Guerilla Medievalism!

This I learnt today, courtesy of the Cambridge Companion to Old French Literature:

During the Occupation of France (WWII), a French patriot whose name I have forgotten arranged for the editing, covert publication, and distribution of all known recensions of the Chanson de Roland.

*Grins* Who said medieval studies wasn’t good for anything?


Mum, I think I’m a Medievalist…

If you haven’t seen Blogenspiel’s “You Might Be A Medievalist If…” post, you should. And even if you haven’t, you DEFINITELY should appreciate Owlfish’s celebration of medievalism in rhyming couplets. I reproduce it here in full for your entertainment:

You may very well a medievalist be
if you have a best-loved Lateran decree.
The same may be true if a one-car collision
could wipe out your whole academic division.
A giveaway token is if you add “yet”
to “I don’t know that language”; you will soon, I bet.
At conferences, all other folk in your session
have made holy orders their lifelong profession.
Your second’ry sources, for some other student,
are primary sources, selected, most prudent.
You must know the truth about Arthur and Cei?
You don’t? Well, why not? Please do tell me, I pray.
For you, the Americans fought revolution
for freedom, a recent and modern solution.
The Renaissance? That’s just a dirty, late lie;
it’s one that we all resolutely deny.
And when you’ve bad day, when hellbound all ways,
you can say in which infernal ring’s your malaise.

Copyright Owlfish/S. Worthen, 28.8.08

Help me inject more medievalist jokes into Narnia fandom!

OK, I had been planning to keep my fannish activities and my medieval blogging as separate as is humanly possible, but here I am with a question that, really, the medievalist blogosphere stands a much better chance of answering than anyone in fandom.

As a present for a friend who is both a medievalist and a Narnia fan, I’m working on a short piece using Digory/The Professor. Because a) I like to show off my obscure knowledge and b) it’s actually a cool idea, I’m trying to write a scene in which Digory encounters the Old English Bede’s version of the story of Caedmon. The “Sing me Creation” line, and all the resonances between that and the creation of Narnia, is just too good to pass over.

The question is: would he have been learning OE at school or at university? Was Old English taught in (elite) British schools in the early 1900s?

Anyone out there know anything about the history of British education and/or the history of Old English in British schools?

Some Bloggerly Housekeeping

*waves* Hi. In case you didn’t notice, I dropped off the planet- stopped blogging, stopped commenting, and disappeared. Sorry about that- I needed some non-medieval procrastination time. (This turned out to be a largely fruitless quest, resulting in my regaling Narnia fandom with rambles about the hagiographical significance of the names of the four Pevensie children. But I tried.)

Anyway, during my long absence, I accrued over a thousand new posts in my google reader and god knows how many in my wordpress dash. I’ve been trying to catch up, and I hereby admit defeat. If you said anything interesting in the last month (I’m sure most of you did), I’m sorry I missed it. The google reader has been wiped and we shall start afresh tomorrow.

Chastity Belts: An “Academically Approved” Forum for Talking About Sex

So says Proffessor Albrecht Classen of the University of Arizona, author of “The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process”. The estimable Prof. Classen gave a paper for the Centre for Medieval Studies here, by the same title as his book. Many new and interesting things were learnt by all, I’m sure. For example, did you know:

* That before Classen, only five major studies of the medieval chastity belt had been written? The earliest was published in the 1880s, and the last in the 1990s. They all rely more-or-less on each other, are very difficult to get hold of due to the shady associations of the topic, and one of them was self-published and only two copies survive. It is also Classen’s opinion that none of them did very thorough artefact research- as well as not considering the possibility that the items in castles and museums might not be as old as their owners claim, apparently none of these five authors felt obliged to give useful details like item numbers and locations to back up their studies.

* There are no manuscript or literary examples of chastity belts before 1405? The aforementioned five books all cite various literary examples, which Classen carefully went through and demonstrated to be gross misinterpretations of a trope which associated belts with either a) prowess and heroics or b) love and romance, and sometimes both. See, for example, our dear friend Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (Apparently Gawain’s girdle is cited by all these five books as an example of a chastity belt! Excuse me while I die of hilarity now.)

* Belts, chaste or otherwise, didn’t come into fashion until around 1170? Before that, you had no idea where your top ended and your bottom began!

* The first known image of a chastity belt was drawn by a siege weapons designer? It appears, in 1405, in a manuscript called the Bellifortis, written by Kyeser von Eichstadt, accompanied by a rhyme about the dirty habits of Florentines, who supposedly invented the things. This is interesting, because everywhere else, although later, blames the Paduans. At any rate, this first example seems to have been a joke, a way of picking on the Florentines by mocking their sexual practices. As anyone who’s spent any time on a school bus knows, insults directed at by group A regarding the sexual practices of group B can be very inventive, often refer to anatomically impossible practices, and almost certainly do not give hard evidence of what group B get up to of a weekend.

The Bellifortis manuscript image

* Oh, and it would be actually impossible to survive more than a few days in one of these things? The hygeine issues alone would’ve been a disaster. This one below seems to provide more ample exit holes than some of the ones Classen showed us- making up for with spikiness for its lack of coverage. (Interestingly, only two of the examples Classen showed, this one and one from a German museum, thought to put spikes on the back door, so to speak. Regardless of spikes, they were all invariably far too small to use without serious waste disposal problems.)

