Wednesday, April 15, 2009

David and Goliath

It has been nearly a month since I last posted, for which I can only apologize. Although that might be an eternity in blog-days, in real-life days, the time has just flown by, what with the excitement of college basketball and grading and Passover and the annual Shakespeare Association of America conference. Oddly, there were very few obvious points in common among those events, but there I was, nonetheless.

I can, I think, actually find a common thread among some of them with this picture:

What is this, you ask? It's The whole booke of Psalmes: collected into English meter by Tho. Sternhold, Jo. Hopkins, W. Whittingham, and others, conferred with the Hebrew, with apt notes to sing them withall. Newly set forth, and allowed to bee sung in all churches, of course, printed in 1639 and here with a stunningly gorgeous embroidered binding. And who is that on the binding, you wonder? David and Goliath! To be more precise, that's David and his slingshot on the left (aka the back cover) and David with Goliath's head on the right (the front cover). To me, it looks like David is in the act calling out, "Hey, you great big lug, over here!" and like Goliath is still stupidly smiling even after his head has been cut off. But that might be my take on the story. Regardless of your take, it's a fabulous binding. (catalog entry/zoomable image)

And so how does that connect to the big events that have kept me preoccupied? The religious connection to the recent holidays should be obvious. And my students have been writing papers on the individual histories of their books, including what the bindings might signal about a book's use and provenance. The Shakespeare link is more tenuous, but I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about Shakespeare's plays as books and how their appearance as such shapes our use of them (more on that in future posts).

And college basketball? Let's just say that in the championship, I was rooting for the David that almost slew Goliath but instead never got the slingshot ready to go. A crushing defeat for those of us who are State fans, but there are always books as consolation!

Here, for your perusal, are some more psalters in our collection with embroidered bindings. Make sure you look at this lovely dos-a-dos combination of New Testament and Book of Psalms, a great testament to the ways in which we adopt books to our uses. And I'll be back up to speed and my regular slow pace of posting soon--thanks for sticking around!

UPDATE: I've fixed the broken links for the zoomable images, so they should now work--but don't forget that you need to have your browser set to allow pop-up images!


Lycimnius said...

That beautifully embroidered image of David with Goliath's head gave me a shudder when I thought of the event that followed ten years after the publication and of the place of the Psalms in religious discourse of the period. Do you know when the binding itself was created? I know that references to Goliath increased hugely in the decade following 1649...

Sarah Werner said...

This is an excellent comment--I hadn't been thinking about the rhetorical value of David's slaying of Goliath, distracted as I was by questions of basketball and the psalms themselves as authored by David. Our catalogue identifies the binding as roughly contemporaneous with the printing, that is, around 1639. But I'm going to hunt down some further research on this and will post that soon.