THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

11 posts from November 2013

06 November 2013

How Does Beowulf Begin?

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We always like to hear about research that touches on the British Library's collections; and here is a good example. Anglo-Saxon scholars will invariably be familiar with the opening of the epic poem Beowulf, which starts with the word "Hwæt!". You can see the word in question above (the second letter is a wynn, pronounced w-), and you can view the whole manuscript online on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

This word "Hwæt" has puzzled translators for some considerable time, and it has been rendered variously as "What!" by William Morris (1895) and "So!" by Seamus Heaney (1999), among other interpretations. However, new research by George Walkden (University of Manchester) suggests that the context of "Hwæt" has been misunderstood: instead of functioning as a command to listen (along the lines of Hey! Oi you!), Walkden proposes that it should be translated as "How", in the sense of "How we have heard of the might of kings". Dr Walkden's conclusion is based on a close study of the other uses of this word and, if correct, adds a fresh perspective to the opening lines of Beowulf. Perhaps the original audience wasn't so inattentive, after all?

For those of you interested in what the poem would have sounded like, we'd also highly recommend the version by Benjamin Bagby. Or if you'd prefer to hear the opening lines in Hungarian (or French or Telugu), click here! "Listen up"" (as the Beowulf-poet apparently didn't say).

04 November 2013

Blackburn's 'Worthy Citizen': A Colloquium on the R. E. Hart Collection

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Personification of Death at the beginning of the Office of the Dead, from an Italian Book of Hours, c. 1470-1480, Hart 20966, f. 106v

It is our very great pleasure to invite you - by proxy - to an upcoming colloquium about one of England's 'hidden' rare book and manuscript collections.  Although it is not entirely unknown to scholars, the R. E. Hart collection of manuscripts, incunables, and early printed books (now held by the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery) is rarely utilised by academics; the present curator of the Museum, Vinai Solanki, has welcomed only three such visitors in the past five years.  This is a particular shame as the collection, though small, is spectacular, and contains such gems as the Peckover Psalter (France, c. 1220-40) and the Blackburn Psalter (England, William of Devon workshop, c. 1250-60), as well as a number of significant Books of Hours and early printed books. 

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Detail of an historiated initial 'B'(eatus vir) with two scenes of King David, at the beginning of the Psalms, from the Peckover Psalter, France, c. 1220-40, Hart 21117, f. 14v

An exhibition of ten items from the Hart collection will be available from 8 November to 28 November in Goldsmith's Library Reading Room, Senate House, London (see below), and this exhibition will culminate in a one-day colloquium on 23 November at the Institute of English Studies, Senate House; please see the relevant IES page here.  Registration includes refreshments, lunch, and a wine reception at the end of the day, and the first 25 student places are offered free of charge. 

More details about the project can be found at: http://www.blackhartbooks.wordpress.com/.  We hope to see you there!

Blackburn poster 10.10.13 final

01 November 2013

A Calendar Page for November 2013

For more details on calendar pages or the Golf Book, please see the post for January 2013.

Hunting takes centre stage in these calendar pages for the month of November.  In the full-page miniature, a nobleman can be seen returning from a stag-hunt; his quarry, a magnificently-antlered animal, is in the foreground, draped across a white horse.  This nobleman is accompanied by two retainers and a group of tired-looking hounds, while in the background, peasants can be seen feeding their chickens and pigs, and preparing their farm buildings for winter.  In the bas-de-page, a group of men are bowling - and, it appears, heatedly disputing a recent shot.  On the following page are the saints' days and feasts for November, alongside a roundel containing a centaur archer for the zodiac sign Sagittarius; below, two men are coursing hounds on yet another hunt.

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Calendar page for November with a miniature of a nobleman returning from a hunt, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), Additional MS 24098, f. 28v

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Calendar page for November with a bas-de-page scene of men on a hunt, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), Additional MS 24098, f. 29r

, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 27v - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/10/a-calendar-page-for-october-2013.html#sthash.j6qcTDU7.dpuf
, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1540, Additional MS 24098, f. 27v - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/10/a-calendar-page-for-october-2013.html#sthash.j6qcTDU7.dpuf