"Battling Andrew" and the West-Brit Syndrome Twelve Hundred Years Ago

Anthony Harvey

Royal Irish Academy

It is now a decade since Keith Sidwell revived the topic of the Irishman Cadac Andreas (?Battling Andrew?) and the clever satirical attack on him in a poem written by Theodulf of Orleans (d. 821).[i]  With the thoroughness that distinguishes everything Professor Sidwell does (not least on behalf of the Classical Association of Ireland), his article concentrates on explaining how a key passage in the poem turns upon a particular matter of Latin pronunciation.  In doing so, it includes a typically accurate (and handsomely acknowledged) summary of a discussion that Sidwell and the present author had enjoyed beforehand concerning the matter of Cadac's weird accent.  So detailed is the associated argumentation, however, that there may be some risk of dazzle from all the elucidation Sidwell provides (the situation not being helped by the somewhat idiosyncratic linguistic notation employed by the journal involved).  This is a pity, because the facts of the matter are actually rather simple and amusing, and constitute a nice example of how historical or cultural insights can sometimes be finessed from evidence that at first sight appears dry as dust, of interest only to philologists.  It seems appropriate, therefore, to take up a suggestion made by more than one friend and present again what has always seemed to me to be the nub of the matter.[ii] 

Repunctuated to clarify the sense as much as possible, the passage in question runs as follows:

Hic poenasue dabit fugietue simillimus Austro,

Utque sit hic aliud, nil nisi Scottus erit.

Cui si litterulam, quae est ordine tertia, tollas

(Inque secunda suo nomine forte sedet:

Quae sonat in ?caelo? prima, et quae in ?scando? secunda,

Tertia in ?ascensu?, quarta in ?amicitiis?;

Quam satis offendit;  pro qua te, littera salui,

Utitur) haud dubium quod sonat, hoc et erit.

Sidwell provides a translation by Peter Godman,[iii] following it with some suggested improvements.  The rendering that follows takes account of these suggestions, and embodies some few further modifications of my own:

This man shall pay his penalty or flee like the south wind; however different he may try to be, he will be nothing if not a Scottus. If you take away therefrom the letter which is third in the alphabet - (and which happens to stand second in that his designation:  the one that in caelo sounds first, and which in scando comes second, third in ascensu, fourth in amicitiis; which he stumbles upon often enough; in place of which he presses into service the letter standing for saluus) - then, without doubt, what he says he will also be!

In other words, if from the term Scottus (?Irishman?) you remove the letter c, then you get Battling Andrew?s pronunciation of the word.  Unfortunately for him, making this change in Latin had the same effect as taking the c out of Scot in English - the man was a sot, and his pronunciation meant that he called himself one.  But what general peculiarity of his speech led him to commit this particular embarrassing solecism?

As the lines bracketed make clear, Andrew?s actual fault was not so much that he failed to pronounce the c in Scottus, but rather (and this comes to the same thing following an s, as in that word) that he sounded the c as if it were (another) s - in other words, as what we call ?soft c? when it occurs in English words like celestial and ascent (to use examples related to those given in the poem).  Now, given his date and location we know that Andrew?s critic Theodulf would himself have pronounced a Latin c before front vowels (ae, e, i, oe, y) in a non-Classical, ?assibilated? fashion resembling s (so this would have applied in caelo, ascensu and amicitiis).  But before the other, back vowels (a, o and u), Theodulf?s Latin c would have continued to have its Classical pronunciation, sounding - as in English before these vowels - just like a k.  In the poem this would have applied to scando and, crucially, to Scottus itself.  What Andrew is being mocked for is pronouncing c in an assibilated fashion in all environments, including these.  Why did he do that?

Modern scholars have tended to assume that Andrew?s problem was something to do with his having had an Irish accent.[iv]  But closer inspection shows that this cannot be right.  Within their own language, not only were the Irish perfectly capable of managing a k-type pronunciation before back vowels (plenty of Irish vernacular words that reach us from before Andrew's time show this, such as cam ?crooked?, cosc ?prevention?, scath ?shade? and so on, all spoken as if spelled with k), but also they even had the hard sound before front vowels (the c is pronounced like a k in venerable Irish words such as ciall ?sense? and sciath ?shield?, and always has been).  Why should this not have applied to their Latin as well?  At the time when Latin was first introduced into Ireland, all its cs had still enjoyed their original, Classical, hard pronunciation; as there was no subsequent assibilation of the corresponding sounds in the vernacular of Ireland (unlike what happened before front vowels on the Continent, affecting the pronunciation of people like Theodulf), there is no reason to suspect that anything changed later. That there was indeed no change, and that all Latin cs went on being pronounced as if they were ks in Ireland, is positively indicated by the fact that we find no examples at all in Irish-language texts of the sound /s/ spelled with a c - something that would almost certainly have happened, at least occasionally, by cross-contamination if the Irish had been in the habit of pronouncing c in an assibilated way when speaking Latin.[v]  All the evidence is, then, that a literate, Latinate Irishman in Theodulf?s time would generally have pronounced all his Latin cs in a rather Classical manner, retaining the hard sound /k/ not only in words like Scottus and scando, but also in items like caelo, ascensu and amicitiis (where Continentals like Theodulf had moved on to using a soft sound).  So why on earth do we find Andrew doing the exact opposite?

