Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I Blow My Nose At You

While the portions of Monty Python and the Holy Grail showing the French abusing the English are funny, they also seem a little over the top. Then you read something like the Gesta Herewardi where the Normans hire a witch to put a curse on the besieged at Ely. As the hag stands on top of a wooden structure so she can see and be seen, she hurls abuse and incantations and then she turns around to finish the job by baring her behind at the defenders. Yes, the witch mooned Hereward. Take that!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Goes Around Comes Around

Really. Even if it takes six hundred and fifty or so years.
I have been reading so much about the events of 1066 and the fall of Anglo Saxon Britain that it is starting to connect up in my head with other things, such as the fall of Rome in 410 A.D.
Well, it is not completely unrelated. A once great military power falls; their capital taken. There are Germans involved. Only, with the fall of Rome, it was the Germans who were doing the stomping. Six hundred and fifty years later, the Germans are getting their butts kicked by the Normans and their weaselly cousins, the Vikings. See - what goes around, comes around.
When Rome fell, people groaned that it was because they had embraced the Christian faith. While they were pagan, they were masters of the world. This prompted St. Augustine to write his City of God to explain why this is not a reason to start worshipping Zeus once again. Of course Alaric, the Germanic leader who defeated the Romans was a Christian as well so the theory does not completely hold water but..... a few decades after this event, the Germanic tribes were invading Britain because those residents were soft and the pagan invaders were still a warrior culture and much better at fighting. So Hengist and Horsa invade Britain. Then, the Romans send some guy to convert them to Christianity. They start spending their days, vowing celibacy and hanging around churches. Next thing you know, the pagan Vikings come in and totally kick their butts, weakening them to the point that the Normans can finish the job.
There are lessons here: what goes around, comes around. It might take a really long time but I do think karma catches up with you. Also being a Christian is risky; it leads to being on the receiving end of some serious butt kicking. On this winter solstice, I propose a little Woden worship. It just might help save Western civilization.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hereward, A Review

A professor, whom I am taking a course with, gave me a book to read called Hereward by Victor Head. It is a far cry from Charles Kingsley's novel on Hereward as Head is looking strictly at the historical man. He listed all of the historical sources for Hereward's life and what they contained, although the Gesta Herewardii, account in the Liber Eliensis and even the parts from Gaimar's history that deal with Hereward are too long to be reproduced entirely in the book.
Head is framing his discussion of Hereward the Wake, the Saxon hero of the Lincolnshire fens, around an argument made in a book by a General Harward that he is the descendant of Hereward, and discussing Hereward's career and impact on history. The argument against General Harward got a little tiresome at times. Head also wrote about Kingsley's novel and other Victorian interpretations of the Hereward legend and his connection to the genesis of Robin Hood. He overlooks however, the Waverly novel written by Sir Walter Scott called Count Robert of Paris. The Scott novel sounds fascinating since he places Hereward in the Varangian Guard during his time of exile and places him in a story with Bohemond.
The Victor Head book is an excellent starting place for anyone who wants to know more about Hereward and cannot read Latin, Old English or Old French. What it lacks is the author's best guess for a reconstruction of Hereward's life and the evidence for it.
It is not light reading either. It is a book for when you really want to know just the facts.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thoughts on Sytherin's Retirement

I suggested a while ago that Salazar Slytherin went to the fens, surrounding Ely, to join the last Saxon resistance to the Norman Conquest when he argued with his fellow Hogwarts founders about who is permitted entry in their school. Back before the last book came out and anything could still be significant, I argued that the arrival of the first Malfoys into his house was probably the last straw for Slytherin and so he went to join Hereward.
It may be that Rowling had never thought that far afield when planning her novels. It may be that she did think of somewhere that he went and it will be included in the oft mentioned encyclopedia that she may publish at some point in the future.
Since Slytherin's descendants now went by the name of Gaunt, I assumed that they somehow married into the family of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III and Duke of Lancaster, but there is another Gaunt, who owned the lands where I thought Little Hangleton was placed on. This Gaunt was Gilbert of Gaunt, a knight from Flanders who came over with William the Conqueror. This Gaunt was also possibly godfather to Hereward and nephew to William's queen, Matilda. This provides Hereward with a powerful friend to reconcile the king to him and any that broke through the siege at Ely with him.
Once the surviving resistance leaders like Hereward or Edric the Wild were reconciled to the king and other potential leaders like Earl Morcar or Earl Edwin were dead, was there any point in carrying on the resistance? And even if you could defeat William, who would you replace him with? Edgar the Aetheling should have been the heir to the throne but he was not able to attract the following that Hereward was and possibly lacked the talent in tactical matters that Hereward seemed to have. Even with Earl Morcar, one of the most important of the remaining Anglo Saxon nobility and an heir of the Mercian royal family, at Ely, Hereward was the resistance leader. So, would Slytherin, by now an old wizard, want to carry on a bush war that had no hope or would he opt for peace and settle on a bit of land?
The other piece of the Gaunt family history, the Peverils also settled in the same area of Little Hucklow ( my candidate for Little Hangleton) where William Peveril, a Norman knight and possibly William I's bastard had a castle.
Another question would be - did Slytherin marry late in life after the pardon by the king or did he retire to a farm with a family that he already had? This is my guess then. He already had a family, took a pardon and retired to Little Hucklow and his only daughter or granddaughter caught a Peveril or (most likely, since the Gaunts were Flemish and not of the hated Norman invaders) a Gaunt eye and so the family name was lost, although the genes and propensity for talking with snakes was passed on.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hereward and Bohemond

While researching the life of Hereward the Wake for a paper, my imagination was captured by the thought that during the years that Hereward was exiled, he may have been fighting with the Varangian Guard. There is no doubt that he was exiled and was fighting on the continent, most likely as a mercenary. The accounts say Flanders but there is speculation that he joined other Saxon nobles, dispossessed by the events of 1066, and went to Constantinople to join Alexius, Anna Comnena's father, fighting our old friend Bohemond and his father Robert Guiscard.
There is not much of a description of Hereward out there. He was not a tall man but rather solidly built so Bohemond would have towered over him. I think Bohemond would have beaten him just because Bohemond was so much larger but they would have been matched in ferocity and bravery. Both were capable military leaders with the charisma to attract followers although lacking a title and funds.
Before Hereward left for the continent, he most likely went north, possibly to help Malcolm fight MacBeth. It seems like Hereward managed to find himself in some of the most interesting places of his times.
He came home, hearing that the Normans had killed his brother and were harassing his mother. Whoever he was, when people heard he was back, they came to join him and his resistance army hidden in the fens of Lincolnshire. When William was about to break through the defences at Ely, Earl Morcar and Bishop Aethelwine opted to surrender and throw themselves on the king's mercy. They died in prison.
Hereward refused to surrender. He broke through the siege with a group of like-minded followers and disappeared into the Brunwald Forest. Later William made peace with him and restored all of his land since he could not subdue him militarily. After that there is disagreement over, if he ended his days peacefully and was buried at Croyland, or, if he was treacherously ambushed by disgruntled Normans and died, fighting off a whole crowd of them who would not have beaten him if four had not snuck up behind him and stabbed him in the back. It sounds as if he and Bohemond had much in common. The thought that they could have met on the battlefield amuses me but it really is not likely since I cannot see either man letting such a foe walk away without a fight.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I was reading Gesta Herwardi, or The Deeds of Hereward the Wake, last night when the name of Beorn appeared on the page. Since I just mentioned him in my last post, it was interesting to be handed a reason for Tolkien choosing Beorn as the name of the shapeshifter.
After being banished by his father, Hereward went north to Northumberland and spent Christmas watching people wrestle bears for fun. He decided to test his strength against the biggest, baddest bear there. "This was the offspring of a famous Norwegian bear which had the head and feet of a man and human intelligence, which understood the speech of men and was cunning in battle. Its father, so the stories and legends told, was said to have raped a girl in the woods and through her to have engendered Beorn, King of Norway."(M. Swanton trans.)
All the bees are easily explained. 'Beo' is Anglo-Saxon for 'bee'.
It is a curious little tale and is probably taken from the same story that this Norwegian legend was taken from. Whether Tolkien chose the name for the story in Gesta Herewardi or the Norwegian story, I do not know. Either one is likely.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thingol Was a Wanker

There is a good explanation for the title of this piece. I have been busy learning the Anglo Saxon language, for which knowing Tolkien as well as I do has been really helpful. I have to chuckle, as I memorize word lists, when I come across edoras which means 'building'. Of course it does.
I have come across beam as well, which means 'tree' and is why Quickbeam was such a hasty ent. Speaking of ent, it is the word for 'giant' so of course the ents had to be large. Flet is floor. Mearh is horse. Beorn has 'bee' as a root, as well as meaning 'chief', so he must be a leader and there would be some large bees at his home. Wine means 'friend'. Brandywine. Huru! (Indeed!)
Last week, on my word list to learn was a verb- asmeagian, to investigate, devise, examine, elicit. Sounds like Smeagol. Then, when we were going over the vocabulary list, my prof made some Gollum noises and said that this verb is where Tolkien got the name from. The inside joke is that, when Sam was calling him a sneak, it really was his name. The suffix -ol is added to a verb to create a noun much like in Latin when -ator is added to gladius (sword) to create gladiator.
So this brings me to Thingol. Thing + ol. Hmmm. What was Thingol up to off in his cave? It explains much that is strange about Legolas. Does it not?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Adrian Mole and The Prostate Years

I should say something about Adrian Mole's Medieval play. It was unfortunately abandoned once the cancer treatment started because Adrian simply could not direct a play with a large cast and go through chemo.
However, the play was going to be called Plague and it was going to be about the Black Death of course. Although the Crusaders are said to have brought the plague back to Europe and John's brother was the one of the biggest Crusaders of all time, Richard the Lionhearted, there is a problem. Problem is that Adrian was setting his play in the time of King John I's death (in 1216)and the bubonic plague did not reach England until the 14th century. You would not find a bishop giving a hug to a plague victim who feels marginalized because of his disfiguring lesions. He probably would not have lived long enough to whine about the isolation and he would have been lucky not to have people throw things at him to keep him away from them.
We may never know what he intended with his play. Another would be classic has gone the way of the comedy about a serial killer, that Adrian failed to produce, called The White Van.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Adrian Mole Goes All Medieval

The lack of success for his novel 'Lo The Flat Hills of My Homeland' has not deterred Adrian Mole from writing. In the latest Adrian Mole novel, The Prostate Years, he is busy writing a Medieval play with a cast of 60.
I am still reading the book so I am unable to say much about the play except that so far it seems to be about a holy monk, Abbot Godfried, who is travelling about with a basket containing the entrails and anus of King John. Since John I's heart was buried at York, a place was needed to bury his anus. I shall make a prediction that the anus is buried in Mangold Parva in Leicestershire where Adrian lives in the Piggeries with his parents.
Truth is, John I, all of him, was buried at Worcester Cathedral.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Vergil The Sorcerer

That is right. Vergil - a sorcerer. The guy who wrote the Aeneid had magical powers. At least, so it was thought in the Middle Ages.
I am reading some glosses on Aaron's Rod in Exodus and the latin 'virga' is bringing this thought to mind.
Vergil's name was misspelled in the Middle Ages as Virgil, which is partly how he became known as a sorcerer, since 'virga' is not just a rod or a cane but a wand as well. In Andrew Lang's Violet Fairy Book is a story about how Virgilius acquired his magic, that is by a spirit trapped in a hole who promised him books about magic if he would release him from his hole. The Gesta Romanorum contain several stories about a magical Virgil as well.
Of course Vergil did not help himself by calling himself Thyrsis in his Eclogues. Thyrsis or 'thursos' means 'wand' in Greek. But then, Vergil was also sometimes called 'virgo' or 'the maiden' for his modest and retiring ways.
You might be wondering why Dante would choose him to be the guide through Purgatory in The Inferno if he had a reputation as a sorcerer. It goes back to Eclogues again. The fourth poem was seen as predicting the birth of Jesus Christ.
If I ever get some free time, I will post a wizarding story from the Deeds of the Romans about Virgil.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Et In Arcadia Ego

I went to see the latest Resident Evil movie: Afterlife. It might seem like a strange thing to discuss here but, since most screenwriters have been to school, I have a point. The name Arcadia did not register with me when it was used in the last movie as a sanctuary, a place where there were people unaffected by the T-virus and society was rebuilding itself. The name Arcadia gets used for many things. In this case, it really did refer to paradise.
Arcadia is a sort of Eden in pastoral elegy. The Romans and the Greeks used it as the name for an idyllic place where shepherds lounge around composing beautiful verse in the verdant fields while the sheep gambol around them. Arcadia is a real place in Greece on the Pelopponesian peninsula. When the Renaissance rolled around and people rediscovered the Classics, Vergil became popular once more and so did pastoral elegy. It was a natural fit with the Christian world since the word pastor is Latin for 'shepherd' and the ministers of the Church were after all 'shepherds of men'. The rustic, natural world of innocence in Arcadia is a sort of Eden.
That being said, when Arcadia becomes the last decent place on earth in Resident Evil, you expect it to be a rustic sort of paradise. If one can ignore the evidence of all those airplanes and lack of signs of life, when Alice arrives in Alaska to rejoin her friends, her picking up her notebook and turning to a page on which the words "Et in Arcadia ego" are written should leave you with no doubt. Arcadia is not meant to be a paradise.
For those who do not know, this phrase is famous for being written on a tomb in a Nicholas Poussin painting called 'The Shepherds of Arcadia'. (For a glance at the painting, click here.) It is an ambiguous phrase. It could mean that the person buried in the tomb had also been to Arcadia but, since the tomb seems to have been placed in Arcadia, the general view has been that it is Death that inscribed that line - I exist even in Arcadia.
The word 'et' can mean 'and, even, also'. The verb in this phrase is understood. which is a perfectly acceptable Roman practice. The lack of a verb has lead to an amusing misunderstanding in the Da Vinci Code from the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail that it was based on. Latinists are a dying breed, it is true, but a call to any university ought to scare up at least one to check your facts. Nicholas Poussin is added to the list of mysterious members of the Priory of Sion and 'Et In Arcadia Ego' became a complete sentence that was also an anagram with a hidden message, ignoring the unstated but understood verb.
To return to the movie, since this is Resident Evil after all, you know that she will find Arcadia and the generally accepted interpretation of the phrase, that death exists even here, will ring very and savagely true. I do not want to spoil the movie for anyone but I give it both thumbs up. It might not be Shakespeare but not everything need be great art.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Anglo Saxon

I have started new studies - learning Anglo Saxon and am continuing my quest to follow in the footsteps of the master. For those who are unfamiliar with the term "genitive", the Oxford Concise defines it as "case of nouns etc. in inflected languages, corresponding to of, from and other prepositions with noun representing source, possessor, etc." In other words it is "that man's book" "that woman's car" or "leaves from that tree". If you have ever wondered why there is an apostrophe indicating possession (except when it is 'its' because of the confusion with the contraction 'it is'), the genitive of Anglo Saxon (otherwise known as Old English) is manes, wifmanes, treowes. Apostrophes replace a missing letter and, in the case of Modern English, it is an 'e' that is missing from the possessive. So now you know.
Also on my list of words to commit to memory is flet, meaning floor. If that word sounds familiar to you, it is because it is what the elves of Lorien called their homes which were nothing more than a floor up in the trees. Flet can also mean a 'hall, mansion'.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Agnes Grey

