18 April 2019
The egg, as a symbol of life, fertility, purity and eternity, has figured in the rituals, traditions and beliefs of people around the world, in a wide range of geographical regions and cultures, as documented in Venetia Newall’s comprehensive study An Egg at Easter.
In Ukraine the custom of decorating eggs and the related rituals pre-date Christianity, and were initially associated with the pagan new year (the re-birth of spring). With the official Christianisation of Ukraine in the tenth century, the tradition was subsumed into the Christian system of belief, without ever completely losing its former significance. Among the techniques used, the most significant is “writing” on the egg (using the wax-resist method), which results in the pysanka (from the verb pysaty, to write or ornament). The pysanka’s enduring nature and ubiquity is due largely to the fact that it was one of the most accessible means for ordinary people (even if they were not literate in the accepted sense) to create ritual objects and to record their lives and beliefs, albeit in a different kind of language. This resulted in a continuity which has much to tell researchers into Ukraine’s cultural past. An overview of the pysanka tradition, by Gloria Surmach, can be found in Ukrainian Arts, compiled by Olya Dmytriw. Additionally, there are now many websites on this topic (e.g. www.pysanky.info).
Cover of Ukrainian Arts (New York, 1952) 7946.e.98
Possibly the earliest mention of the pysanka in print is in Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan’s Description d’Ukranie, in which the author describes the celebration of Easter in Ukraine. After a service in Kyiv, for example, each member of the congregation:
kneels before the Bishop [...] and presents him with a red or yellow painted egg, while greeting him with the words ‘Christos vos Christ’ (sic)*, and the Bishop, raising each from their knees, replies ‘Oustinos vos Christos’ (sic)*, at the same time kissing the women and girls, so that My Lord Bishop, in less than two hours, amasses over five or six thousand eggs, and has the pleasure of kissing the prettiest women and girls present in his Church ...
*Beauplan’s attempt to transliterate the traditional Easter greeting: “Christ is risen – He is risen indeed”
Whilst this may have been a slightly unusual way of acquiring a collection of eggs, in the 19th century, with the rise of interest in ethnography, collectors all over Ukraine (in lands within both the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires) started collecting pysankas, both as objets d’art and for their cultural significance. This, in turn, sparked the interest of scholars, who began to study these collections and present academic papers on them. For example, the anthropologist Fedir Vovk mentioned the uniqueness of pysankas at the Third Archaeological Congress in Kyiv in 1874:
there is fairly rich, very original and interesting material [...] in the motifs on krashankas or pysankas [...] As far as I am aware, the custom of decorating Easter eggs with motifs does not appear to exist in the Great Russian gubernias, and for that reason the forms of ornamentation of pysankas constitute material which is probably distinctive within the ethnographic context ... (Proceedings of the Congress, vol.2 )
One collection of pysankas, amassed by arts patron Kateryna Skarzhynska in Lubny, Poltava Region, formed the basis for the first comprehensive publication on the subject, Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok, by the ethnographer and archaeologist Serhii Kulzhynskyi (written in Russian at a time when publications in Ukrainian in the Russian Empire were severely restricted by tsarist decree). Lamenting the paucity of published material relating to the Ukrainian pysanka, Kulzhynskyi emphasises “the extraordinary interest which pysankas represent for scholarship and art”.
From Kulzhynskyi’s time onwards, interest in the pysanka as an object of serious study has fluctuated, often depending on the political situation in Ukraine. In the 1920s a number of Ukrainian-language books and articles on the subject were published: in the Ukrainian SSR, for example Ukrainski pysanky iak pamiatky narodnoho maliarstva, by Stefan Taranushchenko (Kharkiv, 1927); in Galicia under Polish rule, for example Pysanky Skhidnoi Halychyny i Bukovyny u zbirtsi Natsionalnoho muzeiu u Lvovi, by Iryna Gurgula (Lviv, 1929), and Boikivski pysanky, by Mykhailo Skoryk (Sambir, 1934); and in the near diaspora, where there were considerable concentrations of Ukrainian writers and intellectuals, such as Vadym Shcherbakivskyi, author of Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia.
Reprint of Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia (Prague, 1925) YA.1992.b.2180 (original available online)
After the Stalinist crackdown in the late 1920s and early 1930s (and the suppression of most Christian denominations in the USSR), little was published in Ukraine, and it fell to the post-Second World War diasporas, particularly in the USA, Canada and the UK, to popularise the pysanka as a cultural tradition, to re-introduce it as an Easter ritual and to produce publications on the subject. In Ukraine, it was not until the post-Stalinist thaw in the 1960s that a small but significant work on the pysanka (drawing in part on Kulzhynskyi’s work) was published, namely Ukrainski pysanky, compiled by Erast Biniashevskyi.
The political repressions of the 1970s again limited the practice of, and research into, the pysanka in the Soviet Bloc. An exception was the publication of Ukrainski pysanky Skhidnoi Slovachchyny by Pavlo Markovych, a scholarly book on Ukrainian pysankas in Eastern Slovakia.
Since Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991, much has been published, both in Ukraine and abroad (in various languages), promoting the pysanka as an objet d’art, its symbolism, methods, designs and associated traditions, for example Ukrainska narodna pysanka, by Vira Manko.
