From my diary

I have spent a few days, researching the Martyrologium Poeticum of pseudo-Bede.

This work would ordinarily be a bit late for us.  Bede himself appears in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum, but the editors declined to include his dubia and spuria, doubtless realising that this would take them centuries into the middle ages.

The text is the first witness to All Saints’ Days – All Hallows Day – being celebrated on 1st November.  So it gets quoted in the literature.  I’ve been trying to find out about it, with this in mind.

However I noticed a funny thing, when I was looking through the papers.  There was nothing at all under this name for more than 50 years.  There were a cluster of papers by John Hennig in the 1920s and 30s, and a couple of French papers of the same era, and then nothing.  This made me suspicious.  Generally texts do not cease to be worked on entirely, after attracting interest for centuries.

But I have seen this before.  This evening my suspicion was confirmed – that the text is today known under a different title.  No longer do we study the Martyrologium Poeticum; instead it is the Metrical Calendar of York, or even simply MCY!

The text with an English translation has been edited by Kazutomo Karasawa in The Old English Metrical Calendar (Menologium), Cambridge, 2015, in Appendix 2 (p.138), as one of a number of related texts that Dr. K. included in his edition.

It’s very bad practice to do something like this, without better reason than I have yet to see.  I nearly wrote an article, entirely based on the older literature.  I am not the only one to be misled.

I shall have to write something with a bibliography about all this, and I do need to read the articles by Michael Lapidge that list the manuscripts.  But that can wait to another time.


A fragment of Bede’s “De ratione temporum” from his own lifetime?

Here’s a fun item!  Inside the binding of a book, somebody found a really early fragment of a manuscript of Bede’s De ratione temporum.  (This is the only work which mentions “Eostre”, and includes all his calculations of dates and events.)

Even more fun – it’s online in a nice high-resolution image at Darmstadt!  It can be found here, where it is manuscript 4262.  The piece originates at Wearmouth – i.e. in Bede’s own monastery – around 725, in his own lifetime.

It’s amazing to consider that Bede may have seen this being copied!

But there is more.  This is a chunk of chapter 27, De magnitudine, vel defectu solis et lunae, as you may verify from this old edition here.  In this passage, he quotes Pliny the Elder book 37.  You can see the red heading of Bede’s chapter in the left hand column; and the name of “Plinius” on the third line underneath.

Here’s one side of the folium:

And here’s the other (which plainly needs a bit of work with a graphics tool):

Here’s some of the Latin text:

De magnitudine, vel defectu solis, sive lunae, Plinius secundus in opere pulcherrimo naturalis historiae ita describit: Manifestum est solem interventu lunas occultari, lunamque terrae objectu, ac vices reddi, eosdem solis radios luna interpositu suo auferente terrae, terraeque lunae.

The “eosdem solis radios luna” is particularly clear in the right-hand column, two lines down.

Here’s the same bit in the Liverpool University translation by Faith Wallis, p.78-79:

Pliny relates the following information concerning the size or eclipse of the Sun and Moon in that most delightful book, the Natural History: “It is obvious that the Sun is obscured by the intervention of the Moon, and the Moon by the interposition of the Earth, and each affects the other. The Moon takes away by its interposition the very same rays of the Sun which the Earth takes away from the Moon.”

Isn’t it amazing that a page of a copy contemporary with the author, and from the same monastery, is still extant?  It does demonstrate the importance of looking in these 16th century bindings.

Well done Darmstadt, for making that accessible online!  (They ask that I mention their reference of urn:nbn:de:tuda-tudigit-51806)


Bede on Yule

In De ratione temporum (On the reckoning of time), chapter 15, the Venerable Bede lists the English months:

In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other nations’ observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans, [the months] take their name from the moon, for the moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March, Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called.  They began the year on the 8th kalends of January [25 Dec.], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord.  That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, ‘mother’s night’, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night.

The months of Giuli derive their name from the day when the sun turns back [and begins] to increase, because one of [these months] precedes [this day], and the other follows. … [1]

‘Giuli’ is Yule, I believe.  Note how it is a two-month month.


  1. [1]Bede, The reckoning of time, translated … by Faith Wallis.  Liverpool, 2004, p.53-4

A Byzantine exegesis of Paul in the “depth of the sea”

The following interesting passage can be found in a work by the Venerable Bede 1:

The same apostle (Paul) said, “a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea’ (2 Cor. 11:25).  I have heard certain men assert that Theodore of blessed memory, a very learned man and once archbishop of the English people, expounded the saying thus: that there was in Cyzicus a certain very deep pit, dug for the punishment of criminals, which on account of its immense depth was called the depth of the sea.  It was the filth and darkness of this which Paul bore, amongst other things, for Christ.

Theodore was a Greek from Tarsus, who happened to be in Rome in 667 AD at the moment when a Saxon archbishop-elect of Canterbury had died while in Rome to get his pallium. Pope Vitalian was open to eastern influence, and promptly appointed this 67-year old man (d. 690) as archbishop.  His episcopate was a considerable success, he increased the status of the clergy, reorganised the diocese, and Bede says of him that he was the first archbishop whom the whole English church willingly obeyed.  This in turn helped to foster English political and cultural unity.  He brought knowledge of Latin and Greek to Dark Ages England, and interesting snippets like this from a part of the ancient world where the darkness had yet to fall.

1. Liber Quaestionum, Patrologia Latina 93, cols. 456D-457A.  The reference comes to me from Henry Mayr-Harting, The coming of Christianity to anglo-saxon England (1972), repr. 1977, p.207, n. 58 (on p.312).