1,000-Year-Old Manuscript of Beowulf Digitized and Now Online

1,000-Year-Old Manuscript of Beowulf has been digitized by theBritish Library and is now online. It is the oldest surviving manuscript of the longest epic poem in Old English.

Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English, the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest. More than 3,000 lines long, Beowulf relates the exploits of its eponymous hero, and his successive battles with a monster named Grendel, with Grendel’s revengeful mother, and with a dragon which was guarding a hoard of treasure.

The story of Beowulf

Beowulf is a classic tale of the triumph of good over evil, and divides neatly into three acts. The poem opens in Denmark, where Grendel is terrorising the kingdom. The Geatish prince Beowulf hears of his neighbours’ plight, and sails to their aid with a band of warriors. Beowulf encounters Grendel in unarmed combat, and deals the monster its death-blow by ripping off its arm.

There is much rejoicing among the Danes; but Grendel’s loathsome mother takes her revenge, and makes a brutal attack upon the king’s hall. Beowulf seeks out the hag in her underwater lair, and slays her after an almighty struggle. Once more there is much rejoicing, and Beowulf is rewarded with many gifts. The poem culminates 50 years later, in Beowulf’s old age. Now king of the Geats, his own realm is faced with a rampaging dragon, which had been guarding a treasure-hoard. Beowulf enters the dragon’s mound and kills his foe, but not before he himself has been fatally wounded.

Beowulf closes with the king’s funeral, and a lament for the dead hero.

When was Beowulf composed?

Nobody knows for certain when the poem was first composed. Beowulf is set in the pagan world of sixth-century Scandinavia, but it also contains echoes of Christian tradition. The poem must have been passed down orally over many generations, and modified by each successive bard, until the existing copy was made at an unknown location in Anglo-Saxon England.

How old is the manuscript?

Beowulf survives in a single medieval manuscript, housed at the British Library in London. The manuscript bears no date, and so its age has to be calculated by analysing the scribes’ handwriting. Some scholars have suggested that the manuscript was made at the end of the 10th century, others in the early decades of the 11th, perhaps as late as the reign of King Cnut, who ruled England from 1016 until 1035.

The most likely time for Beowulf to have been copied is the early 11th century, which makes the manuscript approximately 1,000 years old.

The contents of the manuscript

Apart from Beowulf, the manuscript contains several other medieval texts. These comprise a homily on St Christopher; the ‘Marvels of the East’, illustrated with wondrous beasts and deformed monsters; the ‘Letter of Alexander to Aristotle’; and an imperfect copy of another Old English poem, ‘Judith’.

Beowulf is the penultimate item in this collection, the whole of which was copied by two Anglo-Saxon scribes, working in collaboration.

Who owned the Beowulf-manuscript?

The first-recorded owner of Beowulf is Laurence Nowell (died c.1570), a pioneer of the study of Old English, who inscribed his name (dated 1563) at the top of the manuscript’s first page. Beowulf then entered the famous collection of Sir Robert Cotton (died 1631) – who also owned the Lindisfarne Gospels and the British Library’s two copies of Magna Carta – before passing into the hands of his son Sir Thomas Cotton (died 1662), and grandson Sir John Cotton (died 1702), who bequeathed the manuscript to the nation. The Cotton library formed one of the foundation collections of the British Museum in 1753, before being incorporated as part of the British Library in 1973.

Why is the manuscript damaged?

During the 18th century, the Cotton manuscripts were moved for safekeeping to Ashburnham House at Westminster. On the night of 23 October 1731 a fire broke out and many manuscripts were damaged, and a few completely destroyed.

Beowulf escaped the fire relatively intact but it suffered greater loss by handling in the following years, with letters crumbling away from the outer portions of its pages. Placed in paper frames in 1845, the manuscript remains incredibly fragile, and can be handled only with the utmost care.

Modern versions of Beowulf

Despite being composed in the Anglo-Saxon era, Beowulf continues to captivate modern audiences. The poem has provided the catalyst for films, plays, operas, graphic novels and computer games. Among the more notable recent versions are the films The 13th Warrior (1999), adapted from the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (d. 2008); the Icelandic-Canadian co-production Beowulf & Grendel (2005); and Beowulf (2007), starring Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie.

