon for the Old Norse Poetry in Performance Conference 2023.

When I walk, barefoot, to centre stage from the shadowed doorway, the silence of the wood-panelled room is an excruciatingly loud one; loud in a way that can only come from a lot of bodies keeping themselves deliberately suppressed, but still shifting and audibly breathing. Under the lip of my hood, I can just make out the shadowy faces of the front rows, many of whom are friends and colleagues. They know there will be a performance of sorts, and many of them know more than I do the poem I am interpreting, but it is in these couple of seconds where anything could happen. This is, perhaps, the most exciting part of all.

I wait just long enough to feel their anticipation – the space between us is electric, humming with charge and stretched to full tension. A metre away, someone else is waiting: my co-performer, Norwegian musician and sound engineer Kjell Braaten, is poised over his sound system and various gorgeous wooden instruments, completely attuned to my every movement. Aside from his work for film and television, he has been performing at festivals and concert venues for years, and knows exactly what he is doing in building an atmosphere. In a few seconds, the pure gut surge of sound he is about to create will reverberate off the walls like echoes in a cave, and make itself felt in the bellies of all present. 

In the darkness, I can practically see the poem stretching out in front of me, a long, luminous thread whose tail-end I must grasp, or a path I must follow without stumbling, treading down to make the way clearer for future walkers. But first, I have to step into the shoes of the seeress (or völva, as she is known in Old Norse) using the words that have identified her for centuries.

I grip the staff in my hand and begin, reciting the first and foremost line in Old Norse: ‘Hljóðs bið ek allar helgar kindir…’ Give me a hearing.

For the next half hour, I will exist in another space outside of time: the space of ritual time.

***

Völuspá, the opening poem of the Poetic Edda,was my introduction to Old Norse poetry, and from the first time I read it (on a train journey between Manchester and Bradford) I was spellbound. Everything about it – its combination of slow-building tension and fast-moving scenery, mystic tonality and hypnotic refrains – suggested a vast, echoing space, evocative in turn of the mythical Ginnungagap in which the Old Norse cosmos has its origin story. Within that space, the female narrative voice itself remains an enigma, and is a presence which commands absolute attention. Interpreted sometimes as a resurrected völva or elemental being, sometimes as a human woman performing seiðr who has become a mouthpiece for an older consciousness, her voice not only hovers somewhere between the corporeal and supernatural, but speaks to an audience (the so-called helgar kindir ‘holy kindred’) which is itself situated in a poetic present that spans generations. Any audience experiencing the poem may automatically count themselves as part of the crowd she addresses, adding to its immediacy in effect.

A year after first reading the poem, I arrived in Oxford to begin another journey into the study of Old Norse receptions, but all the time I was settling into my studies, Völuspá stayed on the margins of my consciousness. It was an insistent, probing voice that would not go away. Each time I read or heard later translations and performances, I couldn’t help fixating on what I would have done differently, or on how certain word choices might sit in various settings. Eventually, I gave in to the urge to play with it: I sat down very late one night and began a poetic translation, which allowed for some leeway in expression and for some opening up of the mythology for audiences who did not have contextual knowledge. After some time working on the piece, and especially after studying Terry Gunnell’s work on performance archaeology, I finally realised that I was writing according to how my own speaking voice worked, and that I was saying phrases aloud as part of the selective process. Clearly writing the poem down wasn’t enough for the storyteller bone in the back of my skull; I wanted to work my way through a performance. 

I have always been fascinated by the idea of oral poetry as a cross-temporal process, or moving body; one made up of performance, memory (both living and cultural) and textual records, spanning generations with some level of consistency and yet inevitably received in and affected by what Carolyn Dinshaw aptly terms the ‘hermeneutic now.’ Drawing a venn diagram between the spheres of textual study and practical experience, I reasoned, would not only help me to investigate how certain textual material can have performative implications, and how those might practically play out on a stage, but, on another level, would also allow me to experiment with the blank margins outside the text that depend upon personal interpretation (such as tone of voice, settings, speed, musical accompaniment or other voices etc). While certain questions around how Medieval Scandinavians might have worked with or presented the poem will always remain unsolved, having to tackle certain practicalities would perhaps provide further insight into what might have been possible for readers or performers in a medieval context. Icelanders had always been famed and sought out in Medieval Scandinavian courts for their incredible narrative memories; could I now recreate something of the process by which they remembered longer works and captured their audiences? The upcoming Old Norse Poetry in Performance Conference 2023 provided the perfect setting (and excuse) for the experiment, and my storyteller bone thrilled at the thought.

One key decision I made was to do with setting; when performed with one voice, the poem is so unrelenting in its intensity that there seemed a real risk of not being able to sustain its energy unsupported for more than half an hour without boring an audience (I often wonder, incidentally, if any medieval performers might have been faced with the same dilemma, or if this might strengthen any theoretical arguments for multiple voices.) Music seemed the natural answer in my case, as I find it far easier to hold space with accompaniment, and this was where Kjell came in. I had watched him perform his new album Blóta the previous summer at Midgardsblót, a festival held among the burial mounds in Børre, and had seen nearly the whole room cry in response to his music. Some internet searches revealed that he had also participated in sound work on The Northman – one of my favourite ever film soundtracks, and a pleasing aesthetic match to what I considered Völuspá’s naturally dark quality. Luckily for me, Kjell loved my idea and generously consented to take part in the experiment, accordingly transporting several cases’ worth of nordic instruments from Bergen and risking his spine in the process. 

***

It would require a great deal more space than I presently have to detail all the theory, planning and sources that went into the project in full, and, as I intend to write more formally about those in future, I’m not going to do that here. Suffice to say that, after two performances, performing any oral medieval work (even a more loosely-interpreted one)teaches you a lot more than you bargained for, and is an absolutely terrifying and sublime experience all by itself. The intensity magnifies tenfold when done in the dark, in proper stage lighting and with body-shuddering music at your back. It didn’t take much effort to evoke ritual time, or pretend that my memories went back to the creation of the world – while the text on its own makes you feel like you are seeing creation happen, I felt like I was actively making creation happen.

