Tag Archives: Storytelling

Francis Bacon’s use of ancient myths in Novum Organum

Francis_Bacon,_Viscount_St_Alban
Francis Bacon

The Novum Organum, fully Novum Organum Scientiarum (‘new instrument of science’), is a philosophical work by Francis Bacon, written in Latin and published in 1620. The title is a reference to Aristotle’s work Organon, which was his treatise on logic and syllogism. In Novum Organum, Bacon details a new system of logic he believes to be superior to the old ways of syllogism. This is now known as the Baconian method.

For Bacon, finding the essence of a thing was a simple process of reduction, and the use of inductive reasoning. In finding the cause of a ‘phenomenal nature’ such as heat, one must list all of the situations where heat is found. Then another list should be drawn up, listing situations that are similar to those of the first list except for the lack of heat. A third table lists situations where heat can vary. The ‘form nature’, or cause, of heat must be that which is common to all instances in the first table, is lacking from all instances of the second table and varies by degree in instances of the third table.

The title page of Novum Organum depicts a galleon passing between the mythical Pillars of Hercules that stand either side of the Strait of Gibraltar, marking the exit from the well-charted waters of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic Ocean. The Pillars, as the boundary of the Mediterranean, have been smashed through by Iberian sailors, opening a new world for exploration. Bacon hopes that empirical investigation will, similarly, smash the old scientific ideas and lead to greater understanding of the world and heavens. This title page was liberally copied from Andrés García de Céspedes’s Regimiento de Navegación, published in 1606.

The Latin tag across the bottom – Multi pertransibunt & augebitur scientia – is taken from the Old Testament (Daniel 12:4). It means: “Many will travel and knowledge will be increased”.

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Bacon’s work was instrumental in the historical development of the scientific method. His technique bears a resemblance to the modern formulation of the scientific method in the sense that it is centered on experimental research. Bacon’s emphasis on the use of artificial experiments to provide additional observances of a phenomenon is one reason that he is often considered “the Father of the Experimental Philosophy” (for example famously by Voltaire). On the other hand, modern scientific method does not follow Bacon’s methods in its details, but more in the spirit of being methodical and experimental, and so his position in this regard can be disputed.

Importantly though, Bacon set the scene for science to develop various methodologies, because he made the case against older Aristotelian approaches to science, arguing that method was needed because of the natural biases and weaknesses of the human mind, including the natural bias it has to seek metaphysical explanations which are not based on real observations.

Novum organum, as suggested by its name, is focused just as much on a rejection of received doctrine as it is on a forward-looking progression. In Bacon’s Idols are found his most critical examination of man-made impediments which mislead the mind’s objective reasoning. They appear in previous works but were never fully fleshed out until their formulation in Novum organum:

-wiki

“Francis Bacon’s monumental work, Novum Organum, is an attempt to establish a new status for mankind. Using some of the most prominent myths—particularly those dealing with the gods Pan, Dionysius, Perseus, and Prometheus—Bacon hoped to inaugúrate a new era of success and happiness for his fellow man. In Book I of Novum Organum, Bacon involves these gods and their significances, juxtaposing them with man as he might and could be. In this essay, the author examines about twenty of the “Aphorisms” in Bacon’s work, showing the possible impact of the ancient god who is most appropriate for the “Aphorisms” under discussion. This article is clearly a work of utopian proportions, revealing fascinating journeys into the realm of romanticism.”

Wendell P. Maclntyre
University of Prince Edward Island

Click here to read the full pdf article http://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/6045/1/RAEI_07_10.pdf

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The Three Princes of Serendip – origin of the word Serendipity

princes-of-serendipity1

“The story has become known in the English speaking world as the source of the word serendipity, coined by Horace Walpole because of his recollection of the part of the “silly fairy tale” where the three princes by “accidents and sagacity” discern the nature of a lost camel.

“This discovery indeed is almost of that kind which I call serendipity, a very expressive word, which as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right – now do you understand serendipity? ”  http://livingheritage.org/three_princes.htm

In a separate line of descent, the story was used by Voltaire in his 1747 Zadig, and through this contributed to both the evolution of detective fiction and also to the self-understanding of scientific method.”

