Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Kent State, Northwoods, and the SCA

This day is the anniversary of the Kent State University shootings, where the Ohio National Guard, faced with unruly demonstrators against the Vietnam War, shot several of them including people who were not part of the demonstration. I was in university at the time in the United States and opposition to the war was pretty high. This however got many people who had not actively protested the war very angry. The Kent State demonstrations had been a reaction to the invasion of Cambodia, a major expansion of the war that Richard Nixon had promised to wind down when he was elected. The invasion of Cambodia and the shootings at Kent State and also at Jsckson State University in Mississippi got me and thousands of others to take part in antiwar marches who had never done so before.

Two days before the shootings, and a week before the marches against the Kent State killings, I had taken part in the first tournament held by the SCA in East Lansing Michigan. Lke the first SCA tournament four years earlier, it was a great success that inspired us to do more. As a result our Michigan State University – based group became the barony of Northwoods, part of the Middle Kingdom, which was headquartered in the Chicago area." NorthWoods for a good while was the largest and most dynamic SCA group between the two coasts. I have often wondered if we had scheduled our tournament on May 9 instead of May 2,1970, whether we would have had the heart or the interest in putting on Northwoods' oh so successful first SCA tournament? And if not, what would the history of the SCA have looked like?

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Review of "The Twelve of England" at De Re Militari

I am the series editor of the Deeds of Arms series (SM)

Noel Fallows,

the twelve of england (freelance academy press, 2013) 121 pp. $24.95

Twelve of England

Following on two excellent volumes by Steven Muhlberger, Noel Fallows has produced the third volume in Freelance Academy Press’ Deeds of Arms Series. The Twelve of England, a pseudo-historical tale which Fallows argues dates from the second half of the 15th century, offers a glimpse into the chivalric world of late medieval Portugal. The English translation is buttressed with several apparatuses providing a more complete view of the work. Fallows offers an ample introduction to the work, thirty color images, a transcription of the original Portuguese text, a facsimile of the manuscript, genealogical tables, and several maps as part of the volume.

The introduction establishes the necessary framework for understanding the text’s origin, the history of the manuscript, and the nature of the work itself. One of the most impressive of Fallow’s contributions is his distillation of the complex historical background of late 14th and 15th century Iberian military and political affairs into a form that is both understandable and fulfilling to the non-expert in medieval Iberian history. The text itself offers precious little information about the actual historical context in which it exists and so the author’s masterful explanation of this is crucial to understanding The Twelve of England. Moreover, Fallows advances an argument that the text is not simply one more chivalric romance, but represents a fusing of literature and history that illuminates the tangled and murky early history of the late medieval alliance between Portugal and England. Perhaps as importantly, Fallows offers his assessment of the nature of chivalric literature in late medieval Portugal, suggesting that chivalric (or non-chivalric) readers or listeners could insert themselves into the interstices of the story itself. In so doing, readers could vicariously participate in the deeds of the Twelve, lifting their own assessments of themselves and their lineages in the process.

Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge, Fallows provides an extensive examination of the arms and armor that would have been current in the early 15th century, when the events of the Twelve of England would have actually taken place. A close examination of surviving Milanese armor, complete with photographs, and illustrations of combat, arms, and armor in medieval manuscripts jointly allow the reader to visualize particular aspects described in the text of The Twelve of England. This section will delight military historians who are familiar with the specialist’s terminology and details. The general reader or uninitiated student would find this “Note on Armor” to be impenetrable without the aid of another work offering the language and concepts of medieval arms and armor.[1] This section, though, is not crucial to an appreciation of the larger work, and an uninitiated reader could reasonably pass over this section, though they would certainly miss an enrichingly erudite examination.

The translation itself is precisely what a medieval historian would want it to be. The translation stays true to the literal language of the original Portuguese while also conveying the appropriate tone and feeling. As Fallows notes, The Twelve of England has thematic and typological connections to the wider world of chivalric literature, including the Arthurian tradition and the lais of Marie de France, and these connections will be apparent in the translated text. Similarly, as Fallows notes, the text reads a bit like a chronicle, a tool that the author uses to suggest the historical nature of his story. On this point as well, the translation effectively conveys the literary and rhetorical conventions that the medieval author used in the composition.

