Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa, baby!

I think a little Latin goes well with Christmas, don't you?

Sancte, bone, sub arbore pellem pone pro me
Bonissimam fueram,
Sancte, bone, sub noctem caminum deorsum rue

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

April Fool

I think I like Gerald of Wales for the same reason that I like Walter Map. He is gossipy and a bit irreverent. He is credited with having written a large number of books, one of which is The Journey Through Wales or Itinerarium Kambriae.
In this book, Gerald mentions a man named Maurice of London. Judging by the name, I think we can safely say that he is of Norman descent. He was given Cydweli Castle in Wales by Henry I and also owned a forest with deer that he was hell bent on keeping from the locals. Gerald does not say where his wife comes from. I wonder if she was Welsh. She played a little trick on him.
Knowing that he was crazy about his deer, she persuaded the household servants and shepherds to join her in playing this joke on him. She told him that he was allowing those deer to run so wild that they were now attacking and killing their sheep and their sheep were being wiped out. To prove her case, she had two stags brought out, in which she had their intestines stuffed with wool. He believed her and set his dogs on those crazy deer. I guess he was a simple minded guy.
Gerald also wrote about another woman: "It is not to be wondered at if a woman bears malice, for this comes to her naturally." Some men just do not understand. :-)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Prester John

I do not have a great deal of time for recreational reading lately but I decided to treat myself to a novel over the Christmas break. You do not expect to find something in Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum that leads to J.R.R. Tolkien but something did. This is, unfortunately, one of those areas where my personal library fails me for research. Although I do have Humphrey Carpenter's biography on Tolkien, my collection of what could be called 'occult' books is restricted to one small volume on the tarot. So I have had to resort to the 'Net. Sorry.
Eusebius of Caesarea is one of the first to mention Prester John, the king of a mythical Eldorado in the East. He did not start off that way. Eusebius was merely distinguishing him from John the Apostle. The legend of a king in the Orient with all the wealth and refinement of the East except that he was one of 'our guys' became current in the Middle Ages, especially during the Crusades. The Crusaders were hoping this king would come with all his splendor and huge armies to rescue the crusade from disaster.
John Mandeville wrote about the kingdom of Prester John in his Travels. Marco Polo also wrote about who he thought Prester John might be. Prester John was supposed to be descended from one of the three Magi and carried an emerald scepter. Prester John is implicated in the search for the grail in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival by being John, the son of Fierefiz and Repanse de Schoye. The introduction to my copy of Parzival avoids mentioning Prester John at all even though the green stone of the grail (lapis exiliis, a stone that has fallen from Heaven), seems to be mirrored in Prester John's emerald scepter. I have read somewhere, forgetting where, that in gnostic writings the emerald was a stone that fell from Lucifer's (who was the true King of the World) crown when he fought with the usurping Demiurge (who we now erroneously worship as God). This is strange territory for Tolkien to be venturing in.
The letter from Prester John that was circulating around in the Middle Ages, claimed that among his treasures which included the Fountain of Youth, was a mirror which allowed the king to see everything that went on in his kingdom. The question now would be, since this would appear to be outside of Tolkien's normal area of study, is how would he even be aware of this mirror? From Charles Williams of course. Williams, who was a member of the Inklings and one of Tolkien's friends, wrote a book called War in Heaven in which Prester John is a protector of the Holy Grail. Williams was a Rosicrucian and was good friends with Evelyn Underhill, who was a member of the Golden Dawn. One has to wonder what this means for Frodo's alias. However, I am going to state that I think the mirror, or mirrors, of Prester John is the inspiration for the palantir. Williams' book was published in 1930, early enough to have influenced Tolkien, and the Medieval legend has been around even longer than that.
The only thing bothering me is that spotting all these little details is beginning to spoil my enjoyment of the novel.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Beatles Song in Latin

Omnes surgamus et a carmen quod erat gratiosum saltemus,
Priusquam tua mater nata est,
Quamquam nata est duitissime,
Tua mater sciat - tua mater sciat.
Id iterum canite,

Cordes vestra levate et me carmen quod erat gratiosum canite,
Priusquam tua mater nata est,
Quamquam nata est duitissime,
Tua mater sciat - tua mater sciat.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

White Tower

When you want a look at a map of the Tower, you tend to want one bad. They are hard to find on the net so I am posting one here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wanting Your Opinion

This is off topic of course, but while reading Sallust's Bellum Catilinae (J.T. Ramsay's edition with many annotations, very excellent and recommended) I started to think that there are many parallels to the situation of Rome at that time and in the U.S. today.
For starters, the U.S. has been accused of imperialist tendencies, debatable but the image is certainly there, and the Romans were definitely guilty of imperialist tendencies.
There was a war in the Middle East. Pompey had been sent to quell unrest by a King Mithridates in Northern Anatolia. Mithridates wanted to overthrow the Roman puppet king of Bithynia and there were pirates in the Mediterranean. The U.S. has a war in the Middle East with people who want to overthrow what are viewed as puppet governments in various countries and there is a pirate problem in the Mediterranean.
Taxes had shot up to pay for the war.
This is a time of huge personal debt, corrupt moneylenders, punitive and unconscionable interest rates. People were crying out for debt relief.
This is where Catiline comes in. He was from an old patrician family, i.e. old money but fallen into hard times. He made a bid for consul and failed to get elected due to Cicero who saw him as an enemy of the republic even though Cicero had no problem representing him in court before this. Catiline decided that the only way he was going to gain control of the government was through armed insurrection. He had a popular following because he was advocating debt relief, redistribution of land and cancellation of debts, something that did not go over well with the powers that be. So you can see where there is a parallel with the U.S., minus the distribution of land of course and the fact that debt relief meant helping the money lenders not the starving borrowers.
Cicero posted a massive reward for anyone willing to turn Catiline in. Not one person did. In the final battle between the Roman forces and Catiline, not one person abandoned the camp. They were very loyal to Catiline and fought to the death, including Catiline, who was found at the front lines in the thick of the battle, covered with wounds but defiant to the last. When Antonius who lead the army against Catiline was later convicted of a crime and executed, people danced in the streets and laid flowers on Catiline's grave.
Caesar was suspected of being sympathetic to Catiline because, when some prominent men had been arrested and Cicero was in a big hurry to get Senate approval to execute them, Caesar gave a brilliant speech that this went against Roman law to execute citizens without due process. When Caesar became dictator, he enacted most of what Catiline had been agitating for.
As well, there is Cato who supported Cicero but was deemed the most virtuous man, impervious to bribery but leading a very conservative faction of Senators, more old money.
I am oversimplifying of course. So question is, and this may be a dangerous question to ask since people do get heated. This is for fun only, but how does Obama fit in? I am sure most Republicans would view him as Catiline, especially as Catiline had been considered almost as spawn of the devil for many centuries. Thinking has shifted on that. Is he Cato, Caesar, Cicero, or Catiline? How do you view Obama if he were a Roman senator? And is it not interesting how similar things may be between two countries separated by culture and 2000 years? Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Let the arguing begin.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

When Does a Boob Become a Charmer?

I have not been here in a while. I am sorry. I have been so busy reading things but I had a thought today which I will share with you. Someone was very kind and send me some study notes but apologized for the roughness of the notes. I thought - only a complete boob would complain about the notes when they were free and unasked for.
This is where the Medieval thoughts come in because my brain works like this: then I thought about Bohemond of Taranto spending those years in an Arabic jail, lucky enough to be alive never mind being ransomed by Alexius, the emperor of Constantinople whose throne he had been trying to topple. Was Bohemond grateful for the rescue? Was he grateful for the nice clothes and the invitation to dinner with gifts attached? He walked in and complained about the accommodations and that the gifts were not suitably lavish. There was a boob.
However, he is a charming rogue too. So I thought that manners are rather like politics, whether you are a rightie or a leftie, when you go far enough in either direction the righties start looking exactly like lefties and vice versa. So it is with boobs and charmers, if you go far enough in either direction, they start looking like each other and this is how Bohemond can still be so rude and yet charming. Now you know why we all like the bad boys.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Beatles Song of the Whenever

Dimidium de qua dico significationem non habet.
Sed dico te capere ______,
______, Oceanitis,
Cano cantum amora,
____, oculus concha, risus ventoso, me vocat.
Crinis ea caeli pendentis splendet,
In sole,
___, ____, luna mane, me tange,
Quando de cora mea non canere possum,
De meo mente loquar.
____, arena dormiens, nimbus taciens,
Cano cantum amora,
hum, hum, hum, me vocat,
Cano cantum amora......

Monday, September 14, 2009

Queen Fredegund's Life Condensed

I was having a chat with a teenaged friend of my daughter's who told me that she did not like history. It was boring. I got out Gregory of Tours History of the Franks because I thought that the story about Queen Fredegund's fights with her daughter Rigunth are very funny and interesting, too. So I looked in the back of the book for the index to find the story I was looking for faster.
Fredegund was one busy girl. Her section in the index goes on for more than a page. A sample of entries go as follows:
- sends two emissaries to assassinate King Sigibert at Vitry
- expelled from Soissons
- is furious when she learns that Merovech has escaped from Anille
- persuades Duke Guntram Boso to lead Merovech into an ambush, but it fails
- tries to infect her stepson Clovis with dysentery
- tortures Clovis's girlfriend and the girl's mother
- has Clovis murdered for alleged conspiracy ( I sense a trend here)
- she and Chilperic have Leudast tortured to death (definitely a trend)
- grief at the death of her son Theuderic
- tortures and kills a number of Parisian housewives for allegedly causing Theuderic's death ( I am shocked)
- tortures Mummolus the Perfect for alleged implications in Theuderic's death ( I am really shocked. Really.)
- takes refuge in the cathedral in Paris when her husband is assassinated (Someone let her in? She knew where a church was?)
- her crimes listed (that probably took a few days)
- she is pregnant again (good grief! She gave birth four months before this and her husband is dead. Who is the daddy? Inquiring minds want to know.)
- rages when she hears how badly Rigunth is being treated
- sends a cleric to assassinate Brunhild
- murders him when he fails (probably would have killed him if he succeeded too)
- wanted Eberulf, King Chilperic's Treasurer, to be her lover (isn't she pregnant? ew!)
- accuses him of having killed Chilperic ( this looks bad)
- encourages Claudius to kill Eberulf (he should have just given in or run away)
- exchanges bitter remarks with Praetextatus ( the saint)
- Praetextatus is murdered in his own cathedral, apparently at the instigation of Fredegund
- she goes to watch him die (Of course. Wouldn't you?)
- poisons one of the Rouennais who says that it is a bad thing to murder bishops (The truth hurts.)
- her endless quarrels with her daughter Rigunth lead to her trying to choke the girl with the lid of Chilperic's treasure-chest (almost killed her, too)
This is just a sample of Fredegund's life as recorded by Gregory of Tours. The teen, that I was reading this to, agreed that this history is not boring. You just have to find something you like.
I think we can safely say that Fredegund burned the candle at both ends. In a cage fight to the death, you have to wonder who would come out alive - Fredegund or the Empress Theodora? I think an empress trumps a queen but that is just me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Beatles Song of the Whenever

Alicubi in montibus nigris.......
Vixit puer cui nomen est Saxosus Satyricus.
Et, una die, mulier aufugit cum alio viro,
Icet Saxoso parvo in oculo. Non placet Saxoso.
Dixit 'vindicabo in illo puero".
Et, una die, ambulat in oppidum,
Adipisci cubiculum in caupona.
Saxosus Satyricus in cubiculum ivit,
Solum librum Gideonis invenit.
Saxosus venierat cum telo paratus erat.
Concidere crures rivalis.
Rivalis, ut videtur, concidit somnos,
Per surripendum puellam prolubi ei.........

Saturday, September 5, 2009


It has been a long time since I reread Lord of the Rings. Having children tends to wreak havoc on the leisure reading time. This summer, I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring because a friend was trying to work on a Latin version for fun and wanted some input.
There was a time when I thought the entire story popped out of J.R.R. Tolkien's imagination. Now that I have read some of the Anglo Saxon texts and histories and even some Celtic ones that he was drawing on for inspiration, I look at the story in a different way as I read it.
After noticing that the tall beans in Tom Bombadil's garden had red flowers, I can name that plant although Tolkien did not. It is a 'heritage' variety of bean called Scarlet Runner Bean, a fitting garden plant for an old relic like Bombadil. It made me wonder if there was a real world equivalent to Kingsfoil in the old Nordic or Saxon tales that Tolkien studied.
I have what I think is a good candidate for athelas and that is Wintergreen, as it was known in the Middle Ages. That name covers a few plants and it was what people once called evergreen plants. The specific variety I have in mind is Chimaphila umbellata. The Oxford English Dictionary gives it an obsolete name of "King's Cure" but that name also applied to pyrola as well. Chimaphila umbellata also goes by the common name of 'Prince's Pine' and was used for treatment of wounds, looking at John Gerard's herbal and not Culpepper this time. It's other advantage is that it has long, slender leaves and it grows in forests.
When Ioreth starts babbling on about it in the Houses of Healing, she mentions that she would come upon it growing in the woods and, when Aragorn went in search of it after the attack on near Weathertop, he had to cross the Road to find it in the thickets to the south. The smell is sweet and pungent and by this he found it in the dark. The Numenoreans brought it to Middle Earth and planted it wherever they camped. The Romans were in some part the inspiration for the Numenoreans so a plant with an association with former Roman camps would be great but not essential. There is no plant in Pliny the Elder's Natural History that would suggest a candidate for Kingsfoil.
It could not possibly be herbs like Basil because that requires full sun and the soil in a forest is too acidic to support the growth of many of our common medicinal herbs. I have learned a thing or two about gardening since I first read LotR as a teenager.
Unfinished Tales and other published notes are not helpful on this point which has lead some bloggers to conclude that this was the only plant invented outright by Tolkien. I will disagree with those people because I think Tolkien always drew upon something in the real world like the Roman mines in Lydney Park inspired Moria and the finding of a gold ring in a well with a curse attached to it inspired the One Ring.
There is a tradition of Prince's Pine having been used as a wound covering by warriors in Anglo Saxon tales but I have yet to come across the tale that names it. Sarassen's Woundwort or Consound also has this reputation; has long, narrow leaves; and grows in forests but Woundwort smells bad. Comfrey or Symphytum Officinale is a contender as is Melilot, called King's Clover by Nicholas Culpepper. Unfortunately King's Clover, although a trefoil and sweet smelling, has the rounded leaves of clover. I believe there is an Athelas and Wintergreen/ Chimaphila umbellata has my vote for now.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Beatles Song of the Whenever

