Posts Tagged ‘Cultural history’

Martin Best, The Dawn of Romance, HMV, 1978

Bernard de Ventadourn

Now when I see the skylark lift
His wings for joy in dawn’s first ray
Then let himself, oblivious, drift
For all his heart is glad and gay,
Ay! such great envies seize my thought
To see the rapture that others find,
I marvel that desire does not
Consume away this heart of mine.

Alas, I thought I’d grown so wise;
In love I had so much to learn:
I can’t control this heart that flies
To her who pays love no return.
Ay! now she steals, through love’s sweet theft,
My heart, my self, my world entire;
She steals herself and I am left
Only this longing and desire.

Losing control, I’ve lost all right
To rule my life; my life’s her prize
Since first she showed me true delight
In those bright mirrors, her two eyes.
Ay! once I’d caught myself inside
Her glances, I’ve been drowned in sighs,
Dying as fair Narcissus died
In streams that mirror captive skies.

Deep in despair, I’ll place no trust
In women though I did before;
I’ve been their champion so it’s just
That I renounce them evermore;
When none will lift me from my fall
When she has cast me down in shame,
Now I distrust them, one and all,
I’ve learned too wee they’re all the same.

She acts as any woman would—
No wonder I’m dissatisfied;
She’ll never do the things she should;
She only wants all that’s denied.
Ay! now I fall in deep disgrace,
A fool upon love’s bridge am I;
No one knows how that could take place
Unless I dared to climb too high.

All mercy’s gone, all pity lost—
Though at the best I still knew none—
Since she who should yield mercy most
Shows me the least of anyone.
Wrongful it seems, now, in my view,
To see a creature love’s betrayed
Who’d seek no other good but you,
Then let him die without your aid.

Since she, my Lady, shows no care
To earn my thanks, nor pays Love’s rights
Since she’ll not hear my constant prayer
And my love yields her no delights,
I say no more; I silent go;
She gives me death; let death reply.
My Lady won’t embrace me so
I leave, exiled to pain for aye.

Tristan, you’ll hear no more from me:
I leave to wander, none knows where;
Henceforth all joys in love I’ll flee
And all my songs I Now forswear.

From: Kehew, Robert (ed.), Lark in the Morning: The verses of the Troubadours. A Bilingual Edition, 2005, The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, pp. 75-77.
(https://books.google.com.au/books?id=q41XiQ_OY-MC)

Date: 12th century (original in Occitan); 1998 (translation in English)

This is an amazing and heart-warming story.

For all those times we doubt if humanity could ever raise its head out of the mud of its selfishness, here is one stepping stone to dry land.

Story? It is reportage, of a small city in Belgium, Geel, that has opened its doors to the mentally ill… for centuries. Since the fifteenth century.
And the custom continues. 

Based on the legend of Irish king’s daughter, Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of mental illness, the then town took to her. It was here that she died/martyred by the madness of her father, and it’s here, to her shrine, that pilgrims come to pay homage.

The city has become a resource centre for psychiatric and psychology research; a hub of knowledge; an example of what can be achieved.

The writer is Derek Blythe, British journalist, and frequent contributor to The High Road to Culture…pages. For more on Derek Blythe, see:

https://flandersintheuk.be/en/in-the-spotlight-derek-blyth

Here is the link to, once again, the excellent High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands site.

Follow the links.

https://www.the-low-countries.com/article/mad-about-geel

And the street art in Geel is phenomenal. In the Netherlands also public art and street art is high standard, and plentiful.

The article also tells us:
One of the oldest reggae festivals in Europe, Reggae Geel was launched by a group of friends in 1978. After a modest beginning, it has evolved into a major summer festival that brings some of the best Jamaican music to Geel.

Yep, this article is a great read.
Highly recommended.

https://www.the-low-countries.com/article/mad-about-geel

                                      “Nay,
Be still,” I answered, “do not wake the child!”
 — For so, my two-months’ baby sleeping lay
In milky dreams upon the bed and smiled,
   And I thought “He shall sleep on, while he may,
Through the world’s baseness: not being yet defiled,
   Why should he be disturbed by what is done?”
Then, gazing, beheld the long-drawn street
   Live out, from end to end, full in the sun,
With Austria’s thousand; sword and bayonet,
   Horse, foot, artillery, — cannons rolling on
Like blind slow storm-clouds gestant with the heat
   Of undeveloped lightnings, each bestrode
By a single man, dust-white from head to heel,
   Indifferent as the dreadful thing he rode,
Like a sculpted Fate serene and terrible.
   As some smooth river which has overflowed
Will slow and silent down its current wheel
   A loosened forest, all the pines erect,
So swept, in mute significance of storm,
   The marshalled thousands; not an eye deflect
To left or right, to catch a novel form
   Of Florence city adorned by architect
And carver, or of Beauties live and warm
   Scared at the casements, — all, straightforward eyes
And faces, held as steadfast as their swords
   And cognizant of acts, not imageries.

From CASA GUIDI WINDOWS, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1851

The excerpt describes the entry of the Austrian army into Florence at request of the Duke of Florence, an Austrian, on the collapse of attempts to re-unify Italy: the Risorgimento. The three leaders most identified with this were Guiseppi Mazzini, Carlo Cattaneo, and Guiseppi Garibaldi.

The imagery here is startling: the pregnant storm-clouds, and connected with those the flooded river carrying away fallen river banks still cohering around trees. 
The image of destruction is compounded by the silent, contained, aspect of relentlessness: the soldiers as images of Fates. 

The measured language and form of the poem contain and constrain huge energies. Within that containment is a huge emotional sweep.

