At the Crossroads


A 14th-century university class — contemporary painting by Laurentius de Voltolina. (Image Source)

Last time out (far too long ago), we took a look at the University of Heidelberg, one of the oldest in Europe and indeed the world, and at its long and turbulent history.  This time, a quick post with a little bit of a look at what actually went on in a medieval university.  What did a student learn there, and what was the general course of study?  Read on, for a very quick introduction.

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Cities of Literature: Heidelberg


Heidelberg, Germany.  (Image Source)

Time to look at another City of Literature!  And for this one, we travel to the soutwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, and to the city of Heidelberg (pop. 160,000).  Heidelberg lies not far from Germany’s border with France, and occupies the banks of the River Neckar near where it debouches into the Rhine.  Of particular interest for our purposes today: Heidelberg University, one of the oldest post-secondary educational institutions in the world.  Read on…

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Crusoes of Canada

Last time, we explored the notion that there is in fact a body of Sagas of Peterborians, analogous to those composed by the early settlers of Iceland a thousand and more years ago.  This time, I want to take a look at one of those “Peterborian sagas” in particular.  Catherine Parr Traill is best-known for her collection of writings published as The Backwoods of Canada in 1836, but she was a prolific author beyond that.  In addition to her (several) guides for immigrants to Canada, she also wrote a number of children’s books, and among those is a novel called The Canadian Crusoes: A Tale of the Rice Lake Plains, published in 1852 by Arthur Hall, Virtue, & Co. in London, England.  It’s a fascinating if flawed work on a number of levels; read on, as we take a closer look.

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The Peterborian Saga-ists


“Westove,” the Lakefield home of Catherine Parr Traill.  (Image Source)

We recently talked a bit about the early “Sagas of Icelanders,” and I suggested then that we might find echoes of the genre in early Peterborian writings as well.  Time to investigate that idea a bit more closely.  Can we identify a group of Peterborough saga-ists, and if so what kind of sagas did they write?  Read on…

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No Words

Well, I was all set here to talk more about sagas, and particularly our own Peterborian variety this evening.  But sometimes events get in the way.    The news this evening is that the National Museum of Brazil is being destroyed by fire, and its collection of 20,000,000 artefacts with it.

In this series we have talked quite a lot about libraries, close and in many ways inseparable kin of museums.  Tonight’s fire has likely destroyed the nearly half-million books in the museum’s library, which specialized (as the institution itself did) on archaeology, anthrolopology, and natural history.

The National Museum of Brazil turned 200 years old this past June, and for the last 126 of those had been housed in the Palace of São Cristóvão — former home of the Portugese and Brazilian royal families, and later the place where the treaty that recognized Brazilian independence were signed in 1825.  As mentioned, it housed something in the order of twenty million artefacts from all over South America and indeed the world.  Its loss, to Science, the Humanities, to all scholarship, and of course to the people of Brazil, is impossible to over-state.  Or, for that matter, to describe.

Minhas profundas condolências ao povo do Brasil.

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Cities of Literature: Reykjavík


Medieval manuscript in Old Norse showing the opening to The Saga of Hrafnkell, Frey’s Priest (Hrafnkels saga freysgoða).  (Image Source)

The word “saga” comes to us from Old Norse, and it at first simply meant “a story.”  It is related to English words like the verb “to say,” and “sage” (“sage” as in a wise person, not “sage” as in the plant, which comes from a different linguistic source).  And for this post we are indeed looking at stories that are sagas (or vice versa), and seeing if we can set up any connection between medieval Iceland and our own city of Peterborough.  Read on!

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A Taste of What is to Come


Egill Skallagrímsson, from a 17th-century manuscript.  (Image Source)

We are just a couple of days from the next look at a City of Literature!  And here is a sneak preview, from which cunning readers will be able to deduce which city will be coming under our gaze:

Úlfr hét maðr, sonr Bjálfa ok Hallberu, dóttur Úlfs ins óarga. Hon var systir Hallbjarnar hálftrölls í Hrafnistu, föður Ketils hængs. Úlfr var maðr svá mikill ok sterkr, at eigi váru hans jafningjar. En er hann var á unga aldri, lá hann í víkingu ok herjaði. Með honum var í félagsskap sá maðr, er kallaðr var Berðlu-Kári, göfugr maðr ok inn mesti afreksmaðr at afli ok áræði. Hann var berserkr. Þeir Úlfr áttu einn sjóð báðir, ok var með þeim in kærsta vinátta.

Translation (by W.C. Green):

There was a man named Ulf, son of Bjalf, and Hallbera, daughter of Ulf the fearless; she was sister of Hallbjorn Half-giant in Hrafnista, and he the father of Kettle Hæing. Ulf was a man so tall and strong that none could match him, and in his youth he roved the seas as a freebooter. In fellowship with him was one Kari of Berdla, a man of renown for strength and daring; he was a Berserk. Ulf and he had one common purse, and were the dearest friends.

And those are the opening lines of Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar (aka Egil’s Saga) and later this week — Wednesday, likely — we will discuss that work and others like it.

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Isabella Valancy Crawford


Isabella Valancy Crawford (Image Source)

Last time, we took a quick look at Barcelona as a City of Literature, and in particular at Catalan poet Maria Mercè Marçal.  In this post, as usual, we switch back to Peterborough and its literary heritage.  And in particular we are going to see whether we can find any common thematic ground between Marçal — fiercely feminist, left-wing, and nationalist — and the late-19th century Peterborian poet Isabella Valancy Crawford.  Read on…

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Cities of Literature: Barcelona


Barcelona.  (Image Source)

We are back at it!  And in this post, we travel to the north-east of Spain, and the city of Barcelona (pop. 1.6 million).  It is an old old city indeed, founded as a Roman colony in the early first century A.D.  Like many of its sister-Cities of Literature, Barcelona is too ancient and too large to make any survey of its entire literary tradition possible in the context of a short blog post.  So, once again, we will take a look at one element of that tradition, in this case a poet by the name of Maria Mercè Marçal.  Read on…

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Just a quick update, as we catch our breath after a long examination of the Peterborough Mechanics’ Institute.  We will be back on Monday, with a literary visit to the city pictured above — a sort of homage to Catalonia, if nobody has used that phrase yet!

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