Compiling the Latin dictionary has also given glimpses of life in the medieval era.
In establishing the Latin word for "muzzle", there was a record from 1252 showing that a muzzle had to be made for a polar bear, kept in the Tower of London, which had to be restrained when it was brought to fish in the river Thames.
The word for chimney - "caminus" - was sourced from a description of an earthquake which hit England in the 1340s which toppled chimneys.
There were also strange tales from coroner's courts, such as an account of a cat chasing a mouse down a well and then a woman drowning when she tried to rescue the cat.
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Time went by, the boat was on water, in close under the cliffs. Men climbed eagerly up the gangplank, sand churned in surf, warriors loaded a cargo of weapons, shining war-gear in the vessel’s hold, then heaved out, away with a will in their wood-wreathed ship.
Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf and his men setting sail:
On went the hours: on ocean afloat under cliff was their craft. Now climb blithely brave man aboard; breakers pounding ground the shingle. Gleaming harness they hove to the bosom of the bark, armour with cunning forged then cast her forth to voyage triumphant, valiant-timbered fleet foam twisted.
More than 150,000 lines of verse are attributed to Lydgate, a vast output ranging from satires to histories, epigrams, romances and plays, many of them written in the late Middle English style pioneered by Chaucer. Lydgate idolised Chaucer, calling his fellow poet the "lodestar", and he befriended Chaucer's son, Thomas, and granddaughter, Alice.
His work was hailed as among the finest in England and later writers, including Shakespeare, drew from it. However, until now there has been no known Lydgate signature.
The muse gets all the press, but here’s a fact: Good writing involves obsessing over punctuation marks. It’s 1 a.m., you’ve got a 5,000-word piece due the next day, and for the last twenty minutes you’ve been deliberating about the use of a semicolon versus a period in a single sentence. (But should it be two sentences? Twenty-five minutes, thirty minutes … ) As a rule, the effect of all that obsession is subtle, a kind of pixel-by-pixel accretion of style. Once in a while, though, a bit of punctuation pops its head up over the prose, and over the prosaic, and becomes a part of a tiny but interesting canon: famous punctuation marks in literature.
I was reminded of the existence of this canon last month, while rereadingMiddlemarch, which contains what might be the most celebrated use of an em-dash in the history of fiction. That sent me to my bookshelves in search of other examples of remarkable punctuation. I wanted specific instances, so I ignored the slightly different category of books or authors closely associated with a given kind of punctuation. (Celine and his ellipses, say, or Emily Dickinson and her famous dashes.) Some forms of punctuation seem less marked out for fame than others; if anyone knows of a noteworthy comma, I’d love to hear about it. But what follows is a — well, what follows is a colon, which sets off a list, which contains the most extraordinary examples I could find of the most humble elements of prose: