Wolfram von Eschenbach: Nice Guy (TM)

If anyone now speaks better of women, then truly I have no objection. I would be glad to hear their joy bruited wide. There is only one to whom I am unwilling to offer my loyal servitude. My anger is always new against her, ever since I detected her in deviance.

I am Wolfram von Eschenbach and I know a little of singing, and I am a pair of tongs holding m anger against one woman in particular: she has inflicted such wrong upon me that I have no choice but to hate her. That is why I bear the brunt of other women’s enmity. Alas, why do they act in this way!

Although their enmity grieves me, it stems from their womanliness, after all, because I have spoken out of turn and done myself wrong – the chances are it will never happen again! Yet they should not be overhasty in storming my bastion – they will find valorous battle. I have not forgotten how to be a good judge of their bearing and their ways. If chastity keeps company with a woman, I will be her reputations’ champion. Her sorrow grieves me from the heart.

He’s a nice guy, really! Except for that one time, but it was totally justified!

… is it wrong of me that this is my favourite bit of Parzival?


IAS update #2 – Gawain and Guinevere, my two favourite Arthurian peeps

[Note: both these papers, and my recaps of them, deal with encroachment on personal and physical autonomy; the second in particular covered some distressing gendered violence in the narrative structure.]

The first paper I went to at Bristol was on what might just qualify as my favourite subject – the objectification (or, in this case, commodification) of Sir Gawain, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Warning against the wyles of women – David Sweeten

This paper moved very fast, especially in the middle, so I missed chunks of it, but I really look forward to reading a hard-copy version at some point

David began with this quote:

Medieval MSS llustration - couple embracingFor were I worth al the wone of wymmen alyue,
And al þe wele of þe worlde were in my honde,
And I schulde chepen and chose to cheue me a lorde

Þer schulde no freke upon folde bifore yow be chosen.

[ll. 1269-71,75; Tolkien & Gordon 2nd ed. (ed. by Norman Davies); my quotation, not David Sweeten’s.]

Gawain, or Gawain-as-husband, is something which can be purchased with appropriate wealth. David went on to argue that Gawain’s honour is also a commodity to be bargained for: he read the bedroom scenes not as Lady B’s attempt to sleep with Gawain (or purchase sex from him), but an endeavour to get him to accept the girdle. She takes her time setting up the appropriate stakes: first offering a too-high price (sexual favours for his honour) in order to make the lower price, the girdle, more acceptable. The values of the items in question – Gawain’s honour, and the girdle, seem slippery: Lady B. can reduce Gawain’s standing by questioning his identity; and her revelation of the properties of the girdle forces him to re-value the item within the context of the exchange.

As well as this reading, which was fun in its own right, David offered some historical context. He argued that the poem is both rooted in its NW Midlands homeland, and closely tied to London politics of the day. SGGK’s anxiety about women’s commodification of male honour he linked to contemporary anxiety about the position of influence held by Alice Perrers, mistress of Edward III. The nobility of the NW Midlands relied heavily on direct royal patronage: Alice’s strong influence over Edward threatened that relationship.

I really liked this paper. But then, I really like most things which have to do with someone bossing poor Gawain about.*

Next up, I missed the first five minutes or so (but enjoyed the rest of)….

The Queen was in her Parlour: Guinevere and Space – Kristina Hildebrand

This paper was in a session (“Women in Arthurian Literature”), which, perhaps due to its snazzy content and perhaps due to its respected moderator, Bonnie Wheeler, was so jam-packed that people (myself and David Sweeten included) were sprawled on the floor around the edges of the room.

Kristina argued that Guinevere marks out and defines royal space; her presence identifies civilisation in the text. This power is not to be confused with political clout, but it seems to be impossible to rule England without her.

Gwen, with crown

Guinevere is a stable figure at the centre of the court (for the most part), when compared to, say Iseult, who comes and goes from her husband’s court. She has a defined space, her personal chamber: Kristina talked about the stress in the social fabric of Malory’s Arthurian world caused by differing values placed on the queen’s space. To Arthur, he alone should have access to it; Gawain argues that because the queen has a public function as rewarder of knights, her chamber is a public space.

