My Walk to Senate House and Anglo Saxon Manuscripts
(June 20)


Yesterday they served pork-n-beans and sausages for breakfast. Good healthy portions, and not as bad as it sounds. The sausages are a little bit meat and a lot of filler.   This morning was scrambled eggs and hashbrowns. There's also a selection of fresh fruit and very liquid yogurt. I have finally figured out the coffee machine, so I got both my orange juice and my coffee.   This morning I strategically placed myself so that I could watch the college students in their robes working all the machines. One of the visitors like myself stuck some toast in a big commercial toaster and the Nigerian woman from the kitchen had to come with a big stick and poke it on through. Needless to say, I haven't tried the toast yet. But after carefully watching how it's done, I think I can get milk out of the big white machine against the wall that I thought was a blender.

Top Advice

Best advice I was given for the trip came from Jerry Frank, the choir director/organist at church, he said, "Don't bother packing warm things, just pack your summer stuff. If you get cold, go buy woolens there. They are much cheaper and better in England than they are here."   So my suitcase is filled with nothing but summer clothes. -And that has been a good thing. Cooler today, so we weren't roasting in the classrooms, just simmering gently.

Next best piece of advice was from my Mom, who said, "Remember to pack an Ethernet cable."   Thanks Mom!

Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

An interesting day, although a little too detailed for my interests.   There were two instructors and they each had a stack of 50 or so reproductions of various manuscripts for us to look at. They started with the early Uncial scripts and then moved on to Carolingian.

What does all that mean?   Well, when the Saxons invaded England (remember the movie King Arthur? Okay, picture the big hairy guys with braided beards) they shoved the Bretons (who had Christianized early on) up into Wales or across the sea to Brittany. Hence, England became a pagan country again. The upshot of that is that the Saxons didn't have a nifty writing tradition of their own. (Having just sacked the monasteries, where all the scribes were.) So, when the Saxons converted to Christianity (6th-8th century) they imported monks and priests from Ireland who brought their scribal tradition with them.   -You know, Book of Kells  kind of stuff.   That's what Uncial is. Kind of a tubby black looking script. The Gs have flat tops, the Rs look like Ns. The Ss look like Fs.   (Actually, they tag the word "minuscule" onto the word "uncial" as well. The word means that to line all the letters up on a page you have to draw 4 lines. The Gs hang below, the Ds have a leg that sticks up. Remember the paper they made you buy as a first-grader with the fat blue lines and the dotted blue lines inside those?   They just didn't tell you they were teaching you a minuscule script.)

Carolingian, on the other hand, is a script that mooched its way over to England with monks and scribes from the rest of Europe. They were used to writing Latin in a really clear script that was named after Charlemagne, the King who said, "I can't read this chicken-scratching. Why don't we have a style of writing that everybody can read, that doesn't take all day to write?"

Leslie and Beowulf

So, Leslie helped me with my final project in my Beowulf class last semester, which was to copy 15 lines of Beowulf. (I chose lines that were about harps.) At the time, she pointed out that the facsimile copies I had of the pages of Beowulf looked like some weird combination of Insular and Carolingian. Woo hoo. (Bells ringing.) And she's right. Actually a whole gob of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts look like that. The Irish tradition met the European tradition and just kind of mushed together for a long time. Actually, the teacher Jane Roberts said that King Alfred (the big name in Saxon Kings) deliberately retained the distinctive Insular script in all his court documents, and that even after that time, scribes retained some of the more distinctive "English" letters after they swapped to Carolingian. In particular they tended to keep A, D, E, F, G, H, R, S, C, O, and Y. The amusing acronym she gave us for that was " def ghras may be coy ." (Deaf grass may be coy.)

Square Uncial

Are you worried that I'm going to tell you more about the various scripts? Imagine how I felt coming back after lunch and facing a whole afternoon's worth! What made it worse is that I'm having trouble really seeing a big difference between Uncial and Square Uncial. (Square is actually the script that got mashed with Carolingian.) Some of them do indeed look more square, but not in all the examples. That's maybe even one of the "big picture" points- Anglo-Saxon manuscripts vary a great deal and are hard to categorize. (Sometimes there are even distinctly different scripts written on the same page by the same scribe.)

Roman Soldiers Wrote Letters Home

So the soldiers who were manning Hadrian's wall (Okay, think about the King Arthur movie again, picture the really big wall...) wrote letters home to their mothers on birch bark. Some of them still survive. They were begging for warm underwear because they were freezing in Northern England.   (Really, that's what the lady said today.)

Gold Dust in the Book of Exeter

Had an interesting conversation at lunch with someone named Abduhla. (He's from East Europe maybe?   Studying at Sheffield.)   He's been working with a manuscript called the Book of Exeter and noticed that there are specks of gold on over 20 of the pages. They aren't deliberate, it looks like it's just dust from somewhere. He thinks that a previous owner may have used the book to hold more valuable illuminated pages (like a drawer, only safer because no one throws their dirty keys and gloves in there.) Anyway, so perhaps the gold on the illuminated pages flecked off into the Book of Exeter.

Quill Pens

Also got to talk during lunch with Patricia Lovette the lady whose hands are often filmed doing calligraphy. (Those are her hands in Elizabeth R.)   She was saying that the odd Anglo-Saxon scripts that combine flat strokes with angled strokes are easier to do with a quill than a metal nib pen because the quill is more flexible. She also was talking about how writing on a slanted surface makes the ink flow better. Writing on a flat surface the ink tends to make blobs, unless you are sparing with your ink, in which case it dries very quickly. With the paper slanted the pen is almost parallel to the ground, so the paper wicks the ink out of the pen, rather than gravity helping it.   I'm looking forward to her class on the mechanics of calligraphy and illumination.

Thesis Stuff

I coaxed Jane Roberts into talking with me about the marks out to the side on the manuscript I'll be looking at for my thesis. (They look like big Cs and Ps that mark where the chorus and verses are on the lullaby.) She said they were called "capitulum signs."   Lovely to know what to call something so that one can look them up. She said they were probably some variant of signs that look like g & t.

No Phone Calls

Well, I can email, put up webpages, transfer money from one account to another, you name it.... But I can't make a phone call across town. Evidently there is no such thing as a free local call, so I have to find some way to pay for the call across town to ask if they are doing the Morris Dancing tonight. But there's no phone in the booth outside the dorms, and the one a block over is broken and won't take coins or my credit cards. (Actually, it keeps flashing, "Emergency Calls Only" so it may actually not be a real pay phone anymore. The same as in the States, cell phones are replacing pay phones.)   So the Bursar on duty gave me a three-fold sheet of instructions on how to set up a private line going to my dorm room that I have to pre-pay with a credit card. Fine. I just want to make my one little phone call, but I'll pay the 5 pounds to set up my private line. Except after dialing in all my information (yes, tons of "press one" "enter your account number") it won't take my credit cards. Actually, the dorm is switching to a new system next week, so it's possible that the old company is no longer allowing people to set up new accounts. So I am stumped. I'm not going across town without knowing that there will actually be people there, and yet, I can't call to see. Sigh. I suppose I'll do my laundry tonight.

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