Inter totum diem est - ego, me, meus,
ego, me, meus, ego, me, meus
Inter totum noctem est - ego, me, meus.
Nunc id reliquendi metuunt,
Omnes id texunt,
Totum temporis potente agunt.

Inter totum diem est - ego me, meus,
Ego, me, meus, ego, me, meus.
Totum quod possum audire est -
Ego, me, meus, ego, me, meus.
Et illae lacrimae sunt - ego, me, meus,
Nemo metuit de id ludendo, omnes id dicunt,
Vino liberius fluunt.

Inter totum diem est.......

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Vacationing the Medieval Way

Last year, I posted an entry on Santiago de Compostella as an example of a trip one could take like people did in the Middle Ages. These were not vacations or they were not supposed to be like vacations but they often were anyway judging from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I am aware of two groups of pilgrims travelling along the North Simcoe Rail Trail and connecting up to the Tiny Trail to walk from Fort Willow to Midland and the Shrine of the Martyrs.
The martyrs in question are Fathers Brebeuf and Lalemant who were tortured and killed by the Iroquois in 1649 as they stayed behind with eighty Huron warriors who were trying to give the rest of the village enough time to flee the onslaught. They were buried at the site of the reproduction Sainte Marie Among the Hurons. Father Brebeuf is credited with having written The Huron Carol. Pilgrims have a special non-paying entrance to visit their graves and there is a hostel nearby for pilgrms. The two Jesuits were canonized in 1930 by Pius XI.
A church was also built in Midland called the Martyr's Shrine. Pope John Paul II visited it in 1984 and performed a mass at the site.
If you like your pilgrimage sites to be older than this, then you must travel to Europe. (If you do not already live there) I would also recommend St. Winifred's in Holywell, county of Flintshire in Wales. It is one of few, if not the only pilgrimage site, to have survived Henry VIII's destruction of Catholic cathedrals and abbeys. Perhaps it was permitted to remain because Henry's grandmother Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, was a special patron. The website for the shrine also states that it was beloved by Katherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife.
St. Winifred was a Welsh maiden from the 7th century who was being tutored by her uncle, Saint Beuno. A suitor, Caradoc, wanted to have his way with her but she chose to give her life to God so he cut her head off in frustration. Her head was re-attached due to the prayers of Saint Beuno but she carried a scar around her neck from her ordeal.
The well sprung up at the site where Caradoc cut her head off and is renowned for its healing waters. There does not appear to be a set route for pilgrims to take to the shrine like there is for Santiago but there is sure to be some trails nearby. The official website of the shrine is but this site has some wonderful photos of the shrine
Whichever site you chose, it appears it be a fun and meaningful way to vacation.
website for the Simcoe rail trails:
and the Shrine of the Martyrs at Saint Marie Among the Hurons: or the website for Sainte Marie :

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Beatles Song of the Week

Nunc ipsam os videram, tempus non obliviscor
Aut locum unde nunc ipsam convenimus,
Puellam ipsam mihi est et volo totum mundum visurum,

Si dies alia fuisset, spectavissem alium locum,
Et nemo fuissem sciens sed cum est,
Somniabo eae hodie nocte.

Incipiens, ita vero amare incipio
Atque iterum me revocat.

Numquam scivi aliquid simile, solus fui et omissi res,
Et mansi invisibilis propter aliae puellae numquam fuerunt melior ea.

Incipiens, ita vero amare incipio,
Atque iterum me revocat.........

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Sword of Roland

If you do not have a copy of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, you should buy one. It might be a little expensive but it is worth the price. It is one of the best reference books out there and I look in it all the time.
While looking up something else, my eye was caught by an entry on Roland's sword, which according to Brewer's is fabled to have once belonged to Hector, the prince of Troy. He acquired this fantastic sword from a Icelandic giant called Jutmundus from whom he also won his horn Oliphant which may have belonged to Alexander the Great but I do not know how Jutmundus acquired these treasures. The ogres from The Hobbit are now dancing around in the back of my mind. Inspiration? Probably.
This addition to the myth does not occur in The Song of Roland; it is probably from Orlando Furioso, a 16th century poem by Ludovico Ariosto. I do not own a copy of this book or its predecessor Orlando Innamorato but I do own a copy of The Illiad and I could not see what happened to Hector's sword when Achilles killed him. Presumably Achilles took it and Hector's armor since Hector's body was wrapped in cloth to be given back to his father. It could also have been the sword that Hector gave to Ajax and with which Ajax killed himself but Homer does not name this sword.
Brewer's also states that Durendal had been hurled into a poisonous stream to prevent it from falling in to unworthy hands but this differs from the account in The Song of Roland. There, Roland lays down to die with his sword underneath him and, when Charlemagne finds Roland's body, he gives the sword and the Oliphant to his men Rabel or Guineman but does not state who received which item.
Brewer's does offer a meaning for the name of Durendal: it states that the name probably comes from the Latin word "durare", that is "to last" or "endure". I like it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Beatles Song of the Week

In picturis movendis me ponere agunt,
De me magnam stellam facere agunt.
Picturas movendas de viro, quo tristi et solo est, faceamus.
Et omne quod habeo dicere est agere naturale.

Ponam te quod magnam stellam esse ago,
Vincam lauream, numquam dicas,
Picturae movendae magnam stellam me facere aunt,
Propter simulem partes ita bone.