800px-VoltaireZadig

Edgar Allan Poe in his turn was probably inspired by Zadig when he created C. Auguste Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, calling it a “tale of ratiocination” wherein “the extent of information obtained lies not so much in the validity of the inference as in the quality of the observation.” Poe’s M. Dupin stories mark the start of the modern detective fiction genre. Émile Gaboriau, and Arthur Conan Doyle were perhaps also influenced by Zadig.

The Three Princes of Serendip is the English version of the story Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo published by Michele Tramezzino in Venice in 1557. Tramezzino claimed to have heard the story from one Cristoforo Armeno, who had translated the Persian fairy tale into Italian, adapting Book One of Amir Khusrau‘s Hasht-Bihisht of 1302. The story first came to English via a French translation, and now exists in several out-of-print translations.  Serendip is the Perso-Arabic name for Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

dervishi_assalam_alejkum_na_ujgurskom_jazike

 

“as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” 

 

“In ancient times there existed in the country of Serendippo, in the Far East, a great and powerful king by the name of Giaffer. He had three sons who were very dear to him. And being a good father and very concerned about their education, he decided that he had to leave them endowed not only with great power, but also with all kinds of virtues of which princes are particularly in need.”

The father searches out the best possible tutors. “And to them he entrusted the training of his sons, with the understanding that the best they could do for him was to teach them in such a way that they could be immediately recognized as his very own.”

When the tutors are pleased with the excellent progress that the three princes make in the arts and sciences, they report it to the king. He, however, still doubts their training, and summoning each in turn, declares that he will retire to the contemplative life leaving them as king. Each politely declines, affirming the father’s superior wisdom and fitness to rule.

The king is pleased, but fearing that his sons’ education may have been too sheltered and privileged, feigns anger at them for refusing the throne and sends them away from the land.

No sooner do the three princes arrive abroad than they trace clues to identify precisely a camel they have never seen. They conclude that the camel is lame, blind in one eye, missing a tooth, carrying a pregnant woman, and bearing honey on one side and butter on the other. When they later encounter the merchant who has lost the camel, they report their observations to him. He accuses them of stealing the camel and takes them to the Emperor Beramo, where he demands punishment.

Beramo asks how they are able to give such an accurate description of the camel if they have never seen it. It is clear from the princes’ replies that they have used small clues to infer cleverly the nature of the camel.

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Grass had been eaten from the side of the road where it was less green, so the princes had inferred that the camel was blind on the other side. Because there were lumps of chewed grass on the road that were the size of a camel’s tooth, they inferred they had fallen through the gap left by a missing tooth. The tracks showed the prints of only three feet, the fourth being dragged, indicating that the animal was lame. That butter was carried on one side of the camel and honey on the other was evident because ants had been attracted to melted butter on one side of the road and flies to spilled honey on the other.

As for the woman, one of the princes said: “I guessed that the camel must have carried a woman, because I had noticed that near the tracks where the animal had knelt down the imprint of a foot was visible. Because some urine was nearby, I wet my fingers and as a reaction to its odour I felt a sort of carnal concupiscence, which convinced me that the imprint was of a woman’s foot.”

“I guessed that the same woman must have been pregnant,” said another prince, “because I had noticed nearby handprints which were indicative that the woman, being pregnant, had helped herself up with her hands while urinating.”

At this moment, a traveller enters the scene to say that he has just found a missing camel wandering in the desert. Beramo spares the lives of the three princes, lavishes rich rewards on them, and appoints them to be his advisors.” (wiki – The Three Princes of Serendip)

“The origin of the idea to which serendipity gives its name can be traced through a literary historiography and like many such terms has a wonderfully layered texture, a sort of stratigraphy of narrative, interpretation and contingency, almost as though the concept was an example of the very thing it named. The term was coined by Horace Walpole, an art historian, writer and political figure of the eighteenth century, based on a Persian fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip, (Serendip being the Persian name for Ceylon/Sri Lanka). The tale concerns three exiled princes who survived and prospered by their wits. Actually it has little to do with serendipity as we understand it today; it details something more like the application of deductive logic to evidence, a proto- semiotics. In the most famous story, the princes, by reading telltale signs, are able to describe a stolen camel that they have never seen – understandably leading to suspicion falling on them – before explaining their method and saving their own necks.”
dawnoftheunread blog

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Harry Clarke’s Looking Glass | The Public Domain Review

 