Wiki tells us:
… exiles were deeply immersed in European ideas, and often hammered away at what Europeans saw as Italian vices, especially effeminacy and indolence. These negative stereotypes emerged from Enlightenment notions of national character that stressed the influence of the environment and history on a people’s moral predisposition. Italian exiles both challenged and embraced the stereotypes and typically presented gendered interpretations of Italy’s political “degeneration”. They called for a masculine response to feminine weaknesses as the basis of national regeneration and fashioned their image of the future Italian nation firmly in the standards of European nationalism.

Notions like these also constrained English gender relations.
And yet, as evidenced here, Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her writing, was far from the standard image of the fragile, weak, female.

I so enjoyed researching this piece, that I thought I’d repost it.

It was the summer of 1618, and the poet and, yes, dramatist, Ben Jonson, was at the height of his fame and powers.
I emphasise dramatist, because shortly before this date Ben Jonson had published his Works, in which he included his dramatic works. This was not done – at that time dramatic scripts were not considered ‘works’ but throw-away pieces. He received a lot of criticism for this; he was by then inured to the extremes that criticism could reach, his part in the ‘War of the Theatres’ had been bloody, hard, and he had had to concede defeat. For Ben Jonson’s character, defeat was not easily admitted, or lived with, and yet he had swallowed it the best he could.

So, in 1618, July 8th, Ben Jonson set out on an epic journey; it was well-advertised to interested parties.

He was to walk from London to Edinburgh. 450 miles.

He took the Great North Road out of London, up country, meeting the coast near Alnwick, Northumberland, whereon he followed the coast road twisting and turning, up and down braes, to follow the road right around to Edinburgh, coming in from Leith, on September 6th.

– A friend of my son’s walked to London from Cambridge one day: it took a punishing 12 hours. Ben Jonson’s walk took him 60 days.
The friend was fit and young; Ben Jonson had acquired his legendary girth of 20 stone in weight. He was also 46 years old, rather older than middle-age, for those times.
At the beginning of his career Ben Jonson was nick-named ‘the anatomy,’ due to his lean-ness: tall and thin.
How time was to change him.

What was the purpose of this walk? It can be considered a huge publicity stunt: he was, as all were, constantly on the look out for patronage, and Royal patronage was the best paid. He was, in effect, purposely celebrating the journey made by King James I/VI of Scotland – in reverse. The name Jonson, was also, through his father’s side, a Scottish Border name, from Johnstone, of Annandale. By acknowledging the Scottish name, he was therefore cementing his link, and also his credentials, to further a further suit with King James.

He stayed in Edinburgh six months, and then undertook the return journey, following the same route.

His journey has been tracked, and meticulously noted: see the map: http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/ben-jonsons-walk/map/

It was thought for a long time he undertook the journey alone. Rather recently, though, papers have been unearthed in the Cheshire Archives, which give detailed notes on the journey, in another’s hand.
The paper was not signed, and describes the walk as a Foot Voyage.

For much of the way, then, he had a travelling companion, a member of the Aldersley (sic) Family perhaps, among whose effects the notes were found. Was this a relative of the 1st Baronet, John Thomas Stanley, 1597–1672? The family are connected to the Earl of Derby, and the Baron Sheffield.
The Stanleys came in for some criticism in Alan Garners’ 1976 novella, The Stone Book.

The Alderleys, called, confusingly, the Stanley Family, are connected with what is now the affluent dormitory town of Alderley, properly known as Alderley Edge, and a place well known the readers of young adult fiction, and general fiction writer, Alan Garner. His earliest, and latest book are set there: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, and the latest, Boneland, (2012).

*

Ben Jonson noted that his shoes gave out by the time he had reached Darlington, near Newcastle. That was not bad going, actually. He had another pair made, and suffered them for the next few days, until he wore them in.

What we know of Jacobean male footwear is scanty, and restricted to court fashions, and further, to what was depicted in portraits from the period.
During the late Elizabethan era, however,  pamphletting was taking off. One such practitioner was Philip Stubbes, a puritan. He inveighed against  ‘unchristian’ workplace practices. We have to thank him for the details he provides of such practices of the time. One of which was, shoe making.
http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-shoes.

He tells us the leather was soaked in liquor for hardening, then well greased. The fraudulence was in the use of, for example, the more thinner, fragile, calf instead of cow hide and, controversially, horse skin instead of ox-hides. They were always, he insisted, cat-skin lined.
The sewing was done with hot needles and twine. He says the shoes were then heated by the fire to harden them. We can only presume this was a fraudulent practice.

What of the soles? He does not mention soles. Heeled boots for men became fashionable in the late Elizabethan  period; the heels were of wood. Would workmen’s – brick-layers, as with Ben Jonson’s early life – also use wooden soles? Wooden pattens were still in use in the period.

*

Ben Jonson’s stay in Edinburgh reached its summit in his long sojourn with William Drummond, of Hawthornden Castle. This lasted from December, 1618, until early Spring, 1619, and his return journey. What eased the familiarity of their company was that William Drummond owned, and continually added to, one of the best libraries in Britain, at that time. Both men were avid bibliophiles.
We also have William Drummonds’ notes on the sojourn: a commentary on Ben Jonson’s conversation, but without his own input.

One incident particularly spoiled Ben Jonson’s epic of his walk and sojourn in Scotland. That was the arrival, a few week’s after himself, of ‘self-styled… poet’ (Ben Jonson, His Life and Work, by Rosalind Miles, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), John Taylor, the ‘sculler’, or water, poet. The name derives from his previous occupation as a Thames waterman. He was born in Gloucestershire, and became a boatman/ferryman in Kent – the Sheppey region.
I am always surprised at the mobility of people in those times: Shakespeare’s travels from Warwickshire to possibly Lancashire, but definitely to London, was seen as no big step.