"All true histories contain instruction; although, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity, that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Whether this be the case with my history or not, I am hardly competent to judge. I sometimes think it might prove useful to some, and entertaining to others; but the world may judge for itself. Shielded by my own obscurity, and by the lapse of years, and a few fictitious names, I do not fear to venture; and will candidly lay before the public what I would not disclose to the most intimate friend."
This is the opening paragraph to Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey. It is a story about a girl, from a good family that has fallen into hard times, who takes jobs as a governess to earn her keep and help her parents. With an opening like that, and knowing that Anne herself worked as a governess, one expects some tales of shameful abuse that governesses were sometimes subjected to. It was not the complete expose of the harsh life of a governess that I expected. After the initial horrid family, Agnes is taken on by a new family that is far gentler. She meets the local curate and falls in love with him and has the fairy tale ending of marrying him that eluded Anne herself .(and probably most governesses)
In these days of reality tv and famous people going bottomless for photographers, perhaps her novel does not seem as shocking to me in its revelations about the inner workings of wealthy families and how governesses are treated as it should. Her manner of writing reminded me very much of Jane Austen and I am curious enough to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Ending of Godot

I got tired of writing 'taciturnitas' in this piece.

Vlad: Nuntium de Godoto habes?

puer: Ita vero, domine.

Vlad: Non veniet illa nocte.

puer: Minime, domine.

Vlad: Sed veniet cras.

puer: Ita vero, domine

Vlad: Sine dubio.

puer: Ita vero, domine.


Vlad: Conveniesne quis?

puer: Minime, domine.

Vlad: Duum alium (dubitans) virum?

puer: Non vidi aliquis, domine.

Vlad: Quod facit, ille Godotus? (taciturnitas) Me audis?

puer: Ita vero, domine.

Vlad: Et?

puer: Nihil facit, domine.


Vlad: Quid tuum fratrem agit?

puer: Incidit morbum, domine.

Vlad: Fortasse quia hoc venit heri.

puer: Non scio, domine.


Vlad: (molliter) Barbam habet, Godotus?

puer: Ita vero, domine.

Vlad: Candidam aut (dubitat) atram?

puer: Credo est canam, domine.

Vlad: Christus nos misereat!


puer: Quod dico Godotum, domine?

Vlad: Eum dices (dubitat) eum dices, me vidisti et quod (dubitat) me vidisti (pausam, Vlad appropinquat, puer resilit, Vlad - cessat, puer cessat. Cum violentia subita) Certus es me vidisti? Non venies et cras me dices quem me nunquam vidisti?

taciturnitas. Vlad facit subitum saltum prorsus. Puer refugit et currens abit. Taciturnitas. Sol occidit, luna oritur. Sicut in Primo Actu. Vlad stat sine motu et flexus. Estragonus excitat, caligam detrahit, surgit cum una in utraque manu et venit eas in medio frontis ponit, tum ad Vladimir venit.

Estragonus: Quid es tecum?

Vlad: Nihil.

Estragonus: Discedo.

Vlad: Etiam

Estragonus: Somno longe?

Vlad: Non scio. (taciturnitas)

Estragonus: Quo vadamus?

Vlad: Non procul.

Estragonus: Ita vero. Veniamus hoc procul.

Vlad: Non possimus.

Estragonus: Cur non?

Vlad: Redeundi erimus cras.

Estragonus: Cur?

Vlad: Manere Godoto.

Estragonus: Video (taciturnitas) Non venit.

Vlad: Non

Estragonus: Et nunc nimis tardum est.

Vlad: nunc nox est.

Estragonus: Et si demittamus (pausa) Si eum demittamus?

Vlad: Nos puniat. (taciturnitas. Aspicit arborem) Omnis mortuus est praeter arborem.

Estragonus: (Aspicit arborem) Quod est?

Vlad: Est illa arbor.

Estragonus: Ita vero sed quotum genus?

Vlad: Non scio. Salix.

Estragonus trahit Vlad ad arborem. Stant adversi arborem. Taciturnitas.

Estragonus: Cur non nosmet suspendeamus?

Vlad: Cum quod?

Estragonus: Non habes funum?

Vlad: Non habeo funum.

Estragonus: Tum non possumus (taciturnitas)

Vlad: Veniamus.

Estragonus: Mane. Meum cingulum est

vlad: Nimis breve est.

Estragonus: Detrahas mihi crures.

Vlad: Et quis detrahat mihi crures?

Estragonus: Verum

Vlad: Utique monstra. (estragonus solvit funiculum quam atollit bracas quas nimis magnus pro eum, cadit ad talis. Spectant funiculum.) Efficiat in re dubia. Sed satis durus est?

Estragonus: Videbimus mox. Hoc (utrique tenent funum funiculi et trahunt. Frangitur. Paene cadent)

Vlad: Non aestimatur pretium maledicti. (taciturnitas)

Estragonus: Dicis cras rursus veniendi sumus?

Vlad: Ita vero.

Estragonus: Tum poterimus apportare partem bonam funis.

Vlad: Ita vero. (taciturnitas)

Estragonus: Dide?

Vlad: Sic?

Estragonus: Agere sicut hoc non possum.

Vlad: Hoc est quod cogitas.

Estragonus: Si separamus nos. Fortasse melior pro nos erit.

Vlad: Cras nos suspendemus. (pausam) Nisi Godotus venit.

Estragonus: Etsi venit.

Vlad: Servabimur. (Vlad amovet petum. (Felicis) intuetur, tentat intus. id quassat, pulsat petum, imponit suo capiti iterum)

Estragonus: Et? Agemusne?

Vlad: Indue bracas.

Estragonus: Quod?

Vlad: Indue bracas.

Estragonus: Vis mihi exungere bracas?

Vlad: Indue bracas.

Estragonus: (sentiens bracas caditur) Verum (Induit bracas)

Vlad: Et? Agemus?

Estragonus: Agemus.

Non movunt.


Friday, September 3, 2010

More Godot

from pages 38-39. I am really working the subjunctive and passive periphrastic in this piece.

Vladimir: Tum cur te verberavere?

Estragonus: Non scio.

Vladimir: Non, Gogone, veritas est ut sunt quae quod me non fugit et te fugit. Tibi sentiendum es.

Estragonus: Te dico me nihil egerim.

Vladimir: Fortasse nihil agebas, sed est in modum agentis quod valet, in modum agentis, si vis continuare viventem.

Estragonus: Nihil agebam.

Vladimir: Etiam laetandus es, ad profundum, si modo id scies.

Estrasonus: Laetor de quod?

Vladimir: Rursus es mecum iterum.

Estragonus: Sic dicas?

Vladimir: Dic, es, etsi non verum est.

Estragonus: Quid mihi dicendum est?

Vladimir: Dic, sum laetus.

Estragonus: Laetus sum.

Vladimir: Quoque.

Estragonus: Quoque.

Vladimir: Laetamur.

Estragonus: Laetamur. (taciturnitas) Quod nunc facimus? Nunc laetamur.