 Perhaps the most intense part of the experience, however (aside from worrying about forgetting your lines, or about which academic interpretations you tend towards in your writing), is the sheer viscerality of the onstage experience due to energy exchange, and how quickly this affects what you considered fixed or rehearsed. What Ursula Le Guin terms ‘primary orality’ – in other words, the unique and powerful symbiotic relationship between a live performer and their audience that has no equivalent in other media – is blank margins territory; something that is almost impossible to communicate in a regular poetic structure, although the sense of the narrator commanding rapt attention is, again, palpable in the text. Onstage, this energy is practically solid, and rushes to meet you in staggering fashion. As though you had two, parallel brains, you are aware throughout of the delicate balance between holding onto deep memory while existing in the sharp, present consciousness of the room. If there is the slightest flicker of a face within your eyeline, the slightest sigh, jump or intake of breath, you are immediately aware of it and seeking to react in a way compatible with the energy directed at you. This weird dual consciousness can cause the most surprising changes to vocabulary you have rehearsed for hours, and to smaller actions to do with movement, volume and even facial expression.

In the second performance Kjell and I did at the Aarhus Old Norse Mythology Conference in November 2023, I decided to increase my involvement in the soundscape, and played a bone rattle and a skin drum at key moments in the narrative. The drum especially can be felt throughout the body as you play it and inspires an almost trancelike state, giving weight to your words and transmitting a physical sensation to your listeners; considering its history in Sami shamanistic practices, and the taboo surrounding it in the time of witch hunts, its cultural weight and physical effects added another, holistic layer to the work. From these experiences, I now have fresh awareness that no two performances can ever be the same, as every new context and audience forces a different synergy, and that in itself bears thinking about in an academic context; while we are left with the ‘bones’ of the poem in manuscript form, and the idea that a consistent memory of the structure is definitely there, how many forms might have been laid across similar skeletons in an oral context? How many people worked with the consistencies we know today to make their own work? The possibilities are endless. 

To me, one thing is for certain. As simplistic as it sounds, whatever the end result of a performance on a received text, there is nothing quite like the deafening silence at the end of it all, right before the applause hits, to remind you why such texts were probably written down in the first place: because someone, somewhere, had exactly the same reaction to something they heard, and wanted to capture the moment. Putting that text back into the voice felt like completing a circle.

For a review of the performance, see: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2023/30-june/comment/columnists/paul-vallely-voice-of-prophetess-speaks-to-the-soul

For a poem on the Old Norse cosmos by the author, see: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/ginnungagap-clare-mulley/

Writing in the Mud: Studying Majapahit ‘Piggy Banks’ as a Historian of Medieval Europe

By Ryan Mealiffe, MPhil Medieval History, Wolfson College, Oxford

Material Culture Shock

Enjoying a peruse through the Ashmolean Museum on a drizzly February day in Oxford, I stumbled upon two tiny pigs. Fuming with puffed-up cheeks, adorable in stature yet fierce in countenance, I locked gazes with one boar’s red terracotta eyes before reading its label: ‘Piggy bank… from the Majapahit kingdom, eastern Java, 1300-1500.’

At first, I was amazed; then, wildly curious. Who made the first piggy banks? What internal cultural logic might have been the creative impetus for Majapahit ‘piggy banks’? How much of this logic is shared by people around the globe who molded similar vessels in the image of pigs?

One of two piggy banks (celengan) on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Fig 1: Piggy bank, 15th century. East Java. Terracotta; height 8.3 cm, width 11.3 cm, depth 7.4 cm. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, EA1997.5

A Formidable Challenge

These terracotta pigs (known as cèlèngan in Javanese) have sent me down a research rabbit-hole that has required me to reflect on what it means to do global environmental history and the methodology necessary to graft together the history of non-human animals, cosmology, power, status, gender, and material culture from multiple contexts.

My specialization lies squarely in medieval Europe, not 13-16th century Southeast Asia. The cultural, lingual, and physical distance between medieval Europe and Majapahit Java presents a methodological issue, a knowledge rift, that is often daunting and off-putting for historians. While formidable, it is also an exciting opportunity to take inspiration from pigs and transgress the boundaries of fields, rooting around for new connections and methodologies. For me, that meant weaving a crossed history of interaction and mutually constructed symbology between pigs and people.

Wild boar rooting in a meadow.
Fig. 2: A wild boar rooting through a meadow in search of food. University of Kentucky, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Forestry Extension

Transgressive Agents and Salvage Accumulators

The shared history between pigs and people is millennia deep. The people of Island Southeast Asia created art of local sus as early as c. 45,500 year ago, evidenced by cave art of a Sulawesi warty pig identified in 2021. Europe (and most of Eurasia for that matter) has a similarly ancient, complex history with the genus, whether wild, domestic, or somewhere in-between. Unruly and cunning animals, the plastic behavior of pigs has often made them both destructive and useful for people across Eurasia.

Pigs threatened an ordered, engineered landscape ‘tamed’ for agriculture. As Jamie Kreiner describes in her book Legions of Pigs, pigs are ‘unruly commodities’ that root, escape enclosures, eviscerate crops and reengineer landscapes. In Old Irish laws, trespass of pigs was dealt with severely because pigs always eat in groups, quickly trampling and uprooting crops. Isidore of Seville wrote of boars in his Etymologies: ‘The pig/sow (sus) is so called because she roots up (subigat) pasture, that is, she searches for food by rooting the earth up.’

Stuttgart Manuscript, Psalm 79[80]:13, illumination of a boar uprooting a grape vine.
Fig 3: Psalm 79[80]:13: ‘The boar from the woods has destroyed [the vine] and the singular beast had devoured it.’ Known as the Stuttgart Psalter, this manuscript was produced in Paris c. 820-830. The illumination depicts a boar destroying a grape vine. Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Cod. bibl. 23, fol. 96v

In Majapahit Java, expansive irrigation systems and fields, built with corvée labor and cash taxes, were integral not only to the livelihood of farmers but for the trade empire and apparatus of royal power that relied on taxation, in the form of both cash and produce, and a trade monopoly over rice, salt, and spices. It is unsurprising, then, that the Majapahit law code Kutara Manawa imposed strict fines for tampering with rice cultivation. The Deśawarnana, a royal eulogy written in 1365 at the apogee of the empire to glorify the king Hayam Wuruk, also connects the maintenance of the rice fields to the tranquility of the world and provision of the king.

The main thing is the ricefields, dry and irrigated – whatever is planted, let it be fruitful, guard it and cherish it!… An increase in the King’s possessions is the fruit of it, his means of protecting the world.

