Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Thoughts

    I have discovered there is a German equivalent to the Oxford English Dictionary and it is nicknamed 'The Grimm" because it was begun by the brothers of fairy tale fame. I happened to be trawling through it and giving myself a headache trying to read the technical German because I am curious as to why, if the English word 'wreath' has a Germanic origin, the Germans have such a different word for the Christmas wreath - kranz.  They are not even remotely similar.
     'The Grimm' states that 'kranz' is a homemade word although, there appears to be an Old Scottish word very similar to it - crance.  Jamieson's Dictionary of the Scottish Language credits the origin of their word to something Teutonic to do with hair although there appears to be a related Old French word - crans, meaning 'hair'.  It is very strange, both dictionaries point to a possible connection to the latin word - corona, meaning 'garland'.
     Wreath is from the OE or Anglo-Saxon as a noun form taken from the verb 'writhe' as something twisted or wound into a circular shape. I wonder why, if both words have a Germanic origin, they are so very different in sound.  The third century writer Tertullian complained that Christians should not be putting them on doors as it amounts to demon worship so the wreath has been around for a while. One has to wonder also why it was associated with Christmas; nobody is very clear on this.  Perhaps it is a remnant of the 'kissing bough' of Saturnalia.
      We now use a mistletoe ball for kissing.  Thanks to The Xmas Files by Patrick Harding, an excellent book on the origins of Christmas customs, the proper way to use the mistletoe is that every time someone kisses under it, they have to remove a berry.  Once all the berries are gone the kissing has to stop and then the mistletoe had to be burned on the Twelfth Night in case anyone kissing under it did not intend to marry.  Now you know.
'The Grimm' is searchable online if you can read German.

Beatles Song of the Week

Saturnalia est,
Et feceratisne quod?
Alius annus finis est,
Et unus novus inceperat.
Saturnalis est,
Spero tu iocum habes.
Tu proximi et tu cari,
Tu seneces et tu parvi.

Habete Saturnalia Beata,
Et Annum Novum Felicem,
Speremus bonum est,
Sine metum. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

     It is always interesting to see where people get titles from and this movie title is such an elegant one.  It was taken from a poem by Alexander Pope called Eloisa to Abelard.
     "How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
       The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
      Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
      Each pray'r answered, and each wish resigned."
The poem is based on the letters of Peter Abelard and Heloise from the 12th century.  Heloise had a very hard time forgetting her passion for Abelard and accepting, following Abelard's mutilation and taking monastic vows, that it was over forever.  She took the veil according to his request but she did it out of love for him not because she felt any calling to serve God.
It is perhaps taken as the title for this movie as it is about two lovers who have had their memories erased to forget about each other but find, after their memories were wiped out, that they met again and fell in love.   Their love was fated to be and no amount of wishing it were otherwise could make it so.
       The story of Abelard and Heloise was also snuck into the movie Being John Malkovich.  You would have to know it is them to even notice their presence in the film and in the lewd puppet show.  And if you blink, you would miss the sign that announces that the marionette show is about their love story.  The puppets read the letters out loud and make gestures that eventually become offensive and cause someone to punch the puppeteers lights out. 
This clip has the sequence from 1:52 minutes to 3:27.
      It appears that there has only been one film made of their story and that is Stealing Heaven. Unfortunately it was only released on vhs format and so cannot be purchased except in used copies and certainly cannot be found at Blockbuster.  They might have had trouble with the content anyway since it is a European film and shows explicit love scenes between the two.  Well, after all, it was a hot love story and, to read Heloise's words about it in her letters, the sex was really hot.  I know it might be hard to imagine in the 12th century that people were having hot sex but this was in Paris after all.
     Some kind person has posted some clips from their video of the film so you can see a few minutes of it.  This clip is of their first kiss.  I like the fact that the film makers made Heloise a grown woman rather than a 16 year old girl because I think she was older than that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Children of the Corn

     When the Anglo Saxons marched in to England, the Celts put up a good fight but they ultimately lost and were pushed back by the invaders into areas like Wales, Scotland and Cornwall.  The Welsh call their land Cymru but the Anglo Saxons named them the wealas, that is 'foreigners' and is the source of the name 'Wales'.  The Cornish were called the corn-wealas or 'corn foreigners', people of the corn.
      There is a problem with this since what we commonly call corn was not supposed to exist in Europe at the time.  It is a crop that was discovered by the Spanish around 1500 called 'maize' and brought back to Europe then.  But yet, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle mentions corn, the Magna Carta mentions corn, even translations of the Bible mention corn.  What were those people eating anyway?  Not corn.
     What we call corn is zea mays or maize.  The word maize comes from the Taino word mahiz that was given a Latin form by the Spaniards. Corn, up until recently meant, "small hard seed or fruit of a plant" more commonly "the fruit of the cereals".  It referred predominantly to whatever was the major local crop.  If people grew wheat, that was their 'corn'.  If people grew a lot of oats, then that was their 'corn'.  Even grapes could be 'corn'.  It explains why the dreaded Corn Laws of England, that helped kill so many Irish by exacerbating the famine, regulated the price of wheat and not maize.
        So then, the Cornish could be the Children of the Corn.  Except that the 'corn' in Cornwall did not come from the local crop.  According to Brewer's Britain and Ireland, the name comes from the Cornovja tribe who ruled the area and may have started with the latin cornu for 'horn'.   Words are so interesting.  It seems the local crop was tin and copper since mining was a big industry on the peninsula since the Bronze Age.
      So the American Mid-West's reputation for scary little children indulging in strange agricultural cults is safe.  They are an American Original.

Beatles Song of the Week

Ama, me ama
Tu scis te amo,
Semper pius ero,
Ergo places,
Me ama.


Aliquam amare,
Aliquam novam,
Aliquam amare, 
Aliquam par tibi.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Elf, Fairy, or Sidhe? Which Should It Be? Spoiler Alert!

    I enjoyed watching Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, but unfortunately for Hellboy, the three kids who were with me and I were rooting for the bad guy Nuadda, who squarely defeated Hellboy in single combat but was treacherously destroyed by his twin sister. 
   The naming of the Elf Prince Nuadda made me smile since, anyone who is familiar with Celtic mythology would recognize the name as the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan, when they arrived at the home promised to them by their goddess Danu, Ireland. They called their new home Innis Fail or the 'Island of Destiny' in English.  Nuadda, in the film, was without the silver hand but he was carrying a sword.  And what a swordsman he was!!
      In keeping with the Irish Book of Invasions, the lebor gabala erin, the Tuatha de Danaan fought a war with humans, the sons of Miles.  The aftermath of the war was an agreement to leave the earth above ground to humans while the Tuatha de Danaan took the underworld, particularly the barrows, which is when their name changed to Sidhe, pronounced Shee, the people of the barrows. 
     So far the facts fit the movie, except for the Golden Army.  There was no Golden Army.  There were the Fianna, the Red Branch of warriors with Diarmid, who was every bit the athlete like Nuadda was in Hellboy but the creators of the film chose to call Nuadda an elf rather than a Sidhe.  Is it really the same thing since the English commonly call the folk of the 'Otherworld' the fairy people now?
    In a sense it is and this is where the Medieval connection lies.  It is in the evolution of the English language.  The Norman Conquest of 1066 did not just take the land, it took over the language.  Fairy is a word derived from Old French.  When the Anglo-Saxons marched into England in the fifth century, they pushed the native Celts into Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland where they lived apart and so Gaelic had very little impact on the language.  'Elf' would have been the Anglo-Saxon word and so it might still be if not for that French completely took over the language, excepting a few hundred common nouns like bread, brother, wood, etc.  Until Tolkien brought it back with The Lord of the Rings. 

