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Skaldic Poetry and The Skaldic Project

Although my internship is over, I couldn’t resist sharing this new site I found with the rest of you. While looking for Arthurian manuscripts, I stumbled across a website called The Skaldic Project. On their homepage, they describe themselves as “an international project to edit the corpus of medieval Norse-Icelandic skaldic poetry.” They are also the writers of the series Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages, a nine-volume compilation of Skaldic poetry. Five of those nine volumes have been published, and three are available on their website.

Now some of you are presumably thinking, “But wait. What is skaldic poetry?” I’m glad you asked! This is actually the topic of one of the pages on the website, linked here if you want to read more. In general, early Scandinavian poetry can be split into eddic and skaldic poetry. However, both these are modern terms.

There are several different ways to find what you’re looking for on the website. First, there’s an index of first lines.

The first lines are categorized by the first letter of the first line. The letters are on the left, and the number of first lines are on the right. If you click on a letter, it then brings you to a page where you can see all the first lines under each letter. An important note is that most letters with accent marks such as “a” and “á” are considered separate letters and lead to separate pages.

Once you go to each page, it brings you to a handy listing of all first lines starting with that letter. And if you accidentally clicked on the wrong letter, no worries! Simply click on the words next to the arrow up top that read “first lines,” and you’ll go back to the list of first letters.

Say you’re looking for all the poetry by a specific skald. There’s another directory listing all skalds alphabetically. Like the previous directory, you have to be careful about any accents on the name.

Also like the previous directory, you can see that the righthand column lists how many poems in the corpus are attributed to each skald.

If you click on the name of a skald, it redirects you to a page with additional information on the skald and poetry. If the skald’s poems are included in multiple different texts, these are all listed as collapsible headers. As always, on the righthand side there is a number of how many poems are included in each. At the bottom is any other relevant information about the skald.

There are additional directories for Manuscripts, Poems (including only named poems), Prose Works, and Runic Poetry. The first three are lists, just like the lists of First lines and Skalds. The latter, however, is split into several different sections.

If you are looking for any runic poetry, you can search based on period, region, siglum, or place.

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Hello, I’m Zeal-of-the-land Busy: Satire and Puritan Names

Earlier this summer, I did a lot of research with Dr. Uckelman about Protestant names and Puritan names. Much of the evidence supported Dr. Uckelman’s theory that Puritan names were less common than many believe, and definitely less common than the more general Protestant names that appeared across many countries. It seems England simply didn’t transform its naming pattern much more than any other Reformed country.

But why then, did these “Puritan” names leave such a distinctive mark on onomastic impressions? Certainly, they are distinctive enough to stand out in a person’s memory, but every culture has some proportion of distinctive names. Not every culture warrants books discussing the strangeness of their names, as in C. W. Bardsley’s The Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature. 

Percy Scholes provides his interpretation of this phenomenon in his book, The Puritans and Music in England and New England.  

“I should suppose that the whole of this legend about Puritan names comes from the public’s acquaintance with that popular figure Praise-God Barebone plus dim recollections of Mr. Zeal-of-the-Land Busy in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair and perhaps one or two other characters of pre-and-post-Commonwealth plays” (115). 

“Praise-God Barebone,” one of the few real occurrences we can evidence of a Puritan name, is distinctive, but fairly tame in comparison to the over-the-top names people seem to associate with Puritans. This suggests to me that Scholes is more on the money with the influence of satire. He minimizes his interpretation of its influence, pointing to “dim recollections” of two or three plays, but we have evidence that Puritan names were mocked in satire much more frequently than this. 

Stephen Wilson also discusses satire against Puritans in The Means of Naming, and quotes Bardsley’s own discussion of plays by “Ben Jonson, Cowley, and Beaumont” (Wilson 195),  but Bardsley positions these satires as an effect of the Puritan naming trend, rather than a cause of its perceived prevalence. 

Bardsley suggests hypothetical names that probably inspired the satirists, such as “Search the Scriptures Robinson” (185), but provides no evidence that such names actually existed. Was Bardsley misled by the very satire he sought to study?

Let’s take a look at the plays Bardsley mentions. He interprets them as evidence for actual Puritan naming trends, but satire intentionally distorts and exaggerates the features of its targets. I think we should consider these plays as a possible explanation for why Bardsley and others could mistakenly see Puritan naming trends as more prevalent than they really were. 

Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist— “Tribulation Wholesome, our very zealous pastor” (Wilson 195)

Here, the inclusion of the epithet “our very zealous pastor” clarifies Jonson’s strong satiric intent. Pairing the name with an obviously satiric and exaggerated epithet– (I doubt any Puritans literally referred to their pastors this way)– indicates that the name is likely also exaggerated for satire.