With their intricate line and often ghoulish tone, the works of Irish artist Harry Clarke are amongst the most striking in the history of illustration and stained glass design. Kelly Sullivan explores how, unknown to many at the time, Clarke took to including his own face in many of his pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the full article, and see many additional self-portraits he included in his work at the source: Harry Clarke’s Looking Glass | The Public Domain Review

The lost children of Hamelin | Maria J. Pérez Cuervo

“In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul, the 26th of June, 130 child­ren born in Hamelin were seduced by a piper, dressed in all kinds of colours, and lost at the calvary near the koppen.” The town of Hamelin hasn’t forgotten this loss. The street where, supposedly, the children were last seen is called Bungelosen­strasse: street without drums”. Even so many years after the event, no one is allowed to play music or dance there.

Oral tradition preserved and enriched the story until the Brothers Grimm included it in their compil­ation of German legends, Deutsche Sagen (1816–18). In the Grimms’ version, mediæval Hamelin is hit by a plague of rats. A seemingly hero-like figure appears, in the shape of a mysterious stranger dressed in red and yellow clothes. He promises to rid the town of the vermin, and the townsmen promise him money in exchange. The rat-catcher has a strange, almost supernatural gift: he plays a tune on his pipe that lures the rats into the river Weser, where they all drown. But, blinded by their greed, the townsmen refuse to honour their promise and pay the Piper his fee. The Piper leaves the town, plotting his revenge. When he returns to Hamelin, he wears the attire of a hunter. He plays a melody that hypnotises the children, who follow him to the mountains, never to be seen again. The cruelty of the denouément strikes us doubly, because it surpasses our expect­ations. What initially looks like a classic ‘Overcoming the Monster’ plot turns into a nightmarish tale of disproportionate revenge.

 

The main difficulty when trying to trace the roots of the legend is the lack of primary sources. The earliest surviving reference to the tragedy of Hamelin is a note in a manuscript copy of the Catena Aurea of Heinrich von Herford (c.1370), generally referred to as the Lüneburg Manuscript. According to both this manuscript and the inscription found in the Rattenfängerhaus, the events took place on 26 June 1284. There are, however, reports of scholars who accessed earlier documents that are now lost. Dutch physician and demon­ologist Johann Weyer mentioned in the fourth edit­ion of his Delusions of the Devil (1577) some of the historical sources that contained mult­iple references to the tragedy of Hamelin: “These facts are thus written in the annals of Hammel and are religiously guarded in the archives. They are to be read also in the sacred books of the Church, and to be seen in the painted panes of the same; of which fact I am an eyewitness. Besides, as confirmation of the story, the older magist­racy was accustomed to write together on its public documents: ‘in the year of Christ and in that of the going out of the children’, etc.” [1] Weyer was probably referring to the book of statutes of Hamelin, Der Donat, (c.1351), or to a collection of local historical documents called the Brade.

The Market Church in Hamelin exhibited another piece of the puzzle, a glass window dating from the 1300s depicting the stranger dressed in multicoloured clothes taking away a crowd of children dressed in white. The window was destroyed in 1660, but it inspired a 1592 watercolour by Augustin Von Moersperg that preserves its essence and represents the main geographical elements of the legend – the town, the river Weser, and the mountain, with a dark entrance to a cave.

The Black Death

Although neither the Lüneburg Manuscript nor the glass window suggest that rats played an important part in the Hamelin events, folklore has assimilated the figure of the Pied Piper with that of a rat-catcher. The first surviving reference to rodents appears in the 16th-century Zimmern Chronicle (c.1559–65), followed by Weyer’s aforementioned Delusions of the Devil, both written almost three centuries after the tragedy. If the rats were most likely a later addit­ion rather than an original element of the Hamelin episode, they gave depth to the tale and resonated in the popular imagin­ation thanks to a play of macabre symbolic associations. The image of a rat-infested mediæval town instantly brings to mind thoughts of the plague. Plagues and epi­demics have had a continuous impact on the collective imagination, taking us back to the Ten Plagues of Egypt in Exodus: biblical plagues were a punishment from God. The Piper, able to defy the curse with the power of his music, is thus invested with supernatural abilities.