There are collections of pysankas in many museums, both in Ukraine and abroad, as, for example, in the Ukrainian Museum in New York. In Kolomyia, in western Ukraine, a pysanka museum (established in 1987) currently houses over 12,000 exhibits. Today, the pysanka is undergoing a revival and, as in the villages of Ukraine in past centuries, people all over the world (and not just of Ukrainian heritage) are experiencing this unique phenomenon for themselves. There is, though, so much more to learn about the pysanka.
Marta Jenkala, Senior Teaching Fellow in Ukrainian, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies
02 April 2019
It’s English Tourism Week and what better to guide prospective visitors to these shores than an anonymous compilation of English customs published nearly 200 years ago in Stockholm. John Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet was recently acquired by the British Library and appears to be a translation from multiple contemporary sources of anecdotes and summaries of Englishness. It contains all manner of veritable traditions, half-truths and fake news that you might expect.
In no seeming order, the book takes us from Charles I to the Lord Mayor’s Day via brief glimpses at the Fairlop Fair, ‘Riding the Stang’, football and funeral ceremonies, and anecdotes that illuminate British attitudes under titles such as ‘The Compassionate Traveller’, ‘Paternal Tenderness’, or ‘Exceptional Orderliness’, all in just over 50 pages.
One possible source for the work is Popular Pastimes, being a selection of picturesque representations of the customs & amusements of Great Britain, in ancient and modern times (London, 1816; 785.h.8), which includes drawings by F. P. Stephanoff and historical descriptions by Edward Wedlake Brayley. A second source could be the less structured but equally enjoyable John Bull ou Londresiana, attributed to a ‘C.D’
Engraving from John Bull ou Londresiana, Recueil d’originalités et de singularités anglaises, avec les anecdotes, bons mots, plaisanteries, sarcasmes, et railleries particulières à ce peuple (Paris, [1820?]) 12314.df.4.
Both the French and Swedish John Bull refer to the peculiarity of their subject and understandably so given the stories they recount. In ‘En besynnerlig Ursäkt’ (‘A peculiar excuse’) we read a dark tale about a day-labourer who twice tried to drown himself but was twice saved by a peasant. He waits for his moment and on the third occasion hangs himself off a barn door. When the owner of the farm questions the peasant, who had in fact seen the whole thing, the peasant says that, since the labourer had been thoroughly soaked in the first two plunges, he thought he was hanging himself out to dry.
The book shares a chapter with Popular Pastimes on what the English publication calls the practice of ‘Selling a Wife’ and the Swedish more modestly refers to as ‘Åktenskaps-handel’ (‘Marriage trade’). Both condemn the activity, which is said to prevail among the ‘lower classes’ (John Bull) or ‘the illiterate and vulgar’ (Popular Pastimes). Our English historian finds space however to celebrate the songs that have been derived from the practice: ‘this practice, immoral and shameful as it is, has given rise to various pleasant Jeu d’esprits […]’. The examples they give differ, possibly exposing the fact that John Bull was paraphrased from various sources.
Other chapters shared between the two books include ‘Milk Maids’ Garland‘ (‘Mjölkflickans Krans‘), ‘Riding the Stang’ (‘Rida på Stången‘) and ‘St. Valentine’s Day’, which our Swedish observers tell us ‘is quite extraordinary in England. The youth yearn for it [längtar otåligt efter det] every year.’ ‘Rida på Stången’ is more or less a direct translation from its source in Popular Pastimes, which describes a practice of vigilante justice, referred to otherwise as ‘charivari’ or ‘skimmington’. The accused is forced onto a long pole, or stang, and carried through the streets to expose his dishonour. The criminal associated with this treatment was traditionally ‘a man who had debauched his neighbour’s wife’, but not exclusively so, as ‘the virago who had beaten her husband was also subjected to riding the Stang’ (Popular Pastimes, p. 17). The method was also used in Westmoreland and Cumberland, we read, to deter anyone from conducting any business at all on New Year’s Day. While, Popular Pastimes does not delve deeper, John Bull interrogates this Cumbrian variation:
Man hwart taga dessa böter wägen? Jo, man super upp dem, man fyller sig, wältrar sig i sanden, öfwerlastad af Öl, Rumm, Win och Brännwin. — Det är ett nöjsamt tidsfordrif for Engelska folkshopen. (p. 38)
Where do the fines go? Yes, they guzzle it up, they have their fill, roll about in the mud, full of beer, rum, wine and brandy. It is a pleasurable pastime for the English crowds.
I wonder how different today’s portrait of John Bull and the peculiar English would be…
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Studies
14 January 2019
Pan Kotsky, or ‘Mister Cat’, if we translate his name literally, is the most famous cat in Ukrainian folklore. You will find him in virtually any anthology of traditional children’s tales . What does the story tell us about the Ukrainian way of life?
The tale tells how a cat was too old to be able to do his job properly – catching mice - and his master decided to dump him in a forest. A dark and horrible future was waiting for the cat: he would slowly die of hunger and loneliness. But all of a sudden, our poor puss was given a second chance. A Lady Fox met him in the wood and became interested.
“What’s your name?" She asked.
“Great! Be my husband!”
“What a kind proposal!” thought the cat and agreed.
And they form a ‘typical’ Ukrainian couple often depicted in Ukrainian folklore: a clever and active woman with a kind and passive man. The Lady Fox cherishes her husband and presents him to the community. The Hare is the first to come to the house, and the Lady Fox announces her new situation: “Beware of my husband, Pan Kotsky, he’s fierce and will easily tear you to pieces!”
