Holloway and Hoelun.

Two items that have nothing to do with each other except the nicely chiming names:

1) I learn from Lev Oborin’s roundup (in Russian) of literary news that Julia Bolton Holloway claims to have discovered a manuscript in Dante’s hand. This seems like it would be big news, but Oborin links to a Daily Fail story that I didn’t even bother to click on, and when I googled [holloway dante manuscript] I got only a few hits, all from almost a month ago and with almost no details — this LitHub piece shows an image of the MS but has only three paragraphs of text; it links to a Times (UK) story that I can only read a few paragraphs of, and none of it seems very substantive. Anybody know anything about this?

2) Oborin quotes some lines by the poet Irina Kotova that refer to “великая оэлун” [great Oelun] (the poem uses no capital letters). I looked up Оэлун and discovered she was the mother of Temujin (Genghis Khan); the Russian represents Mongolian Өэлүн. The thing is that in English, and in almost all other languages shown in the Wikipedia sidebar, the name starts with H: Hoelun, Hö’elün, Höelün, Höelin, etc. What’s going on here?


  1. Hoelun: I’m not sure. In Mongolian script it’s ᠥᠭᠡᠯᠦᠨ (öhelün, I think). In Chinese it’s 訶額侖 hē’élún. I believe that an initial aspirate, derived from an earlier /p/, is posited in earlier stages of the language for what are now vowel-initial words.

  2. Here’s the end of the Times July 7/8 report:

    The handwriting is schoolboy-like in the early manuscripts but the writing is in excellent Tuscan, which later provided the blueprint for Italian,” said Julia Bolton Holloway, 84, a British expert who has studied Latino — also known as Latini — for 50 years. “It covers the ideas of ethical government, which later showed up in the Comedy,” she said. The scripts are believed to date from the 1280s and 1290s.

    Studied by all Italian schoolchildren to this day, the Divine Comedy describes Dante’s journey through Hell, purgatory, and paradise.

    Less attention has been paid to Latino, who appears in the Divine Comedy in Hell in a section reserved for sodomites. “Dante reports that Latino was his former teacher, but he really tarred and feathered him in his work, and as a result he has been overlooked. Perhaps it took a woman to pay attention to him,” Bolton Holloway said.

    She said one set of manuscripts was very likely to be Dante’s work. “They are the only ones written in the socalled ‘Cancelleresca’ script, which Dante was likely taught by his father,” she said. “No copies of Dante’s own, handwritten version of the Comedy have been found, but Leonardo Bruni, a later Renaissance scholar who saw Dante’s handwriting described it as being similar to the manuscripts I have found,” she said.

    Bolton Holloway, whose findings appear in a book published by the regional authority of Tuscany, taught at Princeton University then became a nun and lived as a hermit in Tuscany before taking over Florence’s so-called English cemetery.

    I don’t yet find the mentioned book on WorldCat. The Times does not quote a second supporting scholar; perhaps the book will.

  3. Thanks to both of you! I guess the Dante will remain a mystery unless and until the book appears.

  4. The handwriting is schoolboy-like…

    “Mommy took me to an old house to look at some pictures hanging on the walls, they were all pictures of ladies with babies, totally boring. She wouldn’t let me swim in the river because it was smelly. Then we went home and had spaghetti for dinner (again).”

    Extract from “What I did on my summer vacation” by Dante Alighieri (age 8).

  5. Here’s a reference to the book, Il Tesoro di Brunetto Latino, maestro di Dante Alighieri, and here (about a third of the way down) is a fuzzy picture of the cover. From her academia.edu page it looks like Holloway has worked on Latino for quite a bit of her career. This is a summary of Latino’s biography.

  6. From her vita: “Languages (in descending order of competence): Italian, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, German.” Interesting.

  7. John Cowan says

    Of course. But what the Supreme Poet fails to point out is whether it was “ai funghi or aglio olio that his family ate that day. His (half)-sister was named Tana < Gaetana.

  8. Missing link.

  9. John Cowan says

    Arrgh, trying again: … ai funghi or aglio olio

  10. I hope LH readers can see this. There is more information on the Middle Mongol sound here in Juha Janhunen (2006) The Mongolic Languages, under (1) in the middle of the page 61. (SH is the Secret History of the Mongols, C is other Chinese sources, and A is sources in Arabic script, and K is the Mongolian vocabulary list in the Armenian history of Kirakos Gandzaketsi completed in 1265.)

    Note also this on Khitan under (1) at the bottom of page 396.

