Free Ebook from RIA: Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks

Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks was edited by Fintan O’Toole and Catherine Marshall. The book, available as an ebook and as a printed book, traces the story of Ireland’s creative output from the revolutionary period until today. The book consists of 100 artworks created from 1916 (the year of the Easter Rising) to 2015, using each year as a spring board to trace the cultural history of Ireland. The works include visual works (paintings, sculptures, architecture) as well as literary; images of the visual works are included. The literary works are represented only by allusion and discussion in the short essays accompanying each piece. It’s interesting, though I suspect more interesting the more you know; I’m woefully ignorant of the visual arts of modern Ireland.

Print copies of the book can be purchased from the Royal Irish AcademyModern Ireland in 100 Artworks is a project of the Royal Irish Academy, in partnership with The Irish Times. The ebook, in both Mobi and EPub formats may be downloaded here.

Asterisk

Asterisk is one of those words in English that began as a noun, but is often used as a verb, with the meaning “To mark with an asterisk” (AHD s.v. asterisk). An asterisk is:

n.

1. A star-shaped figure (*) used chiefly to indicate an omission, a reference to a footnote, or an unattested word, sound, or affix.
2. Mathematics A symbol used to indicate multiplication, as in 2 * 3 = 6.

Etymologically speaking, asterisk (present in Middle English) derives from Late Latin asteriscus, from Greek asteriskos, diminutive of astēr, “star.” Asterisk, Aster, and Star are all derived from the Proto Indo-European root *ster-3.

Our practice of using an asterisk to identify things as particularly important, or as a reference to mark that there’s a note or comment about an item has a Classical heritage:

The practice of using a star-shaped sign, an asterisk, began in Ptolemaic Alexandria where the great textual scholar Aristophanes of Byzantium and his student Aristarchus of Samothrace used them to mark repeated lines in the Iliad and Odyssey. Several centuries later the prolific (and self-mutilated) Christian theologian Origen began to employ asterisks in a different way, to signal the omission of certain passages in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This usage gradually spread as a sign of something missing or hidden, and hence—at the end of a complex trail that winds through classical editions, Bibles, and pornography—when you type your password on the computer, the letters and numbers often show up as a string of asterisks (The Classical Tradition. Edited by Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, and Salvatore Settis. Harvard University Press, 2013. via Stephen Greenblatt and Joseph Leo Koerner “Glories of Classicism.” New York Review of Books. February 21, 2013). 

Coulee

If you know anyone from Eastern Montana, you likely have heard them refer to coulees. In Montana and most of the Western U.S., a coulee is “A deep gulch or ravine with sloping sides, often dry in summer” (AHD s.v. coulee). While coulee means different things in other places (a stream bed or even a bayou or canal in Louisiana and Southern Mississippi, a valley with hills on either side, or a lava flow), I want to focus on the Montana definition of coulee.

Writer Kari Lynn Dell, novelist and Montana resident defines a coulee this way:

It’s smaller than a valley, wider than a ravine, deeper and longer than a draw. In our area they have been carved by creeks into the flat plain left behind after the massive glacial sheets of ice retreated back to the mountains at the end of the last ice age. Since the word is of French origin, I assume we have the early French Canadian trappers to thank for its prevalence, given that they were the first white men to venture into this area. 

Go look at her post; she’s got pictures of culees. And subscribe to her blog Montana For Real; it’s one of my favorites. 
Etymologically coulee entered English via Canadian French coulée, from French couler “to flow”; derived from Latin  colare, “to filter,” which derived from the noun colum or “sieve.”

Ériu Special Compilation Issue

Ériu, a journal from the Royal Irish Academy, has published a special compilation issue in honor of the International Conference of Medievalists. The articles are all reprints, but they are some stellar reprints, and you can read them or download the .pdfs without a subscription to Ériu.

The complete table of contents contains links to download .pdfs of the articles. Here are some that are particularly noteworthy:

Calvert Watkins — “Sick-maintenance in Indo-European.”

Donnchadh Ó Corráin. “The education of Diarmait Mac Murchada.”

T.M. Charles-Edwards. “Early Irish Saints’ Cults and their Constituencies.”

R. I. Best. “Notes on the script of Lebor na hUidre.”

July from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

July calendar page from the Tres Riche Heures de Jean Duc de BerryThis is the July calendar image from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. It shows wheat being harvested in a field to the left, while on the right a man and a woman are shearing sheep. The labors of the month are so very dependent on local seasons, and the cooperation of the weather, that it’s not really surprising to see sheep-sheering as a labor for June and July.

In the background is one of the Jean de Berry’s many castles; exactly which castle is in question (only three of his many castles are still extant). If you look very closely at the bottom left of the image, and in the river in front of the castle in the back ground, you can see swans. The swan is one of Jean de Berry’s heraldic devices (the bear is another; and his arms bear the royal fleur de lys).

