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....