21 April 2020

Our Lady in Eastertide

Down in Cornwall, during the Middle Ages, they had religious plays in the ancient Cornish language ... yes, the selfsame language that some enthusiasts are currently trying to revive. In fact, these dramas in Medieval Cornish are the main basis of the 'revived' language ... which I find oddish. Just suppose we spoke an English constructed upon the verses of Chaucer, without paying any attention to the fact that our Geoffrey had both chosen and arranged his words so as to fit his metrical scheme! After all (and I admit that this is an extreme parallel), Homer's Greek can never have been spoken as a vernacular by anyone. Something similar must go for the poetic diction of pretty well every language and age.

However ... I am wandering yet again. Back to the point. In the Resurrexio Domini [sic], the Lord (of course) appears first to his Immaculate Mother. It is a beautifully constructed scene, full of human interest; the Mother of God, for example, needs to be reassured that her Risen Son really has no pains, no permanent ill-effects, from the ordeals he has been through!

Medieval Cornish, like Modern English, was an omnivorous language heavy with vocabulary, quotations, phrases, technicalities, expletives from other languages ... English; Latin borrowings going back to the Roman Occupation; contemporary Latin borrowings; French (another thing which the inventors of 'Modern Cornish' can't stand; rather as Herr Hitler did for the German language, their dictionaries constantly enjoin us not to use loan-words amply attested in the literature, but to stick to pure 'Celtic' roots).

And the Lord greets his Mother with the Latin phrase O salve Sancta Parens. This, of course, is the beginning of the Introit for Eastertide Masses of our Lady (and comes ultimately from Sedulius). The O needs to be in the Cornish text because the lines have to have seven syllables.

Now: here comes the puzzle. Throughout the manuscript, there are two scribal hands. Manus prima, is the slightly faded original. Rather darker, manus secunda adds some stage directions, changes some ts to ds, and, at one point, appears to have updated a joke by erasing three lines and writing some different Cornish placenames into the space thus made available ... making it, I suspect, topical to a different audience from that for which the manus prima had originally written out the play.

In the greeting O salve Sancta parens, it looks as if that erasing knife has again been at work underneath the first two words. Over that rasura, O salve is darkly inked in by manus secunda.

I cannot for the life of me guess what has gone on here. What might manus prima originally have written? Why? Might it be as simple as this: manus prima wrote Salve Sancta parens; manus secunda realised that a syllable extra was needed - made a botched job of supplying it - then scraped the area clean so as to make a neat fresh start?

You can look for yourselves at the manuscript without even travelling up to Oxford: search for Bodley 791 and scroll down to folio 61 verso.


Ivan said...

Here's the link for ease of access:

william arthurs said...

I've always enjoyed a bold conjecture, and I've never understood why textual criticism is accorded so little interest.

Example: it took until 2009 for a study of Housman's classlcal scholarship to be published (A E Housman: Classical Scholar, eds. Butterfield and Stray). The essay by Robin Nisbet on "Housman's Juvenal" is particularly good and contains a characterisation of "a particularly English mode of scholarship, impatient of theory, sparing of words, displaying no more learning than necessary, going for the vital spot, empirical, commonsensical, concrete, sardonic." (p. 61)

To enjoy this "English mode of scholarship" over Easter, I've been re-reading Housman enthusiast Enoch Powell's edition of Matthew's Gospel (The Evolution of the Gospel, 1994). The reviews of this work, mostly dismissive, concentrated on Powell's claim that Jesus was stoned to death rather than crucified: none of them discussed his bold conjectural emendations to the text of the Sermon on the Mount. Sad !

Banshee said...

Unless it originally said Hello in Cornish, and then "sancte parens."

"Lowena dhis" is one way to say "hello" in Cornish, and it literally means, "Joy to you" (singular). So that would be biblical, and go with the Easter songs.

But maybe that's one syllable too many? (I don't know Cornish syllabification.)

Banshee said...

"Lowena, sancte parens," maybe? Because "dhis" is the 2nd person singular pronoun.