And the Hare believes her! The same happens with the other villagers: the Wolf, the Bear and the Boar. All of them are afraid of the new master of the forest.
“Let’s prepare a supper and invite him!” they decide. But nobody has enough courage to invite the fearsome Pan Kotsky personally, and so the Hare has no choice but go to the Lady Fox’s house. She plays her role awesomely well: “I’ll come with him, but hide away! Or he will tear you to pieces!!!” The others have no reason not to believe her, so the Bear climbs a tree, the Wolf hides behind a bush and the Boar finds a hole in the woodpile…
The table is full of tasty food and drink, waiting for the guests to dine. Pan Kotsky is a simple fellow and does not have good manners; he is just a peasant. He climbs on the table and starts to gorge himself on the meat. All of a sudden a mosquito decides to bite the Boar, who moves in his hiding place. Our cat does not forget his instincts and catches what he thinks is a mouse - but it is the Boar’s tail! The Boar roars and terrifies Pan Kotsky who promptly jumps into the tree, where he accidentally disturbs the Bear… What a row! The surprised Bear falls on the Wolf and hurts the Hare, and all of them think they are going to die…
The image of Pan Kotsky as the most dangerous creature in the wood is well established now!
Pan Kotsky as seen by prominent Ukrainian illustrator Kost Lavro. Reproduced in: 100 kazok (Kyiv, 2005) LF.31.b.6371
Pan Kotsky and Lady Fox as seen by J. Hnizdovsky. Reproduced in Ukrainian folk tales, translated by Marie Halun Bloch (London, 1964). X.990/127
A conwoman and a conman, sly, dishonest and manipulative? Yes! In real life characters like them often succeed beautifully. The Lady Fox had her ‘LOL’ moment, and she and her husband do not seem to be punished in this tale for what they’ve done. They are the winners. It is a story of what the French call ‘être et paraître’, ‘to be and to appear’. A good image is more effective than actual status: fake it until you make it! It’s perfectly understandable in our own era of Instagram domination.
But we can see a different interpretation here, from Pan Kotsky’s point of view. Even if you are old and apparently useless, do not give up! You may still get a second chance. Maintain a positive attitude in life, stay open to opportunities…
The tale of Pan Kotsky inspired the Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko to compose an opera of the same title in 1891, and the writer Borys Hrinchenko to write a version of the tale in 1904. In 1969 an animated film of the story, The Scary Creature, was created by a Kyiv animation studio - and many Ukrainian children are lucky enough to see Pan Kotsky on the stage!
Postal stamp of Ukraine from 2002 depicting Pan Kotsky (From Wikimedia Commons)
Olena Yashchuk Codet, Artist, Author, Cultural Events Organiser, and creator of Katou-Matou Cat character
02 July 2018
Cricket, arguably more than any other sport, encourages the collection of statistics, as any listener to the BBC’s ‘Test Match Special’ knows. Wisden, or The Cricketer’s Almanack, was first published as early as 1864 and has been documenting matches and calculating players’ averages ever since. The nature of the sport lends itself to the accumulation and analysis of data: not just batting or bowling averages, but also all manner of records – from most runs off an over to the fastest hundred by an Australian in his (or her) debut test in England. The BBC’s first TMS scorers or, better, statisticians, Arthur Wrigley and Bill Frindall, acquired legendary status for their meticulous record keeping and anticipation of records about to be broken.
It is, however, surprising to come across not only a Spanish cricket enthusiast in the late 19th century but one who compiled a book of cricket statistics devoted to an English county. The British Library holds a copy of Anthony Benítez de Lugo’s Surrey at the Wicket, which was printed in Madrid at his own expense in 1888. The full title is: Surrey at the wicket. A complete record of all the matches played by the county eleven since the formation of the club. Yearly and general batting and bowling averages with other informations [sic] interesting to Surrey cricketers.
As the title indicates, the work documents the results of all matches played by Surrey, together with batting and bowling averages, year-by-year from 1844 until 1887. Surrey County Cricket Club was officially founded in 1845, but an 1844 match against the M.C.C. is included. Score cards are not included, which is initially confusing as the results tables always show Surrey as if batting first. Benítez de Lugo does not mention his sources of information. However, for the period after 1864 he would have had access to Wisden, and before that to press reports and to Frederick Lillywhite’s publications. The latter may have provided him with details of players’ height and weight. Most probably he had access to Surrey’s own records and, almost certainly, he kept records himself.
But who was our Spanish cricket enthusiast? He was born Antonio Benítez de Lugo y de la Cantera in Havana in 1857 and in 1893 he acquired the title of Marqués de Santa Susana, bestowed on him by María Cristina, Regent for Alfonso XIII, in recognition of his aunt Susana Benítez de Lugo’s charitable work in Cuba. However, it is not clear how he came to be interested in cricket nor when he began the compilation of statistics.
Benítez de Lugo went on to publish two further books of statistics, although sadly neither is in the British Library. The first, The Surrey Champion (1895), documented the career of the Surrey cricketer, Walter Read (1855-1907), who was most noted for a match-saving innings of 117 for England against Australia in 1884 when batting down at number 10. He also provided statistics for Read’s own Annals of Cricket (London, 1896; 07095.k.1), as Read acknowledged in his introduction: ‘thanks are due to the Marquis de Santa Susana for the exhaustive records of my own doings’ (p. 3).