Beatles Song of the Week

Ubi me in temporibus turbulentis invenio,
Mater Maria ad me venit,
Verba sapientarum dicit, sit.

Et in hora caeca mea
Ante meum directe stat,
Verba sapientarum dicit, sit

Sit, sit
Susurrate verba sapientarum,

Et ubi deiecti,
In terra vivens convenerunt,
Explicatio erit, sit.
Nam etsi separati sint,
Etiam potestas videbunt,
Responsio erit, sit.

Et ubi nox nubis est,
Est etiam lumen quod in meum lucet.
Lucete in crasinum, sit.

E somno excito et musicam audio,
Mater Maria ad me venit,
Verba sapientarum dicit, sit.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Nature of Friendship in the Middle Ages and the Internet Age

     O, what a tangled we weaved when the world wide web was first conceived!  It seems like things were so much simpler years ago but were they really?  While doing some research on Edward II for my studies and thinking to compare him to other monarchs, one is confronted with the issue of his homosexuality or intense friendships with men.  For, when Edward launched a campaign against the Scots, he had his bastard son Adam Fitzroy with him.  Clearly he had recreational sex with a woman he did not have to.
     The problem with Edward was not so much the nature of his relationship with Gaveston, since the concept of sexual orientation did not exist in the Middle Ages, but the fact that he promoted his favorites, many of whom were commoners,  in his court to the exclusion of nobles who were entitled to the privileges that went to these men.
     There has been some question about the nature of the friendship that existed between Philip Augustus of France and Richard I, otherwise known as the LionHearted and hero of the Crusades, while they were overwintering on Sicily on their way to the Holy Land. 
    Richard, who was the son of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Henry II, was raised in what is now France and did not speak English.  He spent only about 6 weeks of his life in England and actually despised the land.  He drained the country of its resources to finance his wars on the continent.  Richard along with his older brother, Geoffrey of Brittany, often conspired together and with Philip Augustus to take Henry's throne.   The friendship between Philip and Geoffrey was close enough, as Roger of Hovedon reports, that when Geoffrey died in Paris, Philip was so stricken with grief that he attempted to throw himself into the grave.  He had to be restrained from doing so. 
     It was this same Roger of Hovedon who reported on the astonishing love between the King of France and the Duke of Aquitaine.  He wrote that they liked each other so well that they slept together and ate off of the same plate, and even drank from the same cup.  Perhaps they did not trust each other not to poison the food; a king must always be on guard against assasination, but it is not likely to be that. Roger wrote that there was such a passionate liking between them that was astonishing.
    For many of us in the Age of the Internet, where often our closest friends are people we have never met or even spoken to over the phone, the physicality of the friendship must be part of what discomfits us about them.  That and it seems in the industrial West, men are not allowed to experience strong emotions especially about other men. 
     The only relationship from way back that mimics the way we often experience friendship today that leaps to my mind is the friendship between Raphael di Urbano and Albrecht Durer. They probably met once when Durer took his second tour of Italy but the friendship went on mostly long distance through letters and exchanges of artwork.  It is interesting because Raphael, who lived in Florence and Rome around the time that Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo, was not friends with these other artists.  Leonardo and Michaelangelo did not like each other either; it seems that being rivals for commissions and accolades in the same sphere made friendship impossible.
     A few years back I joined an online community and made some friends there who, although I have never met them, I 'talk' to every day.  While I was writing and rewriting this article, I decided after all these years to ask for their phone numbers and actually speak to them for real.  It seems strange going through these stages where you talk to a point where you trust each enough to trade 'real' names (one thinks back to mythologies where real names had to be hidden because this knowledge would give someone power over you) and from there to reach a point where you ask if they would like to see what you look like.
    On most summer days, you could fire a cannon down the road and not hit anyone but you can see through windows people who are seated in front of a computer screen.  I suspect this is how many people experience friendship today.  How many people are on Facebook now, talking to someone they know in the 'real world' who is just a few doors away, rather then just shutting off the computer and getting together for coffee and chat?  Too many, far too many.
      Richard and Philip had a closer friendship than seems possible in an age where so many people are living out their lives in a virtual setting. It was up front; it was personal; they could smell the farts and hear the belches; there was no possibility to hide who you are except whatever could remain hidden in your heart.  While I am unwilling to share a bed with my friends (sorry, girls.), in an age where friendship often lacks a human touch, I can appreciate the honesty of a friendship like that.  Inhabiting a landscape of  Sockpuppets and  Avatars, it would be nice to know exactly who you are talking to some days.
       Philip caught dysentery and, disappointed with Richard after Richard massacred the inhabitants of Acre whom he had sworn an oath to spare if they surrendered, he went home.  I wonder if Philip was disappointed in his friend for swearing an oath he had no intention of keeping and killing those people after they surrendered.  One wonders if he said something about this to Richard and Richard countered with something like, "I did what needed to be done while you were lying there like a dying swan.  Don't be such a pussy." Or whatever the Medieval he-man equivalent would be.  Whatever words were spoken between them, Philip went home, leaving his army behind to help complete the capture of Jerusalem.
    Philip went home and took most of Normandy which belonged to Richard, a risky move since by decree from the Pope you could not declare war on someone who was fighting in the Crusades.  He had to wait until Richard died to take most of Aquitaine and Anjou, too.  When you quarrel in the 'real world', there are sometimes consequences.
    People feel freer to behave as badly as they want to on the Internet because it often seems like the penalty for abuse is so slight.  On the internet, if you say something in an unguarded moment, you can be deleted, removed from a friends' list, your emails get blocked.  It is so easy to offend on the Internet because you do not have body language and tone of voice to help the other person decide how to interpret what you say.  You really have to be more careful around Internet friends if you want to keep them.  At least in the real world, if you unintentionally offend, there is the opportunity to run into the other person at the grocery store or while walking the dog and redeem that friendship which does not exist on the 'Net.
       So, in conclusion, with Edward and Gaveston, Philip and Richard,  there was scratching of hairy backsides, there were noxious winds, there were greasy fingers at the dinner table while gesturing wildly and talking but it was so personal in a way that rarely happens anymore.  I may not understand it all but I can respect it for its warmth.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Walter Map and Vampires in the Middle Ages

     The first thing that Bella did in Twilight, upon discovering that her new boyfriend was a vampire, was to go on Wikipedia and look up the word.  After she googled it, of course.  Wikipedia must have updated that entry since Stephanie Meyers looked or she never really looked there because Walter Map was never mentioned in Twilight as an early source of information on vampires. 
     Map is credited with being the earliest Medieval writer to mention vampires in his De Nugis Curialium.  And, no I am not referring to his stories about Bernard de Clairvaux, I mean real bloodsuckers.  St. Bernard was a vegan, when he ate at all. 
     I confess that this was my main reason for taking De Nugis Curialium out of the library.  The vampire stories are in the second division in several stories all titled "Of the Same Apparitions". So what did he say?
     The first story concerns a solider named Edric Wilde, a fine Song of Fire and Ice name if I ever heard one.  At the local ghildhus where people drink, he spotted a group of beautiful otherworldly women and fell in love with one of them. 
     "He had heard of the wandering of spirits, and the troops of demons who appear by night, and the sight of them which bringeth death, Dictinna, and bands of dryads and spectral squadrons..... How they preserve themselves undefiled."
Edric did not care.  He entered the room, seized the one that he wanted and had his way with her.  Then he married her.  William the Bastard, who was the king at this time, summoned the two of them to court so that he might see the beauty of this woman with his own eyes.
     The day came when Edric was angry that his wife was late and threw it in her face that she spent too much time with her sisters.  Whereupon, he no longer had any hold over her and she disappeared but she left the sons that she had with Edric behind.   Map warns of the dangers of incubi and sucubi because they do not all turn out to be decent Christians like Edric's sons. 
     Then Map related a story about a woman who died and was buried but was later discovered by her husband in a field with a band of dancers.  Whereupon he immediately snatched her back.   She had more children with him after this and those children and their descendants were called 'sons of the dead woman'.
     The next story was about a knight and his wife who, every time that they had a baby, found the newborn with its throat cut.  A stranger sat up with them on the fourth birth to watch and caught a woman about to do the wicked deed.  He held her tight and branded her face with the keys to the local church.  The creature flew away weeping and wailing. 
    So, Renesmee was not so unique after all. Logically, there is no reason why Rosalie could not have a baby after she died since others apparently did.  If Edward could get an erection, in  spite of not having a pulse and produce viable sperm, then Rosalie should have been fertile also.  Map's books contained a few more stories about dead women bearing children besides the few that I mention here.  
    It is a shame that Meyer's research did not uncover this wealth of vampire lore but then, this is an author who, when Jacob fled to the Canadian north near Alaska, spoke of not knowing which province he was in as he did not pay attention to 'state lines'.  There are no state lines in Canada, Stephanie.  They are called provinces for a reason.  And those 'provinces' in the far north, they are actually called 'territories' not provinces.
      Speaking of Jacob, Walter Map did tell a few werewolf stories as well.  And so did Boccaccio.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Walter Map on Bernard de Clairvaux

     Walter Map was born c1140 in Hereford County, England.  He was a Welshman by origin but a Norman aristocrat and a friend of Geraldus Cambriensus.  As an aristocrat, he was well placed to travel to high courts and was at the court of Henry II.  Indeed, it is Map who relates that when Henry met Eleanor of Aquitaine that they 'fixed each other with unchaste eyes' in spite of the presence of Eleanor's husband, the king of France, and in spite of rumors that Eleanor had a previous relationship with Henry's father. ( Go Eleanor!!)
     Walter Map's De Nugis Curialium or Courtier's Trifles is the only work confirmed to be his and contains an unusual selection of matters at court, some fables and stories about some extraordinary events.  He is one of the earliest recorders of tales of what eventually came to be called vampires. 
     One rather interesting story in his book is called "Concerning the Origins of the Cistercians".  It seems clear from reading different tales in his book that he does not like the Cistercians.  Hence the founders of this order, he states, were four malcontents from England on the run from a strict Abbot who stumbled onto a good plot of land after their money ran out from partying in France.
     Then he discusses Bernard de Clairvaux, the most famous Cistercian, canonized for his many miracles and piety.  While Map was in Canterbury visiting with the Archbishop Thomas Beckett, two abbots came to see Beckett from Bernard seeking Beckett's support in condemning Peter Abelard and Arnold Brescia.   It is not clear if John of Salisbury was present at this meeting  but he was Beckett's secretary and a pupil and admirer of Abelard. 
     When Map describes Bernard as waxing bright among his followers like Lucifer (the morning star, known to us as the planet Venus) "shineth among the stars of the night",  you wonder if that was not an unfortunate choice of words.  But when the conversation turns to Bernard's many miracles and they start discussing some of his many failures, it becomes clear that Map does not like Bernard either.  I have warm and fuzzy feelings about Map already. 
     The failure that amuses me the most is when Bernard was going to exorcise a man said to be possessed by the devil and asked that the man be released from his chains.  The man immediately began pelting Bernard with rocks with all his might and, when Bernard tried to run away, the man chased him through the streets of Montpellier.  John Planeta, who was the one telling this story, said the 'miracle' was worth remembering because the "sick man was kind and gentle to all, and dangerous to the hypocrite only".  Indeed.
     Map also states that the reasons that the Cistercians were after Arnold Brescia was because he was going around Rome denouncing the clergy there but especially the Pope for their wealth and dining off plates of gold and silver.  Pope Eugenius was a Cistercian and friend of Bernard's; and, as one hand washes the other, Eugenius condemned Abelard and Bernard condemned Arnold.  So, everyone was happy except those who were condemned to death.  Abelard recanted to avoid execution but Arnold's mouth was stopped only when they hanged him.

Beatles Song of the Week

Cum elephanta et arma in silva densa tigrim quaerere venit,
Praecavere semper eam matrem tulit,
Totus Americanus, caput cuspidium, filius Saxonarum est.
Omnes liberi canunt, 
Altum in silva ubi tigris validissimus est,
?????? et elephantae aliquem incautum exceperant,
Itaque Centurio Mirabilis inter oculos coniecit,
Omnes liberi canunt,
Liberi eum rogaverunt si interficere peccatum non est,
"Non quando ferocitiorem viditur," mater interpellavit.
Si aspectus interficiant, nos pro eo fuisset.
Omnes liberi canunt. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beowulf, part 3

     It is odd that Beowulf survives the massacre on the Rhine river and returns home and is accepted by the community in spite of the death of Hygelac.  The Heroic Code is clear - if your leader dies in battle, you must either avenge him or die trying.  So Beowulf must have done enough before fleeing that he is considered to have avenged Hygelac in spite of the fact that Theudebert survived the battle. 
     He is said to have saved 30 sets of armor and swam across the Rhine with these on his back.  This places a high premium on armor.  Indeed, normally after a battle, the victors strip the armor and weapons from the dead and these are their spoils.  They get to keep the armor of the man they killed.  And, since armor and weapons are expensive and scarce; they wear them and use them.   People remember swords and armor worn by warriors and this causes feud to erupt again when the person who killed a warrior wears this armor or bears the sword of someone they killed where a relative might see and recognize it.
     Armor is important.  This is one thing in the film The Thirteenth Warrior that does not ring true to the past.  Wulfgar and what remains of the thirteen slip into the cave of the Wendol to kill the mother and just discard their armor to be lost forever in a cave where they cannot retrieve it because they are making too much noise with it.    That is a feature of our throw away age where we cast something aside so casually.  They would not have done so.
     I have a habit of snorting at stuff like this in films.  My husband had to sit through 300 while I muttered 'Herodotus didn't say that.  That's not what happened.'  His answer was that he did not care what Herodotus wrote.  Blasphemy!  Beware anyone who wants to sit through a movie with me.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beowulf Revisited

     Every time I go to the video store lately, it seems the animated version Beowulf beckons to me from the shelf.  I am resisting.  The image that I saw of Grendel's mother with Angelina Jolie's face gives me a sinking feeling not unlike the one that I got when I saw ads for the version of Beowulf with Gerard Butler.  Much as Gerard Butler proved in that film and 300 that he was born to wear leather, it was the beautiful witch in the ads that gave me the sinking feeling that seeing the film did not allay. 
     There is no beautiful witch in Beowulf; there is no witch at all but, if there was a witch, Beowulf who was of the Geatish royal family would not have been boinking her.
     Thus far, the movie that I think has the best version of the Beowulf story does not even call itself that. It is The Thirteenth Warrior, starring Antonio Banderas, based on the Micheal Crichton book The Eaters of the Dead.  The producers of this film made a valiant attempt to recreate the time in which Beowulf lived, which would be the sixth century.
     There are several reasons for dating it to this time and one of them was already discussed in my  blog of May 4, here, Beowulf himself was present at this raid and escaped the Franks by swimming the Rhine. After the death of Hygelac, his son Heardred took his place but he was killed soon after by the Swedes.  This is when Beowulf became the king of the Geats and ruled for 50 winters before dying while killing a dragon which had been ravaging his country.
     In Beowulf, there are more reasons for dating the visit to Heorot at about 520 A.D. (for arguments for this date, see Tolkien's Finn and Hengest), such as the story that a minstrel sings at the banquet to celebrate Beowulf''s victory over Grendel.   This is the song about a fight at Finnsburg where Hengest avenges the death of Hnaef, who is probably the great-uncle of Hrothgar.  Some short time after this battle (c. 452 A.D.), Hengest left the continent for England to participate in the Saxon conquest of the island.  This makes Beowulf possibly a contemporary of Arthur, since the battle of Badon Hill is estimated to be circa 500 A.D. (see timeline in sidebar).
     Most etymologies list the meaning of the name Beowulf as "Bee-Wolf" but I prefer the alternative in Brewer's Guide to Phrase and Fable which suggests that the name means "War Wolf" from the OE word for war, beadu.  Beowulf's name is probably a title or a nickname of a sort since he does not appear in Jordanes History of the Goths or Gregory's history.  Indeed, he does not appear under that name in any history which is why he is usually considered a fictitious character.  One would think someone who ruled for so long would have been mentioned somewhere else and Cassiodorus, Jordanes, Gregory and possibly Procopius as well were all alive when Beowulf is said to have fought and killed a dragon. 
     This is what I enjoyed about The Thirteenth Warrior:  they account for Grendel, his mother and even the dragon in a way that makes them possible in this world.  I will not spoil the movie for those who have not seen it yet.  Of course there is a large gap of time ( 50 years +) between the death of Grendel and his mother and Beowulf's death fighting the dragon but it does not spoil the story for me at all.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Vacationing the Medieval Way

      Summer is beginning to take ahold of my brain and I am starting to feel lazy about writing even though I have been reading more of Gregory of Tours and Procopius.  So this seems like a good time while everyone is in vacation mode or looking for cool ideas for vacation to suggest a vacation that was very popular in the Middle Ages:  The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella
     According to Clifford Bachman, "in the mid-ninth century Christians discovered in Santiago what they believed to be the body of St. James", the apostle.  This quickly became a popular pilgrimage site.  Santiago is Spanish or Latin for Saint James and Compostella is Latin based meaning 'field of stars'.  Interestingly, it appears to be what the Spanish call the Milky Way.
     There were several rallying points for pilgrims undertaking the walk.  Some of the more popular ones were Vezelay and Le Puy, where there were famous cathedrals.  The path takes you near Roncesvalles, where Roland died,  and past many sites that were pagan shrines before they were Christianized.  According to the entry on Wikipedia, Santiago was supposed to be the place where the souls of the dead gathered to follow the sun across the sea in Celtic legend.
    From St. Jean Pied de Port it is 780 km to Santiago, so it is not a vacation for the faint of heart.  People undertook the walk as penance for their sins.  The walk has become popular again as people want to do something different for vacation besides lounge around at a beach and to prove that you did walk the whole length, people brought back local items that they could only have gotten in Santiago or in towns along the way.  This is the origins of the souvenir.   These days, you can buy a passport and get stamped along the way. 
    This website,  has all the routes mapped out with photographs submitted by people who have walked the entire distance.  It has tips and more to get you excited or interested about doing something different like this.  I hope to do the pilgrimage myself someday.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Women

     I was reading a book recently called Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski and I was struck by something the author wrote about one little line in Herodotus that struck him, as well. Or maybe I noticed it because he made so much of it.  I know that Herodotus is an ancient Greek writer and Kapuscinksi was writing about his experiences as a foreign correspondent in the latter half of the 20th century.  What has this to do with the Middle Ages? Very little except that the treatment of women then was often equally shocking.
     While Kapuscinski commented on the horrors of the past contrasted with the banality of evil today, he spend an entire page mulling over the significance of this one line from Herodotus's description of Babylon's rebellion against the rule of the Persian Darius.
     "The revolt had been long and carefully planned.... When the moment finally came to declare their purpose, the Babylonians, in order to reduce the consumption of food, herded together and strangled all the women in the city - each man exempted only his mother, and one other woman whom he chose out of his household to bake his bread for him."
Herodotus made no further comment on this atrocity but Kapuscinksi had much to say.  It is to his credit that the act of murdering  all of the females in a city horrifies and haunts him.  We have at least made some progress. Another man might say "but this is war".
     Even a culture like that of the Celts where women had rights of succession, divorce and the ability to be judges and warriors had incidents like the one Herodotus mentioned.  Julius Caesar, in his The Gallic War, wrote about something similar. 
    The Gauls, of what would later be France,  were rebelling against the Romans.  Nothing in particular set them off, like the Babylonians, they did not want to remain under foreign rule and pay foreign taxes.  A charismatic leader, Vercingetorix, who succeeded in uniting them,  came along and the battle was joined.  At first the war went well; Caesar suffered the only military defeat in his life at Gergovia.  But, while the Gauls were under siege at Alesia, it was taking too long for reinforcements to arrive and supplies were running low for the besieged.  Vercingetorix expelled all women, children, old and infirm hoping the Romans would take them in and feed them, putting pressure on their supplies.  Caesar refused to take them or let them pass so as to put pressure on Vercingetorix.  He wrote no more about them but, in the footnotes, it is added that Cassio Dio did report on the outcome.  They all died, all of them, trapped in the no man's land between the two armies.  Their fathers, sons, brothers, husbands listened to their cries for mercy until one by one they all perished from hunger and thirst. These were not just adult women; there were children in the group. 
     The move failed.  Alesia fell and Vercingetorix was taken prisoner and executed in Rome.  The Babylonians lost as well and three thousand of their most prominent citizens were impaled as punishment.  Let that be a warning.  The gods hate those who would murder their women. 
    Were the Middle Ages any better?  The Babylonian story puts me to mind of The Avowing of Arthur where five hundred men under siege had but three laundresses to be their servants and fulfill their sexual needs.  With odds like these, one would think the women had their hands full but still they were jealous of each other and plotted to murder each other.  Baudewyn, who was telling this story to Arthur, let the last woman live, in spite of the fact that she slit the throat of one of the other women, because they still needed someone to do their laundry and service them sexually.  Would the murders carry more weight if it had been a knight she had killed?  Or would the need to have someone wash their clothes matter more than anyone's life?  One has to wonder what would have happened to the Babylonian women when there was no more bread to bake.
      According to Clifford Bachman, who wrote the excellent The Worlds of Medieval Europe, by the seventh or eighth century, women began to receive gentler treatment.  In times of famine, families practised infanticide usually killing the female children, leaving a severe shortage of women over time.  Rather like the shortage China will be experiencing in the near future.  With women dying in childbirth and the "growing popularity of convent life" (don't wonder why), the value of women went up so that the groom was paying a dowry to his wife.  He also gave her a 'morning gift' to compensate her for her loss of virginity. 
    However, the threat of sexual violence was such that women were in danger if they strolled out of their houses.   Bachman relates an account by Paul the Deacon, that certain Lombard women put raw chicken under their 'bras' so that, when it putrified it gave off a foul odor.  When the Avars tried to rape them, they found the stench too unbearable to proceed.   
      When I look around and still see cultures that value women so little as the Babylonians valued theirs, it horrifies me.  Of course I am a woman and I am the one who would be valued less than cattle, a loaf of bread or taxes.  Or my daughter would be the one because I at least can cook and do laundry.  I have so much more to offer than that; it would be nice to say with confidence that men in our culture, in our age do value us for more than that but I am not certain that this is true.

