I have nothing more to say.
I have nothing more to say.
Read about John Ardenne and his (illustrated) treatments for anal fistula, over at Scribal Terror.
Cool, huh? Pity he never extended his talents to Obstetric fistula. We had Catherine Hamlin speak at a College formal dinner a couple of years ago, and I can’t help wondering- if John Ardenne, in the fourteenth century, had turned his hand to treating Obstetric fistula in the West, in the fourteenth cenutury, if seven centuries later the treatment might not be so hard to come by in the two-thirds world.
Well, I enjoyed St Eadmund so much that I think it deserves to be a weekly feature. Humourous Hagiography will be published on the Naked Philologist on Wednesdays or Thursdays for the next month or so, and next semester will be published likewise on the day of or the day after my AS class for the week.
Next week: St AEthelthryth- a lesson in the power of NO.
In the meantime, some interesting side facts about St Eadmund:
King Eadmund lived a boring life full of piety, generosity and justice. Things hotted up when Vikings stalked in his land and ran off with his head. But wait, it doesn’t stop there! What Eadmund’s life lacked in action and adventure, he made up for in the afterlife.
Last week, we left the East Angles as they ventured into the forest in search of Eadmund’s missing head. Off they went, into the deep dark forest, and, as sensible woodsmen do, they shouted out to one another as they went:
Where are you, comrade?
Where are you, comrade?
And the head shouted back to them:
Over here! Over here!
As often as one of them shouted out Where are you, comrade?, the head of King Eadmund shouted back: Over here! Over here! And soon enough they came across the head, nestled between the paws of a slavering, ravening wolf. This wolf really, really, desperately wanted to eat the head. Om nom nom, tasty head. However, luckily for the East Angles, God had given the wolf divine orders not to eat the head of king Eadmund. Not even a little bit. Not even a tiny snacking around the ears. (Unlike the Wolfish stalking Hinguar, real wolves obey God. Vikings are mean and nasty and diabolical. Subtlety and tolerance? Not Aelfric’s cup of tea.)
The East Angles were quite pleased to have the head back, and they grabbed it out of the wolf’s paws and scurried back to the castle. The wolf followed them all the way back to the town, and, realising that it wasn’t going to get even a nibble of the head, finally gave up and went home. Poor wolf.
Delighted with the way things were going (despite the obliteration of their king and most of their countrymen), the East Angles got together and put up a church over Eadmund’s body. Some time later, (in 869) their descendants decided that a shoddy job and been done, and built a grand shiny new church. Predictably, when they pulled out Eadmund’s body, it was all perfectly intact, head attatched, wounds healed, the whole works. (‘Now, if I were a skeptical person,’ says a devout audience, ‘which I’m not, that might suggest to me that it wasn’t the same body.‘) What’s more, there’s a nice silk thread around his red throat. (‘If I were a skeptical person,’ says my devout listener, ‘I might be inclined to think it was the body of a recently hanged man…’)
The ruins of Bury St Edmunds Abbey, est. 869.
At any rate, miraculous preservation of body achieved, King Eadmund is set up in a brand spanking new church, with a holy widow to keep him company and clip his fingernails. (Her name was Oswyn, and her fondness for barbering and manicuring dead saints is all we know of her.) All the locals brought gifts and offerings in Eadmund’s honour, and Bishop Theodred decked the church out in gold and silver. The afterlife was going well for King Eadmund, but a rich church will attract unwonted attention, and one night, eight ‘unblessed’ theives turned up, bent on knicking off with the offerings.
Some of them slogged at the door haspe with sledge-hammers; some filed around it with files; some of them got spades and tried to dig under the door; and some of them brought ladders and tried to get in by the windows. For a mere eight thieves, they were swarming all over the place like flies. But for naught- St Eadmund, it turns out, was the best kind of saint: better than a closed-circuit video camera. He froze those theives in their tracks, and held them there all night. When the townspeople (and presumably the monks) turned up in the morning, they found eight thieves- some hanging from ladders, some frozen over spades, and so on, stuck fast in their tracks. They picked them up (apparently without un-freezing them) and dragged them off to Bishop Theodred.
Now, Bishop Theodred was a pretty good bishop, but not the best bishop around. He was good about donating silver and gold to churches, not so good on his canon law. And so he (conveniently?) forgot that he, as a bishop, shouldn’t be sentencing anyone to death, and ordered the poor frozen thieves to be hung. And hung they were, nowhere does AElfric mention any un-freezing.
After the thieves were good and dead, Bishop Theodred thought to look in his books1, and suddenly remembered that he was a churchman, and not supposed to be orchestrating hangings. He was properly sad, and feared for his immortal soul, and ordered the East Angles to fast with him for three days and pray for his salvation. (Salvation: so much easier if you have minions!)
Next up, a fellow named Leofstan, of a more skeptical bent than was generally good for you in Anglo-Saxon England, came along and demanded to see the intact body of St Eadmund. The monks were obliging, and opened up the tomb for him to have a looksee. Leofstan looked, and saw, and went barking mad and ran off and committed suicide. I’ve no idea what was going on there, but AElfric assures us it was a copycat miracle, in the model of St Lawrence, who sent mad seven men who dared to look upon his intact body.
Apparently many more hilarious miraculous things happened to St Eadmund in his afterlife, but AElfric didn’t feel like writing them down for us, and so we don’t get to find out what they were.
1. Look, look, books! AElfric and Wulfstan seem to be on common ground here: books (ie, canon law books) are crucial to proper bishoply behavior.
Firstly, I just sent in my itty-bitty topic statement for the English Department Honours Conference next month, to whit:
Perception and Power in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
An analysis of power relationships through verbs of perception and cognition, which highlights Gawain’s failure as a hero, and complements existing theoretical interpretations.
Doesn’t that just sound fantastic?
Secondly, sometime soon I need to submit a paper proposal if I want to present at the Australian Early Medieval Association Conference in October, but I’ve never even *seen* a paper proposal before. Anyone got really useful tips on putting them together?
Go and contemplate medieval Russia and its claim to be the third Rome. (You have to scroll through- or read, if you wish- updates on bits and bobs of B’s life first, mind.)
The second essay for Karalis’ class on Byzantium, I intend to do on…Russia.
Stop looking at me like that, it makes sense. Everyone knows that the rise of Russia and especially of Moscow is linked with Byzantium. Russia is famously deeply Orthodox. One need but glance at Russian religious artworks to see deep traces of Byzantine influence. Most importantly, there are claims made in Russia that it is the “Third Rome” after the corruption of the first (Latin Christendom) and the fall of the second (Constantinople fell in 1453). It is the Third Rome and there will be no other- prefiguring the End of Days detailed in the visions of John.
I intend to examine that claim in my teeny-tiny (1500 words! so pathetic!); to see how genuine the claim of the Third Rome is, and see Russians implemented it. There are three ways that this could be true: culturally, politically and religiously.
1. Cider. There is a sweet spot, a perfect level of tipsiness, which is just right for consuming Middle English literature. I’m currently slightly over it, which is why the blog-posting instead of the studying.
2. The Chaucer Studio. There is no way to overstate the benefits of aural comprehension for picking up middle English. Words that look funny sound familiar. Some benefits can be gained by reading aloud to yourself, as I did with the Book of the Duchess last year. Vast benefits can be garnered if you have a resource like USyd’s Middle English Reading Group to hand.1 The Chaucer Studio (a co-operative effort between the University of Adelaide and Brigham Young) takes that one step further, with dramatic readings of assorted medieval texts. Lolo, who Knows People at Adelaide, ordered us all copies of their recording of SGGK, and I have to say, it’s the best twenty dollars I’ve spent this year. It turns what was hours of glossary-flipping into an hour’s read-a-long-book session (sadly, without the BING, PLEASE TURN THE PAGE messages of childhood). And I swear I understand more of it at the end: the aural experience reinforces verbal echoes and parallels. It’s much easier to notice, say, the repeated exclamation ‘Thou art not Gawain!’ if you have an aural memory of it the first time around.
If you’re a hardened Middle English Scholar, the recordings mightn’t do much for your comprehension (although you might enjoy them anyway). But next time you’re teaching an intro or intermediate Middle English class, consider setting or making available a recording- every student in Lolo’s class this year considers the CD a worthwhile investment, so it’s not just my quirk.
3. Not sitting at your desk. Does anyone else get really sore elbows from extended study?
1. Do other unis have Reading Groups like this? Old English Reading Group has been the third best thing to happen to me since I came to uni (the first and second being Awesome and JP, although not in that chronological order). Academically, it’s great for forcing you to retain vocab, and exposing you to texts outside of your range of study. More than that, though, with the range of people, from undergrads to retired lecturers and including members of admin staff and the occaisonal ring-in from the Real World, it creates a real community of scholarship which transcends academic rank. OERG has been crucial in my personal shift from Student Focused On Immediate Marks to Apprentice Academic. And it means I have the Venerable Emeritus, Source Of All English Language Wisdom, to help me with my homework at random.
I just finished a long and complicated article on what J.P. would call ‘Boy History’. Not something I’m used to dealing with- now many of his classes have the assessment blocks broken up so that you have to write one ‘boy history’ essay (politics, warfare, technology, economics, maybe disease and medecine?) and one ‘girl history’ (religion, women, books/literature/art, daily life), but I happily sailed through three years writing my papers on the Church (although in my defence, for JP’s classes I picked the ‘boy’ end- papal polcies and ecclesiastical politics. Have I mentioned my ginormous crush on Innocent III?), literature and women. Now, however, I find myself embroiled in a long paper on the Infantry Revolution of the Fourteenth Century. Tactics and weapons and all far too late for my taste. Why, you ask? Well, good question.
