Sources from the past

Sources from the past, Essay’s, Dissertations and Books from the present

© Johansson Inger, Gothenburg 17th 1999

As most of you know there still exists a lot of ”Originals”, as well as Pholio-editions of the same ”Originals”. The first question always is ”Is it a real Original” – in the sense that this is the written texts first Original writing. Many times it is, but in most cases the text referred to is an old copy of the text. That doesn’t mean that you can’t treat the words written as original words, you have to look around for more copies comparing the texts word by word, spelling by spelling. If there aren’t more than one copy of an Ancient or Medieval text around, it’s more essential than in other cases to look for Dissertations and Essays written in different languages dealing with the text in question and look for other old sources referred to which might refer to the Original book, charge those Dissertations/Essay’s valuations of their sources and the way they have used the accurate text that exist in the remaining copy of the Original book. If necessary you have to go on looking for other ”old”(=early Medieval sources) referring to the text you started of with.

Next comes the most important questions of all: Is the text written close in time of events referred, do we have any reason to believe that the Historian who wrote the text had a personal reason for liking or disliking any one he claims have said that and that or acted in a special way? In other word, every source used must be valued by the standard we calls ”Closeness in time and locality” as well as checked for ”Tendency by the writer”. This is the essential Academic way of behaviour in regards to old texts, especially when ever you think you have found ”something unobserved” in an old source. 

I give you some examples of the necessarity to use proper Scientific Approach:

*        We do ”know” about the battle of Marathon(490 BC), but how do we know it?

          All we got is one single text written by an author who was born the same year as the battle took place. There doesn’t exist one single source ”close in time” only a source ”close in place” and we have every reason to believe that the writer Herodotos(490-425 BC) was influenced by the Greek spoken version of what happened and the Greek valuation of the time in regards to who was brave, winning and so on.

          This means that all we in fact can say for sure is: that a battle ”probably” took place 490 BC at a place called Marathon and that we have every reason to believe that Datis and Artafernes where the names of the Warleaders of the Persian side and that Darius sent the unsuccessful expedition due to Athen’s and Eretria’s participation in the Jonic Revolt. We also can assume, correct or not we don’t know for sure, that the Persian side lost.

          If there ever was an Athenian courir named Pheidippides who run to Sparta for help? Most Scholars writing about the subject doubt Herodotos’ story due to the low value of the text. But who knows? I don’t role out that possibility, but I don’t regard Herodotos as a valuable source in regards to the battle of Marathon.

Today(17th July 1999) I had a letter in my mail from a person who wrote: ”Thank you, but I’ll stick with the writing of people who actually know something about names and languages; I have no interest in your tiresome nonsense.  Until you can support your opinions with something more than your usual cryptic references to unidentified sources, they might as well be completely uninformed.” 

Since that person hadn’t managed to identify texts like Adam of Bremen, Rimbert, Nestor’s Chronicle, Alfred’s Orosius, First Novgorod Annals, 1888, Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the tenth Century,  and other sources wellknown by anyone dealing with Historical Science, as identified sources those lines speaks for themselves of the ignorance he and some other people in discussion-groups uses to dispute  other persons presented result/assumptions/reading of texts. But unfortunately for him/them their behavior is  unacademic. Due to example such as this is following examples are essential as reminders of the importance to have a proper Scientific Approach:

*        Are Professors and Ph.D. always correct when they write about any old source?

          The question is easily answered by a NO, they can be right, but you can’t lean on a title because a title doesn’t say anything about the person’s speciality – some of those who lean on a person’s title seem to forget to look for two essential information: – Is the Professor/Ph.D. etc. at all a specialist of old hand-written texts let alone having reach the Title/Degree in Historical Science. 

          There have been a rough discussion going on in re. Kensington Runestone and it’s possibility of being genuine. The opponents have tried to lean on Professors and Ph.D. from US, Norway and Sweden in order to establish that it umlaut didn’t exist in written texts during the 13th Century. Most of those Scholars had not looked in remaining sources from the time discussed(in other word not even in the Swedish Diplomatarium) nor had they cared to look in other sources older than the one discussed. Many of those Scholars who was referred to wasn’t Scholars of History some where Scholars of Linguistic Science. As shown in a quotation I sent the group earlier the last week from the Second Merseburger Zaugersprüche, as well in texts quoting Original texts edited in Svenskt Diplomatarium, the sources of the past speaks for themselves regardless of what any person(with or without a degree) present in a book, article, essay or dissertation.

