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.