Beatles Song of the Week

Age, age, age, age,
Age gaudium tale est,
Age, cape otium,
Cape otium, cape otium
Omni aliquid celare habent praeter meum et simiam.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bohemond of Taranto

     Bohemond was one of the leaders of the First Crusade.  In fact, he was the leader of the First Crusade until they took Antioch.  After he claimed that city for his own, he settled down to empire building and went no further.  This is why Godfrey de Bouillon  is held to be the leader of the Crusade.
     He was named Mark when he was born but because of his size, even as an infant, he was renamed Bohemond for   
Boamundus Gigas the giant.         Siege of Antioch, Wikipedia
The Gestae Francorum
written by an anonymous supporter of Bohemond, gives an account of the Crusades from the Frankish point of view.  An opposing point of view is put forth by Anna Comnena in her Alexiad
     Anna Comnena was the eldest child of the Emperor Alexius in Constantiople and was well placed to observe all of the players as they passed through the imperial court. It has been frequently noted that she was fascinated by Bohemond and, as a result of this fascination, we have one of the few full physical descriptions of a historical character.  It is amusing to me that , in paintings he is often depicted with long hair and a moustache (like in this engraving by Gustave Dore) , even a beard, when Anna clearly states that he was so clean shaven she could only guess at the color of his beard. He also kept his hair short, in contrast with his Frankish allies.  Anna refers to them variously as Franks and Kelts but Bohemond was neither of these.  
     His father, Robert Guiscard, was a Norman.  His brother was Roger II of Sicily and, although Anna comments on his low birth, Bohemond was married to Constance, the sister of the King of France,  Louis VI.  The First Crusade was largely a Frankish campaigning so Anna can be forgiven for being mistaken.  The king himself could not participate because he was excommunicated at the time. 
     As a younger brother, with no kingdom to inherit, he saw the Crusades as an opportunity to carve out a kingdom for himself.  At first, he and his father set their sights on Constantinople; thinking that it was in a weakened state and ripe for picking, although the call to arms was not just to recover Jerusalem but to save the Christian Byzantine empire from attacks by the Turks.  This is why Anna despises Bohemond; he was an enemy of her father.
      In spite of that, she says "the sight of him inspired admiration, the mention of his name terror."  He was a "full cubit over the tallest man".  Indeed, she wrote that the man who brought him in as a prisoner to the emperor barely come up to his buttocks.  Bohemond was "perfectly proportioned" with very white skin, light brown hair, and pale blue eyes. "in him both courage and love were armed, both ready for combat".  She mentions on several occasions that he has large nostrils, which is Medieval for big nostrils, big..........  Like large hands, which he also had.
      Shortly after the Crusaders had taken Antioch, they were besieged by Turks.  The Gestae Francorum relates how they were in dire straits since they had only just won the city through siege and supplies were low.  A priest had a vision that the spear of Longinus was buried in Antioch and the angel who came to him had shown him where it was buried.   It was duly excavated and carried before them while they mounted an assault on the Turks and defeated them. 
      Bohemond became the Prince of Antioch and one of the possessors of the "Spear of Destiny".  Ownership of this spear is supposed to confer invincibility in battle, Bohemond as a ferocious warrior was a fitting owner of the spear.  Others who are said to have owned it are Theodosius, Alaric, Charles Martel, Charlemagne, Frederic Barbarosa, and, mostly infamously, Adolf Hitler. There is more than one spear that is claimed to be the spear. If it sounds a little like the Elder Wand or the "Wand of Destiny" from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that is no accident.  If you doubt that, consider this: the Peverell brother who owned it first was called Antioch. 
      Bohemond enjoyed a long and exciting career, too long to cover here but perhaps this will pique your interest enough to read more.  He died in Apula in 1111, at the age of 53, leaving his principality to his son, Bohemond II.  The spear that was found in Antioch was taken by the Turks when Antioch fell and is now in the museum of a monastery in Echmiadzin. 

Beatles Song of the Week

Vir Alienus verus est,
In Terra Aliena sedet,
Omnes consilium alienum pro nemone capet.
Non opinionem habet, 
Non scit ubi agit,
Estne similiter cum te et meo?
Vir Alienus, placebisne audire,
Quod amissis non scis, 
Vir Alienus, mundus tibi imperare est.
Caecus cum potente est,
Solum quod volet videre videt,
Vir Alienus potestne meum omnino videre?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why was Gregory of Tours wrong about Amalasuntha?

      Considering that he is an otherwise reliable source, it must be strange to see this passage on Theodoric's daughter that has no basis in fact except the part that she was murdered, possibly  by complicity with the empress Theodora, by her cousin, Theodat.  Why do I say Gregory of Tours is wrong?
       There are three other historians with first hand knowledge of the situation in Ravenna.  There is Cassiodorus, who was Theodoric's and then Amalasunth's secretary.  His History of the Goths did not survive but many of his letters did and they support much of what Jordanes put in his abbreviated version of the history.  Jordanes was writing at the court of Constantinople about fifteen years after Cassiodorus left Ravenna and moved to Constantinople.  Jordanes had contact with people who had first hand knowledge of the events in Ravenna, especially since Amalasuntha's daughter Mathesuntha had moved to Constantinople with her husband Germanus, nephew of the emperor, Justinian.
      The last historian was Procopius, who was the legal adviser to Justinian's general Belisarius, the man who was sent to Ravenna to punish Theodat.  It is not known if Procopius accompanied Belisarius on this campaign but he had accompanied him on others so it is possible that he was there also. 
     Gregory was born about five years after Amalasuntha died and he was a Frank not a Goth.  The Ostrogoths were Arians, on the wrong side of the Trinity debate to Gregory, but still Gregory does not give such an unflattering and erroneous portrait of other Ostrogoths.  There is no doubt that he is wrong.  Amalasuntha not only married a prince like her parents wanted her to but she had children, which Gregory denies.  She is also the niece of Clovis, whom Gregory approved of .  It is so strange. 

Beatles Song of the Week

Pro commodum Milvorum Papyraceus,
Spectaculum hodie nocte in petaurum erit,
Hendersoni toti illic erunt,
Recens Pablorum Fanquorum de nundino.
Quam spectaculum!

Super viros et equos et trochos et rebus,
Et ultime per cado de flamma vera!
Sic M.P mundum provocabit.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Amalasuntha, Daughter of the King

