Michael Calabrese

title.none: Livingston, ed., Siege of Jerusalem (Michael Calabrese)

identifier.other: baj9928.0608.026 06.08.26

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Calabrese, California State University, Los Angeles,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Livingston, Michael, ed. Siege of Jerusalem. Series: TEAMS: Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2004. Pp. vii, 142. (pb). ISBN: $16.00 1-58044-090-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.08.26

Livingston, Michael, ed. Siege of Jerusalem. Series: TEAMS: Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2004. Pp. vii, 142. (pb). ISBN: $16.00 1-58044-090-8.

Reviewed by:

Michael Calabrese
California State University, Los Angeles

I received my copy of SJ from Medieval Institute Publications on the day before the Kalamazoo Congress, 2006. It seemed silly to fly it back to Michigan, so I set it aside, looking forward to reading and reviewing it post-conference. But I was deeply aided in this duty by attending a session at the Congress about this very edition, including not only its editor Michael Livingston but also David Lawton, co-editor with Ralph Hanna of the recent EETS edition, so important for any future study of the poem and crucially helpful and well-acknowledged by Livingston himself. I can say with confidence that the session testifies, as averred by the moderator, Miriamne Ara Krummel, to the timeliness of the edition and to the burgeoning pedagogical and scholarly desire for this poem. Livingston's own paper featured a compelling account of how the bizarre "Preterist" society, which believes that the destruction of Jerusalem was the apocalypse, which has therefore already occurred, had illegally excerpted his edition and presented it as an historical document somehow supporting their claims. Here Livingstone deftly set up the theme of cultural and religious contexts and appropriations--themes at the heart of the Middle English poem itself and central to our confrontation with its politics. Theodore L. Steinberg's paper dealt specifically with the experience of teaching this very edition; he welcomed it because it permits us to teach a significant, historically representative Middle English poem that is not too long and that is bound to be provocative. His larger goal in "If I Forget You, O Siege of Jerusalem," was to preserve these important events in Christian- Jewish history, not despite the violence and intolerance but specifically because of them. David Lawton, in his penetrating and constructive responses, spoke guardedly about teaching the poem because of the political complexities of presenting it and because of our ignorance of much of the poem's motivation and the historical contexts of its composition. I believe that Lawton feared, of course wisely, that the poem could be reduced or misread, though he made clear his supportive approval of Livingston's edition. What emerged, all in all, from this productive, rich, and humane session was that the medieval community needs and is hungrily receiving this classroom, reader-friendly edition of SJ and is willing to address the problems of presenting it and of confronting the cultural issues (both historical and contemporary) that it is inevitable embroiled in, despite the inherent dangers of doing so (so famously expressed in Hanna's characterization of the poem as a "chocolate-covered tarantula").

If one of the dangers of misunderstanding lies in knowing the poem's reputation only, then one of the solutions is to teach it and to demand of students a close reading of the text that would prevent reductive political misuse. Obviously it is not easy to present a poem that contains violence against the Jews in a post-Holocaust classroom; likewise it is hard to teach a poem that features near- crusading Christian armies invading a Middle Eastern nation with no concern for collateral damage--not really even collateral in the poem- -during the US-led war in Iraq. In addition, as this very review is being written (7/4/06), something is occurring in the news that could very well be called the Siege of Gaza , as Israeli forces seek to rescue a captured soldier. Neither this review nor the edition at hand can adjudicate these events or even clearly mark their relations to the poem and its history. However, it is more likely that these (unavoidable and significant) contexts for contemporary reading will encourage rather than discourage engagement with SJ . The risks are real, so any professor who assigns the SJ must face similar problems as when teaching the Prioress's Tale or Cleanness , or, in the context of feminist reaction, even the no-longer harmless Miller's and Reeve's tales.