Additionally, “Tribulation” is overtly negative, a common trait of Puritan names as defined by Bardsley; however, many recorded Puritan names were fairly positive, including “Believe, Increase, [and] Remember” (Wilson 194). These positive Puritan names rarely come up in discussions of Puritan strangeness, and tellingly, they rarely come up in satire either. 

Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair— “Zeal-of-the-land Busy” and child “Win-the-Fight” (Wilson 195)

These names sound like real Puritan names with their dashes and prescriptive sentiments, but they connote more power and initiative than many actual Puritan names do. They encourage their bearers to fight and work hard, whereas most recorded Puritan names focused on obedience to God. The closest real name I could find was “Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith” (Wilson 194), which emphasizes the religious nature of the fight with two words, “good” and “faith,” notably missing from the satiric version.

Jonson uses names that sound to the ear like Puritan names but lack the spiritually meaningful content. This allows him to show the ridiculousness of the Puritan’s seemingly grand and prescriptive names once religion is removed from the equation. But if the author intends to portray the names as ridiculous, we should hesitate to consider them indicative of real Puritan names. 

Abraham Cowley’s The Cutter of Coleman Street— “Fear-the-Lord Barebottle” based on the real “Praise-God Barebone” (Bardsley 190)

Cowley provides perhaps the most obvious evidence that satire greatly exaggerated Puritan naming customs by including a name based on a specific real one with comical exaggeration. “Praise-God Barebone” becomes “Fear-the-Lord Barebottle,” a name that more aptly demonstrates supposed Puritan naming customs than the real inspiration. The name is longer, now with the word “the,” better fulfilling the wordy nature often attributed to Puritan names. The sentiment also turns from positive and reverential to prescriptive and intimidating, indicating the harsh and severe nature people often assume in Puritan names. 

Here, a satiric, fictional version of a Puritan name better matches the Puritan name stereotype than the real Puritan name does. To me, that suggests that the cultural conception of Puritan names stemmed from the satire written about them rather than the other way around. Perhaps we would not consider Puritan names so onomastically significant and distinct from other Protestant names if not for the likes of Jonson and Cowley. 

Bonus question

John Fletcher’s Women Pleased— “Hope-on-High Bomby” (Bardsley 189)

Bardsley considers this play very strong evidence of Puritan naming trends.

“[There] is no exaggeration of name, for we have Help-on-High Foxe to face Hope-on-High Bomby. The Rector of Lydney would be about twenty-five when this play was written, and may have suggested himself the sobriquet. The names are all but identical” (189). 

I would disagree with this last point, as “Bomby” has arguably more comedic value than “Foxe,” but otherwise this is indeed an example of satire including a realistic Puritan name. Unfortunately, I am having trouble finding evidence of a real  “Help-on-High.” Has anyone found record of a person with such a name? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Citations

  • Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature. London, Chatto and Windus, 1888. Accessed via Internet Archive.
  • Scholes, Percy Alfred. The Puritans And Music In England And New England: a Contribution to the Cultural History of Two Nations. London, Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1934. Accessed via HathiTrust.
  • Wilson, Stephen. “First Names 1500– 1900: I.” The Means of Naming. UCL Place, 1998, pp. 185-214. Accessed via ProQuest Ebook Central.

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Searching for Arthurian Manuscripts: German Edition

One of the projects my fellow interns and I have been working on is making a list of names in Arthurian literature and finding relevant manuscripts. A couple weeks ago, my fellow intern Adelia made a post about the website arthurianfiction.org. This website has been invaluable when we’re looking for manuscripts. However, the information isn’t always the most up-to-date. However, when it comes to German manuscripts, I found the website handschriftencensus.de. Unfortunately, the website is entirely in German.

Now, if you’re like me and don’t speak a lick of German, that might be discouraging. But not to worry! I’m going to go through how I’ve been using it to find manuscripts. A huge perk of learning how to use this site is that you don’t have to look through a bunch of German-language websites to find the manuscript you want. If you can find the manuscript on the Handschriftencensus website (literally “manuscript census”), it often includes a link to any digitization.

On the front page of the website, you will see the following header:

hc 1

You’ll see that I’ve highlighted the section titled “Verzeichnisse” (“Directories”). If you hover over this, you’ll see the following options:

hc 2

Here you want to click on the option “Autoren/Werke” (“Authors/Works”). This will bring you to a long page that has all works in alphabetical order. The title of each is often in the format Author’s name: Name of work. Next to each title is a number in parentheses followed by the word “Eintrag” or “Einträge” (“Entry”/”Entries”). This tells you how many manuscripts the Handschriftencensus has on record for each work. As an example, we’re going to look at Gottfried von Straßburg’s Tristan.

hc 3

Since I knew the title of the work that I was looking for, I used Ctrl+F to search for the word “tristan.” If you are using a Mac, this might be Command+F instead. In parentheses next to the title, it says “30 Einträge,” which lets us know that there are 30 entries on the site. When we click on the name of the work, it brings us to a page with all the manuscripts listed.

hc 4

The entries are color-coded depending on if they are a more complete manuscript or a fragment of one. From here, I’m clicking on the entry “Berlin, Staatsbibl., mgf 640” to go to the information page. The information page appears as follows:

hc 5

As you can see, I have certain words highlighted. The first of these, Aufbewahrungsort, tells us where the manuscript is located and under what shelf mark.

