Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A review of van Liere, Frans. An Introduction to the Medieval Bible

Sounds good to me -- see the end.

van Liere, Frans. An Introduction to the Medieval Bible. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xv, 320. $28.99. ISBN: 978-0521684606.

   Reviewed by Matthew Gabriele
        Virginia Tech
        mgabriele@vt.edu


Too often in our teaching and our research we (myself included) neglect the fundamental role the Bible played in medieval Latin culture. We tend to talk around it and only thereby hint at the ways--read, interpreted, even unconscious--in which the object saturated Europe and the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. Perhaps this isn't entirely our fault. Perhaps the Bible was so fundamental a part of the background, so solid the foundation, that we have tended to miss what's right before our eyes. But in so doing we pass that myopia on to our students, reinforcing this too-common misconception. Ah, but there's a salve for this wound! Frans van Liere has written an engaging overview of the Bible, in all its medieval forms, that should quickly become a foundation upon which the undergraduate English-language study of the medieval West will build.

A brief introduction lays out the scope and aims of the book. Perhaps the most useful part of this introduction is a nice two-page overview on common "misconceptions" about the study of religion in the modern Academy--"useful" because the entire theme of the first several chapters can reasonably be summarized as "the medieval Bible is not what we today think the Bible to be" (2-3). Chapter 2, "The Bible as Book," deals with this analytical point by considering its material culture, from its earliest instances as a scroll to the more commonly-known codex. Here, van Liere offers a useful reminder that not all (not even most) Bibles in the Middle Ages were pandects. These partial Bibles were often divided by theme, used in the liturgy, and so common in part because of the prevalence of separate psalters. Chapter 3, "The Medieval Canon," and chapter 4, "The Text of the Medieval Bible," continue this line but from the perspective of content. Even if two codices had the same texts, they were not really the same. Books of the Bible could have different names in different codices and be placed in different orders. Lamentations could be included as part of Jeremiah. Maccabees might or might not be there, and even if it were there, it might be in one, two, three, or four books. Then, even beyond that, even if you were reading the same book in different codices, there was really no guarantee in the early Middle Ages that they said the same thing. Only by the ninth century did Jerome's become the most widely-used Latin translation, and even then the text was subject to consistent editorial "corrections" through the eleventh century. Only in the thirteenth century, thanks to the dissemination of "pocket" Bibles out of the University of Paris, did the text unwittingly move towards standardization.

Now, having thoroughly destabilized the text itself, van Liere introduces the reader to how medieval people made that unstable text move. Chapter 5, "Medieval Hermeneutics," and chapter 6, "The Commentary Tradition," explain how Scripture was interpreted and then disseminated. We start from the premise that "the idea that the Bible was absolutely true, and needed to be read according to its own hermeneutical rules, was not really challenged until...Spinoza" (113). That does not mean interpretations were stable, though, despite protestations from medieval exegetes that they were absolutely not novel in their readings. These readings are always culturally located. Allegorical readings defined early Christianity and were used as a means to define itself against Jews and against heretics, while the Victorines' literalism of the twelfth century created a new type of attentiveness to the periodization of sacred history. And these interpretations were created, read, copied, and transformed again and again. They spread in the early Middle Ages through stand-alone commentaries and florilegia and in the later Middle Ages through the Glossa Ordinaria. But they also spread in works we do not often think of as exegesis. Medieval historiography, for example, was dependent upon inserting contemporary or near-contemporary events into the arc of sacred history, becoming itself "a form of biblical exegesis" (156).

The final three chapters take us outside of the cloister and to moments of interaction between literate religious and the majority of the population. Chapter 7, "The Vernacular Bible," buries the confessional hobby-horse about the reading of the Bible in the Middle Ages by showing how the text in all of its translations circulated and was read outside a narrow clerical elite, even as it remained constricted in its reading audience, that latter fact in part due to the decreased authority vernacular translations had in comparison with the Vulgate. Chapter 8, "The Bible in Worship and Preaching," pairs well with chapter 9, "The Bible of the Poor?" These concluding chapters talk about how most people in the Middle Ages would have experienced the Bible--aurally and visually. Sermons were a form of exegesis in and of themselves and would have been the primary entryway for the laity to the world of Sacred Scripture. Art reinforced the messages of the sermons, which reinforced particular interpretations of passages, which solidified the unstable text. In other words, van Liere's book as a whole begins by destabilizing what we too often think most stable and concludes by demonstrating that art--in manuscript, in glass, in stone--was just the opposite: oftentimes seemingly ephemeral but truly a concretization of a long exegetical process that took into account the actual text, material culture of the codex, the translation in use, the interpretative strategies deployed in particular historical circumstances, and the cultural rhetoric used to disseminate the all of the above.

Overall, An Introduction to the Medieval Bible is a well-produced, affordable, thoughtful, and engaging work. It has useful appendices, including a fascinating "Comparative Canon Chart" (265-268) showing how the structure of the medieval Bible varied across different time periods, a thorough index, and most helpfully a brief but accessible list of resources for further study at the end of each chapter. It is clearly a book designed for teaching but, as I hope I have shown, is one done by a scholar who appears to see well how teaching and research complement one another. Van Liere's sensitive discussion of Haimo of Auxerre's commentary on Jonah (113-116), for instance, is richly textured; van Liere introduces us to the weight of tradition each exegete felt, from previous commentaries as well as a sense of fidelity to the "true" meaning of Sacred Scripture, but also shows the intellectual vigor inherent in that kind of work and how it created something new, even despite itself. And van Liere does all this with economy--an accessible four-page snippet that could find a home in any university course. In other words, this is the work of a scholar who knows his stuff and can convey it clearly to an audience outside of his specialty. That's a treasure. Buy this book. Use it in your teaching. Use it in your research too. Do it now.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Two great women of the medievalist variety

From the Medieval Review.  Many of my readers either know Waddell or will be glad to learn of her.

FitzGerald, Jennifer.  Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke: Irishwomen, Friends, and Scholars. Bern: Peter Lang, 2012. Pp. xvi, 293. €44.40/$62.95. ISBN: 978-3034307123.

FitzGerald, Jennifer, ed. Helen Waddell Reassessed: New Readings. Bern: Peter Lang, 2014. Pp. ix, 342. €56.00/$72.95. ISBN: 978-3034309783.