Vladimir: Manemus Godoto.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

About the Trojan War

story #51 De Bello Troiano from Gesta Romanorum

Ovid tells about the Trojan War, how Helen was captured by Paris and how after this there was a prophecy that the city of Troy would not be subdued until Achilles was dead. The mother of Achilles, hearing this, hid him in a certain room among the court ladies of a certain king, dressed as a woman. (i.e. she hid him in a harem) Hearing this, Ulysses boarded a ship with merchandise as well as womanly ornaments and splendid arms and thus loaded arrived at the castle where Achilles was remaining shut in with the court ladies. Achilles immediately, when he saw the ship with ornaments and arms, went with the ladies onto the ship to buy merchandise. But as Ulysses carefully pulled out weapons and made a move to seize Achilles, he grabbed a spear and brandished it and thus the matter was made clear. Ulysses took him and brought him with him to Troy. While living, the Trojans were prevailing, indeed when he was dead, Troy fell. And the besieging parties were freed from the conflict.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

And Another Thing

It would probably be amusing to go through A Series of Unfortunate Events and collect all the little utterings of Sunny Baudelaire. Since Waiting for Godot has been laying around on my kitchen table, my daughter pointed out to me in the 10th volume, entitled The Slippery Slope, where Sunny says "Godot" on page 331. It was helpfully interpreted as meaning "We don't know where to go, and we don't know how to get there." So we have Daniel Handler's opinion on what the play is about.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

You Find the Darndest Things.

Not every teenager is going to have a laughing fit over page 3 in Chapter 14 of the Series of Unfortunate Events, tucked away in the back of Chapter 13 The End. I am rather pleased with myself that she did have a laugh since it is due to my chatter about my various interests that have made her able to chuckle over this. It highlights how important it is to know the 'literary canon' since most authors are also readers and students of history. To understand some of the little jokes hidden in the text and hidden meanings, you need to read the really important stuff too.
" 'You know what 'heartbroken' means,' Sunny said, and then nodded as the baby murmured 'Abelard'. The youngest Baudelaire was best at deciphering the infant's somewhat unusual way of speaking."
I find it interesting that Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snickett) chose Abelard to mean heartbroken. Most commentators over the years have pretty much unanimously (although I do not personally know of any dissenters) agreed that Heloise was the heartbroken one. I agree with Lemony. I think Abelard was a feeling and sensitive person and was just as heartbroken as she was.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More stories from the 'Romans'

#40 About the Beasts

Basil said in the Hexameron ( a book about the six days of creation), that certain beast are built for the purpose of working and have no value as food, such as horses, mules and asses. Other beasts are built for the purpose of eating and have no value for labor such as sheep, pigs, chickens, waterfowl and peacocks. There also are other beasts, which are not valuable for eating or for work but for guarding the home or purging it like dogs and cats: dogs guard, cats cleanse it.

#48 About the Mage and the World

It is told about a certain learned man who had a particular very beautiful garden, which was full of scented flowers, full of sweet fruit, full of abundance and delight. Whatever was delectable was there. He was never willing to reveal this place unless to fools and his enemies. And when they had been brought inside, they saw all and so much source of delight that they were astonished. When they would ask where they were, the answer to them was they were in paradise.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

De Opresssione

One of the best kept 'secrets' of Medievalists is the "Deeds Of the Romans", a book of stories that has not seemed to catch on with a modern audience although it was a fertile plundering ground for ideas and inspiration to later writers. I felt like translating one of the stories because I thought it was interesting.

About Violence

Claudius ruled, who established on behalf of the law that, if anyone seized a woman and overpowered her by force, it should be by the choice of the woman if he ought to be put to death or if he should have to marry her without a dowry. It happened that a certain man ravished two women in one night. One woman asked for death and the other to be wed. The rapist was seized and lead in person before the judge so that he could answer to the two women in accordance with the law.
The first woman sought the death penalty in accordance with the law. The second woman sought the man for a husband in accordance with the law and said to the first: "It is true, since the law says it, that you should obtain what you ask for. And thus it should be done for me. But since my request is gentler and more affectionate, it seems to me therefore, that the judge will choose on behalf of me". Both women proceeded to see the judge in person and each demanded the privilege of the law. When the judge heard the reasons from each, he ruled for the second woman so that she would be able to marry the man. And thus it was done.

Several thoughts occur to me with this story. First off, raptus could mean abduction, looting, violence, hurrying as well as sexual assault. In this story it seems pretty clear that rape is meant. Secondly, what a busy guy - attacking two women in one night! Thirdly, imagine marrying your rapist! Except that seizing a woman was usually a property complaint; she was the property of her father, brother or husband. Even if she was willing, it could be called rape since she did not usually have the right of consent.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pliny Weighs in on the Global Warming Debate

While the Romans did not have gasoline, they did have coal but Pliny was not talking about greenhouse gases because they had not gotten so bad in his day. He could see that something bad was going on, from his section on mining.

Now the wealth of the mines and the worth of things will be spoken of. Searching out within the layers of the earth is just recently a source of concern since elsewhere it (the earth) is being dug for riches as a career by people seeking gold, silver, amber, bronze, gems, and other delights, even pigments for wall panels. Elsewhere, reckless men seek iron, even more welcome than gold among wars and slaughter. We persistently pursue all of these things to the bowels of the earth and we live over the hole, wondering that at last it splits open or has tremors as if this is not able to be compelled by the displeasure of our sacred parents. We seek wealth in the deepest heart of earth and in the dwelling place of the dead, just as if that, which is being walked on, is not generous or fertile enough. And among these things, we also seek the least important favor of a cure; for what small thing are medicines the motive to compel this defilement, although, on the top part, the earth bestowed this on its people as there is corn and easy abundance in all things and whatever is useful.
These things destroy us; these matters drive us to the nether regions to that which is concealed and buried; these things (which are not to be found suddenly just like the mind, turning over to some futile thought would suddenly reconsider) are that which is to be the end of all things and must be used up entirely as far as greed can reach them. How blameless; how happy, rather even how comfortable life would truly be if man would covet nothing other than what was already above ground, in short nothing but what he already has.

What would Pliny say about the wars and disasters that have attended the production of oil? I dare say he might have gotten up to his gouty feet and smacked somebody over the head for that.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Manendo Godoto

via rustica. arbor.

Estragonus, in tumulo parvo sedens, cothurnum abdere conatur. Id tractat cum utreque manu, anhelitus. Dedit, defessus, quiescit, iterum conatur. Perinde prius.

Estragonus: (Dedens iterum) Nihil factum est.
Vladimir: (prodiens, passibus rigidis et lentis, crura haud tangenta) Incipio illa sententia pervenire. Totis vitis, conatatus eram de me deponere. Aiens - Vladimir, prudens sis - omnis nondum conatus es et contendere iterum incipi. (considerat, cogitans certamine, se vertit ad Estragono) Hic rursus es.

Estragonus: Sumne?
Vladimir: Gaudius sum te reversum videre. Putavi ut in omne tempus abisses.

Estragonus: Velut putavi.

Vladimir: Omnes ad unum denique! Hoc celebraturi erimus! Sed quomodo? (cogitat) Surge quoad te complectar.

Estragonus: (iracunde) Non nunc faces. Non nunc.

Vladimir: (offensus, gelide) Licetne mihi rogare ubi ille rex quieverat?

Estragonus: In fossa.

Vladimir: (admirans) In fossa! Ubi?

Estragonus: (sine gestu) Ibi.

Vladimir: Te non verberavere?

Estragonus: Me verberavere? Ita vero, me verberavere.

Vladimir: Eidem ut soliti sunt?