With this framework set up, Kristina talked about Guinevere in Meleagaunt’s castle: her space grows smaller and smaller; she attempts to defend a single room, and in the end she cannot even maintain control over her bed. This is a pretty distressing situation by any measure, but the framework Kristina set up around it, in which Guinevere’s space is not just about her person but her identity as queen, the whole process sent chills up my spine. Not-good chills, except insofar as I admire the careful authorial choices necessary to produce such effects.

Guinevere, then, is under constant threat: she is most safe inside Arthur’s court, but never entirely so. Kristina drew in Igraine, here, who was not safe even within her husband’s court; and then she asked if the convent to which Guinvere retires is a safe personal space at last? There, she has authority, and ought to be able to prevent male encroachments on her territory. However, Lancelot ignores her command and tries to see her. Kristina noted that Guinevere is saved, in the end – by death. Only God can protect her; and even then, only terminally.

I liked this paper! It was Relevant To My Interests, even if it was about Malory. Totally worth scrunching up on the floor for.


* I feel I ought to specify, since apparently many people assume otherwise, that I do not personally wish to shag Gawain! Boss him about, sure. My feeling on Gawain is that he should be my big brother, and his life would be much better if he had me to tell him how to run it.** And many other people’s lives would be improved because I would be bossing Gawain about, and not them. What, you mean you don’t all have fictional characters you want to adopt? *sidles off*

** I have a feeling the Maiden With Small Sleeves shares my feelings on Gawain, too.

How to insult a man who turns you down (in the late 12th century)*

* Insult only applicable if you are not yourself a man.

A medieval painting - woman throwing snowballsThis morning I had the great delight of translating a chunk of Marie de France’s Lanval. I present, for your edification, the insulting of Sir Lanval, by Guinevere, whose advances he has rejected:

Lanval, fet elle, bien le quit,
Vus n’ames gueres cel deduit.
Asez le m’ad hum dit sovent
Que des femmes n’aves talent!
Vallez avez bient afeitiez,
Ensemble od eus vus deduiez.
(ll. 277-82 – Lanval, she said, well do I believe it: you do not love this pleasure much. Very often men [lit. a man; generic] have said it to me, that you do not have a desire for women! You have much preferred young men, with whom you take your pleasure.)

Apparently I have picked a side in the Great Gay Debate of pre-modern history, vis, it does not seem sensible to argue that there can be no concept of same-sex-preference as an identity prior to the invention of the handy terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’. We see enough of this trope, women accusing men of preferring young men to women, in vernacular literature that evidently it made sense to authors an audiences: one reason a man might not be into you is that he’s into young men. Which means we have a mental category for ‘men-who-prefer-young-men’. And, for added bonus points, we can go around shaming men by implying that they’re in that category of men-who-prefer-young-men.

There’s two such fabulous passages in the Roman d’Eneas, in which first Lavinia’s mum warns her that, if she shacks up with Eneas, he will bring hot young men into their marital bed (this is not supposed to be an incentive; perhaps Lavinia takes it as one? She marries him, anyway); and then, after Eneas buggers off on her, Lavinia soundly denounces him for being insufficiently heterosexual.

I’m sure someone’s written on this trope in particular, but I’m having a mental blank and can’t remember who (Simon Gaunt touches on it, but he doesn’t deal with Lanval, so far as I can recall). At any rate, it seems to be a conceivable response, in 12th century French lit, for a woman to accuse a man who’s rejected or abandoned her of preferring to seek his pleasure with young men.

Accordingly, it’s really intriguing to me that Lunette does not launch this accusation against Yvain, despite the fact that Gauvain has basically single-handedly coaxed Yvain away from his wife and ‘distracted’ him so much that he forgets to return home. I really don’t think it’s because the concept didn’t exist: manifestly, it did.

Sir Gawain: as gay as christmas. ESPECIALLY at Christmas.Also, for bonus points, guess who Lanval had been hanging out with immediately prior to being propositioned by Guinevere?

YOU GUESSED IT. GAUVAIN AND YVAIN. This is pleasing to the part of me that likes to pretend all Arthuriana is contiguous, even when it clearly isn’t.

Leeds Report #6b, or, more fun with Computational Linguistics!