The clue would appear to lie in what we can deduce of Andrew?s mentality from the rest of the passage.  As Sidwell points out,[vi] it is a little odd that Theodulf?s otherwise densely-packed poem should ?spend two lines on giving examples of the occurrence of the letter c.  The point is made quite succinctly without them.?  The answer can only be that there was a reason for selecting those particular items.  As Sidwell says:

These words have been chosen because when decoded into a sentence, in the same order that they appear, but mutatis mutandis, they proclaim Cadac?s motives for being at court, and his way of accomplishing his aims.  Caelum scandit ascensu amicitiarum, he ascends to heaven by a ladder of patronage.  Other scholars, more learned than Cadac, strove by their learning to beat off the coils of mortality. Cadac?s way to heaven is by cultivating friendships, rather than by the acquisition of true learning.[vii]

When Andrew first arrived from Ireland, he would correctly have stated his nationality to be Scottus (with a k-sound).  Like his genuinely learned and respected fellow expatriates, such as Cellanus and Frigulus in the seventh and eighth century or Sedulius Scottus and the genius John Scottus Eriugena in the ninth,[viii] he would also have pronounced all other Latin words with c (such as scientia ?knowledge?) with the same hard sound.  As a matter of fact, these men were correctly preserving Classical Latin pronunciation in doing this; but it would have sounded foreign to Continental Latin speakers of the time.  However, it did not make the Irish figures of fun; why should it?  Beginning with St Columbanus (d. 615), it was the Irish who had been establishing a network of monasteries across western Europe in a fashion that did much to keep Latin learning alive on the Continent during troubled times.[ix]  We know from the Venerable Bede that, already in the seventh century, Ireland was a favoured destination for scholars from England (and, indeed, for intellectuals among Theodulf?s own fellow-countrymen, the Franks) because such good training in advanced study was to be had there.[x] And in succeeding generations, learned men from Ireland, along with Englishmen trained in the same intellectual milieu,[xi] provided a large part of the impetus for the Carolingian cultural renaissance. This included a project to standardize Latin pronunciation throughout the Empire;[xii] it would be strange if Charlemagne had allowed the task to be influenced by a people collectively regarded as eejits!  The Irish in general, then, were held in high esteem.[xiii]

In any case, a recognizably Irish pronunciation of Latin is not what Andrew was being criticized for. As we have seen, the way he talked was more different from the Irish way than the Continental way was: where the Irish had only hard cs, and the Continentals had a mixture, Andrew used only the soft variety. The reason for this is depressingly clear, given his sycophantic nature: he was trying to imitate the locals so as to fit in, and was overdoing it, fooling nobody (?however different he may try to be, he will be nothing if not a Scottus?).  Realizing that his Irish pronunciation of scientia with a k-sound distinguished him as a foreigner, he had switched to an assibilated sound, and then applied this principle to the way he pronounced all Latin cs, in all positions (including within the word Scottus), in a manner not used by anyone else.  Far from blending in, he was now marked out as an Irishman who was pretending not to be one: someone whose other behaviour, too, showed that he saw himself as having risen above what he doubtless viewed as Irish parochialism so as to become instead a citizen of the cosmopolitan world, free from insular limitations.  In reality, of course, the only thing that Andrew had freed himself from was a claim on anyone?s respect. 

To sum up: as an Irishman, Andrew came from a culture that was held in high regard in his hosts? domains, that had done much (and would do much more) to enrich the intellectual life of the Continent, and that already boasted the earliest and largest body of vernacular literacy in Europe.  Turning his back on all that, Andrew tried to impress the authorities in his adopted country by attempting to assume their mode of speech.  Failing spectacularly, he impressed them only with his insincerity.  As for what other, more intellectually-secure Irishmen abroad thought of him, we are left (probably mercifully) in the dark.  What a good thing Irish individuals are never misguided enough to attempt the same con-artistry today!

[i] Keith Sidwell 1992: 55-62.  The full poem runs to two hundred and forty-four lines, beginning with praise of the emperor Charlemagne and his family and turning to pithy word-sketches of about a dozen of Theodulf?s fellow courtiers, among them the unfortunate Gael (not named by Theodulf, but conclusively identified by Bischoff 1967: 19-25).     