His final work, published in 1900, brought Surrey at the Wicket up to date down to 1899. His statistics were also deployed in the extensive Surrey Cricket. Its History and Associations of 1902, as is indicated by the acknowledgement ‘the whole of the statistics … are the work of the Marquis de Santa Susana’ (pp. v.-vi.). He is also described there as ‘one of the most enthusiastic followers of Surrey cricket’ (p. vi).
There are obvious gaps in this account. Keen followers of Surrey cricket and statisticians are invited to fill them in and to correct any errors.
Geoff West, Former Head of Hispanic Collections
Anthony Benítez de Lugo, The Surrey Champion. A complete record of Mr Walter William Read’s performance for Surrey and in representational matches, 1873-1897 (Madrid, 1895). Private circulation. 100 copies.
Anthony Benítez de Lugo, A Summary of Surrey Cricket 1844-99. (Madrid, 1900). Private circulation.
The cricketer’s almanack for... 1864 [-1869], then John Wisden’s cricketers’ almanack for… 1870 [-1937]. (London, 1864-1937). RH.9.x.1533.
Fred Lillywhite, Frederick Lillywhite’s cricket scores and biographies of celebrated cricketers, from 1746. Vols. 3-4. (London, 1863-64) 7905.de.9.
E. W. Padwick, A bibliography of cricket. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (London, 1984). British Library HLR 796.358.
Richard Everard Webster, Surrey Cricket. Its history and associations. Ed. Lord Alverstone... and C. W. Alcock. (London, 1902). 07905.i.47.
18 June 2018
The famous ‘Maatjesharing’ is here again! Like the Scandinavians the Dutch celebrate the arrival of the first ‘Nieuwe’, or ‘virgin’ herring, in the month of June.
It all started last week with the traditional auction of the first barrel of ‘Nieuwe’ brought ashore. The auction raised a whopping €78,000 for charity.
Over to London where on Friday the very first ‘London Haring Party’ (deliberately ‘haring’ , not ‘herring’) was held at the Dutch Church in Austin Friars in support of the Dutch Centre . The auction of a barrel of herring there did not quite make €78,000, but the £525 it did raise wasn’t at all bad. Congratulations to the Dutch Centre!
Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for. Sure, the bitterballen were very nice, don’t get me wrong, but everyone was gagging to get their teeth into some herring!
You may get an idea about just how desperate we had all become from the photos below, taken about half a minute apart from each other, if that. The beer flowed freely and the live band sang Dutch hits. What’s not to like. I look forward to next year already.
Such a shame I couldn’t be in Scheveningen on Saturday to celebrate the 71st ‘Vlaggetjesdag’, which
opens the season for ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’. Fishing boats are decked out in colourful bunting, or flags (hence the name ‘Flag Day’) and the Dutch colours are everywhere, as is herring and other fish.
It is a real ‘street food festival’, with that very Dutch way of eating a herring that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. The way to do it is to take the whole herring by the tail, bend your head backwards and let the salty fish, well coated in a thick layer of chopped raw onions, slither down your throat. Yummy!
If this sounds like a bit too much, just ask for a ‘broodje haring’ (a herring roll) and you’ll be fine. That’s your weekly ration of Omega 3 and 6 sorted.
During the festival local women stroll around in their traditional finery, golden pins in their white caps, necklaces of red coral held by a golden clasp and a pastel green shawl.
Herring has been a staple food for the Dutch for centuries. In the early days of the Dutch Golden Age herring was the bread and butter of the Dutch economy, in more than one sense. Due to wars, in particular the Anglo-Dutch wars of the mid-17th century, herring fishery declined in the Netherlands. It was not until the 19th century that it picked up again.
In his Overzicht der geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Zeevisscherijen, Anthony Beaujon describes the ebb and flow of the Dutch sea fisheries over time. He wrote it first in English as ‘History of Dutch Sea-fisheries’, and submitted it as an entry to the competition launched on the occasion of the International Exhibition on Fisheries held in London in 1883, one of the largest exhibitions held at that time. Beaujon won the competition and later translated his book into Dutch. Strangely enough we hold the Dutch edition, but our catalogue does not show a record for the English edition. It may well be included in one of the many other titles published on the occasion of this exhibition.
Donald. S. Murray’s book ‘Herring Tales’ is a more recent history of herring and probably a bit more readable than Beaujon. His is a fascinating story of herring that connects Dutch, Scandinavian and British culture, perhaps more than anything else.
There is a third celebration that involves herring, white bread and butter which takes place in October, so I’ll be back with more about herring then.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Studies, Dutch Language Collections.
25 May 2018
A year ago my colleague Barry Taylor wrote a post for this blog about a wild man being seen in the Hartzwald in Bohemia and commented on an anthology of wild men (RB. 23.a.24200). This brought to my mind associations with regions that I am very familiar with and that are dear to me.
The mention of Hartzwald and wild men made me smile immediately: I am from the Harz Mountains in the north of Germany; and in the forests there is a little town by the name of Wildemann.
View of the town of Wildemann, from Carl Gottlieb Horstig, Tageblätter unsrer Reise in und um den Harz (Leipzig, 1805) 10260.e.14.
Here I recall several bemusing conversations with colleagues about the name of my home region, all based on the mutual misunderstanding of the geography and word play: “I am from the Harz Mountains”, I’d say. “Ah, you are from the Hartzgebirge?” would be the response – yet one of us would mean Bohemia, the other Germany.