After Rombert Stapel’s paper, we moved onto two further papers which were perrhaps more ambitious in scope, and concerning which I have less certainty about the method and its application. All presenters talked about using control samples, and talked us through the process by which they deterrmined that Delta could tell the difference between their target author and unrelated samples, but each paper raised some questions for me which might just be revealing my ignorance.

Karina van Danlen-Oskam was attempting to use quantitative computational analysis to distinguish between different scribes of the same text. She talked about some of the difficulties of using computational linguistics for medieval studdies: you need an electronic text – but when you fling your electronic text into Delta, are you identifying the medieval author, the medieval scribe or the modern editor as your unique language user? During the course of her own analysis she also had to control for variant spellings – some manuscripts which looked really whacky turned out to be quite conventional once you controlled for variant spellings in feminine pronouns.

I liked Karina’s idea here – that you could bypass that question if you used computational linguistics to distinguish between different scribes of the same text. In this case, she took 15 MSS of Dutch text, a chronicle of biblical history. She made the transcriptions herself – necessarily short sections, the same sections from each text. She picked sections with interesting women in them partly because that seemed like fun to her, and partly because sections with interesting womein in them occur regularly but infrequently across the whole of biblical history.

What she found was that different samples showed different levels of variance across the whole set of manuscripts- one episode from the New Testament involing the thee Mariaswas wildly different across the boad. What she also found was that while the Judith episodes overall were pretty consistent, one scribe had got seriously inventive and not only changed things but added whole sections, effectively becoming an author for that stretch of the text.

XCKD crop - Citation NeededThe problem which arises out of this is that… we don’t know what it means. Using her existing data, Karina plans to look at the Esther episodes; she said she thought the scribe might have been inspired by traditions on the Nine Worthies, so if she was going back for more data she’d start with sections which dealt with the nine male Worthies. But without full transcripts of entire manuscripts, it’s not really possible to say how inventive that scribe was or how unique the manuscript.

My other problem here is that while computational linguistics clearly can demonstrate that the scribe of MS I (in Karina’s numbering) was creative in his account of Judith; and the dot plots were nicely illustrative; and it’s exciting to know this fact – you didn’t actually need computational linguistics to do it. All you needed was someone to look at the Judith sections of all fifteen MSS, and it just so happens that a computational linguist got to it first. Given that the scribe had *added entire lines*, I’m sure Karina noticed this when she was transcribing.

Literature - words that think they are too clever by half. Mostly written by men.Mike Kestemont was using computational linguistics to argue that one Johan the Clerk was the author of a group of twelve poems from Antwerp, usually attributed to the ‘Antwerpschool’ of poems. Now, this is a long stoush – we have one known poem by Johan and one almost-certainly-by Johan poem1 – and we have about 12 anonymous poems from the same period, and 20th century scholarship was greatly devoted to arguing about whether Johan wrote all of said poems or none of said poems.

Mike’s computational states focused on rhyme words, on the reasonable logic that a poet might change his topic, change his format, but he’s unlikely to change his list of ‘words which rhyme with purple’. And he discovered that all the anonymous poems used substantially the same rhyme words as Johan’s identified works!

Mike was good humoured about this: he knew well that exciting as his multivariate statistics were, he’s unlikely to put an end to the argument anytime soon; but he wanted to put his evidence down on the record for the ‘maximalist’ position.

My quibble with this – he was rigorous about his control sample and so on – is that I’d like to see some other statistical studies done on rhyme-words. While, sure, any two or three or twelve friends are probably not going to use the same stock rhyme words, what about teachers and students? In an oral poetic culture, wouldn’t one of the key things you teach your students be a stock of rhyme words for every occasion? But we don’t have much vernacular poetic evidence where we can identify teacher-student pairs or groups, at least not for the European middle ages. Medieval and early modern Arabic poetry might be able to help here – but I’m not even sure if Arabic poetry is rhymed; and the distinctly different oral cultures might cancel out the usefulness of such data for European medievalists.

Sheer Geekiness - I just think this stuff is really cool (XKCD)I would also be interested – just because I’m interested – to see a stack of computational analysis done on known Latin authors, particularly authors trained in the same place or by the same people. I’d like to know if the statistical difference between the language use of two second-language users trained in the same place is different to the statistical difference between two native speakers, especially since Latin composition has always been such a stylistically specific art. I’d like to know if you could use computational linguistics programs to run grammatical analyses on a Latin text and identify the author’s native language. These are all things that would be interesting to me! But I don’t have either the Latin or the statistical proficiency to do either of these things myself. Latinists and statisticians of the world, hear ye.


1. This was a fun story. In his identified poem, Johan announces that his patron had rejected his previous work because it was too misogynist. Conveniently, we have a remarkably misogynist poem, the Lehenspeigel, dedicated to the same patron, by ‘John, your poor Clerk’. So ten points to Rogier van Leef for turning down misogynist poetry?

Also, fun fact – John the Clerk fromAntwerpturns up in the wardrobe accounts of Edward III– he received payment from the English for spying on the French.

Leeds Report #6, or, I saw multi-variate statistics!

One of the most interesting sessions by far, from my humble perspective, was 1209: Whodunnit? Literary Forensics and Authorship Attribution for the Middle Ages. Three Middle Dutch scholars, all of whom work on questions of authorship and transmission, all spoke on different uses of statistical analysis in looking at textual variants. Before recapping each paper, allow me to talk for a bit about the interesting ideas and issues the session raised.

Sheer Geekiness - I just think this stuff is really cool (XKCD)Firstly: computational linguistics. This method of linguistic analysis rests on the fact that individual speakers of a common language have distinct linguistic markers. These markers are not topic-specific, but show up in really common words (articles, conjunctions, subordinators) and grammatical patterns. Put simply, you can tell the difference between a post by Magistra and a post by me by the fact that Magistra talks about early medieval history and I talk a high medieval sex; but a computational linguist would run our two anonmymised posts through a computer program and discover that I use certain conjunctions far more than she, and she uses some particular grammatical structure a lot more than I do.

Now, I seem to have a lot more faith in computational linguistics than many literary scholars – I think this is because I got taught the basic principles (although by no means how to do it) in first year, thank you Craig Ronalds. I know, for example, that this business about individual language markers has been rigorously tested on modern speakers from different language backgrounds. I know the method has been used to expose cases of police interfering with witness testimony (police members as a group show certain linguistic traits that are not shared by the general population, as a result of their training). I know it’s uses for humanities scholars haven’t been fully explored or tested yet, but I also suspect that a lot of the distrust people have for evidence drawn from computational linguistics is to do with the unfamiliar kind of evidence. Computational linguistics relies on data and statistical analysis and sciencey-kinds of things: I get the feeling that a lot of humanities scholars don’t trust that (it’s repeatable, sure, but you can’t go through your edition and mark it up and SEE the evidence right there). Our discipline trains us to check everything against the text, rather than checking it for thorough and repeatable experimental process: maybe we’re not so willing to trust people who branch out into other kinds of evidence.

With that said, it must also be stated that I don’t know enough about computational linguistics for my bullshit detector to work properly when hear about it. So I have no way of knowing if an individual scholar is doing their computational linguistics Rong. Given that the application of computational linguistics to literary scholarship is a relatively new field, one risk would be that there aren’t enough trained bullshit-detectors around, but that can only change with time and the increasing usefulness of computational techniques.

So what are some of the uses of computational linguistics to medievalists?

Rombert Stapel has been using computational linguistics to determine how much of Hendrick Gerardsz van Vianen (sp?)’s Croniken van der Duytcher Order, a late 15th c. chronicle of the Teutonic Order with specific focus on the area around Utrecht, was written by the said Hendrick. Several segments are easily identified as being from other sources – the prologue claims to be by a 12th century bishop who certainly wasn’t in Acre when he said he was; and the Balliwick chronicle for Utrecht seems separate from the main body of the text.

Traditional philological analysis would look at unusual words, and has been of some use to Rombert Stapel, but in the absence of original source texts it’s hard to tell where emendation has been happening. Instead, he took samples from the privileges written by the said Hendrick in his capacity as secretary to the Lands Commander Johan von Drongen. The samples are not just written at a different time to the Croniken, they’re also in a completely different style – something which would usually override philologically distinct vocabulary features, but doesn’t usually override the grammatical data used in computational linguistics.

