Monday, September 24, 2012

Some Thoughts on Terry Jones' Book About Chaucer

I set The Name of the Rose aside for a bit while I read Terry Jones' (of Monty Python fame) book Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery.

     This is not my full review but I had a few thoughts while I was reading this and some 'facts' seemed incorrect to me.

The first issue I had was on page 23, when Jones wrote that the Latin verb legere meant 'to read' but also could be taken as a synonym to dicere 'to say'. No it cannot. Legere means to read but its only other meanings are 'to chose or select'. The past participle is lectus and when you add an 'e' for 'ex' meaning 'out of', you get 'elect'. He was trying to make a point about court poets and public readings but if the Latin is wrong, then your point is too. I checked with the Oxford Latin Dictionary to make sure there was no obscure implication that 'to read' was also identical to 'reading aloud' and there is not.

On page 26, he makes a point that Chaucer and John Gower (Chaucer's friend and equally famous as a writer at the time) did not appear to receive money in patronage for their writing. He writes quite a bit about Gower since Gower wrote about the politics and history of the time, living at St. Mary Overie in Southwark, right next to London Bridge and almost right across the river from the White Tower, as well as being down the road from the Tabard Inn. This places him near the beating pulse of the goings on, as it were. Gower seemed to have independent means as he owned his literary works and commissioned his own copies for admirers so of course he received no dollars from the crown. We do not know quite how Gower got his money because his name was too common and there were many John Gowers at the time. So this is another flawed premise which Jones is using to discuss the court of King Richard II and how much the arts flourished under his rule.

He also wrote on page 65 that there had always been critics of the church and 'the church could be cheerfully tolerant of them - indeed it may well have welcomed them".  To that I have to say  "Really? In what universe?" The church never welcomed criticism although it was not until the 19th century that the Pope finally had himself formally declared infallible.

On page 84, he wrote that the church took issue with literature in the vernacular languages. I don't believe this is the case. "As long as the scripture remained in Latin, the church remained the interpreter and controller of Holy Writ" he writes but, in those days, anyone who was educated could read Latin. Keeping the scriptures in Latin was no barrier to a layman reading and interpreting the Bible. Non-clerics owning the Bible was a problem because people were not allowed to interpret scripture for themselves. The position of the Church was that it had the right to tell people what they may think. People had prayer books but no layman, except perhaps the King, was allowed to own a Bible so this argument that the Church was hostile people to using English to write with is flawed.

On page 110, he makes the argument that, because there were counter strikes to Henry Bolingbroke usurping the throne, this proves Richard II had been a popular king. However there are always those who will see an opportunity in keeping or putting a grateful tyrant on the throne. It proves nothing. Also, Richard was the anointed king and the eldest son of the very popular Black Prince. If his rule was sanctioned by the Pope, it was sanctioned by God and it was a sin to usurp his throne so some people would have rallied to his cause anyway. So long as Richard lived, there was always a threat that he could recover his throne so murdering him was a necessary precaution. However Henry IV could not openly execute him because he was his cousin and rightful king and therefore there is a mystery about how Richard died in his custody. 

I am not saying that Jones' idea that Chaucer was murdered by someone in Henry I's regime is wrong. After all, Christopher Marlowe was assassinated by Elizabeth I's Robert Cecil due to his work for spymaster Walsingham and his celebrity as a playwright did not protect him. Like Chaucer, he was up to his eyeballs in royal diplomacy and espionage and playing a dangerous game. The political turmoil that ended Marlowe's life became a threat to Shakespeare's life as well.

This is not my review of the work because I haven't finished it yet. I just took issue with some of the 'facts' and I think he is taking huge liberties with Gower's work.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

More Latin

It is possible one could google some of these phrases From 'The Name of the Rose' and find them online as they appear to be from psalms that might well still be in use.

page 101 at the beginning of chapter "Matins"

"Domine, labia mea aperies et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam"

"Lord, May you open my lips and my voice will proclaim your praises."

followed by "Venite exultamus" "Come. Let us rejoice"

and "Deus qui est sanctorum slendor mirabilis." "God who is the wonderful brilliance of the saints."

"Iam lucis orto sidere" I had to google this one and it is just as well because it is a fragment and 'sidere' is not the infinitive of a verb nor would supplying a form of 'esse' make it make sense.
"Now in the glory of the light having dawned."

On page 94 of chapter 'Compline', Eco wrote that the monks only used rape oil and olive oil. Most people might not know that canola was once called 'rapeseed'. Of course that name does not sell the oil and 'canola' itself is an acronym for a specially bred type of rapeseed - Canadian oil seed, low acid". Rapeseed came from the latin for 'turnip' since they are relatives being both 'brassicae'. Cultivation for oil seems to have begun around the Rhine in the Middle Ages and more northern regions since olive trees do not grow there.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Latin in The Name of the Rose

I have to wonder with all the latin that I am seeing in this novel if it bothered people with no Latin at all that none of it is translated. I guess it gives the novel the aura of authenticity but surely it could have been translated in footnotes or brackets. I am not going to translate them all but, if someone comes across this blog and finds a phrase that they really want to understand and Google translate or Babelfish is not working for them, they can post a comment and I will do my best to translate it for them. My edition is a Harcourt paperback, translated into English by William Weaver.
There is a long Latin piece on pages 62-63 which I shall translate now.

"Quorum primus seraphico calculo purgatus et ardore celico inflammatus totum incendere videbatur. Secundus vero verbo predicationis fecundus super mundi tenebras clarius radiavit"

"The first of these having been cleansed by the seraphic stone and burned by the celestial fire seemed to burn up entirely. The second fertile one, in truth, gleamed more brightly by the word of his preaching upon the darkness of the world."

And then Ubertino said "yes, these were the promises: the Angelic Pope must come" So the first sentence refers to the Anti-Christ and the second is Jesus come again(?). At last Ubertino said "Mors est quies viatoris - finis est omnis laboris" or "Death is the repose of the traveller - is the end of all labor." Life is a journey not a destination.