Posted by: kljolly | February 5, 2012

Material Culture: Transport

I have now finished The Material Culture of Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World (ed. Hyer and Owen-Crocker) and am now going back to the post-noted sections that are relevant to Aldred and my project.

The first is actually a direct reference to Aldred in Katrin Thier’s essay on “Water Transport” (pp. 59-60), although she does not use his name.  Rather, his gloss in the Lindisfarne Gospels provides some unique linguistic evidence of water craft  otherwise unattested (this is typical for Aldred’s gloss–it often supplies Northumbrian Old English vocabulary not found elsewhere in the corpus of Old English).  In this case, his gloss of boat in two Gospel passages yields first a possibly Irish-derived term and then a possibly Scandinavian one, bookending two of the key cultural influences in Aldred’s milieu.


In Matt. 8:23, Aldred glosses navicula with the literal lytel scip and then adds in cuople.  The latter term Thier identifies as coble, perhaps an Irish seagoing skin boat or currach, although later cobles in Northumbria are wood planked and used for coastal fishing.   It has a distinctive asymmetrical shape with a flat stern.

In John 6:22, Aldred glosses navicula the same way initially as lytel scip but then adds floege, which Tier links to Old Icelandic fley.  Another plank built coastal craft, some archaeological evidence exists in the British Isles for this Scandinavian vessel.

What is curious is that Aldred uses the two words as both qualifying as little ships, but differentiates them from each other.  Are they different simply in linguistic/cultural origin, or is he aware of the different build?   The gloss to John was done a considerable time after that in Matthew (one near the beginning of his task and the other toward the end), so he may not have consciously chosen one in contrast to the other (the Matthew alternative is not in the red ink which Aldred used in additions made later).  In Matthew, the story recounts Jesus falling asleep in the fishing vessel as it crossed the lake and being awakened by his terrified disciples during a storm that Jesus then stills.  The John passage is about the disciples crossing the sea of Galilee without Jesus, who arrives walking on the water and then delivers them safely to shore.

The cuople may very well be the kind of Irish vessel Aldred would picture for the story of Cuthbert’s almost removal to Ireland–only to be stopped by a violent storm of three great waves breaking over the ship and the water turned to blood (HSC 20).  The fleoge, in my historical imagination, is a viking-built vessel in which Aldred might have found himself, willingly or unwillingly, transported along coasts or rivers in Northumbria, perhaps wondering if his deliverer will arrive in similar fashion.


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