The last two papers I read- David L. Boyd’s Sodomy, Misogyny and Displacement: Occluding Queer Desire in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight1 and Donald R. Howard’s Structure and Symmetry in Sir Gawain, both made mention of ‘social tensions’ which were undermining the economic and political validity of the chivalric class. I can’t remember what Howard said about it, but Boyd’s argument was that this was *displaced* in the form of transgressive sexuality (threatening male social order) and the blame placed on women.
I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think Gawain is, in himself, a barely-hero (not an anti-hero, but still not up to heroic standards), and I have an arse-kicking grammatical analysis to prove it. He’s not a perfect hero and his personal flaws lead to his downfall. However, it is true that he’s systematically disempowered throughout the text- I think his flawed character is such as to encourage this- and it seems that this reflects some anxieties on the part of the knightly class whom he represents. What could they be, though? To this end, I ploughed my way through Technology, Society, and the Infantry Revolution of the Fourteenth Century, an article by John Stone.
What I have learnt so far is:
* That in the fourteenth century, as anyone who has seen Braveheart will remember, infantry start defeating cavalry across Europe. Apparently the first such battle was at Courtrai in 1302, when Flemish commons defeated French horsemen.
So Thing One is: if infantry start replacing cavalry as Awesome Troops of Doom, perhaps the class of mounted chevaliers start feeling out-of-control.
* That in the fourteenth century, contemporary with these changes, come social changes which result in greater political privileges for the commons. Stone takes issue with some deterministic military historians who argue that technological innovations in warfare *create* social change, and argues for a combination of factors. He points out that the Flemish commons who defeated the French were defending their rights, not establishing them. However, he notes that the English case is quite different to the Flemish. Where the Flemish urban population had been experiencing relative peace in which to grow wealthy and powerful on the back of their textile industry, in England, resources had been funneled consistently into the Hundred Years War. This was causing resentment (and possibly revolts? I seem to remember hearing somewhere along the line that there were some revolts around about now? Wycliffites?)
So Thing Two is the commons agitating for (and gaining) political power. Do we have a House of Commons in England by now? I’m terrible with late medieval history…
* That Europe was in a period of economic prosperity, something which had been developing since the twelfth century. Prosperity means surplus resources, which means you can set up commerce and industry, which creates a liquid, cash-based economy. New commercial opportunities also means new power bases- this is the period where guilds become powerful, and where towns start setting up as communes. I’m not sure to what degree this is happening in England- the history teacher who taught me about guilds and so forth had no respect for geographical differences. But it’s happening, and even if it’s not on a large scale at home, the English do know what goes on on the Continent.
So Thing Three is: a flourishing cash-based economy with new opportunities for commerce and power is undermining the land and produce based economy which supports the feudal system.
All up, the chivalric class, collectively, have good reason to be feeling insecure in the fourteenth century. Hero-tales like the Arthur legends are a sort of group reassurance activity; they glorify the chivalric ethos, and reinforce the identity and purpose of the knight in the face of contemporary changes. I think Gawain himself, as a barely-hero with no control over his impossible situation, reflects the anxieties of the time. The poem glorifies the material and social world of chivalry, but it is at the end of the day a poem about failure- about one man who failed his code; about a code which fails to equip its hero with the skills to face his new situation.
1. SUCH AN AWESOME PAPER ZOMG. Really. Queer theorists take things like medieval kink seriously. Boyd’s footnotes include a paper titled ‘Anal Rope’, which from the reference Boyd made to it, looks like it deals with the bondage jokes that none of my class believe are actually there. I don’t buy Boyd’s ‘chivalry is all based on repressed homosexuality’, though. Dude. Chivalry is based on LOTS of things, particularly on the feudal system. And the feudal system is an economic and political structure wot is necessary for things like keeping Vikings out of your territory. Time goes on, a system becomes an ideology and it picks up things like the chivalric code, which may or may not provide a way of chanelling mano-a-mano desires, but you don’t seriously think ALL homosocial activity is repressed homosexuality, do you? And I have a rant coming up about the way Boyd completely sidelines female sexuality.
LOL!Manuscripts reflects on the humourous properties of the Long S.
The “Descending” or “Long S” is ubiquitous in Renaissance publications; a holdover from Carolingian minuscule handwriting and black letter print. Usually, it just makes reading original texts a bit more difficult, but on rare occasions, when you least expect it, the EEBO Gods will give you a spectacular typographical gift. Therefore, I give you examples of the “long s” paired with variations of the totally innocent word “suck.” The results — outstanding.
I was going to complement this with a short clip from the Vicar of Dibley 102 ‘Songs of Praise’, but for some reason (unlike every other Vicar episode known to mankind), that episode has been completely removed from YouTube. All I can offer you is the entire thirty minute episode here.
Ye are the falt of the earth, and fainted…
I shall sit on the right hand of the Lord and he shall be my… ‘Succour. And he shall be my succour, thank you Alice!’