In mediæval representations, Death presented himself as a skeleton wearing a colourful pied attire, a jester who always laughs last (perhaps the reportedly widespread fear of clowns – see FT226:34–41 – might even derive from this image). The Pied Piper thus becomes the lord of the rats, the Black Death (known at the time as the Great Death or simply the Pestilence) personified, and the one responsible for taking the lives of the 130 children of Hamelin.

Associations of the Piper with the Black Death aren’t limited to the subtext of the tale. The plague has also been used to contextualise the story; Jacques Demy’s 1972 film, featuring singer/songwriter Donovan as the Piper, is a good example. However, the peak of Black Death in Europe was between 1348 and 1350, that is, more than 64 years after the date of the children’s disappearance if we follow the Lüneburg Manuscript’s chronology.

City of lost children

In the earliest accounts of the Hamelin events, we are told that the children were “lost”, but not necessarily dead. The Brothers Grimm, at the end of their version, add that “some say that the children were led into a cave, and that they came out again in Transylvania,” a conclusion retained by Robert Browning in his 1842 poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin. The terms from the Lüne­burg Manuscript used to describe the place of the children’s disappearance (Calvary, Koppen), have been interpreted in different ways. Historian Hans Dobbertin assimilated the word Calvary, place of the skull, to the word Koppen, meaning head. In the Bible, Calvary or Golgotha was the place of the execution of Jesus – a mountain or a hill. This might suggest that the children of Hamelin were executed, or perhaps the word Calvary is merely used to describe the skull-like shape of a hill, like the biblical Golgotha.

Scholars such as Heinrich Spanuth, Jürgen Udolph and Dobbertin have sugg­ested that the Piper could have been an emissary sent by the ruling nobility to promote a campaign for the colonisation of Moravia, East Prussia, Pomerania or the Teutonic Lands to the East. The expression “children of Hamelin” could have been a general term for all the inhabitants of the town who listened to this brightly dressed “recruiting sergeant”, and their exodus a response to politico-economical factors.

In this light, the story of the Pied Piper might be seen to bear certain similar­ities to that of the Children’s Crusade, an extraordinary series of events that purportedly took place in 1212. In both episodes, the border between history and myth is a porous one. The Children’s Crusade appears in mediæval sources, but historians now question its authenticity. The crusade was said to have been led by a child shepherd named Nicholas, from Cologne, Germany, who preached that the purity of children would allow them to conquer the Holy Land; the legend says that they starved and died along the way.

The piper as a trickster

The scarce and enigmatic reports of the loss of an entire generation in Hamelin reverberated down the centuries. Literal interpretations of the story present the Piper as a kidnapper or a psychopathic pederast. This vision has endured in popular culture (even the 2010 remake ofNightmare on Elm Street suggests that there are some similarities between the characters of Freddy Krueger and the Piper), but its underlying idea was first expressed five centuries ago, in the work of German physicist and Humanist Jobus Fincelius (De miraculis sui Temporis, 1556), who believed that the Piper was the Devil in disguise: “Of the Devil’s power and wickedness will I here tell a true history. About 180 years ago, on S. Mary Magdalene’s Day, it came to pass at Hammel on the Weser in Saxony, that the Devil went about the streets visibly in human form, piped and allured many children, boys and girls, and led them through the town-gate towards a mountain”. [4] This idea is repeated in Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), where the Piper turns up as an example in episode two, A Digression of the nature of Spirits, bad Angels, or Devils, and how they cause Melancholy.

The 19th century romanticised the figure of the Pied Piper, just as it did other outsiders –the pirate, the gypsy, the bandit. Goethe’s 1802 poem Der Rattenfänger, clearly inspired by the Hamelin legend, presents the rat-catcher of the title as “the bard known far and wide, / The travell’d rat-catcher beside; / A man most needful to this town”. Along similar lines, the most popular retelling of all is Robert Browning’s 1849 poem, where the children of Hamelin are happy to leave a town governed by greedy, dishonourable adults. The Piper, the “travell’d rat catcher” of Goethe’s lines, arrives in Hamelin offering a fresh start for a new generation.

Appropriately setting the figure of the Piper to music (and why so late?), Goethe’s poem would, in turn, be adapted by Rom­antic composer Schubert and, later, Hugo Wolf. The Romantic take on the Piper contains an idea that has proved unsurprisingly appealing to musicians: the transformation of youth by a mysterious outsider who has inherited the musical skills of Orpheus or Pan  – a theme that’s been revisited by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Megadeth and even ABBA.