The full set samples which he fed into the program (Delta, by someone named Burrows – it’s free, and apparently easy to use) were:

  • 2 sets of samples from the Croniken where traditional philological evidence (comparisons to original sources, I believe) shows Hendrick left traces as author.
  • The privileges mentioned above
  • The Sachenspiegel, known to have been copied by Hendrick
  • 2 unrelated texts of the same period and genre – one hagiography and one chronicle.

After testing that Delta could distinguish between the unrelated texts and the Hendrick texts, he then compared the samples to the entire rest of the Croniken, and pulled up several sections clearly not by Hendrick, including the first half of the prologue (but not the second); the Balliwick chronicle; and some formulaic documents- privileges and court pleadings. The rest appears to be either by Hendrick or substantially modified by him.

Rombert then argued that Hendrick’s strong presence across the Croniken suggests that he was both author and compiler at once; noting the existence of other Teutonic Order chronicle texts in this period in theLowlands, he says this points to a strong, self-aware hagiographical tradition in the balliwicks, away from the administrative centre of the Order.

Note: I’ve probably got the author/scribe’s name spelled wrong, but I’m pretty sure Croniken was on the slides, with a C not a K.

Leeds Report #5, or the one where Highly went to the wrong side of campus

Dr Who - universally recognised as a mature responsible adultHere are some things that happened to me on Wednesday morning at Leeds.
1. I overslept and missed breakfast.
2. I drank truly abysmal tea in Boddington. Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to have coffee and plain boiling water and hot chocolate all coming out of the same spout on the machine? I ended up with tea that tasted of hot chocolate!
3. I dashed onto the bus to Weetwood, running late.
4. I got to Weetwood and discovered that the session I wanted, ‘Royal, Patron and Civic Saints’, was actually back at Boddington.
5. I scanned the program, saw the words ‘pontificate’ and ‘Innocent’ and dashed off to Session 1127.

Of course, it turned out that Session 1127 was about Innocent II, not my buddy Innocent III. One presenter, Damian Smith, wasn’t present; and I missed enough of Anne J. Duggan’s paper on legal reform that it made very little sense to me.

But I learned interesting things from Dale Kinney’s paper ‘The Artistic Patronage of Pope Innocent II’.

What I liked best about Dale Kinney’s paper was that she said from the outset that she was correcting an assertion she’d made in her own PhD thesis, with which she now disagreed. I like a person who’s happy to argue with themselves in public!

The second thing I liked about this paper was her lovely slides – art historians are good at slides, I have noticed. The third fabulous thing was that she accidentally referred to scholar Herbert Black as ‘Herbert the Black’. More scholars should have fearsome monikers, I feel.

Also, there were some arguments in this paper. Basically, in her PhD thesis, Dale Kinney had asserted that Innocent II was ‘not a building pope’. This, she now realises, rested on a strange assumption that there was such a thing as a ‘building pope’ in the 12th century; and that Innocent II’s well-attested rebuilding projects (described by Cardinal Boso; mostly it was falling rooves. Apparently rooves were falling in on churches all over Rome) had no particular project.

Now, she thinks otherwise. She discussed three facets of Innocent II’s building programs:

  • Gifts (possibly re-gifts?) to various churches, including a big shiny silver cross to St Peter’s, which may be a deliberate parallel with a similar gift of Constantine’s. Such gifts seem to point to a high value placed on churches in general and church decoration in particular.
  • Technologically demanding rebuilding projects – for example, the Cathedral of St John Lateran had collapsed in the 9th century, been rebuilt in the early 10th, but struck by lightning in 1115, after which it began to collapse again. Innocent II seems to have been the first to attempt a complete reconstruction. Many of these reconstructions involved deviating significantly from the original plan – at St Pauls, for example, Innocent II’s architects halved the span of the columns, with shorter arches and windows placed above, for lack of the technology to replicate the originals. At St Stephanus Rotunda, which had originally had several (2? 3? I’m not sure and didn’t write down) concentric colonnades, they had to fill in the second colonnade in entirely and cut the outer one out entirely, making the whole church dramatically smaller.
  • Innocent II was also a great spoliast, removing and re-using a number of features from Roman monuments. This is by no means the lazy option – as Dale Kinney pointed out, much of Rome was actively hostile to the Papacy at the time; dragging great big columns and whatnot across the city is no mean feat.

