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.