From my diary

I’m still unwell, after an unbelievable 9 weeks of sitting around at home with a headache.  But finally I seem to be improving.  None of the pills and potions prescribed by my GP has had any effect, but time seems to be the cure.  I’m waiting for a scan, but the doctor thinks that it won’t show anything.

Meanwhile I’ve been rereading the epigrams of Martial, in the old Loeb edition with facing Latin.  I do prefer the stately translations of a century ago to modern attempts.

I notice that the eye is always drawn to the epigrams that are not translated, and instead given in some elderly Italian version which is hardly more comprehensible than Latin.  You inevitably find yourself attempting to understand the syntax.

The books could not present the obscene matter at that date, for that was illegal.  But was there a subtle ulterior motive here?  Print the Latin, and then rely on the frustration of teenage boys as a way to teach them Latin grammar and syntax?  For the best way to learn any language is always to have something in that language that you wish to read!


The earliest mention of Halloween? John Mirk’s “Festivall” or “Festial” or “Liber Festivalis

This evening I happened to come across Lisa Morton, The Halloween Encyclopedia (2011).  I can see some errors in it, but on the whole it is an admirable effort.  On p.148, under “Parties”, we find this statement:

One of the earliest written mentions of Halloween, from the 1493 Festivall, contains this description of what sounds like a contemporary Halloween party: “Good frendes suche a daye ye shall haue all halowen daye.”

Appendix I : Chronology of Halloween, (p.203), has the first mention of halloween as:

1493—Festivall mentions celebrating Halloween with “good frendes”

There is no reference, unfortunately.  What on earth is “Festivall”?

The old Bodleian “Catalogus Librorum Impressorum Bibliothecae Bodleianae” vol 2., p.40 (online here) tells us of a “Liber festivalis [anglice]” printed in Westmonesterio [by W. de Worde] in 1493 – this is perhaps the source of the date given above -, and below also of “The boke that is callid festivall” printed at Oxford by Theod. Rood and Th. Hunt in 1486.  None of this is easily accessible, and what is the book anyway?

Some intensive googling later, I discover that it is a book composed in the late 1380s by the Augustinian canon John Mirk, and one of the most commonly printed English books before 1500.  It is a sermon collection, organised by saint’s day, and written in English rather than Latin.  The sermons usually contain stories and anecdotes.  The book is today often referred to as “John Mirk’s Festial“.

The standard edition is Johannes Mirkus (John Mirk), Mirk’s Festial: A Collection of Homilies, ed. Theodor Erbe; series: Early English Text Society extra series XCVI, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. for the Early English Text Society, 1905.  This thankfully is online at here.  Unfortunately it is printed in Middle English, complete with weird letters.  The text is readable enough, with a bit of effort.  There is a glossary at  the back.

A new edition is in progress by Susan Powell, but this I was unable to access.

I have not been able to find the text given, not even by searching for “frend”.  Possibly Morton used the more up-to-date edition?  But on p.266, we find the start of the sermon for All Saints Day (click to enlarge):

It gives a history of the celebration of All Saint’s Day, referencing Pope Gregory (IV).

The text uses “halowen” to mean “hallow, keep holy”, rather than Halloween.  This is confirmed by the glossary at the end, on p.328:

This all rather suggests that Morton is in a mistake here – that this is not a reference to Halloween at all.

All the same, the Halloween Encyclopedia is both useful and interesting.  I sympathised entirely with the statement in the preface about “sources”:

Unfortunately, many of those source books are little more than collections of fairy tales. They often seem to have been poorly researched, and displayed prejudice or predilection on the part of their authors.

So it still is.


From my diary

Regular readers will have noticed the lack of blogging.

For more than seven weeks I have been unable to work.  The symptoms are general weakness and a constant headache, possibly sinus-related.  This came on following a three-day bout with the office cold.  I’m getting more rested, of course, but the problem is not really improving.  I do not feel very unwell, until I try to do anything that requires concentration.  That promptly puts me down again.  I’m seeing a doctor, and I’ve started to take some pills which I hope will help.

I don’t know whether my job will still be there when I get fit.  Fortunately I am not short of money.  But getting fit in order to work must take top priority. The last thing that I want to do at the moment is write blog posts, or reply to email.

My apologies for the silence.   Blogging will resume when I get fit.  I’ve been noting interesting items for my backlog folder, as I see them, but I can’t do much with them as yet.


A symposium on Ephrem Graecus next week at Marquette university in Milwaukee

Regular readers will remember “Ephrem Graecus” – the mass of works in Greek which are attributed to Ephraim the Syrian, but which are in fact mostly original compositions.  Little work has been done on this area, which makes it one of the uncharted frontiers of patristics.

Those in the Milwaukee area in the US might like to attend a one-day symposium on Ephrem Graecus next week, on Saturday 9th November.  It’s being run by Tikhon Alexander Pino, who runs the St Ephrem the Syrian website.  The program is here.

If you have any interest in the subject, I’d recommend going along.  It will be a rare opportunity to meet others interested in the subject, and find out what’s going on.  I’d go if I was anywhere nearby.