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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Laurel Scroll: Ya'akov Hamizrachi, Atlantia

This is a scroll made for a Jewish persona, and for a Jewish person who has reasonable facility with Hebrew and an understanding of traditional sources.  The text and textuality of the scroll has, as he put it, ‘Easter eggs' for people with this understanding.  

The text is a classic piyyut, a model that emerges in the Geonic period (6-11th Centuries CE) but which becomes a standard (if controversial) format for new prayers composed in the Eleventh Century and which continues through the Sixteenth Century.  It is in its early forms a distinctly eastern (Mediterranean) form, which I considered appropriate for the recipient (whose name means Jacob the Easterner, that is not someone from the Maghreb or al-Andalus in the West of the Islamic world).  


It is a rhymed form, but because Hebrew is an easy language to rhyme, the payyetan (piyyut-poet) displays textual virtuosity by encoding text as an acrostic.  In this case the lines all end with the phoneme qamatz-yod-vav which is pronounced ‘ahv’.  It is this sort of crude rhyme scheme (among other things) that caused Iberian Hebrew poets to despair at the vulgarity of early versions of this verse form.

The text encoded in the acrostic is the recipient’s name as a double acrostic (each letter repeated, so that the lines begin י, י,ע, ע etc.), followed by the blessing חי (live, vivat), also in double acrostic.

The particular inspiration for the forms of this poem is the classic piyyut ‘Akdamut Milin’, written in Aramaic with four feet per line and a single rhyme for each of its 90 lines.  Akdamut is a double alphabetical acrostic with a single signature acrostic with the name of the poet.  Akdamut Milin stretches the definition of piyyut in that it is written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, but is otherwise a clear model to follow.  When my poem was first performed at Atlantian Court, Pennsic War, it was chanted to the traditional trope assigned to Akdamut Milin, a tune which can be dated to the same time and place as the text (Macy Nulman, Concepts of Jewish Music and Prayer (New York: Cantorial Council of America, 1985), 44 and 54; and Jonathan Friedmann, Synagogue Song: An Introduction to Concepts, Theories and Customs (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2012), 121-123, adduced in L Lieber, ‘The Piyyut (Poem) Akdamut Milin, The Enigma and Perseverance of Tradition, http://thetorah.com/akdamut-milin/, accessed 14 August 2017.).



Appropriately for a piyyut, the text includes both straightforward text and elliptical references to textual and religious concepts.  For instance, it cites three elements (king, queen and the Order of the Laurel), and refers to them as a threefold thread that does not quickly fray which is a reference to the Book of Ecclesiastes 4:12; and there is an oblique reference connecting earthly kingship to the notion of Divine providence without actually naming God.

The text closes with a brief coda in Aramaic which echoes the traditional phrases exclaimed when celebrating the completion of a tractate of Talmud.  Afterwards, in smaller writing, is a patent of arms written in words which echo the language used in the Book of Esther to describe royal documents.  (All texts in Hebrew and English are reproduced below.)

The text refers to the Order of the Laurel as a foundax (pundaq in Hebrew, funduq in Arabic), referring to the merchant companies which were granted privileges by the Byzantine emperors including keeping their own accommodation (see, inter alia, OR Constable, Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean World:  Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2009; p. 204).  I considered an imperial grant of foundax a persona-appropriate model for the recipient who is a 14th Century merchant from Fustat near Cairo.

The text refers to the recipient as ‘muqaddam’ based on the term used in the mediaeval Arabic-speaking world (including Egypt, of course) for a communal leader (see inter alia MR Cohen, Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt:  The Origins of the Office of the Head of the Jews, ca. 1065-1126, Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 310).  The term is documented to Fustat in SD Goitein, A Mediterranean Society:  The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Genizah, vol II, The Community'; London:  University of California Press, 1971, pp 68-75.  

The Society year, 52, is rendered as the gematriyaחמ״ד’ which adds up to 52 and which means ‘beauty’ in Hebrew.   Rendering dates (or other numbers) as words, and indeed mathematically manupulating the numerical values of words according to the principles of gematriya was a common mediaeval Jewish practice.  