   Reviewed by Joel T. Rosenthal
        SUNY Stony Brook (emeritus)
        Joel.rosenthal@stonybrook.edu


Helen Waddell (1889-1965) has been a name to conjure with ever since the first edition of The Wandering Scholars appeared in 1927. She achieved great popularity and success with this collection as well as with a number of subsequent volumes, especially her labor-of-love and best-selling novel, Peter Abelard in 1933. Her works have remained in print, still being virtually "must" reading for a medievalist, and her life and many of her lesser-known writings have continued to be a subject of interest. We have a 1973 biography by Monica Blackett and another in 1984 by Dame Felicitas Corrigan. Corrigan also edited a 1993 volume, Between Two Eternities: A Helen Waddell Anthology with quotations from Waddell and from the many figures whose works she paraphrased and adopted in her own collections, while in 2005 David Burleigh edited a volume of some of her very early work, Helen Waddell's Writings from Japan. In the volumes under review here FitzGerald adds a further dimension to these earlier works, the biographical volume weaving together the lives of two long-time and very close friends, Waddell and the highly esteemed fourteenth century historian, Maude V. Clarke (1892-1935); the volume of edited papers brings together thirteen essays on various aspects of Waddell's writings, life and family, and literary and intellectual affinities.

While previous biographers have looked at Waddell in the setting of her family--liberal Presbyterian missionary father with roots in Belfast, early life in Japan, close ties with her sister Meg, the difficulties in the path of a woman seeking to establish herself as a scholar/writer--FitzGerald draws the parallel lines between Waddell and Clarke, close friends from their student days at Queen's University, Belfast. The ties and impositions of family slowed them both down; Clarke with a mother who went insane (albeit with a supportive father), Waddell as the youngest of many siblings and therefore tied for years to the care of a sickly and alcoholic stepmother, only free to heed the call of scholarly and literary ambition in 1920 when she was over thirty. Clarke overcame the predictable obstacles to emerge as an important historian, suffering from but winning through the denigration of her Irish degree, academic misogyny at many levels, and the heavy duties demanded of residential faculty at an Oxford woman's college. But mostly she knew where she wanted to go and eventually she got there. Finally and firmly established at Somerville she worked with and drew the admiration of colleagues: F. M. Powicke (who had taught both women at Belfast), V. H. Galbraith (who wrote her British Academy obituary), and E. F. Jacob. Only her sad death prevented her from accepting the invitation to write the fourteenth-century volume of The Oxford History of England, this being about as high a tribute as British academia could offer. When that volume did appear, in 1959, it was by May McKisack, Clarke's friend and contemporary.

Waddell, by contrast, found the bonds of academia too narrow, and was rejected several times for positions for which she had applied (and was well qualified). But she had the good fortune to gather enough fellowship money for research in Paris, work that led to those medieval volumes that, soon after publication, brought her fame (and probably a fair degree of fortune). She had begun her serious studies with an interest in the role of women in literature and FitzGerald gives us her hitherto unpublished "Women in the Drama before Shakespeare" in an appendix (187-230). But in the course of Waddell's intellectual development she came to aspire to a wider sweep, a larger vision of the role of literature. As she read medieval sources she found a charm in the material that few had discovered, let alone championed. As FitzGerald says, it was this "that would make her famous; she is distinguished among her fellow 'discoverers' of twelfth-century humanism for emphasizing the inclination towards love, friendship, nature, the bonds of humankind" (77). This sort of "ode to joy" was to be the spirit or theme behind her work, including the collections of Latin poetry that argued for a common vein of human experience from late classical-pagan times through the Middle Ages. The high-water mark of this approach is found in Waddell's fictionalized tale of Abelard and Heloise. Here she manages to identify with each or both in their quest for love and spiritual fulfillment; a follow-up novel on Heloise was planned but never written. When her learned but eccentric books began to attract popular acclaim (and sales figures to match), an academic critic accused her of "jazzing" up the Middle Ages. No doubt, she was guilty as charged--to the pleasure of readers for about three-quarters of a century.

Helen Waddell Reassessed brings together thirteen papers (eleven authors) from a 2012 conference at which all paid tribute to Waddell's unique blend of "scholarship and imagination" (1). The papers are divided into three groupings, opening with "Medieval Contexts." Under this heading Constant Mews discussed how Waddell came to grips with the multi-faceted history of Abelard and Heloise; lust and sin and, simultaneously, a painful search for salvation and peace. Charles Lock looks at the virtual stranglehold that Germanic philology had on medieval studies (at least in the literary realms) and how Waddell rebelled against this, championing Irish-Celtic, pagan, and late classical elements in medieval culture. Ann Buckley tells of the liturgies for some fairly obscure Irish saints--a background that, again, helps explain Waddell's emphasis on this body of literature and the traditions that lay behind it. FitzGerald covers some of the biographical material of her full volume though now she emphasizes aspects of Waddell's continual growth and tries to recapture some of her views about poetry and the human spirit as they had been enunciated in a now-lost lecture on mime.

"Critical Readings" carries papers by Stephen Kelly, Amanda Tucker, Norman Vance, and FitzGerald, looking at such varied topics as the influence upon Waddell or her convergence with Walter Benjamin and R. G. Collingwood, the legacy of liberal Presbyterianism, her Irish roots and the legacy of national identity, and her development during the "lost decade" that she spent tending her step-mother. "Parallel and Influences" does what it promises, in some cases by illuminating links that seem perfectly obvious after they have been called to our attention: David Burleigh on Waddell and Arthur Waley as they both paraphrased and/or translated Chinese verse, Helen Carr on Waddell and Ezra Pound as they both turned to the charm and inspiration of that same body of writing, Louis Watson on parallels between Waddell and Hope Emily Allen (who brought Margery Kempe to our attention), and Norman Vance on the similarities between Waddell's Protestant commitment and the spiritual quest of some contemporary Roman Catholic, Irish figures. Nini Rogers very lucidly puts much of the biographical material into the context of the large late-Victorian family with its many webs of affection and repression.

In this collection of papers on a variety of Waddell-focused topics we range to what we now think of as theory, as in the references to Benjamin and Collingwood, or to comparative religion--setting Waddell against Catholic theologians--or transnational literature as in her writings that looked to China and Japan. Behind it all, was her view of a universal love of expression, whether in joy or sorrow or quiet contemplation--a belief that the common bonds of humanity overleaped the obvious boundaries of language, nation, and religion. FitzGerald does extra service, beyond that of editor and contributor, by including an admirable and seemingly exhaustive bibliography to the collected volume: Waddell's works, large and small and including her own poems and reviews, reviews of her many books, biographical material, literary criticism, and seven dissertations.