Over more than 700 years, the Pied-Piper of Hamelin has become an archetypal Trickster figure (see FT175:40–41; 185:53–55). The Trickster is known for challenging the establishment, breaking the rules and spreading anarchy. In his dual nature, he can be seen as malignant or mischievous, but he is also a messenger of the gods and an agent and symbol of transformation. The Pied Piper, like the Trickster, is a shape-shifter who wears a number of different masks – the psychopath, the hero, the rebel… even Death himself. Like Shakespeare’s Puck or Barrie’s Peter Pan, he spreads a net of enchantment, leading our children to the Otherworld. Whether this Otherworld was a new land to colonise, an altered state of consciousness or the realm of the dead remains a mystery.

[note: this is an abridged version of the original article – please follwo the link for the full article]

[note too! I can’t find a credit for this image of the Pied Piper, but I love his cloak here! If anyone knows the source of the image, please let me know and I’ll add it – Jaq]

Source: The lost children of Hamelin | Maria J. Pérez Cuervo

The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

“The god Horus is a falcon (the word for which in hieroglyphs is qhr, the falcon’s cry). In the third surviving column of text, remarkably, the falcon is marked with a triangle, the hieroglyphic designation for the star Sirius. As if it were a mathematical proof unfolding before my eyes, I saw that if the falcon marked by the triangle is Sirius, the fire is the light of dawn in which the gods—the things marked holy by the hieroglyphic prayer flags—are stars. The baboon’s penis is in actuality a familiar sight: the Sword of Orion (the three stars under Orion’s belt), which rises directly before Sirius on the path of rising stars. The hieroglyphic lines on the wall express an immediate, visual moment in the physical world: the dawn rising of Sirius signaling the rising of the Nile, the key moment of the Egyptian agricultural year. The clear, repetitive, and simple hieroglyphic lines read not as a magic spell but as a finely machined poetic riddle: The Sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky. Before the doors close the gate to the path over the fire Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark, As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire, Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark. They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path. Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius. That this was the case was borne out by the text as I translated further. Beautifully constructed verses presented one vivid astronomical reference after another: Taurus (“Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns. / Come out. Rise.”), the full moon (“the face, the head, the eye”), the North Star (“the axis at the center of the wheel”), the Dippers (“the arms of night”), the Milky Way (“the ladder to heaven”). The verses of the Pyramid Texts map the night sky as a detailed seasonal clock reliably predicting the most critical resource of all: water. Egyptian civilization came out of radical climate change—cattle herders whose grazing land was rapidly becoming desert as the water dried up in the climate shift of the Neolithic, much as is happening in Texas and around the world today.

The verses present a sequence of poetic images in which the human body is transformed back into its elements in the visible universe of the turning sky. The remnant essence of a human life rises as a star in the east: “moses” (the hieroglyphic word for infant) in “the field of rushes” (the eastern stars at dawn). The infant star is the child of “she who gave birth but did not know it” (the sky). The sky is a flood of cool darkness across which sail the stars: Sirius and its evil twin, “the detested wild dog Set,” the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, the rising of which signals the autumn rains with their deadly flash floods and thunderstorms. Through this glittering wetland of stars wanders the golden calf, the golden crescent horns of the moon.

This extraordinary convergence of poetry, science, and religion resides not only in the writing but in the pictures within the words themselves. Osiris is a phonetic rendering of a hieroglyphic rebus: the seat of the eye, the universal corpse in which resurrection is not a religious mystery but an inevitability of nature. In the Pyramid Texts, hieroglyphic vocabulary is rich with images: The body is a tree. The snake is the life in it. The fruit of the tree is the eye. What is being expressed is the intelligence of nature itself in the ongoing process of creation: the death, decay, and rebirth of plant and animal life in the cyclical year. One familiar religious trope after another appears not as literal historical fact used to proscribe, threaten, and dictate the parameters of human life but as poetic imagery used to bring to life the awareness of our fragile and beautiful world. The richness of these images is echoed in the Book of Job: “As for the earth, out of it cometh bread, and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.” The Pyramid Texts are not magic spells or religious prescription any more than this. Instead, the text takes up a key question: Where shall wisdom be found?