The next, Inhalt, tells us what the manuscript contains. In the case of this manuscript, there are several different works within it. When there are multiple works, the Handschriftencensus lists in which part of the manuscript each work can be found. I’ve underlined in red the relevant portion of this manuscript.

The third, Entstehungszeit, tells us when the manuscript was written. This manuscript has a specific year, 1461, but often the year is an approximation. You might see something like “2. Hälfte 14. Jh.,” “2. Drittel 13. Jh.,” or “um 1300.” If the entry says “um 1300,” this means it was written around the year 1300. If it says “13. Jh.,” this means it was written in the 13th century. “Hälfte,” “Drittel,” and “Viertel” mean “half,” “third,” and “quarter,” respectively. Put this together and you get that “2. Hälfte 14. Jh.” means the second half of the 14th century, or 1350-1400.

The final one, Abbildung, is where any relevant links are put. For this manuscript there is a hyperlink on the word “Codex,” which will bring us to a digitization of the manuscript.

All screenshots and highlights are my own.

Busch, Nathanael, and Jürgen Wolf. Handschriftencensus, Philipps-Universität Marburg, 2017, http://www.handschriftencensus.de/.

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The Tiffany Problem

To set the scene: you’re reading a book that takes place in medieval times. It reads as well-researched, and though it might not be perfectly accurate, no detail in it so far has taken you out of the story. There hasn’t been any looking up from the pages to make skeptical eye contact with some imaginary camera, like a character in a tv show. So far, all is well, or at least, convincing.

As you’re reading, you come to, say, a banquet. There’s a famous lady in attendance, and you are going to meet her. She appears on the scene. And her name is . . .

Tiffany.

Wait, what? No way there’s a Tiffany in this book! Not when there are other women running around with convincing names like Blanchefleur, Isolde, and Ermentrude. And not when we in our modern times have Tiffany & Co. Jewelry and the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a friend named Tiffany!

You, dear reader, have stumbled into what fantasy author Jo Walton coined as the Tiffany Problem. Tiffany is actually a medieval name that goes back to the 12th century! We even have an entry for it in the Dictionary here! Tiffany comes from Theophania, which itself is another name for the Christian holiday Epiphany. It was common for people in England to name their daughters Tiffany, or some variation, if they were born or christened near the holiday. But in our modern perception of the medieval world, Tiffany just doesn’t fit.

In other words, the Tiffany Problem describes the tension between historical fact and the average, everyday person’s idea of history. So even though authors may research carefully and want to include historically accurate information in their book—like a medieval character named Tiffany—a popular audience likely won’t buy it. And it’s not just limited to names, or books!

Take, for example: medieval people and bathing—did they do it? Many people would say, no, they did not.

However, the average medieval person was pretty into bathing! People who lived during the middle ages often had their own wooden baths, and if they didn’t, they would bathe in a nearby water source. They even used soap and would sometimes scent their bathwater with herbs! Medieval people also washed their hands before and after meals because they knew eating dirt and grime was bad. Not to mention what a big deal bathhouses were across Europe! Bathing was a leisure activity, a communal one, and usually a daily one. So yes, medieval people bathed [1]!

Another example: If a book or TV show or movie takes place in old-timey Europe, all the characters would be white, right?

Wrong! There were people of color in Europe! Just because we tend to perceive the European past as white, doesn’t mean it actually was, à la Tiffany Problem. If you take a good look at the art produced throughout pre and early modern Europe, and if you dig deeper to find the unseen or hidden art that actually depicts black and POC individuals, you’ll find a significantly more diverse representation of life in Europe during these times. For a more in-depth look at people of color in European art, check out this blog!

And if you want more than just art to illustrate (get it?) this point, let’s skip to a little later in the timeline and talk about what the docks of 19th century England looked like. English sailors making the voyage to India had to go around the Cape of Good Hope—an extremely dangerous journey, during which many sailors died.

Undermanned, the surviving sailors needed to refill their crew for the return voyage, and who did they use to do it? Locals from the docks in South Asia. But it was a one-way trip for these green seafarers.

Once back in England, the European mariners would leave their inexperienced South Asian crewmembers on the docks to fend for themselves and hire experienced sailors for the next voyage (and repeat). So, there were lots of non-white people left on the docks who took up whatever work they could with their experience [2].