Deśawarnana, Canto 88

For the palace and its own area are like a lion and a deep wood: / If the fields are ruined, then the city too will be short of sustenance.

Deśawarnana, Canto 89
Ancient irrigation canal located near the Majapahit capital of Trowulan
Fig 4: Trowulan ancient canal, located ca. 300m southwest of the Trowulan Museum. Wikimedia Commons, October, 2014

The landscape of irrigation systems, fields, and bordering rainforests was perfect for wild boars and pigs, who tend to build their wallows in moist sites such as the edges of flooded areas and the muddy beds of canals or marshes. Recounting his experience in Java c. 1512 to 1513, Duarte Barbosa wrote that ‘swine of great size, both tame and wild’ were to be found on the island and noted their exceptional numbers. Herds of swine would no doubt find cultivated fields of appetizing crops attractive as they did in medieval Europe. The unruly nature of pigs threatened not only peasant livelihoods, but the prosperity of the realm. So why keep them, let alone associate pigs with amassing wealth?

Terracotta piggy bank (celengan) in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art from Majapahit Java
Fig. 5: Piggy Bank, 1300s–1400s. Java, Majapahit Dynasty. Terracotta; overall: 24.2 cm (9 1/2 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund, 1980.16

People across Eurasia accommodated pigs because the same behavior that makes pigs transgressive also makes them useful ‘salvage accumulators,’ scavengers of natural resources otherwise unutilized by humans. Pigs scavenge landscapes to take advantage of whatever their environment grows, preserving wealth on their haunches which people salvage or ‘cash in on’ through slaughter. Unlike other animals that supply secondary products, the sole ‘product’ of pigs is their body – their ‘meat energy’ and high reproductive potential (fecundity). In this context, the breaking of cèlèngan parallels the lifecycle and the value of pigs as agents and biological vessels of accumulation.

Early modern money box with green glaze unearthed in Oxford, England.
Fig 6: Money box, Early Modern Tudor – Elizabethan Period (AD 1457-1603). Oxford, England. Ceramic; height 9.4 cm, diameter 8.5 cm, circumference 27.0 cm. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, AN1909.1177
Celengan (piggy bank) pieced back together from surviving pottery shards from the collection of the Museum Nasional Indonesia, in Jakarta.
Fig 7: Celengan, 13th–15th century. East Java. Ceramic. The Museum Nasional Indonesia, Jakarta, 7858

Hunts and Feasts, Status and Gender

Wild boars were prime hunting game and a powerful status symbol in medieval Europe and Majapahit Java. Just as the aristocracy in Europe had the privilege to hunt in forests and celebrated the boar as a premier game animal, hunting wild boar was a privileged pastime among the Javanese elite. The hunt mapped political competition onto environment, an allegorical ritual of aristocratic domination over both nature and enemies on the battlefield. This connection is made clear by Isidore, who describes the boar (verres) as having great strength (vires). Anyone to quell such a fierce, tusked foe would display great virtus (courage, manliness). The boar hunt in Java overlapped significantly with the hunting practices of early medieval Europe. The Deśawarnana describes wild boar locked in combat with mounted hunters as ‘formidable’ with red eyes, terrible tusks as sharp as daggers, and foam dripping from their mouths. The more intimidating, colossal, and savage the boar slain, the more admirable the hunter.

The sows were pitiful when several were killed, / Overpowered together with their helpless young.

The boars now made ready to advance, / Four or five at a time – formidable, big and tall.

Their mouths were foaming, they were red in the eyes, / And their tusks were terrible, just like daggers.

Deśawarnana, Canto 52
14th century Javanese bronze boar, housed in the MET, New York.
Fig 8: Standing Boar, ca. 14th century. Java. Bronze; W. 17.3 cm (6 13/16 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.142.259
A depiction of a boar hunt from the Devonshire Hunting Tapestry, on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Fig 9: The Devonshire Hunting Tapestry – Boar and Bear Hunt, 1425–1430. Netherlands. Tapestry; woven wool with natural dyes. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, T.204-1957

Both hunting traditions also gendered pigs. Whether female or male, boars were thought of as masculine in Europe while sows were associated with the feminine and fecund domestic pig. The Deśawarnana displays a more complicated but still binary association. Before being ‘overpowered’ and ‘pitiful’ after several were killed, the sows of Canto 52 protect their ‘helpless young’ with defensive aggression appropriate to their gendered role. The Majapahit understood pigs, whether sow or boar, as simultaneously fierce and fertile. In parallel, cèlèngan can symbolize both power and wealth (which helps to explain cèlèngan featuring piglets).

The superior dishes arrived, the trays all made of gold;

Promptly those bringing them forward took up positions before the King.

His food consisted of mutton, buffalo, poultry, venison, wild boar, bees,

Fish and duck, in keeping with the teachings of the Lokapurāna.

Deśawarnana, Canto 89
Broken piggy bank (celengan) with four piglets from Majapahit Java, in modern-day Indonesia. This item is a part of the Princessehof Ceramic Museum's collection.
Fig 10: Money box in the shape of a sow with 4 piglets, 1200–1500. Java, Indonesia. Ceramic; W. 18.7 cm, H. 13.6 cm. Princessehof Ceramic Museum, Leeuwarden, GMP 1981-069

Associations of status and gender also fed into the ‘superior’ place of pork at Majapahit feasts. Pigs populate many cantos of the Deśawarnana and its author, Prapañca, counts wild boar among the ‘superior dishes’ served at royal feasts and lists them among the finest gifts of homage paid by officials of tribute kingdoms. In reciprocity for gifts, the king served pork on ‘trays all made of gold,’ mirroring chivalric largesse between lord and vassal in medieval Europe. This diverges from the legal categorization of pigs in the medieval west as ‘minor’ or ‘lesser’ livestock. Even though the details are likely exaggerated to flatter and elevate the status of the Majapahit king, Prapañca considered gifting pigs/pork an important part in this spectacle of wealth and generosity, perhaps because it would confer similar status to hunting and slaying wild boar.

Out of devotion they brought gifts, competing with each other:

Pigs, sheep, buffaloes, oxen, chickens and dogs in plenty,

As well as cloth which they carried in one after another in piles;

Those who saw it were amazed, as if they could not believe their eyes.

