“fyr on flode” in Beowulf

So, my first dissertation chapter deals with how early medieval English writers dealt with the sea, metaphorically, in a redemptive away when faced with exile/displacement. Exile at sea seems to be linked to the idea of control, ultimately. The more a person clings to control while at sea, the more they flounder. The sooner they relinquish any illusions of control and leave their fates to either wyrd or the Christian god, the sooner they get through their ordeals (see, for example, The Seafarer, The Legend of St. Brendan, King Horn, etc). Even Beowulf must submit to the ocean when the waves separate him from Breca. Eventually, this lack of control and need for assistance translates into intermediaries of the celestial type, such as the archangel Michael or the Virgin Mary, whose title “star of the sea” (stella maris or sæ-steorra) rose in popularity beginning in the twelfth century with religious writers like Bernard of Clairvaux. When you look up sæ-steorra in Bosworth-Toller online, the definition is “A star which guides mariners at sea,” which is unsurprising since the “sea-star” role that Mary plays is one of guidance of lost sailors (read “souls”).

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My Sacred Quest

Last week, I spent all week in libraries in Oxford and then Cambridge. I began in Oxford in order to finish with MSS Bodley 343 and Jesus College 29, as well as to go over the microfilm images of the MS Junius 1 (the Ormulum). I also took that opportunity to look at the microfilm for MS Hatton 114, which contains a homily on the nativity of the Virgin Mary and refers to her as the “sæ steorra.” While I spent about 3 or 4 hours pouring over Hatton 114 in Wednesday, 10th October, I took my time with Junius 1. On Tuesday, 9th October, my eyes ached and hated me for sitting in front of a microfilm machine for 7 hours. Luckily, I was better to myself that day than I have been on other occasions–I actually took a lunch break.

I squinted and adjusted the lens and squinted some more. I unraveled and raveled and unraveled again the scroll of black-and-white images. I even had terrific (read the “terror” in “terrific”) flashbacks to my days as an OPS secretary in the Human Resources office at the Florida Parole Commission, where I worked for 2.5 years and was subjected to days at the microfilm machine to look at old employee records. At least the Special Collections Reading Room in the Radcliffe Science Library didn’t smell like the government building, in which, no matter where you go, you can always smell the horrid cafeteria wafting through the halls. I suppose that helps to mask the utter despair and boredom of the state employees, but I digress.

Here is an example of what I looked at while viewing the microfilm of MS Junius 1 (thank you, Jonathan Wilcox, for making these images available for the pre-conference workshop at ISAS 2011):

Microfilm Image of Folio 10r

Now, compare that image with the digital photograph of the same folio, which is available on LUNA:

Digital Image of Folio 10r

Clearly, the digital image is preferable to the microfilm one because we can observe more about the manuscript through the color and crisp detail of the manuscript. Now, let’s see how well I did with my recreation of this folio in that ISAS pre-conference workshop in July 2011:

My Recreation of Folio 10r

I obviously missed the brown ink at the bottom and the addition by the bottom capital A (among other things), which is why I need to see the original manuscript! I just sent an email to someone at the Bodleian Library with a detailed explanation for my need to see the manuscript, as well as a list of all the folio, column, and line numbers of specific interest.

Here’s hoping he let’s me see it!

[UPDATE: 16 October 2012, 6:06pm] I just received word from Dr. Barker-Benfield from the Bodleian Library–I get to see the Ormulum for two days next week! 😀

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Fiddling with Manuscripts at Last!

I have now been living in London for just under six weeks, and the first “Poema Morale” manuscript that I was able to see was London, British Library, Egerton 613, which contains not one but two copies of the poem. Both date to the thirteenth century, though one is earlier than the other. Since the only experience I had had with manuscript images of the poem came from black-and-white microfilm images of Cambridge, Trinity College B. 14. 52, I was happily surprised to see the alternating red and green initials throughout the first copy of “Poema Morale” in Egerton 613. Clearly, the scribe was taking his time with this copy, as opposed to the slightly earlier one [in a different hand] that is now in the back of the manuscript. That same hand also included an Anglo-Norman treatise on the titles of nuns and what they had to do to deserve those titles–may be worth reading some other time. For now, it’s just a distraction.

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Come Muddle with Me!

Welcome to Muddling through the Medieval! This blog is dedicated to my efforts to research and write a dissertation on early medieval English literature, the title of which is currently “Wræclastas: Paths of Redemption in Early Medieval English Literature.” I will post new findings in my manuscript research, pictures of pretty and ugly manuscripts alike (the poor Ormulum), random brainstorms, occasional “Eureka!” outbursts, and general medieval fun.

I believe the title, Muddling through the Medieval, is an apt title because more often than not I find myself taking two steps forward and one step back with each new discovery that I make. Perhaps I am “working” my way through the medieval, but that word neglects the confusion, and often frustration, in which I sometimes find myself. No, this challenge is most definitely an exercise in muddling. I hope you’ll join me!

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