Valentine’s Day Vernacular Poetry Reading

This past 14 February, the Medieval Studies Department hosted their first Valentine’s Day poetry reading. In the spirit of the day, all selections discussed, in some capacity, the nature of love and its effect on the human beings fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to find themselves in its throes. From the pure love of God to the often controversial love felt between human beings, the poems and songs performed provided a wide range of perspectives of a state of being infamous for its eluding a clear definition in any known language.
It is perhaps this very elusiveness that makes the performance of Mohammad Alsidi so apt as the first given of the evening. A masterful player of the Oud, a stringed instrument originating from Ur, Alsidi performed old Aleppan music often played during the day in Sufi circles while conversations and discussion of the scripture and current events were echoing through the courtyards. While the melodies Alsidi played could be accompanied by lyric or chant, he played the pieces as they were taught to him: without vocal accompaniment. Each pluck of a string composed a wordless prayer in praise to God, proclaiming love for Him. Having roots in the region around Aleppo that stretch back nearly two millennia, these melodies, in a myriad of different forms, can be heard wherever Aleppans have strode, from India to Venezuela. Alsidi, himself a native of the region around Aleppo, played these beautiful pieces with a bittersweet tone. These melodies, like so much of Aleppo and, indeed, much of Syria, are being lost in the civil war. These songs, and the hands that can play them and the voices that can sing them, are dying. Alsidi said that he plays in order to have these pieces still heard in the world, so that we might not deafen ourselves to what is being lost while it is still here to be recorded, preserved, and enjoyed.
The next poem was Guido Cavalcanti’s “Voi che per gli occhi mi passaste il core,” delivered by Dr. Susana Barsella. A friend of Dante, Guido presented love as beautiful and uplifting, but ultimately ending in a “language of sighs.” Dr. Emanuel Fiano recited St. Ephrem’s “Hymn III: On Paradise.” Dating to the fourth century, this Syriac piece discussed the choice given to Adam and Eve over whether or not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Needless to say, their story does not end on a happy note: a reasonably consistent theme of this Valentine’s Day celebration. Next was Father Martin Chase’s recitation of lausavisur from the Old Norse Kormáks Saga. Kormák’s Saga, a prose tale with occasional segments of Skaldic song, also presents us with a narrative filled with less Cupid floating through a tranquil grove and more facing the difficulties that come with loving another over a prolonged period of time, albeit under less then mundane circumstances. However, the segment Father Chase read was one toward the beginning of the tale, when the lovers meet for the first time: a happy affair in which Kormákr fell in love at the first sight of Steingerðr’s ankles and feet.
The final three poetic readings were given by Drs. Jocelyn Wogan-Brown, Susanne Hafner, and Andrew Albin. Saying that God might deserve a Valentine’s Day gift too, Dr. Wogan-Brown presented the Old French “Rossignos” of John of Howden. Dating to the 1270s, Dr. Wogan-Brown related that this piece was written in such a way that the audience was meant to participate in its recitation, and the poetic sophistication of the piece itself shows just how intricate and elegant the Old French of England is. Dr. Hafner read “Unter der linden,” by Walther von der Vogelveide. This poem was originally set to music, though the music has been lost. Of the “dawn song” genre, “Unter der linden” presents a woman, rather than a man, reflecting upon a night of shameless sensual indulgence with her lover after he had to flee the next morning. Utilizing a number of overt euphemisms, the poem intentionally walks the line between descent and indecent evocation of a night spent in ecstasy. On that note, Dr. Albin finished the evening with a spirited reading of Chaucer’s “The Parliament of Fowls,” carrying on the theme of love being suspended between fulfillment and denial. This parliament, consisting of numerous and diverse types of birds, eagerly awaiting their dismissal from the assembly so they could fly off with their lovers, undoubtedly reminded all present of the agony of having to fulfill an obligation while one’s true desire lay just within reach. Love may be fulfilling, but no one ever said it would be easy to endure.
The Centre would like to graciously thank all who participated in this inaugural Valentine’s Day poetry reading and those who attended and experienced examples of nearly every kind of human reaction to this eternally problematic notion of love. Here’s hoping we, as humans, never actually manage to figure it out.

Bronx Doctor Donates Medieval Manuscript Facsimiles to Fordham

This post is cross-blogged from Fordham News.

The Très riches heures, a book of prayers commissioned for a French prince, is one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts of the 15th century. It contains dozens of images painted with rich pigments and embellished with gold. The original sits in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France.

But thanks to a fine art facsimile of the historic tome in Fordham’s Walsh Library, students can flip through the lush pages and absorb a visual representation of medieval art and religion.

The Très riches heures facsimile is one of 300 books and objects donated to Fordham by Dr. James Leach, a New York physician who’s been curious about medieval manuscripts and liturgical books since he was young.

“When I was growing up, I had an interest in Latin and in the church,” said Leach, who heads the dermatology department at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx. “The prayer books I was familiar with were a springboard to begin looking at the older manuscripts.”

He began amassing a collection of fine art facsimiles of medieval manuscripts, which have been produced since around 1990, typically in limited-edition runs of 300 to 900 copies. He thought that Fordham, as a Catholic university with an established medieval studies program, would be the perfect repository for these works. Leach also donated a sizable collection of original Catholic prayer missals from the late-19th to early-20th centuries.

Nina Rowe, PhD, chair and associate professor of art history at Fordham, said the University is lucky to have such high-quality reproductions available for students.