Noel Fallows’ edition of The Twelve of England is a truly valuable addition to the corpus of chivalric literature available to English readers. The fact that this text survives in a single manuscript and that it represents the poorly understood world of medieval Portugal highlights the significance of this translation. Fallows has provided not just a translation of the text, but an entire handbook for studying this work. Military historians, historians of chivalry, historians of literature, students, and the general reader will all find this to be a most insightful and useful edition.

Samuel A. Claussen

California Lutheran University

[1]. If one needed to consult such a work, they would be well served by Fallows’ Jousting in Renaissance Iberia (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2010).

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock

I have been listening to this again and again for the past few weeks: I went back and looked it up because someone my granddaughter's age expressed enthusiasm.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gender War

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo
points out Donald Trump's greatest weekness:
There are numerous articles I've seen this morning talking about the emerging "gender war" in the 2016 general election, which now seems officially underway. 'Trump’s ‘woman’s card’ comment escalates the campaign’s gender wars', 'Trump escalates his gender war' are just a couple examples. There's plenty of misogyny in our society and our politics. Women face various campaign or perception hurdles men do not. Is this female candidate tough enough to be president? Is she too tough ("angry", "abrasive") and therefore not likable? Etc etc. But the simple fact is that if you are explicitly fighting a 'gender war' with a female candidate, you're already losing and probably losing badly, as Tierney Sneed's article this morning confirms in the polling numbers.

It comes down to a simple issue of the 19th Amendment: women can vote! And in addition to being able to vote, there are slightly more women than men and they actually vote a bit more. But it really comes down to: women can vote!

In electoral terms, the dynamics of gender and race are different in various ways. But they're pretty similar in this way. If you are thematically invoking racial or gender stereotypes without doing so openly or explicitly you can mobilize societal prejudice in your favor - what we sometimes generically call 'dog-whistling'. But if you're attacking your opponent as a women - and yes, attacking her as only doing well because she's a woman or 'playing the woman card' - that's not a gender war. It's a gender massacre and you're the one being massacred.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Canada’s multiculturalism: A circle, ever edging outwards, by JOHN RALSTON SAUL

Canada’s multiculturalism: A circle, ever edging outwards


Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Apr. 22, 2016 1:15PM EDT Canada is now the only Western democracy in which there is no serious argument among the citizenry or politicians over the importance of immigration. Canadians understand that immigration is not migration. It must be seen as the first step toward citizenship. And the sooner an immigrant becomes a citizen, the better.

The main complaint after the arrival of the first 25,000 Syrian refugees seems to be that more of them should have been citizen sponsored because it is harder to settle those who are government assisted. So we now need more refugees, but in that first category.

Incidentally, I believe the term should be citizen sponsored, not privately sponsored. Private implies self-interest or commerce. This is all about citizen engagement.

Seen from outside the country, our attitude toward immigration and citizenship often seems to make Canada an outlier – problematic, a contradiction, sleepwalking to disaster, even unacceptable as a real nation-state

. Over the last month in several European countries, I found that many people, of all backgrounds, educations and beliefs, were quicker than ever to say Of course, you can believe in these things. You have a big country. You’re a new country.

Neither is true. We aren’t big. For the last hundred years most immigrants have gone to a handful of big cities. And we aren’t new. As a settler society we are the product of 400 years, most of it spent going through the same economic, political and social dramas as other Western countries. We are the oldest continuous democratic federation in the world – beating Switzerland by a few months. We are the second- or third-oldest continuous democracy of any sort in the world – 168 years without breaking up, without a civil war, a coup, an absolute monarch, a dictator.

Our cities are built where Indigenous peoples prospered for thousands of years. As I pointed out in A Fair Country, back in 2008, First Nations and Métis peoples far outnumbered settlers into the second half of the 19th century. So Canada at its best is very much the product of the long relationship with Indigenous peoples, their approaches and philosophies; and above all, their concepts of inclusion and belonging, which today we would call immigration and citizenship. If the central characteristic of Canada is its complexity, this also is an outcome of our long relationship with Indigenous peoples. In particular we owe a great deal to the example of the Métis Nation, the very model of living complexity.