          The second Zaugersprüche once again:

          Merseburger Zauberspruch

          Phol ende Uuodan    vuorum zi holza

          dû uuart demo Balderes volon     sîn vuoz birenkit.

          thû biguolen Sinthgunt,    Sunna era suister:

          thû biguolen Frîja,      Volla era suister,

          thû biguolen Uuodan    sô  hê uuola conda:

          sôse bênrenki     sôse bluotrenkî    sôse lidirenki

          bên zi bêna,  bluot zi bluoda,

          lid zi geliden, sôse gelîmida sîn!


Exemple of umlaut in Swedish Diplomatarium.(Extracts from my article: Word in Diplomas from 1358 AD)

Diploma nr                   Text

5840     ”Vy Erich med Godz nåde Suea oc Giötis konnungh oc Skånis landzherre”

5860     ”Wij Magnus och Erich, med Gudz nådum konung i Swerike ok landzherra i Skånö”

5862     ”…. Niclis Thurisson riddare ok drozæt j Swerike”…….”iæk aff hanom fik i Ølande”

Observe: the usage of ”å” in the word ”nåde” and ”ö” in ”Giötis” (Diploma 5840) as well as in ”Skånö”(Diploma 5860) but that ”ö” is spelt ”Ø” in ”Ølande” and in ”Væestragøtlande(Diploma 5862)”

Those example of umlaut shows that it’s better to go for the source itself than to listen to Scholars(creditable or not) who either didn’t know of the existence of the source or didn’t refer to it all, maybe their reason simply was that they looked for an answer to the wrong question while studying the text and due to that reason didn’t see the wood for all the trees(as we say in Sweden).

While Professors and Ph.D. might present a correct picture of the past, we can’t take that for granted. It’s a proper Academic behaviour to look for the sources they refers to, read them and observe if they are transcribed/translated correctly into modern language as well as also looking for sources the Scholars haven’t referred to. A proper Academic behaviour is to look for new knowledge of the past, ask new questions to old sources, reread them more than once and above all don’t believe that today’s or yesterday’s knowledge is the one and only picture of the past.

*        How do we identify a group of people or a specific person mentioned in old books?

          A Russian Scholar, friend of mine, asked me yesterday about the Wisu, Ves of the past and the Veps of the present, and if it was possible to judge their connections from works written by Arabian travellers and geographers in Early Medieval Age. I couldn’t give anything but my own opinion in that case but the question asked is important. How do we identify a person or a group in old texts? First of all we have to realise that it wasn’t easier in old times than today to have all the ”world” spelling the same person’s name in the same way neither a place or a group of people. Since we do have that happening around us today with our well developed technical society and good communication systems we shouldn’t be surprised that same thing happened in old times. I give you two examples:

          UPPLAND wasn’t a name for today’s Uppland before 1290(those who dispute this should go look for UR-Skaraborg and the word Algotssönerna. After the death of king Magnus Ladulås in December 1290, the guardians of the young king Birger Magnusson participated in the creating of the landscape Uppland by adding Tiundaland, Attundaland, Fjädrundaland and Roden together to a new landscape. I can hear many Scholars abroad and inside Sweden saying – but the Sagas and the Ynglingatal? Well, first of all we have to realise that the Oplande(the original spelling) existed for two other places in old age – first of all the Norwegian Oplande and than also the Oplande in southern parts of the Lake Vaettern(from Habo in Västergötland over Jönköping in Småland up to Omberg-Ödeshög in Östergötland). That was and still is the name of that area used by people in some other countries.(One example of that you will find in: Labuda Gerard,Zródla, sagi i legendy do najdawniej szych dziejów polski, Warsaw 1960, when he talks about Rökstenen in Ödeshög).

          One other example: The Scytians who were they? Can we honestly believe those Scholars of today who disregard old sources like Zosimus(New History) or Orosius(Seven books against pagans, 7:34) when those Historians tells us that the word Scytians was used for all people living in the former Scytian Area? And would anyone of you dispute Plinus the older’s Historia Naturalis 4.79, 8.38 and 8.39 where he at least indicates that the same thing?

All text above shows how essential a proper Academic Approach is for every scientist. One example: to think more than once before disputing other person’s presented results/assumption or what so ever with referring to a ”common knowledge” or Academic titles…

© Johansson Inger, Gothenburg 17th 1999


One thought on “Sources from the past

  1. Pingback: New Norah blog | Norah4you's Weblog

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