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. :-)
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.
This is off topic of course, but while reading Sallust's BellumCatilinae (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.
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.