     Amalasuntha died around 534 AD, strangled in her bath according to Jordanes. Procopius agrees she was murdered.  You may ask who was Amalasuntha and why do we care.  I shall try to answer that.
     She was firstly the daughter of Theodoric the Great, the Ostrogoth King of Italy.  When Theodoric died, his throne passed on to Amalasuntha's son, Athalaric, a sickly lad of ten.  The kingdom had peace for eight years under his rule and the regency of his mother but it was not to last.  Athalaric died at the age of eighteen, leaving his mother alone to rule the kingdom.  His father Eutharic had died before Theodoric.   The Goths were not disposed to follow the rule of a woman even the daughter of Theodoric the Great so Amalasuntha asked her cousin Theohadad, who was the king of Tuscany, to be her co-ruler.  He immediately exiled her, seized her throne and, within a few days, Jordanes related, he had her strangled in her bath. 
     Procopius also had a few things to say about Amalasuntha since her father had been fostered at the court in Constantinople and the rule of Italy had been conferred on Theodoric and his family by the Byzantine emperor.  They were under his protection and, after the death of Amalasuntha and Athalaric, Mathesuentha moved to Constantinople with her second husband Germanus, the nephew of Justinian. 
     Procopius would never accuse the empress Theodora during his lifetime.  Far too risky.  He wrote about it in his Secret History that was not published until after his death.  He wrote that Amalasuntha was planning to move to Constantinople and Theodora sent a man to assassinate her before she could arrive and possibly become a rival for the emperor's affections.  Amalasuntha was still young and beautiful, a widow and the daughter of a king.  
     This could have been the case because Amalasuntha's mother was Audofleda, the sister of Clovis and the oft warring Merovingian kings were her cousins.  Yet they seemed to do nothing about her murder but Justinian, the emperor, took this opportunity to launch an invasion to reclaim Italy. 
     Faced with the large and well armed Byzantine army, the Goths deposed Theohadad and chose his armor bearer, Vitiges, as his replacement.  Theohadad then fled and was pursued and killed by Vitiges's men.  Vitiges then married the last surviving member of Theodoric's family, Amalasuntha's daughter Mathesuentha, and prepared to defend Italy against the Byzantines. 
     Where is Gregory of Tours account in all of this since it involves a member of the Merovingian clan?  He does write an account of Amalasuntha but it is slanderous and full of malice towards her.  Amalasuntha was a virtuous woman, whose mother died of old age before she did.  She married a prince willingly and had two children with him but Gregory says nothing about that.  He wrote that she was a wicked woman who ran off with a slave and murdered her mother and that Theodat (as he named him) was the avenger who did right to have her killed.  Gregory also wrote that Childebert, Lothar, and Theudebert did demand wergeld from Theodat for her death, not that they cared but that it was an opportunity for a cash grab. 
    One has to wonder why a good Christian man like Gregory would formulate such lies about Amalasuntha when it is a sin to do so.  I read one suggestion that it may have been because she was a member, like most Goths, of the Arian sect and if there is one thing Gregory clearly despises it is a heretic especially the Arians.  This story may have been just to discredit one more Arian since it is probably not a sin if you lie for the purpose of turning people towards the true faith. 
     Now for the second question, why do we care?  There are lines in Jordanes, sec. XLVIII, 
"For his son Beremud, as we have said before, at last grew to despise the race of the Ostrogoths because of the overlordship of the Huns, and so had followed the tribe of the Visigoths to the western country, and it was from him Veteric was descended.  Veteric also had a son Eutharic, who married Amalasuentha, the daughter of Theodoric, thus uniting again the stock of the Amali which had divided long ago."
If Tolkien was in part inspired by Jordanes, compare those lines with this line from Appendix A in Return of the King, " ... Arwen and Aragorn.  By the last the long-sundered branches of the Half-elven were reunited and their line was restored."  I had a thought that Eutharic might have been the historical Aragorn, he is a descendant of Theodoric the Visigoth who stood with the last might of Rome to repel Attila the Hun,  but nothing else about him fits.  But, if he were Aragorn, then Amalasuntha would be Arwen.  I guess they were just one more ingredient that went into the soup.   The search for Aragorn still goes on.

From Wikipedia:
"The Amali were one of the leading dynasties of the Goths, a Germanic people who confronted the Roman Empire in its declining years in the west.  They were also called the Amals, Amaler, or Amaling and were at one point considered highest in rank among Gothic fighters and royal dignity.  According to Gothic legend, the Amali were descended from an ancient hero whose deeds earned him the title of Amala or 'mighty'."  Beren One-Hand, anyone?

Beatles Song of the Week

Te amat, heia, heia, heia!
Te amat, heia, heia, heia!
Cogitas tuum amorem amissis,
Certe eam heri vidi,
Dicit te amat,
Et scis mallum non est.
Heia, te amat,
Et scis laetus sis. 
Dixit eam multum nocuis,
Paene eam mentum amissit,
Et nunc dicit ea scit,
Genus qui nocere non es,
Dicit te amat,
Et scis malum non est,
Dicit te amat,
Et scis laetus  sis.
Te amat, heia, heia, heia......

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cato and Cautinus, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum

    In the early days of the Catholic church, rules had not been fully established and enforcement was weak for those that did exist.  A Wild West attitude permeated the offices of the clergymen and Tombstone was Clermont-Ferrand.

     When the Bishop of Clemont-Ferrand, Saint Gall, died, a rivalry began between two local priests for the succession.  The first, Cato, Tweedle-Dee, received the nomination by the local clergy.  The bishops who had come to Saint Gall's funeral agreed with this choice and gave it their blessing.
     At that time, the king had the right to make these appointments, but the king Theudebald was rather young, having succeeded his father at the age of 13.  Gregory does not appear to have approved of Cato, writing that he "was a man filled with self-esteem and silly self-admiration".  Harsh words.   Indeed when Cato received the bishops' blessings, his response was that he deserved this appointment as he had always been properly religious: fasting, giving alms, holding up the dignity of the priesthood, etc..  I suppose he was expected to grovel and exclaim that he was not worthy because the bishops went on their way home cursing him for his pride.
     Tweedle-Dee did not get along with his Arch-Deacon Cautinus, Tweedle-Dum.  For some reason, he threatened him with disgrace and death.   So Cautinus went to King Theudebald and informed him that Saint Gall had died and the Bishoporic of Clermont-Ferrand was vacant.  For this service, the king gave the appointment to Cautinus in spite of the fact the bishops had already blessed Cato.  Since Cato had all these terrible flaws, it might seem that the better man had won.  Or had he?
     Gregory went on to relate what Tweedle-Dum made of his position.   Cato refused to submit to the new bishop; so he and his friends were stripped of all church benefits, leaving them unable to feed themselves.   Anyone willing to come over to Cautinus's side would have all their holdings back so many did.  Then Cautinus went on to drink heavily and in public, steal land, go to court to steal land, and buried one Anastasius alive to steal his land.  He would not bother with books, consorted with Jews and left the city to save himself when the plague broke out.  
    Cato, meanwhile, was offered the bishoporic of Tours, which he turned down.  It was probably proposed by Cautinus to get rid of him.  Gregory does write that, when the plague broke out, while Cautinus fled, Cato stayed and ministered to the people until the plague killed him too. That is why he is Tweedle-Dee and not Tweede-Dum.

Beatles Song of the Week

Semel puellam habui, aut ego dicam, 
Semel me habuit. 
Eam cellam ad me monstravit, estne bona, lignum de Via Borea.
Manere me rogavit et alicubi sedere dixit,
Tunc circum aspexi et non sellam fuit cognovi,
Stragulum supersedi, meum tempus opperior, eum vinum bibebam. 
Usque ad hora secundus locuti sum et tunc "Tempus pro lecto est" dixit.
Laboravit mane me dixit et ridere incepit,
Non egi eam dixi et dormire in solo procul repsi.
Et ut excitavi, solus fui, hac avis voleraverat,
Tunc flammam concepi, estne bona, lignum de Via Borea. 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Don't Throw The Engineer Out With The Water

    The story of Urbicus, whose wife stood outside the church house screaming for him to come out and give her sex as is her right, is funny.  Almost as funny is the story of an invasion of Vienne by Gundobad.
     Gundobad and Godigisel were two brothers who were fighting each other to take each other's land.  They were not Franks but Clovis kept encouraging them to fight probably hoping they would kill each other and then he would take both lands.  Gundobad marched on Vienne, which was held by his brother, put it under a siege.  When the stocks of food in the city began to run low, Godigisel, fearing there would not be enough for himself and he might have to miss a meal, rounded up a bunch of people that he considered superfluous and booted them out to be killed, enslaved, whatever. 
     One of the people, he kicked out was the city engineer; who was understandably pissed off.  So, this fellow told Gundobad how he might sneak into the city through the aquaduct.  He lead them personally through the system. Vienne fell to the besiegers.  Almost everyone inside, except the Franks, was put to the sword, including Godigisel.  The Germanic tribes were never very shy about kinslaying.  This land became part of the Burgundy of the Nibelungs. 
     There is a lesson here.  If you are the leader of a city that is being attacked, you should have a list of people who are too important to leave outside the city walls and make sure that none of the people on that list end up there.   Or their families. 
    Clovis had social opportunities to mess with Godigisel's and Gundobad's heads since their niece, Clothide was his wife. 
From Gregory Book II, section 33

Beatles' Song of the Week

Per fenestra latrinae intus venit,
Ab cocleare argentum protectus est, 
Sed nunc eam pollicem sugit et errat,
Ad ripis ipse lacunae. 