Spero quod me in picturis movendis venis et vides,
Tum scio quod videbis clare,
Fatuum optimum quem unquam prospare,
Et omne habeo dicere est naturale agere.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tolkien and Swords

     One thing that struck me early on while reading Lord of the Rings is the way swords have names and their own histories.  Some even have magical qualities.  It amazed me that, in The Hobbit, when Gandalf and the dwarves are captured by the goblins of the Misty Mountains and the goblins examine the swords that Gandalf and Thorin are bearing, even though it has been more that 6,400 years since the fall of Gondolin in the First Age, the goblins still remembered Glamdring - the Foe Hammer - the sword of Turgon, King of Gondolin.  They called his sword "Beater" fearing it and whoever wielded it as well as Orcrist - Goblin-Cleaver - which they called "Biter".
     One has to wonder, since the elves of Gondolin relied on staying hidden rather than killing orcs to keep their kingdom secret, how these swords acquired these fearsome reputations among the goblins.   They were found in the troll-hoard where they had probably found their way after being kept in the hands of men of the North Kingdom of Arnor.  During the wars with the Witch-King of Angmar, the swords (in the hands of new owners) could have added to their personal history.
     Looking at a book like Beowulf for comparison, when the hero returns home to Geatland and tells of the upcoming marriage between Hrothgar's daughter and Ingeld's son, he predicts that the hope of an alliance through this marriage, ending the blood feud between the tribes, will fail for one main reason.  Swords and armor were very valuable then and were not usually buried with the deceased.  When you killed an enemy in battle, you were entitled to take his armor and arms and very often carried them yourself if they were superior to what you had.  At the wedding and any other gatherings, relatives of the dead men were sure to see the arms of their loved ones being worn by their enemies and recognize them.  The Heroic Code of the Saxons would demand that the death then be avenged.  So in the past, people would know a particular  sword and its history.
      While Tolkien was a scholar in Anglo-Saxon and helped to popularize Beowulf, I think The Song of Roland is a part of where he drew his inspiration from in sword lore.  Count Roland has a sword called 'Durendal'.   There is no consensus on the meaning of the name (I think it sounds like 'hard steel') but in it's golden hilt is embedded St. Peter's tooth, blood of St. Basil, hair from St. Denis and a part of the raiment of Mary, mother of Jesus.  He also bore a horn called the Oliphant which, when they were attacked and the battle turned against them, he sounded to summon Charlemagne with the main part of the army.  Charlemagne heard the horn 30 leagues away but was at first persuaded that it was nothing.  The Saracens, at first dismayed but seeing that no one came, continued their assault. (Sounds like Boromir?)  Two more times Roland blew his horn and on the third blast, Charlemagne was convinced Roland was in danger and turned around.   The Franks heard the horn two more times as they hurried back, the last blow sounding weak and they knew Roland was dying.  All of his men were dead and he did not want his sword to fall into the hands of the infidels so he tried to break it.  It was unbreakable.  Charlemagne found him dead with his sword under him, covered with wounds that showed how bravely he fought against so many.
     The sword of Roland with all its fabulous relics did not belong to Charlemagne because the king had a better relic embedded in the pommel of his sword, Jouise or Joyous - the tip of the Spear of Destiny also known as the Spear of Longinus.  This sword changed color thirty times a day.  Charlemagne's war cry was 'Monjoie" meaning 'My Joy' from his sword rather like Aragorn's war cry of 'Anduril'. Aragorn's sword name seems like it may be an anagram of Roland's sword but if that is not convincing enough that The Song of Roland influenced Tolkien (among other works) while writing Lord of the Rings, consider this:  the enemy responsible for the attack that killed Roland, an emir named Baligant, who fought with Charlemagne and died at his hands, had a sword that he called Precuise or 'Precious'.  It was his battle cry.  One could imagine him dying with a shriek of 'Precious' but it would cause one to giggle slightly and deny the solemnity of the moment. Gollum, gollum.

Beatles Song of the Week

Verbi cum pluvia aeterna in poculum chartaceum effluunt.
Labuntur dum praetereunt, elabuntur trans universitatem.
Lacunae doloris undaeque gaudis per meum animum apertum fluitant,
Me possident et fovent.

Ave, Magister Divine!  Om.
Nihil meum mundum mutare agit,
Nihil meum mundum mutare agit.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

When Did the Middle Ages End for You?

Voting is over and I do not like the poll staying on the top of every page so I am transferring the info to an entry.

With the fall of Constantinople in 1453  - 1 vote (11%)
With the discovery of the New World in 1492  - 3 votes (33%)
With the birth of Petrarch in 1304 - 0 votes (0%)
When Martin Luther posted his '95 Theses' on the door of
All Saints Church in 1517  - 2 votes (22%)
Other   - 3 votes (33%)

the poll is closed, there were a total of 9 votes. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The End of the Middle Ages

       I picked 1492 and the discovery of North and South America by Europeans as my point at which the Middle Ages ended but lately I have been wondering if that is the best date.
It is a time when the discovery of this whole other continent and foods and peoples changed the face of Europe but 1453 has much to recommend it also.
      The Middle Ages are held to have begun with the fall of Rome in 410 at the hands of Alaric the Visigoth.  It is an important moment and shook the faith of the Christians so much so that Augustine of Hippo wrote his book City of God in response to the question that if this was the true faith, why did God allow the city to fall.  It had stood for so many centuries while it was pagan.
       Constantine, fearing the advances of the Germanic tribes, had already removed the capital of the Roman Empire to a new city which he named Constantinople, now called Istanbul. This move split the empire into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern.  So it is fitting, in a way, that the Middle Ages end with the fall of the Eastern Empire since it began with the fall of the Western.
       Petrach was an Italian writer who re-discovered Classical writers and 'began' the movement towards Humanism.  He is also credited with coining the phrase "Dark Ages". 
     When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German so that everyone could read it, it heralded the end of the power of the Roman Church which had ruled the Middle Ages.
     So what do you think? Which year really showed that the Middle Ages were over and done with?
     There are other options like the arrival of the Black Death.  The end of the Hundred Years War and some even choose the French Revolution as the final nail in the casket of the Middle Ages. 
(voting is over, results shown in previous post)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Theodora, Empress

I have a treat for you today.  It is a guest blog written by my friend, who calls herself Crazybrigit. Theodora is a controversial figure and so people might take issue with how Brigit has presented her but I like her perspective. Enjoy.