…over the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,

As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire,

Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.

They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path.

Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius.

 

Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns.

Come out. Rise.

Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. Early Egyptian writing belongs to this eternal language. The vehicle at work is associative thinking, in which metaphors act as keys to unlock a primeval human sense of the integrated living world. The meaning may not come across on the pedantic level, but on the poetic level it is transparent.”

Source: The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

Susan Brind Morrow

Susan Brind Morrow’s translation and analysis of the Pyramid Texts, The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, was published in 2015. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2006.

The Fables of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was an artist, inventor, engineer and scientist, but he also found time to write little fables for himself. In the margins of his notes he would pen short tales of how pride and envy would bring down a moth, tree or even a stone.

wolf-and-eagle-650x374The Wolf and the Eagle

Ever since Aesop’s Fables was written in ancient Greece, people have been sharing these short stories that illustrate a moral truth. They were popular in medieval times as well, with many writers explaining how misfortune stuck men, animals, insects and even plants and rocks.

These fables are found in Leonardo’s notebooks from the years 1487 to 1494, when he was working in the service of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.  They were written in the margins, perhaps as little notes to amuse or remind himself while he worked on bigger projects. Leonardo seems to have been interested in nature and finding examples of how various creatures would cause their own doom. –  via Medievalists.net

For examples of these fables, more images and link to all of Leonardo da Vinci’s fables, and those of other Italian writers in Renaissance Fables, translated by David Birch – see http://www.medievalists.net/2014/03/30/fables-leonardo-da-vinci/

and  Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

 

Lily and the Pyramid of the East by Jaq White

Here’s a little autobiographical story I wrote back in 2002; I labelled it an allegorical, metaphysical fairy tale. Make of it what you will!

http://www.scribd.com/doc/131731479/Lily-and-the-Pyramid-of-the-East-by-Jaq-White

The Language of Birds in Old Norse Tradition

Special individuals capable of understanding the language of birds are spread throughout the medieval Icelandic literary corpus.This phenomenon has received surprisingly little academic attention and is deserving of detailed, extensive, and interdisciplinary study.
Capable of flight and song, birds universally hold a special place in human experience. Their effective communication to people in Old Norse lore offers another example of their unique role in humanity’s sociocosmic reality.

Odin_hrafnarHuginn and Muninn sit on Odin’s shoulders in an illustration from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript

Birds consistently offer important information to individuals associated with kingship and wisdom. The wide chronological and geographical range of this motif will be explored as well as the fascinating theoretical questions regarding why birds are nature’s purveyors of wisdom. With their capacity to fly and sing, birds universally hold a special place in human experience as symbols of transcendence and numinous knowledge; Old Norse tradition reflects this reality.

For the full article, see the pdf file:

http://skemman.is/stream/get/1946/12869/31219/1/The_Language_of_Birds_in_Old_Norse_Tradition.pdf

The Nightingale of Dyffed

“Praise of Ieuan Llwyd ab Ieuan Fwyaf” by Dafydd ap Gwilym

It is May, the bird-poets of the shore are splendid,

the woods are a fine green, a weaving of trees,

piercing and complex is the intricate song of a bird,

it is I who made it famous, mine is the longing.

Not because I do not get new gifts and nourishment

in Anglesey, joyous provision,

there is no lack of feasts, bounty free to all,

it is a dear one that is absent, thoughts of sadness.

Tables are heaped high, poets’ booty,

there is a bright courteous retinue,

but what was not mine, holy God, was love’s service,

not desire to greet a girl, but great desire which is worse”

Dafydd ap Gwilym was described by his fellow-poet Madog Benfras as eos Dyfed, “the nightingale of Dyfed”.
Dafydd was born sometime between 1320 and 1330 and died around 1380. He was a member of one of the most influential families in South Wales, and was buried at Strata Florida like many of the princes of Dyfed.
An ancient yew within the churchyard that stands opposite the abbey, is said to be the grave of the medieval bard,famed as the greatest poet in the Welsh language.

Consequently he felt no need to look up to the English conquerors. Neither was he dependent on the patronage of noble families, unlike most of his contemporaries. This was to have a profound effect on the subject matter of his poetry, which is lighter, and more playfully risqué than the other works of his age.