The hand for the piyyut and the grant-of-arms text, as well as the micrography, is based on that of the Leningrad Codex (National Library of Russia Firkovich B 19 A), an early 11th Century document which was almost certainly transcribed in Cairo.  

The decoration on the scroll is composed of micrography:  the practice of avoiding violating Jewish and Islamic prohibitions on figurative art by writing rather than drawing shapes.  In this work the micrographs are between 3mm and 4mm high not including ascenders and descenders.

The forms of micrography on this scroll are based to some extent on some French/German examples in the British Library including BL Additional MS 21160, on Yemenite documents BL Oriental 2349 (a 15th Century pentateuch), National Library of Israel 5840, but largely on the 15th Century Sa’ana Pentateuch (BL Oriental 2348), notably ff. 38v-39r.  

The micrography spells out various Biblical verses, as do the comparable texts in the exemplars.  The outer frame of the piece consists of Psalm 145, ‘I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever’, which runs from the top centre, around the left side, bottom and around almost all the large laurel wreath; and Psalm 150, ‘Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.’  The inner circles of the empty cartouches and the seahorse cartouche spell out Psalm 30, ‘I will extol thee, O LORD; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.’  

Throughout, references to God are kept except for the Tetragrammaton which is replaced with the word השם, ‘the Name’.  



The Laurel Wreath

This text from Esther 6:6-11 is about the Persian emperor seeking to honour the hero of the book, one Moredecai.  
And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself? And Haman answered the king, For the man whom the king delighteth to honour, Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head:  And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.  Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king's gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken.  (All biblical verses are quoted from the Authorised Version in English and the Leningrad Codex in Hebrew.)
The Unicornate Seahorse, fishes and scallops

Atlantia’s symbols are based on sea-creatures which happen to be ritually impure under Jewish law.  Hence, in this scroll, the seahorse and the scallop shells are rendered using the words from Leviticus 11 which set out which sea creatures are clean, and which are unclean.  

The right-hand fish is made up of Jonah 1:17 in which God prepares a great fish to swallow Jonah.  The left-hand fish is made up of Isaiah 27:1, ‘In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.’ 



The Asses and Vallary Crown

The recipient’s arms are a demi-ass contourny.  Here there are two asses, one facing each way, which are made up of the story of Balaam and his ass in Numbers 22-23.

The distinctively Atlantian vallary crown in the top centre is Psalm 19:1-2, ‘To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.’

The Arms of Atlantia
The vallary crown in the arms of Atlantia is the blessing in Deuteronomy 28:3 and 28:6.  The laurel wreath and the edge of the shield are from Psalm 37:35-40,

I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.  Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.  Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.



The document was written on paper (as were the Yemenite exemplars), in this case Strathmore 400 series Bristol Smooth Surface, a 100% cotton paper designed for fine ink work.  The exemplars would have been written with reed pens; I have used a steel pen for speed. The exemplars will have been written with ink made of lampblack and gum arabic.   I have used Rotring calligraphy ink for convenience.  The lines were ruled by incision.  



The Text

יוֹעֵץ נֱאֶמַן בְּכָל דְּבַרָיו,
יוֹמַם וַלָילָה קוֹסֵם כָּל שׁוֹמְעָיו,
עֲטֶרֶת הַמַלְכוּת דּוֹרֶשׁ זְכוּתָיו,
עִיוּן לֵבַב מְגַלֶה הוֹד חֶמְלוֹתָיו.
קוֹמֵם קְהַל לְשְׁמוֹעַ לְכָל עֲלִילָיו,
קַרוֹב לוֹ, שׁוֹמְעִים לְכָל דּבַרָיו.
בּהִתְרוֹמְמוּת רוּחַ הַרַוְוִיחַ סֲכַרָיו,
בְּהוֹד מַלְכוּת מַזְמִן מֶלֶךְ מְכוּבַּדָיו.

