Sedgeford Torc

Image courtesy JMiall  and Wikipedia Commons

Image courtesy JMiall and Wikipedia Commons

The Snettisham Torc is probably one of the most famous British Celtic artifacts, with good reason. It’s gorgeous, and exceedingly well made. A fair number of torcs have been discovered as parts of hoards in Britain, many of them in the Iceni territory around Norfolk. The so-called Sedgeford Torc was discovered in 1965. Recently archaeologists in Sedgeford, Norfolk, near the site of the original find the torc was part of, found what appears to be the missing terminus link of the torc. You’ll no doubt notice that despite the damage, the quality and style of the Sedgeford torc is strikingly similar to that of the Snettisham torcs, suggesting that they might have been made by the same artisan or group of artisans. I’m less than excited by the Boadicea/Boudicca link, though I grant you the location and quality of the torc would make it appropriate. And the description of Boudicca from Tacitus Annals 14., chapters 29-38 does refer explicitly to a torc, and they are associated in texts and iconography with high social status. Boudicca was an Iceni queen, who responded to Roman abuse with a rebellion in 60 A.D. that managed to burn Colchester and much of London before it was stopped. She probably died from a suicide dose of poison. Tacitus writes that Boudicca wore a torc, which of course encourages speculation that this torc was “hers.”

My Heid did Ake

Teresa wrote “Oh god my head somebody please just shoot me now.” My friend Jasmin also suffers from migraine. I thought of this poem, by William Dunbar, (c. 1460 – c. 1520) one of the so-called Scottish Chaucerians. The text is is in Middle Scots, rather then the more usual Chaucerian Middle English, so there are various dialectical differences, most of them northern forms (even Norse forms), rather than southern or London dialect, and some rare borrowings from Gaelic.

On His Heid-ake

MY HEID did yak yester nicht,
This day to mak that I na micht,
So sair the magryme dois me menyie,
Perseing my brow as ony ganyie,
That scant I luik may on the licht.

And now, schir, laitlie, eftir mes,
To dyt thocht I begowthe to dres,
The sentence lay full evill ill find,
Unsleipit in my heid behing,
Dullit in dulnes and distres.

Full oft at morrow I upryse,
Quhen that my curage sleipeing lyis,
For mirth, for menstrallie and play,

Margins and Meta Data

In his latest Info World column “Filling in the Margins,” Jon Udell writes:

Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) alumnus Austin Henderson says that “one of the most brilliant inventions of the paper bureaucracy was the idea of the margin.” There was always space for unofficial data, which traveled with the official data, and everybody knew about the relationship between the two.

As Udell makes clear, he’s paraphrasing the forthcoming research of Austin Henderson, and it’s an interesting comment. It’s not, however, quite accurate.

Yes, marginal glosses are used in medieval (and earlier—think Egyptian papyri) manuscripts just that way. But the “everybody knew about the relationship,” well, no, they didn’t, and no, we don’t. Those marginal comments, or glosses, were used by readers to make reflective annotations, to add reference material by other authorities, to make corrections, or even to doodle. Scribes also used margins to make corrections, or sometimes, just comments. And of course marginal comments weren’t restricted to the right and left margins, or even the top and bottom—readers made interlinear comments too, like these in the Book of Lindisfarne which provide Old English translations of the Latin Gospel. And then for certain texts, and classes of texts, the glosses were soon seen as a sort of textual appendix, one that was right on the page with the main text (what, you didn’t know hypertext was a manuscript tradition? Think of the Talmud.) Remember that manuscripts were copied by hand, often by professional scribes, in or out of the monastary, and often by private individuals. Professional or not, scribes get tired, and hungry, and have trouble with the light, and often, are copying texts in languages they can’t read. And sometimes, a scribe didn’t realize a marginal gloss was a gloss, and so the gloss was incorporated into the main text. OK, a lot of times— it happens so regularly that it’s a field of paleographic specialization. Once a gloss is incorporated into the body of a text, it’s frequently transmitted, so the error perpetuates, and even propagates.

My point, which I realize is somewhat divorced from John Udell’s context, is that as we work out semantic data and metadata and document standards, we need a way to do “digital marginalia” so that meta data identifying marginalia travels with it, because it’s a real pain comparing versions of an ancient text in an effort to determine whether text that appears corrupt is in fact part of the text, or a scribal error of addition. I don’t even want to think about doing that with a digital record.

Cornish Medieval Drama Bewnans Ke

Two years ago I posted about a newly discovered medieval Cornish Saint’s Play. Dr. O. J. Padel of Cambridge University has kindly made available a .pdf file of his transcript of National Library of Wales MS.
23,849D here.

Dr. Padel points out that initial assumptions that the manuscript contained fragments of two plays, one about Saint Ke, and one on an Arthurian subject, was inaccurate; it is a single play about St. Ke which contains a section referring to Arthur, present now only as a fragment. Scholars have adopted the name Bewnans Ke for the play, much as the only other extant medieval Cornish saint’s play, Bewnans Meriasek, the Life of Saint Meriasek, which exists in a single copy in MS. Peniarth 105, also in the National Library of Wales. Dr. Padel’s transcription is provided as a way of tiding us over until the edition by Graham Thomas and Nicholas Williams is available.