None of this lessens the reality that, for more than a century as immigrant power grew, the Indigenous-settler relationship was betrayed and great evil was done. But that in turn cannot erase the Indigenous influence on our society. That Indigenous reality is now reasserting itself. The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision April 14 that re-establishes Métis and non-status Indian rights is yet another example of this.

Today, repairing the relationship with Indigenous peoples is the single most important test for Canadians. We now seem ready to play our part as their allies, but must remind ourselves every day that central to reconciliation is concrete restitution. Many of us keep coming back to the words of Chief John Kelly – “as the years go by, the circle of the Ojibway gets bigger and bigger. Canadians of all colours and religions are entering that circle. You might feel that you have roots somewhere else, but in reality, you are right here with us.”

When I find myself explaining to Europeans why our system of inclusion and diversity more or less works, I inevitably go back to those non-racial Indigenous ideas which leave space for multiple identities and multiple loyalties, for an idea of belonging which is comfortable with contradictions, which shifts humans from their autocratic role as masters of the universe to one more integrated into the place itself. This is an approach to values which is the opposite of the European-U.S. understanding of the monolithic citizen melted into a pot of national uniqueness.

All of which matters today because Canada is out on the cutting edge, doing things other countries are not. We know that the leaders of the three most powerful European countries have declared multiculturalism a failure. Which I suppose is supposed to mean that Canada is or will be a failure. But we should also know that what they mean by multiculturalism has more or less involved the abandonment of what they inaccurately call migrants into ghettos; that they imagine it involves the breaking up of society into unrelated pods, producing in the worst cases police no-go zones and failed schooling. The author of a recent biography of Tony Blair presents the former British prime minster as preferring “multiculturalism” over the “integration of immigrant communities.” We know this is not at all what multiculturalism is supposed to mean. And our opinion should be worth something since we are seen as the inventors and the experimental centre of the concept.

Our great weakness as Canadians is that we have been lazy when it comes to explaining what our experiment consists in. Our excuse could be that it is, after all, an experiment. That is not good enough. The atmosphere out there in most Western countries is one of tired elites, many of them caught up in bourgeoning campaigns of fear. Canadians know all too well how contagious these are. Our last prime minister started down that road, which is one of the reasons he is out of a job. And we know well the confused, divisive atmosphere in the United States – the discourse of walls and security. The current British Prime Minister believes he must get the immigration levels down. The French Prime Minister has just called for the banning of headscarves on students in universities. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, having made a great ethical gesture in 2015 to welcome one million Syrian refugees, now finds that, because Germany does not have an overarching immigration-citizenship policy and structure, it is a nightmare to organize their settlement. The result has been a political backlash. And yet we must admire the risk that Germans have taken and their determination to make it work.

What’s more, we must not confuse the massive political and ethical failure of most European governments with the attitudes of large parts of the citizenry. Europe is filled with citizens throwing themselves into the crisis as volunteers. Just as the Macedonians were closing their borders, I was in the transit camp on the Athenian docks in Piraeus. At that point, they were managing a few thousand refugees. The sheds were all well organized and run by amazing volunteers – not NGOs or government. In fact, the Greeks, almost broken by their own crisis, have responded with generosity and care to the refugees’ plight, just as many citizens of Calais have stepped in to support refugees in the awful camp outside their city. In southern Italy, in Germany, there are thousands of such stories. And there are thousands of study groups, professors, NGOs, activists doing whatever they can.

But the problem is so profound that the continent is failing and governments are justifying this failure by blaming others. You could call it a massive mismanagement of the end of empires; less the uncontrollable outcome of geographic proximity and more the result of 50 years of hypocrisy when it comes to Mediterranean relationships. The Brexit movement in Britain can only be seen as a deeply romantic desire to return to another era, which itself never existed. I hear serious individuals talking about a need to recreate an alliance of the English-speaking peoples, as if we have all been sitting around for 40 years, waiting for Britain to come back to us. The most likely outcome of Britain voting to withdraw from the EU would be Scotland separating in order to stay in Europe. This is one of those do-I-laugh-or-do-I-cry moments.

There is a whispered conviction among many around the continent that the real problem is Islam; that it is not absorbable into Judeo-Christian civilization. This is the language which Christians used to use against Jews and Protestants against Catholics and vice versa. This was once the excuse in Canada for excluding Sikhs, Chinese, Japanese. And it was the excuse for trying to destroy Indigenous peoples.

Reactive panic – and crisis

The heart of the crisis lies elsewhere. Every year for seven decades Europe has been taking in large numbers of immigrants from many places. They were called many things – migrants, refugees, guest workers. The delusional assumption was that they would serve their economic purpose or be protected for a while, then go home. They didn’t. And European leaders, off the record, knew they wouldn’t.

And so, 70 years of lying to themselves has resulted in an immigration civilization profoundly unprepared for immigration. No attempt has been made by the EU or by individual European countries to develop an overarching, proactive immigration policy, with the necessary infrastructure both at home and in their embassies. In many cases they are doing better than they think, but their idea of themselves hides this success. The result now is a reactive panic; a crisis of drownings, disgraceful camps, human disorder and suffering. And there is still no hint of any desire to create a dignified, balanced immigration policy with citizenship as an essential celebratory part of the whole. It is precisely now, in the midst of the crisis, that they should be developing a positive, holistic approach. If anything, the latest EU-Turkish agreement crosses basic ethical lines and so in the long run will make matters worse.

The countdown to citizenship

Let me go back for a moment to the failure of Canadians to explain ourselves to ourselves, let alone to others. There are real risks involved in this ham-handed mutism and naive triumphalism. What’s more, it is unnecessary. The patterns of our immigration and citizenship history, at their best and their worst, are clear.

The idea of a broad government-supported immigration/citizenship policy goes back to the Indigenous welcome. That’s how the settlers survived. It was equally central to both the New France settlement strategy and system created for the Loyalist refugees fleeing in the 1780s from the American war against Britain. In February, 1848, the first law passed by the new responsible-government parliament of Canada laid out the beginnings of a modern immigration/citizenship policy. With Confederation in 1867, the government immediately created a department for immigration and citizenship, and sent agents out around the world. Rules guiding the newcomers from immigrant status to citizenship were put in place and, ever since, that process has ranged between three and five years.

By the late 19th century, citizenship ceremonies were growing in popularity. Citizenship was a choice to be celebrated publicly. Since 1900, the annual immigration numbers have ranged between 200,000 and 400,000. In 1995 we set the yearly target at 1 per cent of the population. It usually ends up at around 0.7 per cent – between 250,000 and 300,000. As a point of reference: The one million refugees taken in by Germany last year, had they been shared around the EU, would have represented 0.2 per cent of the population. In many of our embassies, over half the staff looks after immigration. We were able to handle the 25,000 Syrian refugees in a few weeks because we have a large group of public servants expert in immigration, settlement and citizenship. The first thing those refugees received on disembarking in Canada was their permanent-residency status, starting them on the countdown to citizenship.

We all know that these 400 years of policy development were tarnished and regularly knocked off track by multiple insurgencies of racism and exclusion. But each of these was gradually eliminated and the main line re-established.

The philosophical trick in all of this is that immigration and citizenship have always been treated as inseparable steps. Engagement and marriage. This means that each immigrant arrives knowing that she must think of herself as a citizen, because she soon will be a citizen. This is a philosophy which changes radically everyone’s attitude toward inclusion and integration. It means that language training is simply part of the package from the beginning, as is the expectation that new Canadians will get involved in volunteerism and politics – the two keys to an engaged citizenry.

A perpetual experiment

What of the multicultural misunderstanding?

Canadians seem to be moving toward other words – diversity, pluralism, inclusion, interculturalism – as we have sensed a growing confusion elsewhere. But the idea is really not so difficult.

I think of it as rooted in balance – a central Indigenous concept of how societies function. At its best a balance between the place, the group and the individual. You could also describe it as a balanced or positive tension between organized integration and celebrated diversity; a conviction that diversity and fairness are reflections of each other; that this requires a rigorous use of political restraint; an allergy to universal mythologies and ideologies. All of which means that we must be self-confident enough and tough enough to live with the reality of complexity.

This is the opposite of the tired European-U.S. insistence on monolithic identities. The Canadian concept of living in a perpetually incomplete experiment may seem radical to many in the Western world. And yet you could simply see it as a profoundly non-racial approach to civilization – one based on the idea of an inclusive circle that expands and gradually adapts as new people join us.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A great loss

Intense public reaction to death of Prince makes me wonder how many more such episodes we are going to have before we burn out. It seems to me that we have a potentially very large number of musicians and actors and other public figures who symbolize an important aspect of life for millions of people, any of whom could spark such a reaction.

I think it's pretty obvious that we (some significant minority) are reacting so strongly to the loss of Merle Haggard or Prince because we can gather electronically and talk to each other about our feelings. Famous musicians and actors have died since there were famous musicians and actors, and news of the loss has been pretty much instantly available for over a century. But now we get to talk together in some semblance of a conversation.

But how many times will we (some significant minority) gather and mourn the loss of some important part of our collective experience before we take it for granted that if we live long enough we will experience such losses many times?

There is one thing that really bugs me about this phenomenon. Television news is in very sad shape as I found out the last month or so. Thanks to the American election, American cable news is almost entirely focused on the horserace aspects of the campaign. The viewer is lucky to get five minutes in an hour of non-election news, and there is hardly anything about other countries. Canadian cable news is a little bit better but not much. And when in a given week just about all the nonelection "news" is about the death of a celebrity, it really shows how lazy and contemptible these "news" organizations are.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Murdoch's Mysteries: we live in a new and incredible age

For about a decade, CBC has been broadcasting an interesting murder mystery series set in Edwardian Canada, or rather, Edwardian Toronto. I have been watching reruns of the show over the last two or three weeks and like most series television, it is much more enjoyable when seen that way.

It would be easy enough to call the show "steampunk" except that the technology that sets the pace in the show is electricity. Murdoch, the lead character, is a Toronto detective who is enthusiastic about modern technology -- x-ray machines, electrical automobiles, movie cameras -- and uses it very effectively to solve crimes. In the course of his adventures he also runs into many leading figures of the time – Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Tesla, Marconi, Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill. He does not run into Sherlock Holmes, but he does run across somebody who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes.

I am also impressed by the depiction of the city of Toronto. Toronto circa 1899 is shown as being multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, wrestling with a variety of political, racial, and social conflicts, which are reasonably realistically portrayed. One of the main characters, for instance, gets in trouble for promoting contraception, which is illegal at the time. Other characters are properly shocked by this and there is a bit of a riot.

I think there may be more in-jokes in the series than I'm picking up. Two days ago I saw an episode where I was pretty sure two characters were modelled after Toronto's Ford brothers. The characters were not politicians, but they looked like the Fords and their personal interactions with each other matched what I know of the Fords.

All too often we think that people in the past were old-fashioned fuddy-duddies. In some places in some areas that is undoubtably true. But in other times people -- or many of them – are seized by an awareness of modernity. One of the great virtues of Murdoch's Mysteries is that it reminds us of that fact. "We live in a new and incredible age," says one character, and she is quite right.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The people who turn the wheels of the world

As a result of a bout of cancer, I am undergoing hyperbaric therapy (the therapy that was developed to help divers recover from the bends). The closest hyperbaric chambers are in Hamilton, Ontario, a three-hour drive from home. The treatment is "free," paid for by the province, but there are other expenses not covered by our health insurance. I have to be in Hamilton all weekdays between mid-March to the end of April. Thus I have to travel between the two cities or stay in Hamilton for close to six weeks. Transportation and accommodations could add up to a lot of money.

However, other people have stepped in to cover most of those expenses. The Canadian Cancer Society is providing me with accommodation and transportation -- at least the great bulk of it - at no cost. And it's not a personal benefit. Large numbers of people are receiving similar help through a network of volunteers. Do you know that you are surrounded by a network of volunteers turning the wheels of the world? (I hardly think that Ontario is unique in this?) I am a happier person knowing about this great collective effort.

"Two Worlds Become One: A 'Counter-Intuitive' View of the Roman Empire and 'Germanic' Migration" by Guy Halsall

This is an interesting re-interpretation of the "migration" period, part of a debate that has contemporary resonances and which has been going on for decades now.

