, 21 tweets, 8 min read Read on Twitter
It's Super Bowl Sunday!

So let me run through a wee thread on why I love editing manuscripts. Football and folios for the win! #medievaltwitter #superbowl

(And, yeah, that's a medieval image of an ape looking up a man's ass to get your attention.) 1/x
When folks ask me why I'm an English professor when my work seems like I'm a historian (that's me with an arrowhead) — well, part of the answer is that these distinctions are (or ought to be) irrelevant in Medieval Studies.

The other part of the answer is editing. 2/x
By "editing" I mean a host of skills that enables someone to make a manuscript available for study (and tell us a lot about when/how it was made).

This is REALLY important work, and not enough people know about it ... which is why this thread. 3/x
I mean, it won't work if every time we want to read Beowulf we have to pester the @britishlibrary to look at the single surviving manuscript. Better to have someone extract the medieval text and make it widely available so we can use it.

At its core, this is editing. 4/x
So here's a close-up of the first page of the Beowulf MS. Look how clean and lovely it is! This is gonna be easy!

Provided you know Anglo-Saxon, of course.

Let's call that Editing Problem 1: knowing the language. 5/x
Editing Problem 2: knowing medieval handwriting.

See those middle three words? They're actually four words using letters and forms no longer in English. It's the bit of Beowulf that I tend to yell a lot in classes: "That waes god cyning" [That was a good king]! 6/x
To read such stuff is to know paleography. I was lucky to get courses in paleography during my first Master's degree. I felt like paleography was a dying skill, and I saw that there were many manuscripts that needed editing. Seemed like a growth field. 7/x
Plus I knew it would make me a better historian. Texts are our best window to the past. We NEED them to do history, yet there are SO MANY unedited texts!

For instance, the journal of the king's kitchen on the Crecy march that showed where the battle happened. Good stuff. 8/x
Also, editing meant I could check to be sure that the texts that ARE available are reliable. Like, for instance, finding out that editors had changed a place-name reference in printing a medieval chronicle so that it would match their preconceived idea of Crecy's location. 9/x
So let me run through a different example of this concept, using the anonymous poem 'Knyghthode and Battaile' [Knighthood and Battle] that I'm editing with @ego_chronicon for @METS_Texts — it's a fifteenth-century paraphrase of Vegetius' famous De re militari. 10/x
In 1936 this poem was previously edited, by two scholars named Dybroski and Arend (I'll call them D&A), for the Early English Texts Society.

Before I go on, let be clear in saying I really like the EETS. They've made available a lot of otherwise unavailable texts. Yay! 11/x
But hoo-boy are some of them dated.

D&A, for instance, have notes like this one: “this possibility of expelling the invaders from the city is not at all mentioned by Veg.; it is characteristic of the chivalrous bravery of the Englishman” (page 174). 12/x
More problematically, their edited text isn't very reliable. They make a lot of paleographical mistakes, then they compile the confusion by borking the punctuation through mistakes in grammar and sense.

Here's a passage I just fought with about an hour ago: 13/x
First, the text as D&A prints it, describing when to chop trees for shipbuilding (lines 2630-35):

Fro Juyl Kalendis vnto the Kalende / Of Janyveer, that is by monthis sixe / The seson is, tymbur to falle an ende; / Thumour dryinge in treen, now sad & fixe / Is euery pith.

Here's a basic translation:

From 15 July until 15 January, that is for 6 months, is the season to fell timber to the ground. Thumour(?) drying in trees, now firm and fixed is every pith.

You'll note the problem: What does "Thumour" mean? Their notes shed no light. They didn't even include the word in their glossary. I think they punted.

(See? Football reference!)

Anyway, since D&A mess up lots of text, let's check the manuscript and see if that's it. 16/x
Not as clean as Beowulf, eh? I've boxed in "Thumour dryinge in treen" to help y'all out.

One possibility here is that "Thumour" isn't "Thumour." It could be "Thinnour". It also could be two words ("Thu mour"?) since the scribe doesn't always bother with spaces. Good times. 17/x
None of these words are in the Middle English Dictionary, because that would be too easy. Editing fun!

What's happened, if you haven't figured it out, is that the poet has contracted two words here: "the" and "humour". In our edition, this will be printed as "th'umour." 18/x
So back to the translation:

From 15 July until 15 January, that is for 6 months, is the season to fell timber to the ground. The moisture drying in trees, now firm and fixed is every pith. 19/x
The punctuation will need to be changed, but at least we've got sense now. And, in the end, that means that scholars will soon have a more reliable text — which gives us a better window into the past.

Don't know about you, but that's a touchdown in my book! 20/x
I could go on about this for hours — I told you, I love editing medieval manuscripts — but I've got a #SuperBowl to watch.

Have a fine day, y'all.

PS: If you're partying today/tonight, PLEASE don't drink and drive. Be safe.
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