  11. Ah, so the written h represents /x/. Thanks!

  12. Some notes on how Hülegü was rendered in different languages, from Paul Pelliot (1959-63) Notes on Marco Polo, II, p. 866f, no. 373 “Ulau”:


    Interestingly, it was ه /h/ that was used in Persian and not خ /x/ in this instance.

  13. Then we went home and had spaghetti for dinner (again)

    Not bloody likely in 1273 in Florence. Maybe if they had taken a trip to Palermo…

    (According to Wikipedia the first reference to „Spaghetti“ as a type of pasta appears in 1824 in a book called li maccheroni di Napoli)

  14. One niggling thing about Brunetto Latino: he was a famous teacher, of Dante, Cavalcanti, and others. Presumably his homosexuality was well-known, or at least an open secret. Why did Dante choose him as the object of the hellish torment reserved for “sodomites”? Did Dante turn rigidly intolerant in his later years? WP summarizes some thought about the subject, but it seems there is no satifsfactory conclusion. I imagine Holloway has some ideas about it.

  15. Presumably his homosexuality was well-known, or at least an open secret. Why did Dante choose him as the object of the hellish torment reserved for “sodomites”?

    Because his homosexuality was well-known? Seems an odd question. The fact that Dante liked and respected him (assuming he did) did not change Divine Law.

  16. Why didn’t he choose a less sympathetic homosexual as representative? I am speaking as one ignorant both of Dante’s representation of complex personalities, and of how medieval morality judgments were dispensed.

    From what I have read, it sounds like Dante did like and respect Latinus; and that homosexuality, like a number of other sexual behaviors, was commonplace, condemned, but readily forgiven.

  17. homosexuality, like a number of other sexual behaviors, was commonplace, condemned, but readily forgiven.

    Readily forgiven by whom? Not by God, and that’s Dante’s point. He wasn’t some modern loosey-goosey relativist; he was saying “You may be a great guy everybody thinks well of, but if you violate God’s law, you’re going to hell and will suffer forever and bitterly repent your sins.” They took religion seriously in the Middle Ages.

  18. To have chosen “a less sympathetic homosexual” would be to implicitly say “God only punishes the nasty gay people, not the nice socially acceptable ones.” Which was not what he wanted to say. Compare the reactions of progressives today who are told that some racist uncle is “a really great guy.”

  19. My impression was (and it’s based on a vague memory of reading something) that because some sins were considered heinous but were commonplace, they could be easily repented of, through the mechanisms set by the Faith. In other words, the Church had given up on eradicating such behavior; you had to repent, however often, and you were taking the risk of dying unexpectedly in your sins. So if Latino had made arrangements between his last sin and his passing, he would be safe from eternal damnation, despite all he had done before.

    As to the “less sympathetic” angle, of course, that is clear to us moderns with our ambiguous characters, flawed heroes and sympathetic villains. What I don’t know is whether Dante and his readership were comfortable with that idea, and how they read such characters and their place in the world.

  20. Obviously Dante might have planned his circles of Inferno with some sins in mind and then found most suitable characters for each sin, but he also could have wanted to write about certain people whether they were or not “representative” of some sin and put them wherever they in his opinion belonged.

  21. David Eddyshaw says

    Dante has some pretty sympathetic characters in Hell. The Christian doctrine of salvation is really not about whether you’ve been naughty or nice, and Dante did not believe that his friends would all go to heaven and his enemies all to Hell. Nor did he expect his readers to think any such thing.

    Maestro, il senso lor m’è duro, says Dante to Virgil in the poem itself of the inscription over the gate of Hell. Never a truer word …

  22. Fair enough.
    I read Dante when I was a teenager, and there was a lot I didn’t understand then, even if now I might.

  23. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @Y: the traditional puzzle about Brunetto Latini is that there’s little outside evidence of his homosexuality, something that has led to pretty fanciful interpretations of the sin Dante may be attributing to him. However, as our gracious host and David Eddyshaw have both noted, there hardly seems to be a puzzle if you grant his sodomy.

    In particular, if I understand correctly your suggestion that homosexuality would be no big deal because you could simply repent early and often, that’s a line of reasoning whose pretty obvious flaws Dante himself skewers very memorably through Guido da Montefeltro in Inferno XXVII.

  24. Stu Clayton says

    Maestro, il senso lor m’è duro … Never a truer word …

    The reply is not what I would call soothing:

    # Und er zu mir, [wie man erlebt hat]:
    “Hier muss jeder Verdacht aufgegeben werden,
    alle Feigheit muss hier ausgestorben sein. #

    I’ve bracketed a few words that make no sense here. It would be nice if translators simply skipped what they don’t understand, instead of “making a stab” at it. I would rather pay for honesty than subsidize waffle. This is my extrapolation of the widow’s mite story.

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