Humourous Hagiography: The Seven Sleepers

Another AElfrician sermon, and a very long one this time. I’ve never translated it myself, so this very abridged version will be based exclusively on the Gunning/Wilkinson translation (ed. Skeat, attrib. to Gunning/Wilkinson only in the preface.)

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, a Roman Emperor named Decius decided he wanted to go down in hagiography as a really spectacular persecutor of Christians. So he got his army together and went down to Ephesus, where he set up idols in the churches and demand that the people make sacrifices with him. Those who would not make sacrifices with him he and his soldiers gathered together and tore to peices; they pulled off all their limbs and made the streets run with their blood; and then they hung the headless corpses from the city walls and stuck their heads on spikes outside the town, as they did with theives. Carrion birds proceeded to come down and pick apart the flesh and gouge out the eyes.

The whole scene, AElfric tells us, was so horrible that all the idols cried out in one voice, telling everyone how much they wanted to leave that place, because of the suffering of the martyrs there. Furthermore, the paving stones on the street cried out in horror, and the walls shook with grief as the martryrs were cut up ‘like stuck swine’.

Meanwhile, seven of the Emperor’s best mates were fretting and worrying over the fate of the Christians (and possibly over their own hides). They spent their days in prayer and grew grey and old with grief (and probably some fear too), and they conveniently arranged to be absent whenever Decius was insisting that more sacrifices by made. However, sooner or later someone noticed their mysterious absence and decided to follow them, and found them praying in a hidden room. The someone trotted back to Decius and said ‘O Emperor, did you know that Maximianus and his six friends are hiding from you and praying funny prayers in a dinky little room instead of making sacrifices?’

‘Now, now, this won’t do,’ said Decius. ‘O Maximianus, why are you so anti-social? Why aren’t you down at the church butchering some animals before the idols, with the rest of us?’ And Maximianus and his six mates came before the Emperor weeping and dressed in sackcloth and ashes, and answered his question with a short speech on trinitarian doctrine and Christian sacrificial practices.

Decius had heard all this before, and was perhaps rather bored with it, because he couldn’t be bothered torturing them all seperately, and instead bound them all together and left them there, unbeheaded and more or less whole.

And since it’s one AM and I have to work tomorrow, I’m going to leave them there until sometime later in the week… Have a nice few days, internets!



Ok, I’m a slack blogger, but some news:

*My Gawain paper went off very well and many helpful questions were asked. I now have to write the blasted thing up, which should be fun, but I’m lazy.

*The whole English Honours conference was fascinating, and I learnt about things like the death of the human subject and was privileged to witness the resurrection of Edgar Allan Poe. I am now convinced I should read some theory (starting with Baarth’s ‘Death of the Author’ and Foucault’s ‘History of Sexuality’), and also read something written after 1350 occaisionally.


*I will have an Old English classmate next semester! We will presumably have a proper class time and everything.


*This no longer means I can do whatever the hell I want for ‘class’.


* The Bocera has decided on an all-Beowulf semester. Aaargh. I HATE Beowulf. I might be a disappointment to Anglo-Saxonism for it, but I detest the thing. I can see, from the translation, how it’s wonderful and fascinating and all of that, and I expect after being forced to study it I will come around. However, I’m bad at poetry, and Beowulf is all that I am bad at poetry for. My translations thereof never, ever, ever make sense; they drive me mad; they make me cranky. Grumble. Don’t wanna.

Good news and next bleg:

This paper proposal was accepted to the Australian Early Medieval Association’s conference! I only sent it in last night, so that suggests more about the eagerness of the conference conveners for any sort of paper than it does about the quality of said proposal, I think, but… let us rejoice anyway!

Next bleg: they asked if I wanted to apply for a bursary to attend the conference, and instructed me to send my CV. I have no idea what kind of wank to put in an academic CV. I’ve never given a paper before (although I will on Friday… but that’s for in-department assessment, does it count?), I’ve never published and I’ve never really done anything interesting at all.
What should one put on one’s very first academic CV?1

(In case you think I’m just blegging the internet when I should ask Wise People, I am going to try to hunt down the Bocera or Lolo to ask them this question as well.)


1. What about format? Do any of you have online academic CVs I could look at to get an idea of what kind of layout people use?

Anachronism, Ahoy!


Why is Gawain’s rant against women, at the end of SGGK, reffered to as an ‘anti-feminist diatribe’? I doubt Gawain, or his poet, has any idea what feminism is. You can’t be anti-something that doesn’t exist yet. (Un, yes. I’d pay it as an ‘unfeminist’ diatribe, but no one ever calls men ‘unfeminist’, and it would be a moot point in the fourteenth century anyway.)

Why does ‘feminist’ in this context function as the adjective for ‘relating to women’? What is meant, I assume, is ‘misogynistic’, which is a perfectly good word on its own. Use it, people.

Oh, and Shiela Fisher: the primary right of a feudal lord is not the right to traffic in women. A feudal lord is a feudal lord based on the pact of service and protection between himself and his dependants. Feudal lords traffic in women, yes, but every man and his dog traffics in women- they did so before feudalism developed and continue to do so today. What makes a feudal lord distinct from anyone else around him is his relationship with other men. NER.

This rant is brought to you by Shiela Fisher, ‘Taken Men and Token Women’, in Seeking the Woman in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Writings ed Fisher and Halley.


Awesome is away (and her cat appears to be stuck under her computer), I’m not seeing the Bocera until next semester, and everyone else has dissapeared for exams/ on their way to Leeds. I’ll try taking this to Old English Reading Group tomorrow, but I shall also put it up here and hope some nice person sees their way clear to telling me if this is an acceptable-looking paper proposal. (The conference in question is entitled ‘Welcoming the Stranger’). It’s nearly a hundred words short of the word limit, but so were the abstracts for last year’s conference.

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More Fourteenth-Century Hijinks

Along with uprisings and social anxiety, guess what else was going on in the fourteenth century?

Phillip the Fair of FranceAn old, rich, well-established although now militarily irrelevant crusader order, the Templars, was being rounded up by the French monarchy (including, amusingly, one Templar rounded up while tax-collecting for the self-same French monarch), being tried, and then re-tried by the papacy, ordered to disband, and disbanding by bits and stages all over Europe (or, in the case of Portugal and Aragon, being staunchly defended by the relevant monarchs and given permission to transmute into national orders) in a process that took half a century.

a templar badgeOn Tuesday, I went down with the Centre for Medieval Studies to view the University’s new facsimile of the Templar trial papers. I’m sorry to say they looked just like pieces of faux-vellum and paper to me, but I can now say I’ve seen the handwriting of Pope Clement the Something, at least. The facsimile includes four or five faux-vellum documents, most of which stretched right across the huge veiwing table, and some of which are barely readable. There is also a paper facsimile which consists of the summaries of the French trials, as put together by or for Pope Clement, and including notes in his own handwriting; and there’s a small square document which is the proceedings of the papal trial at Chinon. These last two, I gather, were only recently found, miscatalouged, in the Secret Archive by Barbara Someone-or-Other (sorry for the lack of details, pens aren’t allowed in the Rare Book library so my notes were all made at the end), who was studying paeleography there. Another two of the vellum documents were edited in the 19th century, but according to JP, none of the documents in the facsimile have been used by modern Templar historians. Michael Barber, the big chePope Clement Vese in Templar studies, doesn’t refer to them in his book on the subject, or in the edition (catalogue?) of Templar documents which he and one of his students published more recently.
The facsimile pack also includes a full transcription (including UV transcriptions of the illegible documents), and replica seals of the papal curia.

There’s nothing terribly inflammatory in the documents; they, as the assembled academics remarked in a satisfied fashion, throw a bucket of cold water on the whole Da Vinci Code hullaballoo. (Not that Templar conspiracists will care…) According to JP, who did say he hasn’t had a chance to really look at the documents, Pope Clement was rather suspicious of the confessions garnered from the French trials, and was trying to do the best he could for the Order in a sticky political situation.

Ours is copy number 300 of 799 copies for public sale (Pope Palpatine Benedict got number 800). Neil Boness, the Rare Books Librarian, thinks all 799 probably won’t sell, or won’t sell quickly, due to the high asking price.

The only other thing of interest I noted was that all the academics were standing around nodding solemnly about the scope for a really kick-arse PHD based on these documents. If you’ve an interest in Templars, or in Phillip the Fair, or Pope Clement, or any such thing, get yourself a grad school application for a school which owns a copy of this facsimile. (And if you can’t get Barber for your supervisor, you could do worse than JP, even if his speciality is more in the Crusade direction… just sayin’… There’s a woman in Melbourne who works on the Italian Templar trials, but I believe we have the only copy of the facs. in Australia.)

Two interesting things from the blogosphere

Dr Nokes posted this clip, from a most hilarious French TV show, about medieval music:

Giggle. Giggle.

And on an entirely unrelated note, Dr Rundkvist posted, as a side note in his notice about an Antro/Archaeo blog carnival, this fascinating tidbit:

The Rota System, from the Old Church Slavic word for “ladder” or “staircase”, was a system of collateral succession practiced (though imperfectly) in Kievan Rus’ and later Appanage and early Muscovite Russia, in which the throne passed not linearly from father to son, but laterally from brother to brother (usually to the fourth brother) and then to the eldest son of the eldest brother who had held the throne. The system was begun by Yaroslav the Wise.

Looks a little like the supposed Pictish succession, from uncle to nephew down the matrilinear line, which, as Michelle has discussed before, may not have been a proper system but an emergency measure.

The Wiki article on the Rota System goes on to say:

The system was begun by Yaroslav the Wise, who assigned each of his sons a principality based on seniority. When the Grand Prince died, the next most senior prince moved to Kiev and all others moved to the principality next up the ladder.[1] Only those princes whose fathers had held the throne were eligible for placement in the rota; those whose fathers predeceased their grandfathers were known as izgoi, “excluded” or “orphaned” princes.

Apparently some scholars doubt this was such an organised system at all, as always. If it were, it would create an interesting mix of sibling and cousin rivalries, and loyalties as well. It would behove a king to treat his nephew or brother well, lest said heir’s succession be artificially accelerated. The king’s *son*, meanwhile, who might see his uncle or cousin as a threat, would be well advised to demonstrate his loyalty thereto in order to survive the years between his father’s succession and his own intact. But what of second sons, who would probably not live long enough to inherit? What of these orphan princes?
Your fourth sons wouldn’t be the expendable end of the royal family, as they would be under direct patrilinear succession systems. Instead, they’d be the ones likely to live long enough to take the throne. How very, very interesting.

I wonder, in this system, how the precedence is worked out? Simply by age? Does your father’s age also count?
Let’s say King A dies, and his throne passes first to his son A1, and then to his son A4, A2 and A3 having died in the meantime. When A4 dies, A1’s eldest son, A1.1, inherits. Presumably he is succeeded by one of his brothers, ≥A1.2, in turn. When ≥A1.2 dies, does the throne necessarily pass back to A1.1.1? Or does it pass to A2.1? if A2.1 were older than ≥A1.2, would he have had seniority on the death of A1.1?
What if A1’s first wife had been barren, and A2.1 were older than A1.1? If the position of princes on the ‘ladder’ were based simply on their age, A2.1 would succeed A2. If on the other hand the system were designed to ensure that each branch of the family had their place on the ladder in turn, he wouldn’t.

I wants to know, precious…