Calendar Page for June from The Golf Book

British Library Additional MS 24098 The Golf Book ff. 23v–24r. Bruges, workshop of Simon Bening c. 1540s

The calendar pages for June typically feature the zodiac symbols associated with Cancer the crab. The labors for the month are often the wheat harvest (reaping), or cutting hay and raking it to dry first in windrows and then stacks, or sometimes, sheep-shearing. Sometimes calendar images for June show a fallow field being plowed and re-seeded, or, as the seasonal rhyme for the labors of the months notes “Junij And I wede my corne well I-now,” June was often a time for weeding.

In this pair of leaves from the British Library’s Golf Book, on the left is an atypical but nonetheless appropriate scene showing a tournament, a formal series of contests and games of a martial sort, participated in by aristocrats who could afford the time, equipment and horses necessary for upper class sport.

In the larger version of f. 23v above, you can see two mounted knights in armor with swords in hand oin the front, a trumpeter serving as herald on the top left, and another pair of mounted knights jousting with long wooden jousting lance, and more mounted knights waiting for their turn on the right. Behind the knights is the wooden fence marking off the tiltyard. In the foreground, on the dirt, are a number of broken lances. Below the central image is a series of small decorative images in the border shows men or teenaged boys playing with hobby-horses, and toy windmills.

The right-hand folio is the actual calendar for June, with the astrological symbol for Cancer, the crab in the border on the right. Below the calendar is a pastoral scene showing shepherds shearing sheep.

The border from the base of the June calendar page from the British Library’s Golf book f.24r

You’ll notice that modern sheep shearing is remarkably similar. The sheep is turned onto its back, the shearer may throw a leg over the sheep to help keep it still, and the object is (still) to have a continuous fleece, rather than a bundle of strips.

Image credit: © Jenni Gray

 

 

 

June from Très Riches Heures

June from the Très Riches Heures. Limbourg brothers c.  Ms. 65 in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France. c. 1412–1416

The favored labor of June often varies in books of hours. In colder regions, like England and Germany, the hay harvest is often associated with July, with weeding the labor for June. In sunny France, the labor of June in books of hours was often haying. This is the case in the June calendar illumination of the Très Riches Heures. In the background the towers of the Duke’s Paris residence, the hôtel de Nesle, rise across the Seine. Once it was the royal residence of King Charles VI (before he moved to the Louvre), now it is the Palais de Justice. The two orange conical towers belong to the Conciergerie, the prison where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned in 1793. On the far right you can see the Gothic splendor of Sainte Chapelle, including the cross on the spire and the stained glass window.

In the foreground you can see haying as the labor of June. Two women rake the mowed hay, after it has been allowed to dry, into piles. Behind them to the right three men swinging scythes mow the hay. Once again, the level of detail is impressive. There’s someone in a boat on the Seine, figures on the stairs at the entrance of the Palace, and smoke rising from the chimney.

Welsh

The word Welsh can refer to the Celtic language of Wales, called Cymric in that language, or it can be an adjective referring to  items related to “Wales or its people, language or culture” (AHD s.v. Welsh. The etymology of Welsh is interesting. Etymologically, the word Welsh entered Modern English via the Middle English Walische, derived from Old English Wælisc, from Old English Wealh, “foreigner.” The plural form of wealh, wealas, gave us the Modern English word Wales.

There’s a certain irony that the Germanic-speaking invaders refer to the previous inhabitants of Britain, the Celtic speaking ancestors of modern Welsh, as “foreigners,” but to the English, the people “over there,” across the border in Wales, were “foreign,” if not “enemies,” and in some contexts, the word Wælisc does in fact seem to be a synonym for “enemies.”

Image courtesy Publicdomainpictures.net

As the note in the AHD entry for Wales mentions, Welsh derives from the I.E. root walh-, as does the OE word for walnut; walhhnutu. This word, is a surviving in a single c. 1050 ms. is a compound of wal + nut and refers to the nut of the common walnut tree Juglans regia Juglans regis – Plant Finder . Old English Walhhnutu became Middle English walnotte and Modern English walnut. At the literal level, wal + nut means “foreign nut,” an apropos name for a tree brought to Britain by the Romans, and native to Eastern Europe and Asian minor.

Sheepish Idioms

As we move along the paths of technology and human invention, our skill sets and our language change along with our manner of life. But because so much of language, especially idiom, is built upon metaphor, as we lose understanding of past ways of living, those metaphors die, and become complicated literary allusions.

Take, for instance “dyed-on-the-wool,” which Ngaio Marsh used in a punning title of her mystery novel, Died in the Wool. The idiom really is “dyed,” and dyed-in-the-wool means, according to the AHD, “Thoroughgoing; out-and-out: a dyed-in-the-wool populist.” You usually see the idiom used in a political context, as in “Kennedy was a dyed in the wool Democrat.” SyedDin-the-wool can be used for other fields as well; I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Macintosh fan. The idiom derives from the practice of dying wool that has been washed, combed or “carded” to remove tangles and bits of trash, but which has not ye been spun into yarn. Wool dyed in after being washed and carded but before it is spun tends to be more thoroughly and permanently colored than wool dyed after it is spun.

In an historical, etymological context, the first recorded use of dyed in the wool as a metaphor (according to the OED) was by Richard Hooker in 1597. In  Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity Hooker commented that

Children as it were in the Wooll of their infancie died with hardnesse may neuer afterwards change colour” (V. lxxii. S18).