King James applauded John Taylor’s writing, preferring him above Sir Philip Sidney (perhaps out of a sense of mischief?). Ben Jonson was indeed put out by his arrival, having walked all the way, the same route, as he himself had. He became convinced his London rivals had put John Taylor up to this, to mock his own feat. It was vigorously denied, and to a believable extent. Although John Taylor did indulge later in spectacular stunts, such as manning and sailing a real paper boat into London.
http://theshakespeareblog.com/2012/07/john-taylor-the-water-poet/
also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Taylor_(poet).

Ah, but John Taylor had not the high connections of Ben Jonson, in Edinburgh; nor was he made Freeman of the City, as Jonson was.

On his return to London he found several things had changed. For one, the Queen had died. This was soon followed by the death of principle Elizabethan actor Richard Burbage. A national loss, and a more localised one; but the public stage had lost two important players.
The Queen’s death put his own suit with King James on a back burner.

If any reader is looking for an introduction, way in, to Ben Jonson’s poetic works, I would heartily recommend the Thom Gunn selection, on Penguin:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ben-Jonson-Selected-Thom-Gunn/dp/0571226795/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509452382&sr=1-1&keywords=ben+jonson%2C+thom+gunn

In the Egyptian section of my small local museum I came across two odd little objects.  
These are artefacts from the Marianne Brocklehurst Ancient Egyptian collection.

There are unglazed ceramics, quite crudely made at first glance. But when you look closely they are full of detail – there is an outside stair to the roof, on one; another has domestic details.

Both has a dark chamber behind pillars. This is what caught my imagination: imagine if… souls exist, if a soul still dwelt there!

2014-02-21 08.40.32

I looked up some background details on this objects.

From Egyptian prehistoric times to the Vth Dynasty (Old Kingdom 2750-2625 or 2494-2345BCE) for the wealthy merchants and inhabitants, there was a mat laid on the grave, and on the mat a sort of flat pan for food offerings.

Running concurrently with this was the use of a carved stone table for offerings (III Dynasty, 2980-2900 or 2686-2613).

The stone table was copied in the form of a pottery tray (X Dynasty, First Intermediate Period, 2445-2160 or 2181-2160)

A shelter was added, copied, it has been suggested, from the form of  a Bedawy tent.

A shelter on columns was added (?)

The shelter gained columnar foreground.

A ‘hut’ was put into the portico.

Chambers were added.

Wind openings were added

It gained roof courts.

Verandahs were added to the roof.

It became a complete two-storey house/building.

Furnishing and furniture were added: couch, chair, stool, fireplace, water jars. It even gained the figure of a woman making bread.

2014-02-21 08.45.41

There were two Death books in ancient Egypt: what we know as The Book of the Dead, which is a collection of coffin texts, spells and incantations. The other is an earlier piece known as the Book of the Two Ways. These two ways were two means by which the soul (ba) or spirit (ka) negotiated the after-death existence. In one the ba could take residence with the sun during the day, but must return to the tomb at night. The other was far more dangerous, here the ka travelled through the night land with the sun on its journey back to day. It had to negotiate dangers and challenges, monsters and evil spirits. The end of this was a paradise, a ‘field of offering’ from where the spirit could possibly be accepted to spend eternity with the great spirits.

In each case the families of the deceased had to leave offerings of food, as well as grave goods. The food offerings had to be regularly renewed. The ka and ba partook of the essence of the food to sustain it on its journey, and through its travails.

This also demonstrated that the family of the deceased were of sufficient quality, had respect for tradition, and the deceased, and sufficiently wealthy to keep up the food offerings through the lean parts of the year, and periods of scarcity.

Soul houses were then the constructs of wealthy merchants; they became the desirable resting place of what could be called more upwardly mobile people.

2014-02-21 08.45.02

SOUL HOUSES

Footnote

I cannot check, as yet, what period(s) the ones on display are from, or from what vicinity.

I do wonder, though, whether they should be returned to Egypt. Copies can be made, though perhaps not that easily.
As for the inhabitants… do the souls of the dead, long dead, recognise territories? Would they not recognise, instead, the family, its devotions? Families can travel anywhere/everywhere; devotion to a memory/ancestor travels with them.

And after all this time, is not that soul’s traverse of the underworld now completed, no longing needing the sustenance of offerings?

The title phrase ‘Cid’ is from an Arabic word sidi/sayyid, ‘Sir.
Nor are the Moors in the tale portrayed as badly as in ‘The Song of Roland’. There are many examples of the Cid taking and being received by Moors as friends. There is a lot of in-fighting amongst the Muslim inhabitants in the tale: towns held by the Cid earlier on are grateful to him for his releasing them with property and lives intact as he moved out to take on the bigger rulers, the ones who also had laid burdens on the smaller towns.

We see in the history of the Alhambra in Granada how the delightful gardens witnessed much slaughter and bloodshed by rival Muslim rulers. It is important here to distinguish between the Umayyad Arabic rule, based at Cordoba, and the new incursions of warlike Berbers from North Africa. The Berbers overthrew the settled Muslim rule and threw Muslim Spain into chaos as they vied for power and control amongst themselves (Introduction, Night and Horses and the Desert – An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature, by R Irwin).

1
One source states, that the entire work was divided into three parts in 1910. This has significance; although the text itself does divide into sections by explicitly stating ends and beginnings in the places the cantares are introduced. The only ambiguous one is the last one: the cantare begins with the humiliation of the Infantes in the ‘lion episode’, whilst the Penguin Classics edition begins it on the marriage betrothal of the Cid’s daughters, prior to this, and where the Infantes come into the story fully.