Copyright- The Medieval Torture Museum, San Gimignano, Italy

* Chastity belts in art and literature really took off in the late 15th and 16th centuries? Everyone seemed to find them enormously fascinating, except for the English and the Spanish. There are, apparently, no references to chastity belts at all in England or Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Classen then moved into talking about the 19th century, when fascination with chastity belts was quite the thing. He showed us a few pictures of belts actually used on young boys, and talked about the appeal in the 19th century of chastity belts as a popular and “approved” way to talk about sex and sexuality in an academic environment. If, as Classen seems to have found, chastity belts weren’t actually used in the middle ages, when what becomes very interesting is the way that the early modern and modern periods have constructed and reconstructed the past to create this image of the barbaric, torturous middle ages, this ultimate symbol of the violent medieval patriarchy, out of a few very late medieval references which are probably facetious.

Speaking of modern reconstructions of the past, this brings us to our final ‘did you know’ for the night:

Did you know that…

A room full of medievalists can sit there very solemnly nodding away and not sniggering even once, while being shown slides of images from online S&M catalogues? Because apparently we can. I’m not sure if that’s evidence of the superior maturity of SRS ACADEMICS, or just evidence that they’ve learnt not to snigger at people’s papers by now.

All in the name of investigating modern responses to and reconstructions of the past, of course…


Oh, and Prof.  Classen told us a fabulous story about Dietrick von Something, an incompetent knight, and his cross-dressing wife. I’ve put in an inter-library loan for his book ‘Erotic Tales of Medieval Germany’, and when I get it, I promise a rousing retelling. It has love! Marriage! Adventures! Adultery! Seducation! Homoerotics! Cross-dressing! Magic Belts! Everything you want in a story, really.

There are POSTERS. With my NAME on them.

I find this very very intimidating. In order to get to the Bocera’s office, I have to go through the middle of the English department- I skip the CMS corridor but have to go past Awesome’s office, the doors and outside walls of which are papered with CMS adverts. And the common spaces are papered with said adverts. They have my name on them.

Centre  for  Medieval Studies
University  of  Sydney

Student  Seminar  Series

Amy  Brown

Legislating for the Stranger :
Archbishop Wulfstan and King Cnut

Harry  Peters

Testing the Boundaries of Romance and Marriage :
John Gower and ‘The Steward’s Tale’

5.00 for 5.30 p.m. start
Monday  8 September
Fourth  Floor  Common  Room
John  Woolley  Building  A20

Fortunately, I do think I know what I’m going to say in said paper. That’s a start. 🙂 And I know what my thesis is about! WHEEE!


Hey again, Intarwubs! I’m back again, isn’t that surprising! No deep content this time, but I found a cool thing that I want to share with you. I am reading the Encomium Emmae Reginae right now, which is a hugely hilarious piece of propaganda.  They should show this to high school kids, instead of WWI recruitment posters. So much more fun.


“After the death of his father, Knutr attempted to retain the sceptre of the kingdom, but he was quite unequal to so doing, for the number of his followers was insufficient… the king […] ordered a fleet to be got ready for him, not because he was fleeing afraid of the harsh outcome of war, but in order to consult his brother Haraldr, the king of the Danes, about so weighty a matter.” (E.E.R, book II item I)

but, immediately following this explanation of why Knut is wise and not cowardly for leaving England, we then get an explanation of why Thorkell the Tall was brave and heroic for chosing the opposite course:

“… Thorkell, whom we have already mentioned as a military commander, observed that the land was most excellent and chose to take up his residence in so fertile a country, and make peace with the natives, rather than to return home like one who had, in the end, been expelled.” (E.E.R, book II item I)

There are, of course, good reasons for this, and for the fact that the encomiast does his very best to gloss over Thorkell’s alliance with AEthelred at this stage, and so on. He’s engaged in the praise of Emma, Cnut, and everyone who ended up on their side in the end. Some of these people were on the other side at various points in time, but they’re still all superlatively excellent. This results in some humourous contradictions, like the one just above.

Along with all the amusements, I just found this description of Cnut:

“He became a friend and intimate of churchmen, to such a degree that he seemed to bishops to be a brother bishop for his maintenance of perfect religion, to monks also not a secular but a monk for the temperance of his life of most humble devotion. He diligently defended wards and widows, he supported orphans and strangers, he suppressed unjust laws and those who applied them, he exalted and cherished justice and equity, he built and dignified churches, he loaded priests and the clergy with dignities, he enjoined peace and unanimity upon his people…” (E.E.R book II item 19)

O blogosphere, you have no idea how happy this makes me. Just look at the Wulfstanian tenor of that passage!

Oh, I don’t believe it for a moment. Cnut was a rampaging egomaniac, and I certainly don’t buy all this humble devotion business. HOWEVER, what this does show is that Wulfstan’s description of the ideal king had sunk in, well enough that Cnuts wife would want Cnut painted as a king in that mould.

The first sentence I’m not so sure about- king as brother bishop and fellow monk. I know I’ve read something like it somewhere, but it might have been AElfric rather than Wulfstan. The defence of ‘wards and widows’ is a priority which crops up all over Wulfstan’s work, though- laws, Institutes, homilies, you name it. The emphasis on promoting justice and stamping out injustice is all over Wulfstan’s work- often expressed in repetitive and parallel structures like this. And peace and unanimity reminds me awfully of Wulfstan’s injunctions to the synod regarding their common dealings.

The short form of this is, O Internet:

Rejoice! For I may have something to say in the third chapter of my thesis, after all!