Dyed in the wool is very much a metaphor in Hooker’s use, a sheepish metaphor to express the idea that if people are raised from childhood accustomed to austerity and temperance, then the virtues of austerity and temperance will be part of them, as if dyed in the wool. Oddly, as the OED notes, dyed-in-the-wool is now much more common in American English than in British English, though the phrase should usually be hyphenated.

The similarly sheepish idiom of a bellwether day in reference to stocks; that’ an idiom derived from the wether, or castrated ram, who leads the flock and wears a bell around his neck. The AHD defines a bellwether as “One that serves as a leader or as a leading indicator of future trends.”This too is an idiom we inherited from Britain, but there, oddly, a “bell weather day” is a bad day; bellwether seems to refer to a negative or downward trend. The OED offers, in addition to the traditional sheep-with-bell definition, the following “a leader; contemptuously: the ring-leader, the worst of the lot.’In standard American use, while bellwether refers to a leader or leading trend, the phrase is neutral. Sheep will follow a bellwether over a cliff, or into a canyon, no matter how foolish the action, so the idiom is not without natural cause. Indeed, we still use the phrase “like lambs to the slaughter, ” to refer to someone who unquestioningly follows others, no matter how life threatening and dangerous their action may be.

There are other sheepish idioms preserved as metaphoric fossils in English. We might also think of the phrase black sheep to refer to  a sheep with black or dark wool, but black sheep also can mean “One who is considered disreputable or disgraceful by his or her relatives or associates.” We count sheep, a thankless, difficult and often boring task when we wish to fall asleep. We refer to someone who is reticent, even shy, as sheepish. We also use sheepish to refer to someone who has been “Embarrassed, as by consciousness of a fault,” often in the phrase “sheepish grin.”

May from the Queen Mary Psalter

A fifteenth century Middle English anonymous lyric about the labors of the seasons asserts that in May “I am as lyght as byrde in bowe.” That certainly describes the typical May calendar images in books of hours Maying, courting, and hawking and horseback riding.

I’ve written about books of hours calendar pages for May featuring bringing in the May, and boating; riding is another popular May calendar image, particularly images showing a young gentleman riding with a hawk in hand. John Trevisa’s translation of Bartholomeus Angelicas’ (Bartholomew the Englishman) encyclopedia De proprietatibus rerum (On the Properties of Things) in the section on the calendar and time, says of May:

For May is a tyme of solas and of likinge, therefore he is ipeynt a yonglyng, riding and bering a fowl on his honde.1)Book 9 De temporibus On time and motion

May is a time of joy and of pleasure, therefore May is depicted as a youth, riding and bearing a hawk on his hand.

Queen Mary’s Psalter calendar page for May British Library Royal 2 B VII f. 75v England c. 1310 – 1320

The May calendar image from the British Library’s Queen Mary’s Psalter (BL Royal 2 B VII) perfectly fits Bartholomeaus’ description. The central portrait at the top of the page shows a young male aristocrat on horseback, a hawk on his hand. Below the illumination are the feast days for the month of May.

The Queen Mary Psalter was produced in England, possibly in the area of London/Westminster, or East Anglia between 1310 and 1320. The text is in Latin, with captions for some images in French. The script is Gothic; Textualis prescissa for the calendar and Psalter and Textualis rotunda for the captions on the prefatory prayer cycle. The entire psalter is the work of a single scribe known as the Queen Mary Master.

Although the psalter is named for Queen Mary Tudor (1516 — 1558), daughter of King Henry VIII, it predates her some two hundred or so years. Obviously made for someone with aristocratic status, it’s not really clear who had the psalter created, and several people owned it before George II in 1757 presented to the British Museum as part of the Old Royal Library. There’s a good post about the The Queen Mary Psalter on the British Library’s official blog.

The illumination at the top of the calendar page, shown in detail below, shows a youth on horse, his hawk in hand, flanked by peers also bearing hawks.

Queen Mary’s Psalter calendar page for May British Library Royal 2 B VII f. 75v Detail England c. 1310 – 1320

Chaucer in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales describes the Knight’s young son, traveling with his father as his squire; the squire is described as

A lovyere and a lusty bacheler;
With lokkes crulle, as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse (General Prologue ll. 80–82).

The emphasis on on the youth and vitality of the Squire. Chaucer further describes the appearance of the squire in terms of his clothing:

Embrouded was he, as it were a meede,
Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede;
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day,
He was as fressh as is the monthe of May (General Prologue ll. 89–92).

The Squire’s portrait Ellesmere Chaucer, Huntington Library

The direct comparison to the “monthe of May” is particularly interesting, given that the squire in the Ellesmere portrait looks as if he has ridden out of a calendar page for May. His curly hair, his cape embroidered “as if it were a meadow,” even his horse, are reminiscent of the May portraits of aristocratic youths on horses, though he has no hawk on hand. He is an embodiment of youth and vitality, or as John Trevisa put it, “a yongling.”

References   [ + ]

1. Book 9 De temporibus On time and motion