Deśawarnana, Canto 28

Situated in the context of Majapahit court feasts, royal hunts, and the accommodation of pigs for their capacity to store bodily wealth, the (oddly adorable) angry expression, aggressive stance, and tusks common among cèlèngan clearly evoke the fierce boar of the hunt. Their round bodies built from the fat (or clay!) of the land, command the power of a charging boar whose tusks have upwards of 100kg of momentum behind them. However, the power and bodily wealth of the boar is not entirely unwieldy, as many cèlèngan are restrained by chain-collars around their necks. For only one thing is more impressive, sure to confer more prestige, than slaying a beast: owning and dominating the fearsome and fecund nature of the boar.

Vaikuntha Chaturmurti aka Vaikuntha Vishnu statue from Kashmir. Currently housed in the MET, New York.
Fig 11: Form of Vishnu with four faces: the heads of his lion (right) and boar (left) personifications (Varaha and Narasimha) flanking a human head and sharing a single aureole. On the reverse is a low-relief carving of his demonic manifestation. The small attendant on Vishnu’s left is Chakrapurusha, the personification of his war discus, which would have been balanced by the personification of his battle mace, Gadadevi. The earth goddess stands between his legs. Vaikuntha Vishnu, last quarter of the 8th century. India, kingdom of Kashmir. Stone; H. 104.5 cm (41 1/8 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991.301
Vahara, Vishnu's boar avatara, depicted in a watercolor illustration from the 18th century. Brooklyn Museum Collection.
Fig 12: Vahara, Vishnu’s boar avatar, rescues the earth goddess from the asura (demon) Hiranyaksha. Varaha Rescuing the Earth, page from an illustrated Dasavatara series, c. 1730-1740. Opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper, Sheet: 10 1/2 x 8 1/8 in. (26.7 x 20.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection, 41.1026

Indeed he [Hayam Wuruk] was simply a divinity descended as he roamed the world.

Deśawarnana, Canto 27

Divine Kingship and the Cosmic Boar

The king’s role as protector of the world and ‘lord of the lords’ (Canto 1) was a central tenet in the Majapahit model of divine kingship that developed after power shifted from Central to East Java. The Deśawarnana builds a case for Hayam Wuruk as a divine being – that the realm’s peace, prosperity, order, and prestige over the seas was proof of his elevated status. Without the paternalistic leadership of the Majapahit king and the monetary, material means to carry out his duties as Sang nata (‘one who puts things in order’) – the world would fall into chaos.

Statue of Vahara from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Fig 13: Bhudevi stands to the right of Vahara’s head, while a serpent-goddess (nagini) appears in front. Rows of sages, deities and other figures appear on the body of the cosmic boar. The conch shell, discus, and mace below are all symbols of Vishnu. Figure of Vahara, the boar incarnation of Vishnu, c. 850 – c. 950. Bihar, north Madhya Pradesh. Stone; 64.8 x 87.5 x 28 cm. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, EA1969.43

The Majapahit conception of a divine king who keeps the world in order alludes to Hindu cosmology, comparing the role of the king to that of Wishnu, the preserver of the world. Various kings of the East Javanese period adopted the names and likeness of deities on monuments, including Singhasari and early Majapahit rulers who bore names meaning ‘Wishnu’s incarnation.’ Hinduism in the early East Javanese period emphasized Wishnu and the kings of this period accordingly saw themselves as his incarnation. Even though Siwa (Shiva) became the central god in the Majapahit period, Prapañca draws upon the legitimacy of a long-established association between the role of kingship and the stories and symbology of Wishnu.

Majapahit cosmology was inclusive of a complicated coalition of indigenous, Buddhist, and Vedic elements. This tradition included the legend of Vahara, Wishnu’s boar avatāra (divine incarnation). In the Hindu creation story, Vahara rescues the Earth from falling into the celestial waters, rooting land from sea. Paralleling Vahara, the king’s prosperity and control over the floodplain of the Brantas river valley through irrigation projects prevented water from once again consuming earth. The link between fertility, wealth, prosperity, and the maintenance of the world was further realized in the Javanese mythology of Panji and Candrakirana, incarnations of Wishnu and his consort Sri, the goddess of rice. Their union symbolizes a guarantee of agricultural fertility, the marriage of wealth and prosperity to continuity and protection. So, wealth, prosperity, agricultural fertility, and the celestial boar Vahara are closely coupled with East Javanese kingship.

One of two Majapahit piggy banks (celengan) on display in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Fig 14: Money-box, 16th century. Java. Terracotta. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, HCR7420
Terracotta piggy bank (celengan) from Majapahit Java housed at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Fig 15: Piggy Bank, 1301­–1500. Eastern Java. Terracotta with brown glaze; 12.2 x 17.3 x 9.1cm (4 3/4 x 6 3/4 x 3 1/2 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, 1996.724

Salvaging Meaning

The symbol of the boar connects to a web of meaning in Majapahit Java: parallels between the accumulation and salvaging of coins and meat, the glory of killing and taming wild boar, the generosity of gifting pigs and their meat, and the divine role of the king as protector of the world and controller of chaotic water paralleling the boar Vahara. This set of connected meanings provides an internal cultural logic for cèlèngan and supports two potential use cases: as gifts of homage and royal generosity, and as vessels for tax money intended for the king. Cèlèngan may have been gifts in lieu of real pigs, either to or from the king, filled with coinage and decorated to evoke a combination of the formidable boar of the hunt, the meaty-wealth of a pig intended for slaughter, and the divine nature of Majapahit kingship. This is further supported by the extraordinarily high density of cèlèngan around Trowulan, the administrative center and palace of the Majapahit rulers. These would have likely been larger examples, whereas smaller, modestly-decorated cèlèngan may have been used by households or tax collectors as vessels for tax money designated for the king not by writing, but by symbology. Of course, objects possess multiple, shifting meanings even in local contexts and cèlèngan likely took on other meanings and uses, especially among the common people of Majapahit.