Dixitne eam aliquis?
Viditne aliquis?
Dies Solis Dies Lunae phonice vocat,
Dies Martis me phonice vocat. 

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lord of the Rings and the King of the Visigoths

     I was posting a comment on a blog about Harry Potter when one of the people said that they like HP because they could imagine someone like McGonagall walking down the road.  Real but hidden to us.  That person could not imagine Aragorn walking down that same street.
  You would not find him strolling along some city street today because he lived 1,500 years ago in the Heroic Age of Beowulf, Arthur, and Siegfried.  The more I read Old English literature, the more I see where J.R.R. Tolkien got his material from.
    Tolkien wrote an essay first published in 1964 called "On Fairy Stories".   In it he wrote this wonderful metaphor for story being a kind of soup.  
     "Speaking of the history of stories and especially of fairy-stories, we may say that the Pot of Soup, the Cauldron of Story, has always been  been boiling, and to it have continually been added new bits, dainty and undainty." 
As we know, those of us who cook, the very best and most flavorful soups are made from the scraps in the kitchen and not something carefully planned out from a recipe book needing a trip to the grocery store. 
     "But if we speak of a Cauldron, we must not wholly forget the Cooks.  There are many things in the Cauldron but the Cooks do not dip the ladle quite blindly.  Their selection is important.  The gods are after all gods, and it is a matter of some moment what stories are told of them."  Indeed.
     When Tolkien was writing his stories of Midgaard/Middle Earth, he too was dipping in his ladle and choosing his bits, some were Scandinavian, some were Celtic, some were from history and some were from myth.  Many were from the Anglo-Saxons; it was after all where he made his living and reputation as a scholar.  In the few works that remain of the Anglo-Saxons, I may not have found Aragorn but I think I have found his ally Theoden in Theodoric I, King of the Visigoths.
     Gregory of Tours said little about him except that he was one of the few to heed the call and stand beside Aetius, Patrician of Rome, against the Scourge of God, Attila the Hun.  It is clear in many ways that the Numenorians are based on the Romans but it is difficult to say if Aetius's role in the battle mirrors Aragorn's or Denethor.  He was a steward of a sort in the fading of the empire but he fought on the field gloriously and survived. 
     Jordanes can tell us more.  He called Theodoric Theodorid.  So why not say he was Theoden's son Theodred?  Theodoric and Theoden died in the same way and were about the same age.  While Attila was advancing on the walled city of Orleans, burning and plundering after the manner of orcs, Aetius and Theodoric gathered together a last alliance of tribes, the last major battle of a united Roman empire.  They stopped his advance in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, like the king of the Nazgul was stopped in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
     The Visigoth king would not be outdone in courage by his men and rode ahead of them all.  He was thrown from his horse, like Theoden, and died trampled by the horses of his men rather than by his own horse.  His son, not a nephew, Thorismud pursued the enemy so far into the field that he wandered into Attila's camp on the way back and had to fight his way out, like Eomer's heedless rush at the enemy.
     When they found the body of Theodoric "where the dead lay thickest"(Jordanes), they bore his body away with songs in the sight of the enemy while the battle raged on around them, exactly like Theoden was carried from the field.  Unlike in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, this enemy, Attila, lived to flee and find his death later overexerting himself with a young bride but not before facing Thorismud in battle and being defeated by him. One cannot imagine the leader of the Nazgul dying in this way.
     There are other parallels.  The death of the Witch King of Angmar had been foretold in the North.  Attila, through fear of Aetius, consulted shamen to have them prophesize what the outcome of the battle would be.  He was told one of the leaders of the armies would die that day.  He risked the battle hoping it would be Aetius
     Attila had allies in the Ostrogoths, the Goths of the East, which is why the king of the Ostrogoths is at his court in the Nibelungenlied.  Since they come from the East, these could be compared to the Black Numenorians who fought against their kin from the West.  Visigoth simply means Goth of the West.
     One last similarity between the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains and the Battle of the Pelennor field is the presence of an army of the dead. While I must track down the original source to confirm this, in E.A. Thompson's book The Huns, he quotes a scholar, Damascius, who wrote that the fighting between the Roman alliance and the Huns was so severe that only the leaders and a few followers survived.  Jordanes gives the numbers of the dead as 165,000.  The battle raged so fiercely that those who were killed did not realize they were dead and went on fighting for three days.  The clash of their ghostly arms could be heard by the living. 
I do not yet know who Aragorn was but I will.  For he lived; more surely than did McGonagall, he lived. 

Beatles Song of the Week

Via Cyancitta Cristata

Illuc nebulam super Urbe Angelorum est,
Et mei amici viam suam perierant, 
Erimus in illo loco mox diximus,
Nunc in vicem ipsi perierant.

refrain:  Amabo, non este tardi,
Amabo, non este perquam tardi,
Amabo, non este tardi,
Aut sim dormiens.

Bene solum agit monstrare,
Et dixi eos ubi agere,
Vigiliam in viam rogare,
Est tot ibi convenire,

Nunc est ultra horam somnorum intellego,
Et vero agere amo,
Mox prima lux erit,
Hic in Via Cyancitta Cristata sedeo. 

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Theodoric, AKA Dietrich von Bern

This is going to be the summer of Gregory for me.  I have not gotten past Book II yet and I have a new topic that will stretch on and on to Germanic legends and is hinted at in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.  To deal with this in full will require more than one installment since I prefer not to write long essays and risk boring you. That being said, I will press on with this week's topic: Theodoric I, King of the Ostrogoths.

