Monday, December 31, 2012

The Glass Is Half Full

      At this time of year, people tend to look back at the year that was and include some wishes or hopes for the new year. To me, new year's day is just a day. The year begins at other times in other cultures. It is likeliest a time for some ancestor worship and and/or keeping the bogeyman away.  Whether you spend most of your time glancing back or looking forward depends not a little on your age ( I think the younger ones look forward) and your attitude towards life. Is life getting better or is it getting worse? Is the glass half empty or is it half full? I think, in spite of my age, I am an optimist and I declare the glass to be half full. I don't just read medieval literature; I really enjoy science fiction.
      So what is a medievalist to do on New Years when she prefers to look forward? Well, she should remind everybody where we have been and why she thinks life has gotten better in the long run.

      In my own lifetime, I have lived with the threat of global nuclear war, global pandemic, overpopulation, global water and food shortages, destruction of our environment, global warming, gun violence on an increasingly horrific scale, the global economy with the banking meltdown and race to the bottom for worker's wages and rights, and, if that isn't enough, a possibility of a direct hit by an asteroid. We live in a culture of fear that is fostered by the media. Some of these threats are very real but something or someone will go on even if I drop out of the story.
     People have been predicting the end of the world for a long time. There were messianic figures in Roman Palestine who were predicting the end of the world. A thousand years later, people were looking for the second coming of Jesus to end the world. Two thousand years later, people were convinced the computers would all crash and life as we know it would end. The Black Death must have convinced people the time was near as nearly two thirds of Europe died. The Hundred Years War and the rampant noble brigands who tormented the peasantry, a mini ice age, the viking raids, the fall of Rome to the barbarian hordes, 1066 and the Norman Conquest, and so many other events like World War I and II must have convinced people then that the world had gone mad and the end was at hand. People suffered and died but human life went on.
      Life had gotten better for most people. Women were declared to be 'persons' under the law. We have courts and most of us can seek redress for wrongs through them. True, there still seems to be one set of rules for the wealthy and one for the rest of us but at times the righteous win their cause. Torture is not routine but is socially unacceptable and occasionally even punished. Women can own property in many parts of the world and have access to education. We have cured many diseases. We understand about bacteria and waterborne, as well as air-borne pathogens. Child mortality has declined in most parts of the world (I think). You get the drift. The pendulum seems to be swinging back a little (or alot, it remains to be seen which) as it will do but, over the long run, we have made progress.
      So Happy New Year, gentle reader and stay positive.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End of Days

The Apocalypse:
It's not what you think

         When people are not talking about Christmas, they have been talking about
the Mayan apocalypse or 'end of days'. Apocalypse does not actually mean some large catastrophic doomsday scenario.
         Apocalypsis is the last book in the Catholic canon, the Biblia Sacra Vulgata. It is a loan word from the Greek since the New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek, the language that was commonly spoken around the Mediterranean in the early centuries of the Common Era. It is the name of book containing the revelations attributed to Saint John the Apostle (if that is indeed his name), during his exile by Domitian on the island of Patmos. It is accurately translated in the King James version of the Bible as Revelations because that is what apocalypse means: revelations or an 'uncovering'.
         Doomsday could be a suitable substitute as a term because it is derived from the Anglo-Saxon 'domes dæg' or 'day of judgement'. The Mayan end of days should really be called Judgement Day because that is the day in which all the guilty will be judged and time will end in the Bible. So......, the Terminator got it right and, this time, he won't be back.
         Finally, the calendar most likely ends on December 21 because that is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the Mayans were in Mexico. I wonder how short their days can possibly be or how cold but they are definitely in the north. Most pre-Christian cultures had some kind of winter solstice celebration to mourn the death of the sun and to hopefully bring it back. Therefore, the calendar ends on this day because it is 'year's end' for a culture that worshipped a solar deity. There is no mystery but some kind of revelation would be awesome. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Pearl

      What can a Medievalist say about the slaughter of innocents? Years ago, I read a poem called The Pearl, which had been written in 14th century Yorkshire by the same poet who wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In spite of the poet being a contemporary of Chaucer's, his poetry is extremely difficult to read because it is written in the local dialect of English.
      It is a poem about a father whose 2 year old daughter has died and he is consumed by grief over the loss of his child. The pearl is a metaphor for the soul and she is his most precious pearl that he has lost in a garden, i.e. she is lost in the soil or buried. He has a dream where he sees her in heaven living as a bride of Christ and she tells him that she is happy and that he should stop mourning her. He tries to cross to river to be with her and he wakes up. The reunion is denied. The poem is about how excessive grief is a sin and the death of a beloved child is all part of God's plan.
       I think that anyone who has lost a child or knows someone who has lost a child can say that the grieving never really ends. I am glad to see the Church seeks to comfort those who have lost children rather than tell them that their grief is wrong because the child is in a better place.
        Even in a time when people had more children than we do today and child mortality was high, the loss of a child affected people so terribly.
      I feel for the people of Newtown. Life will never be the same. How do you recover from that?
I also feel bad for the people of a little village in Afghanistan who just lost ten little girls aged 7 to 11 as they were out collecting firewood. Will their deaths spark an outcry and a demand to have landmines banned worldwide?

The Peal, edited by Sarah Stanbury, TEAMS book from University of Michigan
available online here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Feast of St. Nicholas

      Today is the feast of Saint Nicholas and, if you are a purist, you would have set your boots outside your door last night for Saint Nicholas to fill up. Of course, if you were bad, Saint Nicholas' helper Black Peter would fill your boots with coal instead. Back in the days when homes were heated with coal, that does not seem like such a punishment. Peter was black from all the coal he was carrying around rather than being of African or Moorish heritage like he is sometimes depicted.
     I have a book called The Xmas Files by Patrick Harding about the origins of many of our current Christmas customs. The jacket of the book proclaims that Dr. Harding achieved his doctorate by growing grass on coal tips so he is not a medievalist or historian but he must know how to write a scholarly work. This book is not that. There is no bibliography or citation in it which is disappointing because, on page 80, he states that Santa Claus is based in part on Odin in his guise as the Old Man of Winter and that Black Peter was Odin's Dark Helper, who travelled about with him. I would love to know where he got that from because, in my studies of Norse myth and Old Norse, this aspect of Odin never came up. Odin was the leader of the Wild Hunt that went abroad in the winter and he did wear a red cloak trimmed with fur but this 'dark helper' is a mystery to me. Could he be Loki, Odin's usual travelling companion?
     I have added three new links to my blog and they include a link to the Golden Legend, which is where much of the story about Saint Nicholas, who was the bishop of Myra in Anatolia (Turkey), comes from. It includes a link to Eusebius of Caesarea's history of the church, since Nicholas could have been at the Nicean Council. Indeed, as the council took place in 325 a.d. and Nicholas lived 343 a.d., it seems almost impossible that he did not attend since Nicea is also in Turkey but, of the supposedly 1800 bishops who were invited by the Emperor Constantine, only about 300 attended. Eusebius was at the council and was the man who baptized Constantine.
    I have also included a link to the history written by Socrates Scholasticus about the same event. I mention this because there is a tradition that Nicholas lost his shit at the council and gave poor Arius a smack in the face. I do not know where this tradition came from, from what I can see, the usual named source, St. Methodius, the patriarch of Constantinople, only stated that Saint Nicholas kept the city free from heresy. Socrates wrote that two celebrated bishops were at the council, Paphnutius and Spyridon, as well as Hosius most celebrated of the Spaniards. There is no mention of Nicholas or the slap.
     St. Nicholas has evolved into Santa Claus, as most people will know, and is given the name of Kris Kringle in some movies, which is a corruption of Krist Kindle or Christ child. I am not a religious person by any means but, since the merchants have gained control of the political agendas, the original significance of the festival has been completely corrupted to sell you more stuff that you really do not need. I deplore the commercialism of the season. The day to exchange gifts was today, on the feast of Saint Nick, who was the giver of gifts, not Christmas even if you add the lame excuse of the Three Wise Men bringing gifts because they gave their gifts on January 6, the day of the Epiphany (if you go by the current dates set for the birth of Jesus of Nazareth). Back to your chocolate alphabets; rant over for now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Anglo Saxon Reeve and Chaucer's Pilgrim

     I have been doing a close reading of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales with a few friends and we are at the Reeve's description in the General Prologue. This seems like a good time to discuss the term 'reeve' and where it comes from.
    The reeve or 'rife' or 'gerifa' is a royal representative or local official of some sort. As an office, it is a leftover from the Anglo Saxon period. Some chroniclers glossed it as 'praefectus' or prefect. When William the Bastard conquered England in 1066 a.d., he found a very orderly system of administration in place and did not change the system, although he put a few of his own people in the top spots, because it was functioning and he did not want to bother with details. He just wanted the country and its wealth; he was not very concerned about its citizens. So the reeve survived and was not supplanted by an Anglo-Norman term. We know him as a 'sheriff' which is a syncopation of 'shire-reeve'. He had tax-collecting and judicial duties. He also could be a overseer of some estate, the duties were not fixed to the title.
     The 'shire' is a term that is derived from 'schir' which simply means 'share, portion, division'. It is a subsection of a country and is not identical to the term 'hide' or 'hid' (a unit of measure equal to about 120 acres but not necessarily). It probably replaced 'hide'.
     We tend to think of the modern reeve as a type of mayor for smaller communities. Mayor is a term brought over by the Norman Conquest. It is simply an 'anglicization' of a latin term: the comparative of bonus (good) which is maior (better). The superlative is optimus (best). It seems similar to ealdorman, which survives today as alderman or 'old man', 'elder'. Small wonder that term has been changed to councillor in some municipalities. The ealdorman seems to belong to the earlier Anglo-Saxon period in England to have been replaced in some ways by eorls but it seems to me to be similar to the term 'wita' or 'wise man/councillor' since the earls clearly had military duties which the wita may or may not have. The Witangemot was a meeting(gemot) of the wita (wisemen).  Some of the terms seem to be used interchangeably. Unfortunately there is no book written pre-Conquest explaining all these terms and the duties attached to them. We must infer them from what texts exist.
     Chaucer's reeve is the overseer of an estate or manor. As such, part of his duties would be to supervise the Miller and draw part of his salary from the Miller's earnings, so it is not surprising that the Miller and the Reeve get into a big quarrel.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

About a Statue and an Apple

      Alexander tells about the state of things where Virgilius built a notable palace in the city of Rome. In the middle of which stood a certain statue which was named for a goddess of the Romans and who held a golden apple in her hand, whereby all around the palace there was a statue for every region holding a wooden bell in its hand. Indeed whenever some region was moved to plots against the might of Rome, the image for that region was shaking its bell and, at that time, a soldier would go forth from a bronze horse set on the top of the aforementioned palace and would shake a spear and would look over at that region.
Immediately the citizenry of Roman would arm itself so that it could subdue that region.

Virgilius is the poet of the Aeneid, who in the Middle Ages was thought to have been a sorcerer due to his name having been altered from Vergil to Virgil. Virgil was thought to have been derived from virga, a twig, staff or magic wand.
Among the many things the sorcerer Virgil is said to have done is to have built a palace in Rome with magical statues, representing all the provinces of Rome, which would ring its bell if ever its people wanted to rebel against Rome.
The framing of this narrative is a bit odd. The story isn't really about the apple or the statue of the goddess with the apple. The latin is very loose. It is from the Gesta Romanorum. The goddess with the golden apple is likely Venus and the golden apple is likely to be quince. 'Pomus' really means fruit and not specifically an apple. There was a word for apple and that was 'malum'. The statues that would warn Rome if rebellion was brewing was called the Salvacio Romae. Or Salvatio. Sometimes  't's' became 'c's' in the middle ages.
I don't know who Alexander is. Surely he is not Alexander the Great because Virgil lived long after he did but I won't rule him out. Logic did not always factor into these tales.
Addendum: I will go with Alexander Neckam, who seems to get the blame for the Virgil as sorcerer tales.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Heading into December

     The Christian faith is such a curious blend of things taken from Judaism, original thought and borrowings from 'heathen' faiths. In the end, what is accepted or acceptable is not so much divinely ordained but is decided by those who come out alive from the brawl.
      Christmas is one of those celebrations that arose because heathen celebrations were fun and it was difficult to persuade people to abandon them as well as the church needed a date to celebrate the Son's birth as a human. His earthly name was Jesus, a Latinization of the Greekifying of a Hebrew name Joshua/Yesua. He is called 'Christ' from the Greek word 'Khristos' or 'the annointed one' which is a translation of the Hebrew Masiah or Messiah. The gospels were originally written in Greek, which seems odd to me. I am sure there is a reason why Greek was still such a common language in areas where the Romans had clearly taken over.
       The 'mas' in Christmas is from the Old English 'mæse', meaning a celebration or a feast. The Oxford Dictionary states that it came from the Latin verb 'mitto, mittere' perhaps from some concluding words like 'Ite, missa est' or "Go, he/she has been dismissed." So it is the feast of the anointed one but I think that we are all special in our own way and therefore every day is Christmas.
      Another Christmas related word that interests me is 'mistletoe'. As a plant, it was sacred to the Celts.  The Druids did not write their secret knowledge down, it is Pliny who discusses it in his Natural History. The word 'mistletoe' itself comes from the Old English 'misteltan' or Old Norse 'mistiltienn'.  'Mistel' for the name of the plant which seems to have been equated with basil in Alfred's translation of Gregory's 'Pastoral Care'. 'Tan' is for twig or branch, or even diving rod. The Romans called it 'vascum' which is its genus name today. It was obviously important to winter solstice celebrations in the north and therefore it had to be incorporated into the Christian feast but it appears that its use for a 'kissing ball' may be a later development. One is supposed to remove a berry each time someone is kissed under the mistletoe and, when all the berries are gone, the kissing must stop. Then the mistletoe must be burned on the Twelfth Night (the night before the Epiphany) in case the kissers had no intent to marry.
     Pliny stated that mistletoe found on the oak tree was especially valued. So, if it is associated with oak trees and especially trees that had been hit by lightening, it is associated with Thor, who as the protector of mankind, then protected houses that contained mistletoe from being struck by lightening. This is not its only reference in Norse myth.  Mistletoe was the wood of the arrow that killed the god, Baldr, who eventually is resurrected but only after the Norse apocalypse - Ragnorok.
     The name for December comes from the latin month December, which according to the Oxford Latin Dictionary, is derived from 'decemo-membris'. Decem is the word for ten and membris can mean 'a section or division'. It was the tenth month in the Roman calendar until the Romans decided to honour Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar as gods by adding two new months, which they named for these new deities. As we move into the month and edge closer to the big day, I will probably add a few more Christmasy words and their origins.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cat Got Your Tongue?

      Idioms are fascinating things. They are particularly challenging for people who are learning any new language and it seems like English has more than its fair share of them. One idiom that I use often is 'giving someone the hairy eyeball'. Did I ever hear that somewhere or make it up myself? I don't know but I did have someone ask me to explain it. Think of the face you make when you get a hair in your eye and combine that with some shocking or unpleasant news and there you have a hairy eyeball.
     I spent a few hours Thursday night trying to track down why we say 'cat got your tongue?' when someone is too silent. There is nothing in Brewer's Guide to Phrase and Fable on it. Unfortunately, as with many vernacular idioms, it was not written down until late, not until the mid 19th century, although there were several suggestions as to why a cat would want your tongue. The Oxford English Dictionary guesses that it may have something to do with cats being considered witches' familiars and having the sense that the cat has bewitched you into silence but I do not like this explanation.
    There is also a story on the net, told and retold, that in the Middle East, a liar's tongue was cut off and fed to the Caliph's cats. I was unable to find a the source for this assertion, whether it was reported by some medieval western chronicler or an Arab writer, so I am sceptical although it is a marvelous story.
     There is a nearly identical French version of this idiom "donner sa langue au chat" meaning one is giving one's tongue to the cat but it is used in a different sense. According to the Larousse dictionary, it means to give up (guessing). I found a French blogger who also wrote about other expressions that involve cats. One is "J'ai mangé la langue du chat"(I ate the cat's tongue) which means "I cannot keep a secret" and "mettre quelque chose dans l'oreille du chat"(put something in the ear of the cat) which means "to forget something".  I thought perhaps this means there was an early French origin for this expression but it does not appear in Thomas Heywood's books of English proverbs and sayings from the 16th century.
     If the expression is derived from the relationship of cats and Satan, then this is a late pairing, from the witch hunts of the late 15th and 16th centuries. Cats were not always seen as agents of evil, especially as many people, monks included kept cats as mousers. The cat was a symbol of liberty in Roman times since it appears on the statues of Libertas, the goddess of Freedom.
    The connection between cat and witch may have come from the custom of throwing a cat on the hilltop fires of the summer solstice, which came to be called the feast of St. John the Baptist when the church, unable to change pagan customs, incorporated them into Christian customs. One has to wonder what the cat has to do with the solstice. Cats draw Freyja's chariot, which reinforces the cat and witch connection since Freyja practices seidr, a type of magic performed by women. Though it seems to me that most of the important feasts or sacrifices to the Aesir take place in the winter not in the summer.  Isis and Batt are also connected to witchcraft and cats.
     Clearly there is something older going on with cats and language and the solstice. The domestic cat is not native to Northern Europe, it appears to have been introduced by the Romans who got them from the Egyptians. I don't like the theory that it comes from cats and witches but I have no alternative theory to propose.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Bit of Irony

      For Remembrance Day or Veteran's Day or Armistice Day (whatever you call it), most people around here have a public reading of John McRae's 'In Flander's Fields'. It is a moving poem and the good doctor was a Canadian who gave his life in service to his country. The poem, that as often comes to my mind, is called 'Dulce et Decorum Est' by Wilfred Owen, a British volunteer, who also died, killed in action seven days before the war came to an end.
     I mention this because his poem speaks against war and he was not someone who stayed home and wrote his anti-war poems from the safety of his living room far from the front. He wrote his poem describing the horror of the gas attack, having seen it up close, and finished with,

"If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--- My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori."

He quoted a line from Horace, which means "how sweet and fitting it is to die for one's 
country". It was taken from a poem in Horace's book 3 of Carmina, poem #2 'Angustam Amice', the entire stanza is here,

"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo."

"It is sweet and fitting to die for the fatherland.
Death pursues even the fleeing man and spares
not the unwarlike of young men or the hamstrings of the timid."

How would Horace know? Somehow he managed to survive the Battle of Philipi, 
fighting on the losing Republican side, even though he fled the battle without his shield. I guess the lie started with Horace. Augustus forgave him and then he spent the rest of his 
life writing poems for the glory of Augustus and his war machine.

It is difficult to provide a translation of the title because 'angustam' is an adjective and 
'amice' is an adverb and they just do not go together. Word order in classical Latin is fluid and it is more important to Roman poetry to adhere to the meter than to keep adjectives 
with the nouns they describe and adverbs with the verbs. The title of the poem would 
always be the first few words of the poem, hence The Aeneid was never called that by the Romans, it was "arma et virumque cano". "I sing of arms and a man."

The first stanza is then,

"Angustam amice pauperiem pati
robustus acri militia puer
condiscat et Parthos ferocis
vexet eques metuendus hasta."

ignoring meter and putting it together as a modern sentence, it should go like this:

" Robustus puer condiscat pati amice angustam pauperiem acri militia et hasta/eques 
vexet Parthos ferocis metuendus."

"Let the healthy boy learn to endure patriotically narrow poverty with military discipline 
just as the mounted spearman harasses the Parthinians with the ferocity of fear."

Sounds like fun. Sign me up for that.
The Latin version of Horace's poem was taken from The Latin Library website.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Deeds of the Romans, Story #130

    Of course this story may have another number in another collection but I feel like translating one of the shorter stories that probably does not get much attention on the world wide web.

      Refert Valerius, quod Fabius praefectus redemerat captivos Romanorum promissa pecunia. Quam cum senatus dare nollet, ipse fundum unicum habens vendidit et pretium promissum solvit volens se portius patrimonio privare quam propria fide inopem esse.

     "Valerius relates how Fabius, Prefect (or Governor), had paid the ransom for Roman captives with the agreed on money. How, when the senate was unwilling to pay, he himself having one piece of property, sold and paid the promised price, more willing to deprive himself of his inheritance than to be poor in personal faith."

Presumably this story is told about  Fabius Maximus(ca. 280-203 B.C.), who paid the ransom for captives taken by Hannibal. Virgil names him as one of the greatest of the Fabii in the Aeneid, whom Anchises mentions in the trip to the underworld. He practiced a 'scorched earth' strategy against Hannibal which did not endear him to the Romans but after more conventional methods of warfare failed and a number of Senators were killed at Cannae, they called him back and he was named "The Shield of Rome".

Valerius is presumably Valerius Maximus, a Latin writer from the reign of Tiberius. The story itself may have come from Livy but it is also reported in Plutarch's biography of Fabius, chapter 7.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Other 'F' Word: Fart

     One thing that people often find more fascinating than where common phrases and words come is where the naughty words or 'not polite' words come from. After all, 'passing wind' can be referred to by its medical name (another 'f' word) flatulence, which comes from the Latin (as do many medical terms when they are not derived from Greek) flatulentus(a slow wind?by way of the French or by its common name 'fart'.
      Flatus, the Roman word , is a masculine noun meaning blowing or wind and flatus emittere means sending out wind or farting (which appears in Suetonius as a synonym to crepitus ventris.). However the Romans also had another name for farting: the verb pedo, pedere, pepedi and the part participle, which also could be used as a noun for the thing, peditum. (which the French use commonly, peter)  Clearly the word 'fart' did not come from the Romans.
     As modern German has a similar sounding equivalent 'furz' which sounds like 'farts', our word must be derived from the Germanic Old English. Indeed, one glance at the Oxford English Dictionary shows the OE equivalent is 'feortan' and the earliest reference to it is as 'feorþing' in Aelfric's Glossary, which is very difficult to find in its entirety. I have been unable to find out why Aelfric included it in his glossary which he glossed as 'pedatio' but Bosworth Toller defined as 'crepitus ventris', due to Suetonius, which is idiomatic as 'fart' for the Romans, according to the Oxford Latin Dictionary (and Suetonius). My, they had a lot of words for this! Crepitus ventris is loosely 'a clattering, groaning or noise of the belly'. I would really love to see Aelfric's Glossary to see if he really wrote 'pedatio' because Lewis and Short does not contain this word and the Oxford Latin Dictionary does not either. So, it was not a Roman word, they used peditum, but it could have been a regional Medieval variant.
     The Cleasby-Vigfussun Old Icelandic Dictionary has a related word in it because you know the Vikings would have a word for fart and it is 'fretr' a masculine noun and a verb 'freta'. It also includes a nice compound for a vagabond: fret-karl, fart-man.
     I have wind on my mind since I am sitting here awaiting the arrival or effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Name of the Rose, A Review

     It has taken me a while to read this 502 page novel. Not because it is not interesting. It certainly is but Umberto Eco's passion for medieval history and language are very evident in this book. First off, like any Eco novel, it is well researched and the atmosphere feels authentic. You cannot fault him with any anachronisms or misinformation but he does go on a bit too long about the various heresies of the 13th and 14th centuries. However, some of this information is important to the back story of why William of Baskerville is at this Abbey in the mountains of northern Italy waiting for a delegation from the Pope when a young monk suddenly dies.
    The Abbot approaches William and asks him to investigate, although everyone believes it is a suicide, because William had been an Inquisitor for the Church at one time. William duly begins asking questions in the Scriptorum where the recently dead had worked and finds that there was indeed something mysterious about the young man's death. When another monk is found dead, soon after, it becomes clear that there is a murderer on the loose at the Abbey and William is engaged in a race against time to solve the murders before the Papal delegation arrives with the formidable and sinister Grand Inquisitor Bernard Gui at its head while the body count rises. Since the Abbot will not allow William to enter the Library, in the day or night, William must resort to stealth by night in the labyrinth of the Aedificium as it quickly becomes clear that the murders involve some forbidden book that is hidden in the library.
      The story is told from William's helper, the young novice Adso of Melk in the form of a memoir that Adso writes as he is nearing the end of his life. I recommend the book but, if anyone finds the discussions of medieval heresies or philosophy a bit wearying, they can easily be skipped over without losing anything essential to the story.

      Eco has written a nice introduction to the book, explaining his inspiration for the novel and he has also written a fairly lengthy postscript including a discussion of the source for the name.  He does not come out and say who or what is the 'Rose' of the title as he believes that, once the book is published, the reader is free to interpret the book as they see it. He writes that it is not the authors's job to tell the reader how to interpret the work and any interpretation could be equally valid. That being said, he does offer up the source for the Latin with which he ends the story: "stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus." as I translate it, "The pristine rose stands rose by name, we hold the name as evident." It is indeed a mystery.

     It is an odd little line because, in the source that Eco names, De Contemptu Mundi by Bernard of Morlay, available here in the original latin, the line is "Nunc ubi Regulus aut ubi Romulus aut ubi Remus? Stat Roma pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus." line 951-952.  "Where now is Regulus, or Romulus or Remus? The original Rome stands Rome by name, we understand the name."

In Book 1, line 177, there is a line about a rose "Tunc rosa sanguine, lilia virgine mente micabunt, gaudia maxima te pia lacrima te recreabunt." translated by me as "then, the lily gleams like the virgin mind, they recreate for you the great joy of your pious tear with the blood colored rose."

line 455 "Mox rosa fit rubus, ipseque cras pia, nunc rosa, cras fex." "Soon the rose will become red, Hereafter itself good, the rose is thereafter dregs."
line751 " O caro lactea, nunc rosa, postea sarcina vilis, flos tibi corruet et rose defluet haec iuvenilis....quid rosa? Foenum. " O milky flesh, now the rose, afterwards a burden of little value,the flower is corrupting to you and the rose proves unfaithful to the youthful of her......what is the rose? Hay."

The piece that Eco referred to is, in his own words, a variant on the ubi sunt theme. That is where have they gone?
It would be too easy to say the Rose is the girl who Adso meets in the kitchen one night and has sex with.  However the rose has so many meanings in medieval literature, one cannot be certain an event that was merely a footnote in a murder mystery was the most important event in the entire story that Adso tells about the Abbey. Perhaps it was the most important thing to Adso, but he never knows her name. The film with Sean Connery deviates a little from the book in the fate of the rose, although the novel is truer to what would have been her likely fate, which is more satisfying to a modern audience. Finally, I am not sure if Eco himself has a clear vision of who or what he meant the Rose to be.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Death of Geoffrey Chaucer

       Having criticized one theory about Chaucer's death, I feel I should offer some other theory as to how he died and it should be more plausible than the one I criticized.

      The facts as we know them:
     The only date we have - October 25, 1400 - appeared on his tomb in Westminster Abbey in 1556 when his bones were possibly moved to the current position by a Nicholas Brigham who was moved to honour the poet.The Dean of Westminster, Arthur Stanley, made conflicting reports about Chaucer's body, finally placing a note on Abraham Cowley's tomb that Chaucer was buried near this stone.
     William Camden wrote that the poet's bones had been moved to this new tomb in 1600.
     Chaucer had been born about 1340 (alternate date had been 1328) in London. His father was a vintner, who had attended on Edward III.
    Chaucer had been a trusted civil servant to Richard II (last position was Forester) when Richard was deposed in 1399.
    Chaucer began his career in the household of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, before attracting Edward III's notice. He was ransomed by the king when he had been captured by the French in the Hundred Years War. John of Gaunt became his patron and Gaunt's third wife was sister to Chaucer's wife, so Chaucer was step-uncle by marriage to Henry IV and Richard II.
      Thomas Chaucer, Butler and trusted inner circle of Henry IV, is believed to be Geoffrey Chaucer's son on the evidence of Thomas Gascoigne, Chancellor of Oxford in the early 15th century. Thomas Chaucer's coat of arms has elements both from his mother 's (Roet) arms and his father's arms.
     In 1399 Henry of Bolingbroke marched into England while Richard was fighting in Ireland. He took over the country and captured Richard II, holding him prisoner until Richard's death a few months later.
     September 30, 1399 Henry of Bolingbroke becomes Henry IV. Chaucer has lost all his previous royal appointments but Henry confirmed his annuities. These appear not to have been paid and Chaucer, feeling the sting of poverty, writes a poem in complaint to Henry.
     Christmas Eve 1399, Chaucer took out a 53 year lease on a house at Westminster Abbey where he is believed to have moved to. He was approximately 59 years old and in apparently good health.
     February 17, 1400, Richard II's body was displayed at the old St. Paul's cathedral.
    If Chaucer died in October of that year, as a resident of Westminster Abbey, he was entitled to burial at the abbey cathedral. As a member of Richard's inner circle, a famous writer, and related by marriage to the royal family, he was probably entitled to burial inside the cathedral.
    He did not leave a will (that we know of) but this was not unusual.
    By September 28, 1401 his apartment had a new tenant: Master Paul, most likely a former royal physician.
    William Caxton, who published his first edition of The Canterbury Tales on a printing press circa 1476, wrote in his epilogue to Chaucer's translation of Boethius that he placed a plaque at the site of the poet's burial at his own expense.
    The stone over Chaucer's burial place is reputedly sawn up to place John Dryden next to him in 1720.
      According to an article written by Henry Troutbeck, in 1889 the original burial site was disturbed for Browning's burial. At that time Troutbeck thought he examined the bones of Chaucer and calculated his height at 5'6" but they could have been Dryden's or any other person buried in the south transept. There are no Abbey records of Chaucer's body being exhumed after 1556.
    No one is certain who is in the current memorial to Chaucer, whether it is Chaucer, Dryden or perhaps even no one.
    No one is certain who was in the old burial place.
    1400 was a plague year. Adam of Usk reported that it was hard on the young as usual.
    Chaucer survived the Black Death of 1348 and all subsequent waves of plague which were always harder on the young, as reported by chronicles of the time. Most smaller waves arose in the spring and subsided in the fall. As Chaucer is reported to have died October 25 (no one knows where Brigham got this date from) this would be late for the plague season. As such, burial at Westminster Abbey might not have been possible and burial would have then been a plague pit. The last written record of him is him signing a receipt for wine on September 29, 1400.
     There is no report from contemporaries or writers in the following years who report any rumour of anything sinister in Chaucer's passing except to say he had died.

      I do not think it is likely that Chaucer died of the plague because it tended to kill young people who had not been exposed to it before. If the date of October 25 is correct, it is past the plague season.
At approximately 60 years of age, he could have died from so many things. Upper crust people seldom ate vegetables, which is why so many had gout. Drinking water was not safe so people, including children, drank 'weak beer' or wine. What would a lifetime of drinking alcohol and eating meat do especially to an old man?
     Chaucer had four children, it is not known what happened to any of them except Thomas. None of them erected a memorial on his tomb but, as a resident of the abbey, his body belonged to the abbey which should have wanted to keep it since it would likely attract visitors and money to the cathedral. And it is likely it was Chaucer's intention to be buried there. When Peter the Venerable gave Abelard's body to Heloise, he was under no obligation to do so and Abelard's fame as a philosopher and a teacher would have meant donations to Cluny Abbey. Peter's gift of Abelard's body to Heloise was very, very generous.

    So what do I think he died of? Old age. Heart attack, aneurism, stroke. All three are sudden enough and can be not preceded by any feelings of unwellness. Maybe he died in his sleep. There does not appear to have been anything traumatic or violent in his passing. One would hope some rumour would have sprung up immediately but there are none.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Richard II and His Throne Usurping Cousin Henry IV

    The later Middle Ages have not been the era that interests me the most. I am more interested in the Age of Heroes, the time of the Great Migration, i.e. early Middle Ages, when King Arthur and Beowulf lived. I understand people's greater interest in the later period because there is more to know, more chronicles that survived, there was more written literature.
     I was interested in what Terry Jones wrote about Richard II and Henry of Bolingbroke and looked a little further afield for information about their conflict. Was Richard such a terrible unpopular king? Did Henry IV and his sidekick Arundel truly wipe any positive accounts of Richard from the record?  One issue with that is 'he who laughs last laughs loudest' and Henry IV did not have the last word on Richard. His son, Henry V, who had been fostered by Richard II and felt a great affection for him, little for his father and none for Arundel had the last word. Therefore, it could be that Henry V, who had quarreled with Arundel over power when his father became increasingly incapacitated by illness, who left a portrait of Arundel in the historical record that was more cruel and despotic than he was in actual fact and he could have easily corrected any and all accounts that were unkind to Richard II. As well, since he was friends with and second cousin to Thomas Chaucer (who scholars agree was Chaucer's son) if Chaucer had been murdered for being part of Richard's regime by Henry IV or killed as a heretic by Arundel, this would be an opportunity to rehabilitate him as well.
     In her book A Distant Mirror, a book on the 14th Century and the Hundred Years War, Barbara Tuchman wrote that Richard wanted to marry the daughter of the King of France in an effort to end the war which he had no use for and called 'intolerable'. She added that he did not share his countrymen's animosity towards the French. If he was not always a great king, she wrote that "Kingship, which can corrupt or improve, seems to have had a generally one-sided effect in the 14th century: only Charles V gained wisdom from responsibility." (pg. 533) She concluded by saying that historians debate if Richard was mentally ill but that this is a modern view of a "malfunction common to 14th century rulers: the inability to inhibit impulse."
      Terry Jones also wrote that Richard tacitly allowed Lollardy to flourish during his reign but Tuchman wrote that, following the Twelve Conclusions nailed by Lollards to the doors of St. Pauls and Westminster Abbey, Richard II came home from Ireland where he was campaigning 'to enforce new measures of suppression'. In a fury he threatened to kill Sir Richard Stury, who supported the Wycliffian proposal for reforms in the House of Commons, by the 'foulest death that may be'. So far be it from looking the other way, Richard defended traditional Catholicism although Tuchman adds that the Conclusions did make their way into his wife's entourage where they found some sort of welcome.
Although Jones was correct, Richard's efforts to end the Hundred Years War and make peace with France was very unwelcome by his barons and this formed a part of the movement to usurp him.
      One thing that was left out of Jones' book (and I wish it had not been) was the account in Holinshed's chronicle that Richard II had not starved to death (as most scholars now believe) but had been murdered according to Henry IV's wish by a Sir Piers Exton. This fact showed itself in Shakespeare's play Henry IV. Shakespeare showed Richard as an intellectual king, which perhaps influenced Jones' perception of Richard.  It is William Caxton who wrote that Richard II had starved to death at Pontrefact Castle because the Percys accused Henry IV of having starved him intentionally. Holished may have gotten his alternate history from chronicler, contemporary to Richard, called Jean Creton or the  anonymous writer of Chronicque de la Traison et Mort de Richart Deux, Roy Dengleterre. His body had been exhumed in 1871 by Dean Stanley of Westminster, and it was noted that there were no marks of violence on his body or head. The director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sir George Scharf, was present and made sketch's of the king's skull, which you can see here.
an account of the recent discovery of this sketch can be found here at the National Portrait Gallery site.
     What may have lead to the story of Richard's murder may have been that Henry, who was plagued with some disfiguring disease that may or may not have been leprosy, had been buried at Canterbury Cathedral near the tomb of Thomas Beckett, in hopes that the saint could intercede for him with God so that Henry could go to heaven, in spite of usurping the throne and having caused his cousin's death.
     Thomas Beckett, as you well know, had been murdered by knights who were acting on Henry II's exasperated cry of "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest." Henry IV is said to have uttered similar words which cause Exton to depart with eight other men and chop Richard's head off while Richard defended himself manfully with a knife. Similar tales.
    I wonder why Jones did not include more of this in his book since he was discussing the death of Richard II and how the new regime pursued his supporters. This would have been better than all those flights of fancy. I suppose I should offer up some theory as to how Chaucer died. That will be my next post. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Archbishop Arundel: As Black As He Was Painted?

      Margery Kempe lived from around 1373 until some time after 1436 when her autobiography ends. She was alive when Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400) was and so her story is great for its first hand account of life around the turn of the 15th century. She lived through the regime change but did not remark upon it, possibly the turmoil did not reach her in the north or did not affect her much beyond the risk of being burned as a heretic for being a Lollard. Being accused of heresy is no small thing but she survived in spite of the many times she had to defend herself.
       Margery is a middle class woman, the religious counterpart to the Wife of Bath. She tried her hand at several businesses which failed and then she tried to make her mark on the world as a holy woman. She did live rather close to the edge and frequently strayed over it so it is no wonder that she was accused before the Archbishop Arundel and dragged before the Archbishop of York and for being a Lollard. She was guilty but she answered questions well enough to escape being burned at the stake.
     In her autobiography, she described meeting Arundel. She was sent to him because she wanted to wear the white of purity and needed permission but the Bishop of Lincoln, to whom she applied, sent her to Arundel.  So she went to London, to Lambeth Palace, and many of the Archbishop's clerks were swearing and 'spoke many reckless words' for which she rebuked them. She was told she should have been burned at Smithfield with Sawtre. Margery was also there to ask for permission to receive communion every Sunday when most people received it once a year. She reported that "he granted it full benignly, all her desire without any silver or gold, nor would he let his clerks take anything for writing or for sealing the letter." When he showed himself so kind to her, she grew a little bolder and told him about her manner of living (she was going around, praying with people) and about her tears (after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, she began weeping loudly and copiously at every church service her 'gift' for which many a priest tried to banish her from his church.).  She wrote that Arundel "found no fault therein but approved of her manner of living and was right glad that our Merciful Lord Jesus Christ showed such grace in our days, blessed may he be."
      With all this kindness, she grew even bolder and mentioned to him how rude his staff was and rebuked him as well as told him that if he did not put those rude clerics out of his service that he would have to answer to the 'higher up'. She said that he heard her out 'full benignly and meekly' and gave her a fair answer then allowed her to go. This contrasts rather sharply with the picture of Arundel that Terry  Jones painted in his book on Chaucer.
     Jones also wrote that Arundel declared war on vernacular writing and yet in the introduction to the Book of Margery Kempe, Lynn Stanley wrote that Arundel sponsored Nicholas Love's translation of Meditations on the Life of Christ showing his awareness of the need for devotional texts particularly for female readers. I have never found a hostility to vernacular writing that Jones describes: where Church authorities clamp down on secular writing in the vernacular. Some do not approve of such frivolity however there was never a determined effort to stamp it out.
     So, was Arundel the imperious, harsh, war monger as he was portrayed in Jones' book? People are far too complicated for such a simple assessment and I do not think he ever felt threatened enough by Chaucer's writing to execute him for that.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Who Murdered Chaucer? A Review

     I really wanted to like this book. I have read Terry Jones' Barbarians and agreed with his premise that the Romans were the savages. I have also enjoyed Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as Eric the Viking, although the excellence of the Holy Grail movie might be due to Terry Gilliam who also directed Time Bandits and The Fisher King, which I loved. However, this book falls very short of what it sets out to do: make a case for a possible death for Geoffrey Chaucer.
     Although Jones admits often that there is little information about Chaucer's life and no comment about his death, this does not prevent him from proceeding as though his 'could have's' and 'possibly's' are facts. When one wants to prove a murder, one needs to use the very best facts that are available and, in the absence of facts that prove ones case, it is acceptable to admit the original premise is in error.
     I was disappointed that Jones did not present a balanced view of the times in which Chaucer may have died: the aftermath of Henry IV's usurption of Richard II's throne and the upheaval that ensued as well as the increased tension between the Church Militant of the Archbishop Arundel and the followers of Wycliff who wanted a more personal relationship with God free from the heavy price in taxes paid to the church and without the translation of that relationship through deeply flawed and abusive clerics. The content of The Canterbury Tales and the images of the Ellesmere manuscript are not 'evidence' that Chaucer was a heretic and viewed by Arundel as such. Commonplaces like dying without a will or publishing a retraction of worldly literature are treated as powerfully damning evidence although they are not.
    The good relationship that Chaucer's son Thomas enjoyed with the new regime is treated dismissively although it is very suggestive that Chaucer might not have been murdered by Henry or Arundel for heresy or collaboration with Richard II's government. He should have been a pariah not Henry's butler. Other contemporary accounts of the time, like Adam of Usk are treated dismissively as well and some like the Book of Margery Kempe are not consulted at all. I would like to have seen some comment about how Shakespeare treated the death of Richard II in his play about Henry IV as well as some discussion about where Shakespeare got his information. In fact the whole thrust of the argument says more about Terry Jones than it does about the politics of Archbishop Arundel or Henry IV.
     He spent many pages in discussion about Dryden and not enough about Caxton, who published the Canterbury Tales in the first book published in England on a printing press. It was Caxton who paid for the first memorial in Westminster Abbey for the poet. It was on a later altar, paid for by a Nicholas Brigham, that we are given the date of October 25, 1400 as the date of Chaucer's death.
     People who do not know much about late medieval history might be taken in by the argument but those same people would find this book a little dull because their lack of knowledge would also indicate a lack of interest in the period or the poet. People who have an interest in the period might find the one-sidedness of the discussion irritating. I did.
     I realize Jones was having a bit of fun with history and I have often thought that people who write scholarly papers are rather humorless and should let their hair down a little.  However, there is a difference between having a bit of fun and letting your imagination run away with you. I wanted less conjecture and more facts. This would have been better as a historical novel.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Terry Jones on Chaucer's Death, part two

     I have almost finished the book and I want to make a few more points before I review it.

pg. 171 "It is possible to argue that Gower was not exactly a 'court poet'" No, he was not. He had independent means and owned his books. He commissioned his own copies and gave them as gifts. No need to argue. Jones uses this as a point to say that Gower changed allegiance to Henry IV because he was trying to keep his position. He does say that Gower's approval of Henry does not prove that he disapproved of Richard. There was turbulence during Richard II's reign but it did not go away with Henry's rule. He was plagued with rebellion and war too. The crown did not sit easily on his head, plus he had to live with the guilt of having disposed of the anointed king and being responsible for the death of his own kin and his later 'leprosy' was seen as a punishment of his sin in this world.

On page 230, he makes much that Richard's library has disappeared and that many books are lost from this time. Since things were copied by hand, there were few of them and fires destroyed many without censorship. Even some of Gower's books were lost for a time and he had 'official approval' according to Jones.

On page 256, Jones wrote about how Arundel's Constitutions stifled criticism of the Church and set a maximum lay people were permitted to know about scripture as well as setting out penalties. However the Constitutions in its entirety is available in English in The Book of Margery Kempe. Margery was dragged before Arundel several times and examined for orthodoxy. She lived during this time that is described and she had contact with Julian of Norwich. As well, her priest had been William Sawtre, who was burned at Smithfield in 1401 for being a relapsed heretic. You were generally not burned for being a heretic. It was being a relapsed heretic that would give you the death penalty. Margery often pushed the envelope in what she was permitted to do as a lay person and a woman but she survived. Jones did not even mention her in his book although she is a witness to the times and met Arundel. Nicholas Watson, in one of of the essays at the end of her autobiography, wrote "there is no mention of vernacular writing (as distinct from oral instruction)". The entire thrust of the article is to repress translations of the Bible and to guard the Church's monopoly on the purses of their parishioners. Arundel did not declare war on secular works with this article.

On page 264, Jones wrote about one of the first mentions of Chaucer in print which he states was a poem by Henry Scogan, supposedly read at the home of a Welshman and possibly attended by Chaucer's son Thomas, a subversive act. Too many maybes and might haves here. Plus there is the problem that Henry IV liked Chaucer's son Thomas and made him his butler and Thomas Chaucer was the Speaker of the Common's House, as well as being his cousin. Henry supported Thomas and Jones admits that this is often cited as a reason why Chaucer could not have fallen victim to the new regime. It is a very good point. When people are killed as heretics or bear the disapproval of the government, the stain usually tars their families who then also become pariahs and usually lose their rights to inherit property from the deceased. Thomas never made a move against Henry or Arundel and he even married into the royal family, his great grandson was John de la Pole, who was the designated heir to another star crossed Richard (III). The De La Poles fell afoul of Henry VIII in an ironic twist since they supported the papacy against Henry.

On page 303, he wrote about accounts of Chaucer's death especiallyJohn Bale and John Pits but, since so many histories are rife with inaccuracies, is the lack of agreement about the facts any argument? I think the fact that Thomas Chaucer co-operated with and prospered under the new government speaks louder.

Jones also made much of the fact that Chaucer took up residence at Westminster Abbey, citing its role as a legal sanctuary as part of the attraction of the place but then on page 309 he cites one Robert Tresilian, a former associate of Chaucer, who was dragged out of sanctuary to be tried and executed. I think Chaucer knew the futility of seeking sanctuary and did not take up residence there for that reason. More likely it was because he was old and would be cared for by the monks if he took ill. His wife seems to have passed away long before this.

Chapter 17 is about the Retraction and if Chaucer wrote it and really repented. It is a commonplace thing. Many writers wrote them, even Boccaccio who influenced Chaucer, wrote one that was sincere. It often happens to people when they are old or face a catastrophic illness that they become worried about the afterlife. On page 354, Jones admits that literary recantations "can be seen as following a tradition of medieval Latin, French and German writing in which and author, embarking on a religious topic, regret the follies of his youth and his writing of worldly vanity. As such the Retractions can be read as entirely conventional" But of course, Jones goes on to say that this Retraction was evidence of something else.

I have but a few pages left to go and then I will give a final review of the book. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Some Thoughts on Terry Jones' Book About Chaucer

I set The Name of the Rose aside for a bit while I read Terry Jones' (of Monty Python fame) book Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery.

     This is not my full review but I had a few thoughts while I was reading this and some 'facts' seemed incorrect to me.

The first issue I had was on page 23, when Jones wrote that the Latin verb legere meant 'to read' but also could be taken as a synonym to dicere 'to say'. No it cannot. Legere means to read but its only other meanings are 'to chose or select'. The past participle is lectus and when you add an 'e' for 'ex' meaning 'out of', you get 'elect'. He was trying to make a point about court poets and public readings but if the Latin is wrong, then your point is too. I checked with the Oxford Latin Dictionary to make sure there was no obscure implication that 'to read' was also identical to 'reading aloud' and there is not.

On page 26, he makes a point that Chaucer and John Gower (Chaucer's friend and equally famous as a writer at the time) did not appear to receive money in patronage for their writing. He writes quite a bit about Gower since Gower wrote about the politics and history of the time, living at St. Mary Overie in Southwark, right next to London Bridge and almost right across the river from the White Tower, as well as being down the road from the Tabard Inn. This places him near the beating pulse of the goings on, as it were. Gower seemed to have independent means as he owned his literary works and commissioned his own copies for admirers so of course he received no dollars from the crown. We do not know quite how Gower got his money because his name was too common and there were many John Gowers at the time. So this is another flawed premise which Jones is using to discuss the court of King Richard II and how much the arts flourished under his rule.

He also wrote on page 65 that there had always been critics of the church and 'the church could be cheerfully tolerant of them - indeed it may well have welcomed them".  To that I have to say  "Really? In what universe?" The church never welcomed criticism although it was not until the 19th century that the Pope finally had himself formally declared infallible.

On page 84, he wrote that the church took issue with literature in the vernacular languages. I don't believe this is the case. "As long as the scripture remained in Latin, the church remained the interpreter and controller of Holy Writ" he writes but, in those days, anyone who was educated could read Latin. Keeping the scriptures in Latin was no barrier to a layman reading and interpreting the Bible. Non-clerics owning the Bible was a problem because people were not allowed to interpret scripture for themselves. The position of the Church was that it had the right to tell people what they may think. People had prayer books but no layman, except perhaps the King, was allowed to own a Bible so this argument that the Church was hostile people to using English to write with is flawed.

On page 110, he makes the argument that, because there were counter strikes to Henry Bolingbroke usurping the throne, this proves Richard II had been a popular king. However there are always those who will see an opportunity in keeping or putting a grateful tyrant on the throne. It proves nothing. Also, Richard was the anointed king and the eldest son of the very popular Black Prince. If his rule was sanctioned by the Pope, it was sanctioned by God and it was a sin to usurp his throne so some people would have rallied to his cause anyway. So long as Richard lived, there was always a threat that he could recover his throne so murdering him was a necessary precaution. However Henry IV could not openly execute him because he was his cousin and rightful king and therefore there is a mystery about how Richard died in his custody. 

I am not saying that Jones' idea that Chaucer was murdered by someone in Henry I's regime is wrong. After all, Christopher Marlowe was assassinated by Elizabeth I's Robert Cecil due to his work for spymaster Walsingham and his celebrity as a playwright did not protect him. Like Chaucer, he was up to his eyeballs in royal diplomacy and espionage and playing a dangerous game. The political turmoil that ended Marlowe's life became a threat to Shakespeare's life as well.

This is not my review of the work because I haven't finished it yet. I just took issue with some of the 'facts' and I think he is taking huge liberties with Gower's work.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

More Latin

It is possible one could google some of these phrases From 'The Name of the Rose' and find them online as they appear to be from psalms that might well still be in use.

page 101 at the beginning of chapter "Matins"

"Domine, labia mea aperies et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam"

"Lord, May you open my lips and my voice will proclaim your praises."

followed by "Venite exultamus" "Come. Let us rejoice"

and "Deus qui est sanctorum slendor mirabilis." "God who is the wonderful brilliance of the saints."

"Iam lucis orto sidere" I had to google this one and it is just as well because it is a fragment and 'sidere' is not the infinitive of a verb nor would supplying a form of 'esse' make it make sense.
"Now in the glory of the light having dawned."

On page 94 of chapter 'Compline', Eco wrote that the monks only used rape oil and olive oil. Most people might not know that canola was once called 'rapeseed'. Of course that name does not sell the oil and 'canola' itself is an acronym for a specially bred type of rapeseed - Canadian oil seed, low acid". Rapeseed came from the latin for 'turnip' since they are relatives being both 'brassicae'. Cultivation for oil seems to have begun around the Rhine in the Middle Ages and more northern regions since olive trees do not grow there.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Latin in The Name of the Rose

I have to wonder with all the latin that I am seeing in this novel if it bothered people with no Latin at all that none of it is translated. I guess it gives the novel the aura of authenticity but surely it could have been translated in footnotes or brackets. I am not going to translate them all but, if someone comes across this blog and finds a phrase that they really want to understand and Google translate or Babelfish is not working for them, they can post a comment and I will do my best to translate it for them. My edition is a Harcourt paperback, translated into English by William Weaver.
There is a long Latin piece on pages 62-63 which I shall translate now.

"Quorum primus seraphico calculo purgatus et ardore celico inflammatus totum incendere videbatur. Secundus vero verbo predicationis fecundus super mundi tenebras clarius radiavit"

"The first of these having been cleansed by the seraphic stone and burned by the celestial fire seemed to burn up entirely. The second fertile one, in truth, gleamed more brightly by the word of his preaching upon the darkness of the world."

And then Ubertino said "yes, these were the promises: the Angelic Pope must come" So the first sentence refers to the Anti-Christ and the second is Jesus come again(?). At last Ubertino said "Mors est quies viatoris - finis est omnis laboris" or "Death is the repose of the traveller - is the end of all labor." Life is a journey not a destination.