Beowulf has also been translated into numerous languages, including modern English, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Telugu (a Dravidian language spoken in India).

Perhaps the most famous modern translation is that by Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate in Literature, which won the Whitbread Book of Year Award in 1999. A children’s version by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman, was published in 2006.

See a full set of images on our Beowulf Digitised Manuscript or view theElectronic Beowulf, a collaboration between British Library and Kentucky University.

Via The British Library

Sorgente: 1,000-Year-Old Manuscript of Beowulf Digitized and Now Online

 

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Digital projects / Canadian researchers collect data from Gregorian chants in the Convent of St. Gall, Switzerland

A new Canadian research project is collecting big data from medieval melodies chanted by monks more than 1,000 years ago. And it’s all searchable. But to what end?

Kate Helsen, an assistant musicology professor at Western University’s Don Wright Faculty of Music, is part of the Optical Neume Recognition Project and explains that this study is the most technologically advanced method of investigating what was previously a completely oral culture – a time and place, when and where people didn’t conceive of writing music down at all – and through greater understanding of these 11th century monks, researchers can now study how the human brain constructs, comprehends and reconstructs everything from language and literature to math and music.

The Optical Neume Recognition Project uses modified optical character recognition (OCR) technology to study medieval musical notation called neumes. This unique computing initiative identifies each neume on a digital scan of a page from a historic book of medieval chant, cataloguing each one and ranking them in order of graphic similarity while additionally storing data about how often a particular neume appears in specific combinations thereby creating a virtual ‘dictionary’ of neume signs.

Instead of poring over hundreds of pages of literally millions of neumes, researchers can now electronically search for information that has been systematically gathered by advanced computer software about each scanned image, using optical music recognition (OMR) software.

“Basically, we are mining these melodies for a better understanding of how the brain breaks down, thinks about and reconstructs melody year after year after year in a monastic context because that’s what was important to them. To sing the same prayer, the same way every year,” explains Helsen, who is currently attending the Music Encoding Conference in Montreal. “A lot of medieval scholars think that it’s not possible to retain all of that information. They’d say that we just haven’t found the books yet but I disagree. The medieval memory was fabulous for a lot of reasons and this is just another example.”

The research team is currently investigating the Gregorian chants of monks from the Convent of St. Gall in St. Gallen, Switzerland, which is considered a prime example of a great Carolingian monastery. It is estimated that it would take 85 hours to sing the entire prayer cycle of the St. Gall monks. But 1,000 years ago, this entire repertoire was memorized and repeated year after year by the monks and this continued for another 200 to 250 years.

“This memory work was done completely without notation. It was all in their heads. Today, we don’t have to have 85 hours of repertoire in our head because we have notation,” says Helsen. “And by developing a searchable database, not unlike Google Books, we are basically creating an electric monk. A device that knows all of the melodies. It’s as though a monk from 1,000 years ago walked into the room and started talking about music. It’s all there.”

The Optical Neume Recognition Project, currently funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), is part of a larger research collaboration known as Single Interface for Music Score Searching and Analysis (SIMSSA), which seeks to create a single clearinghouse for digital images of musical scores, both printed and handwritten, around the world.

Via Press release.

All about Mantua: Isabella d’Este’s world online

IDEA-banner-image

An instrument for scholars, students, and visitors, but also an exercise in imagination, exploration, and critical engagement. All this and much more is IDEA: Isabella d’Este Archive, a project which focuses on one of the most influential figures of the Italian Renaissance, Isabella d’Este (1474-1539).

IDEA offers users around the world new ways to explore the history and culture of early modern Europe through  a digitalized version of Isabella’s letters, music, and art collections, as they evolved during her reign as the marchesa of Mantua. These resources map a world where politics, art, music, family life, business, and social relations intertwined, prior to the modern separation of many of these concerns into separate spheres.

The IDEA Site is currently under construction but some contents are already available. Researches and contributors can join project teams as well as discuss in Forums.

DIRECTORS are:

Deanna Shemek, PhD
University of California, Santa Cruz

Anne MacNeil, PhD
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Dott. Daniela Ferrari
Ricercatore Indipendente
Già Direttore dell’Archivio di Stato
di Mantova e di Milano

More info & official website: http://isabelladeste.web.unc.edu/