To conclude, here’s one last example! To set the scene (again), you’re reading a book set in Victorian England—a scandalous one. You come to a chapter that describes someone looking saucy and doing something a bit risqué. Are you picturing it?

Next question: are nipple piercings part of your picture? Probably not! But nipple piercings were having a moment in 1800s England (and France, too)! Women and men got themselves the piercings to be both trendy and titillating (pun intended). But you couldn’t really put that in a book that’s trying to be and be seen as historically accurate. . . could you [3]?

The next time you encounter TV, movies, or books set in pre-20th century Europe that has people of color present (or cleanliness standards), maybe think about the Tiffany Problem before brushing it off as inaccurate. Maybe it’s time we start to change our perceptions, and open up to accurate, if sometimes zany, historical facts and occurrences!

Notes:

[1] https://going-medieval.com/2019/08/02/i-assure-you-medieval-people-bathed/

[2] https://medium.com/swlh/the-tiffany-problem-when-history-makes-no-sense-703b86522627

[3] https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/a3wgez/the-titillating-rise-of-nipple-piercings

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The Battle for Claude

The year was 1546. A man named Chappuis wanted to name his son “Claude” after one of his relatives. Unfortunately for Chappuis, he lived in Calvin’s Geneva, where “Claude” happened to be the name of a local saint highly honored by Catholics. 

This probably wasn’t a coincidence when Chappuis’s relative was named “Claude,” as the Catholic practice of naming children after local saints was very common in the area, but Chappuis didn’t seem to care much about the name’s saintly connection. He was more interested in honoring his family heritage.

Chappuis took the boy to a local pastor to be baptized. The pastor was Protestant, but as Chappuis had no explicit intention of actually honoring the local saint, he likely did not expect this to be an issue.

How wrong he was.

The pastor agreed to baptize the child, calmly began the ceremony, and pronounced over the boy, “I baptize you in the name of Abraham.” Horrified, Chappuis physically grabbed his son back from the pastor. His community joined him in anger, and a large group followed Chappuis out of the church.

Hypolite Rivet, a very powerful man in the community, took Chappuis’s side. He argued that the pastor had no right to name the child, as that decision was up to the parents and godparents.  Chappuis’s struggle also reached the heart of a woman named Nevet, who was the wife of one Claude Vouvrey. 

Before the Reformation, Nevet had been a midwife, so she may have performed baptisms in the past. She accompanied the angry group to Chappuis’s home, where she reportedly baptized the child as Claude. Nevet later denied this before the consistory, which presented her only with remonstrances and an order to serve her own husband. 

Chappuis appeared before Calvin’s consistory later that month. He claimed that his son Claude had been cheated of a proper baptism, as the pastor had, for some indecipherable reason, stopped speaking before finishing his sentence: “I baptize you in the name of Claude in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” 

The consistory was angered by Chappuis’s insistence on the name “Claude.” Chappuis argued that it was his right to name his own child. He said that if he were denied this right, he would refuse to give the child his proper baptism for another fifteen years. 

Calvin took the case before the Small Council at the end of the month. He argued so passionately about the importance of regulating names that some magistrates considered him overzealous. 

Still, the Council took his side. It sentenced Chappuis to a few days in prison, as well as remonstrances, a public confession, and fines– a punishment far exceeding Nevet’s. 

Furthermore, the Council officially decreed that though parents could choose their children’s names, they may only select names that come from the Bible. That November, the Council allowed Calvin to write a public list of prohibited names. The name “Claude” was officially banned. 

Before the Reformation, “Claude” was Geneva’s third most popular name among both boys and girls. After the Reformation, the name “Claude” was practically nonexistent. Before the Reformation, about 50% of children were given saints names, while the other half were given biblical names. After the Reformation, about 3% of children were given saints names, while 97%  were given biblical names. 

Parents chafed against this restriction, partially because they felt it infringed on their rights as parents, but also because it infringed on the honor of their heritage. The names they were prohibited from using were the names of their fathers, their godmothers, and even themselves. 

In fact, the officer of the consistory, the very man who likely brought Chappuis before the Council, leading to his imprisonment over the name he chose for his son… was none other than Nevet’s husband, Claude. 

Read more about this case and other fascinating stories about the conflict between Calvin’s consistory and parental wishes in this great article by Jeffrey Watt on JSTOR.

Watt, Jeffrey R. “Calvinism, Childhood, and Education: The Evidence from the Genevan Consistory. The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 33, pg. 439-456. 

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In Search of Yfaine

As a research intern this summer with Dr. Uckelman this summer, I’m working on a couple projects! For the Mystery Names project, my fellow interns and I are going through the Mystery Monday blog post comments and DMNES Twitter replies to determine if the collective onomastic power of the internet has shed light on the names! For the Arthurian Names project, we’re cataloging names from medieval romances and the manuscripts they appear in.

Recently, I came across a name that combined both of these projects: Yfaine. I stumbled on this 13th century feminine name on a routine investigation into Mystery Monday comments. Sadly, there was only one response across the board—not enough to count the name as solved. But I wasn’t ready to give up on Yfaine just yet! It reminded me too much of the name Yvain, a masculine moniker recurring in Arthurian tales.

Reaching out to Dr. Uckelman, I wondered whether the two names could be connected. Yvain is a variation of the Welsh name Owain, which repeatedly appears in Arthurian literature. So, Yvain (and variants) would have been in use by the date we have for the source of the Mystery Name Yfaine.

Another part of my reasoning for the connection is that “f” and “v” sounds are both fricative, created using similar mouth positions, and there’s evidence of these letters being relatively interchangeable in Old French, the language of our source [1].

Also, according to Dr. Uckelman, Old French names were feminized by adding an “-e” to the end. Therefore, conventionally at least, Yvain becoming Yfaine is possible, through the assimilation of “v” to “f,” plus the feminizing “-e” at the end.

To investigate this possibility, we tried to find examples of the character Yvain’s name spelled as “Yfain” (still masculine, but demonstrating the “v” to “f” sound change), as well as “Yvaine” (a feminine version of Yvain), but had no luck. It seems that the name Owain, though it has many variations—including Yvain—does not have a variant with an “f.”

We didn’t give up hope, though! Dr. Uckelman was struck with the thought that the letters “-in-” in Yfaine could be a misreading of “-m-,” so the name is actually “Yfame,” a variation of “Euphemia,” for which we have an entry in the Dictionary here. We even have a source in Old French from 1296, lining up nicely with our Mystery Name!

We’re on the lookout for manuscripts that could confirm this line of thought! If anyone out there has any ideas, other examples, or finds such a manuscript, we would greatly appreciate you sending them our way!

Note:
[1] http://www.french-linguistics.co.uk/pronunciation/french_fricatives.shtml

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The Quest for Arthurian Manuscripts

One of the projects I’ve been working on this summer is creating a spreadsheet of Arthurian names and the manuscripts in which they’re used. Wikipedia was helpful in listing Arthurian character names and stories, but we found it a little harder to track down the manuscripts in which a given story might exist.

Enter ArthurianFiction.org. Created for a project led by Bart Besamusca from 2004-2008 at Utrecht University, this website provides a searchable database of Arthurian manuscripts. Obviously, I couldn’t wait to check it out.

There are three different types of searches you can do in this database, and each provides many filters to sort your results. 

The first is the Manuscript search. Here, you can find a list of manuscripts and their locations. You can filter by physical qualities of the manuscript, such as presence of illustrations, leaf size or quantity, or, my personal favorite, narratives contained within. 

You can also search for Narratives, either by their length or origin, or even by the manuscript in which they appear. This will give you a list of the Arthurian stories that meet your criteria. 

Finally, you can search for Persons, which allows you to filter by creative type, gender, or manuscript to help you find real people who contributed to the Arthurian texts. 

Since my team already has a list of the stories we want to study for names, we mostly stick to the Manuscripts tab. This is an example search I made for the project last week.

The names Loholt, Dindrane, and Claudas are all mentioned in the story “Perlesvaus,” so I went to the Manuscripts tab, and scrolled down to the Narratives filter. When I typed in “perlesvaus,” it indicated I had found eight results. 

I clicked to see my results, and the database gave me this list of manuscripts that contain the story of Perlesvaus. 

I clicked on the first result, a manuscript from the library Bürgerbibliothek in Bern. It gave me the shelfmark and some information about its date of origin, as well as some info further down the page about the other contents of the manuscript and what bibliographies have cited it in the past. 

The database has a field for linking to a digital facsimile of the manuscript, but this one was blank. In my experience, though, you can’t give up hope of finding an online manuscript that quickly. Because this project is from 2008, it is not completely up to date. This may occasionally influence the actual manuscripts found, but the most frequent error I noticed was a lack of links to digital versions– many have been uploaded in the last ten years or so. 

But that’s all right, because the database gave me enough information to look for a digital version myself. I typed the library and shelf number into a basic Google search, and it took me right to the manuscript page on the Switzerland’s virtual library website. Not only did this page have some more detailed information missing from the Arthurian database’s entry, it had a link to an online text!

Links to digital facsimile and top of a page for of Composite Manuscript: Garin le Loherain, Perceval, Chroniques, Parthenopeus de Blois, Durmart le Gaulois etc., French

Not all of the manuscripts I google like this have digital versions, but it’s definitely worth a try– it worked out for this manuscript!

Overall, the Arthurian Database has been extremely helpful for us in tracking down manuscript options for specific narratives. It’s not completely up to date, so outside research is still necessary, but it provides a great starting point. Although it doesn’t contain every Arthurian text we are seeking, it contains a great deal. I have a much easier time finding manuscripts for the stories catalogued on this website than when I search for manuscripts on my own. 

Check out the Arthurian Database for yourself here. It’s a great website for research– or for fun!

Besamusca, Bart. “Arthurian Fiction in Medieval Europe: Narratives and Manuscripts.” Arthurian Fiction, 2008, http://www.arthurianfiction.org/.

Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 113: Composite Manuscript: Garin le Loherain, Perceval, Chroniques, Parthenopeus de Blois, Durmart le Gaulois etc., French (https://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/bbb/0113).

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Secret names: Cracking the medieval code (Part 1)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is below; Part 2 is here; Part 3 is here.

Secret names: Cracking the medieval code (Part 1)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Medieval people often needed to write names down. They were important for witnessing documents, recording real estate, noting who had borrowed which book or owned which slaves, and ensuring that communities of people were remembered. And sometimes, names were written down using ciphers.

This was especially common between the eighth and eleventh centuries, when much writing was done in monasteries by both clergy and lay people. In later centuries, such ciphers were dismissed as the result of bored monks playing around. But we’ve recently begun to uncover the importance of marginalia – codes, notes and signs – for understanding the social spaces of monasteries and their wider communities. In such marginalia, we can hear the echo of the words and names of people from the distant past.

So why did these people deliberately try to conceal their names in the early Middle Ages, and how did they do it?

Name that monk:

Ciphered names often appear in colophons: the notes sometimes left by scribes at the end of the manuscripts they copied. Colophons usually record why a manuscript was made, for whom or by whom, where and when, or simply express relief that the long, hard work of writing was finished at last.

The scribe of this manuscript, copied in the late tenth or early eleventh century in Luxeuil, France, left behind a colophon. It appears at first to be gibberish:

Hbfc Stfphbnxs scrkpskt p[er] prfcfptb brchkinb[er]tk mbgkctrk

But this is actually a sentence encoded using a simple substitution cipher, in which vowels are replaced with the consonant that immediately follows them: a with b, e with f and so on. The decrypted sentence reads:

Haec Stephanus scripsit per precepta Archimberti magistri.

This was written by Stephanus at the command of Master Archimbertus.

The main text above the colophon is the Life of St Deicolus (or Dicuil), containing a history of the Benedictine abbey Deicolus founded in Lure, France, until the year 990. It names other abbots of Lure, including Baltram and Werdolphus (Werdulf). Perhaps all these names were an inspiration for Stephanus to record his own, and that of his master?

A similar colophon, using the same code, appears in this early eleventh-century prayerbook. Deciphered, it reads:

Frater humillimus et monachus Aelsinus me scripsit, sit illi longa salus. Amen. Ælfwinus monachus aeque decanus me possidet.

The most humble brother and monk Aelsinus wrote me, may he have boundless health… Ælfwine, monk and also deacon, owns me.

We know that in 1031 or 1032, Ælfwine became abbot of the New Minster in Winchester, in which Aelsinus (the Latin form of the name Ælfsige) was also a monk. Aelsinus therefore wrote this manuscript before this date. Was his use of cipher for the names he mentioned in this colophon an expression of monastic humility?

Interestingly, during the twelfth century someone added feminine endings to many of the prayers, suggesting that the prayerbook came to be owned by a female community — perhaps Nunnaminster, a royal monastery founded by Queen Ealhswith, the wife of Alfred the Great.

Other ciphers were much less formal than these colophons. One example was left by a scribe called Ekkehart the Fourth (c. 980–1056), who lived in the monastery of St Gall in Switzerland (and was the fourth of a series of scribes called Ekkehart). At the back of the manuscript, on a page used for doodles and pen-trials, Ekkehart left a code he called ‘clophruna’, from the Old High German verb klopfon ‘to knock, to tap, to rap’, and the word for ‘rune’. But this ‘knock-rune’ code has nothing in common with runes: it is based on the Latin alphabet. Each letter is numbered according to its place in the alphabet, and these numbers are then indicated by dots: a = 1, b = 2 and so on. [1]

In the manuscript, the series of dots marked 5-10-10-5-8-1-17-19 can be decoded as E-K-K-E-H-A-R-T (taking into account that i and j weren’t distinguished in the medieval Latin alphabet). This code enabled monks to exchange messages when they were keeping their compulsory hours of silence alone in their individual cells — tapping the messages out on the walls, letter by letter.

References

[1] R. Derolez, Runica Manuscripta: The English Tradition (Bruges, 1954), pp. 134–35.

