Beginning with Almsgiving

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The Virgin Mary, at the crucifixion; the Ramsey Psalter, last quarter of the 10th century, England; BL Harley 2904, f. 3v

Translating a poem is a tall order. There are many factors to consider and issues which must be negotiated in the process. Which is better—literal accuracy or stylistic approximation? We have asked modern translators from the Medieval Institute and English departments at University of Notre Dame to share translations of their favorite Old English poems, digitally displayed alongside their medieval counterparts. Recitations, both in Old and modern English, will likewise be featured as complementary audio files, accompanying both versions of each respective poem translated.

Today, we’d like to draw your attention to the first of these translations, which is now available on our site.  Almsgiving is contained in the Exeter Book, a collection of Old English poetry copied c. 970, and thus the oldest surviving collection of English literature in the world.  Jacob Riyeff, a PhD candidate in Notre Dame’s Department of English, has translated this beautiful poem, and you can read it below, as well as hear recordings of him reciting the Old English text and his own modern English translation.  We hope you enjoy!

Richard Fahey
PhD Candidate in English
University of Notre Dame

Almsgiving
from the Old English Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501)

 Translation and Recitations by Jacob Riyeff

OLD ENGLISH ORIGINAL POEM:

Wel bið þam eorle þe him on innan hafað,
reþehydig wer, rume heortan;
þæt him biþ for worulde weorðmynda mæst,
ond for ussum dryhtne doma selast.
Efne swa he mid wætre þone weallendan
leg adwæsce, þæt he leng ne mæg
blac byrnende burgum sceððan,
swa he mid ælmessan ealle toscufeð
synna wunde, sawla lacnað.

ASPR III, 223.

MODERN ENGLISH TRANSLATION by Jacob Riyeff:

That disciple is blest whose spirit burns
with generosity, renovating the inner room
of her heart. The world rejoices at her worthiness
and the Lord glories in the welcome glow of her light.

Jesus ben Sirach says a surging
flame will be snuffed, raging fires
put down with welling water—no longer
able to damage dwellings with burning—
when that disciple douses sin, healing souls
with the gracious gift of her alms.

Previously published in Dappled Things 9.3 (2014) and “Lofsangas: Poems Old and New,” a chapbook by Jacob Riyeff (Franciscan University of Steubenville Press, 2015).

Jacob Riyeff
PhD in English
University of Notre Dame

Welcome to Medieval Manuscript Studies!

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Words within words! A woman, inhabiting the large first initial of the Latin word “verba” (“words”), holds up a book
Office of the Dead, Oxford, c. 1220-1240; British Library Arundel MS 157, f. 134r

In fall of 2014, University of Notre Dame graduate students had the opportunity to explore the world of medieval manuscripts under the guidance of Professor Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and postdoctoral fellow Nicole Eddy.  Manuscript Studies is an exciting and quickly growing field, fueled in part by the explosion of digital resources for this study: libraries and archives around the world are digitizing their collections, making it easier than ever before for students, scholars, and the general public to get a close-up view of medieval Europe’s heritage of book history.  Not only that, but the study of manuscripts — books literally “written by hand,” each one unique — can give a deeper perspective on questions that excite us today.  In a world of e-readers and audiobooks, what does it mean to say we have “read” a “book”?  How do the physical materials of books affect our understanding of the text?  How, we ask, did earlier readers approach the works we study today, and what can their readings teach us? And what can we learn from things outside the text block, the pictures and marginal notes that were the Middle Ages’ answer to today’s hyperlinks or comment fields?

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Medieval writing was a double-fisted endeavor: scribes wrote with a pen in one hand and a knife in the other, to “erase” (literally “razor out”) their mistakes
Mandeville’s Travels, Bohemia, first quarter of the 15th century; British Library Additional MS 24189, f. 4r

In this blog students will, over the coming months, share the fruits of their researches, spotlighting some of the fascinating finds they have made in manuscripts around the world.  We will have a number of topic threads on subjects we hope will be of interest to a wide range of readers: “Medieval and Early Modern Poetics: Theory and Practice,” “Mysteries of Medieval Codicology,” “Multimedia Reading Practices and Marginalia: Medieval and Early Modern,” and “Medieval Animals and their Literary Afterlives.” We hope you enjoy exploring these beautiful and captivating books as much as we have.

Nicole Eddy
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Medieval Institute
University of Notre Dame

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Where the wild things are in a medieval book is the margins! And even this animal-human hybrid grotesque enjoys a good book
Book of Hours, France, c. 1430-c. 1440; British Library Harley MS 2900, f. 85r