Broke piggy bank (celengan) from Majapahit Java, housed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Fig 16: Piggy bank, c. 1300 – c. 1500. East Java. Terracotta; 16.0 cm x 13.0 cm x 17.3 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, AK-RAK-1988-18

Muddy Origins

I started this post with a simple question of origin: ‘Who made the first piggy banks?’ It is a question that suffers from many pitfalls. The idea of origin itself hosts an implication of cultural superiority. To credit ethnic or national identities as the ‘first’ to put hand to something of novel impact is a simplification of multiple, complex influences that, in this case, crossed in East Java, but many of which came from across the sea. Even in the most local example, cèlèngan derive their meaning from a web of influences that span beyond the imagined borders of Majapahit, through Asia and cross significantly with Europe. Studying the past in global terms problematizes this kind of unambiguous attribution by situating the local in a wider context of nuanced and hybrid influences, favoring an ambiguous, ‘muddy’ nature.

Cèlèngan are composite objects that cannot be understood outside a global web of meaning and influences neither fully Majapahit nor human. An environmental approach reminds us that the piggy bank would not exist without pigs – that human agency is intimately tied to the environment. By putting human agency into question, we must also take issue with an attribution of exclusively human origin. It is difficult to determine a rationale (an origin of the mind) for piggy banks because it was inherently ad hoc. Different people saw in pigs the function of money boxes and in money boxes the character, behavior, and capacity of pigs. Perhaps piggy banks are better understood not as material culture, but as material nature-culture­­ in recognition of the practical engagement between human and non-human agents that make them intelligible. They are material reminders that humans are ‘partners in conversation with a larger world’. The ‘idea’ or ‘intention’ behind cèlèngan and their cultural associations could only be envisioned when Majapahit people interacted with pigs. If any ‘origin’ is identifiable, it is in the muddy patches where clay met pigs and people.

Fig 17: Illumination from the Hours of Henry VIII (Tours, France, c. 1500) of laborers thrashing acorns from oak trees to fatten up pigs. The Morgan Library, MS H.8, fol. 6r

Doing History Like Pigs

The generative meanings produced by a crossed history of pigs and people between medieval Europe and Southeast Asia help to answer questions about cèlèngan and contextualize them in a comparative global history inclusive of non-human agents. The careful, belated conversation between two histories separated not only by space but by discipline yields insight that each record cannot substantiate alone. Pigs and people are global agents, co-producers of what is now an object recognized worldwide. Investigating the influence of such a relationship on material nature-culture requires a global scale and crossed history of sapiens, sus, and their shared environment that is careful to avoid simple comparisons. Doing history like this requires historians act like pigs; to jump the pen of national and disciplinary boundaries, transgress rules, root for new connections, and muddy the divisions between nature and culture.

About the Author: Ryan Mealiffe is a second-year MPhil Medieval History student at the University of Oxford. Their research focuses on the intersections of animal agency, material culture, cosmology, and environment in medieval Europe.

Header image: Illumination of wild boars, early 13th century. Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Ashmole 1511, fol. 30v

St John’s Digitization Project

(By Sophie Bacchus-Waterman, Special Collections Photographer, St John’s College)

As Special Collections Photographer for the Digitization Project at St John’s College, I photograph the manuscripts and early printed books from our Special Collections. Given that we have over 20,000 early printed books and over 300 manuscripts, and it would be impossible for one person to digitize them all, we have devised a shortlist of items which will be made available online during this project. These might be manuscripts with significant cultural or historic value, interesting provenance, unique texts, or items that are regularly requested by researchers. Several items have already been made available on Digital Bodleian, and more are being added regularly.

Grazer Conservation Cradle

Books being photographed are placed onto the Grazer Conservation Cradle. The cradle is set to a 120° opening angle. If a book is not able to be opened at that angle, it is supported with foam wedges. Along the side of the cradle is a vacuum bar, on which the page being photographed is placed. Each page of the book being photographed is placed onto the vacuum bar, which, when switched on, acts like a vacuum and gently pulls the page into place. Along the vacuum bar is a ruler, which allows anyone viewing the book on Digital Bodleian to see its size. The colour swatch lets me keep the lighting and colour accurate from page to page.

Vacuum bar, ruler, and colour swatch on the cradle

Images are taken with a PhaseOne camera, which is directly parallel to the page being photographed. The camera can be moved closer or further away using a control panel on the side of the cradle. If I’m working with a smaller book, for instance, the camera might need to be closer to the cradle than if I’m working with a larger book. The cradle can also be adjusted with the control panel, and moved up or down as necessary, or left and right with a small dial. As I move through a book, the cradle might need be adjusted accordingly.

Control panel and dial for adjusting the cradle

Besides photographing the internals of our books, I also photograph the externals, using a flatbed and a wall-mounted Canon camera, in the setup seen in the photograph below.

MS 164, a 14th century French manuscript with a velvet binding, on the flatbed

The book is placed on the flatbed, and I photograph its front and back covers. It is also placed on its fore edge and spine, carefully supported with small towers of foam blocks on either side, which are covered with black cloth. I also include a ruler and colour swatch in photos of the externals, for the same reason as they are included in the internal shots.

Photographing MS 61

MS 61 was always high on our priority list for items to be digitized. A 13th century bestiary made in York, richly illuminated, MS 61 is one of the jewels of our Special Collections. If you would like to read more about it, you can see its catalogue description on Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries, encoded by my colleague, Sian Witherden.

I knew that MS 61 would initially pose challenges, due to its extensive use of gold leaf. Each illumination is backed with a thick ground of gold leaf, which reflects light when photographed. Given the amount of gold on certain folios, the light reflected in such a way that the gold looked white, an effect known as “specular highlights”, as seen in the below left photograph. In order to photograph a manuscript with extensive gold leaf, the lamps in the Photography Studio must be pointed upwards, away from the cradle. The light then bounces off the ceiling and onto the gold leaf, as seen in the below right photograph.

St John’s College, MS 61, fol. 9r

Once the issue of lighting the gold leaf was resolved, MS 61 was a dream to work with. For an 800-year-old manuscript, it was incredibly easy to handle. Written on high quality vellum, it was sturdy, its pages turned easily, and its modern binding meant that it was happy to open to the 120° angle of the cradle. As with the other books I’ve worked with so far, MS 61 was placed onto the cradle – it opened easily, and was handled with the usual care I handle the Special Collections items, but it didn’t need any extra support while out.

As I moved through the manuscript, I was struck by the incredible illuminations throughout it. Even after centuries, it is in a stunning condition, almost as if it had been made yesterday. In order to accommodate the manuscript, I moved the cradle left and right, and up and down, as needed, so that it was resting comfortably on the cradle. Above everything else, the preservation of whatever book I am working with is paramount to the project. Luckily, MS 61 didn’t require any extra support, or prove difficult at all.