Here is the abstract:


The Roman Empire and barbaricum were inextricably linked throughout the Roman Iron Age. By late antiquity, Germanic-speaking trans-Rhenan areas were inundated with imperial influence. Migration was two-way and in various forms, all of which, including large-scale ‘folk movement’, were normal: part and parcel of the imperial frontier’s dynamics. The counter-intuitive conclusion is drawn from this that the relationship between the existence of a formal frontier and significant migration is quite the opposite of the one we have grown used to imagining. The collapse of the frontier took with it the mechanisms for migration. Therefore I have to modify my 2007 epigram that ‘the end of the Roman Empire produced the Barbarian Invasions and not vice versa’. The end of the Roman Empire put an end to the barbarian migrations. This conclusion helps us contribute more responsibly to modern debate on migration. It also contributes to a discussion of the formation of Germany. The end of migration changed the political dynamics of the regions between Rhine and Baltic. The latter became more inward-facing and from these, eventually, emerged ‘Germany.’

Here is the complete text

Saturday, April 09, 2016

The state of affairs, April 2016

My various projects, including this blog, are progressing only slowly. I am undergoing medical treatment at the Hamilton General Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. It's nothing to be alarmed about, but being away from home does make it difficult to work on my translations.

A couple of years ago another health problem gave me the opportunity to see London, Ontario, a place known to me only as the location of bad winter weather. Now I am seeing more of the city of Hamilton than I have seen before. It has the reputation of being a dirty industrial city, but as is the case in many another place in the Great Lakes region, a lot of the old factories have closed. Nonetheless, it doesn't seem that Hamilton's economy is suffering all that much. (Ditto for Canada as a whole, surprisingly. Unemployment is dropping significantly EVEN IN ALBERTA!)

One of the wonders of Hamilton is a bar/restaurant on James St. called Mezcal Tacos Tequila, which features a large number of tequilas and an amazing style of what might be called Mexican fusion. It is some of the best restaurant food I have ever eaten. And it is relatively cheap. If you live close to Hamilton, run don't walk to Mezcal.

I am also passing the time by listening, through You Tube, to my classic music, music on either side of 1970. In particular I am playing the Jefferson Airplane's

amazing early-morning set at Woodstock.

It has long been fashionable to make fun of Woodstock but it was the site of an amazing effloresence of music. Perhaps equally astonishing is the high quality of audio and video recording that was accomplished in what was a weather disaster. Here's to the sound engineers, cinematographers and all the other hardworking people who preserved this wonderful music.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The music of the 80s is now classic for a certain age group

Stary Olsa from Belarus play Another Brick in the Wallby Pink Floyd, using medieval instruments.

Note that great armor!

Then there is the Harp Twins doing Metallica's One: Thanks to Nicholas at for putting me on this track.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

CBC's "The Current" visits Newfoundland and Labrador

The morning public affairs show on CBC Radio One is uniformly excellent.

Today "The Current" talked about the changes in the lifestyle of people in Newfoundland and Labrador resulting from the collapse of oil, gas, and mining revenues. Not exactly unprecedented, that collapse, and the resulting economic uncertaintly in NL has happened time and again over the last 500 years. Newfoundlanders move to where the jobs are, as best they can.

But they don't forget home, and many of them return for the short term or the long.

One younger Newfoundlander quoted John Crosby, a past prominent NL politician of national stature: "You can tell the Newfoundlanders in heaven. They are the ones who want to go home." I laughed and laughed -- that quip brought Crosby back to life.

I also noticed that the famous Newfoundland dialects seem to be fading out -- if the young and middle-aged interviewees are typical

Monday, March 07, 2016

I always liked that name

Ian Anderson, leader of the band Jethro Tull, speaks of his regrets over the band's name (in Billboard):
Anderson adds that recording and touring under his own name now also allows him to shed some guilt he's felt since February of 1968, when the group's booking agency gave Jethro Tull the name of an 18th century British agriculturist after several other monikers were rejected.

"If you'd asked me 20 years ago did I regret anything about my musical career, my answer then, as it is today, has always been the name of the band," Anderson admits. "I can't help but feel more and more as I get older that I'm guilty of identity theft and I ought to go to prison for it, really. It's almost as if I watched old Jethro Tull at the cash machine and leaned over his shoulder as he put his credit card into the machine to check out his PIN and filched his credit card form from his back pocket as he walked away and then fleeced his bank account. It doesn't make me feel very good. I never paid much attention in history class, so I didn't realize we'd been named after a dead guy until a couple of weeks later."