Both mountain ranges, the Hartzwald in Bohemia, and the Harz in Lower Saxony, in central Germany, between the rivers Weser and Elbe, are indeed similar medium range mountains, of similar geological age. They are covered in forests, with pine trees and other conifers being the predominant trees. Hence the name Har(t)z, which derives from “Hart”, as the Harz mountains were also known until the later middle ages, meaning “mountain forest” and “Harz”, meaning resin, the viscous secretion of plants and of conifer trees in particular. And, in their remoteness and sparse settlement, they’d lend themselves to being home and origin of myths and fairy tales, - as well as being ideal refuge and hideaway of whoever might need it (wild men included).
In the case of Wildemann the place name points more to the tales and legends of the local mining community, and the imaginary names the local miners would give to their settlements and mine shafts.
Wildemann and district with a plan of the neighbouring mine. The shaft on the bottom right is labelled with the name ‘Wilder Mann Stolln’. Detail from Prospecte des Hartzwalds nebst accurater Vorstellung der auf selbigem gebräuchlichen Bergwerks-Machinen, Ertz-und Praege-Arbeiten … ([Nuremberg, after 1729]). Maps K.Top.100.44.
According to the folk tale, a “wild man” was seen along the banks of the river Innerste, now the location of the small town of Wildemann. The tale describes him as a tall man, a giant, who also had a companion, a giant lady, and, in defence, was swinging a tall fir tree, as his weapon. The miners tried to capture him at have him questioned by the Earl in Brunswick, but the wild man died in transport. Along the river banks, where they had first seen him, a rich lode of ore was then discovered.
The Harz in North Germany was location of a rich mining industry, with gold and silver mining, and later, ore mining active from 968-1988, one of the richest and longest mining traditions in Europe. Thus this wealthy mountains became a region where kings and emperors like residing – the city of Goslar has an Emperor’s palace, where the travelling court of the kings and emperors would hold court – and this might be the reason, such significance of these rich, green, wild forests, that King George III took an interest in the region. There were ‘Four views of the Harz Forest’ in his collection, now in the British Library as part of the King’s Library.
Philipp Ganz, Der Hübichenstein: ein Kalkfelsen bey der Bergstadt Grund am Harz. … ([Germany, ca.1770-1790]). Maps K.Top.100.45.1.a.2.
And of the mining village-town of Wildemann there is a map:
How gold and silver were first discovered in the Harz Mountains is worth telling – and then there is yet another wild man with a realm in a kingdom of mountains and pine forests, back in Bohemia: both stories will bring us back to mountain tales and legends.
Dorothea Miehe, Subject Librarian (Arts and Humanities), Research Services.
Marie Kutschmann, Im Zauberbann des Harzgebirges: Harz-Sagen und Geschichten (Glogau, 1889) YA.1990.b.8289.
Harz-Sagen. Ausgewählt und herausgegeben von K. Henninger und I. v. Harten. (Hildesheim, Leipzig, 1921). 12411.eee.14
23 April 2018
Happy St George’s Day, everyone! Today England celebrates the feast of its patron saint, but the day is also celebrated in Portugal, Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Palestine and some regions of Spain. In Catalonia, there are special events for what is known there as La Diada de Sant Jordi. Customs include giving presents of roses and books, so the streets today will be full of wonderful smells and colours!
The Catalan version of the Saint George legend recounts how the brave knight was willing to give his life to save a princess. The young girl had been selected by chance to be fed to a fearsome dragon besieging her small kingdom. The knight rescued her from the beast’s claws by killing it with his spear.
According to legend, when the drops of dragon’s blood fell on the ground, they turned into roses. The knight picked one, handed it to the princess, and together they lived happily ever after. The story also says that the rose re-blossoms with new energy every April, which helps explain why the festival to commemorate the knight’s deeds takes place in this month.
Ultimately, however, the legend of George slaying a dragon and rescuing an innocent maiden is a medieval addition to the story of a much older historical figure. The origins of the festival go back as far as 23 April 303 AD when the Romans beheaded a soldier named George who had previously led a battalion under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. His crime? Refusing to obey the Emperor’s orders to persecute Christians. His punishment was martyrdom.
The story of this Christian knight quickly attracted veneration, with a wide range of fantastic births and different legends attributed to the Saint, who was canonised in the 7th century. His cult gradually spread through the Catalan region until, in 1456, he was officially named the patron saint of Catalonia.
Bernat Martorell, Saint George Killing the Dragon, c. 1434/35. (The Art Institute of Chicago; Image from the Google Art Project via Wikimedia Commons)
Sant Jordi celebrations in Catalonia can be traced back at least 300 years, with the Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona already hosting a Rose Fair on the day by the 15th century. This mediaeval celebration was dedicated to weddings, betrothals and marriages, and custom dictated that a man should buy a red rose for his wife, as a symbol of his passion.
In 1456, the day became an official festival, but in the early 18th century, with the fall of the city of Barcelona and the ascension of the Bourbons to the Spanish throne, it began to lose its devotees. It was not until the end of the 19th century, with the Renaixença, that Sant Jordi’s day regained its strength and vitality to vindicate the historical and cultural heritage of Catalonia.
