In delight at reading Andy Orchard for the first time

(Written offline on the bus to Heathrow, 04/04/11 13:29.)

Sankt Gallen MS 904, fo. 112v, upper margin

The Old Irish text of the poem on the Vikings in the St Gall Priscian quoted below

When I was an undergraduate at Cambridge I was friends with a lot of people in the Department of Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic (plus ça change) and this means that some of them were taught by Andy Orchard, now Provost and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College and Professor of English and Medieval Studies in the University of Toronto. I never was, being a historian, and because his interests are more linguistic I have somehow managed to miss out on reading any of his stuff until now. I have been robbing myself. Observe this:

The Sankt Gallen manuscript of Priscian also contains some of the earliest surviving vernacular Irish verse to have survived in a contemporary (or near-contemporary) witness. One such famed marginal poem was evidently composed with the Viking threat in mind:

Bitter is the wind tonight
It ruffles the deep sea’s grizzled locks
I do not fear a crossing of the clear waves
By a band of greedy warriors from Scandinavia

But if, as has been suggested, these lines were written in the manuscript not in Ireland itself but by one of the Irish peregrini on the Continent, they nonetheless reflect the extent to which these peregrini may have carried their learning and literature with them, as likely in their memories as on the written page. In another well-known marginal poem, again preserved in a Continental manuscript, an Irish scholar celebrates his cat, who, significantly, carries a Welsh name (Pangur): Wales would have been on a commonly used route to the Continent for many Irishmen. Bizarrely enough, at least three other marginal Irish jottings in later manuscripts mention cats that have gone astray, so offering an endearing sidelight on the home life of at least some Irish scribes. The Sankt Gallen manuscript also contains a rueful comment on Priscian’s assertion that ‘Virgil was a mighty poet’ (Magnus poeta Virgilius fuit); someone has added in Irish, ‘and he isn’t easy, either’. Elsewhere in the margins of the same manuscript the word latheirt is written twice, once in ogham; since the word in question elsewhere seems to gloss the Latin word crapula (‘drunkenness’, ‘hangover’), one wonders in what state the scribe must have been who wrote the original Irish.1

You see? Note not only the significance he gets out of the name of the cat, meaningful trivia there, but also that he uses the relative pronoun ‘who’ for it, not ‘which’. Elsewhere he suggests that the weird Hiberno-Latin text called the Hisperica famina would, if one wanted to know what sort of text it was, have its title best translated as ‘Latinacious speakifications’, which I am amazed is not a blog already.2 Back in Cambridge I was told that Professor Orchard’s supervisions were often held in the pub, something I don’t think we can do now even in Oxbridge; be that as it may, however, I think it is fairly clear that learning from him must be great fun.

1. Andy Orchard, “Latin and the vernacular languages: the creation of a bilingual textual culture” in Thomas Charles-Edwards (ed.), After Rome (Oxford 2003), pp. 191-219 at pp. 204-205. The St Gall MS is online now, of course, linked through the image, but if you try sourcing the actual poem within the manuscript via websearch it’s so rarely fully referenced that you have to wonder whether everyone isn’t just quoting the MGH text. By means of this exciting site that has done a digital edition of all the glosses in the text, I can tell you that it is Sankt Gallen MS 904, fo. 112v, but I’d have taken a long time to find it otherwise.

2. Orchard, “Latin and the vernacular”, p. 202.


25 responses to “In delight at reading Andy Orchard for the first time

  1. I had the pleasure of meeting Andy a couple years ago – and it was in his local pub in Toronto, at his personal table, equipped with a nameplate declaring it “Andy’s Orchard”. In the time it took me to have one pint, he had three and had gone back to work.

    He’s a marvelous man.

  2. “I think it is fairly clear that learning from him must be great fun.”

    Oh yes. :)

  3. He’s a fantastic speaker. He gave a talk on Anglo-Saxon riddles during my last year at Western that was both informative and delightfully entertaining.

  4. I believe that Samuel Barber set some of these to music:

    Certainly Pangur the cat is one of his Hermit Songs.

  5. great stuff! thanks for this post.

  6. Great post. Phillip Damon translated “hisperica famina” as “occidental talkitudes,” which, in fact, I have occasionally considered as a name for a blog.

  7. Oh, this is fun!

  8. I was a graduate student at Cambridge during “the Orchard years” and can confirm the general sense that Andy is a great guy, as well as very learned. Cambridge’s loss is indubitably Toronto’s gain.

    And I would add that here’s just another argument for trying to erase the traditional boundaries between “language” types, and “literature” types, and “history” types, and “archaeology” types, and etc. and etc. The answer is just to send everyone to the pub. (Oh, yeah, right: that’s why we can medievalist conferences …. :) But then we need to invite the people from adjoining periods as stuff as well! :))

    • I have to say that in my experience willing pub-going is rarer in some disciplines than others. Anglo-Saxonists are pub-goers, but not as much as archæologists; literature types will throw their own parties with whatever drink they can find and historians… well, look, it’s Friday night and I’m home on the Internet, there you go.

      • This is a shocking state of affairs — what ever happened to historians that they turned out this way? The study of history must be more sobering than I thought! Mind you — I’m in the same Friday e’en houseboat, though at least I have the excuse of looking after the baby whilst the missus is gallivanting around the States on business. But as I recall, Cambridge ASNC has a longstanding tradition of Friday pubification, which in my day often had a few hardy professors along in the early rounds. (The noble Dr. Orchard was not infrequently seen longer than that.)

  9. I use both the Virgil is hard story and the marvelous Pangur Ban as examples to my students of “meeting” our long departed ancestors and discovering that scribe monks were interesting people after all. But I admit to not knowing the other cat references – does he cite them in the article?

    • Sadly no, it’s a general book and there are few references. I’m not sure where else one would go to find them, either. The ever-erudite JPG may know a thing or two here? <adopts medium-like mien> JPG, are you reading?

      • Nope, can’t help much with this: very much out of my depth… But /one/ of those marginal cats is in the Leabhar Breac (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, MS 1230)–and there some nice cats (and mice) in the illuminations of the Book of Kells. The Leabhar Breac quatrain says *something* like ‘The kitten you raise as a nice pet: once it’s had its fill of your doting, it goes off to be wild’. Or something like that…

        • Well, that’s a lot better than nothing, thankyou for coming up with it. Faintly depressing sentiment of course, but contemporary…

          • Don’t count on me: I’m no Celticist, and the verse is half-remembered at best. There’s doubtless a proper translation floating out there in the ether, or indeed a more informed reader of this blog…

            • You’re closer to the people I’d ask than I am, though, which is nearly the same as knowing it :-) That said, there are obviously people near me who would know and I shall try and ask one of them once term starts again.

    • I’m collecting odd scribblings on the margins of medieval manuscripts for my PhD and came across this great entry of your blog. For me, it would be very useful as well if someone could figure out the other cat references…

    • Others not even being sure where to find Pangur Bán may do so here, I now discover.

  10. Regarding cats: one wuz here.

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