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Ireland vs. England: Are Protestant Names Different Than Puritan Names?

In the process of finding literature for Dr. Uckelman’s project on Protestant and Puritan names, I came across a very interesting paper about naming customs in medieval Ireland and how they compare to medieval England: 

Tait, Clodagh. “Namesakes and Nicknames: Naming Practices in Early Modern Ireland, 1540-1700.” CONTINUITY AND CHANGE, vol. 21, pp. 313–340. https://search.proquest.com/openview/00ff26214014a0f70a55c2e539f048ce/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=37442

It goes into some interesting ideas about individuality and naming, but what really drew my attention was its analysis of the impact of Protestant naming trends after the Reformation in Ireland, a country that “retained a majority Catholic population” (Tait 320). 

She starts with a surprising fact: in the 1540s, some Protestants cared less that their child was baptized by a Protestant than that their child was baptized with a Protestant appropriate name. This goes to show how important people considered names in terms of their religious identity. Tait remarks that in addition to connecting people to members of their own religion, names could also distinguish people from those of other religions, highlighting religious differences. In short, names can bring people together… and tear them apart.

Tait’s paper draws from baptism records from the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church to analyze the distribution of names across different Christian ideologies. She remarks that many of her findings about Catholic names draw only from one register, so they could be attributed to one overzealous priest, but she did find some supporting evidence from other sources. 

Tait found that in an Irish Protestant population, half the children baptized received one of the top 5 names— “John/Jonathan, James, Jane/Janet, Mary and Elizabeth” (315). Similarly, in England at the same time, half the children baptized received one of the top 6 names— “William, John, Thomas, Elizabeth, Anne and Mary” (315). Although Puritan naming is often considered unique, Protestant naming trends in Ireland seemed to progress similarly in terms of most popular names. 

Still, the two countries were not wholly alike. Tait lays out three types of naming traditions observed in pre-1500s Ireland: the Gaelic names already popular in Ireland, saints names commonly used by Catholics, and names brought by settlers, including English names. 

Gaelic: Tait says one might expect the saint names, pushed by the Catholic church during the Reformation, and English names, handed down to descendants of settlers, to overtake and eradicate the use of Gaelic names as it did in England (315). She found this was not the case. Irish natives and settlers each retained their own naming systems, preserving them both. In the 1660s, she finds the top 6 names used by native Irish families remained largely Gaelic– Patrick, Bryan, Hugh, Owen, Thorlogh, and Shane, while the top names used by the descendants of settlers remained largely English– John, Thomas, William, Robert, James, and Richard (316). This supports her idea of names serving to bond communities while revealing their differences from other communities. 

Settler: It makes sense that English settlers would continue to use English names, but Tait observes that their naming practice evolved differently than it did among people who stayed in England. In Ireland, many English settlers used English names that were no longer popular in England, such as “David, Gerald, and Maurice” (315). This demonstrates how the names create connection between the settlers and England, while also revealing differences between them. 

Saint names: Tait observes that “16th and 17th century Catholics, especially those with Old English backgrounds, [kept using] the medieval idea of personal ‘name’ saints, a practice that was further encouraged by the Counter Reformation clergy” (317). These names were often chosen by proximity of the Saint’s feast to the child’s birthdate. People devoted to these name saints and associated honoring them with honoring themselves. This commitment to date association affected even the otherwise most popular names, creating a noticeable difference between Ireland and England, as well as between Protestants and Catholics. Anne and John, very popular names among Protestants and in England, only see usage around their Saints Days for Irish Catholics, according to the Wexford register. 

Despite this, older Protestant traditions still cropped up amongst Catholics. Tait remarks that some children were baptized into both churches either because of mixed marriages, to avoid fines from the Protestant clergy, or as a relic of past beliefs (318). This reflects the way some names were used by both populations, such as Anne and John. This implies that Protestants, despite being outnumbered, still had significant sway over naming practices in Ireland, so one might expect to see Protestant naming trends become more mainstream. 

In the 17th century, Tait observes Protestants began using more Old Testament and virtue names, but she highlights that they did not begin to use the “Puritan-meaningful names like ‘Fear-God’ and ‘Lord-is-near’ that were briefly popular in later-sixteenth century England” (319). Is this because Ireland’s predominantly Catholic population discouraged such naming practices? Or did the Irish Protestant population, otherwise able to exercise markedly Protestant naming customs, simply not gravitate to this style of naming? Does this mean that Puritan naming customs were prevalent in England, but failed to translate to Ireland the way other naming trends did? Or was their prevalence exaggerated even in England?