Perhaps most interesting of all, she told us the story of Innocent II’s own sarcophagus. It was found ‘in media giro’ (in the middle circuit) of the Mausoleum of Hadrian, which was at the time a heavily-used fortress.

First of all, the Mausoleum of Hadrian doesn’t have circuits, so no one’s quite sure what that meant. The passage from the entrance to the two central chambers was a sort of spiral, so it could mean in the middle of that; or perhaps in one of the two central chambers.

Secondly, Innocent II laboured under the delusion that the sarcophagus was Hadrian’s; but Hadrian was cremated and buried in an urn. So it must be someone else’s sarcophagus. But whose?  Everyone else buried there – the last person was a woman named Julia Domina – would also have been cremated. So the sarcophagus must have been *moved in there* from another tomb at some point.

At any rate, Innocent II took it out and got it across Rome, through largely hostile territory – Dale Kinney suggested a route, involving floating the sarcophagus upriver as far as possible. This probably saved it from destruction in an assault on the  Mausoleum. In fact, it ought to have been perfectly safe forever – except the church it was placed in burned down on top of it in the 14th century. Ooops.

This post needs more pictures, but, unlike Dale Kinney, I don’t have access to a lot of educational and illustrative pictures of medieval reconstructions of various Roman churches. I can’t even find a picture of St Stephanus Rotunda.


[NB: Dear person who’s sending me compliments via google search strings – <3. Dear person who’s googling ‘stairway fantasy’, I got nuffin’ for you.]

The cute cat theory of manuscripts?

At IAS I went to a postgrad masterclass on ‘publishing and getting published’, which, strangely, seemed to be mostly about why you should leave academia for publishing careers.1 And at this session, the speaker from Boydell and Brewer endeavoured to impress upon us the fit-for-purpose nature of hardcopy books. They’re portable, and often have their own inbuilt search engine, called the ‘index’! If we had no books, she said, and someone came up with the idea of printing things out, binding them, and putting indices and contents pages in them, everyone would be standing around going “oooh, what a clever idea! Clearly it is the way of the future!”

In other news, I have been particularly enjoying Got Medieval’s series on Cute cats in Harley 6563.

I would like to propose that the Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism applies to books.

Specifically: Book 1.0 was created to allow people to share research papers intellectual content of some sort. Book 2.0 was created to allow people to share cute pictures of cats (or monkeys2).

OK, that’s clearly not the *sole* purpose of Book 2.0, wherever you want to draw the boundary, but there is a clear increase in cute pictures in manuscripts over time, yes?

Consider also the porn part of the Cute Cats Theory:

Hypothesis: Sufficiently usable read/write platforms will attract porn and activists.

If there’s no porn, the tool doesn’t work.

If there are no activists, the tool doesn’t work well

Now, by this logic, the book doesn’t work at all until 1748, which is clearly not true. But consider that Charlotte of Savoy liked naked people alongside her daily devotions. I’m sure we can stretch the definition of ‘porn’ to include titilating marginalia, yes?

And from there, can we draw a long bow and say that the use of books in popular activism increases at the same time as the amount of titilating marginalia increases?

Also, cats.3

I rest my case.

1. Apparently I am a prime candidate for this, because I was able to identify Stephanie Meyer as the only author other than JKR who could probably get away with a Pottermore-style self-publishing venture. I’m actually not sure that SMeyer *is* the only such person – there are smaller-scale YA authors with particularly net-savvy audiences, like Tamora Pierce.
2. Speaking of monkeys, how cute is the monkey in The Lady and the Unicorn? VERY CUTE, is how cute. I resisted the urge to buy a throw cushion with the monkey on it, and was rather disappointed that you could buy cuddly toy unicorns but not cuddly toy monkeys.
3. Got Medieval reckons the BL are anti-kitteh! Clearly not. They published a whole book about kittehs in books. How recursive.