Estragonus: Eidem? Non scio.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Is That All There Is

Is anyone familiar anymore with that song 'Is That All There Is" made famous by Peggy Lee?
On the one time that I visited Paris, I did not go to the Pere Lachaisse cemetery to gawk at Jim Morrison's grave; I went to Montparnasse and visited the graves of Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett. I was reading Waiting For Godot again last night.
"No use struggling"
"One is what one is"
"No use wriggling"
"The essential doesn't change"
"Nothing to be done"
Really Samuel? As someone who has spent her life swimming upstream, I would like to echo what Peggy said -"Then let's start dancing." Albert Camus stated in The Myth of Sisyphus that just because life is absurd and meaningless does not mean suicide is the answer. I don't think breaking out the booze is the answer either and yet, to paraphrase Sgt. Elias from Platoon, with enough booze and loud music, you feel like you are actually doing something.
Anyway, watch Bette Midler doing a wonderful rendition of Is That All There Is. Maybe dance a little, too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Baudolino, A Review

I have read one other book by Umberto Eco and that is Foucault's Pendulum. I really enjoyed it. It was like an intelligent Da Vinci Code with all the proper facts and meticulously researched.
I have not read The Name of the Rose but I have seen the movie and thought it was very good too. It is on my mental 'to read someday' list.
I had high hopes for Baudolino. It began well. The first few pages that introduce the book and the character of Baudolinio were enchanting. He was a young rascal learning to write in Latin and trying to write his autobiography.
Then the story moves forward to his years as an adopted son of Frederick Barbarossa, through the disastrous Third Crusade and sack of Constantinople, as well as the Holy Roman Emperor's difficulties in bringing the Italian city states to heel, and Paris in the 12th century. Eco does 'period' very, very well but then the trip to find the legendary Prester John begins.
In English, the novel is 521 pages long. The trip to the East to find the priest/king begins around page 316 and for sixty pages, Baudolino and his group struggle through a landscape that is very reminiscent of Swift's Gulliver's Travels and is taken partly from Pliny and partly from the letter from Prester John to Manuel I Comnenus, the Byzantine emperor, and from Otto of Freising's chronicle as well as other sources. This trip to the East is said to have provided Wolfram von Eschenbach with some of the details of his Parzival.
Baudolino travelled East with Kyot, who was supposed to have given the story of the Grail to Wolfram. There are several other historical figures travelling with Baudolino like Zosimos, an Arab alchemist, Robert de Boron, and the Archpoet. You could skip over much of the travelling. It is like the camping trip that never ends in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - a big snore.
For another 80 pages, the travellers linger in the East getting to know the fabulous inhabitants and debating theology with them. That was like those long discussions of nihilism in Dostoyevsky - you can skip over much of that without missing anything related to the story. Of course, if you want to read more about gnosticism and other 'heresies', read on. Then there is the flight back to the West and the arrival at Constantinople in time to watch it burn and to meet Niketas Choniates and tell him the story. You could skim over almost 150 pages without missing much in my opinion. Otherwise, it was good; I enjoyed reading about the wars between Frederick and the Italians and the story of the Third Crusade. Eco can write an engaging story without having to tweak the facts and I like that most of the history in the novel is accurate. I say most because there is no Baudolino.
One thing to add - Eco translated the Latin for this novel which will make some people very happy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nineteen Years of Winter

I spotted this on Wikipedia and wondered where it came from because my copy of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, which includes various chronicles, but especially the Peterborough manuscript that this comes from, does not have this passage translated in the same way. The missing word is 'winter'.
" To till the ground was to plough the sea: the earth bare no corn, for the land was all laid waste by such deeds; and they said openly, that Christ slept, and his saints. Such things, and more than we can say, suffered we nineteen winters for our sins".
I took this text from The Online Medieval & Classical Library, where they have uploaded older (i.e. 19th century) translations of the work. It would be great to find the original Anglo Saxon so that I could see why my Micheal Swanton translation does not include the phrase "19 winters" and just says "19 years". It is not a big difference. The curiosity for me is due to George R.R. Martin's Fire and Ice series which includes winters that could be this long. 'Winter is Coming' is a slogan from the series. It is loosely based on the civil war that was called War of the Roses but these 19 years, King Stephen's reign, were also marked by civil war since Stephen was a usurper of the throne. Henry I's daughter the Empress Matilda had been named Henry's successor. When Stephen's son Eustace died, Stephen passed over his other sons and made peace with Matilda and so Matilda's son, Henry II was crowned when he died. It is just curious. That is all.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Three Books That You Cannot Do Without

Apart from the obvious good dictionary, I think anyone who writes for school, pleasure or profit should have these three books on their shelf.
The first book that everyone should own is Brewer's Guide to Phrase and Fable. It is a dictionary but not of individual words rather of expressions and places, persons and things in stories. A sample entry would be:
" Brigadoon. A fictional ghostly village in the Scottish Highlands which, in the eponymous whimsical musical comedy (1947) by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, comes to life only for one day every 100 years. A film was made of the musical in 1954, starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. The name is no doubt based on that of the River Doon in Ayrshire; brig means 'bridge'."
or this one,
"Plantagenet. A name commonly given since the mid-17th century to the royal line now more properly called ANGEVIN and to the LANCASTRIAN and YORKIST kings from Henry II to Richard III. these were the descendants of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, and Matilda, daughter of Henry I. It may have arisen from Geoffrey of Anjou's habit of wearing a sprig of BROOM (plante genet) in his cap, or from the fact that he planted broom to improve his hunting covers. Henry II was Geoffrey's son....."
Where a word is all capitalized, there is a further entry in the Guide.
A second book that is de rigeur is Pliny the Elder's Natural History. It is rarely published in its entirety. My copy, which is a Penguin publication with John F. Healy translating, has only a selection. It seems clear to me while reading Umberto Eco's Baudolino that he has read Pliny as well since he places manticores in India just as Pliny has. Much of Baudolino's fabulous trip to find Prester John comes from Pliny, among other sources.
Amusingly, at the end of the entry on 'The Legendary Manticore, Basilisk and Werewolf', Pliny wrote "It is astonishing how far Greek gullibility will go. There is no occurrence so fabulously shameless that it lacks a witness."
Pliny died in the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. He was in charge of the fleet at Misenum and crossed the bay when the volcano erupted partly through scientific curiosity and partly to rescue survivors. His nephew and heir wrote about his demise and provides a record of the eruption of Vesuvius viewed at a safer distance. There are so many interesting bits in Pliny; how does one select just one as a sample?
Although it is just one among many, this one has its charms:
"The Magi. The Magi have certain subterfuges: for example, the gods neither obey nor appear to those with freckles. Was this perhaps why they stood in Nero's way? Tiridates the Magus ....refused to travel by sea, for the Magi consider it sinful to spit into the sea or defile its nature by any other human function......Although Tiridates had given Nero a kingdom, he was unable to teach him the art of magic. This should be sufficient proof that magic is execrable, achieves nothing and is pointless.....I met Apion the grammarian, who informed me that the herb cynocephalia, know in Egypt as osiritis, was a source of divination and a protection against all black magic, but that if anyone completely uprooted it , he would immediately die. He added that he had summoned ghosts to inquire from Homer his native land and the name of his parents, but did not dare to reveal the answer he had allegedly been given."
Interesting? I would like to know what everyone had against red-haired and freckled people. Really, I do.
The third book I would like to recommend is not really a book. It is anything by Aristotle. Poetics in particular is useful for English essays. With my pronouncement that "everything tastes better with bacon on it", I would also add "when your essay is too short, quote Aristotle". I have had a couple of professors get a little annoyed about the Aristotle quotes but, as long as it is relevant to the subject, they will not mark you down for it because you are quoting @#%&* Aristotle, fer cryin' out loud. If you are writing a high school paper, the teacher will probably be seriously impressed than you even know who Aristotle is. Although, I have to admit, Aristotle is not as interesting to read as Brewer's Guide or Pliny even if he is a super-philosopher.
So there you have it. My recommendations for any well stocked library.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dr. Johnson and Scrofula

I spent the day yesterday comparing the latin text of Pliny's Natural History and an English text to see what is being translated as 'scrofula'. In every case, scrofula came from a form of 'struma' however, doing another word search, I found there were 67 instances of 'struma' in the text but only 19 were translated as scrofula. Now that could also be because the English word search doesn't give you the adjective when you are searching for the noun, but I am too lazy to look for every one of the 67 occurrences of the word. You will have to forgive me.
There is an interesting entry in the Cambridge History of Human Diseases on scrofula but there is no electronic version, that I can access remotely, so any discussion of that text will have to wait until I can get to a university library and have a look.
For the time being then, I will leave the discussion of scrofula with a comment on the fact that Samuel Johnson, he who wrote the dictionary, had scrofula as a child. At the age of two, he was taken to see Queen Anne who was the last English monarch to attempt the healing touch. It was abandoned shortly after as being too Catholic a practice. Queen Anne did give him a gold coin which he wore around his neck until he died in his old age.
It is assumed that he got scrofula from drinking infected cows' milk since that is how people commonly got it. It is something that people who think that 'raw milk' is superior to pasteurized milk want to consider. The gold coin that Queen Anne gave to Dr. Johnson has been preserved and is on display at the British Museum and you can see it online here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

There Is Always a Reason

I was curious as to why Mr. Harris chose scrofula as Vatinius' disfiguring ailment. Short of writing him a letter, and assuming he would reply, know why he chose that, or has notes that would help him figure out why, I must do my own detective work and make the best guess available.
I used the Perseus site to peruse texts that refer to Vatinius but most of the ones that interested me were not readily available in Latin on that site. Cicero made a very long speech in the Senate called In Vatinium against Vatinius where he makes reference to Vatinius being denied augership. He also refers to the disfigurement in his letters to Atticus and in one to Brutus. What word did he use in In Vatinium? "Ista quae sunt inflata" or those disgusting things which are swollen. The English translation at Perseus rendered 'ista' which is a pronoun into the word 'wen'.
Catullus came to my aid, good ole Catullus. He wrote a poem, now called 52 but at the time was called In Novium, in which there is a line calling Nonius 'a giant boil sitting on the curule chair'(my translation) and accusing Vatinius of perjury. Who is Nonius and what exactly is a struma anyway? So I looked in my pocket dictionary The New College Latin and English Dictionary. It also includes Late Latin and Neo Latin so it has been useful for some Medieval texts. In this dictionary, struma means 'tumor, swollen gland'; however just after this entry is strumosus which means scrofulous.
Not content with this, I got out the granddaddy of Latin dictionaries, the Oxford Latin Dictionary, because it has only classical Latin and some etymology plus where words occur in Latin texts. I love a good dictionary. I should have gone to this one first as nearly all the entries where struma occurs also contain the name Vatinius. There is nothing like being famous for all time for a giant boil on your neck.
The OLD defines struma as 'a swelling of the lymphatic glands'. Strumosis is 'afflicted with glandular swellings'. This requires now a look at the Oxford English Dictionary and, indeed, scrofulous comes from a Medieval Latin word 'scrofula' which means an enlarged lymph gland. Maybe struma is scrofula but there is more reason that one for enlarged lymph nodes. Scrofula is derived from scrofa, which the OED states is latin for 'breeding sow which were deemed subject to this disease'. Struma was equated with goiter, bronchocele or scrofula at the earliest in 1400 in Lefranc's Cicurgie. So whatever dictionary, if he was conducting his research in the original latin texts, he used may have been like my pocket dictionary - spoiled with Medieval Latin terms - or whatever translation he used of those texts had been spoiled with Medieval Latin terms.
The OLD lists In Vatinium 39 "si...strumae ab ore improbo demigrarunt et aliis iam se locis conlocarunt"(if those tumors migrate from your shameless face and now lodge themselves in other places), Letters to Atticus 2.9.2 "licet....Vatini strumam sacerdoti vestiant" (it is permitted that priests adorn the glandular swellings of Vatinius) and Celsus V.29.2"struma est tumor, in quo subter concreta quaedam ex pure et sanguine quasi glandulae oriuntur...nascuntur maxime in cervice, sed etiam in alis et inguinibus" ( A struma is a tumor, in which arises under certain curdling from pus and blood just like of a small gland.... it is borne mostly in the neck but also in other private parts.) Most English translations of these texts call struma 'scrofula'. Pliny's Natural History is full of references to scrofula including how to cure it with weasel's blood. So Harris is not wrong to say that Vatinius had scrofula but I wonder if later translators had been duly diligent in naming the disease or just followed what previous translators had done.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More of that Scrofula

I am sure it was a terrible disease and I should not be so amused at references to it in novels but I cannot help myself. In Robert Harris' novel Lustrum, the tribune Publius Vatinius was called the ugliest man in Rome. "He had contracted scrofula as a boy, and his face and neck were covered in pendulous purplish-blue lumps." (pg 360) After looking at Cicero's correspondance to Atticus about Vatinius, I have to say that Harris chose scrofula as his disfigurement because Vatinius had some mark and malformed legs that prevented him from being chosen as an auger but scrofula is not mentioned by anyone. Not Tacitus, or Pliny, Caesar, Livy, Plutarch, Dio Cassus or anyone else who mentions Vatinius' name. However, while looking, I had a nice long look at the Perseus site which,
"The Perseus Project at Tufts University is the foremost Digital Library for the classical world, if not for the Humanities in general. In its collection of Greek and Roman materials, readers will find many of the canonical texts read today. The Greek collection approaches 8 million words and the Latin collection currently has 5.5 million. In addition, many English language dictionaries, other reference works, translations, and commentaries are included, so that anyone with an internet connection has access to the equivalent of a respectable College Classics library. The Perseus site is further enriched by intricate linking mechanisms among texts (resulting in more than 30 million links)."

It is a very good site for looking up references.

Friday, July 16, 2010


When Richard I was returning to England from the Crusades, he was delayed en route, having been captured by Duke Leopold and held prisoner for a couple of years by Holy Roman Emperor for ransom. Just yesterday, I spotted the name of one of the castles where he was held - Trifels in Germany. I have been there. He spent three weeks at Trifels in 1193. At the age of six, I was dangled over the cliffs, that the castle is perched on, by my uncle who thought it would be amusing to make my mother scream. Trifels is German for 'three cliffs'.
I do not remember much about the castle beyond that since I snuck off to the pub with my father and missed the tour of the tower. Of course at six, I would not have known or cared who Richard I was but, if someone would have mentioned Robin Hood, I might have gotten excited. Anyhow, here is a photo of the area I was dangled over. It is the farthest part with the chain link fence and I have to wonder if anyone ever dangled Richard I over that edge. I am sure he would have found it exhilarating. I was fortunate to have the presence of mind not to struggle in my uncle's arms or I might not have been here to write this blog for you.
Some worthwhile links: more photos and some info.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Have Ideas

I really do have some ideas for blog entries. Maybe it is summer time or maybe I am just a slob, but I just don't feel like writing one at the moment. I'll be back.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scrofula Rears Its Ugly Head

I was reading Susan Townsend's novel Queen Camilla last night. I have been a big fan of her Adrian Mole novels. As usual, her novel is full of silliness and humor and on page 58 she has Lawrence Krill pen the following letter to Prince Charles:
I beg your indulgence, my liege, to have recognizance of my advice to thee. I have it in my gift to grant to you possession of a most wondrous particular: The Lost Crown of England. May my vitals be torn from my living belly if this be not true.
Write to me, do not tarry, my liege. All I ask as a reward is that you touch my scrofulous and most foul body to cure me of the King's Evil. 'Tis this unholy affliction that doth condemn me to endure such cruel incarceration in this most cursed place: The Asylum of Rampton.
May the Almighty anoint thee with blessings.
I am, sire, but a humble and unworthy petitioner,
Lawrence Krill"