The social media response to MS 61 being digitized was astounding, but also hardly surprising. MS 61 is one of the most beautiful and treasured items in our collection, and a lot of people have been excited to see it online. Not only is it a privilege to work with such stunning and rare books in my role, but knowing that the Digitization Project is facilitating research and introducing people to our collection online makes it all the more rewarding.

If you would like to see more of our collection, please visit our Digital Library, where you can read more about our collection, and see what has already been made available to view online. If you would like to read more about MS 61, take a look at this Book of the Month blog post here.

New Book: Medieval Sex Lives

(Guest blog by Elizabeth Eva Leach)

Summary

Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 308 preserves and re-copies the lyrics of over 500 songs, ranging from those written in the late twelfth century, to those composed only a few years before the manuscript was copied in the early fourteenth. Its lack of both musical notation and authorial attribution make it relatively unusual among Old French songbooks. Its arrangement by genre instead invites an investigation of the relationship between a long tradition of sung courtly lyric and the real lives of the people who enjoyed it, in particular their emotional, intimate, sexual lives, something for which little direct evidence exists.

Medieval Sex Lives

Using the other main inclusion in the original plan for Douce 308, Jacques Bretel’s poetic account of a tournament, The Tournament at ChauvencyMedieval Sex Lives argues that song offered musical practices which provided fertile means of propagating and enabling various sexual scripts.

With a focus on parts of Douce 308 not yet treated in detail elsewhere, Medieval Sex Lives offers an account of the manuscript’s contents, its importance, and likely social milieu, with ample musical and poetic analysis. In the process it offers new ways of understanding Marian songs and sottes chansons, as well as arguing for a broadening of our understanding of the medieval pastourelle, both as a genre and as an imaginative prop. Ultimately, Medieval Sex Lives presents a provocative speculative hypothesis about courtly song in the early fourteenth century as a social force, focusing on its ability to model, instill, inspire, and support sexual behaviours, real and imaginary.

Three ideas in the book

  • The idea that medieval people consumed cultural products (in this case, songs) that fed and moulded their sexual imaginations;
  • The idea that an unnotated songbook might be very noisy with the sounds of sex and tournaments;
  • The idea that minority sexual practices (queer sexualities and paraphilias of various kinds) were present in the distant past.

What inspired me to write the book?

This book arose from two different but related questions. First, I wondered why the sung lyric tradition of Western Europe that is generally called “courtly” love had such a long and successful history. Second, I wanted to know why the unnotated songbook, Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce had bothered to preserve and re-copy the lyrics of over 500 such songs, ranging from those written in the late twelfth century, to those composed only a few years before the manuscript was copied in the early fourteenth. The lack of musical notation, which was never planned for its songs, makes this manuscript unusual among Old French songbooks. Nonetheless, curating nearly 150 years of this long-lived tradition was clearly important to the patrons, compilers, owners, and users of this manuscript: but why?

How will this book make a difference in my field of study? In what way is my argument a controversial or one that will shake up preconceived ideas?

Overall, the book challenges the idea that medieval song has nothing (or little) to do with the real lives of its audiences. Ch2’s proposal of love songs as sexual scripts is a controversial use of sociological theory to treat medieval literature. In Ch3 it offers a new way of approaching the sotte chanson (‘silly song’) as something not merely humorous or satirical, but as a potentially serious erotic possibility. Ch4 treats The Tournament at Chauvency from the perspective of sound studies. And Ch5 offers a controversial reading of the medieval pastourelle that firstly expands the definition of the genre to include songs rarely considered as pastourelles (but collected by Douce 308 as such), and secondly makes a difficult argument about some of them as offering fantasies of sexual domination and rape that might have appealed (and been useful) to some audience members, specifically women and queer people.

The Trouble with Prefixes

Consummatum est, inclinato capite tradidit spiritum.
‘”It is accomplished”, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’

(Homiliae XL in euangelia, homily 37.9, Gregory the Great)

These were the last words of bishop Cassius of Narnia as recorded in Bodleian Library, MS. Laud Misc. 429. The manuscript contains Homiliae XL in euangelia by Gregory the Great (see Bodleian online). Cassius of course quoted from the Bible, Jesus’ last words according to John 19.30. The quotation appears at the end of folio 149v which also contains two scratched glosses in the upper margin, barely visible to the naked eye: ‘[…] braht’ and ‘upbraht’. At first glance, the glosses and the quote have no obvious connection. They stand on opposite sides of the folio (fig. 1) and, semantically, the two similar glosses do not seem to relate to any Latin on the page. It was only when the glosses were captured in a detailed image with the Selene scanner of the ARCHiOx project (ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging) that it was possible to learn more about their origin and meaning.

Fig. 1: Folio 149v of MS. Laud. Misc. 429 (Oxford, Bodleian Library). The position of the scratched glosses is marked in red, the quote by Cassius of Narnia is marked in green.

With the Selene scanner, a clear image of the 3D surface of the object can be created. This is particularly useful for scratched glosses, translations and comments not written with a pen but impressed into the parchment with a stylus. Scratched glosses can usually only be seen by shining a torch onto the parchment at a very shallow angle. But with the new recording system the glosses can be made visible within the context of ink glosses and the main text. Corrections in the main text also become much clearer. Suddenly a sequence of short horizontal scratches become visible, showing where the scribe erased ink with a small knife (fig. 2), apparently to adjust word endings and punctuation. Furthermore, there are longer, finer lines crossing the page that stem from preparing the parchment.

Fig. 2: 3D‑render of the scratches on folio 149v recorded with the Selene scanner. In the top margin, the lexical scratched glosses are visible. On the bottom of the picture are scratches which stem from text erasures.

