‘the piling up of works in pious labor’

Otfrid of Weissenburg on his vernacular:

Horum supra scriptorum omnium vitiorvm exempla de hoc libro theotisce ponerem, nisi inrisionem legentium devitarem; nam dum agrestis linguae inculta verba inseruntur latinitatis planities, cachinnum legentibus prebent.  Lingua enim haec velut agrestis habetur, dum a propriis nec scriptura nec arte atiqua ullis est temporibus expolita; quippe qui nec historias suorum antecessorum, ut multae gentes caeterae, commendant memoriae, nec eorum gesta vel vitam ornant dignitatis amore.

Quod si raro contigit, aliarum gentium lingua, id est latinorum vel Grecorum, potius explanant; cavent aliarum et deformitatem non verecundant suarum.  Stupent in aliis vel litterula parva artem transgredi, et pene propria lingua vitium generat per singula verba.  Res mira tam magnos viros, prudentia deditos, eautela praecipuos, agilitate suffultos, sapientia latos, sanctitate praeclaros cuncta haec in alienae linguae gloriam transferre et usum scripturae in propria lingua non habere.

Est tamen conveniens, ut qualicumque modo, sive corrupta seu lingua integrae artis, humanum genus auctorem omnium laudent, qui plectrum eis dederat linguae verbum in eis suae laudis sonare; qui non verborum adulationem politorum, sed quaerit in nobis pium cogtationis affectum operumque pio labore congeriem, non labrorum inanem servitiem.

I could set down from this book examples in German of all the above written vices, if I did not want to avoid the laughter of the readers, for when the uncultivated words of a country language are placed in the smoothness of Latin, they give rise to laughter among the readers.  This language, you see, is considered to be ‘country,’ because by its own speakers it has never been polished in writing nor by any art at any time. Indeed, they do not commit to memory the stories of their forbears, as many other peoples do, nor do they embellish their deeds or life for love of their worth.

On the other hand, if, though rarely, this does happen, they expound rather in the language of other peoples, that is, Latin or Greek.  They guard against errors in the others, but are not ashamed of them in their own, they are shocked to transgress grammatical rule in others even by a little letter, and in their own language they make errors almost in every word.  A remarkable thing: that such great men, given to good judgment, outstanding in carefulness, supported by quick wit, known for wisdom, famous for sanctity, should translate all these things into the glory of a foreign language and not have the custom of writing in their own language.

It is fitting, however, that in whatever way, be it in corrupt or in language of perfect grammar, that mankind praise the author of all things, Who gave them the instrument of the tongue to sound the word of His praise among themselves, Who seeks in us not the worship of polished words but the pious mood of thought, the piling up of works in pious labor, not useless lip-service.

Extract from Ad Liutbertum, from the Evangelienbuch by Otfrid of Weissenburg (c. 800-871).

Otfrids Evangelienbuch, ed. Oskar Erdmann, 6th ed., by Ludwig Wolff. Altdeutsche Textbibliothek 49 (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1962)




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