2
In the first cantare we meet the Cid, his devoted friends, his family – he had just been banished from Castile. We don’t know why, because the first page of the ms is missing, and no copy has yet turned up.

He left his family at the monastery, had a dream of greatness, and then had to go out from Castile. None were allowed, on pain of death, to sell him food, or allow him a bed for the night.
He had to plan a ruse to raise money to fund his foray, and support his followers.
Once outside of Castile he first of all planned and executed raids on Muslim townships along a river course. Each was successful, through the Cid’s use of tactics. He was able to send back his first gift to King Alfonzo. Following this he planned a much more difficult raid among a bigger series of towns. This raid involved planning, trickery and subterfuge; he gained great prestige and booty from this.

We see the cantare begin with the Cid’s banishment from Castile, and it end with the restoration of the Count of Barcelona to his freedom and region. The high point of the cantare must surely be the presentation of the first gift to King Alfonzo. It followed from this act that the Cid’s’ followers were pardoned for their part in helping him, and allowed home.
Home is the hidden theme here, that informs beginning, middle and end of the cantare.

The second cantare has three main raids: one in the Levantine, the second in the towns surrounding Valencia, including the lengthy siege of the city. Then he settled the city as a reconquered Christian city.
The emir of Seville was defeated in battle, and much booty gained.
The Cid set up a Christian bishopric, and was henceforth allowed restitution of his family. They all settled in Valencia.
The last battle was with King Yusuf of Morocco.
This was by far the greatest. The spoils were magnificent. He sent back his greatest gift to King Alfonzo, and won his own pardon.
His renown as a great and wealthy warrior was settled.

The two main battles book-end the seizure of Valencia, whose capture depicted a very prolonged siege as a battle of wills between Spain and Moor. The battle with the emir of Seville ran concurrently with the winning of Valencia.

This is surely the centre of the poem. All changes from here; from now on the whole tone of the poem is different. The latter part of the poem is concerned with justice under Spanish law, whereas the first parts were concerned winning prestige – is there a hint of injustice in his exile? – wealth and a reputation for loyalty and honesty. That is, of winning back his place in the Spanish sphere of civility and legality.

Throughout, the poem set out to prove the Cid’s loyalty and honourable character.
One under-theme image is the beard of the Cid; he vowed never to cut it (or have it travestied) until he won restitution. All through the poem are references to his beard: well, the poem does take years to run the story’s course: even the King was outclassed by the Cid’s beard! Ok, but the point being the beard is a mark of the Cid’s commitment to the cause, and an emblem of his prestige.

3

The first cantare saw the Cid banished, cut off from family and legal recourse. He fought three campaigns against the Moors of Henares, the Jalon River, and the Jiloca River. At each he won bounty and wealth.

In the last cantare of the poem we saw three legal challenges to the treachery of the Infantes whereby the Cid reclaimed his generously given wealth; and also three duels – one duel per campaign. He won back, by recourse to Spanish law, his position and prestige.

We began (despite the lost first page) with the Cid realising his banishment from Castile (a metonym for Christian Spain), and end with the Cid helping unite Spain through marriage. The central event also echoed in this, where we saw the Cid settle Valencia and environs for Christian Spain, but also establish a Christian bishopric there under battling Bishop Jeronimo.

The reverse order of events is encapsulated in the court case: the lawsuit, the duels, the marriages (laisses 135-52).

So, yes, it does work. We have a ring of the whole poem, and as in true classical style, the three smaller rings of the cantares.

But where did Per Abbad learn of the structure? So little has come down from pre-Moorish Spain. But what of Mozarabic Spain? I may have to hunt out Arabic sources, but also perhaps Sephardic as well.

4

We see in the Penguin edition of ‘The Cid’ what has been called the prosification of the poem. The term is relatively self-explanatory; the implications, however, are not. With prosification goes the break-down of the line; epithets and formulas are lost, as their function in the line is lost.
As we know from chiasmic and particularly ring construction, these play an important structural role, indicating a parallelism, point of special notice or as rhythmic notifier.
Benjamin Smith notes the symmetry that chiasmus gives to a work is important to its message. He examples the interior chiasmic form in the lines 2402-3, ‘Los de mio Çid a los de Búcar de las tiendas los sacan,/ sácanlos de las tiendas, cáenlos en alcazas’, as the form  A B C C B A. This is a particularly interesting chiasmus because it is the only instance where we bridge two stanzas, 117 and 118.
The translation has it: ‘The Cid’s men drove Bucor’s men out of their tents.// When they had driven them out they fell to the pursuit.’
What we see here, what we can say the chiasmus is drawing out attention to, is how the poem is skillfully structured to emphasise an ongoing action that changes as the fortunes of the two parties change. The Cid here encounters Muslim King Bucor outside Valencia, and the battle turns in the Cid’s favour.

 We begin to see here how richly textured the text is in the original Spanish. This written text also appears to be richly structured, with many inner treasures and smaller rings. Perhaps this implies the poem was also a part of a national treasury, for which read a cultural heirloom of sorts.

The Song of Roland is reputedly one of, if not the actual, oldest of the medieval French chansons de geste, or songs of deeds.

The Song first made its appearance in this form in the twelfth century, shortly after the First Crusade. This is important because, although it is based on an actual incident in 778AD, the twist in the chanson de geste version is very important.

The actual incident concerned King Charlemagne, and his being approached by Saracen rulers in Spain for help in dealing with a mutual Saracen enemy. He agreed and entered Spain with them, conquered two major cities, and was besieging Saragossa, when he was called away. He left Spain via the Pyrenees pass of Roncevaux. Here his rearguard was attacked by Basques, who slaughtered them to a man, and left with their goods. It was Basque territory.