Livingston explicitly, at the beginning of the introduction, addresses the sensitive situation of teaching works of racial violence, acknowledging that "it is simply difficult for twenty-first century readers to like the poem" (1). Livingston's opening confrontation is brave, as he seeks to combat the marginalization of the poem wrought by "this politically correct world" (2). This marginalization, he writes," says far more about us as readers, and our own difficulties in coping with such charged topics [violence and intolerance], than it does about medieval perspectives on the material in question" (2). In a thoughtful and pedagogically meaningful way, Livingston responds to this marginalization not by confronting our politically correct tendencies as a theoretical, critical, and cultural phenomenon, but by presenting the poem with substantial background discussion and copious notes that historically, culturally, and religiously situate it. He studies the literary sources and the specifically English fourteenth- century contexts of the SJ in a way that militates against any simplistic or reductive reading of the poem as nothing more than racial hatred, typical of Western powers when dealing with other cultures or religions, be it Judaism or Islam. I am not creating a straw man but rather imaging the student papers that, unaided, could be generated in response to the SJ . Contemporary university students tend, and are taught by some readers and handbooks, to apply dualistic paradigms of power and powerlessness, to seek out injustice and oppression, and thus they often confuse critical analysis with political reaction, achieved by interrogating the past and finding it to be guilty of what can essentially be organized into four categories: race, class, gender, and nation building. Unguided, the activist student reader could find many such crimes right at the apparent surface of this text. (If this seems alarmist, see the instructions for how to write a Post-colonial, Feminist, or Marxist analysis in Theory into Practice: An Introduction to Literary Criticism , Ann B. Dobbie (Wadsworth, 2002).

Livingston does not address the issue of paper-topic formation explicitly, but he addresses the politics of interpretation by reading SJ in the seemingly unlikely context of anti -war poetry and doctrine. That is, Livingston labors to show that the war described here, as it would be perceived by the English culture that produced it, meets all the Augustinian criteria for a "just war" and that it thus stands in contrast to a number of foolhardy, adventuristic campaigns undertaking by the author's English nation in the late fourteenth century: "The Siege -poet condemns such actions as un-just wars by providing a chronicle of what he believed to be a just war ordained by God" (30 and see 24-30). Correspondingly, we can see in a related poem, the Alliterative Morte Arthure , which may have used the SJ as a source, the depiction of a foolish, unjust, and unsanctioned war in Arthur's crusade of greed (see 29). This reading is not bound to make the violence more palatable for modern audiences, but it need not have that effect; instead, it allows modern readers a richer cultural, historical context in which to debate the force and motivation of the poem. Working by implicit contrasts, the SJ speaks out against imperialism and violence through its self awareness that it is recounting an historical and religiously important event; as Livingston puts it, the poem knows that the war is history, in the sense that "the war is over" (29) and can therefore stand as a bench mark against which to measure any pretences to war as violent justice. Readers will likely debate Livingston's provocative conclusion: "That the poem is a call to action and to crusade, then, seems to be a claim that is far less sustainable than its opposite: a call to peace and to remembrance" (29).

In addition to offering this reading of the poem and guiding readers through the poet's use of his sources, the introduction provides an overview of religious histories relevant to SJ , such as the "History of the Temple," and the "Vengeance of our Lord Tradition." In "The Structure of the Poem: Architecture of Divine Providence," Livingston pursues the argument that the poem sees itself as a story of specific historical vengeance, not as an incitement to contemporary hatred against the Jews or a call to Crusade. Preceding this is an overview of the episodes of the poem and a discussion of its date and provenance. Throughout this introductory material, Livingston engages with and shows much respect to Hanna's and Lawton's (hence, HL) edition while clearly maintaining his own voice and critical ambition. He writes to a different purpose and audience from the EETS editors, seeking to provide a critical, textual, historical, and bibliographic foundation for a first reading of the poem. In the section on dating, Livingston surveys the manuscripts of the poem, and at the end of the introduction he discusses specifically L, the Laud MS., which is the standard base text for modern editions of this poem (i.e., Kolbing and Day and HL) and for the present edition as well. Livingston follows HL, however, in straying from L's presentation of the text by preferring a verse structure of quatrains and an overall division into six passus and a prologue (features displayed in other MSS. and considered by many to be authorial. (I think the text incorrectly refers to "seven passus and a prologue" (38), which makes no sense since Livingston argues below that the division into seven is unwarranted).

