Birchbark

Smoke-mirled, blue-black
Tales of My Landlady

Now that I have returned from my travels in the north, and finished reading Tales of My Landlady, I have turned to Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter, which is always a good read and makes one appreciate quiet home life. It is thus with particular interest that I have read about Onfim. Onfim

King Hereafter is set in the 11th century, in Orkney and Scotland, and the events range across Mercia, Wessex, Norway, Novgorod… Only a couple of hundred years later, in Novgorod, a boy called Onfim, aged about seven, was learning to write, using birchbark to write on. Birchbark is cheap, unlike parchment, so there was plenty of it to waste, and it survived legibly because of the unusual chemistry of its surroundings. So when archaeologists discovered a hoard of birchbark manuscripts they were able to read them and they found the drawings Onfim had scribbled in his margins.

In this one, he has started copying out the alphabet, got bored after eleven letters, and drawn himself (he has labelled himself ‘Onfim’ so you know) on horseback slaying a foe. If you follow the link you will see others, including Onfim disguised as a wild beast. They’re extraordinary – that is, it seems extraordinary that they’re exactly like any seven-year-old’s drawings now. Possibly with more armour.

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