The revival of the day was consolidated at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the Mancomunitat de Catalunya. At this time, an effort was made to revitalize Sant Jordi traditions, which not only appealed to feelings of patriotism and sentimentality, but also directly benefited the publishing sector, as we will see below. Under Franco’s regime, however, Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy was annulled and Sant Jordi celebrations were prohibited. Nevertheless, following the death of the dictator, the day regained its characteristic festive brilliance.
Goigs en llaor de Sant Jordi, martir (Vilanova i la Geltrú, 1964) Cup.21.g.6.(56.) A poem in praise of St George, adapted from an older source by Ricardo Vives i Sabaté with music by J. Maideu i Auguet
The festival’s original association with books dates back to the 1920s, when the director of the Cervantes publishing house, Valencian writer Vicent Clavel i Andrés, approached the Barcelona Official Chamber of Books and the Publishers and Booksellers Guild to organize a festival promoting books in Catalonia. The date chosen was October 7 1927.
When the International Exhibition was held in Barcelona in 1929 booksellers took it upon themselves to go out into the streets, setting up stands to display their new publications and encourage reading. Their efforts met with such success that they decided to establish an annual Book Day. However, they changed the date to 23 April to coincide with the anniversary of two great authors’ deaths: Cervantes and Shakespeare.
Above: Cover of Jordi Arquer, Oda a Sant Jordi (Mexico City, 1943), no. 233 of an edition of 500 copies. Below: opening with the author's signature and a memorial dedication to Shakespeare and Cervantes; the poem, published by Arquer in exile, was intended to mark 23 April.
Since its first inception, the festival has brought energy to Catalan publishing and continues to provide great support for the sector today. It has had such a significant impact that in 1995 UNESCO’s General Assembly declared 23 April as World Book and Copyright Day.
Sant Jordi is Catalonia’s primary patron of lovers, taking precedence even over St Valentine. Traditionally, a man gives his beloved a single red rose with an ear of wheat, and women give their lovers a book. These days, however, you will also see women receiving books, and men roses.
Why a single red rose and an ear of wheat? According to tradition, this gift combines three symbolic characteristics: the single flower represents the exclusivity of the lover’s feeling, the rose’s red colour symbolizes passion, and the ear of wheat stands for fertility. These are the elements that make it a good gift for a loved one on a special day like this.
Noemi Ortega-Raventos, Cataloguer, Gulf History
13 April 2018
Today is the opening day of the British and Pan-Celtic Esperanto Conference in Aberystwyth.
Esperanto speakers? You’re probably thinking there can’t be many of them – and moreover that the few who do exist are probably crazy as well. Yes, you’re right that they are far fewer in number than the people who are learning English or, these days, Chinese. But how many are there? The truth is that nobody knows. If the figure of “more than 100,000” is good enough for Encyclopaedia Britannica, far be it from me to contradict it by giving my own estimate.
In any case, we can confidently say that there are a few million Esperanto speakers scattered throughout the world. If there weren’t, the Esperanto Wikipedia would not now be the 32nd largest in terms of the number of articles (as recorded in June 2016). Not to mention the 1.6 million learners who have signed up for the Esperanto courses with the language-learning site Duolingo.
Esperanto speakers are everywhere. The Universal Esperanto Association has members in over 120 countries. Esperanto speakers can also be found in the sort of places where you would never think of looking, such as East Timor and New Caledonia, and there are fascinating stories about the development of Esperanto in various countries, from China to the Czech Republic. The British Library’s Esperanto Collections reflect the history and diversity of the Esperanto movement and its publications.
Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, belonged to those 19th-century visionaries who dreamt of universal brotherhood, peace and understanding. But during the very first World Congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France in 1905, a more practical group came to the fore, asserting that Esperanto was just a language, a means of facilitating international communication, and had nothing to do with airy-fairy dreams of a better world.
These are not the only divisions among Esperanto speakers. There are those who are working for it to become the world’s universal second language, and those who are happy for it to remain a niche interest and prefer to concentrate on developing its cultural potential. This second approach has a name: Raŭmismo, the Rauma movement, after the Finnish town where the World Esperanto Youth Congress was held in 1980.
As a world-wide phenomenon the Esperanto community is exposed to many influences. During the last century numerous special-interest groups were founded, contributing to a truly colourful panorama. One of the earliest was the International Union of Catholic Esperantists. But unsurprisingly the Catholics were followed by the Protestants, then by the Orthodox Christians, to say nothing of Buddhists, Ōmoto (a Japanese religion), Muslims, Bahá’í and Mormons. Naturally, in response to all this religious activity the atheists could not fail to put in an appearance – but oddly enough, there is no Jewish association at the moment, although there is no lack of Jews in the movement as a whole. All these diverse groups have found common ground between the Esperanto movement and their own ideals.
Afterwards came the Communist Esperanto speakers, the Socialists, Anarchists and other splinter groups who even fought in the Spanish Civil War, but now are more likely to fight amongst themselves. At the same time professional associations came into being, who used Esperanto as their working language and published specialist periodicals. You may be surprised to learn that there are doctors who discuss surgery in Esperanto.
Then there are the railway workers, the journalists, the ecologists, the feminists and numerous others. Teachers are particularly important in a movement whose aim is to teach a language. Their association is the International League of Esperantist Teachers.
You might well ask yourself what all these diverse groups have in common. In fact, there is something.