“One can certainly lecture in the classroom about the technical aspects of luxury handmade books from the eighth to the 15th centuries in Europe,” Rowe said. “But with high-quality facsimiles, students can get a sense of the ways in which illuminated manuscripts were functional objects, designed to be viewed up close, leafed through, and carried.”

Rowe said the Très riches heures is one of the “greatest hits” of medieval art history. She also has a few other favorites among the collection.

“I’m delighted to be able to teach students from the facsimiles of the Lindisfarne Gospels, an English monastic manuscript made around the year 700 and renowned for its so-called Carpet Pages, full-page designs with intricate interlace, often in the form of the cross,” she said.

“Another favorite facsimile of mine reproduces a Moralized Bible (sometimes called the Saint Louis Bible) from Paris, 1226 to 1236. Every page features eight circles arranged in four pairs, each with little scenes linking a vignette from the Hebrew Bible to a Christian or contemporary commentary. The images are especially fun when they depict the perceived vices of early 13th-century Parisian life, evoking the real world of the street in a remote period.”

magazine_St.-Louis-bible-illustration-(1)

Pages from the collection’s facsimile of a Moralized Bible (sometimes called the Saint Louis Bible)

Linda LoSchiavo, TMC ’72, director of the University libraries, said Leach’s contributions are an important addition to Fordham’s Special Collections.

“The facsimiles are an extraordinary example of medieval artistry,” she said. “They’re done with highly specialized devices, and the bindings are reproductions as well.”

The cover of a facsimile of the Sacramentary of Henry II, a liturgical manuscript from the late-10th to early-11th century, includes an intricate copy of the original’s ivory relief. Other facsimiles Leach has donated include theEton Choirbook and the Lorsch Gospels.

magazine_sacramentary-of-Henry-II

The cover of a facsimile of the Sacramentary of Henry II, which features an intricate plastic copy of the original’s ivory relief

The recent establishment of Fordham’s Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies, and the collection of Judaica being assembled by Magda Teter, PhD, the chair’s inaugural holder, prompted LoSchiavo to ask Leach if he would consider donating a a Haggadah, a book used during Passover seders. He was happy to oblige, and earlier this year donated a facsimile of the Barcelona Haggadah. The original dates to the middle of the 14th century.

Leach hopes his gifts will help Fordham students learn that art and illuminated manuscripts flourished during the medieval period, even though the era sometimes gets a bad rap.

“Most important is that they realize that ‘medieval’ is not purely a derogatory term,” he said. “It was an age of faith and artistic productivity that contributed to Western civilization.”

 

By Nicole Larosa

Fordham’s First Latin Bootcamp: Fun for the Whole Community

On the evening of Friday November 13th, Fordham University kicked off its first annual Biduum Latinum Fordhamense, otherwise known as “Latin Bootcamp,” co-sponsored by the Classics department, the Center for Medieval Studies, GSAS Futures and the Fordham Graduate Students Association. Professor Matthew McGowan delivered the opening lecture, which emphasized how a knowledge of the Latin language provides special access to the nuances and layers of meaning in a range of texts from the classical, medieval, and renaissance eras.

The crowd didn’t seem to need much convincing on that account–the event drew a large, enthusiastic, and truly interdisciplinary audience. With students and faculty from the philosophy, history, theology, and classics departments, as well as the Center for Medieval Studies in attendance, the premiere of Fordham’s first Latin Bootcamp brought together members of the entire community, both within and outside of Fordham University. Several tri-state area secondary school teachers came for a lesson in pedagogy, as well as many instructors and alumni of the Paideia Institute. One area teacher even brought two of his own young students–his high school-aged children, who were accomplished in both Greek and Latin.

Philosophia et septem artes liberales as illustrated in the Hortus Deliciarum. This pictorial representation of the liberal arts served as springboard for our discussion of the relationship of the seven liberal arts to wisdom in the 12th century.

Philosophia et septem artes liberales as illustrated in the Hortus Deliciarum. This pictorial representation of the personified liberal arts served as springboard for our discussion of their relationship to wisdom in the 12th century. A font with seven streams flows out of Philsophia, which correspond to the trivium and the quadrivium encircling her. Below are four poets, reminiscent of the four evangelists. The composition as a whole recalls the form of a stained glass rose window composed of concentric roundels over four lancets.

The following Saturday participants translated selections from Seneca, Hugh of St. Victor, and Petrus Paulus Vergerius, giving special attention to each author’s treatment of the Liberal Arts and use of the Latin language to describe the nature of their role in personal edification. The teachers–including Professor McGowen, Charley McNamara (a PhD candidate at Columbia University), and Jim Hunt (PhD Classics, Fordham ’10)–made sure every single student got the chance to sight read a bit of Latin, and all emerged from the translation sessions surprised by their collective ability to master Latin literature of three distinct cultural periods.

Professor McGowan gave an impromptu tour of the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art at Walsh library before our group headed to Spellman Hall for Latin Mass lead by Father Christopher M. Cullen, one of the Jesuit priests residing in Fordham’s Jesuit community. After a beautiful service featuring readings from several of our participants, the group finished the day with a medieval banquet, complete with a few merry rounds of “Gaudeamus Igitur.”

The convivial atmosphere and collaboration between Fordham students, faculty, and guests was inspiring and fostered a productive scholarly discussion about Latin and the Liberal Arts through time and across disciplines.

By Alexa Amore