research

You are currently browsing articles tagged research.

Can we mend broken hearts?

Professor Peter Kruschwitz is Professor of Classics Mending broken heartsat Reading and a specialist in Latin Language and Literature.

The fence around the University of Reading’s Humanities and Social Science (HumSS) Building is currently decorated with images and captions illustrating Reading’s desire to be ‘asking big questions.’ One of the captions, attributed to Dr Sam Boateng from the School of Biological Sciences, asks: ‘Can we mend broken hearts?’

The caption, a playful curtsy to Reading’s leadership in cardiovascular research, reminded me of a passage attributed to the Latin poet Lygdamus, a love-poet of the first century B. C., who wrote in his Elegies 2.1-6:

Qui primus caram iuueni carumque puellae
eripuit iuuenem, ferreus ille fuit.
durus et ille fuit, qui tantum ferre dolorem,
uiuere et erepta coniuge qui potuit.
non ego firmus in hoc, non haec patientia nostro
ingenio: frangit fortia corda dolor.

‘He who first robbed a young man of his love, and a girl of her beloved, that person was made of iron. Hard, too, was he who could bear such pain, and who could live, with the partner snatched away. I am not strong in that respect, nor is there such endurance in my mind: pain makes brave hearts break.’

The image of heartbrokenness – ancient, yet familiar – begins to intrigue: how can a heart be broken, how can it get broken? Is it just the lack of resilience to emotional strain, one’s weakness, as Lygdamus suggests?

A possible answer can be found in even earlier Latin literature, in an author of the third and second centuries B. C. As far as one can tell from the fragmentary transmission of Latin literature, it may in fact have been the comic playwright Titus Maccius Plautus, who first employed it in his comedy Cistellaria (‘Casket Comedy’). In this play, Plautus has a lovesick young man called Alcesimarchus say (Cistellaria 221–2):

‘maritumis moribus mecum experitur: ita meum frangit amantem animum.’

‘He handles me the way the (stormy) sea would do: thus he breaks my lovesick heart.’

Plautus exploits the imagery of a ship exposed to the heavy sea, battered by the waves, lacking direction, and ultimately crushed to pieces by the forces of nature to describe the battles, external and internal, that Alcesimarchus has to face in his quest for fulfilled love.

From here it is only a small step to the image’s predominant use outside the realm of Latin poetry: here, animum frangere is frequently used particularly as an image denoting the ‘crushing of someone’s spirit’ (rather than heart itself – the Latin term covers both facets).

Yet, in Latin writing it does not always have to be debilitating trauma that may result in the proverbial ‘broken heart’. Quintilian, Rome’s first professor of Latin, when discussing the best way in which to design the epilogue to a courtroom speech, suggests in his Institutio Oratoria (11.3.170):

‘si misericordia commouendos, flexum uocis et flebilem suauitatem, qua praecipue franguntur animi quaeque est maxime naturalis: nam etiam orbos uiduasque uideas in ipsis funeribus canoro quodam modo proclamantis.’

‘If they (sc. the judges) are to be moved by pity, (sc. employ) an inflexion of the voice and a whiney sweetness, by which hearts are broken first and foremost, yet which is most natural: for you see parents bereft of their children, and you see widows, at the very funerals, lamenting in that peculiar song-like voice.’

Even this very small selection of Latin usages of the image of the broken heart does show: pain, worries, sorrow (and ultimately: death) are deeply connected to it – and the idea of suffering and even of death due to a broken heart (figuratively, not literally speaking) is not alien to the medical profession.

What is interesting to a linguistic scholar, of course, is how a verbal image that started its life as a poetic metaphor can be appropriated by the language of science – a language that often (albeit incorrectly) is deemed objective and descriptive.

The image of the broken heart that Dr Boateng uses in his big question is by no means an exception in that respect. Instead, it even adds another facet to it: the allusion to the image does not restore a literal facet of the phrase ‘broken heart’ that did not exist in its figurative use – hearts, unless subject to substantial physical force, do not literally break into pieces, like a clay vessel if dropped. Instead, it combines the pre-existing image with that of a broken piece of machinery (an engine, perhaps), thus expanding the metaphoric use rather than restricting it.

Dr Boateng asks a big question: ‘Can we mend broken hearts?’ – and I very much hope he can (or that he will be able to do that one day in the very near future). An even bigger question than this could be: ‘Should we mend broken hearts?’ One must not be cynical when it comes to deeply unsettling matters; yet, the answer to this question, whether for the scientific or the poetic use of the phrase, will have to remain a philosophical one.

Tags: , ,

Professor Richard Tiffin, Director of the Centre for Food Security at the University of Reading discusses the House of Commons International Development Committee report on Food Security, published this week.

The House of Commons International Development Committee report on Food Security is a comprehensive and challenging attempt to highlight some of the issues which confront us with this complex problem.

The report highlights: the potential of GM to contribute to food security but recognises that care must be excercised in promoting this as a solution; the importance of agricultural research; the importance of open international markets in protecting against shocks; and that a focus on malnutrition may be as, if not more, important than that of hunger.