As the third biography and the fifth or sixth book on Waddell in recent decades, we may ask why she is still of such interest, a question that goes beyond the power and charm of her writings. Maude Clarke, we can say, was a very good academic historian and students of medieval England still know her work--or they should. But Waddell brought unique qualities to her work and they continue to give her, as well as those books, considerable currency. Interest in her life goes beyond the obviously biographical, though no doubt we all enjoy a story of how adversity is overcome and diligence and perseverance (and a touch of genius) come to the top. In addition, we note (from the many quotations and notes in both books) that Waddell and Clarke--especially Waddell--are rich subject for biography because they wrote so much: letters, notes to themselves and each other and to friends and siblings and colleagues. They chronicled their lives, both the up sides and the down sides, in great detail and the challenge of reconstructing these lives is an intriguing one. These two books take us to a world of a century ago with exciting frontiers and time-honored rigidities. Waddell saw some of her near and dear die in each World War and her writings reflect touches of sorrow and anxiety, as they do of the soaring spirit. In the best sense Maude Clarke represents exacting scholarship; we still honor her for that. Waddell seems to transcend exacting scholarship--in numerous works on Chinese poetry, as in her more familiar work on the Latin West--and we continue to honor her for that; we look at her life and we read what she wrote. No wonder that her legacy is alive and well

Friday, January 23, 2015

Longsword on the New York Times site

This video link will probably disappear sooner rather than later but in the meantime it's an interesting look at one variety of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts).  These people are inspired by the techniques of the late medieval German masters, but though they strive for historical authenticity in their moves they are not interested in other kinds historical re-enactment or re-creation.  No "thees and thous," as one of them puts it.  (But note that there is one guy on the sidelines who seems to be wearing some kind of medieval clothing and maybe a coronet.)

There is a wide variety of martial arts out there these days, different organizations pursuing different goals.  This may lead to the Balkanization of a field of activity once completely dominated by the Society for Creative Anachronism.


Malian music: Tinariwen on NPR

A "Tiny Desk Concert" from 2012.

A critical view of the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabi

From the Intercept:
It’s not often that the unelected leader of a country which publicly flogs dissidents and beheads people for sorcery wins such glowing praise from American officials. Even more perplexing, perhaps, have been the fawning obituaries in the mainstream press which have faithfully echoed this characterization of Abdullah as a benign and well-intentioned man of peace.
Tiptoeing around his brutal dictatorship, The Washington Post characterized Abdullah as a “wily king” while The New York Times inexplicably referred to him as “a force of moderation”, while also suggesting that evidence of his moderation included having had: “hundreds of militants arrested and some beheaded” (emphasis added).
While granting that Abdullah might be considered a relative moderate within the brazenly anachronistic House of Saud, the fact remains that he presided for two decades over a regime which engaged in wanton human rights abuses, instrumentalized religious chauvinism, and played a hugely counterrevolutionary role in regional politics.
Above all, he was not a leader who shied away from both calling for and engineering more conflict in the Middle East.

More here. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Tournament Culture in the Low Countries and England" by Mario Damen

This article is available in the following book:

Hannah Skoda, Patrick Lantschner and R. L. J. Shaw eds., Contact and Exchange in Later Medieval Europe. Essays in Honour of Malcolm Vale (Woodbridge 2012) 247-266.

And also at:

https://www.academia.edu/1760499/Tournament_Culture_in_the_Low_Countries_and_England.

It is particularly interesting for its discussion of non-noble participation in 15th century tournaments in the Burgundian lands.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Favorite entries, 2014

A quick selection.

Charny and the Shroud

A detailed article about the context that could have led to the creation of the Shroud of Turin.

An accomplishment?

People who know me through the SCA can probably guess at the mixture of emotions I experienced upon discovering this site, which seems to be a reader mistaking something I wrote for the SCA "in persona" for an actual 12th century treatise.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Philly Jesus -- it doesn't get more medieval than this


From The Big Picture:
Michael Grant, 28, "Philly Jesus," greets a pedestrian wearing a ring with a cross in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania December 18, 2014. Nearly every day for the last 8 months, Grant has dressed as Jesus Christ, and walked the streets of Philadelphia to share the Christian gospel by example. He quickly acquired the nickname of "Philly Jesus," which he has gone by ever since. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ah, fashion!

In 1388, the Good Duke (Louis of Bourbon) was campaigning on the German frontier. As he besieged a castle, one of the duke's servants, a valet of the wine cellar, offered to arrange an infiltration of the fortress. The valet was from that part of Germany, and he figured that he could talk himself and a small company into the castle. Part of his confidence came from the current fashion:
So everyone in the household Duke of Bourbon said that it was a good strategy of war, seeing that in this time everyone was dressed like a German anyway.
I love the Chronicle of the Good Duke.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The French are feeling their oats

Early in the reign of Charles VI (1380s), the French are feeling a bit more confident about their prospects in facing the English. The Chronicle of the Good Duke shows the Duke of Burgundy trying to wind up his royal nephew:
Then the King sent to the Duke, “You speak well my uncle but what are you saying?”

“Monsiegneur,” said the Duke, “I will tell you: It seems to me that he doesn't do anything who does not do more. These English have made war on Monsiegneur your father for a long time, and on you, and they don’t do anything but often cross over to this side, and they are but a little people. Leave off these all little enterprises, do one that will be remembered forever. You are the greatest living King, and you have more people, and it has often occurred to me that we should undertake to cross to England and to strike down the great pride of these English.
Brave words, sir, brave words!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Research and re-creation

Steven Muhlberger

Delivered at Nipissing University

October 30, 2014

as part of the History Department Seminar Series

I am very pleased to be here before my beloved colleagues and other friends of the History Department, and to have the opportunity to discuss my work and my interests. I hope this will not come across as merely an exercise in self-aggrandizement or nostalgia. It’s meant as a reflection on one person’s meandering path through the vast country that is history, and on the variety of ways that history can be approached. My path is probably more eccentric than most but I think that all of you working historians out there have a tale to tell of how your engagement in the past is not restricted within the boundaries of the notional career path of the so-called “average academic historian.” At least, I hope so.

Reflecting back on my career at Nipissing University and before that at University of Toronto, I consider that I have been very lucky having the freedom to pursue my extraordinarily diverse intellectual interests. I began as a graduate student with a very intense project in which I took long-known late ancient chronicles, key sources for the understanding of the fall of the Roman Empire, and reconstructed the mental universe of the men who wrote them. The standard view of these works was that they were defective fragments of lost official records. My task was to turn the chroniclers from being incompetent historians to being valuable witnesses, who were more closed mouth than we might like, but still people who had something to say for themselves, and whose silences said as much about late Roman times as their explicit statements. Thanks to my supervisor Walter Goffart it was an absolutely first class introduction to an extraordinarily difficult historiographical problem, where analyzing the scholarly tradition surrounding the questions was just as important as reconstructing contemporary accounts of the era.

I was and am very proud of my first book The Fifth-Century Chroniclers because I did not avoid the hardest questions of source interpretations. I believe it is one of those books that is good to argue with and will prove useful to researchers for decades to come. Nevertheless, when I finished the Fifth- Century Chroniclers, I had no desire to take on another highly technical puzzle of that sort. About the time I was hired at Nipissing University, I found another historiographical problem worth exploring. It was 1989; the Iron Curtain was falling, and millions were occupying Tien An Men Square and erecting a statue of the Goddess of Democracy. What did it all mean?