The first general trait is being interested in “the other”. Esperanto was born with the aim of facilitating communication between people speaking different languages, and so curiosity about other cultures is part of its DNA.
The second trait is tolerance. No one cares if you support some cranky fringe movement; you will be accepted anyway. The Esperanto-speaking world is open to groups who may be subject to some rather odd looks in the rest of society. Nobody in the UK now finds anything remarkable about being a vegetarian, but that was not the case as recently as the 1960s. The British Esperanto movement contains a higher proportion of vegetarians than society as a whole, as was shown in Peter G. Forster’s study The Esperanto Movement (The Hague, 1982; X.0900/323(32)). Homosexuals were welcome in the Esperanto movement at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in many countries.
In the 130 years since the first book in Esperanto was published, Esperanto speakers have been creating their own culture of novels, poetry, songs and jokes. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published, both translated and original. Many Esperanto authors are known for their writing in their own languages as well as Esperanto, for instance the British writer Marjorie Boulton.
Literary serial Beletra almanako (New York, 2006-). ZF.9.a.7847
Musicians singing in Esperanto can be heard online (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27BP5sXwuTs), and many of the thousands who have started learning with Duolingo create videos for YouTube. You will also find many Esperantists on social media platforms.
Kajto (Ankie van der Meer and Nanne Kalma from Netherlands) singing at the London Esperanto Club (Photo by Olga Kerziouk).
And finally, the last trait that all Esperanto speakers share, whatever their backgrounds or beliefs, is their love for the language itself and for the Esperanto-speaking community. For many couples Esperanto has even become their family language, particularly when they belong to different nationalities. They chat in Esperanto over the dinner table and use it to talk to their children.
Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto / Anna Lowenstein, Esperanto author and journalist
Esperanto in the New York Times: 1887-1922, edited by Ulrich Becker. (New York, 2010).YD.2010.a.12499
Roberto Garvía Soto. Esperanto and its rivals: the struggle for an international language. (Philadelphia, 2015) m15/.11262
Esther H. Schor, Bridge of words: Esperanto and the dream of a universal language (New York, 2015). Waiting for shelfmark.
Geoffrey Sutton, Concise encyclopedia of the original literature of Esperanto, 1887-2007 (New York, 2008). YC.2008.a.12495
09 March 2018
Each generation of children has its own favourite book which defines their childhood. For children growing up in Poland in the 1950s and 60s it was a book about a school for wizards called Akademia pana Kleksa (‘Mr Inkblot’s Academy’) by Jan Brzechwa, first published in 1946.
The book tells the story of incomparable eccentric Ambroży Kleks (Ambrose Inkblot), headmaster of an equally nonpareil school for wizards based in Fairylandia at the very end of Chocolate Street. Fairylandia lies not far off but is not that easy to find unless one is invited and guided there, just as one day an unhappy, bullied 12-year-old boy, Adaś Niezgódka (Adam Contrary), is by a learned blackbird which communicates words by dropping their first syllables.
The school is a three-storey building with classrooms, refectory and dormitories, and the top floor, to which there are no stairs, housing all Mr Inkblot’s secrets. It stands in the middle of a large unkempt park, surrounded by a wall lined with iron gates leading to other fables. Nobody knows how many of these gates there are, but all are locked with silver locks, and Mr Inkblot keeps the keys in a silver casket.
The 24 boys in the school – all of whose names begin with A – are taught by Mr Inkblot the subtle art of wizardry in subjects ranging from inkblotography and letter-spinning to un-breaking broken things. Mr Inkblot also helps the boys improve their dreams by selecting the best of them from dream-reflecting mirrors at each boy’s bedside: He also cooks for them: brightly-coloured beads which turn to delicious soups and juices, but also huge roasts, prepared with the help of a magnifying pump. But he can cook anything a boy can fancy by painting the dish with his magic brush. He himself gets by on hair-growing pills but loves flavoursome colours and for elevenses treats himself to a handful of butterflies, a special kind which he plants and grows like beans.
Mr Inkblot, who knows and sees everything, is the epitome of goodness and always tries to make everyone happy with themselves. He is a tall man, though he can control his size with the magnifying pump, making himself teeny-weeny for going to bed. He has a mop of hair gleaming with all colours of the rainbow and a vast bushy beard as black as soot. He wears an old-fashioned velvet frock coat with a lemon-bright waistcoat full of pockets, the contents of which could easily fill three rooms.
Jan Brzechwa, started writing Mr Inkblot’s Academy in 1944, when war was still raging outside the window of his Warsaw flat. As a Jew he was hiding on the ‘Aryan’ side, somewhat contrarily, by not hiding at all and trying to live a ‘normal’ life. Writing was for him a way to escape the horrors of war by sticking to what he was good at: writing children’s stories and rhymes. He was an acknowledged master of the art.
Yet the horrors seeped into the narrative, most vividly in the story of Alojzy Bąbel (Alois Blister), a boy-marionette brought to Mr Inkblot for schooling by Philip the barber, Mr Inkblot’s nemesis. Mr Inkblot brings Alois to life but the boy grows wickeder and wickeder, spewing hate and destruction, until he has to be dismantled. This enrages Philip, who steals Mr Inkblot’s secrets, sending him and his Academy on a course to total annihilation. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, Brzechwa originally named the wicked boy Adolf, but, wanting to protect the innocence of his young readers, or just driven by his wicked sense of humour, changed the name to that of Hitler’s father, thus neatly blaming it all on the parents.
