by EILEEN JOY
It is now Day 5 of the biennial meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists [but only Day 3 of days with sessions], and after the excitement yesterday of the hard-drive on my MacBook crashing [data recovered: whew, but I have to replace the hard-drive which will necessitate staying in Madison, Wisconsin one extra day: darn, that is really hard labor ... NOT], we began today with a special plenary session on numismatics in honor of Mark Blackburn, Keeper of Coins and Medals [best job title EVER] at the Fitzwilliam Museum, featuring talks by Anna Gannon, Rory Naismith, and Philip Shaw. In the spirit of my last report-as-poem from ISAS 2011, I offer the following poetic digest of this session:
Ode to Plenary B: New Approaches to Coin Studies
I. Gannon: This is When I Started Casting My Net
If I can just say, I don't want to dwell on this;
can you all hear me?
We are sure this is King Eadbald of Kent;
in profile, it follows very closely
the Merovingian coinage across the sea.
It does look a little bit like a porcupine,
a deranged bust.
Vine scrolls are so numerous--
please raise your hand if you cannot see this.
I hope you can glimpse the body here,
and here's another one:
bunches of grapes, but also us.
I would like to talk you through images
you have to play with,
with your eyes: the grapes are expressed as rosettes.
How do you know that people could follow
these complex theological messages?
I'm sorry, I should start at the beginning:
this is the Annunciation. It is something you would taste.
I have argued that this is the five senses.
I forgot to put in a picture of the Fuller Brooch:
this is the time of the conversion of England.
It's very interesting to see the experiments.
This is when I started casting my net
beyond Anglo-Saxon things.
As we see in Roman mosaics, and yes,
it is quite three-dimensional:
the hen, even as a hen,
gathereth her chickens under her wing.
There are columns onto which you would have put candles.
II. Naismith: Blowing in the Wind
This one comes from the change-over:
the coin indicates the tremendous flexibility
of the king's style.
This just summarizes the basic chronology.
Saying who was boss was just as important
as showing who was boss.
I hesitate to use the word "portrait":
curly hair like this had a long iconographic history,
blowing in the wind at the moment of heroic apotheosis.
So she loses her rights in 790,
if she even had any.
Serpents occurred on a small but significant number.
Other rulers in the time of Offa
also got in on the action--
one can be in little doubt that the die-cutters
were literate and knew what they were doing.
What circumstances might have produced it?
In effect, each moneyer was his own little mint,
the heart of the system;
there was no unity of design.
III. Shaw: -eth Libretto
We've got quite a lot of his coins;
Æthelheard was a bit of a rebel.
ð is clearly the go-to letter for this sound.
I think what we're seeing here, by and large,
are Kentish beneficiaries.
As we go into the later parts of the century,
we might be getting a mixture.
We also get a Worcester charter in there.
From 785 onward, something dramatic happens:
we know they already have -eth in their repertoire,
and things take off a bit.
Suddenly, everything steepens.
I'm not suggesting there's a royal decree about -eth.
What does this say about Æthelheard?
I probably don't have the time now
to explain the indications
for a dental fricative,
but you can ask me later.
We see resistance.
The ecclesiastical context is important here;
I'll leave you with that.