Philological Public Service Announcement

Beowulf is in Old English. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is in Middle English.

Every fall, and then again every spring, as various colleges and universities begin their semesters, I see a dramatic increase in the number of people visiting my site after using search phrases like:

  • canterbury tales in old english
  • general prologue old english
  • chaucer old english
  • chaucer angled saxon
  • chaucer anglo-saxon

Old English requires some special effort to read and understand; it really is a different language. Middle English is much closer to our own Modern English, albeit with funny spelling. You can get a good idea of how different Old and Middle English are by looking at the Lord’s Prayer in Middle and Old English. You can hear some Chaucer read in Middle English here, and some Beowulf in Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) here. If you’re curious about learning Old English, take a look at Michael Drout’s nicely done King Alfred’s Grammar Book, and Catherine Ball’s Old English Pages. For those interested in learning more about Middle English and Chaucer, take a look at Larry Benson’s site.

But remember: Chaucer wrote in Middle English.

Beunans Ke Update

If Sara Zettle sent you, I’m especially pleased that I can tell you there’s more news about the medieval Cornish mystery play fragment rediscovered in 2000. Thanks to Alan Hawke, I can tell you that the National Library of Wales has added high quality digital images of both the Beunans Ke manuscript NLW MS 23849D and the Beunans Meriasek manuscript Peniarth 105B, to their Digital Mirror collection. Andrew Hawke adds that Michael Polkinhorn has provided a collaborative translation online here.

Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on-lofte

Thanks to Andy Kelly; I know it’s not really Valentines day yet. But a lot of people still think it’s today that Chaucer had in mind when he wrote:

“Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on-lofte;—
Thus singen smale foules for thy sake—
Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast this wintres weders over-shake.

“Wel han they cause for to gladen ofte,
Sith ech of hem recovered hath his make;
Ful blisful may they singen whan they wake;
Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
That hast this wintres weders over-shake,
And driven away the longe nightes blake.”

And with the showting, whan hir song was do,
That foules maden at hir flight a-way,
I wook, and other bokes took me to
To rede upon, and yet I rede alway;
In hope, y-wis, to rede so som day
That I shal mete som thing for to fare
The bet; and thus to rede I nil not spare.
(Chaucer Parlement of Foulys ll. 683–699)

I’m [less] Ashamed

Washington, DC, Dec. 10 (UPI) — The inaugural committee for U.S. President George Bush is looking to raise more than $40 million — a record price tag for the event.

Washington Times

And then here’s what we’re spending on immediate quake and tsunami relief.

WASHINGTON : Two days after being criticised for not doing enough to aid in the Asian tsunami disaster relief effort, US President George Bush has announced a major American contribution.

US$35 million will be made available immediately, with more to follow in the days and months ahead.

Channel News Asia

If President Bush had any class, or any true decency, he would minimize the inauguration expenses and redirect the funds, and additional charitable donations from those who would have attended, to emergency relief funds for South East Asia.

“Compassionate conservative”—that’s code for “selfish hypocrite,” right?

Update 12/31/2004: According to the BBC:

The US plans to boost to $350m the funds being made available to help survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami which claimed more than 124,000 lives.

It is a ten-fold increase on an initial pledge attacked by critics as meagre. It is also the largest pledge so far.

That’s more like it, especially if most of it is in real goods and money, and if it’s not just a loan, and if we actually do what we say, since we haven’t always been as good on delivering as promising.

Pope Beatifies “Father of Cappuccino”

Marco d’Aviano, bron in Aviano, in the north of Italy in 1631, was friar from the Capuchin was beatifued for his efforts to rally Catholics and Protestants on the eve of the Battle of Vienna in 1683, a battle fought as part of an effort to stem Turkish incursion into Europe. He’s not yet been canonized as a saint, but this is the penultimate step in the process.

Aviano is also, on a less Catholic note, famed as the person who inspired cappuccino style coffee. Suppsedly, after the victory, the Viennese discovered sacks of coffee abandoned by the Turks (who imbibed enormous quatities of extremely finely ground coffee brewed in a early version of a drip pot). The Turkish coffee was too intense for the Viennese, who diluted it with cream and honey.

The resulting beverage was a brown colored liquid very similar Capuchins’ robes; hence, the Viennese named it cappuccino in honour of Marco D’Aviano’s order.

I’m not overly excited by cappuccino, though I like it. Personally I favor the carefully selected and roasted Hawaian coffees of Superbeans. I’ve never had better coffee, ever, and the service and choice can’t be beat.

Amebury Archer

Thanks to this story from MetaFilter, I’m elated to see new data about the so-called “Amebury Archer.” Last May Wessex Archaeology discovered the richest Bronze age grave ever discovered in Britain. The grave was discovered during a standard preliminary excavation of a future housing development, about three miles south-east of Stonehenge. Based on the physical attributes of the skelton and the goods buried with him, the 35-45 year old man was an archer, and possibly, part of the Stonehenge construction team. Shortly after the first grave was discovered, excavators discovered a smaller companion grave. The artifacts— well over a hundred of them, including three copper knives, two small gold hair tresses, gold earrings, two sandstone wristguards to protect his wrists from the bow string, 16 flint arrowheads and five pots, are amazing, as is the systemic nature of the burial. The grave dates back to roughly 2300 B. C.

One of the more interesting aspects of the burial is that analysis of the archer’s tooth enamel’s oxegen content and other data indicates that he was originally from Switzerland. This fact adds support to the common scholarly belief that Britain was settled from the Continent.

Today we’ve the first results of more detailed analysis, and the archer is definitely from the vicinity of the Swiss Alps. In addition, we now know that the second skeleton found at the site, that of a younger man, aged 20 to 25, is related to the Archer. It is likely they were father and son. Analysis of his teeth shows the younger man grew up in southern England but may have spent his late teens in the Midlands or north-east Scotland.

This find has enormous potential for learning about Bronze age life; we’ve barely tapped the surface of the data. It will certainly change interpretations about the relationship of Bronze age people to Stonehenge.

Lighting the Spark: The Medieval Itty-Bitty Book Light

Metropolitan Museum of Art Hans Memling Annunciation detail
At the request of Janice Safran and Heather Blatt I’m posting this small detail from the Annunciation of 1465-75 produced by the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels, Belgium — possibly by Hans Memling— and in the collections of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sifran and Blatt are interested in hearing from anyone who’s seen a similar object in other images or heard one described in writing. They are presenting a paper on “Lighting the Spark: The Medieval Itty-Bitty Book Light” and are in hopes of locating similar images. They have already explored The Annunciation from the left wing of the Dijon Altarpiece (1393-99) by Melchior Broederlam in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, France; the Annunciation of 1482 by Hans Memling in Brugge, Belgium, also in the collections of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Londinium Plaque Discovered

The Italian marble plaque likely was created between 50 and 150 AD and would have been placed prominently either on a building or in a shrine. It was found in the Southwark (near the former location of the Tabard Inn of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) area of London at the junction of three key Roman roads. It bears a dedication inscription to the Roman emperors and the god Mars from London-based merchant Tiberinius Celerianus, a name with Northern Gaulish antecedents. There’s an image of the plaque here, in this CNN article.