As usual, a pessimistic view of human society emerged very quickly. Specifically an old notion was trotted out are not, in an effort explain away the clear demands of people on every continent for democracy to replace autocracy.

My friend Phil Paine and I found such arguments sour and self-serving. Together we wrote the article “Democracy’s Place in World History” for the Journal of World History, in which we demonstrated that proto-democratic institutions, especially at the local level, are documentable in many parts of the world; the potential for democracy can be found in many parts of the world. Particularly interesting was the comparison between the experience of ancient urban democracy in India and in Greece. The Greek democratic experience is often rated as a crucial moment in world history; ancient Indian democracy is not very well known even in India. Phil and I argued that they were of similar significance – both demonstrating potential for democracy without however guaranteeing it.

This was a daring project and depended on faith that big, difficult historiographical questions could be tackled by historians of normal intelligence and training if they used a careful comparative methodology and paid critical attention to the historiographical tradition. Phil Paine and I had ambitions to do more with the history of democracy but circumstances prevented us working together closely. Our output of the last 20 years on the subject is rather restricted as a result. In the 1990s I was once again looking for direction. I found it in the best place, at home.

Some of you know and others do not that I have been a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism as long as I have been a student of the Middle Ages, that is, for over 40 years. The SCA can be seen as one of the many historical reenactment organizations that have grown up in the last half-century. Except it isn’t much like most of the rest. The normal reenactment organization seeks to re-create a specific time and place. Participants appropriately and accurately dressed and equipped re-create a battle or a scene from daily life. The participants are usually in the position of actors putting on a show for paying customers who, as in most theatre, are a passive audience.

The SCA, however, is not a show for an audience. Rather the audience is identical with the participants. It can be seen as a roving theme party that has been going on in various locales since May 1, 1966. On that day a number of Californians put on in a backyard party which they called an “international tournament.” Guests were encouraged to dress in the style of “any age when swords were used.” The party featured mock ceremony, music and combat with a variety of swords. The winner of the tournament crowned a simple peasant girl queen, and a promising young squire was knighted. And when it was all over they all said “let’s do it again!” And they did.

The SCA evolved into a society focused not on reenacting such historic events as the Battle of Bosworth Field, but the world of the 12 century romances where an ideal king and queen preside over a court of knights and ladies and those who aspire to be such. In the evolving SCA as in the early romances, the tournament remained the focus of activity. Thus the SCA can be seen as a recreation of medieval literature rather than of actual history. Yet there was an early commitment by the individual members and the organization they founded to do things “right,” meaning that an SCA event would aspire to get the visual and physical aspects right – armour, food, costuming, tents and pavilions, beer, mead and cider. The desire to get the props right and the respect given to artists and artisans -- all of whom must necessarily be seen as amateur researchers-- are among the chief things that keeps the SCA from being just a fantasy role playing activity, of the sort now called a LARP (live action role-playing game).

The SCA is a role playing game, an embodied reimagining –in Paul Monahan’s elegant phrase –of some aspects of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. But it is not an attempt to re-create a full and accurate and consistent historical environment. It is important to remember that the first SCA event gave invitees free choice of what historical or even fictional era they wished to portray –one person came as Queen Lucy of Narnia, and there were hobbits as well. That principle of the individual choice of “persona” or in-game identity has continued ever since, although purely fantasy identities have been phased out long ago. Indeed, the most serious efforts at accurate reenactment are located in the individual person. There is next to no effort to maintain a consistent time that embraces everybody at a given event or in the society as a whole. I may come to an event as a 10th century Viking, while you come to the same event in a costume modeled on one worn by Anne Boleyn. The success of the re-creation, in the judgment of those present, doesn’t have anything to do with consistent portrayals of either the 10th century or the 16th. While participants may carefully put together a consistent and accurate persona for themselves as individuals, the social environment they create is a fictional kingdom -- say Ealdormere – and a fictional time -- AS 49, the year of the Society 49. To do an excellent job of embodied reimagining, there is no particular reason that the individual participant needs to know a lot about the actual history of the Middle Ages or even the history of a given country, such as 10th-century Norway. Better one should know how to make or acquire authentically styled shoes or boots.

I realized long ago that my scholarly knowledge of the Middle Ages was going to be of only limited application to my SCA participation. The only advantage of knowing medieval history in any detail is that you can occasionally contribute a decorative element, as for instance in showing people how a medieval heraldic display would differ from a modern logo. Or you can use your knowledge to say, as so many fans of historical fiction and movies do, “that’s not right!” A strategy with a very limited lifespan. The social structures and practices of SCA members are formed by the needs of the 21st century society they are creating and re-creating. For instance, monarchs in the SCA are chosen by combat in tournament. This was never done in the actual Middle Ages, and nobody thinks it was. Why the divergence between re-creation and actual history? To have an hereditary monarch for life would be boring; competition for the crown on the other hand binds society members with an ongoing drama.

But scholarship and hobby, research and re-enactment came together for me in the late 1990s anyway.

I owned an old hardback edition of the Chronicles of Jean Froissart, a famous historian who lived during and wrote about the first half of the Hundred Years War (in the late 14th century). I had bought the book for $20 back when $20 was a lot of money. One day, years later, I picked it up and started reading it cover to cover and was fascinated by the fact that the so-called “chronicle” read more like a novel than the chronicles I was used to from late antiquity or the early Middle Ages. (All the smart people already knew this, but I didn’t.) Since Froissart’s main historical interest was in recording what he called “deeds of arms” (we might also say “chivalric combats”) there were many little anecdotes and a fair number of very substantial stories which illustrated the attitudes and actions of “men at arms” during the Hundred Years War. In other words, Froissart’s historical characters were largely the kind of people that SCA warriors were trying to imitate. This too was common knowledge. Yet very few SCA members, with the honorable exception of an amateur scholar named Will McLean had actively been working with late medieval chronicles with the intention of shedding light on the central activity of the SCA, our tournament combat. SCA members do not read primary materials, at least not very carefully. My reaction on reading Froissart again was that if the proper interpreter took this material and spread it around the SCA, there would be widespread interest among the warrior community. Will McLean already done some of this, as had others such as Brian Price and Daryl Pompeo. So I took it upon myself to excerpt Froissart as I read along and put the best pieces on the website here at Nipissing University, which I called “Tales from Froissart.” It was and is a list of very interesting stories, not all of them the best examples of what we would like chivalry to be, but at least examples of contemporary praise and criticism of noble warriors in action.

