Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Author, authority and books in Benevento

Dr Rosalind Love writes:

Ten days ago I stepped off the crazy whirl of Cambridge term-time to attend the 6th Congress of the International Medieval Latin Committee, at Naples and Benevento (10-13 November). After inaugural speeches at the University of Suor Orsola Benincasa in Naples, two coach-loads of medieval latinists embarked for Benevento, causing total gridlock, a cacophony of car-horns and colourful Neapolitan execration. At the rather quieter city of Benevento we witnessed a remarkable event: the coming-home of the first item to be repatriated under the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009. In 1943 the Allies bombarded Benevento, flattening most of it, including the Cathedral and the Metropolitan Chapter Library. The manuscripts were taken to safety in a hand-cart, but in the confusion one went missing and ended up for sale in Naples, where it was bought in 1944 by an English officer, Captain Ash. The book, a 12th-century illuminated missal in characteristic Beneventan script, and was bought at auction in 1947 for the then British Museum and catalogued as MS Egerton 3511. Later, although Benevento had proved its original ownership, requests for the missal’s return foundered on legislation preventing the British Library from ‘alienating’ any of its holdings, and even when the Spoliation Advisory Panel, set up to examine the loss of artefacts during the Nazi era, judged in 2005 that the book should go back to Benevento on loan, the BL’s rules about the safe-keeping of its manuscripts prevented it. A British journalist, Martin Bailey (of The Art Newspaper), and then more recently a lawyer, Jeremy Scott, took up the case, which was ultimately swung by the 2009 Act. Jeremy Scott finally handed the missal (which had travelled inside a box inside officially-sealed wrappings inside a padlocked case – after all that, thankfully a satisfyingly fat codex!) over to Monsignor Andrea Mugione, the Archbishop of Benevento (in the picture below, with Dr Mario Iadanza, Director of the Office of Culture in the Archdiocese), in the presence of us medieval latinists, the great and good of Benevento, and a hoard of paparazzi. It was rather a moving moment, not least because the handing-back took place within minutes of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

After that excitement, it was down to business for the 200 of us attending the Congress, whose theme was ‘Auctor et auctoritas’. I was there to represent a research project with which I’ve been involved since 2007, ‘Boethius in Early Medieval Europe. Commentary on The Consolation of Philosophy from the 9th to the 11th centuries’, funded for five years by the Leverhulme Trust and headed by Professor Malcolm Godden, of the University of Oxford, with Dr Rohini Jayatilaka as full-time researcher (see the project website). Written in about 525 as the exiled Boethius awaited execution, the Consolation is a remarkable work which is thought to have been ‘rediscovered’ in the late 8th century by Alcuin, and then steadily gained in popularity, prompting translations into Old English and Old High German, for example. Lady Philosophy’s effort to console her ‘pupil’ meant confronting BIG questions of universal interest: why evil people often seem to prosper, why bad things happen to good people, what true happiness is, how humans can have free will under the gaze of an omniscient God with a divine plan.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Public lecture in ASNC

On Thursday 2nd December, at 5pm, Professor Liam Breatnach, of the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Ireland, will deliver the 2010 E. C. Quiggin Memorial Lecture, in room GR.06/07, English Faculty Building, 9 West Road, Cambridge.

The title of his lecture will be: 'The early Irish law text Senchas Már and the question of its date'.

Edmund Crosby Quiggin (1875-1920) was the first teacher of Celtic in the University of Cambridge. His extraordinarily comprehensive vision of Celtic studies offered an integrated approach to the subject; his combination of philological, literary and historical approaches paralleled those which his older contemporary, H.M. Chadwick, had already demonstrated in his studies of Anglo-Saxon England and which the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic continues to seek to emulate.
The E. C. Quiggin Memorial Lecture, established in 1993, is delivered by a scholar who is invited to Cambridge for the occasion, on aspects of philology and the textual culture of the Celtic and Germanic languages and literatures taught in the Department.

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception. Everyone welcome.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

ASNC on Radio 4

Tomorrow morning (Thursday 11th November) at 9am, Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, lecturer in Scandinavian History in ASNC, will be one of the guests on Melvyn Bragg's Radio 4 programme 'In Our Time', where the topic of discussion will be the 'Volga Vikings'.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Volga Vikings.
Between the 8th and the 10th centuries AD, fierce Scandinavian warriors raided and then settled large swathes of Europe, particularly Britain, Ireland and parts of northern France. These were the Vikings, and their story is well known today. Far fewer people realise that groups of Norsemen also travelled east.
These Volga Vikings, also known as the Rus, crossed the Baltic into present-day Russia and the Ukraine and founded settlements there. They traded commodities including furs and slaves for Islamic silver, and penetrated so far east as to reach Baghdad. Their activities were documented by Arab scholars: one, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, recorded that the Volga Vikings he met were perfect physical specimens but also "the filthiest of God's creatures". Through trade and culture they brought West and East into regular contact; their story sheds light on both Scandinavian and early Islamic history.
James Montgomery
Professor of Classical Arabic at the University of Cambridge
Neil Price
Professor of Archaeology at the University of St Andrews
Elizabeth Rowe
Lecturer in Scandinavian History of the Viking Age at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge
Producer: Thomas Morris.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Snorri is my homeboy

As Christmas fast approaches, what could be a better present for a loved one than a 'Snorri is my homeboy' t-shirt? Or a 'What would Byrhtnoth do?' mug? The ASNC Society, run by undergraduates in the ASNC Department, have some fantastic merchandise, from umbrellas to aprons; ideal for the medievalist in your life.