Friday, January 8, 2010

The Year 1000

So, I've jumped into this book. I'd like to say I did so with both feet, but it's taken me five days to read two chapters! Life just got in the way.

This is a book of 12 chapters, each headed with a drawing from the Julius Work Calendar. The calendar itself was meant as a learning tool for young monks. A line of Latin verse for each day of the regular year was likely chanted by the oblates as they learned the routine of the life they were choosing. A picture of the month's secular activities, and a listing of each month's zodiac sign, helped them remember where they were in the year. A short sentence each day helped them learn which saint they would be commemorating that day.

Their simple, short (most adults died in their forties) lives, lived in service to God, were lived, ironically, according to this calendar. Ironically because, although we take them for granted, calendars were very important and loudly debated at the time. In England, where this calendar was written, those who were influenced by Irish monks when reckoning time dickered with those who followed the Roman calendar, on which the Julius Work Calendar is based. And the whole point was figuring out which saint's day it was, so that person could be commemorated.

This was not a time when people doubted the existence of good and evil, God and Satan. God and Satan were living entities who must be obeyed or avoided. Recognizing a saint on his or her day was not like taking in a Presidents' Day sale. The life and personality of each of these revered people was read, learned, digested and passed on to the next generation. After all, these were real people who had suffered and died, just like the readers, and could be emulated along the long walk to Heaven.

Regular folks of this time spoke Old English, the language of Beowulf and King Arthur (although we read about him from the French.) Here's a fun quote I found in the middle of the second chapter;

"Computer analysis of the English language as spoken today shows that the hundred most frequently spoken words are all of Anglo-Saxon origin:the, is, you--the basic building blocks. When Winston Churchill wanted to rally the nation in 1940, it was to Anglo-Saxon that he turned: 'We shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight in the fields and the streets; we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.' All these stirring words came from the Old English as spoken in the year 1000, with the exception of the last one, surrender, a French import that came with the Normans in 1066..."

Irony. The English are really good at it.

1 comment:

Elephantschild said...

Hahahaha! I love it.

I'd heard that about Churchill's speeches. (But hadn't heard about "surrender") I've also heard that many of our action verbs are also Anglo-Saxon, as are nearly all of our irregular verbs.