I also became aware of a text from the 14th century that had been fearfully neglected, both by amateurs and professional scholars, Geoffrey de Charny’s Questions on the Joust Tournaments and War. The Questions are a collection, compiled by a famous French knight in the 1350s, of questions about legal matters that might arise in both sport fighting (jousts and tournaments) and actual warfare. In some ways this should be a high profile source of information on 14th century chivalry, because Charny was a close associate of the reigning King of France and an active warrior. His opinions as to what chivalry and the laws of arms (as he called them) should be very important to modern scholars. But the Questions are not very helpful if one simply reads them through. Charny provided no answers to the 134 questions he raised. That fact and the fact that there are no obvious parallels to the collection of questions during his time, have seemingly discouraged work on that material. Maybe scholars hate to be wrong? Or perhaps they hate to take chances?

Charny’s questions and my close reading of Froissart’s Chronicles had a common focus. In both cases I was mostly interested in what chivalric combat was like from the contemporary’s point of view. What was a “deed of arms?” What exactly did the participants in such deeds do? And finally, why did they do it? I had a dual interest in answering these questions. Having taken part in what might be called “deeds of arms” in the SCA context for many years, I was interested in how close we had come to the spirit and the actuality of the medieval practice. It was quite clear that we had not come very close to medieval practice. People had known this for a long time. But to what degree was there similarity, both in spirit and in practice? Second, I was interested in the analysis of the historical practice. Back in the 19th century there had been some interest among scholars, mostly amateur ones, in the nuts and bolts and sweat and blood aspects of individual combats and duels. Indeed, duels were not entirely extinct in that century. But since about the First World War, there had been little serious scholarly interest. People tended to follow the lead of the eminent Dutch medievalist Johan Huizinga when he said that chivalric combats – jousts and tournaments and individual challenges – were a preoccupation of the nobility and not taken seriously by anybody else. I was pretty sure he was wrong about that, but at least his dismissal had left a gap in the literature that I felt could and should be filled by somebody like me.

Here is some of the material I have produced since I made the decision. First was a short book called Jousts and Tournaments, which is a translation and interpretation of those of Charny’s Questions which concerned chivalric sports in the 14th century, in an effort to reconstruct the rules used by contemporaries. It is not so easy to see what those rules really were, because as I said, Charny's Questions are unanswered. However, the Questions do show how extraordinarily important horses were to 14th century knights. There are 41 questions about jousts and tournaments, and all but one of them can be boiled down to "in such and such a situation, who gets the horse?" If nothing else, the book reminds us of how central to the identity of the noble warrior his horse was.

The next project was the book Deeds of Arms, in which I investigated the era in which Froissart wrote; thanks to his literary talent he has tremendously influenced our cultural memory of the Middle Ages. In this book I tried to put contemporary descriptions of chivalric sport and chivalric challenges in the context of the politics of England and France during the Hundred Years War. The book was in part an argument that there is no thing in real life that corresponds to "mere sport." One might like to think that sports or re-creations are something of a timeout from real life. But there is no such thing. 14th century jousts, 21st-century SCA tournaments, and the World Series are all parts of so-called real life. What happens in them counts for something. It may not count quite the same way that events in so-called real life count, but they do count. The book was a monograph-length demonstration of how chivalric sport counted, its psychology and symbolism and even its political importance.

Deeds of Arms the monograph inspired a series called “Deeds of Arms,” of which I am the editor and Freelance Academy Press is the publisher. The idea behind this series was that it would present translations of medieval accounts of chivalric combats in a very attractive illustrated format. There was hope that they would appeal to a wide audience, including people who just like attractive books and were not necessarily tremendously interested in the details of medieval combat. The series Deeds of Arms currently includes three books, two of which are basically my work, Royal Jousts and the Combat of the Thirty. I have another one: Will A Frenchman Fight? ready to go whenever the publisher is.

Two more books have come out in the last year or so. One of them is frankly an experiment, a collection of three conference papers on deeds of arms, repackaged as an e-book entitled Formal Combats in the Fourteenth Century. I wanted to see if there was in fact a market for cheap electronic publication of material that otherwise be too slight for publication. This was a no-risk project for me – I had a publisher anxious to do all the work.

This past summer finally saw the appearance of a book that I had essentially finished in my last sabbatical, Charny’s Men-at-Arms. It can be considered the expanded version of Jousts and Tournaments. Jousts and Tournaments used Charny’s Questions to reconstruct the rules for chivalric sport; the new book reviewed that material and added an investigation of the Questions on War, 93 cases about the laws of arms and issues of honor. The result is a group portrait of Charny’s military class and what they thought was important about “the life in arms.”

But my exploration of more authentic, more medieval styles of sport combat was not restricted to the page. At about the same time it began to write Jousts and Tournaments, I started to promote what I hoped would be more authentic styles of sport combat within the SCA. This was to some degree a joint effort with my wife Ruta, because together we hosted an SCA event on our rural property and Bonfield, Ontario, something we did for twenty Labor Day weekends in a row. Much of what we did on those weekends were standard SCA activities, but because we had so much space and the whole long weekend, we were able to experiment, to hold challenges and tournaments and for a while at least equestrian games both modern and medieval. We had some jousting on one occasion. The spirit of the event and some of the activities we put on resulted in a certain amount of influence in the SCA community. People came from as far away as St. Louis Missouri to take part. (Repeatedly!) Some of them brought their own elaborate, non-martial re-enactments. One group forged iron and set up a glass-bead furnace. Another group erected a medieval-style barn.

As these last activities indicate, it was not just a matter of me and of my wife dispensing wisdom to our friends and visitors. In our encouragement of higher quality reenactment leading (perhaps) to a better understanding of the Middle Ages, I began to discover that there were plenty of other individuals and small groups doing similar things. One example will suffice. Early on, when I was particularly interested in witnessing some actual jousting, I discovered a non-SCA group in Ontario which was putting on jousting shows. It was led by a man named Shane Adams who was a veteran of Medieval Times, the medieval dinner theater show. Shane from childhood wanted to joust and when Medieval Times came to Ontario from Florida, he signed up. He was disappointed to find that Medieval Times jousting was not the real thing and he became dissatisfied enough with just acting in their show to form his own troupe. In 2002 I witnessed them joust in Elgin, Ontario; the next year I was part of the show in the exalted role of Squire – since I actually had some experience in handling horses they were glad to have me. One thing I learned from the experience of working with Shane's troupe was how dangerous and exciting and thrilling jousting was even in a modern context. When the experienced, fully armored knights came riding out on their huge horses for the climactic contests at the end of the show, the audience went completely wild, filling the arena with sound. Clearly, even in the 21st-century, jousting was not a trivial pursuit. It is or can be a true embodiment of one aspect of medieval culture.

