The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

BENJAMIN HUDSON


14. The Literary Culture of the Early Scottish
Court

Little attention has been given to the literature of Scotland before the late middle ages and the earlier centuries have been considered a literary desert, even by those well-disposed towards the Scots.1 Therefore it is somewhat surprising to read in the biography of the Welsh scholar and bishop Sulien of St. David’s, written by his son Ieuan in the last years of the eleventh century, that determined to study outside Wales,

Moved by gusts of wind, he landed in the country which they call by the name of
Scotland. And remaining there for five years, unwearied he pursued his desire
… persisting diligently (in his studies) by night and day, extracted continu-
ously from the pure stream of the sevenfold fountain [i.e. the seven liberal arts]
cupfuls fragrant with mellifluous aroma. For, learning and writing with im-
mense effort, whatsoever he investigated during the night, having been retained
in his mind, arising at the clear light of the day he wrote down intelligently.2

This estimation is echoed in the introduction to the earliest extant life of St. Kentigern, written by an anonymous non-Scottish cleric at the orders of Bishop Herbert of Glasgow (1147–69),

When at length I came to the kingdom of the Scots, I found it very rich in the
relics of the saints, illustrious in its clergy and glorious in its princes.3

Not only did the Scottish kingdom possess an intellectual culture that was admired, but also one that was being deliberately sought out by non-Scots. This leads to the question, what kind of literary culture did it have? Certainly an aspect of this was ecclesiastical, and one assumes that Bishop Sulien pursued his unwearied studies in some religious environment, possibly St. Andrews where the scholars of the church would gather to greet the bishop-elect Eadmer in 1120.4 At the same time, one can begin to discern the outlines of a literary culture at the

1 Kathleen Hughes, Celtic Britain in the Early Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 1980), p. 20.

2 This poem has been edited several times, the most recent edition and translation is by Michael Lapidge, ‘The Welsh-Latin Poetry of Sulien’s Family,’ Studia Celtica, viii–ix (1973–4), 68–106 (at lines 95–114; text on pages 84 & 86, translation on pages 85 & 87); this translation follows Lapidge.

3 Vita Kentegemi Imperfecta, Auctore Ignoto in Lives of S. Ninian and S. Kentigern, edited by Alexander Penrose Forbes, Historians of Scotland volume v (Edinburgh, 1874), pp. 243–52 (at page 243).

4 Eadmer, Historia Novorum, ed. Martin Rule (London, 1884), p. 284.

-156-

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