In the recording, the lexical scratched glosses on folio 149v are clearly visible, except for the first letters. They read (1) ‘[…] braht’ and (2) ‘upbraht’. The words appear right next to each other but are divided by a clear gap. These are not the only lexical glosses in the manuscript. Throughout the text, there are Latin and Old High German glosses, for example the Old High German word ‘agaleizor’ in the right margin of folio 159r and the Latin ‘lapidem’, a few lines below and interlinear (see the digitised manuscript and Hofmann 1963, p. 144). As for the glosses on folio 149v, the second half of the words gives clues as to their language. ‘‑braht’ is the past participle of the Old High German verb ‘bringan’ (see AWB 1,1384), with the basic meaning ‘to bring’ (or in case of the participle, ‘brought’). The first part of the words should therefore be a prepositional prefix which modifies the basic verb. The first part of gloss (2), ‘up’, is known as a prefix – but not in Old High German. The Old High German equivalent of the word is ‘ûf’, with the ‘‑p’ undergoing the Second Consonant Shift (up > uf). That the gloss still has the ‘‑p’ shows that it must belong to a language which did not go through this sound change. To explain this mix of linguistic features, it is necessary to consider the history of the manuscript.

MS. Laud Misc. 429 was written in a German writing centre, possibly Fulda, at the beginning of the ninth century (Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, p. 58; Mairhofer 2014, p. 680). It was in Würzburg from the fifteenth century at the latest and was given to the Bodleian in 1637 (Mairhofer 2014, p. 680). However, it is not unlikely that the manuscript came to Würzburg much earlier because of the intertwined history of the two monasteries. In the eighth century, Saint Boniface and his missionaries came from England and founded several monasteries, including the Würzburg cathedral chapter and Fulda as part of its diocese (Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, p. 5). As they were closely related, the monasteries frequently exchanged manuscripts in the eighth and ninth centuries, or would order manuscripts from each other’s scriptoria (see Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, pp. 142, 168). Fulda was therefore subject to the same Anglo-Saxon influence that has been widely researched for the Würzburg monastery. Anglo-Saxon traces can be seen palaeographically and linguistically in the manuscripts created during that time (Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, pp. 5ff.; Hofmann 1963, pp. 33–4). Written long after Saint Boniface’s death, when the main impact of the Anglo-Saxon mission had already waned, MS. Laud Misc. 429 still shows signs of Anglo-Saxon script (‘Symptome dafür sind die leicht spachtelförmigen Oberlängen, die mit dreieckigem Ansatz beginnenden, tiefgespaltenen r der rcc-Ligatur.’, Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, p. 58). Ties between early medieval scriptoria of the Würzburg diocese and Anglo-Saxon writing tradition remained strong over the centuries and MS. Laud Misc. 429 is evidence for that.

Fig. 3: Close‑up of gloss (2) ‘upbraht’.

On a different note, there is another, though rather minor possibility for the origin of the scratched glosses. Apparently, there have been exchanges between the Low German and East Franconian region since the Old Saxon Heliand was written under consideration of texts which stem originally from Fulda (Schubert 2013, p. 213). Linguistically, the scratched glosses are acceptable Old Saxon forms. Old Saxon did not undergo the second consonant shift, hence the ‘up‑’, and ‘braht’ is the past participle of ‘brengian’, the Old Saxon equivalent of Old High German ‘bringan’ (Gallée 1993, §408). Even though there is no evidence of an Old Saxon verb ‘upp‑brengian’, ‘upp‑’ is known as verbal prefix (Tiefenbach 2010, p. 431). It is similar with the possible prefixes of gloss (1) which will be considered later. Arguably, these could be two Old Saxon hapax legomena (words which are only evidenced once), however, connections between the scriptorium of Fulda and Old Saxon scribes are hardly documented. On the other hand, the link to Anglo‑Saxon writing is not only supported by other manuscripts from Fulda and by the palaeographical characteristics of the script of MS. Laud Misc. 429 but also matches the linguistic evidence seen in gloss (2): ‘up’ (fig. 3) can very well be an Old English form (predecessor of modern English ‘up’) and the combination of an Old English prefix with an Old High German verb stem is a typical result of Anglo-Saxon influence in German writing centres. Since none of the ink glosses show Old English features (see Hofmann 1963, pp. 114–5) it could be that ink and scratched glosses stem from different scribes who followed different writing traditions.

Fig. 4: Close‑up of gloss (1) ‘[…] braht’. The prefix could be read as ‘hu’, but note the difference between the first letter and the penultimate letter ‘h’.

The prefix of gloss (1) is not as easy to decipher. The first letter could be an ‘h’, even though it looks quite different from the ‘h’ in the second half of the word (fig. 4). The latter has a very round curve, while the former shows a sharp bend. And neither in Old English nor Old High German is ‘hu’ a documented verbal prefix.

Fig. 5: Prefix of gloss (1) ‘[…] braht’ with the possible reading ‘zu’ in comparison with the ‘z’ in an ink gloss on fol. 159r (image was rotated to align the letters).

Another possible reading is palaeographically less clear but would make sense lexically: ‘zu’. The lines of the first letter could be a crooked ‘z’ (compare the ‘z’ of ‘agaleizor’ on folio 159r), which, to be fair, would miss some strokes (fig. 5). But an Old High German prefix ‘zu‑’ (or ‘zuo‑’) is indeed recorded in combination with ‘bringan’ (AWB 1,1405; the Old English equivalent would be ‘tó‑’, see Bosworth‑Toller online). Both readings assume that the second part of the prefix is a ‘u’. However, the curves of the letters in ‘braht‑’ are very round and those of the potential ‘u’ are not. Because scratched glosses had to be scratched into the parchment with a stylus which was not a very reliable writing instrument, letter shapes could be distorted (Glaser & Nievergelt 2009, p. 207). Differences between the letters within a gloss could therefore happen and could have a number of reasons. The gap after the prefix, for example, could mean that the scribe paused and then held the stylus differently. But it is curious that the letters of the second part are all very neatly rounded and the first ones are not.

Fig. 6: Prefix of gloss (1) ‘[…] braht’ The image on the right shows the same prefix with mark‑up that illustrates the possible reading ‘vul’, excluding the strokes that connect the letters.

A reading which would take the sharp bends of the beginning a bit more into account would be ‘vul’. Just as in gloss (2), this prefix would be Old English, the Old High German equivalent being ‘fol’. Old English ‘full’ is recorded as a verbal prefix (e.g. ‘fullbétan’, Bosworth-Toller online) and the Old High German variant even exists in combination with ‘bringan’ (‘fol(la)bringan’, AWB 3,1049). However, this reading would assume a ‘v’ with an ascender and an ‘l’ which is missing one (fig. 6). Just as ‘zu braht’, it is palaeographically odd but seems lexically sensible.