הֲמּוּקַּדַם יַעֲקֹב, מִמִזְרַח דְּרַכָיו,
הֲפּוּנְדַק הֲדַּפְנָה מַזְּמִין כְּבוֹדָיו,
מְסַפֶּר סִיפוּרִים לְהַאִיר כָּל שׁוֹמְעָיו,
מְשׁוֹרֵר שִׁירִים לְהַנְהִיר מַאֲזִינָיו.
זֶה הוּא הַחֶבֶר שְׁמְבַקֵשׁ חַבֵרוּתָיו,
זֹאת הִיא הֲמַלְכָּה, סִיגְנִי שְׁגִידְּלָיו,
רֹאשׁ הֲמֶלֶך, קוּאַן וְכִתְרָיו,
רֶמֶז לֲמַלְכוּת שְׁאֵין לוֹ סִיוּמָיו.
חוּט הַמְשׁוּלַשׁ, לְאַט קְטֳֳטָיו,
חוֹק הִיא לְעוֹלַם בְּכָל תּוֹרָתָיו.
יוֹרֶה הַדַר וּשְׁפוֹךְ מַבְרִיקוֹתָיו,
יַדִין לְזְכוּת בְּכָל צְדַקָיו.

חֲתַמְנוּ אִם חוֹתֶמֶת הֲגְדוֹלָה,
חֲל בֳּמַלְכוּתֵינוּ הַמְפוֹאַר אַטְלַנְתִיָה,
יוֹם שְׁמוֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה לְחוֹדֶש מְנַחֵם אָב הֲנוֹרָא,
יַדוּעַ בִּשְׁנַת חֶמֶ”ד לֲאַגוּדָה.

הֲדַרַן עַלַךְ תְעוּדַת הַדַפְנָה,
דַּעַתֵן עֲלֵךְ בְּהַדַר וּבְרַכָה.


Piyyut on the Elevation of Ya’akov Hamizrachi to the Order of the Laurel

A faithful advisor in all matters,
Day and night he enchants all his hearers.
The crowning glory of the kingdom demands his merits,
Inspection of his heart reveals the glory of his kindness.
He gathers an audience to hear all his tales,
Close to him, they hearken, all those who draw near.
With exalted spirit he will receive his recompense.
With glory and majesty a sovereign summons his subjects.

Master Jacob, he came from the East,
The Laurel Foundation summons his honour.
A teller of tales to enlighten all who attend,
A poet of poesy to illuminate those who listen.
It is that order, that seeks his company.
It is that queen, Signy, who raises him up.
The king’s head, Cuan’s, crowned,
An allusion to the Kingship that has no end.
The threefold thread only slowly frays,
This is a truth in all His laws.
Beauty shines and pours out its brilliance,
He will judge meritoriously with equity.

We have set our great seal,
Stamped in our glorious Atlantian kingdom,
On the eighteenth day of the terrible month of Menachem Av,
It is made known in the Society’s year of beauty (52).

The Laurel scroll is here complete,
It is known with beauty and blessing.

By Lady Lyonet de Covenham, Schwarzdrachen Principal Herald of the Kingdom of Drachenwald


Patent of Arms text on the writ: 

מִכְתַב זוּ, דֲּבַר שֲׁלוֹם וְאֶמֶת, עוֹמֵד לְהַַעִיד גְזֵרָת מַלְכוּת כְּדֵי לְאַשִר לוֹ: חַלוּקָת פַּס וֵר וְאוֹר, חַצִי אַתוֹן מַנְפִּיק מְקַו-חַלוּקָה, מִשְׁתוֹלֵל קוֹנְטוּרְנִי, אוֹר, כְּשֶׁלֶט אַצוּלָה מִכֹחַ אִגֱרֶת הַשֶׁלֶט הַזֹאת הַמְפוֹאַר וְהַמְרוֹמֵם.  נִכְתַב וְנִחְתַם בְּמַלְכוּת אֶתֶלְמַרְק, בִּזְמַן הַמִלְחַמָה הַגְּדוֹלָה פֶּנְזִיק, נְאוּם Cuan הַמֶלֶך וּנְאוּם Signy הַמַלְכָה.


This writ, an utterance of peace and truth, stands to witness the royal degree to grant him: per fess vert and or, a demi-ass rampant contourny issuant from the line of division, as a shield of arms by authority of these high and mighty letters patent.  Signed and sealed in the Kingdom of Æthelmearc at the Great Pennsic War, by Cuan the King and Signy the Queen.

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