[ii] I am particularly grateful to the Editor of this journal, Dr Gráinne McLaughlin, for her encouragement and helpfulness in this regard, and to the anonymous referees for their advice on details.

[iii] Godman 1985: 159.

[iv] This (or some other factor) has led them to present Theodulf?s poem as being hostile to the Irish in general, when actually it seems quite specific: see, for example, how in the first two lines of the passage Godman (followed by Sidwell) translates Hic as ?An Irishman? (rather than as ?This man?), and nil nisi Scottus erit as meaning that Andrew ?is nothing but? (rather than ?will be nothing if not?) an Irishman.

[v] On all of this see Harvey 1990: 178-90.

[vi] ?Theodulf? 61.

[vii] ?Theodulf? 62.

[viii] On such men, their work and their writings see the references given in Lapidge & Sharpe 1985: s.nn.

[ix] As has been stated most recently by Michael Richter (2002: 65), ?the Irish were the most influential foreign ethnic group linked to the Christian religion in early medieval continental Europe?, having  ?contributed in manyfold (sic) ways to the shaping of this dynamic part of the world?.

[x] See Bede?s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Colgrave & Mynors 1969), 234-35 and 312-13.

[xi] Wright 1982 has persuasively identified Alcuin of York as the key figure in the Carolingian language-normalization exercise (on which matter, see what follows); attention is not, however, drawn to the debt that Alcuin?s own Northumbrian education owed to Irish models. On the Irish contribution to early medieval Latin learning in general, see Chapters 7, ?The First Christian Schools?, and 8 ?The Golden Age?, in Ó Cróinín 1995: 169-95 and 196-232.

[xii] On the matter of why insular scholars will have been uniquely well-placed to carry this project forward, see Anthony Harvey, ?The Non-Classical Vocabulary of Celtic-Latin Literature: An Overview? (forthcoming).  It was at the 1996 Summer School of the Classical Association of Ireland that Dr David Howlett memorably described how the Irish had provided the formative input, in a talk reported on the front-page of the Irish Times (Lorna Siggins, ?How the Irish Saved Latin and Schooled the English?, 28 August 1996).

[xiii] That this was the case may - depending on the (unknown) time-interval involved - be further indicated by the fact that the joke about Andrew?s gaffe (which obviously went straight into the folklore of the Carolingian court) subsequently gave rise to a better-known one in which the Irish come out on top: sitting across from John Scottus Eriugena, the emperor Charles the Bald himself is said to have quipped Quid distat inter Scottum et sottum? (?What separates an Irishman from a sot??) - to which the Irishman in question shot back Tabula tantum (?Only the table?)! [By the way, Lutz?s objection to the veracity of this story (cited by Ó Croinín 1995: 227 n. 156), namely that John never used the phrase quid distat inter, is inaccurate: it appears in his formidable book De diuina praedestinatione (Madec 1978: 48)].

Works cited

Bischoff, B. (1967) Mittelalterliche Studien, 3 vols., Stuttgart: Hiersemann (1966-81), II: 19-25.

Colgrave, B, and Mynors, R. A. B. (1969), Bede?s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Oxford: Clarendon.

Godman, P. (1985) Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance, London: Duckworth.

Harvey, A. (1990) ?Retrieving the Pronunciation of Early Insular Celtic Scribes: Towards a Methodology?, Celtica 21: 178-90.

Harvey, A. (forthcoming) ?The Non-Classical Vocabulary of Celtic-Latin Literature: An Overview?, in M. Garrison, M. Mostert & A. Orban (eds.) Spoken and Written Language: Relations between Latin and the Vernaculars in the Earlier Middle Ages, Turnhout: Brepols.

Lapidge, M., & Sharpe, R. (1985) A Bibliography of Celtic-Latin Literature 400-1200, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.

Madec, G. (1978), Iohannis Scotti de divina praedestinatione liber, ed. G. Madec, Turnholt: Brepols (Corpus Christianorum Continuation Mediaevalis 50).

Ó Cróinín, D. (1995) Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200, London and New York: Longman.

Richter, M. (2002) ?St Gallen and the Irish in the Early Middle Ages?, in Ogma: Essays in Celtic Studies in Honour of Próinséas Ní Chatháin, edited by Michael Richter and Jean-Michel Picard, Dublin and Portland, Oregon: 65-75.

Sidwell, K. (1992) ?Theodulf of Orleans, Cadac-Andreas and Old Irish Phonology: A Conundrum?, Journal of Medieval Latin, 2: 55-62.

Wright, R. (1982) Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France, Liverpool: Cairns.

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