The text is presented, as is the nature of the TEAMS editions, with a mix of three glosses (right margin, bottom of page, and explanatory notes following the text, though these last are not linked to footnote numbers). These notes are essential, but because of their various locations and because each has a different function, the overall effect sometimes is, ironically, a partial or fragmented gloss on a difficult phrase or line. One wonders if a full parallel text translation would be better for a poem like this and for many others TEAMS produces. This critique is not aimed at the present edition but at the TEAMS practice in general. The individual editor has no choice but to write the best notes possible, and Livingston's notes are generally correct and judiciously offered; he seems to know what needs glossing.

An occasional problem, however and the only major weakness to the edition are the errors and glitches found in the marginal glosses. Several leapt out in my reading; at 127 Christ heals those with palsy and "put hem to hele." Livingston glosses this as "put them to heel (i.e., made them walk);" I could not find this idiom in the MED, and the line more likely simply means "healed them," i.e., made them well, akin to Cleanness, 1099, listed in the MED s.v. hele . At 193, as Titus is about to be converted, "foulled" means "baptized" not "followed." At ll. 503-04, we read that Vespasian "quick-claims" all authority save Christ's alone "That this peple to pyne, no pite ne hadde / That preveth His Passioun, whoso the Pass redeth." Livingston offers a significant endnote on "Paas," but glosses the passage oddly: "That these people (i.e., the Jews) [will be put] to torture, nor will pity be had: / That proves His Passion, [by] whomever reads the Pasch." This is muddled and cannot be correct; I would read rather: "For the reason that these people (the Jews) had no pity (on Christ) as is proved by the Passion, (for) whomever would read the Pasch." At 531-2, the Jews are said to shriek, "As woman wepith and waylith whan hire the water neyeth." Livingston glosses this as "when she needs water," anticipating the theme of dehydration that the siege will later cause, but the word is MED neighen , not "to need" but "to draw near" (1a). HL (121) adopt what they call the "brilliant gloss" of Thorlac Turville-Petre, "when childbirth approaches," a stunning image that sets up, grimly, the eating of a newborn baby later in the poem. 517-18 are difficult lines, as evidenced by the scribes' confusion over them, and Livingston tries to make sense of them without emending, which itself may still be inadequate to obtain satisfactory meaning of the verse, "And wel wenen at a wap alle they wold quelle." This line follows the claim that the Jews are "faint" (cowardly) something not really evidenced in their tenacious fighting throughout the siege, and Livingston tries to make the statements consistent by rendering the line: "And [might] well think at a [single] blow [that] they would all [be] slain." This requires changing voice. My rendering may not be any better, adopting a variant "all the world" (UDEC and adopted by HL) for "alle they wold" and reading therefore: [they are false and cowardly] "and may well believe that with a single blow they could conquer all the world" (i.e., they falsely rely on God to crush their enemies for them, since they are deluded and cowardly). Notice that E reads "but ʒit þey" for "and wel," trying to negotiate the oddity of a cowardly people described as confident they will easily conquer the world. In any case, an editor has to do more than he has in this case if the meaning or possible meaning of the passage is to emerge. At 623, I would translate "tones" as "barrels" not "chests."

757-58 are also very confusing lines, sparking a long note to help with grammar and translation in Lawton and Hanna; Livingston gives us too little help here, rendering third sing. "hanleth" as simply "handle" and thus leaving its syntactic function unclear and keeping ambiguous who is doing what in this detailed, highly specialized scene of Vespasian arming and mounting for battle. We need more help also at 892: "fele of the beste," for which Livingston offers "fall" in the right margin: is this the same word as at 599, "fele" there glossed as "many"; to what does "beste" refer? To the animals hunted by the birds? Is it a superlative of "good," as glossed by HL, and what does the whole phrase mean? The editor should specify his "fall" as meaning "to fell, to strike down" if that is the meaning interpreted. At 1017 we read "I nold this toun were untake" which Livingston reads as "I wouldn't [know that] this town were untaken," where I would read rather, "I wouldn't have it that this town were untaken" for all the gold in the world, etc.: a periphrastic way of saying that the destruction of the town is more dear to him than riches. There is no need to add the verb "to know" to this protracted statement. At 1047 "mody" as an adjective for Titus likely means "brave bold, high- spirited, passionate" (OED s.v. mody 1) or "proud, valiant" as per HL, rather than Livingston's "moody," a related and attested meaning in Middle English but one too judgmental and negative for the poet to use of Titus, despite his upcoming fit of anger.