The meaning of gloss (1) can be narrowed down by semantically interpreting gloss (2). Both glosses end in ‘braht’ which suggests that they relate to each other. Double glosses are often either synonymous and were meant to provide the reader with lexical variants, or they give alternative semantic interpretations of the lemma. This could be achieved by altering the prefix of a verb. Old English ‘up’ and ‘bringan’ together can have the meaning ‘bring it to pass’, in which ‘up’ is ‘marking effectual action’ (see Bosworth-Toller online; here as an adverb related to a verb, but also recorded as a prefix). In Old High German, only one instance is known in which ‘uf’ appears together with ‘bringan’, in the Muspilli: ‘die pringent sia sar uf in himilo rihi’ (Steinmeyer 1916, p. 66; see AWB 1,1391), and here it means ‘to take (someone) up (to somewhere)’. The form ‘upbraht’ is a past participle. Assuming that the gloss copies the grammatical form of its Latin lemma to translate it in context, it could correspond to Latin consummatum from the aforementioned bible quote. The Latin would fit the possible meaning ‘bring it to pass’, or rather ‘brought to pass’. Their position in relation to each other is rather unusual as they are at opposite ends of the page – glosses are mostly in direct proximity to the word they translate. However, the word summarises the whole tale of Cassius who awaited his death for years after hearing a vision from one of his priests. His last word, ‘accomplished’, could relate not only to his death but also to the long period of waiting. Glossing it on top of the page is similar to a headline.

In this regard, gloss (1) can be expected to have a similar meaning. Of the three presented readings, ‘hu braht’ is the least fitting one. The adverb exists only in Old English and is the predecessor of modern English ‘how’. It references the quality of a verb (Bosworth-Toller online) which does not fit very well in this context. The second variant, ‘zu braht’, works better. The Old High German verb ‘zuobringan’ can have the meaning ‘to bring about’ (AWB 1,1405) – even though the according Old English prefix does not match (‘a prefix denoting separation, division’, Bosworth-Toller online). And finally, the last reading ‘vul braht’ is semantically closest to ‘upbraht’. Old High German ‘fol(la)bringan’ means ‘to finish something, to accomplish something’ (AWB 3,1049). Old English ‘ful’ is a verbal prefix which ‘denotes the fulness, completeness or perfection of the meaning of the word with which it is joined’ (Bosworth-Toller online). Judging from these interpretations, the two glosses could have been designed to give lexical variants which are broadly synonymous for the Latin lemma.

Fig. 7: Profiles of the scratches of gloss (1) on the left and gloss (2) on the right as recorded with the Selene scanner. The line in the glosses marks where the profile was measured.

Again, the ARCHiOx recording reveals more information about the motivation behind the double glosses. Measuring the depth and width of the scratches of the two glosses in the 3D-image shows that their profiles do not match (fig. 7). That means that it is very likely that they were not written in one go. Either the scribe, the writing instrument or the date of writing changed, or possibly all three at once. Whatever the reason for the changing profile was, there was most definitely an interruption between writing the two glosses. Maybe one of the glosses seemed unsufficient to a glossator to translate the lemma, maybe someone working with the text wanted to give a variant of the translation – or maybe a later reader had the same problems in identifying the first gloss as I had and decided to add a more legible translation. With the help of the ARCHiOx recordings, it is possible to gain much more information about a fascinating linguistic phenomenon. The detailed images can paint a clearer picture of how people in the Middle Ages worked with texts. In the case of MS. Laud Misc. 429, the glosses can not only be linked to a rich history of language exchange, but we now have proof that that the manuscript was the subject of work processes that are much closer to today’s way of studying than one would think.


Image credit

Fig. 1: Bodleian Library (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 429, digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/afcff8df-3047-4b21-8279-67f27c114424/, accessed 1 September 2023), with mark‑up by the author

Figs. 2–4: John Barrett, ARCHiOx

Fig. 5: left: John Barrett, ARCHiOx; right: Bodleian Library (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 429, digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/afcff8df-3047-4b21-8279-67f27c114424/, accessed 1 September 2023), rotated detail by the author

Fig. 6: John Barrett, ARCHiOx, with mark‑up by the author on the right image

Fig. 7: John Barrett, ARCHiOx

Bibliography:

AWB = Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch. Auf Grund der von Elias v. Steinmeyer hinterlassenen Sammlungen im Auftrag der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig. Bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Elisabeth Karg-Gasterstädt und Theodor Frings. Leipzig 1952-2015ff., http://awb.saw-leipzig.de/cgi/WBNetz/wbgui_py?sigle=AWB (accessed 1 September 2023).

Bischoff, B. & Hofmann, J. (1952): Libri Sancti Kyliani. Die Würzburger Schreibschule und die Dombibliothek im VIII. und IX. Jahrhundert. Würzburg: Ferdinand Schöningh.

Bodleian online = A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges, medieval.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/catalog/manuscript_7230 (accessed 1 September 2023).

Bosworth-Toller online = Joseph Bosworth, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online, edited by Thomas Northcote Toller, Christ Sean, and Ondřej Tichy. Prague: Faculty of Arts, Charles University, 2014. https://bosworthtoller.com (accessed 1 September 2023)

Gallée, J.H. (1993): Altsächsische Grammatik. 3rd ed. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Glaser, E. & Nievergelt, A. (2009): ‘Griffelglossen’, in Bergmann, R. & Stricker, S.: Die althochdeutsche und altsächsische Glossographie. Ein Handbuch. Vol. 1. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 202–229.

Haubrichs, W. (2013): ‘Volkssprachige (theodiske) Schriftlichkeit in Fulda (8.–11. Jh.)’, in Schubert, M.: Schreiborte des deutschen Mittelalters. Skriptorien – Werke – Mäzene. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 196–215.

Hofmann, J. (1963): ‘Altenglische und althochdeutsche Glossen aus Würzburg und dem weiteren angelsächsischen Missionsgebiet’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur (Halle) 85, 27–131.

Mairhofer, D. (2014): Medieval Manuscripts from Würzburg in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: A Descriptive Catalogue. Oxford: Bodleian Library.

Steinmeyer, E. (1916): Die kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmäler. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.

Tiefenbach, H. (2010): Altsächsisches Handwörterbuch. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter.