Posts Tagged ‘medieval texts’

 

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Kindle book ready and waiting.
Roll up! Roll up!

So what’s it about?
It is about how stories, poems, texts, were structured in a certain way from early times, and to the present day. The structure works as a memory system. I investigate how this structure fits into the now well-known Arts of Memory. The book also looks at how the structuring works, and was passed down through time.

I look at twenty-plus texts from ancient times, through the medieval flowering, down to the present day.
You’d be surprised what I found.

Can be bought at:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01IRPODPW
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Cover

Kindle book ready and waiting.
Roll up! Roll up!

So what’s it about?
It is about how stories, poems, texts, were structured in a certain way from early times, and to the present day. The structure works as a memory system. I investigate how this structure fits into the now well-known Arts of Memory. The book also looks at how the structuring works, and was passed down through time.

I look at twenty-plus texts from ancient times, through the medieval flowering, down to the present day.
You’d be surprised what I found. 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01IRPODPW

Whoo-hoo!

Now available on Kindle!

Cover

Kindle book ready and waiting!
Roll up! Roll up!

So what’s it about?
It is about how stories, poems, texts, were structured in a certain way from early times, and to the present day. The structure works as a memory system. I investigate how this structure fits into the now well-known Arts of Memory. The book also looks at how the structuring works, and was passed down through time. 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01IRPODPW

Great Xmas Present!

Meaning Gwyn son of Nudd (pronounced Nith); the forename carries the meaning of light.
So who was Nudd? Many now think the name comes from the old Celtic god, Nodens.
Nodens, in turn, is associated with the old Irish first king of the Tuatha de Danann, Nuatha.
And Nuatha is related to the legendary Finn Mac Cunhail (Finn MaCool).

The Tuatha de Danann were the most successful invaders of Ireland. Some sources give their origins as ‘formorian’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fomorians.
The Celts have been traced back to Iron Age central European regions: ... the people of the Iron Age Hallstat culture  in central Europe (c. 800–450 BC), named for the rich grave finds in Hallstat, Austria.  

The names Finn, and Gwyn are related.
Gwyn is often described as a being of light, with a darkened face.

What is especially interesting here about the Tuatha de Danann connection is that, as Wiki says, The Tuath Dé eventually became the Aos Si or “fairies” of later folklore.
Gwyn ap Nudd became, in turn, the king of the Tylwyth Teg or fair folk and ruler of the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn.
Nodens and Llud seem to be cognates. See below for confusion and consternation.

FALSTAFF: Heavens defend me from that Welsh fairy, lest he/ transform me to a piece of cheese
:  The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 5, Scene 5.

The Welsh, Scottish and Irish fairy, unlike the English, were not to be trifled with. They were dangerous, and no lover of humankind. The concept of Seelie and Unseelie, that is, benign and malign influence, is closely related to the Irish and Welsh fairy.
We know most about Gwyn ap Nudd from the Welsh Mabinogion (the title, the  purists would say,  only strictly relates to the First Branch, the first four tales of the book. Anyone who has read my discussion of the first of these, Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, in GIFTS OF RINGS AND GOLD https://michael9murray.wordpress.com/2016/09/07/gifts-of-rings-and-gold-5/
will  see how they fit the description of teaching tales).
He occurs mostly in what is considered the oldest of the tales, The Tale of Culhwch and Olwen, as part of King Arthur’s band. His expertise is later called on in the hunt of the terrible wild boar, Twrch Trwyth. (Once again, see my  book  above.)
The Mabinogion tales make us aware of another two siblings to Gwyn, Edem, another of King Arthur’s party, and Owain. Nothimg else is known of these two.

Gwyn ap Nudd was king of the Underworld
– and connected to the later Wild Hunt, as ‘psychopomp’, a phrase from psychiatry that describes a symbolic receiver and transporter of the dead.
Before what some see as attempts to tame and lesson his powers, Gwyn ap Nudd was a mighty warrior. He was connected with one of the three pointless battles according to the Welsh Triads: the Battle of the Trees, Cad Godeau.
Wiki relates that his skill as a warrior, as described in The Black Book of Carmarthen’s The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, had long brought him great renown.
In Culwych and Olwen it is related that Gwyn abducted Creiddylad, the daughter of Llud (his sister?). She was betrothed at the time, to Gwythyr ap Greidawi, who then roused a great host to get her back.
Wiki gives us this result:  Gwyn was victorious and, following the conflict, captured a number of Gwythyr’s noblemen including Nwython and his son Cyledr. Gwyn would later murder Nwython, and force Cyledr to eat his father’s heart. As a result of his torture at Gwyn’s hands, Cyledr went mad,[1] earning the epithet Wyllt.
As we know from a previous post Wyllt denotes madness:  see my The Madman in the Woods: Lailoken
https://michael9murray.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/the-madman-in-the-woods-lailoken/
King Arthur intervened in their fight, and ruled that the two contestants for Creiddylad meet every May Day to continue their fight for her.Every year, forever.
This was sufficient evidence for Robert Graves in his The White Goddess, to read these two contestants as Holly Kings, solar gods of the old and the new year, battling for supremacy, and the hand/blessing of the muse goddess.
In The Life of St Collen of Llangollen, we glimpse him again, this time connected with Glastonbury Tor or Ynys Witrin as it was known (https://ztevetevans.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/the-legend-of-saint-collen-of-llangollen).
St Collen denied him, and so was invited to dine with him in the hill top’s palace. There he was regaled with Gwyn ap Nudd’s splendour, only to banish it all with a dash of holy water.
Fairy as demon. This was the edict of the later middle ages: all supernatural agents were categorised as demons. (See : https://michael9murray.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/magic/)

We maybe begin to glimpse here the importance of the role of Gwyn ap Nudd in the imaginations of earlier periods

All these written sources are from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries.
In the 1360-70 poetry of the famous Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym, translator and scholar Rachel Bromwich notes of poem 26 (:DADYDD AP GWILYM, POEMS, Gomer Press, 1982): Dafydd alludes to him a number of times (for refs see E Rowlands, Ll C. V, 122-3) and always presents him in a sinister light; hence the  Owl is ‘his’ bird; the bog-hole is ‘his’ fish-pond… the Mist a deception caused by him….(page 99 op cit):
‘(The Owl) she is the bird of Gwyn ap Nudd/ Crazy Owl that sings to the robbers…’ or, for those purists: ‘Edn i Wyn fab Nudd ydyw.’ Early Welsh forms of the name Gwyn were Wyn, as here, and in some cases expanded to Windos. In those earlier periods the name denoted pure, holy, sacred.
We see his effects, but no longer the warrior – it was, after all, the time after the fall of the Last Prince, Llewelyn ap Gruddydd (1223 -1282), to the English.

These tales are uncomfortably patriarchal, they are from the long periods when the daughters of nobles, kings, were used as counters in the game of politics, pacifying potential enemies by drawing them into extensive family relationships. Family was the ultimate bond – to break that was the worst moral and ethical act.
Yet some still did step outside, broke those greatest, strongest of bonds. Only the desperate would risk that ultimate shame and banishment. Or the strongest.
If Gwyn ap Nudd did exist as an actual person in history, then we can only surmise he did something, acted in some way, that meant he chose to step outside of normal, acceptable human relations to become a mighty warrior – or an outcast, an oathbreaker.
As prime outsider he was allotted a status befitting his rank in the outside: as king, of the dead, and of the fair folk, of all who existed outside humanity, in mythical, unimaginable realms.
Andrew Lang, in his introduction to Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies, strongly suggests that the otherworld of fairy is the afterlife of the dead, that the fairy mounds are in reality tumuli, resting places of dead chieftains.

King Arthur was another such dweller outside of history- not as an outcast, but one freed from history, from time, one whose story carried great potency for future generations.
The ways in which Gwyn ap Nudd were remembered marks him out as different from Arthur; Gwyn ap Nudd has the mischief about him, like the vestiges of a trickster figure: disruptive, dangerous. Arthur is the pacifier. It is possible to see that both play connected, vital roles.

Earlier I used the terms ‘seelie’ and ‘unseelie’. These are Scottish distinctions between those well-disposed and ill-disposed towards people. The seelie court are benign fairy. according to Katherine Briggs, in her Encyclopedia of Fairies, 1976. It is also thought the seelie dwell within hills, whereas the unseelie host choose barrows. Here again we have intimations of a connection with the dead and the after life. Kathleen Briggs says of the unseelie: ‘They comprise the SLUAGH, ‘The Host’…the unsanctified dead who hover above the earth, snatching up with them  undefended mortals…
It has been suggested the seelie court rule over the waxing year, whilst the unseelie, the waning year.

We can still feel his presence, though, if we approach him with respect.
The only other fairy being in literature to have such a presence must be The Raven King, of Susanna Clarke’s JONATHON STRANGE AND MR NORRIS.
Here is another hugely enigmatic presence, made more so by his absence. His effects and minions are everywhere, but his own brooding presence is felt, rather than seen, sensed rather than known.

You can consult all the odd books in your reach, and there is still the one holds great ptomise that is missing. Katherine Briggs, again, writes on Gwyn ap Nudd, ‘a more sober assessment of him is given by John Rhys in Celtic Folklore.’

Anybody willing to fill in the gaps?

 

 

The Dream of the Rood, edited by Michael Swanton, Manchester University Press, 1970

Introduction

I keep coming across comments where people state their adversity to religious writing, specifically Christian. Some declare they cannot read an author because of his religious concerns, see Geoffrey Hill’s work. One commentator writing of a senior Buddhist called him ‘deluded’. I was appalled – here once again just slightly under the surface lurked Western cultural arrogance. And Christian writing? It would be like saying you could not read or appreciate anything earlier than mid 20th century writing. To lose any of that would be cultural suicide. And so I am making an effort to re-appreciate our religious history, the magnificent spaces of the psyche.

Note: none of my concerns are to do with the legitimacy of religion or religious belief. Those were and are facts of our cultural histories, and as such need to be treated fully. Religion has also afforded us with deep psychological insights, has cemented cultures over long periods of transition and change. Religious wars are usually cited as religion’s true heritage. Does anyone really think people would not have killed one another without religion?

1

The Cult of the Cross

In about 350 AD, Cyril of Jerusalem remarked upon the discovery of a cross. Prior to this the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, allegedly found the True Cross on a visit in 326 AD. There was a legend also that three crosses had been found, deep in the ground, together with iron nails, and also the plaque that had been placed above the head of Jesus. Fragments of this cross were sent out to different places across the Christian world.

These were legends, and yet were wholly accepted; the Western church of Anglo-Saxon England took on the legends, and Anglo-Saxon poem Elene relates the tale. There are also later prose homilies on the subject.

By the 7th century the cult of the cross had taken off. Bernicia/Northumberland proved to be a responsive centre. It was here near what is now known as Hexham that Heavenfield was established, the victory of Christianity over the last pagan rulers, as recorded by Bede in his history of the Church.

Out of possibly thousands there remain two magnificent stone crosses from the period, one at Bewcastle in Cumberland, and the other thirty miles away in Dumfriesshire, the Ruthwell Cross. Let us be clear about this thirty miles: at the time of construction of the crosses in the 7th century the region of both crosses was known as  Galloway, and formerly spoke a form of early Welsh.  The region became known as a conglomerate Anglo-Saxon area called Bernicia in the 7th century. As a united region Dumfriesshire shared a cultural heritage with Northumberland as far south as Newcastle.

The craftsmanship of both Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses is of a particularly high standard; it is accepted that both were carved by the same master craftsman’s team.

260px-Ruthwell_002

The Bewcastle Cross differs from the Ruthwell Cross in that though both are crosses with figurative reliefs, scenes from Christ’s life and death, and inscriptions, the Bewcastle inscriptions tend to be more commemorative.  Ruthwell Cross was originally 18ft high, tapered to the cross section. It also contains along its outer edges runic text. When this text was eventually translated it was discovered to be the text of a poem about the fate of the tree that became Christ’s cross. Only one other example of his text existed, on an 11th century cross fragment in Brussels. Text from the same source-poem.

The Ruthwell cross was dismembered as too Papist under the dissolution of the monasteries, and later the Commonwealth, and its parts embedded in the church floor, other parts left outside. Weathering and wearing became extensive over time.

2

In 1748 Guiseppe Bianchini of Verona transcribed extracts from texts he came across at the Cathedral of Vercelli in northern Italy. Some of this proved to be a fuller version of the texts found on the Ruthwell Cross. Further investigation brought out Anglo-Saxon texts stored at the cathedral. The Vercelli cathedral had been a staging post on the route to Rome, and travelled by all Western church officials. Upon closer examination these texts proved to be 12th century, in good condition, and containing a variety of matter. They also contained a full version of what is now known as the Anglo-Saxon alliterative poem, The Dream of the Rood.

The Ruthwell Cross and Brussels’ fragment contained excerpts from the central portion of The Dream of the Rood.

150px-Ruthwell.Cross.inscriptions

The poem is 155 lines in length, and is constructed in three sections: the first introduces the narrator, and his dream one night of the cross of the crucifixion. Part two begins (line 28) when the cross addresses the dreamer, and tells him its tale, from its being hewn down at the edge of a wood, to bearing the body and death of Jesus; then it was buried in the ground, and rediscovered and venerated by Christ’s followers. It ends with a demand that the dreamer tell the story. The last part returns to the sleeper (line 122), but is written in a different mode to the opening section; all there is veneration and glorification.

The first and last parts are only roughly of equal length, whilst the central section is substantially longer.

Michael Swanton in his Introduction to his book on, (original text, and translation of the Dream of the Rood) draws our attention to the opening and middle sections, and how they accord with Latin and, as we see in the Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon riddle-forms. The first is a ‘I see this, what is it?’ type, the other a ‘What am I?’ type. The answer to each has major repercussions. He writes of ‘(… )the popular type of (… ) riddle in which an enigmatic object is made to describe itself in oblique terms.’ Also, ‘The riddle genre seems to have been particularly popular in the seventh and eighth centuries.’ He also notes that there are Latin cross-riddles from 716 at Jarrow-Wearmouth. Several Exeter Book riddles, LIV ‘Battering Ram’, and LXXII ‘Spear’ follow the same life-history pattern as the cross of part two.

The text of the Dream of the Rood in Anglo-Saxon or translation was not publically available until the 19th century.

Ruthwell_Cross,_North_Face,_Figure_of_Christ_II

The questions now become: 1 – is the 12th century Vercelli version an expanded version of the 7th century cross-cult poem?

2 – Were the runic excerpts added later than the time of carving and erection of the Ruthwell Cross?

1 – Parts one and two are most definitely of a piece, composed together. Some commentators have found the last part of the poem ‘cruder’ than the foregoing. Indeed, the last part does rely a lot on expostulations of religiosity (‘almighty God’) rather than what we might term the examinations of faith of the foregoing. But then the last part is the culminative part, the expression of faith, after faith has been planted and established in the fore parts.

2 – The runes used were not the Futharc Scandinavian runes of later Viking settlers, but more of the type used in Britain previous to this.

Structurally there are a number of significant parallelings throughout the poem. Lines 12 and 82 repeat their phrasings to the letter. The centre/heart of the poem is Christ’s death upon the cross. This event transforms the cross’ self-identification as wood/tree, to that of venerated object, adorned in gold and silver. The transformative medium is the blood of Jesus on the cross as Jesus’ spirit left his body. The cross identifies with Jesus at several points, because the nails that pierced the flesh of the man also pierced the wood of the cross. They are both mocked together, and both are buried in the ground; both also are retrieved from their place of burial: Jesus in assuming his Christ role, and the cross by being dug up and venerated by followers.

The central section, as we can detect here in the transformative identity of wood/tree and cross, has a chiasmic character. At two points does the cross speak of being hewn down, firstly as a tree in the wood, and latterly as the cross on the hill. We see the tree growing at the edge of a wood, and the cross in stark company on the hill. It is upright in both places, and also felled in both places. What happens in between is the crucifixion, the joining of man and tree, and the veneration of spirit and cross. The ambiguities inherent in these positions are readily recognised in the text. Throughout the tree addresses itself as wood, that is a speaking tree, as a symbol, and later as a venerated symbol – venerated because it was present, indeed the vehicle, of the death of Jesus. Jesus’ blood is at one point termed sweat of the tree, and as the weeping of the tree.

There is of course an overall chiasmus: the two narrator parts 1 and 3 are changed by the central part, 2. In 1 the narrator addresses the reader/audience. He tells of a dream he had. This in itself is one narration encapsulated within another: addressing the audience, and describing the dream.

Do we find a similar construction in part 3? There is a two-part construction to part 3: the first part immediately after the cross has finished its address continues the theme of the cross and its role in the religion.  The latter part (line 131 onward) builds up to a vision of Christ’s entrance into heaven. As the central part, the cross’ recital states, Christ’s ascension will be followed by his appearance back on the earth on doomsday to judge the populace. It can be read then as a reiteration/paralleling.

The central section forms its own chiasmus, beginning with the tree being felled and stripped, and ending with it being resurrected as the follower’s cross/rood, and adorned. The two instances of Jesus climbing upon the tree in vigour, and being taken both in death parallel each other. There are also several instances where the tree says it’ durst not’ bend or break no matter what terrors it is to be a part of. The only time it does bend is the figurative one of letting down the body. The tree could have saved the crucifying man and killed his tormentors, but ‘durst not’ ie because it was part of a larger purpose/story that would result in the saving of all mankind.

There are two instances of the use of the term ‘speech-bearers’ for men, lines 3 and 98. It is an important  term: the tree instructs the dreamer to tell the tale of its experiences and fate. This poem is that instruction made manifest. We must also remember the importance of telling and speech for the majority of the audience of the time. And here we see another ambiguity: the Ruthwell Cross carried the excerpts of the poem in runes, written form. This would emphasise the purpose of the cross as a teaching device.

Also inherent in this phrase in the notion of the ‘witness’ of Christ: the tree is the obvious example, but to be a believer, devout, one must be witness to Christ, to declare oneself. The latter half of the poem is concerned with this, particularly the narrator’s part in part 3. In part 1 he confessed himself a sinner and unworthy of the vision, in part 3 he was witness to Christ’s entry into heaven – he had been ‘saved’ by the vision and dream of the rood. The speech the ‘speech-bearers’ bear, of course, is the Word of God.

This poem, in effect, is designed as vehicle for redemption: whoever reads it with diligence and attention becomes a witness, and so saved. The recitation of the poem, then, must have been important: the real time of recitation having a liturgical function. Was it to be a part of the Easter service?