This was just the beginning of my contacts with jousters and other non-SCA re-enactors.

These re-enactors (and I want to be clear that I mean in general military and chivalric re-enactors) come in a variety of flavors. One way to distinguish them would be to divide those who began with a fascination with armor from those who were fascinated by the sword. The first group wants first-class, authentic armor, and when they get it (through vast trouble and expense), they want to use it as it was meant to be used. The sword-lovers learn how to use their weapons in the manner of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance; sooner or later they want to use techniques that are appropriate to armored combat, and they begin acquiring armor. You can see how the groups can come close to merging; but thing that distinguishes them is the fact that in the half-century since the founders of the SCA re-invented medieval tournament on the basis of a few mostly-inaccurate assumptions, actual treatises written in the fourteenth century have been discovered, republished, translated, and interpreted. These sword manuals are the key to the sword-lovers’ practice. There are a variety of schools of HEMA or WMA – Historic European Martial Arts or Western Martial Arts -- based on the Holy Scriptures of the Italian master Fiore or the German master Lichtenaur or some other historic master-at-arms.

The armor-lovers are not necessarily less learned than the sword lovers, but tend to be interested in a rougher, all-out form of combat; there's much less interest in theory and systematic training, and more on bringing an opponent down to the ground. This kind of conduct does not look like fencing, medieval or modern, but much more like wrestling. The most prominent example of this kind of fighting reenactment is the Battle of Nations competition invented in Ukraine and for most of its history a competition chiefly between Eastern European "national teams." When I first heard of Battle of Nations my immediate reaction was "I would hate to be the official who tries to referee Russian reenactors fighting Polish reenactors.” And sure enough the reality did not disappoint. The Russians in particular had no hesitation in using tactics designed to seriously injure their opponents. Stories circulated that the Russians were in fact sponsored by gambling interests, illegal ones that that. When Americans with an SCA background first attended Battle of Nations, there was an immediate culture conflict between the brutal young Russians and the Americans who had come up in a tradition in which fighters “didn’t break their toys” (opposing fighters) so that there would be no shortage of opponents. There was a schism in which many of the national organizations left the old umbrella organization and formed a new one which purported to be more honest and transparent in regard to business affairs and more – chivalrous?—on the tournament field. One result of this conflict is that American veterans of Battle of Nations formed a new US-based league which featured a rougher style of competition than SCA tournament combat, taking on as it did certain features of Battle of Nations.

I have mixed feelings about the Battle of Nations and other “real combat” activities. Perhaps I should heartily disapprove, but I can't escape the connection. This summer I ran into a prominent SCA fighter who was instrumental in setting up the new American organization for “real combat.” He thanked me for making available the phrase "deed of arms" which he found very useful for describing the activities that he and his friends were engaged in. He felt that the interaction between my scholarship and his style of re-creating medieval combat was teaching him and his friends a great deal about the actual past.

Who am I to say he is wrong? There should be some intellectual gain, however limited, however biased towards the modern, in all the creation of imaginary medieval kingdoms I have indulged in over the last four decades. As Dr. Janice Liedl of Laurentian University points out in a forthcoming article, both science fiction and historical fiction have their place in coming to grips with the scattered pieces of historical evidence which is all any of us have to anchor our understanding of the actual past. The facts are always too few and we always have to conjure up connective tissue make a coherent picture of what used to be. In the era of Game of Thrones and Assassin’s Creed historians and their scholarly methods are only a segment of creative historical inquiry. The conclusions we reach using them are no longer quite so privileged. We can moan about this or we can adjust. The adjustment is not so radical. It is merely a recognition that if the past is important it will not attract the attention of sober historians sober historians only. All kinds of imaginative energy will be generated by the widespread interest of all sorts of people. If our expertise is not going to become ignored and irrelevant, we will have to learn to live with popular, one might even say poetic interpretations of the facts. It won't be so hard; after all historians have been doing this for thousand years.

That’s one view of the challenges facing historians in our changing intellectual world. It probably isn’t yours. Variety is the spice of life, or rather an essential aspect of reality and of our efforts to deal with it. Wish me well on my highway – I will continue to work; I wish you well on yours.

Books available from: Freelance Academy Press Witan Publishing

Friday, December 05, 2014

Believing in the Arab Spring -- "At this point it’s either the Arab Spring or no Arabs."

Iyad el-Baghdadi in Foreign Policy:


Mariam looked up at me. I’ll never forget what she said next. It was as if she poured all of her frustration, all of her betrayal, all of her pain, into this one question: 
“Do you mean to tell me you still believe? After all of this, you still believe in an Arab Spring?”

I’ll never forget how she said that. I said, “Yes.” And she looked at me like I was crazy. I never got to explain. I’ll try to do so now.

There are three reasons why I maintain my confidence despite all the catastrophes. The first reason is that 2011 happened. It wasnot a dream. It was not an illusion. Millions of young Arabs really did take to the streets demanding liberty, and dignity, and justice. Something green and fresh and beautiful appeared and captured the world’s imagination. It wasn’t a mirage. We really do exist.

We’re not a minority, either. We only appear to be a minority because we’re not organized; we’re not on the menu. When the only options presented are black or white, it does not mean that red or green or blue are a minority. When the only options presented are religious authoritarianism or nationalistic fascism, it does not mean that a third option doesn’t exist. It’s just not on the menu. Our historical responsibility right now is to put ourselves on the menu.

The second reason I am confident is that the friendships that arose since 2011 cannot be unmade. The online scene isn’t “virtual,” ladies and gentlemen. No, it’s all too real. The ideas are real, the friendships are real. Many of us activists have never met face to face — but we talk almost daily about things we care very deeply about. We’re a family. These friendships are forever. Martin Luther King once said, “Those who want peace must organize as effectively as those who want war.” I’m going to adapt this gem as follows: “Those who want liberty must organize as effectively as those who want tyranny.” These online friendships can form the nucleus for an intellectual movement as we work together on campaigns, projects, and books.

The third, and perhaps most important reason why I remain confident, is that the old order, the Arab ancien regime, has, for all its cruelty and deep pockets, no vision or hope to offer beyond sectarianism, demagoguery, and jingoism. It lives on borrowed time supported by mass hysteria; it’s unsustainable. It will bring no stability or growth.

More importantly, they have a dirty little secret. They’re afraid of us. They’re not afraid of those with guns; after all, they have bigger guns. But they’re afraid of those with ideas.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Review of Burgess and Kulikowski, Mosaics of Time

This is the kind of work I was doing at the beginning of my academic career.  It's good to see this coming out.