It is believed that he was educated in the court of his Uncle Llywelyn ap Wilym ab Einion, a man of great learning. He was to be surrounded by the greatest European works of the time, from which he borrows a great deal of his subject matter and style. Dafydd skilfully ties this in with the Welsh tradition – a master of ‘cynghanedd’ and the ‘awdl’ he was to create works of great beauty and merit.

His poems are often merry and playful. His tales of the adventures experienced whilst trying to court young ladies, Morfudd and Dyddgu in particular, are truly hilarious. Dafydd also wrote extremely beautiful nature poetry, and there is a general consensus that he is one of, if not the greatest of Welsh poets and of European stature.

Born in the early part of the fourteenth century, a contemporary of Boccaccio he was some thirty years older than Chaucer. He spent his early years in Llanbadarn with his parents and with his uncle Llywelyn in Castell Newydd Emlyn. He spent much of his later life in exile. Llywelyn was described by Dafydd as a warrior, as Lord of Dyfed, and also as a poet, a scholar, a linguist and a teacher. Llywelyn and Dafydd were learned and cultured: they probably spoke several languages and were versed in both contemporary and in classical literature. Dafydd describes Llywelyn’s house, Cryngae, as a white-washed house perched on a hill, with lamps burning brightly, with seats covered with silk brocade, and in which fine French wine was drunk from cups of gold.

His family originated from the cantref of Cemais in Pembrokeshire, and it had in earlier generations included several officials who had held positions of high authority in the same area under the English crown. The few datable allusions which Dafydd makes to contemporary events all point to the middle years of the 14th century as his period of maximum poetic output.

Tradition places Dafydd’s birth at Brogynin in the parish of Llanbadarn Fawr, a few miles north-east of Aberystwyth, in a substantial mansion or plasty which lay adjacent to a farmhouse still retaining this name.

He describes himself, no doubt fancifully, as a member of the clêr: these were the Welsh equivalents of the clerici vagantes or “wandering scholars” of other countries, and Dafydd may indeed have qualified at an early period in his life for minor religious orders – a not uncommon practice. But the indications are that he was a man of birth and breeding, and of no fixed occupation, who had sufficient means to travel at will through town and country, visiting the taverns in the Norman boroughs, and the homes of his cultivated friends over a wide area of Wales. And in both tavern and plasty there were no doubt to be found audiences fully capable of appreciating the cywyddau which, in their different kinds, he composed for their entertainment.

Dafydd’s range of personal contacts included his fellow-poet Gruffudd ab Adda, Madog Benfras, and Gruffudd Gryg – the last being an Anglesey poet with whom Dafydd exchanged a sequence of cywyddau in the form of a debate concerning the proper subjects to be treated of in the newly-introduced cywydd verse-form. Among his friends and acquaintances were also uchelwyr or men of hereditary station in Ceredigion and further to the south – men such as Rhydderch ab Ieuan Llwyd of Glyn Aeron and his family, and his uncle Llywelyn ap Gwilym, the constable of Newcastle Emlyn, who appears to have been a powerful educational influence upon the poet’s early life.

Dafydd’s uncle may, perhaps, have been the first to have introduced Dafydd to the “two cultures” – that is to the native bardic tradition as well as to the language and poetry and romances of the Anglo-Norman world. There was in addition Dafydd’s friend and patron Ifor ap Llywelyn or “Ifor Hael” of Basaleg in present-day Gwent.

To all of these men he addressed praise-poems which by the very fact of their existence provide an authentic framework, however exiguous and inadequate, for the bare facts of the poet’s life. For in all his other compositions but these few poems, fantasy intermingles with fact to such an extent that it is impossible to distinguish the one from the other, or to estimate the degree of reality which lies behind what Dafydd ruefully presents as his perpetually thwarted love-affairs. Love and Nature are the prime subjects of his poetry, and the two are very frequently blended, for he presents his love-theme most characteristically in an idealised woodland setting, in which he imagines himself as building a deildy or house of leaves and branches in which to shelter with his chosen sweetheart – “Morfudd” or “Dyddgu” or some other un-named girl, making his retreat with her in the wilderness, as an escape from the hampering restrictions of conventional society.

A website with English translations of his verse:

http://www.dafyddapgwilym.net/eng/3win.htm

Here is a manuscript in the poet’s own hand