   Once upon a time there was a pretty girl who had two sisters, one older and one younger. They lived in a big, rich city, but her parents were rather poor. When their father died and their mother married another man, the girls had to earn their living. With neither skills nor education, there were few jobs they could do so, finally, they became prostitutes and actresses, the scum of the earth. One of them, though, had a brilliant future waiting for her against all odds. A new tv series scenario? An adult novel? No,  just some  facts from the life of the most influential and powerful woman in the Byzantine Empire's history, empress Theodora, who, like her husband, Justinian, is a saint in the Orthodox Church, commemorated on November 14.
     Fairy tales sometimes become reality but not without a price. The way to the throne and sainthood was for Theodora long and certainly not pleasant or easy. Let me cite directly from “Historia Arcana” (“Secret History”), written by Procopius of Caesarea, a historian, one of the participants in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I and so an eyewitness (from ):

Acacius was the keeper of wild beasts used in the amphitheater in Constantinople; he belonged to the Green faction and was nicknamed the Bearkeeper. This man, during the rule of Anastasius, fell sick and died, leaving three daughters named Comito, Theodora and Anastasia: of whom the eldest was not yet seven years old. His widow took a second husband, who with her undertook to keep up Acacius's family and profession. But Asterius, the dancing master of the Greens, on being bribed by another ' removed this office from them and assigned it to the man who gave him the money. For the dancing masters had the power of distributing such positions as they wished.

When this woman saw the populace assembled in the amphitheater, she placed laurel wreaths on her daughters' heads and in their hands, and sent them out to sit on the ground in the attitude of suppliants. The Greens eyed this mute appeal with indifference; but the Blues were moved to bestow on the children an equal office, since their own animal-keeper had just died.

When these children reached the age of girlhood, their mother put them on the local stage, for they were fair to look upon; she sent them forth, however, not all at the same time, but as each one seemed to her to have reached a suitable age. Comito, indeed, had already become one of the leading hetaerae [high class prostitutes] of the day.

     As you see, the fate of Theodora seemed to be sealed from her early childhood – she had no real prospects of a decent life, no role models or protectors as she was sent by her own mother to be an actress and a prostitute. One must add that in the 6th century Byzantine theatre was as respectable as are some porn sites on the Internet; theatrical performances were mostly limited to mime obscene plays, so the actresses were treated accordingly. Our heroine, not being taught how to play the flute or the harp, earned money with her body. She was at least pretty. Procopius writes:

Now Theodora was fair of face and of a very graceful, though small, person; her complexion was moderately colorful, if somewhat pale; and her eyes were dazzling and vivacious.

     Sometimes you intend to change your life just to discover that you can change it for worse. When Theodora finally found a rich lover, Hecebolus, a Tyrian who had been made governor of Pentapolis, she might think her life took the right turn. She went away with him, hoping, without doubt, for more stability but the man did not seem to be a good choice  - after a quarrel she was unceremoniously sent back penniless. She had no choice but  to return to her previous lifestyle. The journey home proved to be a blessing, though, as it took her to Alexandria, where she converted to Monophysite Christianity, and to Antioch, where she met a dancer, named Macedonia. It was a breakthrough because that person presented her to her future second half:

 This Macedonia, they say, greeted Theodora at the time of her arrival from Egypt and Libya; and when she saw her badly worried and cast down at the ill treatment she had received from Hecebolus and at the loss of her money during this adventure, she tried to encourage Theodora by reminding her of the laws of chance, by which she was likely again to be the leader of a chorus of coins. Then, they say, Theodora used to relate how on that very night a dream came to her, bidding her take no thought of money, for when she should come to Constantinople, she should share the couch of the King of the Devils, and that she should contrive to become his wedded wife and thereafter be the mistress of all the money in the world. And that this is what happened is the opinion of most people.

     Now let me present the future emperor, Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus but with a warning – the description was made by his enemy, a man disappointed and disillusioned by his ruler, the same Procopius who had fought for him and had written panegyrics:

Now in physique he was neither tall nor short, but of average height; not thin, but moderately plump; his face was round, and not bad looking, for he had good color, even when he fasted for two days.(…) Now such was Justinian in appearance; but his character was something I could not fully describe. For he was at once villainous and amenable; as people say colloquially, a moron. He was never truthful with anyone, but always guileful in what he said and did, yet easily hoodwinked by any who wanted to deceive him. His nature was an unnatural mixture of folly and wickedness. What in olden times a peripatetic philosopher said was also true of him, that opposite qualities combine in a man as in the mixing of colors. I will try to portray him, however, insofar as I can fathom his complexity. This Emperor, then, was deceitful, devious, false, hypocritical, two-faced, cruel, skilled in dissembling his thought, never moved to tears by either joy or pain, though he could summon them artfully at will when the occasion demanded, a liar always, not only offhand, but in writing, and when he swore sacred oaths to his subjects in their very hearing. Then he would immediately break his agreements and pledges, like the vilest of slaves, whom indeed only the fear of torture drives to confess their perjury. A faithless friend, he was a treacherous enemy, insane for murder and plunder, quarrelsome and revolutionary, easily led to anything evil, but never willing to listen to good counsel, quick to plan mischief and carry it out, but finding even the hearing of anything good distasteful to his ears.

     Perhaps Justinian was perceived as a devil by some of his subjects but for Theodora he was a godsend angel, the very chance  nobody had given her before. Even Procopius had to admit that (…) Justinian fell violently in love with her. At first he kept her only as a mistress, though he raised her to patrician rank. Through him Theodora was able immediately to acquire an unholy power and exceedingly great riches. she seemed to him the sweetest thing in the world, and like all lovers, he desired to please his charmer with every possible favor and requite her with all his wealth. The extravagance added fuel to the flames of passion. With her now to help spend his money he plundered the people more than ever, not only in the capital, but throughout the Roman Empire. As both of them had for a long time been of the Blue party, they gave this faction almost complete control of the affairs of state.


     It must have been a great love indeed, as Justinian had to change the law so he could marry his beloved one. Taking into account the fact that Theodora’s bad reputation was widely known, even then, he must have run the gauntlet of criticism. In "Byzantine Empresses: Women and Power in Byzantium, AD 527-1204" (1999) by Lynda Garland it is noted that John of Ephesus reports Theodora coming from a brothel. Unlike Procopius, John happened to be a favourite of the Empress and his historical portrayal of his patron is mostly positive. Garland points that while it confirms Procopius' account of Theodora as a prostitute, there seems to be little reason to believe she worked out of a brothel "managed by a pimp". Employment as an actress at the time would include both "indecent exhibitions on stage" and providing sexual services off stage. In what Garland calls the "sleazy entertainment business in the capital", Theodora would earn her living by a combination of her theatrical and sexual skills. Garland considers it important that John was familiar with Theodora's background. He was not a resident of Constantinople and his autobiographical accounts do not include even visiting the capital until Theodora was well into her career as an Empress. This would imply that Theodora's background as an actress and courtesan was general knowledge at the time of Justinian's reign. Still, the future emperor decided to marry her, the most improbable choice. Impressive. He must have seen in her something more than just a pretty face.