From the Medieval Review:

Burgess, R. W., and Michael Kulikowski. Mosaics of Time: The Latin Chronicle Traditions from the First Century BC to the Sixth Century AD. Volume I: A Historical Introduction to the Chronicle Genre from Its Origins to the High Middle Ages. Studies in the Early Middle Ages, 33. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. xiv, 444. €100.00. ISBN: 978-2503531403.

   Reviewed by William Adler
        North Carolina State University
        William_adler@ncsu.edu


This impressive volume, the first of a planned four-volume series on the Latin chronographic tradition, represents a robust challenge to the widely-held and largely unchallenged assumption that the medieval annals derived from notices embedded in the margins of Easter tables of the seventh and eighth centuries. To make their case that so-called "annals" are part of a continuous and ancient pre-Christian tradition extending back long before the development of Easter tables, Burgess and Kulikowski (hereafter B. and K.) trace the development of the chronicle genre from its beginnings in ancient Egypt and the Near East, concluding with the twelfth-century universal chronicle of Sigebert of Gembloux.

Underlying the communis opinion about the medieval origins of annals is a putative distinction between "chronicles" and "annals." More sophisticated in structure and style, the former are traditionally thought to originate, either directly or indirectly, in the great Christian universal chronicles of the third and fourth centuries. The terse annotations and tabular listing of years that make up the content of annals reveal their more humble roots in medieval Easter tables. Insofar as it misleadingly reinforces an artificial disjunction between annals and the older chronicle tradition, the authors discard the category of "annals" altogether, subsuming it instead under the broader category of "chronicle." In their usage, the term chronicle encompasses works marked by a year-by-year annalistic structure, wide scope, paratactic style, and brevity in the narrative of events. Subsets of this genre would include consularia (annotated consular lists) and Paschal chronicles (chronicles written within the framework of an Easter table).

In their systematic dismantling of the received wisdom about the origins of medieval annals (or, more properly, medieval chronicles), B. and K. first demonstrate that the chronicle genre was neither uniquely nor even primarily Christian in character. Nor did the Christian adoption of the chronicle, at least initially, have anything to do with the Easter computus. For Julius Africanus (early third century), the study of chronology was at least in part a matter of providing an empirical foundation for Christian apocalyptic speculation. Following the precedent set by Hellenistic Jewish authors and representatives of other peoples of the Near East, Christian apologists also found comparative chronology a highly effective means of confirming both the antiquity of their religion and the derivative character of Greek civilization. Early Christian experiments in comparative Greco-Jewish chronology contained the seeds for more ambitious undertakings, including the great universal chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea.

Eusebius's chronicle plays a justifiably outsized role in the authors' exposition of the antecedents of the medieval Latin chronicle. His incorporation of material from Hellenistic olympiad chronicles, his fresh approach to long-standing chronological problems, and the inventive tabular structure of the second book of his chronicle (the so-called Chronici Canones) show it to be a truly original piece of scholarship. Thanks to the translation and continuation of the Canons by Jerome, the work became well-known in the Latin-speaking world, offering Christian writers in the West a vision of the past that securely integrated Christianity and Rome into the panorama of the rise and fall of nations and kingdoms. Under its influence, the chronicle soon became the dominant form of historical writing throughout the Middle Ages. At the same time, however, medieval chroniclers found it difficult to take over Eusebius's system of reckoning time without modification. In place of olympiads, regnal years and the Abrahamic era, medieval chroniclers found other systems more to their liking, including consular dating, universal years, and most significantly, the Dionysian anni domini familiar from the Easter Tables of the seventh and eighth centuries. While the so-called medieval "annals" may have introduced some new wrinkles into the genre, they have closer links with the ancient chronicle tradition than do the fuller narrative "chronicles" of the Latin West. Aside from the name, the latter have nothing in common with the chronicles of Late Antiquity.

Apart from its value as a corrective to--indeed, a complete inversion of--the conventional explanation of the origins of medieval "annals," the wide scope of this volume (and a thorough index) will make it an excellent, albeit occasionally demanding, introduction to the chronicle in Antiquity and the Middle Age. To avoid taxing readers with potentially distracting details, eight appendixes (as well as appendixes to the footnotes) elaborate at greater length topics treated in the body of the narrative. While a single thesis informs the treatment of the evidence, the authors never lose sight of the sources themselves, the analysis of which is painstaking and nuanced. In anticipation of Burgess's planned monograph on the textual relations and origins of the Irish chronicles, B. and K. set forth an original argument identifying hitherto overlooked ties between Irish chronicles and the medieval and late antique chronicle tradition. Although the overall orientation is in a westerly direction, the authors also include a brief but instructive account of the development of Byzantine chronicles. If interest in chronology is defining of the genre, many Byzantine works termed "universal chronicles" are better classified as breviaria, no more deserving of the designation "chronicle" than their medieval Latin counterparts. Why the annalistic style of recording the past virtually disappears after Theophanes in the ninth would require a study of its own. But the authors' decision to extend the scope of their analysis eastward helps to bring their findings about the Western tradition into sharper focus. To keep the study within a reasonable length and to avoid digging into subjects with which they are less familiar, the authors limit their discussion of Eastern chronicles to Byzantium (227). But as they rightly recognize, sources from the non-Greek speaking Eastern churches can offer another perspective on the survival and transmission of the ancient chronicle tradition. Because they preserve closer ties with Eusebius and Alexandrian chronography, Syriac and Ethiopic chronicles are in some ways better witnesses to this older tradition than their Byzantine counterparts.

The authors are also to be commended for their exemplary exposition of the durability of a genre often caricatured as an inferior and sub-literary form of historiography, amounting to little more than an uncritical accumulation of disjointed events. In response to the charge that they lacked any unifying narrative thread, the authors compare the structure of the ancient chronicle to a mosaic (hence the title of the book). Like the tiles of a mosaic, "the meaning of history...lay not in the details, but in the overall picture offered by the complete work" (33). Claims about the inferior literary quality of the chronicle are both true and irrelevant. As a branch of technical and scientific literature, chronicles, unlike narrative histories, were meant to be used, not to be read as self-standing literary monuments. The practical applications of the chronicle, its underlying "macro-narrative," and its treatment of the past uno in conspectus also explain the survival of the ancient chronicle tradition well into the Middle Ages. In this new setting, the genre proved flexible enough to accommodate various styles and content, ranging from brief notices inserted into Easter tables to more discursive annalistic records. The decentralization of power brought about by the collapse of the Carolingian empire had its own role to play in the spread of the genre to remote parts of the former Frankish kingdom and beyond. Historians involved in the work of fashioning national identities found the long reach and open-ended tabular structure of chronicles like Eusebius' Canons an ideal way to fuse local events with the broader sweep of world history. And because rhetorical skills or even extensive research were not mandatory, the composition of a chronicle was within the reach of writers of only modest literary aptitude. The accessibility of the genre in the Middle Ages resulted in what B. and K. call a "democratization of history": "anyone could be a historian and many took up the task" (129). At the end of their discussion, one thing is unmistakably clear: whether it served as a tool for antiquarian research, apologetic, apocalyptic speculation, or Easter reckoning, the chronicle was a highly functional instrument, in constant evolution and reinvention.