Monday, February 29, 2016


Missing pieces of the Epic of Gilgamesh found! Open Culture says:
That’s a pretty good deal for these extra lines that not only add to the poem’s length, but have now cleared up some of the mysteries in the other chapters. These lines come from Chapter Five of the epic and cast the main characters in a new light. Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu are shown to feel guilt over killing Humbaba, the guardian of the cedar forest, who is now seen as less a monster and more a king. Just like a good director’s cut, these extra scenes clear up some muddy character motivation, and add an environmental moral to the tale.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

How many at the combat of 30?

As many of my readers know, there was an arranged battle or deed of arms between two garrisons in Brittany in March 1352. The garrison commanders supported different claimants for the ducal title. The civil war was part of the wider Hundred Years War between rival claimants to the kingdom of France, and like the wider war it was going no place. Out of boredom or frustration, the commanders agreed to have an even number of their men meet halfway between the castles and fight to the finish – death or captivity. But what was that even number? And what was the total number of participants?

Well, 30+30 equals 60, right?

The problem is that various accounts imply that there were 30 men on a side in addition to the commander himself. Were there 31 on a side for a total of 62?

About 100 years ago, H.R.Brush edited the most detailed account, a product of Brittany and therefore written by someone well acquainted with the battle, and he concluded that there were 30 participants on either side. In my article, my chapter in the book deeds of arms, and in my source reader on the combat, I followed Brush.

But, at about the same time that I finished my source reader (called the Combat of 30, volume 2 of my series Deeds of Arms) , Michael Jones wrote an article called "Breton soldiers from the battle of the 30 (26 March 1351) to Nicopolis (25 September 1396)," which appeared in Adrian R. Bell et al., eds., The Soldier Experience in the 14th century (Boydell Press, 2011). Jones was very interested in the careers of Bretons in the first half of the Hundred Years War, and the best examples he could find were the men at the combat of the 30. He followed them as closely as he could, and he was able to find a quite a bit about them, at least about those on the pro-French side.

And he came to the conclusion that there were 31 on a side.

I have not gone through his list systematically hecking It against Brush's (in Modern Philology).

I'd love to farm this out to Will McLean but alas he is not available.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The sounds of the past

I stumbled across two interesting blog posts this past week, both concerned with recovering or reconstructing ancient languages. Back in 2010, Open Culture ran a piece on ancient Akkadian (an early Mesopotamian language, one of the first written down anywhere). A short piece of the Epic of Gilgamesh was included. Have a look! And while you are at it, read up on the completion of the Akkadian dictionary produced by the Oriental Institute in Chicago -- over the last 90 years.

Best thing about the dictionary? If you are content to have it in electronic form, it's FREE, FREE, FREE! And if you have a bundle to spend, you can have it in a very nice printed set.

Now there is scholarship for you.

About the same time, I ran across this article on ancient Greek music. Everyone who cares to know it knows that the ancient Greeks were world champions in their time in both painting and in music. But in both cases, just about none of it is left.

Just about!

Back in 2013, the BBC ran (in its business section!?) a detailed piece on how some of that music must have sounded (at least in a minimal "unplugged" form).

Revelation (for me at least): "In ancient Greek the voice went up in pitch on certain syllables and fell on others (the accents of ancient Greek indicate pitch, not stress)."

Wow! Does this mean that speaking ancient Greek was similar to singing?

If you are really interested in Viking archaeology...

or early medieval Poland, consider this:

Buko, Andrzej, ed. Bodzia. A Late Viking-Age Elite Cemetery in Central Poland. East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450. Leiden: Brill, 2015. Pp. xxxi, 624. $293.00. ISBN: 978-90-04-27829-5.

A lavish and detailed work aimed at a wide audience, published even before the excavation report. But the publishers have narrowed down that audience, as the  reviewer, Neil Price, points out:

However, given such an impressive catalogue of achievement, there sadly remains one truly glaring problem, which is not the fault of editor or contributors: as ever with Brill's otherwise excellent early medieval volumes, this book is priced far beyond the pockets of students, academics or even libraries [SM]. If it really does cost nearly three hundred dollars to viably produce a volume like this, then one wonders if a pdf on Open Access might honestly be a better solution, or at least breaking it up into two or three more affordable paperbacks.