James Joyce and the Book of Kells
‘In all the places I have been to, Rome, Zurich, Trieste, I have taken it about with me, and have pored over its workmanship for hours. It is the most purely Irish thing we have, and some of the big initial letters which swing right across the page have the essential quality of a chapter of Ulysses. Indeed, you can compare much of my work to the intricate illuminations.’
‘the sudden spluttered petulance of some capitalized mIddle; a word as cunningly hidden in its maze of confused drapery as a field mouse in a nest of coloured ribbons’ (120.5–6)
‘[…] the creeping undulations of serpentine forms, that writhe in artistic profusion throughout the mazes of its decoration’ (p.1)
’[…] all those red raddled obeli cayennepeppercast over the text, calling unnecessary attention to errors, omissions, repetitions and misalignments… (120.14–16)
‘The curious warning sign before our protoparent’s ipsissima verba (a very pure nondescript, by the way, sometimes a palmtailed otter, more often the arbutus fruitflowerleaf of the cainapple) which paleographers call a leak in the thatch or the aranman ingperwhis through the hole of his hat, indicating that the words which follow may be taken in any order desired’ (121.08–13)
’[…] then (coming over to the left aisle corner down) the cruciform postscript from which three basia or shorter and smaller oscula have been over carefully scraped away, plainly inspiring the tenebrous Tunc page of the Book of Kells (and then it need not be lost sight of that there are exactly three squads of candidates for the crucian rose awaiting their turn in the marginal panels of Columkiller, chugged in their three ballot boxes, then set apart for such hanging committees […]’
‘showed no signs of punctuation of any sort’ (123.33), but if you hold it up to the light, you can see it’s been ‘pierced by numerous stabs and gashes made by a pronged instrument.’ (124.01–3)
On the date of the Book of Kells, Sullivan says ‘Indications to suggest its time of birth have been sought in all possible directions. Historical evidence is of little assistance. The Manuscript itself fails us where, conceivably, it might have helped us most, for the page that should have told its story is unfortunately no longer there’. (p. 26).‘the studious omission of year number and era name from the date, the one and only time when our copyist seems at least to have grasped the beauty of restraint’. (121.28)
The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece
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