The spirit of the Middle Ages lives on.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I saw on the Internet that some Marilyn Monroe memorabilia sold in Las Vegas last weekend. Three chest x-rays taken in 1954 were sold for a large amount. There were also four x-rays of her abdomen taken at the same time. It seems rather wrong that someone has portions of her medical files and can sell them but memorabilia has value. The article in the Toronto Star states that a lock of Elvis Presley's hair would also be sold at the auction and the most bizarre thing they had sold was William Shatner's kidney stone for $75,000.
What has that to do with the Middle Ages? Well, they were collectors of celebrity memorabilia too, except that their celebs were superstars in the church. Going back to A Distant Mirror, I was struck by Duc de Berry's (Charles V's uncle and he of the Tres Riches Heures) collection of relics which included "one of Charlemagne's teeth, a piece of Elijah's mantle, Christ's cup from the Last Supper, drops of the Virgin's milk, enough of her hairs and teeth to distribute as gifts, soil from various Biblical sites, a narwhal's teeth, porcupine's quills, the molar tooth of a giant."
In another book, Glastonbury Abbey by James P. Carley, the author has a small chapter on relics in which he writes "Chaucer's description of the unscrupulous and corrupt Pardoner who makes unsuspecting simple folk gulls by selling them his false and valueless relics has a particularly strong resonance for modern readers, who find the medieval cult of relics naively superstitious and almost impossible to respect." I don't know. $75,000 for a kidney stone seems strange to me. It seems to me that I recall a peanut butter sandwich, half eaten by Elvis being sold once for a fair amount of money. If one considers those auctions of Princess Diana's dresses that fetched huge amounts of money, modern people can understand relics well enough if they stop and think about it. The author does concede that modern people have their own cult of the preserved bodies of political leaders like Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Eva Peron.
He goes on to list the collection of relics held at Glastonbury: "a part of Moses's and Aaron's rods, manna, a fragment of Isaiah's tomb, and parts of Daniel's body...; items related to the Virgin Mary, including a small portion of her milk, bones from St. John the Baptist; bones, teeth and clothing from the Apostles; numerous remains from the Holy Martyrs and Confessors" There were also King Arthur's bones and his queen, Guinevere, as well as Joseph of Arimathia's as yet undiscovered grave somewhere nearby.
The one relic that stands out for me is the Virgin's breast milk. Now, she only had one child so someone had been stealing milk from baby Jesus. If Mary was not milking herself, someone was milking the Holy Virgin. Someone was squeezing the sacred 'dumplings' to later sell the contents of the 'dumplings'. Something seems wrong about that. As well, when Mary had Jesus, nobody but her knew that Jesus was going to be that special so who would have known to think ahead to save some breast milk for later selling? You have to wonder why people did not consider those things before they purchased this stuff.
Carley goes on to relate how Erasmus visited Canterbury with John Colet and Colet was horrified to be presented with a 'reputed arm of St. George with dry blood and flesh still on it". Mmmmmm, yummy. "He also refused to accept a fragment of dirty linen which had reportedly been used by Becket 'to wipe the perspiration from his face or his neck, the runnings from his nose, or such other superfluities from which the human frame is not free." When you consider that people like Elvis Presley or Engelbert Humperdinck, among others, handed out sweat soaked handkerchiefs to their audiences to be treasured, the tradition goes on and includes post mortem Elvis sightings and healing the sick.
Carley went on to write that most of the relics of Glastonbury were destroyed with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, being called pagan images. He wrote, "Much superstition was no doubt overcome at the Reformation but it was done at a great psychological cost. Protestant man become considerably more alone in the world than were his Catholic predecessors, who had their tangible links with eternity." Don't worry James we still have Elvis.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Cult of the Warrior

Perhaps I should more accurately call this 'Don Quixote' since in Barbara Tuchman's book, A Distant Mirror, the knightly ideal is what the upper class strove for. It seems the harder they clung to the ideal, the less their behavior resembled it but they admired bravery and glory as ends in themselves and so it is a cult of the warrior.
Herodotus wrote something like this: "In the course of that fight Leonidas fell, having fought most gallantly, and many distinguished Spartans with him - their names I have learned, as those of men who deserve to be remembered; indeed, I have learned the names of all the three hundred." (as translated by Aubrey de Selincourt) It reminds me of a statement by Jean Froissart about the Thirty: "since that time I have seen sitting at the table of Charles king of France a Breton knights, sir Evan of Charuel who had been there; and he had his face so cut about and hacked that it plainly showed how that the encounter had been nobly fought. And in many places was the adventure related and recorded. and some thought it prowess and others foolhardiness."
It has a ring to it just like the 300 of Spartan fame. The Combat of the Thirty took place in 1351. It started with Robert de Beaumanoir, a Breton nobleman fighting for the French in the Hundred Years War, issuing a challenge to a single combat to Bramborough who was fighting for the English. At first it was thought to be a waste of effort to risk death for one single joust but then their friends heard of it and wanted in. So they got a group of thirty on each side to meet in a field near an oak halfway between Ploermel and Josselin, later marked with a stone. They fought for three hours. Froissart does not report it but it was later said that when Beaumanoir called for a recess to get a drink, Bramborough told him to drink his own blood and his thirst would pass. Bramborough should have kept his mouth shut because he was one of the later eight English casualties. The French won the battle, there were several dead on both sides and everyone was wounded. They fought with spears, swords, daggers and axes.
Froissart also wrote "Ernauton Biscete and le Mengeant de Sainte Basile fought hand to hand, without sparing themselves, and performed many gallant deeds, while all the others were fully employed; however, they fought so vigorously that they exhausted their strength, and both were slain on the spot." idiots.
It puts one to mind of what Dieneces said upon hearing that the arrows shot by the Persians would be so numerous that they would block out the sun,"This is pleasant new that the stranger from Trachis bring us: if the Persians hide the sun, we shall have our battle in the shade." Or when Leonidas was asked by Xerxes to surrender his arms, he replied "Come and get them." Except the Three Hundred were fighting to defend their homeland, they were not simply bored by a lull in the fighting. Leonidas knew they would not be coming back due to a prophecy that Sparta would not prevail unless they sacrificed their king. He chose only men who had sons who could take over as head of the family. It was not a silly game; they were laying down their lives for their homes and their families.
The famous Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth wrote a novel about the Thirty. It is no longer in print but it can be read here.

And it might be worth it, too.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Healing Hands of the King

In The Return of the King, Ioreth, looking at the fair face of Faramir says, "Alas! if he should die. Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known."
While reading A Distant Mirror, which leads into the miracle of Joan of Arc being at the end of the Hundred Years War, I decided to get out my copy of Marina Warner's Joan of Arc to compare Warner's view of the events of the war to that of Tuchman. One of the commands issued by Joan's voices was that Charles VII must go to Rheims, which was in enemy hands at the time, to be crowned King of France and anointed with the special oil which was kept at Rheims for the anointing of kings since the days of Clovis. The oil was given to the Bishop Remigius by the Holy Spirit in the form of a white dove, according to Hincmar, the archbishop of Rheims in the 9th century.
After he had been crowned in a bare bones ceremony, he touched the relics of the martyr, St. Marcoul, and "through his intercession heal the scrofula, or king's evil, of his subjects. Scrofula is a disfiguring, incurable disease of the skin, and the only remedy in medieval times was believed to be the touch of the legitimate, God-appointed and God-pleasing king." This according to Warner's notes comes from the chronicle of Enguerrand Monstrelet. By healing people, Charles VII was confirming for himself and his people that he was the rightful king.
Edward the Confessor, one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England, was the first to have been credited this power by Osbert de Clare and all subsequent kings of England are also supposed to have had this power to heal the King's Evil, as scrofula was called.
So the hands of the king really were healing hands, if you believe.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Even Historians Have to Say 'Holy Cow!' Once in a While

The title just about says it all. Still, reading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, there are so many ways a historian reveals a bias in history writing; but it must be difficult to put together an account of the doings of kings without saying 'Holy Cow!' or something a little stronger. In her chapter on the Jacquerie, she wrote about Guillaume Cale riding to meet Charles II of Navarre by saying his 'common sense apparently deserted him'. Charles of Navarre 'preferred guile and treachery'. 'The capture of their leader by such easy and contemptuous treachery'' clearly shows the author's disgust with Charles of Navarre. He is not a likable guy.
Cale was the leader of a band of peasants who were fighting the nobility for better conditions for the poor. The peasants had been brutalized by the plague, Hundred Year's War and knights, who during a lull in the war turned to brigandage perpetrated against peasantry for the most part, as they were defenseless, being prohibited to bear arms. After Charles captured Cale, he 'massacred "3000" more peasants' and burned 300 alive. Then he beheaded Cale after reportedly crowning him as King of the Jacques with a circlet of red hot iron. Tuchman calls this 'wicked mockery' because, really, it must be hard to write about this cruelty and not comment on it ever.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sound Familiar?

I have been reading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century which I have been enjoying very much. In the chapter on war, where she wrote about the beginning of the Hundred Years War, the author offers the comments that the initial phase of the war was ruinously expensive and Edward III passed the ruin on to others. Since, there was no real infrastructure to support and system of taxation to support it, kings had to raise money for battles with special taxes and in this case with some loans from Florentine bankers, Bardi and Peruzzi. When Edward did not gain as much money from the war and the hoped for monopoly of the wool trade, as he expected, the 'drain on the Italian companies bankrupted them.' The Peruzzi bank failed in 1343, the Bardi in 1344 and the crash brought down a third bank, Acciaivioli. 'Capital vanished, stores and workshops closed, wages and purchases stopped.'
Sound familiar? The banks were betting on Edward crushing the French and making a ton of money off booty, ransoms and wool instead of betting on bad mortgages. Same result.
Voltaire wrote that "History never repeats itself, man always does.".
While I am quoting writers, here is a good quote from Ambrose Bierce, "History: An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rules, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools"
"History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives" Abba Eban
Our ignorance of history makes us libel our own times. People have always been like this" Gustave Flaubert
Maybe, instead of spending so much time on economics, the captains of industry should have to learn a bit of history. It might not make them behave better, but at least they will know who to point the finger at when things go wrong. (Not that they will)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why So Quiet?

Taking a break from such intense blogging. My garden needs weeding.
Plus the book, I am reading and want to review, is taking me a long time to read.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Deeds of the Franks, Book 10, Travel Guide to Jerusalem

It Begins With a Description of Sacred Places of Jerusalem

If any wish to go from the West to the parts of Jerusalem, let him hold to the rising of the sun(east) only and he will find the locations of Jerusalem for prayer, just as it is here written down. In Jerusalem, there is a room covered with one stone where Solomon wrote his book Wisdom. And there, between the temple and the altar, on the marble before the altar, the blood of Zacharia was spilled. From there it is not far to the stone from which, through separate years, the Jews came and, anointing it, were lamenting and then were returning with a sigh. There is the home of Hezekiah, king of the Jews, to whom God had given 15 years. Then there is the home of Caiaphas and a column, to which Christ had been bound, when he had been struck by whips. At the port of Neopolitana, there is the general's tent of Pilate, where Christ was judged by the princes of the priests. Not far away is Golgotha, it is the place of the skull, where Christ the son of God was crucified, and where Adam had the first burial. Abraham sacrificed to God here. From which, just as far west as great stones can be thrown, is the place where Joseph of Arimathea buried the sacred body of the lord Jesus and there is a church splendidly built by Constantine the king. At the mount of Calvary, there are 13 paces west to the center of the world. At the left side, is the prison, where Christ had been imprisoned. On the right side, near the sepulcher, is a Latin monastery in honor of the Virgin, Blessed Mary, where her home had been. Where the high altar is in that monastery is where Mary, the virgin mother, stood and, with the sister of her mother, Maria Cleophe and Maria Magdalene, weeping and sorrowing, saw the Lord placed on the cross. There Jesus spoke to his mother: "Woman, behold your son" and to his disciple: "Behold your mother" From this place, twice as far as one is able to fire an arrow from a bow, on the east side, is the Temple of the Lord, having been built by Solomon, in which Christ had been presented by Simeon the Righteous. On the right side of this temple, Solomon built his won temple and between both temples there is a wonderfully constructed portico with marble columns. On the left side is the sheep pool (Pool of Bethesda which was near the Sheep Gate). From this, going east for a thousand paces, the Mount of Olives can be seen, where the lord Jesus prayed to his father saying: "Father, if it is able to become" and the rest. And he wrote the Pater Noster in stone and from which he ascended into heaven, saying to his disciples: "Go and teach all people" and the rest. Between the Temple of the Lord and the Mount of Olives is the valley of Jehoshaphat (Kidron Valley)where the virgin Mary was buried by the apostles. Into this valley, the Lord will come to judge the world. Nearby is a villa which is called Gethsemane, and where nearby is the garden across the brook of the Cedron, where Judas betrayed Jesus. Nearby is the sepulcher of Isaiah the prophet. From there, at a thousand paces to Bethany, is where Lazarus had been revived after being dead for four days. In the same location, nineteen miles towards Jericho, is the sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed so that he could see Jesus. In another part, at a thousand paces from Jericho, is the fountain of Heliseus (Elisha), which he blessed by mixing it with salt. Five miles from here is the river Jordan, in which the Lord had been baptized by John, at a distance of eight leagues from Jerusalem. Not far from this is the mount from which Helias (Elijah) had been seized. From the Jordan, it is a trip of eighteen days all the way to Mount Sinai, where God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, and gave his law to him. And there is the great urn, which was unfailingly yielding the oil. Mount Thabor is distant from Jerusalem by a journey of three days, where the Lord had been transformed. At the foot of this mountain is said to be the Galilee and the sea of Tiberias, which is not a sea but a lake which the Jordan pours out of. On the right side of the city of Jerusalem, to the south and beyond the wall as far as one is able to fire an arrow is the Mount Sion, and there is the church that Solomon built. There Jesus dined with his disciples before the passion, and there he refilled them with the Holy Spirit; and where also the virgin Mary migrated from the secular, and gave back her spirit, whose holiest body was carried to the valley of Jehosaphath by the apostles. At the foot of this mountain to the south is the pool of Siloa, sprouting suddenly out of the earth. From which not far away is Sychem, where Joseph, coming from the valley of Hebron, sought his brothers. There is a villa which Jacob gave to Joseph his son and where his body rests. From which at a thousand paces is Sychar, where the Lord spoke to the Samaritan woman. Not far from this is the place where the angel wrestled with Jacob. That is where Bethlehem is, the city of David, where Christ was born, at a distance from Jerusalem of four miles to the south. And there is a church, having been built with marble columns, in which is the place where Jesus had been born. Not far from this, on the right side, is the manger of the Lord.
From which, at twelve miles, is the fortified town of Abraham, which is called Tocor, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are buried with their wives. On the left side in the mount of the Lord Sees, and there is the place where Abraham wanted to sacrifice his son.

This explains the journeys to Jerusalem.

After he washed off the blood, Anonymous went sightseeing. I can just imagine some local calling him over with a "psst, I have a lock of Jesus hair. Normally I wouldn't sell it but I need the money and you look like a nice guy. How 'bout a souvenir of the Holy Land". Or some other relic. This last piece is a travel brochure. It seems so strange following all the killing and starvation and blood. No one knows what happened to Anonymous after this. Many of the knights, having achieved what they set out to do - free Jerusalem and complete their pilgrimage to the holy places - went home, leaving people like Bohemond, Godfrey, Baldwin and Tancred struggling to hold on to their new realms with a lack of manpower. I would include Raymond in this list but he was not very good at land grabbing and spent the rest of his life in a snit at everyone else especially Bohemond and Tancred.