Some of these call for clarification; others are simply errors, but all will need rethinking and revision in a second edition. But for every blind spot or odd decision, Livingston has made a 1000 keen and detailed assessments and acts of editorial judgment in presenting the text. His textual notes, much more abbreviated than the comprehensive ones of HL, sometimes offer discursive explanations of what the manuscripts do, as it relates to his decisions in construing and presenting the text. This draws the reader into the editorial process and compels engagement with the other manuscript readings. In fact, one of the overall strengths of the edition is that it gets readers more involved in the production of the text than say, for example, the Riverside Chaucer does. Put another way, the editor has, I think honestly and correctly, presented the raw difficulties one has in finding poetical and literary meaning in a jumble of manuscript witnesses, which themselves often betray confusion about what a word, line, or letter really means. I would use the edition and the notes- textual and explanatory including the glosses-to allow students to attempt their own translations and to quibble with Livingston's decisions. This exercise would demand use of the MED and the EETS edition and would constitute a great way to get students back behind the scenes of production, both medieval and modern, of this poem.

In summary the great merits of the edition are first, its existence: this complex, important, informative, and often artfully dynamic poem can now be taught widely, as a great barrier has been breeched. I intend to use it myself. Second, the introduction is cogent, sharp, informative, and rhetorically well aimed at a wide academic readership of students and scholars. The introduction and the notes are "friendly" in the best sense of the term, providing contexts for understanding the background of the poem and offering a reading that is at once historically informed and bracingly provocative. The expansive explanatory notes are particularly effective in explaining the Biblical sources, echoes, and references in the poem, and they make ever-useful connections to other alliterative English poems, including those of the Gawain manuscript, the Destruction of Troy , and the Alliterative Morte Arthure . Often, but tastefully, Livingston admires and invites the readers to admire the art and accomplishment of the poem, such as at 270 where he writes that "the internal punning in this line is marvelous" and his excellent excursus on the cheese that the Jews strap on to the Roman emissaries, in a line (368) that Livingston says "remains painfully elusive." At 481, Livingston wonders aloud how the poet would have known to refer to the Torah as a "rolle," a detail he calls "startling," adding, "One wonders how this is possible." Another strength of the notes is the treatment of battle vocabulary, where Livingston has done a lot of philological homework for the poem's many diverse terms, which include musical instruments associated with warfare. Often the notes offer extensive philological treatment, such as at 786, "the deuel have that recche," which sounds like but cannot mean "the devil take that wretch;" Livingston notes the similarity, but through the MED and instances in the Parliament of the Three Ages and other poems he makes the case for MED recchen , obtaining, "may the devil take anyone who cares." Many of the errors or glitches I noted above would have been remedied with this kind of close attention, but that would have also expanded the size of the volume considerably, and on the whole, Livingston's treatments are accurate, rich, and thorough.

Professor Lawton, in his remarks at Kalamazoo, said that more work needs to be done on the SJ particularly in relation to its motivations, authorship, and cultural contexts. If that work is to be done, the TEAMS edition will no doubt play a role in expanding the readership of and scholarship on this poem, bringing it into the mainstream of Middle English studies. The edition will also allow these new readers, and old, to confront head on all the difficulties and wonders of reading a Middle English poem. These include technical matters of transcription and translation but also issues of history, culture, religion and race, as they are powerfully rendered in this compelling poem of war, pathos, justice, injustice, piety and pitilessness, all wrapped up in cultural conflicts that rage as much today as they did in both the poem itself and in all the diverse histories it recounts.