The British Library is currently engaged in a joint project with the BibliothÃ¨que nationale de France to digitise 800 manuscripts made in and around the regions of England and France before 1200. Some people have asked if that means the project will only cover manuscripts in Old English, Old French or Anglo-Norman French. On the contrary! The project covers a variety of different languages, because many different languages were written, spoken and studied in those regions before 1200. The first 100 manuscripts digitised include many texts in Latin, as well as more obscure languages, such as Old Occitan, spoken around the area that is now southern France (Harley MS 2928). Another recently digitised manuscript includes one of the few major works in Old Saxon: the Heliand poem, copied perhaps in England or decorated by someone who was influenced by English styles in the second half of the 10th century.
Opening page of the Heliand, Cotton MS Caligula A VII, f. 11r
Old Saxon was a language spoken in the north of the region which is now Germany. Very few texts or copies of texts written in Old Saxon survive today: at just under 6000 verses, the Heliand is the longest Old Saxon text now known. It is preserved, with some lacunae, in two manuscripts (one at the British Library, one in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 25) and in several other small fragments, such as the folio held in the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin.
Beginning of the second fitt, Cotton MS Caligula A VII, f. 13r
The Heliand is a retelling of the life of Jesus. It was translated both into the Old Saxon language and into the attitudes and social structure found in warrior epics. John the Baptist is characterised as Christâ€™s â€˜warrior companionâ€™ (gesiÃ°), while the disciples become â€˜earlsâ€™ (erlos). This poem may originally have been sung or recited out loud: the text is divided into fitts, or songs. Like modern day TV episodes, these would have provided reasonably sized chunks of a longer saga.
The Heliand may have been composed in the early 9th century, presumably in the eastern regions of the Carolingian empire. A preface from a now lost manuscript that was copied in 1562 claims that a ruler called 'Louis' â€” perhaps Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious (d. 840) or Louis the German (d. 876) â€” ordered scriptures to be translated into Germanic languages (Germanic lingua). However, most scholars think the British Libraryâ€™s copy of the Heliand was made more than a century later, by an English scribe or by someone who was influenced by English manuscripts because the marginal Latin notes and the style of decoration resemble styles found in English manuscripts. Compare the biting beasties in initials in the Heliand with those in the Tollemache Orosius (Add MS 47967) and a copy of the Rule of St Benedict (Harley MS 5431).
Details of zoomorphic initials from the Heliand, England?, c. 950-1000, Cotton MS Caligula A VII, ff. 132r, 46r; the Tollemache Orosius, England (Winchester?), c. 900-925, Add MS 47967, f. 48v; the Rule of St Benedict, England, c. 975â€“1000, Harley MS 5431, f. 73v, 74r
Whether or not the manuscript was made by an English scribe or in England, marginal notes in the Anglo-Saxon script known as square minuscule suggest it was owned in England shortly after it was made. It is not known why an Anglo-Saxon, or someone who could produce English styles of script and book production, possessed a copy of the Heliand. However, there were many links between Anglo-Saxons and Old Saxon-speaking regions. As the â€˜Saxonâ€™ part of the names Anglo-Saxon, East Saxon (Essex) and West Saxon (Wessex) suggest, some Anglo-Saxons believed they were descended from Saxon or Saxon-speaking immigrants to the British Isles. Anglo-Saxon groups continued to have ties to Saxon-speaking areas through missionary and ecclesiastical activities, marriage alliances and travellers, among others. The Heliand manuscript provides an important reminder of all those ties and of all the languages that were spoken, studied and copied in England over 1000 years ago.
La British Library sâ€™est associÃ©e Ã la BibliothÃ¨que nationale de France dans le cadre dâ€™un projet de numÃ©risation de 800 manuscrits Ã©laborÃ©s en France et en Angleterre avant 1200. La grande variÃ©tÃ© des oeuvres sÃ©lectionnÃ©es sâ€™entend Ã©galement par la diversitÃ© des langues reprÃ©sentÃ©es. Les 100 premiers manuscrits numÃ©risÃ©s comprennent des textes latins, mais Ã©galement des Å“uvres Ã©crites dans des langues moins communes, telles que lâ€™ancien occitan, un dialecte parlÃ© dans le sud de la France (Harley MS 2928), ou le vieux saxon, une forme ancienne du bas-allemand.
Un manuscrit rÃ©cemment numÃ©risÃ© contient lâ€™un des rares Ã©crits composÃ©s en vieux saxon : lâ€™Heliand. Ce volume de la seconde moitiÃ© du Xe siÃ¨cle fut peut-Ãªtre copiÃ© en en Angleterre. Avec ses 6000 vers, lâ€™Heliand constitue lâ€™Å“uvre en vieux saxon la plus importante qui nous soit parvenue. Elle est transmise avec plus ou moins de lacunes dans deux manuscrits, lâ€™un Ã la British Library, lâ€™autre Ã Munich (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 25), ainsi quâ€™Ã lâ€™Ã©tat de fragments.
Lâ€™Heliand est une rÃ©Ã©criture de la vie du Christ, probablement composÃ©e au dÃ©but du IXe siÃ¨cle, dans lâ€™Est de lâ€™empire carolingien. Dans ce poÃ¨me Ã©pique, le Christ prend les traits dâ€™un prince germanique, Saint Jean devient un guerrier, tandis que les disciples endossent le rÃ´le de comtes. Cette Å“uvre Ã©tait sans doute chantÃ©e ou contÃ©e oralement.
Les chercheurs sâ€™accordent Ã dire que lâ€™exemplaire de la British Library fut Ã©laborÃ© plus dâ€™un siÃ¨cle aprÃ¨s la composition du poÃ¨me, et quâ€™il fut copiÃ© par un scribe anglais, ou du moins, un copiste influencÃ© par des manuscrits insulaires. Les annotations marginales en latin ainsi que le style de la dÃ©coration sont similaires Ã des volumes dâ€™origine anglaise de la mÃªme pÃ©riode. Que ce manuscrit ait Ã©tÃ© copiÃ© ou non par un scribe anglais, les annotations en minuscule anglo-saxonne laissent penser que le manuscrit franchit trÃ¨s tÃ´t la Manche. Il faut dire quâ€™il existait des liens Ã©troits tant entre le vieil anglais et le vieux saxon, quâ€™entre les populations qui usaient de ces dialectes. Les anglo-saxons considÃ©raient dâ€™ailleurs descendre des saxons. Le manuscrit de lâ€™Heliand constitue un prÃ©cieux tÃ©moignage de ces Ã©changes culturels et linguistiques. Il permet Ã©galement de rappeler que les manuscrits copiÃ©s et lus en Angleterre, ne se limitaient pas aux textes en vieil anglais et en latin, mais englobaient une plus large aire culturelle.
Alison Hudson and Laure Miolo
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