The character of Mr Inkblot also had his real-life counterpart. Franz Fiszer was a real character, legendary in the literary circles of pre-war Warsaw. A Socrates and a Falstaff, a practicing metaphysician and the last of true alchemists, if by such we mean not quack-chemists but serious searchers for the philosopher’s stone, Fiszer dined and drank during legendary symposia, which convened spontaneously wherever he sat at a table. It would be an inconsolable waste if Franz Fiszer were to recede into oblivion without a trace. Luckily for him his memory has not been totally blotted out – he transmogrified into Mr Inkblot. Thanks to Jan Marcin Szancer – another Polish Jew hiding in occupied Warsaw, who created Mr Inkblot’s definitive image much as E.H. Shepard did for Winnie-the-Pooh – Fiszer/Mr Inkblot became a great friend to generations of Polish children.
Mr Inkblot’s Academy was the first of a trilogy, followed by Mr Inkblot’s Travels and ending with Mr Inkblot’s Triumph, which rounds up the story with Adam’s graduation from the Academy and his last journey with Mr Inkblot in search of the disappeared tribe of Fairytalers (and his own parents). It all ends well – despite continued machinations by Alois Blister – with Adam’s engagement to a lovely girl named Reseda.
The books’ enduring promise of escape, renewed interest in Mr Inkblot and his academy when Poland was drowning in the greyness of the martial law imposed in 1981. Three films made in the 1980s relaunched the imperishable Mr Inkblot’s career and brightened the years of yet another generation of Polish children, and perhaps not just Polish, as the films were shown on European television well into the 1990s. One can only wonder why Mr Inkblot’s Academy’s film potential was discovered so late. Brzechwa himself wrote film scripts, among them an adaptation of another classic, The Two who Stole the Moon, the horrid twins of the title played by Kaczyński brothers, later president and prime minister of Poland. Sadly, an earlier project of turning Mr Inkblot’s Academy into a Hollywood film came to nothing, even though it was scripted by Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas. Although her treatment was the first English version of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, and can be read online via the website of the Münchener Stadtbibliothek, there has never been a published translation – a challenge perhaps for a publisher today?
Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator
27 February 2018
Every child knows that the humble broom is the transport medium of choice for wizards and witches. They use it to fly to the Witches’ Sabbath, although other magical forms of transport are used, too. Why has the image of a witch on a broom taken such a firm hold in our culture? Why a broom and not a bread peel, or a cooking pot, or a pig, or even a cat?
According to art historian Renilde Vervoort two engravings by Pieter Bruegel The Elder were instrumental in imprinting the image of the witch on a broomstick (and her cauldron and black cat) in our collective imaginations.
Images of witchcraft in the 15th-century Low Countries were rare, which may go some way as to explaining their impact. Vervoort lists seven major works with such images produced in the Low Countries between 1420 and 1560. One example of a work that influenced Bruegel greatly is a pen-and ink drawing by the 15th-century painter Hieronymus Bosch, owned by Bruegel who greatly admired Bosch.
The drawing (now in The Louvre) depicts nine women playing around with sticks and brooms and other household utensils. Bosch clearly pokes fun at the silly old women, who are jumping and running about, trying very hard to get airborne, not succeeding very well. The striking thing about this drawing is that there is not a broom in sight, apart from one very short one, held over the shoulder by one of the women.
Hieronymus Bosch, Nine Witches, drawing in ink (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Reproduced in Renilde Vevoort, Vrouwen op den besem en derghelijck ghespoock (Nijmegen, 2012) YF.2012.a.4427
As an aside, this could also point to the belief that witches did not so much use broomsticks, or other sticks for that matter, to fly to the Sabbath, but to conjure up spirits and demons who would take them there. This belief might explain at least in part the origins of the wand.
Enter Bruegel. His engravings ‘St. James Encounters Hermogenes’ (1565) and ‘The Fall of the Magician Hermogenes’, copies of which are held in Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, make a lasting impression on anyone who sees them. They are full of weird and wonderful creatures, very ‘Bosch-like’.
Both engravings have the legend of St. James’s encounter with the magician Hermogenes as subject, a story that was well-known in the Middle Ages. However, nowhere in the story is there any mention of witches, therefore no earlier representations depict any. Bruegel’s does.
‘St. James Encounters Hermogenes’ shows witches on broomsticks, flying up into the air via the chimney, where they join two other witches fighting each other.
‘The Fall of the Magician Hermogenes’. shows only one witch who flies away on a broomstick, which she holds upside down.
It is unclear where Bruegel found his inspiration for the way he represented the legend of St. Jerome and Hermogenes. It may have come from a performance of the Three Apostolic Plays, by the Antwerp Chamber of Rhetoric ‘The Violets’, which showed witches and magicians. What we do know is that his fellow artist, engraver and printer Hieronymus Cock (1518-1570) commissioned the works, most likely also providing the framework for them. Cock must have expected to find a market for the prints. He was right and it is also probably due to the high reputation of both men that the prints spread rapidly, thus establishing the fairly new concept of a witch on a broom.
This concept remains a standard feature in depicting witches and witchcraft to this day.
Witch trials more or less ceased altogether in the Low Countries around 1600, although people from surrounding areas would sometimes find their way to the small town of Oudewater, to be cleared of any accusations in their own countries.
That, however, is a topic for another post.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
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