Theodoric I

      There are two Theodorics in Gregory of Tours's history - the king of the Visigoths, and the king of the Ostrogoths, both of whom lived in the fifth century.  One of them, or perhaps it took parts of both, became in legend Dietrich Von Bern, the man who Kriemhild asks to avenge Siegfried by killing Hagen in The Song of the Nibelungs
     The Song of the Nibelungs is like Beowulf in which there is a powerful and noble warrior famed for his deeds as well as his dragon.   Like Beowulf, certain characters in the story were people who were confirmed to have existed like Attila the Hun, called Etzel in this story.  This is where the subject becomes larger than I can cover in one half page of writing - identifying and discussing the other people in the Nibelunglied who have a place in history and their mutation into the subjects of fable.  The Nibelungs are also known by another more recognizable name: Burgundians. 
     Details about the other Theodoric may have crept into the legend of Dietrich because it was he that fought Attila the Hun at the Battle of the Fields of Cataluanian, called that in Jordanes's history but named as the Fields of Moirey by Gregory.  This Theodoric died in the battle, which strongly calls to mind the death of Theoden in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.  He is notable for another reason and that is that he is the son and heir of Alaric, the Visigoth whose sacking of Rome in 410 A.D. heralded the beginning of the period we call the Middle Ages.
     The Ostrothic Theodoric had a daughter Araigna, who he married to Sigismund, the King of Burgundy. Araigna resembles in no way the name of Kriemhild but the father of the legendary Siegfried is called Siegmund.  Since there is no standard spelling for names and things; spelling varies a great deal depending on the writer at this time.  However the Nibelungenlied calls this Siegmund 'King of the Netherlands' and his son Siegfried is born in Xanten along the Rhine, now part of Germany.  To this I would add that Clovis's queen, Clotild, was a Burgundian princess and the history of the Merovinians may have been added to the soup.
     Gregory had little to say about either Theodoric.  To know more, you have to turn to Jordanes's The Origins and Deeds of the Goths, a book written around 551 A.D. probably in Constantinople.  It is a summary of a multi-volume work by the scholar Cassiodorus in the service and at the court of Dietrich.   The history written by Cassiodorus is lost and all that remains now is the summary written by Jordanes as a favor to a friend.
     If you wonder what happened to many of these books, look no further than the book burners at the Catholic Church.  "What has Ingeld to do with Christ?" was the famous pronouncement of Alcuin of York.  the Church burned many a book that they deemed was not suitably Christian in nature.  St. Patrick of Ireland himself destroyed 71 books!  I find it ironic that a man, whose life is so celebrated in Ireland, did so much to destroy its culture and heritage.  I cannot bring myself to drink green beer anymore since I read about this in a preface to a book by Peter Berresford Ellis.

I am stopping here but there clearly is more to say on the topic of both Theodorics.

Beatles Song of the Week

"Fuit viginti anni abhinc hodie,
Centurion Piper docuit symphoria ludere,
Agebant interior et exterior moris,
Sed sponsi sunt subrisum tollere.
Tunc licet ad vos tradere,
Actores sciebatis pro omnibus his annis, 
Centurion Piperi  Cordum Solitariorum Symphonia."

Sunday, May 4, 2008


      This week, I am writing about Beowulf.  What has Beowulf to do with Gregory of Tours you might ask.  The answer would rest in Book III, subsection 3, which describes a raid on the Franks by a Danish king, Cholchilaich.
     This 'Danish' king is also known by his Old English name Hygelac, which you might remember is the name of Beowulf's uncle and king.  Gregory described the disastrous raid into the Frisian land and how Hygelac was killed along the Rhine.
    I own several copies of Beowulf and, in the one translated by Burton Raffel, he mentions, in the afterword, that these raids were confirmed by two other sources without naming them.  He also states that Gregory was born less than one generation after this raid.  My copy of The History of the Franks, gives a birth date of c.539 for Gregory and a N.F.S. Grundtvig dates this raid c. 516.  I have seen estimates of an even later date for the raid so it appears that Gregory was born shortly after.
     The lines 2910-2921 of Beowulf lament the death of Beowulf because, once the Franks and the Frisians become aware of his death, they will revive their old quarrel with the Geats that was begun by Hygelac's raiding along the Rhine.
     Gregory relates that Hygelac stayed by the shore until all the loot and slaves were loaded onto the ships and safely at sea.  The Merovingian Theuderic, Clovis's son by a concubine, sent his son Theudebert to kill him.  Theudebert was successful, of course, and Hygelac's fleet was defeated and all the booty returned to shore.

the copy of The History of the Franks that I am using is the Penguin Classics, translated by Lewis Thorpe. 

Beatles' song of the week
This week, I am going to leave the name mentioned in it blank because it probably makes it a bit too easy if I left it in. But it does translate in Latin well, ie. keeps it rhythm.

"Heus _____, facisne malum,
Carmen triste cape et melius fac. 
Memento, eam in corem tibi permittere,
Tunc incipium melius facere potes."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gregory of Tours, Clovis

      Book II from the History of the Franks deals with the beginning of the Merovingian dynasty.  It is very clear after reading just a few lines that these people cannot possibly be the descendants of Jesus, as is claimed in the Da Vinci Code.
     Roman consular lists mention a Clodio, who is one of the Kings of the Franks, the long-haired kings.  Merovech, one of his descendants, was the father of Childeric and gave his name to the dynasty.  Childeric is described by Gregory as being King of the Franks, whose private life was one long debauch. 
     Gregory also described the conversion of Clovis since, up until around 496 A.D., the family had been firmly pagan.  But, Clovis married a Christian woman who worked tirelessly to convert her husband to her faith.  She had their first son baptized and he promptly died, leading Clovis to declare it was a bad religion.  Their second son was baptized and nearly died, but Clotild prayed and Chlodomer survived.  It was not a good sign.
      In spite of this, when a battle with the Alamanni was going against Clovis, he decided to try this god and promised to be baptized if Jesus would  assist him in slaughtering his enemies.  Because Jesus enjoys a good bloodbath, do you not know, Clovis won and was immediately baptized.  His sister decided to be baptized too and died right after.  It makes you wonder what was in the water. 
     One might think Clovis had a hand in these deaths but female relatives were generally safe.  It was all his male relatives and possible competitors for the throne that he had murdered. Which is part of why this dynasty died out in the end:  they kept killing each other.

Beatles's song of the week

This one was hard to translate because of things in it which did not exist in Classical Rome. I did my best.  I am sure it won't be hard to guess anyway.

Pulchra Rita, vigilia stativae mercedis,
Nihil inter nos venire potest,
Ubi obscurum decet, corem tibi abstraho. 

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gregory of Tours

  Opening lines have to be the toughest.  I have been thinking and writing and writing and thinking, wanting my first blog to be a dazzler. 
  My summer reading project - well, I have several but the one on the top of my list - is Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks.  While other moms are at the beach reading the National Enquirer or the latest from the Oprah book club, I will be reading about the adventures of Fredegund, which are far more salacious.  I may have read the entire book before then if I get really into it.  I have already begun.  This very morning, while my kids were having a swimming lesson, I sat outside with my Ipod on and reading the Introduction, Preface and Book I.
  Gregory begins with a declaration of faith.  Heresy was a serious business; you would not want to be caught on the wrong side of that law.  In his Preface, Gregory declared that he was a true Catholic and did not believe in the Arian or the Pelagian heresies. 
   The Pelagian heresy is especially interesting since it appears to be winning in the long haul.  During the Middle Ages, the temptation of Eve was held to be 'sex' not the 'Knowledge of Good and Evil' but opinion seems to have shifted to the view that eating of the fruit meant acquiring free will and personal responsibility.  Sex was always there; how else were Adam and Eve going to populate the Garden of Eden?  He who laughs last laughs best and hopefully Pelagius is having a good laugh somewhere.
   However, this is not exactly what Pelagius was saying; he spoke rather about Original Sin and that children were born innocent and not tainted with this sin of Eve's.  It is our later actions that make us sinful or not.  We can lay the blame for the anti-Pelagian stand on St. Augustine who lobbied hard for the opinion that we are all dirty swine from the moment we are conceived.  Speak for yourself Augustine; I am as pure as the driven snow. 
  In Book I is the story of the Chaste Lovers and how boring are they?  Especially coming on the heels of section 44 which deals with Urbicus, a Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand who had a legal wife.  The wife decided she needed 'some' and she went over to the church and screamed until he agreed to come and give her some but good. You go girl!  Of course that was the Devil's fault.  After all, what woman in her right mind would be screaming for sex from her husband?

The Beatles in Latin.  
What could be better than a Beatles' song?  Why a Beatles' song in Latin of course.  I will post the answer next week but try to guess which song this is. Just for fun.

Te volo, te volo male, melilla.
Te volo, te volo male,
Eo alienor mente, eo alienor mente.
Ea est gravis.