from Twitter (6): 3 November 2018

This is a longer Twitter thread, which I’ve tidied up slightly and reformatted as a continuous text.

Oc! Other trobairitz lyric *poetry* survives—that is, verse composed by women—as well as more that’s pseudonymous or anonymous, and therefore as likely to be by a trobairitz as by a trobador. Other poems could have had a melody or accompanying music; it wouldn’t necessarily have been written down, and it wouldn’t have been conventionally perceived as being necessary to do so as this is a contrafactum, improvisational, & part-oral culture. A related second “oc”: #medievaltwitter #occitan #trobador #trobairitz #newsflashhotalertsquee #TolleLege: Vat. lat. 3207 has been digitised and is freely available online. (Also of interest for #medievalwomen #womenshistory @medievalwomen @SocietyMedFem.)

It might seem like a niche “squeee” but @DigitaVaticana lat. 3207 is an important manuscript, for what it contains: for Occitan, for Medieval literature, for poetry; more on why this old vernacular poetry matters in “The consolation and living magic of old poetry” (October 2018). Vat. lat. 3207 is important as a book as a whole, and for the knowledge it shares with us through its collection, selection, arrangement, and presentation of poems and poets: teaching us about medieval reading, literary criticism, aesthetics, and poetics. It’s important for what it tells us about a perception of literary history: this book preserves an exiled culture—including its language and literature—that, three to four generations before, suffered attempted annihilation and is in danger of dying, its memory forgotten.

This book is part of a group from a similar time: twixt the end of one century and the first quarter of the next, a century after horrors of war (an unnecessary conflict at that, triggered in part by colonialist cupidity), writing and so remembrancing that which is danger of loss. Like its kith and kin, this book memorialises a literature that was a complex mixture of what modernity would call “written” and “oral”; in so doing it helped to save it from oblivion, but at the risk of killing improvisational witty liveliness, fossilising and petrifying as a monument (turning to stone isn’t necessarily bad; I’m also thinking about those metaphors in relation to @jeffreyjcohen on stone. But I digress.)

Like those other codices, Vat. lat. 3207 is a collection: it’s one of the most interesting and sophisticated in its choices, organisation, and identity as a whole book; commenting on and telling us a lot about literary aesthetics, value(s), history; a history of a curious creature …

… that is a language, literature, and culture in process of becoming what we might nowadays call antique, dead, classical (but also, to use a 21st-c. word, “sleeping”); being Medievalised by what (to us today) is itself the Medieval; and being exoticised (in moving just a few hundred kilometres away).

The whole set of chansonniers / canzoniere* are from this period, later 13th- to early-14th c., plus some later (mid-14th onwards) copies; most are from Italy.
* = bumper book of Troubadour songs**
** with the caveat that canso and chantar > singing, but also chanting, like rapping

There are 30-odd chansonniers / canzoniere, and Medieval Occitan literature as a whole—lyric poetry and otherwise—is in 100+ manuscripts; one of the best lists is ℅ Courtney Wells:
including direct links to manuscripts
#TolleLege and keep it alive: continue, rewrite, improvise!

And yes, these books of imported world literature from another culture are where Petrarch got his idea for a “canzoniere” from and where Dante got ideas—from the Occitan vidas e razos, in books like Vat. lat. 3207—for his Vita nuova. (Not his only debt to Occitan literature & poetic culture.) See? These guys got the point about actively working with, and reworking, Occitan poetry to keep it alive. It’s not for nothing that the language treatises / grammars—some of the oldest vernacular foreign language textbooks & materials—are for reading and writing poetry. Some of the earliest dictionaries are rhymaries (ex. 14th c. for Occitan and Catalan); thinking about poetry and poets multilingually, and about translation in the narrow and the broad senses. Thinking beyond passive shallow rote-learning (grammar or poems), to active deep learning: for poetry to become part of life, to enrich life, to be a way of life. These books have titles like razos de trobar, doctrina de compondre dictats (“reasons for finding” is one of several translations of the former; for the latter, “how to understand sayings (i.e. knowledge through oral culture)”). Breviari d’amors, leys d’amors, doctrina d’acort, regles de trobar, mirail de trobar: poetic titles that allude simultaneously to composition, and to the human composition of individual moral conduct and of ethics, politics, and social structure. These are innovative active interactive anthologies, for learning a language and culture and ethos through the poetry.

This is a language whose purpose is poetry, and a deeply essentially poetic language; one learns it so as to read poetry, one reads so as to write, and one has learned it properly (and understands fully and can, back round full circle again in a virtuous cycle, read well) once one can write in it. And then one spreads poetry, poetic identity, and poetic culture; the trobar of making and shaping; of poeticising and making a world more poetic. This is about as serious as learning gets; radical task-based project-based experiential transformative innovative education.

I’m thinking that might be nearing the end of this thread. Except to say: do please go and read manuscripts online! The poetry, and the grammars / foreign-language textbooks (not second-language: for most learners, this would be at least their third language, and they’re written and designed for a multilingual audience). As more and more of this material is freely openly accessible online, anyone can become a Medieval Occitanist and learn directly from primary materials.

Sure, then there’s all the variations across the whole koine group, historical morphology, and secondary scholarship; but anyone with entendemen—sense, taste, instinct, poeticity, imagination, understanding—can keep the culture alive directly: read, write, declaim, sing, rap, incant. The poetry is ideally suited to @digitalmappa projects, with bonus extra fin ioi when a poem is in several manuscripts, a different version in each (lines, stanzas, order, ending), next to different poems, ordered differently. Puzzles, decryption, play: learning as high art.

This is Big Major Important Stuff: a huge corpus—2500+ poems, 450+ poets, across what are now several countries and nearly 5 centuries—that’s massively influential; the finest medieval poetry, the most sophisticated, brilliant, punning, intellectually dizzying. (Sorry, English.)

Ending this thread with the end of Enimia:

Mas cant fo del sepulcre traita
e tota cesta vertutz faita
porteron la am cans moltz bels
al mostier qu’era fachs novel
e mezeron la belemen
laïns en una archa d’argen
hon Dyeus fai soen ses doptansa
per liey virtutz e demonstransa.

Aras pregem tuch, layc e clerge,
que Dyeus pel nom d’aquesta verge
de qui avem fach cest romans
nos meta sus am los syeus sanhs.

(Unrelated image: marginal drollerie in “The Maastricht Hours.” Liège 14th c. @BLMedieval Stowe 17 f. 197v.)