Christopher Husch, August 6, 2012
This summer a sprinkling of the western world’s most interesting texts has been our bread and butter up on the Mezzanine. Sharing the large office with sunny street-facing windows, Shane, Rebecca, and I have applied ourselves to draft versions of the Liber officialis of Amalarius of Metz, the Vulgate New Testament and its 1752 translation by Richard Challoner (a revised version of the Douay-Rheims English translation of 1582), and samplings of the Fecunda ratis of Egbert of Liège and the hexameter hagiographies of Henry of Avranches.
My biggest project this summer, which I’ve been working mostly solo on for the last several months, has been the forthcoming One Hundred Latin Hymns, selected, edited, and commentaried by Peter G. Walsh. As with most of us DOML interns’ projects, my work has focused on making the manuscript, both text and commentary, conform with DOML style guidelines; however, it became apparent early on that this text, which had been OCRed into a digital form from Professor Walsh’s typescript, was very full of typos introduced by the text-recognition software. It became necessary for me to check by hand every single citation of classical, biblical, patristic, and mediaeval works as well as secondary scholarship, to make sure the citation style, page number, line number, etc. were correct, and that the author’s or editor’s name was spelled correctly— a monumental task considering the voluminousness of Prof. Walsh’s notes!
Another exciting aspect of preparing this text was the index, which I completed on my own late in the process. After reading through the volume several times in the course of my earlier passes, I had a fairly detailed command of the themes that these hymns address, and at first I was eager to compile a more thoroughgoing thematic index which would enable the reader to cross-reference similarities of content and theological tropes across the ages. I soon realized, after compiling hundreds and hundreds of entries for a mere handful of the hymns, that I simply didn’t have the time, and the volume didn’t have the space, for a project of this scale. Since other volumes confined themselves mostly to indexing proper names and a few technical terms that readers would find significant, or unfamiliar, I revised the scope of my ambitions for the index—but, realizing that in a book of hymns a thousand undifferentiated references to “Christ” would be completely useless, I sorted out subentries into themes to a fair level of detail.
The texts themselves are some of the loveliest Latin hymns in the tradition, dating from Ambrose in the 4th century AD to Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. Some of my personal favorites are the long, arcane, and convoluted Altus Prosator, by the Irish monk Columba of Iona; the famous Dies irae, attributed to Thomas of Celano; and Thomas Aquinas’s inimitable Pange, lingua, gloriosi / corporis mysterium, which is essentially a theological tract on the mystery of transubstantiation in beautiful, closely wrought trochaic verses. Uniquely for the series, the English translations are all in verse, and one of the most enjoyable parts of my work on the volume was editing Professor Walsh’s elegant translations: correcting the occasional error in meter, suggesting more supple phrasings where they appeared to me, and even editing the Altus Prosator and a couple other of the hymns to achieve an acrostic in the English to match the Latin—not as insurmountable a task as it might appear, though the “Q” stanza of the Altus Prosator proved to be impossible, and I had to content myself with using the word Who, and pretending that the archaic Scottish spelling Quho “counted”!
It’s been a privilege to work with Professor Walsh’s manuscript, as well as on the delightfully technical DOML Vulgate project with Angela and Rebecca, and my taste of Amalarius of Metz with Shane. Long live DOML!
I am a senior in Harvard College concentrating in the classics. When I’m not wearing my classicist hat, I’m the General Manager of the Harvard Glee Club.