Although Tait noticed a distinct style of naming amongst Catholics, with their preference for saint names, she did not notice the old-fashioned sounding Puritan names commonly believed to be popular among Protestants after the Reformation in England. This suggests that Puritan names were either exactly as limited to Puritans as many scholars believe, or that they were never as prevalent as previously thought. If the “distinctly Puritan” names were common albeit limited to England, though, what explains the use of other English and Protestant names in Ireland while these Puritan names were ignored?

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What makes the Apocrypha apocryphal?

As I continue doing data-collection and reading for the paper on Protestant vs. Puritan names I’m working on, I’ve run up against an interesting issue about the categorisation of Biblical names, especially those of Hebrew origin.

You might think that every Biblical name could be neatly categorised into “Old Testament” or “New Testament” (or maybe “both” if it turns up in both), but it turns out, this classification will only get you so far, because some of the traditional “Biblical” names are not actually found in the Bible! Or rather, not found in the canonical Bible…Three classic examples are Judith, Anna/Anne, and Susan. The Judith and Susanna whose popularity translated into use of their names are not mentioned in the canonical Old Testament; nor is Mary’s mother’s name given in the canonical New Testament. Nevertheless Judith, Susan(na) and Anne are generally counted as “Biblical” names, because of their occurrence in books that used to be considered canonical but no longer are (the Apocrypha).

As we try to provide an analysis of the distinctly Protestant Biblical names used in the 16th C, we are thus faced with the question of “what counts as Biblical?” That is, what apocryphal and deuterocanonical books would the Protestants have accepted as canonical? This question led us to the article we’re discussing in today’s post:

Floyd C. Medford, “The Apocrypha in the Sixteenth Century: A Summary and Survey”, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 52, no. 4 (December, 1983): 343-354.

(Isn’t it great when you’ve got a concrete question and someone has a targeted article that is basically designed to answer your question?)

How — and why — then did this shifting understanding of the Apocrypha come about, and how — and why — did it affect the changing namepools? Medford starts out by laying the scene that motivates his investigation:

the sixteenth century witnessed the first serious reconsideration the problem of the Biblical canon in over a thousand years (p. 343).

This reconsider was triggered, Medford argues, by a long-running discrepancy between what the learned fathers of the Church maintained as canonical (that is, the canon of Jerome) and what was incorporated into actual ecclesiastical practice, a broader collection (p. 343). Many medieval Bibles incorporated the Apocrypha without distinction from the canonical books (p. 345), and as a result only scholars could have distinguished the canonical from the apocryphal.

The books labelled as apocryphal in the King James translation of the Bible (and hence typical of the Protestant apocrypha) are:

  • I Esdras
  • II Esdras
  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • “the rest of Esther”
  • Wisdom
  • Ecclesiasticus (also known as the Wisdom of Sirach, or Sirach)
  • Baruch, with the epistle of Jeremiah
  • the Song of the Three Children
  • the Story of Susannah
  • The Idol Bel, and the Dragon
  • The Prayer of Manasses
  • I Maccabees
  • II Maccabees

In this list, all except I and II Esdras and the prayer of Manasses are books that were considered canonical by the Catholic church.

Medford surveys how over the course of the 16th C the apocryphal books were successively separated out from the canonical books in various Protestant vernacular translations. Luther’s 1534 translation included the books, but provided explanatory prefaces on a number of them decrying them; concluding that “while they are not placed on the same footing as the Holy Scripture, [they] are yet profitable and good for reading” (p. 347). The first edition of the Bible to separate out the apocryphal books from the rest, putting them into their own section, was the Van Liesvelt translation into Dutch (p. 347). Other editions separated them out even further, by moving them after the New Testament in order.

This suspicion (or perhaps “concern with” is better) of the apocryphal books was not specific to the Protestant denominations, with similar sentiments being expressed by Catholic scholars in the early part of the century (p. 348). But the fact that the Protestants abrogated these books was — by the middle of the century — sufficient to reinforce their canonicity in the Catholic tradition, as witnessed by the Council of Trent (p. 348) which affirmed od as the author of all the books of the Old and New Testament as well as the Apocryphal books noted above.

Medford concludes his discussion with a survey of English translations, discussing how and where the apocryphal books were put, and whether they were introduced with a preface (and if so, whether it is the preface of Coverdale or Calvin). From this survey, he concludes:

Thus the sixteenth century English translations generally retain the Apocrypha for church use, while carefully demarking their secondary status by title, preface, position, and/or other means (p. 353).

This holds true for the Protestant tradition; but he goes on to say that the Puritans separated themselves out from the general Protestant tradition “with a complete rejection of the Apocrypha, resulting in the exclusion of those books from many editions of the King James Version since the middle of the seventeenth century” (p. 353). Here then we have the basis for a conjecture: If there is a distinctive Protestant vs. Puritan name-pool, we would expect to see apocryphal names in the former but not in the latter — no more Judiths or Susans or even possibly Annes…

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