     Theodora proved to be a real support. She helped him rule the empire and she tried to ease the life of women, especially those from the poorest background. Until 528 A.D., laws about rape only concerned well-off, free women, effectively making the rape of lower-class women and slaves legal. In 528 A.D., a law on sexual offenses changed the status considerably. Rapists and kidnappers of women, both free-women and female slaves, were given capital punishment. The law also included sections against the unlawful seduction of women. A 534 A.D. law made it illegal to force any woman on the theatrical stage without their consent, regardless if this woman was free or a slave. In 535, laws against procurers address the specific problem of those who force underage girls into prostitution. It seems that she didn’t forget about her own experience. She was also a good wife. Garland points that for all the accusations against Theodora included in the "Secret History", there is one missing. There is no mention of her being unfaithful to Justinian. 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why Did Joan of Arc Die?

     I have been such a sloth.  Sorry to anyone who checks here regularly for updates. 
      It might seem like a very ambitious title since this is a complex question but there are some simple reasons that are at the heart of the longer and more complicated answers.
     On the 22nd of May, 1430 John of Luxembourg lay siege to Compiegne. He captured Joan and held her for ransom.  In November of that year she was handed over to Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, to stand trial as a heretic.  One May 28 of the following year, she was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to die.  On May 30, 1431, at the age of 18 or 19 Joan was burned at the stake.  She cried out to her Lord, "Jesus, Jesus!" until she could no longer speak.  A Parisian who kept a diary wrote that she was soon dead and the coals were racked back to show everyone that she was a woman.  She was given no dignity in death. Then the fires were started back up and her body burned to ashes.  The ashes were thrown into the Seine. 
        One of the first reasons is the ambition and greed of the Bishop of Beauvais, who sat as a judge at her trial and got her from John of Luxembourg who was holding Joan for ransom.  His advancement was tied to the English claim to the throne.  Another is that like Margery, Joan would not submit to the authority of the church.  She insisted that she heard voices and that they were miraculous and she insisted that she had the right to wear men's clothing as she was wearing them to protect her chastity.
       But, one has to wonder why, since she had done so much for the Dauphin Charles, that he did not ransom her even though he had the means and the opportunity?  One of the conditions for ransom was that Joan cease to fight against the English, something that she would not promise to do.  Another problem was that, when she attacked Compiegne, she did not do so with Charles' permission.  She was acting on her own, with her own men, not the Dauphin's army and she attacked Paris on the feast day of the virgin for which she was also condemned.
Still she did Charles a great service.
     The legitimacy of Charles VII was a concern since his father Charles VI was mentally incompetent and his mother Isabella of Bavaria had been unfaithful, but Henry VI's claim to the throne was no better since he was related to the French crown through the female line and under Salic law could not inherit.  Also Isabella had been unfaithful with her brother-in-law, Louis of Orleans,  and if he was not Charles VI's son, he was still in line for the throne. However, at the time of Joan involvement with the Valois cause, they had lost heart and the Dauphin was unsure of himself.
     What Joan did at Chinon in 1429 to convince Charles to fight the English and that his claim to the throne was supported by God is unclear.  At her trial, her account changed at first she pleaded that she had sworn not to tell but, under pressure and probably torture, she spoke.  Her voices lead her to pick out Charles in the crowd even though she had not seen him before and she revealed to him a prayer that he had secretly made and told no one about.  Also, the voices are supposed to have shown him a sign upon Joan's appearance that Charles VI was his father.  She said that the voices wanted him to raise the siege at Orleans.  This military victory accomplished gave the Valois cause new heart.
     One of the things that is said is that Joan was not a virgin.  This is only being put about by the English side to justify her murder since, if she was a virgin, her conviction as a heretic was problematic since the devil does not deal with virgins. After she was captured and brought to Paris, she was examined by the Queen of Sicily and her ladies and found to be intact. Even some of the English captors said she was a virgin, possibly to protect themselves from charges that she had been sexually assaulted in custody.
      For whatever reason that she was killed, it was a terrible to die and it failed as Charles VI entered Paris four years later.  By 1450, the English ended their struggle for France. I recommend Marina Warner's book Joan of Arc, The Image of Female Heroism for those who want to read more.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Beatles Song of the Week

Cur non in via futuemus?
Cur non in via futuemus?
Cur non in via futuemus?
Nemo nos videbit,
Cur non in via futuemus?

A Sonnet

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the sonnet came into being. Started by Petrarch, it was taken up by English poets in the 16th and 17th century.
 This is my best attempt at a sonnet.  The subject matter is 20th century and I probably do not have the iambic pentameter right.  The rhyme scheme is questionable too but I like it.  I hope you enjoy it too.
By the way, my posting it here does not mean I give up any rights as a writer.

This Is Not Lady Chatterly's Lover

Metal beams surrounded us instead of trees,
On the day that I first beheld your torso,
And I did not fall shaken to my knees
My astonishment was all the more so.
Sadly, your skin was not alabaster white,
Cause for that you had far too much body hair,
Yet I wanted to have you to my despite,
And a fit of trembling took me then and there. 
No washtub there, no sunlight gleaming,
I did not come upon you unawares,
No water down your chest was streaming 
Yet you drew from me much more than stares.
And if I am not poet, I'll tell you what,
It's because Oliver Parkin you were not.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Marg and Joan

      This will be my last post on Margery Kempe for a while.  Margery did the key pilgrimages of her time:  she went to Rome, Jerusalem, Canterbury and Santiago.  Since Santiago sounds like a great trip to make even today, I was curious as to how it went in the Middle Ages but Margery went by ship to Santiago, she did not walk from France. This is disappointing to say the least and she said very little about Santiago.  This made me curious as to why, when the point of the pilgrimage is to do penance which you perform by taking this grueling hike across Europe, she sailed there and back again.
      She took this trip in about 1417, when she was approximately 44 and Henry V was on the throne in England.   This trip would have taken place about two years after Agincourt when Henry was preparing to invade France in the later stages of the Hundred Years War.  Margery mentions how difficult it was to secure a ship because most available boats were being used elsewhere.  So she did not want to walk through territory that was a battlefield but the route along the northern coast of Spain was clear as there was relative peace at that time.
     Her pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem took place before this and she went to Jerusalem through Germany and probably came back that way as she returned in about 1415 and one would not want to be an Englishwoman having a stroll through France while the English are attacking.
     About this time, another woman who was famous for hearing voices was born - Joan of Arc.   The fact that one of the reasons that Joan was accused of heresy was her insistence on wearing men's clothing shows how dangerous it was for Margery to wear white although she had been forbidden to repeatedly.  At Joan's trial, she insisted that she wore men's clothing to preserve her chastity, a reason that was permissible under canon law but Joan was being tried by the English factions and logic would not save her. 
     Margery lived another twelve years, perhaps more, after Joan died.  It is interesting to note that Joan's brief life fell within Margery's.   If Joan was born in 1412, then she was only 19 when she died in 1431.  Margery did not mention her at all in her biography.  It is a shame.  If they understood each other's language, they would have had much to say to one another.  Since they were both on speaking terms with Jesus, surely he would have sat down with them and translated. 

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Beatles Song of the Week

This week's song is from ABBA.  It was a special request from a friend but it was very nice to translate since Benny and Bjorn's first language was not English and so it was idiom and dialect free. 

Homines ubique sunt
Cum sense exspectationis,
In aere adest,
Emittitque igniculum
Trans conclavem. Tui oculi
Ardent in obscure
Et nunc iterum agemus.
Initium scimus,
Finem scimus,
Domini scaenae. 
Id omnino prius egeramus
Et nunc redimus
Plus adipiscimur
Quod significo scis.

Cape statim aut relinque,
Hoc tempus est totum accipimus.
Nihil promissum est
Paenitentiques non sunt.
Decerndendum magnum non est
Scis quod facere
Quaestio est,
answers are near the bottom of the right hand column.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Margery Kempe, Part two

     I should not laugh at Margery, I am a mother too although I do not have fourteen children.  Margery had a son whose business was shipping merchandise out of Lynn. She liked to visit with him and try to get him to give up his job and the world and "follow Christ"  She did this to the point where "he fled her company and would not gladly meet with her".  One time, when they met "against his will", she asked him, since he would not follow Christ, to at least keep his body 'clean' and not mess with women.
     As he seemed to have to do a lot of sailing, he found opportunities for some hanky-panky abroad and he picked up a disease.  His face was covered in blotches and people thought he was a leper.  This got him fired from his job.  He blamed this on his mother having put a curse on him so people went to her and begged her to lift the curse. Margery would not lift the curse unless he came and begged her to himself.  Although this took place six hundred years ago, it could be taking place anywhere in Canada today since it is a Sunday afternoon and the traditional day of Mother's guilt.
     At last and in desperation, he went to speak with her and she made him promise to behave better.  So then, she prayed and she prayed and whatever illness he had cleared up.  Later, this same son married a woman in Prussia where he lived and they had a daughter.
      The daughter in law had one of those crazy fits we all get from time to time and it made her decide to meet her mother in law.  They left their daughter with friends and came to England to visit Margery and her husband.  The day after the son arrived, he became ill and died.  It must have been Margery's cooking because the husband followed soon after.   And there was the daughter in law - trapped in England and at her mother in law's mercy and whims.  She stayed with Margery for a year and a half until enough letters from Germany begging her to return home had come and Margery could no longer reasonably keep her.  Usually at this point, God comes along and commands whatever Margery wants to happen but God would have had to visit the daughter in law for her to stay. This did not happen.
     Unfortunately, in those days, it was not permitted that a woman travel on her own so they needed a man to take her back.   One was found but he was a stranger so then Margery offered to accompany her daughter in law to Germany.  Her confessor forbade her to go but when did Margery ever listen to him?  She knew "my daughter had rather I were at home" but she is a mother in law.  She was going.  As if on cue, Jesus appeared at this point and told her that he commanded her to do it.  Since it was a direct order from God himself, it was no longer her fault that she was going to go.  Although she was a little surprised with her daughter in law as "there was no one so much against her as was her daughter, who ought most to have been with her."  You see, Jesus should have also appeared to the daughter in law.
     They got to Danzig and had a good welcome there except that, after five or six weeks, it finally sunk in that her daughter in law did not want her around.  After all - taking into account time spent travelling - she had been stuck with her mother in law for nearly two years every day and night!  Margery expressed great surprise at this. Fortunately for both of them, at this time, God appeared once more and commanded her to go on a pilgrimage to Wilsnack, saving both of them from a horrible scene.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Beatles Song of the Week

Solitarus sum, mori volo,
Si iam non mortuus sum,
Puella, cur scis.

In mane, mori volo,
In vespera, mori volo,
Si iam non mortuus sum,
Puella, cur scis.

Mater de caelo fuit,
Pater de terra fuit,
Sed ego de universitate sum
Et quid pretium est scis.

Solitarus sum, mori volo......

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Book of Margery Kempe, part one

     Margery Kempe is called a 'mystic'.  If one uses the definition of mystic from the Oxford Concise Dictionary - "One who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain union with or absorption into the Deity..." then it fits but she really does not do anything that one could not spot on an average day in any Southern Baptist Church.  She cries when she experiences the 'rapture' and so loudly that she disturbs the congregation with whom she is worshipping.  Many a priest was dismayed to find her attending their sermon as it seems that her weeping was loud enough to distract the congregation from hearing the Word of God.  I am sure it was not her intention to keep people from hearing Psalms and the like being read out loud, but it seems as though this was the result nevertheless.
     It does not seem as though anyone could tell Margery what to do.  She insisted on wearing the white of purity in spite of being a married woman and having borne fourteen children. After her husband died, when she wanted to go somewhere and her confessor forbid it, she declared that Jesus himself told her to go and off she went.  She was accused of heresy many times, a charge that could have lead to her execution but her sharp wit and tongue saved her every time she was tried.
     How do we know so much about the life of an ordinary woman from the 14th and 15th centuries in England?  Jesus commanded her to have her life story written down and so she found someone to write her autobiography for her since she herself was illiterate.  It is rare to hear the voice of a woman from the Middle Ages so this book is a treat.  In spite of the point of this book being to inspire others to follow Christ, this book inadvertently tells more about her life, her neighbors, her husband, the behavior of pilgrims and the dangers of travel in the Middle Ages.  She went to Rome and Jerusalem and even took a pilgrimage to Santiago (she took the route by sea instead of walking over land for Santiago).
     She repeatedly tried to get her husband to let her take a vow of celibacy insisting that sex was 'very painful and horrible' to her.  Men and women had a legal right to sex from their spouse and one could not take such a vow without the consent of the other.  Eventually she succeeded. 
    After the vow, they continued to live together and her husband took sick.  Margery tells how as he grew old, he 'turned childish' and in  his senility lost the ability to control his bowels.  He would sit by the fire and "voided his natural digestion in his linen clothes".  She was a little irked at this since cleaning him up kept her from her contemplations as she needed to change his clothes, wash him, make fires, and clean the soiled clothes.  These are the days before Depends and indoor plumbing or toilets even.  Margery then goes on to say that she would then think about all the times she had "many delectable thoughts, fleshly lusts, and inordinate loves" for her husband and she was glad to be punished for it by the same person.
    Like so many human emotions, Margery's feelings about sex are complicated.  She must have liked it and him; they had fourteen children together.  His death freed Margery to travel even more whenever her confessor would allow her to or she could sneak off.  Women could not travel freely in the Middle Ages and it was required that a woman have a man to accompany her to go anywhere or Margery would have gone all over the place.  As it was, she travelled far more than we suppose ordinary people to have done in those days.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beatles Song of the Week

Heri vesperi verba ad amicula dixi,
Numquam conaris scio,
Age, age, age, age,
Places, me place quam te placeo.

Necesse non est te monstrare viam, amans.
Cur necesse semper est te dicere, amans,
Age, age, age, age,
Places, me place quam te placeo.

Lamentandus non volo,
Sed intelleges in corde semper pluit,
Tibi totum placendum facio,
Tecum arguere arduus.
 Cur me adiectus cies?

Heri vesperi verba ad amicula dixi,
Numquam conaris scio,
Age, age, age, age,
Places, me place quam te placeo 


    It is with a heavy heart that I review one of my original hypotheses about the name Antiochus being bestowed on the first bearer of the Elder Wand in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that I put forth in this article.  I was not looking for more background to Harry Potter, I was looking for a story I had read recently about a monk who, having had his relics stolen and replaced with a lump of coal by some rascals, held up the coal and said that it was one of the coals that St. Lawrence had been roasted with.  Stories about St. Lawrence pop up in the unlikeliest places. I thought it might have been in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales but it is more likely that I read the story in Boccaccio's Decameron.
      While I was thumbing through the Canterbury Tales, I came across the Monk's Tale about Antiochus a pre-C.E. king who attacked Jerusalem with the intent of razing it to the ground as related in the Biblical text, Maccabees.  God struck him down before he could ever strike a blow.  J.K. Rowling plundered the Pardoner's Tale for her fable about the three brothers who 'defeated' death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows so it seems more likely that she got the name Antiochus from the same source.  Especially when the "Spear of Destiny" that her characters were fighting over would be the one that Hitler had taken from the Habsburgs in Vienna.  It was held by Grindelwald and the re-taking of the wand by Dumbledore ended WWII much like the spear was recovered by Patton just before Hitler's suicide.
     Like so many things in Harry Potter, the fan theories are better than the novels themselves.  Bohemond would have been much more suitable as a character to have owned the first wand to make the bearer invincible in battle.  But then he does not appear to have valued the spear and trusted to his own 'genius' rather than a gimmick so perhaps not.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beatles Song of the Week

Molim te videre mortem, puella parva,
Quam cum alio viro esse.
Teneas teum caput, puella parva
Aut scies ubi sum.
Curras pro vita, si potes, puella parva,
Celes teum caput in arena, puella parva.
Te excipiam cum alio viro,
Finis est, puella parva.

Monday, January 26, 2009


     After the example of the patient Griselda, it is nice to read Anna Comnena's introduction to her Alexiad. In her words,
"I, Anna, daughter of the Emperor Alexius and the Empress Irene, born and bred in the Purple. not without some acquaintance with literature - having devoted the most earnest study to the Greek language, in fact, and being not unpractised in Rhetoric and having read thoroughly the treatises of Aristotle and the dialogues of Plato, and having fortified my mind with the Quadrivium of sciences, ..... desire now by means of my writings to give an account of my father's deeds"
     Take that, you barbarians.  No self esteem issues here. Good for Anna.  Not only is it lovely to see a confident woman writing in the 12th century but you get such a different view of historical events. I can just imagine Anna standing behind her father in the throne room  at Constantinople watching the leaders of the Crusades, lesser princes, and judging them. 
     She was especially fascinated with Bohemond and from his description, who would not? I cannot get a picture out of my head of the emperor's daughter standing there checking out the Crusader's package as she writes about his large nostrils and gusty breathing.  And she did say that nature had armed him for love and war. You would not find most historians commenting on this and yet, inquiring minds want to know.  Could she even check out the package or was everything covered up?
       Anna says nothing about how the Franks were dressed in the court.  Perhaps they wore their armor or perhaps they wore bliauts. Bliauts were long ankle length tunics with hose underneath rather like this fellow's costume.  At least she was not being dazzled by some outrageously large cod-piece.  Those did not come in to fashion until the 15th century.  Fortunately they are out of fashion by the end of the 17th. 
     It would be nice to know who started that trend and why. The word 'cod' is from the Old Teutonic 'kuddon' and most definitions refer to some type of sack or husk of seeds.  Now who turned around then and named the cod fish after that?

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Patient Griselda

    One thing that is lovely about writing your own blog, instead of an academic paper, is you do not have to be detached from your subject if you do not wish to be.  As a 21st century woman, it is hard to read stories like the patient Griselda and not have anyone to bitchslap afterwards.  The people who need slapping are long dead and some of them may never have lived. Ah, well!
        The Decameron is a collection of one hundred stories told by seven women and three men who flee Florence to escape the plague.  They stay at a villa in the country and, to amuse each other, tell stories.  Each of them has to tell one story per day for ten days and thus the name Decameron comes from the Greek for 'ten days'.  The subject of the stories is love.  One of my favorites and most giggle worthy is about the hermit Rustico who persuades a young woman to play a pious game with him called 'putting the devil into hell'. You can imagine what that game was about. 
      Griselda is the subject of the last story in Boccaccio's Decameron and is a story about a beautiful peasant woman, Griselda, who is married by the Marquis of Saluzzo because his subjects beg him to take a wife.  He believes women are evil things but he is convinced by Griselda's mild manner and beauty that she might make a good wife.  It turns out she is mild,  good and decent but he decides to test her meekness by abusing her and calling her names.  This does not change her nature so he tests her further by taking their daughter, soon after she is born, and telling his wife he does not like the girl and is going to have her killed. Griselda tells him that she will bow in his judgement. Ack!!! And then, and then, he proceeds a few years later to have their son killed soon after being born and again she does not complain!!   The children were not really killed; the marquis sends them away to a kinswoman of his to be secretly raised.  
      Griselda, still loving her husband and obeying him in all things, is tested one more time by the heartless bastard. He tells her that he does not love her anymore and is going to marry someone else - a 12 year old girl at that - and would she please help his new bride get dressed for the wedding.  Griselda does his bidding in that too, uncomplaining.
      The 'bride' is her daughter and, since she passed the test, the idiot husband reunites her with her children and restores her to her position but his subjects think rather less of him for being such an ass.  I am not sure what Boccaccio's point was with this story - was she an example for women to live up to or an example of how foolish men can be?  
      Griselda was a popular story.  Petrarch translated it in to latin and, from him, it made it in to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as the Clerk's Tale.  Charles Perrault, otherwise known as Mother Goose, includes her story in his Fairy Tales in Verse.  It is appropriate that he places her story in a book on fairy tales since this is clearly what it is.  What woman could still love a man whom she believes has murdered both of their infant children?  Even after he has beaten her down with emotional and verbal abuse?  Only a man could invent a story like that.


......Christus! Scis non facilis est,
Scis quo modo durum erit,
Quo modo res agunt,
Me crucifigere agunt.
Habui denique fugam in Lutetia,
Ferias iuxta Sequanam.
Petrus Spadicus me vocavit dicere,
Te in matrimonium ducere in Mons Calpe iuxta Iberiam.
Christus! Scis non facilis est....