The version in the geste has the Saracens the enemy throughout, and the attack on the rearguard an agreement between a renegade Frenchman and the Saracens. The composer of the piece, like his audience, knew next to nothing of Islam, and so we come across some absurdities, some crazy assumptions.

It is very important for the story-line to remember that Count Roland of Brittany was the nephew of Charlemagne, and that it was rivalry with his step-father  – as in the old folk tales, and modern life – Ganelon, that caused his death.

The Song of Roland consists of 291 ‘laisses’, that is, stanzas, of varying length. They all follow the same strict metrical pattern, however: this is syllabic verse, and each line is strictly ten syllables in length.

Each line consists of ten syllables, divided roughly down the middle by a pause or rest. The rhythm of the line is formed by strong stresses falling on the fourth and tenth syllables. Within a single laisse, the separate lines are linked by assonance—a partial rhyme in which the accented vowel sounds are the same but the consonants differ, as in “brave” and “vain,” for instance. The vowel sound repeated through one laisse never carries on to the next. Since the poet has divided his song into laisses according to the sense and not any standard length—for instance, a new laisse will begin when one combat or speech ends and the next begins—this use of assonance reinforces the divisions of plot, of action.

The death of Roland occurs in the middle of the piece. The second half is then taken up with Charlemagne’s revenge. The first half shows the treason of Ganelon, the build-up to the central fight scene.

The ending is really quite poignant. We see Charlemagne wearied with fighting, having dealt with Ganelon, sitting down at long last. Only to be met with new calls of his warrior ship: ‘How weary is this life.’ he says.

The first appearance of the chanson was as one of many legends and tales that circulated on pilgrim trails, and in local courts and gatherings.

At just about 4000 lines it required quite a feat of memory. And so the tale is structured in such a way, with parallels, repetitions of motifs, events etc, that once the main structure was grasped the reciter could riff with rather detailed subject matter fully, and with skill.

It is structured so as to be symmetrical through and through. The poem is centered around four great scenes which balance each other perfectly.
At the very beginning we have Ganelon’s (stepfather) crime; at the very end we have his punishment.
Around the center of the tale, Roland’s martyrdom and Charlemagne’s vengeance face and mirror each other, both taking the shape of great battles, presented in a parallel order, at Roncesvals.
Ganelon’s successful treachery and Roland’s early death temporarily set the scales of good and evil askew; the events of the rest of the poem then set them right.

The many repetitions and parallel passages of the poem contribute to the total sense of purpose and symmetry.
For instance, the similarities between how the battle between Roland’s rear guard and Marsilla’s army, and the battle between Charlemagne’s and Baligant’s men, reinforce the poet’s point that one battle is the mirror-image of the other, that Charlemagne’s triumph over Baligant is perfect revenge for the Saracen ambush.

The order in which the two battles are presented is the same; first there is the inventory of the two opposing forces as they assemble themselves, then, when they meet on the field, the threats and boasts and first blows. Each one-on-one combat, besides the most remarkable and important ones such as that between Charlemagne and Baligant, takes up one laisse, and all are described in the same language.
Comparing the various rather gory ways in which the warriors kill each other, one sees immediately that each description is a slight variation on all the others. Ideally, the effect of such repetition is a sense of ceremonious consistency and rhythm.

Rather than running along at a consistent pace, the narrative consists of certain scenes where time is slowed down so much that it almost stands still, suspending the noble and the wicked gestures of the characters mid-air, with bits of quick summary providing the connection from one tableau to the next.

This rhythm is particularly clear and easy to pick out toward the beginning of the poem, in the first fifty or so laisses. After some quick exposition in the first laisse, we get the council of Marsilla presented as if it were a drama. The poet summarizes nothing; he describes the stage of the action, the “terrace of blue marble” (2.12) and then gives us the speeches of Marsilla’s advisors in full.
The story is conveyed in this section by dialogue, not by running commentary. Then, after another quick laisse of summary, telling how Marsilla’s messengers rode out to Charles’s camp, we go back to the same slow, dramatic mode of presentation that was used for Marsilla’s council for the conversation between Marsilla’s envoys and Charlemagne. This alternating, fast-slow-fast-slow rhythm, interspersing quick pieces of narrative between long dramatic scenes at regular intervals, is characteristic.

Within each laisse, each sentence and phrase stands separate, on its own. Similarly, no grammatical connection is drawn between one laisse and the next. The reader must draw the connection between one element to the next on his own, for the author does not make the relation between the separate elements clear, but instead simply sets them side by side, without conjunctions.
This technique is known as parataxis, which means “a placing side by side” in Greek. To see more clearly what this is, one might take a quick look at laisse 177, for instance, a particularly striking example. There is no connective tissue: “Roland is dead, his soul with God in Heaven. / The emperor arrives at Roncesvals” (177.2397-2398). The corollaries of this lack of relation between phrases include a propensity towards long lists and a lack of simile, aside from certain highly stylized and conventionalised comparisons which are repeated often—beards, for instance, are very frequently “white as April flowers.” The elements are strung together like beads, one after another.

Narration

It is thought the The Song of Roland, like other medieval chansons de geste, was passed on orally, sung by wandering performers known as jongleurs at feasts and festivals, before it was ever written down.
The written epic that we now have, based on a manuscript version set down by a medieval scribe, bears the marks of its origin in the performances of the jongleurs in its narration. The voice that tells the story is the voice of the jongleur. He does not take on the character of one who was there, nor does he take on any kind of neutral, third-person-omniscience of observation. He tells the story as a story-teller.

While the events recounted in The Song of Roland are almost all myths and inventions, the jongleurs’ medieval audiences accepted them as historical truth. Because of this, and because the heroic deeds described took place in what was the distant past for even those long-ago listeners (the centuries that separated the audience from the figures they heard about made those figures seem all the more grand and glorious), the jongleur could not take on the point of view of an eye-witness of the events he sings about. If he did, the whole story told would lose credibility in the face of the obvious impossibility of the jongleur having seen himself anything that he was describing. Thus, the effect that the narration aims for and achieves is a vividness without immediacy. The characters and events are brightly painted, to be sure, but there is none of the you-are-there feeling that one usually expects nowadays from a well-told story. Different eras want different effects from their literature.

The narrator does not pretend that he was there; he instead implies that he has his knowledge from chronicles and tales, which he alludes to in order to gain the best effect of credibility for the story he tells: for instance, he says of Olivier, Roland, and Turpin fighting at Roncesvals that “The number that they killed can be determined; / it is written in the documents and notes: / the Chronicle says better than four thousand” (127.1683-1685). It is probable that many of the historical chronicles he speaks of are as much his own inventions as many of the events he recounts, but this does not hinder his allusions to them from creating the desired effect of a past both mythic and historical.

That the telling of The Song of Roland does not aim for surprise or suspense is a result of the way in which it, like other chansons de geste, was passed about orally, told again and again, varied but still recognizable in each new performance. The narrator assumes that his audience is already thoroughly familiar with the story he is telling them; he knows they have already heard it plenty of times, but that they enjoy hearing it again. The interest of the audience is not bound up in the question of what’s going to happen next; the listeners already know that Ganelon will betray Roland but that Charlemagne will avenge him in the end. Familiarity was part of the story’s charm for medieval listeners. And so the element of surprise is absent, and suspense is not cultivated; in the very first laisse, we are told that Marsilla will be clobbered by Charlemagne’s men, and Ganelon is called a traitor before he makes a single treacherous move.

‘SUNDIATA, AN EPIC OF OLD MALI’ by D T Niane. Translation by G D Pickett

1
This Mali epic as we have it now is the summation of a collection of oral legends. The legends are based around King Sundiata Keita, who consolidated and expanded the Mali Empire. His period of governance was 1217 to 1255.

The role of the griot is central to the story. The Preface describes the functions. Furthermore the opening commentary to the tale is entitled Words of the Griot Mamadou Kouyate, and he explains his functions and status. The griot is the King’s counsellor; he keeps the tribal customs, histories, and musical and oral traditions. His role may be similar to what we at the present time understand by the role of what we take to be the traditional Welsh bard. To be granted a griot is to be accorded great status. Sundiata was given Balla Fassekeas as his griot. Balla was later captured by the sorcerer King Soumaoro Kante’, however, before Sundiata came into his power.

On one level it is a straight forward story of a king growing to greatness, overcoming a formidable enemy, and consolidating a mighty empire. The telling of the story, however, reveals many levels and complexities. To give an example of the complexity of storytelling let me show you the finding of Sogolon, Sundiata’s mother: 

                          ‘(…) a soothsayer turned up at the village of Niani and prophesied to King Nare`that the would father a great warrior king. Some time later two hunters and a young woman came across King Nare’ and company as they were out hunting. They approached the king and told him this tale: as they were hunting they came across an old woman weeping, she begged them for food, which they shared with her. For their kindness she informed them that she was the spirit of the Buffalo of Do, no warrior could kill her; and she had already killed seventy-seven warriors. There was only one way to kill her, which she told to the hunters, and gave them the requisite tools. They were to take the body to the local king who would be overjoyed and grant the one who killed the buffalo a choice of a wife amongst the women-folk of his town. But, the old woman said, they must only choose the ugly one with the hunchback; she also was an aspect of the buffalo woman. This woman would give birth to a warrior king. After telling the King this they presented him with the woman, Sogolon Conde. She was the one the old woman said; the king married her.

As you can see from this we have a story within a story within a story: three levels of story. Add onto this the symbolic level: the Lion king who marries the Buffalo woman. This also has its own chiasmus, a sequence based on the all-important binding of Sogolon to King Nare’.

2

Sundiata grew up unable to walk; the King desperate for a healthy heir married another wife. This set up all sorts of jealousy and supremacy problems between the wives. Sundiata was seven before he could stand and walk. This is a variation on the standard hero presentation.
Just before this time the King had died, and Sundiata, who was supposed to be his choice successor due to prophecy, was judged physically incapable, and he and his family relegated, ridiculed, and subjected to mockery and increasing hostility.

As soon as Sundiata could walk he quickly learned hunting skills, warrior skills. All along his mental acuity had been high, his kindness supreme. The old kings’ new wife plotted against him: she hired nine witches to catch him out and curse him; his kindness towards them, not knowing who they were, won them over. He was warned of the plot.

His mother Sogolon took her family away for safety. She found however that many tribal kings had been bribed to turn them away. They were forced therefore to travel out of Mali and into Ghana. There they met kindness. It was when they travelled to Mema that the old King, Mansa Tounkara, took them in. He had no children himself, and warmed greatly to Sundiata. In all they spent six years with him. Sundiata grew into a strong and tactical warrior.

While in exile, however, the sorcerer King Soumaoro Kante had grown strong, attracted many followers, and moved in on the Mali tribes, and capital Niani. 

Representatives from old Niani travelled around in search of Sundiata. When they found him at Mema they told of what had befallen Mali. Sundiata vowed to return and destroy Soumaoro. The old king however refused to let him go.
It is at this time that Sundiata’s mother, Sogolon; died. The old king accused Sundiata of being ungrateful, and a turncoat. Sundiata, a very powerful warrior by this time was able to command most of the old king’s men. He had to let him go back. He took half the king’s men with him.

As he returned many tribal people who resisted Soumaoro joined with Sundiata. There were three main battles (and one night sortie), each time Sundiata was victorious, but Soumaoro escaped using sorcery. The pursuit of Soumaoro was long and bloody. It is only when Nana Triban, Sundiata’s half sister by his father’s new queen, along with his own griot, joined him, that he learned the way to defeat Soumaoro’s sorcery.

Soumaoro was defeated, but not captured.
Sundiata levelled Soumaoro’s city of Sosso; he re-entered Mali a victor; he granted land and livings to all loyal tribes, showed mercy to the defeated, and rebuilt Niani on a greater, grander scale.

3

The whole movement of the epic is based on two arcs superimposed and conflicting with each other, one where we see the build up to Sundiata’s eminence, is contrasted with his unfortunate beginnings: we have the auspiciousness of his prophecy and the inauspiciousness of his childhood.
There are three interpolations by the writer into the narrative; these are
Chapter 1, The First Kings of Mali;
Chapter 8, History; and
18, Eternal Mali

: that is the first, middle, and last.

Each of these chapters has the same structure of author’s assessment of the story, followed by a précis of the following events. These three chapters differ from all others, in that the others consist of direct and engaged narrative of the story. The first and last chapters also are connected in the ways they begin and end the tale.
The First Kings gives a brief history of the Mandingo people and of Sundiata’s genealogy, before introducing us to the story.
The last chapter Eternal Mali, sums up the ending of the tale, and in the latter half gives a brief history of Mali after the time of Sundiata.
The central chapter, History, begins by reverting to the same objective tone of the first and last authorial interpolations; it tells how the story of Sundiata has reached its central point, and how all the auspicious signs of his childhood will now come to fruition. This is followed by a brief précis of the preceding chapter, and introduces us to the proceeding events of the story.M

The Einstein of science-fiction, according to some.

2021 marks the centenary of his birth, 1921.
The Polish Parliament declared 2021 Stanisław Lem Year. (Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Lem)

He was born in Lwow, then Poland, a much disputed region, now part of the Ukraine, as Lviv, and of a Jewish family. 
Religion, however did not play much of a part in their lives. He said himself, later, for moral reasons … the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created … intentionally…
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Lem

And who could argue with that.

It’s not what religion meant to them, but what others made it mean for them.
He survived the War on forged papers. Wiki tells us : During that time, Lem earned a living as a car mechanic and welder,[11] and occasionally stole munitions from storehouses (to which he had access as an employee of a German company) to pass them on to the Polish resistance.[19] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Lem)

Under Soviet rule he managed a full medical education, only to find the sight of blood…. 
He was a polyglot, a language devourer, and educationally hungry, devouring fields of knowledge outside of medicine – which, he knew, would land him a life-time service in Army medical corps.

He became an expert in early AI studies, and what Wiki terms ‘the sociology of science’
His own web page writes of 
Such staggering polymathic curiosity over such a vast range of material, all of it explored with lucidity and charm
https://english.lem.pl

1

Stanislaw Lem?
Think of the film, Solaris (the 1972 one, not the later travesty) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
His books have a sophistication that a great many sci-fi novels do not. Even the Strugatsky brothers fail, there. 

His opinion of American writers was mostly scathing. He excepted Philip K Dick – although, stylistically Philip K Dicks’ books were/are ‘not good’. I used to sigh with exasperation when opening one yet-to-read: the turgidity of language, as he felt his way through to admittedly, unknowns, the un-thought of.
Now, writers like Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, of the period he was most active in his writing of science fiction, had intelligence, style. I’m sure readers could come up with many writers that I am myself unfamiliar – it is such a huge field of writing.

It is amazing how much Lem got right, or even predicted. This ranges across artificial intelligence, the theory of search engines (he called it “ariadnology”), bionics, virtual reality (“phantomatics”), technological singularity and nanotechnology.

Simon Ings “New Scientist”
https://english.lem.pl

Ok, so let’s distinguish here, between ‘hard’ sci-fi, and ‘soft’.
Stanislaw Lem could well be called the Einstein of ‘hard’ science-fi – his imagination works mostly on material aspects, structures, developments.

So, I have only just launched myself into one of his first published books, Return From the Stars, (1966).
So as not to Spoil too much, let me just give a brief synopsis so far: our narrator has just returned from a ten year space mission, to find that one hundred and twenty seven years have elapsed on Earth.
And things have changed. Drastically.

After a debriefing and up-dating session at the Luna Space Centre we encounter him as he returns to Earth for the first time.
We encounter the term Betrization. It is a process all undergo at birth, and prevents the worst kinds of behaviour. No one can kill another. The same for animals.
How and who does the aggressive work, then? Robots, naturally.
But what are the other implications of this process? A world without aggression of any kind?

It is quite a thick book, and I am only just beginning.
Don’t hold your breath, but read it and the others yourselves.

For the period, mid 1960s, in Eastern Europe, the imagining, detailing – everything has been thought through – are astounding.
Wiki tells us: Translating his works is difficult due to Lem’s elaborate neologisms and idiomatic wordplay. 

As ‘soft’ sci-fi, the sci-fi of people, you could say, he falls behind. In this book are racial and gender stereotypes to make our contemporary toes curl a little.
He tries; he delves into the sociology of cities, mass societies. He constantly tries with psychological changes, developments, but he does not shift perspectives sufficiently to truly tangle with the issues.

2

How did Stanislaw Lem cope under the Cold War regimes?
He worked in the sciences, and wrote such astoundingly well-researched science-research books. As well as his science fiction – they got under the censor radar by not openly challenging the system (he wrote very early works in line with Socialist Realism that he later castigated), and were considered unimportant by the system.
By the time of the 1980s Solidarity Protests and consequent Martial Law, he and his family were able to move to West Berlin, then Vienna. They returned to Poland in 1988.
He had also toured the West, lecturing in America, England, Europe, enough to get a feel of the rancid redundancy of the much vaunted Capitalist systems.

Philip K Dick stated that Stanislaw Lem was dubious, the name a pseudonym for a collection of people. I suspect he was picking up here on the man’s wide range of interests and activities, his achievements in various fields.

In his later years he concentrated mainly on science-based projects, books, and what was termed ‘futurology’. The New Scientist quotation, above, gives good grounding for that.

His science Fiction books – in no particular order:

Eden
Fiasco
His Master’s Voice
Mortal Engines
Return From the Stars
Solaris
Tales of Pirx the Pilot
The Cyberiad
The Invincible
The Star Diaries

He also wrote a collection of Reviews and Introductions for Non-Existent Books, and crime novels, one without a murderer, as well as copious science books.

He died in his eighties, in 2006, his wife ten years later.
Like many writers who started pre-information era proper he did not use a computer; he bought his son an early Apple, but that’s as far as he went.
He was also dubious about the internet; it swallowed you up in low-grade information, he stated.
Yep.

in Flanders.

Well, leaky roofs were, if not the norm, then, an expected annoyance.

Take the case of George Chastellain, appointed chronicler and celebrator of the ducs de Burgundy, Philip the Good, and successor, Charles the Bold.
This spanned the period 1419 to 1477.
George Chastellain was active in his role between 1450s to 1470s.

It is the latter part of his life we have most incidental details.
In 1455 he moved into a ducal property in Valenciennes, of the Flemish/French border. The move was permanent.

There is nothing material of that period left, now. WW2 saw to that; the city had to be almost wholly rebuilt after the War.

1

What we have, was pieced together from various written sources by Graeme Small, in his book :
George Chastellain and the Shaping of Valois Burgundy, (The Royal Historical Society/Boydell Press, 1997).

In his earlier career, setting out into his literary life, he had work performed before the best writer of the time, Charles D’Orleans, resettled from a quarter century of ‘enforced’ English residence.
The work presented, The Azure Throne, was warmly received, both by duke Philip the Good, as well as Charles D’Orleans.

The residence, we are told, was situated in central Valenciennes as-was. The building (‘le lorgis Jorge’) overlooked the Escaut canal at the back, whilst the front had a courtyard. Oh, and a well. How easily we forget these basic necessities.
It was situated ‘close to’ the house of the grand receiver, and on the other, er… an oat loft. OK.

The building had a cellar, and chapel. Standard, then.
The ground floor was a ducal stables. Also there was a kitchen down there. Hm.

The actual rooms, chambers, etc, were up a staircase, which had doors leading off.
The staircase led up to a gallery. Here were the main rooms.
This gallery, however, was sort of like a cloister, open to the weather. In time he had to have installed wooden frames to stop the wind.

Off this draughty passage,’ writes Graeme Small, ‘lay several rooms…. Among these rooms were ‘le grant chambre de George Chastellain’, and one further, private room…. Built at Chastellain’s request, this was his ‘comptoir’ … where he wrote….

This was not a property for a family to live. George Chastellain did not marry, although he did have an acknowledged child, Gonthier.
Gonthier was brought up by his mother. By the time of his ‘majority’ his father had already died. His successor, Jean Molinet, elected to support the claims of Gonthier to applications for ducal support.

The times had changed, however. Charles the Bold was a very different character to Philip the Good. He was ‘the Bold’, but this also meant merciless, fearless. He was a warrior duke, and died in battle. He was expansionist, and his time was an unsettled time.

2

Here was George Chastellain at Valenciennes, away now, from the ducal court, as well as his ambassadorial missions to the royal court.
But Valenciennes was at an important meeting place en route between the two. Missives and ducal and court callers came constantly.
He wrote his great Chronicles here.

These Chronicles were lost, forgotten for centuries, until rediscovered.
… first edited by Buchon in Les chroniques nationales 1827 and re-edited by Kervyn de Lettenhove.: https://en.google-info.org/2406219/1/georges-chastellain.htmlhttps://en.google-info.org/2406219/1/georges-chastellain.html

These Chronicles, as well as George Chastellain’s surviving written works: political poems, ballades, formal poems, pieces written to other writers, allegorical plays etc became the main source material, or should we say, spring-board, for the huge and famous work
The Waning of the Middle-Ages,
by Johan Huizinga.

Here we read of the all-round sensual experience of the times: the noises – of parades, animals, people in general; the smells: no toilets, remember, and living close to animals, as here; the colours – this was the time of Jan Van Ecyk: look at those costumes.
jan-van-eyck.org
The gorgeous costumes, and furnishings of the Arnolfini portrait, give us a glimpse into the period, the Italian connections, and supposedly portrays their residence in Bruges.
This was also the period, and environment, for the great works of Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Ockeghem)

Interestingly, when George Chastellain was taken on as chronicler of the Duke of Burgundy, Jan Van Eyck was also on the payroll. From the records of their recorded pay, George Chastellain’s the highest of the two.

George Chastellain was one the earliest of what became known as the Grands Rhétoriqueurs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grands_Rhétoriqueurs).
They were many, in time, and what may of begun as a latinate chronicling and court entertainments, evolved as writer responded to writer. We had eventually a force, and their fascination with “copia“, verbal games and the difficulties of interpretation link them to such Renaissance figures as Erasmus and Rabelais. (http://artandpopularculture.com/Rhétoriqueurs)

Such literary movements set off their own trajectories.
They were succeeded by rejection, and counter-claim for prominence, by Pierre de Ronsard’s La Pléiade.
But also both were rejected by the example of Francois Villon and his anti-rhetorical, ultra-realist writings.