Chaucer goes digital as British Library makes works available online
November 17, 2023 6:08 AM   Subscribe

Chaucer goes digital as British Library makes works available online. British Library photographs and uploads its entire collection of manuscripts by the author of The Canterbury Tales
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries (17 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
This is awesome!
posted by supermedusa at 7:30 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]

The British Library suffered a major cyberattack at the end of October and all its digital systems, up to and including most of its websites (including the website referenced in the FPP), have been offline and inoperable ever since. The venue remains open but only a very limited range of titles can be requested by researchers. No estimated date has been announced for the resumption of regular service.

This was a ransomware attack.

Update from 14 November.
posted by Hogshead at 7:48 AM on November 17 [4 favorites]

Finally! Access to the long-awaited “The Digital Preservationist’s Tale!”
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:48 AM on November 17 [5 favorites]

Years ago I was standing by Chaucer’s grave in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster, when I realized what immortality was… It was leaving something behind that can live on and still influence and have impact on people’s lives, in a good way. Chaucer died over 600 years ago, and here we are still discussing and reading his works. And now, we can look back at these works from that time, right here and now. Despite all the hooha about digital books, the existence of real physical books made this possible. Who of us now will be celebrated like this in 600 years time given the now ephemeral nature of our works?
posted by njohnson23 at 7:53 AM on November 17 [6 favorites]

yes, thank you for posting cpbc!

at one time in my life, the 'digital humanities' was a big focus and the William Blake Archive provided an early example of how we might approach a large scale transfer of work to the screen/online. highly recommend.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:54 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]

From what I know/understand about Chaucer as a person, I think he would be pretty blown away to know that he is still a household name 600 years later, studied, loved, referenced. That's a pretty immense legacy.
posted by supermedusa at 8:13 AM on November 17 [2 favorites]

Great news!

Most fun I had in college: an upper-level Chaucer course with five other students and a professor who deeply loved the material. We read the original language aloud to each other, with much laughter and joy, and it was as though we shared a wicked secret. More than once students who passed by during our class would later ask me “just what are you guys doing in there?”

Spek, sweete bryd, I noot nat where thou art.”
This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart
As greet as it had been a thonder-dent,
That with the stroke he was almoost yblent.

Doesn’t really need much translation. Never gets old.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:28 AM on November 17 [8 favorites]

The only thing I remember about Chaucer is the passage comparing things upon which to wipe one's arse, and the conclusion that the neck of a swan was the very best thing ever. At which point I realized Chaucer was a troll. Who else would suggest letting the beak of a swan, one of the most notoriously angry and aggressive of birds, anywhere near the dainty bits?
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:07 AM on November 17 [5 favorites]

How do you think swans got so angry?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:45 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]

Slightly more seriously, for the 900th anniversary of the Domesday Book, the British Library released a lavish laserdisc set with all the page images and supporting video and audio tracks. Within 20 years, the discs had delaminated and were unplayable, assuming you could find a player. The original remand readable. Digital preservation is a constant war against rot, entropy, and chaos.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:49 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]

Most fun I had in college: an upper-level Chaucer course with five other students and a professor who deeply loved the material.

I took an intro-level Canterbury Tales class as an undergrad and it was definitely the most fun I had in a college course, hands down. We read in the original language, and I will never forget the color the TA's face turned when she explained what Chaucer meant by "queynte" to the students who hadn't quite gotten it from the text.

This professor -- editor of a Chaucer edition you very well may own -- is the subject of one of the very few anecdotes about college that I continue to tell to this day. He was probably in his late 60s then, but looked and acted older, as academicians of a certain era were wont to do. The lecture was medium-large and he needed a microphone to reach the back of the room. Generally it was (for some reason) hung on a lanyard around the speaker's neck.

One day, the lanyard was broken and nobody in the room could fix it or figure out an alternative, so they suggested that he hold it in his hand while he lectured.

He spat, "I will not hold a microphone like some damned crooner!" and that was that. He lectured without the microphone that day.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:49 AM on November 17 [7 favorites]

I was hoping to see a page from The Parlement of Foules but it was not to be.

One of my favorite parts of Chaucer is the end of Troilus and Criseyde, the moment of contemptus mundi when Troilus ascends to heaven. It's easy to read this as the necessary moral tacked on to a story about forbidden love, but there's a kind of sweetness to it, I think, a sort of longing, a 'yes, I know we have to end the story this way, but...' All our love, its vast size, its ability to destroy individual lives and armies, looks so small from another perspective...but you want to tell him, don't you remember how it felt, down here on earth?

And doun from thennes faste he gan avyse
This litel spot of erthe, that with the see
Embraced is, and fully gan despyse
This wrecched world, and held al vanitee
To respect of the pleyn felicitee
That is in hevene above; and at the laste,
Ther he was slayn, his loking doun he caste;
And in him-self he lough right at the wo
Of hem that wepten for his deeth so faste;
And dampned al our werk that folweth so
The blinde lust, the which that may not laste,
And sholden al our herte on hevene caste.
posted by mittens at 10:59 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]

MetaFilter: I will not hold a microphone like some damned crooner!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:17 PM on November 17

And smale fyles maken .JPGe
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:17 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

Chaucer? Digital?? It's 25 years since Barbrook et al. published their wonderful ArtsMeetsScience paper The Phylogeny of the Canterbury Tales in Nature. They had transcribed 850 lines of Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale from 58 medieval copies of The Canterbury Tales. They then aligned all the texts to highlight the accumulating differences as quill-pen copies were made of copies. Just like mutations accumulate in DNA each generation. The Canterbury Tales Project was thus able to infer what was the most likely original text flowing from Chaucer's hand and sideline the errurs added by later scribes. About 80 years elapsed between Chaucer's original collection and Caxton's 1476 printing.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:33 AM on November 18 [4 favorites]

My favourite Chaucer quote, from The summoner’s tale:

He is as angry as a pissemyre,
Þogh þat he have al þat he kan desire
posted by Termite at 1:32 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

As many have said the British Library site has been down for weeks. I have been trying to load the site since first learning of the Chaucer digitisation via The Guardian.
posted by terrapin at 5:52 AM on November 19

« Older The Last Repair Shop   |   "I wanted it all to go down." Newer »

You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.