However, while the aim of the report is to take a global focus, it is perhaps guilty of oversimplifying the issue of meat production and coming to locally-centred, rather than global, conclusions. It notes that the rate of increase in meat consumption is unsustainable and recommends that meat should be promoted as an occasional product. By highlighting the place of animals in ensuring global food security the report is to be applauded but the reality is that this area is complex and not well understood at the moment.

It is irrefutable that demand for meat globally will grow as populations become richer.  At a local level, it might be sensible for us to reduce meat consumption and the reality is that price increases will probably lead us to do this voluntarily.  At a global level, however, it is much more important to consider how the inevitable increase in demand can be met and what its implications are for human health. We should not solely focus our attention on repelling the tide.

The report correctly states that we need to identify sustainable livestock systems, but it is not necessarily true that extensive pasture-based systems are more sustainable. For example there is evidence to suggest that more intensive feeding reduces the emission of greenhouse gases caused by livestock.  The role played by livestock in providing a route out of poverty for some of the poorest farmers should also not be overlooked.

Tags: , , , ,

Dr Rebecca Bullard from the Department of English Literature asks whether the digital revolution means we no longer have a need for old books? 

Bringing old books to life

In an attack on the censorship of books, the poet John Milton declared that ‘Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.’ Milton’s metaphor, taken from alchemy, claims that books store (like a vial, or ‘violl’) the distilled genius of their authors. These books, Milton claims, are kept alive by the elixir of their authors’ ideas. Other writers from the ‘early modern’ period (roughly, 1500-1750) were not so confident that an author’s spirit would be enough to keep a book alive. Jonathan Swift remarked, gloomily, that ‘Books, like Men their Authors, have no more than one Way of coming in to the World, but there are ten Thousand to go out of it, and return no more.’ Swift imagined books literally torn apart, their pages turned into firelighters, pie-tin liners, and toilet paper.

Research in early modern English literature has sought ways to preserve our printed heritage in ways that would have been beyond even Swift and Milton’s prodigious powers of imagination. A digital turn in humanities research has led to the creation of an array of resources designed to preserve early modern literary culture for current and future generations. Our University Library subscribes to several of these, including the extraordinary Early English Books Online (EEBO), which offers readers digital images of every page of almost every book published in the British Isles from the earliest days of printing in the late fifteenth century to the year 1700. Researchers at Reading are, themselves, responsible for such e-resources as Verse Miscellanies Online, an online edition of some of the most popular poetry anthologies of the English Renaissance, and a database of Italian Academy Libraries that allows users to enter the world of early humanist learning. Digitisation not only has the capacity to keep books alive and in the public domain but also, through functions such as word searchability and image recognition, to generate new avenues of research.

Does the digital revolution mean, then, that bytes store the ‘efficacie and extraction’ of living intellects better than books? Keeping special collections of rare books in libraries is a costly business – one that resources like EEBO might seem to make redundant. If we regard books simply as repositories of words or texts, the answer might be ‘yes’. But both Milton and Swift make it quite clear that books are more than just inert containers for the words that they contain. These authors draw attention to the life (and potential death) embodied, materially, in the physical document that is a book. Many of us in Reading’s English Department are carrying out research into early modern ‘material texts’ which demonstrates that books communicate with their readers in ways that cannot easily be captured in electronic form.

The codex – the folded series of pages that many of us think of, automatically, as the default form of the book – exists not just in two but in three dimensions. It has a depth and, therefore, a weight that eludes the virtual world of digital representation. Think about the last book that you read. You almost certainly made judgements about it based on its size and weight even before you opened the covers. And you were probably conscious of the peculiarly tangible form of narrative progress represented by turning pages. The knowledge that one is ‘104 of 286’ pages through a book – the kind of information imparted by a digital edition – cannot capture an aspect of reading material texts that is determined by the sense of touch more than abstract mental processing.

Perhaps even more significantly, digital texts give the misleading impression that the facsimile of a document that we see on our screens provides the definitive version of the text it contains. It conceals the fact that every early modern text is handmade and therefore unique. In this period, setting type, printing sheets, collation, and binding all took place in separate processes and separate places. No two texts produced in the pre-industrial era are exactly identical. Sometimes the differences can be quite radical. Authors were able to make alterations to the words of their texts (known as ‘stop-press corrections’) in the middle of the printing process. Paper and labour being expensive, no bookseller would withhold the uncorrected version from public view. Consequently, early modern texts often circulated in more than one version, even within ostensibly the same edition. When owners got their hands on books, the differences between texts could become even more striking. Early modern readers liked to scribble in books, adding notes and even blotting out words. An example of this practice can be found in images of the playwright Ben Jonson’s collected works, now held in Reading University Library’s Special Collections, which show the inky assault that one early reader made on Jonson’s plays.

Of course, the existence of digital editions does not in and of itself preclude researchers from consulting material editions of early modern texts. And digital resources like the one used to capture the images of Ben Jonson’s inked-out plays demonstrate that new technology can disseminate information about the unique characteristics of particular early modern documents. I don’t want to suggest that there’s anything wrong with the digitisation of early modern texts – far from it. I do, however, want to draw attention to the limitations of electronic facsimiles, and to the advantages of carrying out the kind of archival research that leaves the smell of centuries-old paper, ink, leather (and concomitant dirt) on one’s fingertips. It is expensive to maintain archives of rare books, to conserve and catalogue early modern print. But old books bring to life the words of Swift, Milton and other early modern authors, as well as the cultures that fostered and first read them, in ways that cannot be matched by any digital ‘violl’.

Tags: , , ,

Professor Peter Kruschwitz, from the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, is a Latin scholar with a long-established specialism in Latin inscriptions. One of his current projects aims to collect, edit, translate, and explain the Latin inscriptions, ancient, mediaeval, and modern, from Reading. The Latin term monumentum, from which the English ‘monument’ is derived, is related to the verb monere, ‘to remind’. Monuments are thus tangible, visible manifestations of human memory. Often monuments are inscribed, to aid the memory of those who want to remember, and that of future generations, as to why a certain monument was erected – be it specific to a person, an event, or gnomic, i. e. in the form of some general wisdom. Monuments and inscriptions form a unit that cannot be dissolved, and it is the conjunction of the two that makes for a particularly powerful tool. But what if the language of the inscription cannot be understood by (most or at least some) of the public that it addresses? What happens if neglect allows the monument itself to decay? One could argue that in those cases memory will fade with the monument itself, and neglect will turn into ignorance. The Latin inscriptions from Reading, whether ancient, mediaeval, or modern, provide numerous telling examples for this view. Times are a-changin’Inscription on HSBC building

Vis unita fortior.

Meaning:

“A force united is stronger.”

Why exactly is this on display in Reading’s Broad Street? Older residents of Reading may remember that the building was not always that of HSBC, but was once the location of the Midland Bank. This bank was acquired by HSBC in 1992, and it was rebranded in 1999. The crest, with its freemasonic elements, and the Latin motto was that of the Midland Bank, originally founded in 1836.

It is beautifully ironic in a way that the Latin inscription and the crest alone survive, with a Latin motto that in hindsight seems to suggest that, even for banks, only joining forces is hope for survival.

Voices muffled and vanishing

After just twenty years, it has become difficult to understand the relationship between the Midland Bank motto and its current location. It may also be difficult or in fact impossible for many passers-by to grasp the meaning of the text, even though Latin mottos are, in fact, still frequent in Britain.

Inscription for Edward Dalby

But what if the inscription is closer to 300 years old, substantially longer, yet exclusively written in Latin, and it is not even on display in a prominent spot? The answer should be obvious, and it is depressingly easy to illustrate the point with an example. The following stone now lies in the graveyard of Saint Laurence, just north of the church building. This is the monument of Edward Dalby, once upon a time the Recorder of Reading. It reads thus:

 

Spe resurgendi

Hic prope depositi sunt cineres Edwardi Dalby,

ar(miger) qui obiit 30 Martii, Anno D(omi)ni 1672,

aetatis 56.

Et Franciscae uxoris ejus, filiae superstitis et her(e)dis

Caroli Holloway, ar(miger), servientis ad legem:

Haec obiit 17 Augusti, anno D(omi)ni 1717,

aetatis 90.

Et Elizabethae, filiae eorundem, quae obiit

8 Februarii, anno D(omi)ni 1686, aetatis 23.

“In the hope of resurrection, here are deposited the ashes of Edward Dalby, armiger, who died 30th of March, A.D. 1672, aged 56. Also of Frances, his wife, surviving daughter and heir of Charles Holloway, serjeant-at-law: she died on 17th of August, A.D. 1717, aged 90. Also of Elizabeth, their daughter, who died on 8th of February, A.D. 1686, aged 23.”

The stone, embellished with a significant coat of arms at its top, now exposed to weather, filth, and vegetation, records the life of one of Reading’s foremost dignitaries at the time as well as those of his family: Edward Dalby of the Inner Temple. Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, described him as a man ‘of eminent loyalty and as wise a man as I have known of his rank’. He married Frances, daughter of Charles Holloway, also a lawyer. Dalby became Recorder (or High Steward) of Reading in 1669, replacing Daniel Blagrave, who had to flee the country for his involvement in regicide (as one of the signatories of King Charles I’s death warrant). Their daughter died young. Their son John, not mentioned in this text, continued the legacy of the Dalby family after his father’s death. Only a small street, Dalby Close in Hurst, Wokingham, still preserves the family’s name today.

A small step towards regaining collective memory?

There are well over 100 Latin inscriptions, from ancient to modern, in Reading – some of them well-known to everyone (like the one on the pedestal of the statue of Queen Victoria on Blagrave Street), others rather more cryptic and hidden away. Many of them have fascinating stories to tell, and they all add to the jigsaw puzzle that is the history of Reading. For the Latinist, they are also invaluable documents to understand the spread, role, and legacy of Latin in modern times. It is high time to collect these texts and to make them available to the public, in translation and with appropriate amounts of documentation, so that fading memory, in conjunction with a language barrier, will not soon turn into complete and utter oblivion.

http://www.reading.ac.uk/classics

Tags: , , , , , , , ,