Monday, January 26, 2009

Cod-Pieces

     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?

6 comments:

lunas-ceiling said...

Now she sounds like a completely fascinating woman. What does it mean to be born and bred in the Purple? I am guessing this means regal or royal just by the color association.

I have to agree, inquiring minds want to know how did she know how well he was equipped for love and war. I am guessing if the bliauts you linked were a possibility she could pretty easily check out the package. I looked up cod piece on Wiki and it mentions a few are on display at the Metropolitan Museum in NY. I have been there a number of times but never quite noticed them. I guess I didn't know what I was looking at. I will definitely have to check them out on my next visit.

Very interesting post!

Anonymous said...

Now she sounds like a completely fascinating woman. What does it mean to be born and bred in the Purple? I am guessing this means regal or royal just by the color association.

Purple, from the ancient times, was the colour reserved for royalty. For one thing, it was very expensive as they used the dye coming from the mucus-secretion of the hypobranchial gland of a marine snail known as the Murex brandaris or the spiny dye-murex. Only the very wealthy could afford it as the snails were rare and difficult to find. Anna wanted to stress the fact, that she was born and bred as a princess,the daughter of a Byzantine emperor, the heir of Roman imperial traditions.The imperial robes of Roman emperors were Tyrian purple trimmed in metallic gold thread. The badge of office of a Roman Senator was a stripe of Tyrian purple on their white toga. The colour spoke for itself.

Bridget

Anonymous said...

Oh, about cods and codpieces, here is what I found in an on-line etymology dictionary:

"1273, cotfish, origin unknown; despite similarity of form it has no conclusive connection to the widespread Gmc. word for "bag" (cf. O.E. codd, source of codpiece (...)codpiece
1460, "a bagged appendage to the front of the breeches; often conspicuous" [OED], from O.E. codd "a bag, pouch," in M.E., "testicles."


Bridget

The Red Witch said...

Thanks Luna, the Purple actually was a room in the palace set aside for the confinement of the ruling Empress.
If you want to see a really large and elaborate cod-piece check out Holbein's painting of Henry VIII when the fashion was nearing its height. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Henry-VIII-kingofengland_1491-1547.jpg
Henry was clearly overcompensating for something. It is one of those fashion trends for men that should never have started like MC Hammer's harem pants, wearing clothes backwards, baggy jeans and the worst those printed gym pants like Hulk Hogan used to wear.
Thanks Bridget, I realize the OED had no source for the name codfish and that the English were the only ones that called it that.
We could speculate that, since people seldom bathe in the Middle Ages, the cod-piece smelled like fish or the fish smelled like the cod-piece. :-D

Anonymous said...

I read that she was put in a convent for a failed plot against her brother John.

Colleen

Tracy said...

We could speculate that, since people seldom bathe in the Middle Ages, the cod-piece smelled like fish or the fish smelled like the cod-piece. :-D
LOL! But everyone smelled in the Middle-Ages (and, indeed, other ages, too), so the pervading odourous miasma probably made individual smells difficult to detect.

Maybe Anna was just extrapolating from the size of Bohemond's feet (as good an indicator as any, though not infallible :-) )