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The Charter Fragment and Pascon agan Arluth

Corpus Textuum Cornicorum: 1

Edited and translated by Nicholas Williams. Palaeographic manuscript transcription and facsimile prepared by Michael Everson. Introduction by Alan M. Kent.

First edition. Dundee: Evertype, 2020. ISBN 978-1-78201-182-8.
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The Charter Fragment and Pascon agan Arluth

This volume presents two of the earliest pieces of Middle Cornish literature. The first, The Charter Fragment, is concerned with the question of marriage. It is only 41 lines in length and was probably part of a play. The second, Pascon agan Arluth ‘The Passion of our Lord’, is a magni­ficent poem of 259 stanzas composed c. 1375, which deals with the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ.

Corpus Textuum Cornicorum is a series presenting edi­tions of all of traditional Cornish literature. The Cornish texts are offered in a normalized, Standard Cornish spelling, and are accompanied by a palaeographic transcrip­tion giving for the first time the text in its original orthography, as well as a new English translation based on the manuscript text. Each volume contains a literary introduction describing the content and its Cornish and European background.

Pascon agan Arluth

From the Introduction by Alan M. Kent

The piece of Middle-Cornish writing now known as The Charter Fragment is the earliest surviving text written in Cornish. Although there are earlier glosses, vocabularies, and marginalia, as well as one text that might feasibly have once been constructed in Cornish, namely, John of Cornwall’s The Prophecy of Merlin c.1150—The Charter Fragment stands at present as the first true piece of Cornish literature, which is why it is placed first in this volume, and first in the wider series of Evertype’s comprehensive Corpus Textuum Cornicorum. Estimated to have been written sometime around 1380–1400, it is indeed an ancient and intriguing piece of literature constructing a “lost” Cornwall. We may label it “literature” because of its intricate poetic construction, and although it is rather short, it is clearly much more than just a quick note or scribble.

Pascon agan Arluth (in contemporary orthography Passyon agan Arlùth, known alternatively as The Cornish Poem of the Passion or as Mount Calvary) is the earliest lengthy text surviving in Cornish. It is a narrative poem detailing the Passion of Christ, told in 259 stanzas, each consisting of eight lines. The poem is based n the narrative of the Gospels, but also integrates other legendaria and motifs of medieval Gothic mysticism. Written in Middle Cornish, the poem dates from around the same period as The Charter Fragment (roughly 1400–1450), but almost certainly pre­dates the dramatic trilogy known as the Ordinalia. Indeed, there is strong evidence that the second play of the Ordinalia, Passio Christi (‘The Passion of Christ’), and the third play of the trilogy, Resurrexio Domini (‘The Resurrection of the Lord’) directly and indirectly incorporate much material from Pascon agan Arluth, and that they are an adaptation of it.

From the Orthographic notes by Michael Everson

One of the most difficult discussions within the Cornish Revival has been ongoing argument about the most suitable orthography for representing the language. Unified Cornish attempted to use the most common graphs Nance’s analysis could establish. Common Cornish posited an unlikely phonology and a mechanism for marking vowel length which is reminis­cent of the Middle English Ormulum. A variety of Revived Late Cornish orthographies were based variously on the texts of the last writers of Corn­ish, or on the phonetic orthographic practices of Edward Lhuyd. Unified Cornish Revised implemented changes to Unified Cornish chiefly increas­ing the number of voiced consonants in final position in stressed mono­syllables, and adding variety in the use of the letters i and y. The Standard Written Form (SWF) built on the work of the group Udn Form Screfys in imple­menting a robust reliable mechanism for indicating vowel length while retaining many of the reconstructed preferences of Common Cornish. Kernowek Standard (KS) or Standard Cornish, devised by the group Spellyans, removed errors and ambiguities in the SWF and has been used in dozens of books. In the Corpus Textuum Cornicorum, KS is used as the normalized orthography for Cornish of all periods.

Many of us have argued at length about the relative importance of authenticity when choosing spellings for the revived language. And almost everybody has argued on the basis of either originally transcribed nineteenth-century editions or of revivalist orthographies based on those, or based on non-Cornish orthographic theory. But few if any of those arguing have actually seen genuine Cornish literary orthography as written by literate native speakers. In Pascon agan Arluth itself we find gorrys ‘put, set, placed’ written as gorrys, goꝛꝛys, gorrꝭ, gorys, and gurrꝭ. One r? Two? What to make of this r-rotunda ()? Or of the character - (-is, -ys)? (The alternation gor- ~ gur- is not so unusual.) A variety of scribal conventions common throughout medieval and Tudor Britain are used in Cornish manuscripts, and the palaeographic text given in this series presents them in typeset form so that the original orthography can be seen.

In this volume the palaeographic transcription can be compared with the colour facsimile. In § 3.4 below I give a list of the letters and special characters used in the texts here. By “special characters” I mean letters, abbreviation letters, superscript letters, and diacritical marks outside the Latin letters A to Z. Sometimes in the descriptions below I use, in small capitals, the formal character names of the letters as encoded in the Universal Character Set (Unicode and ISO/IEC 10646).

It seems clear that the scriptorium at Glasney influenced Cornish orthography greatly from Pascon agan Arluth until The Creation of the World. Thereafter traditional Cornish came to be written on the basis of contemporary English orthography, or of adaptations of Edward Lhuyd’s phonetic transcription. Comparison of the orthographic practices in the manuscripts through time shows a gradual attenuation of adherence to the scribal tradition of Glasney—but the influence of that tradition is generally discernable nevertheless.

HTML Michael Everson, Evertype, 19A Corso Street, Dundee, DD2 1DR, Scotland, 2020-02-20

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