Occasional lapses and questionable claims are virtually inescapable in a work of dense technical content, ranging over more than 1300 years, and traversing so many regions and cultures. It is an overstatement to say that Philo's voluminous allegorical commentaries on the Pentateuch were intended mainly to establish the dependence of Greek philosophers and lawgivers on Moses (108). While it is true that the foundational principle of Africanus's chronicle was millennialist his interpretation of Daniel was, interestingly, non-eschatological. The terms of Daniel's apocalypse of seventy weeks were in his view completely satisfied in Jesus's ministry (cf. p. 117). In their discussion of the reception of Eusebius's chronicle, the authors state that Syncellus criticized Eusebius' Alexandrian critics Panodorus and Annianus (fifth century) for misdating the Incarnation by following pagan wisdom (i.e. Claudius Ptolemy). Syncellus actually faults only Panodorus for this failing (229).

In some cases, the authors also overplay the influence of apologetic on ancient Jewish and Christian chronicles. The two were not necessarily inseparable. From the admittedly little that survives from Demetrius the Jewish chronographer, there is little reason to suppose that he was at all interested in establishing the superior antiquity of Moses and the Jews. Sorting out chronological and exegetical problems in the biblical text, not comparative chronology, seems to have been uppermost in his mind. In their discussion of Christian chronicles, B. and K. state that "apologetic was the essential purpose of Christian chronography" (120). That observation would probably apply better to Tatian, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria than to Africanus and Eusebius. While the latter writers were undoubtedly influenced to some extent by apologetic, they were hardly beholden to it. At a certain point, the scientific requirements of the discipline required them to direct their energies elsewhere. For Africanus, the comparative dating of Moses is more a question of historical method than fodder for anti-Greek polemic. From reading the preface to Eusebius's Canons, one might reasonably draw the conclusion that "even had he wanted to," Eusebius "could hardly have dissociated himself from the apologetic tradition" (120). But his handling of conventional topoi of Christian apologetic chronology invites a different conclusion. In the first book of his chronicle, Eusebius allows that in the pursuit of chronological accuracy, no sources from the past should be exempt from scrutiny and doubt, not even the biblical record. Although initially making the de rigueur case for the overall superiority of Septuagint chronology to competing versions of the Bible, Eusebius (unlike his predecessors) does not adhere dogmatically to its testimony. And after determining that his predecessors had drastically inflated the length of time from the Exodus to the building of the temple under Solomon, Eusebius arrives at a date for Moses much later than the one sanctified by tradition. What all of this suggests is that even a writer as committed to the defense of the Church as Eusebius could dissociate himself from time-worn clichés of Jewish and Christian apologetic when he found them at odds with his own independent judgments.

To the extent that nomenclature lies at the heart of their thesis about the origins of medieval chronicles, the authors' lengthy exposition of the essential features of the chronicle genre is bound to elicit the most interest and criticism. B. and K. recognize that ancient writers are not nearly as scrupulous as they are in their terminology. They also allow that their fine-grained distinctions between "chronicles," "chronicle epitomes," "chronographs," "breviaria" and "epitomes" are unlikely to fine wide acceptance among medievalists (62). But they do make a compelling case both that the differences are substantive, and that any progress in reconstructing the development of the chronicle will require a more descriptive taxonomy than the one currently in scholarly use. There are places in the narrative, however, where the strict terminology becomes unwieldy, especially when it comes to describing hybrid works.  To remain true to their own exacting standards, many works ordinarily classified as universal chronicles now have to be categorized as something else, either as "chronographs" (Africanus and Syncellus), or as history "tricked out with the clothing of the chronicle" (Dexippus, p. 285). The more fundamental question is whether their claims about a connection between medieval "annals" and the ancient chronicle tradition are true by definition. That is, do compositional and structural similarities based on their own definition of the chronicle genre establish historical continuity? The authors have not ignored the question. As their painstaking analysis of the textual history of the Latin chronicle shows, the similarities between "annals" and ancient chronicle are not purely generic; there are also direct and traceable genealogical links.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Craig Taylor's "Chivalry and the Ideals of Knighthood in France..." -- a short review

I have finally finished this book, and feel I owe Craig Taylor a review, especially since it is a good one.

I began this book with the feeling that Taylor was making a lot of pretty obvious points, nothing that I hadn't heard before. Then I shook myself and said that of course this material was obvious to me; if it wasn't, then my reading on the subject of chivalry over the last 15 years was seriously defective.

As the book progressed, it became filled with material that was not so obvious. Taylor carefully analyzes the different perspectives on chivalry that existed during the Hundred Years War, describing the tensions between various points of view held by various observers of wartime France. This approach is very congenial to me; I find that in the short-term at least social or historical debates do not come to a neat conclusion; tensions between various participants continue to affect social debates for a long time, because they reflect important aspects of the structure of society.

Although this is a good review it will remain short one. I will just list some of the chapter titles to indicate where Taylor thinks the important debates were located.

Honour
Prowess and loyalty
Courage
Mercy (part I):  soldiers
Mercy (part II): civilians and noncombatants
Wisdom and prudence

If you have a serious interest in medieval chivalry, you will not want to miss what Taylor has to say on these subjects. At the very least it will clarify some important issues for you.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A royal visit

 As some of you know, I have been having a close encounter of the SCA kind with the idea and practice of royalty.  It's too early to report on this -- and I may not ever put it in writing -- but I will say that it is quite amazing how the social atmosphere changes when  someone you know well puts on a crown.  The expectations are remarkable and when they are largely fulfilled a great deal of energy can be generated.

Meanwhile, back in the real world...(Man, how I hate that phrase, but it is so commonly used to mark off "mundane reality" from other, special, social constructs)... my university is enjoying today a visit from the premier of the province, the Lieutenant-Governor designate (the soon-to-be representative of the Crown on the provincial level), and ....

Her Royal Highness The Princess Edward, Countess of Wessex, who doesn't even get to use her own first name in her official style.

They are supposed to be telling us something important about aboriginal education.

Let's hope that this won't amount to "it's working just the way it's supposed to."

Stay tuned.
Sophie, grevinna av Wessex.jpg


Image:  to her friends, it's Sophie.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Canadian Viking in the Governor-General’s Court: Medievalism in Pre-war Canada, by Janice Liedl

An interesting article  at academia.edu about a late 19th century attempt to use Viking exploration and settlement of Canada as a symbol of European settler unity.