Monday, January 30, 2023

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church

That is what yesterday's response by the congregation  to the First Reading at my church, Micah 6: 1-8.  The Prophet Micah is spelling out what God expects of Israel.  My wife tells me the response to Biblical  readings used to be more uncompromising: "this is the Word of the Lord." 

But I can't help looking at Old and New Testaments and trying to reconstruct the scene when these readings were first written or read out.  When we read psalms which scholars believe may have composed in the time of David, what they mean to that  king?  Indeed, what did David and his audience?

How about Zion, sometimes known as Mount Zion?  Here it is:

Mountain, Royal city (or castle), whatever, it sure gives a different impression  than the endless talking up of Zion.

I am by no means the first historically-minded person to take this approach, but it sure is interesting.



Jack Vance as a 13th century Armenian historian

 Or maybe it's the other way around.

Jack Vance was an eccentric science fiction and fantasy writer who had a keen sense of the vast variety of human experience and especially of religion and social arrangements.   I have no idea if he read the \

History of the Nation of Archers by  Grigor Aknerts’i but any reader of Vance might not care to bet against it.

Sophene Books
ISBN: 978-1-925937-52-7

Excerpt (translated by  Robert Bedrosian): 

As we heard from some of them, this [Mongol] people arose from their land of Turkestan and moved to some area to the east, dwelling there in extreme poverty for a long time as robbers and wild men. They had no religion except for felt images which they carried with them for witchcraft. They were in awe of the sun, as though it were a divine power. Then suddenly they came to their senses, very straitened by their wretched and poor life. They called upon the aid of God, creator of Heaven and earth, and swore a great oath to Him to be faithful to His commands.

By the command of God, an angel in the form of an eagle with golden feathers appeared to their chief named Ch’ankez, calling out to him in the dialect of their own language. [Ch’ankez] went and stood opposite the angel in the form of an eagle out in the open at a distance of an arrow shot. And then the eagle, speaking their own language, related all the commands of God.

It's available from Sophene Books - ISBN: 978-1-925937-52-7.  Thanks to for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Taylor Smith and Theodora Augusta


Lots of people complaining the last little while about the Taylor Swift concert and the role of Ticketmaster in distributing tickets for her first live appearance since before the outbreak of COVID-19.  Lots of people blamed Ticketmaster and its near-monopoly position in the live entertainment business for their inability to get tickets.  Earlier this week a high-ranking officer of Ticketmaster was summoned before a Congressional committee to justify the company’s role in the fiasco.  Ticketmaster was sarcastically congratulated for bringing together the two parties to work on a common solution for a common problem.

The radio report I heard today also noted that Taylor Smith had 11 costume changes in the course of the show.  

Maybe it was this, or the idea that Taylor Smith was the one unifying factor in the public life in the Disunited States, but I immediately thought of Theodora, empress to Justinian in the mid-6th century. 

Theodora was a scandalous figure or a giant among Roman rulers, take your pick.  She started out poor and did many low-class jobs until her looks got her into prostitution and acting.  She drew attention from the kind of rich and important men who wanted a really striking courtesan or mistress. The man who got Theodora (or vice-versa) was Justinian, part of a nascent military dynasty. He was so enamored of her that he married her, despite laws that supposedly forbade a senator (J) from marrying a prostitute.  When Justinian became emperor, Theodora became a major influence on him.

We have no idea what her stage costumes looked like in her acting days, but we get an idea of her tastes from a famous mosaic in Ravenna, Italy.

Next, Taylor Swift.  Not likely to end up as empress, but her ability to shake up the dysfunctional American Congress is remarkable. I wonder if actor Theodora had some really skimpy bejeweled outfits,  11 or more, and that was enough to get the rich inhabitants of Constantinople charged up.                                                             

There's a certain fantasy element to the Taylor Swift-Ticketmaster discussion,  If Ticketmaster had done its job perfectly and fairly, how many fans  would have been left out?  And how would they have reacted? With sweet reason?


Friday, January 13, 2023

Burgundy and Scales with axes 1467

 A detailed account of a deed of arms between important aristocrats before Edward IV of England.  Another example of the deed being called off when it began to look too dangerous.  As if that shouldn't have been obvious from the git-go!  Thanks to Sean Manning for sending me this gem.

Excerpta historica : or, Illustrations of English history [edited by Samuel Bentley] : Bentley, Samuel, 1785-1868 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Life in New Jersey and my career as a lifeguard

When I lived in central New Jersey I enjoyed several advantages that I did not expect.  Some of them came from its propiniquity   to New York City, which was perhaps 35 miles from my parents’s home in East Brunswick, itself a suburb of New Brunswick (a city not to be confused with the province of New Brunswick).  But some of the advantages were all New Jersey. 

For instance, when I  got involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism at Michigan State University I was able to find a source for rattan, used for our swords, at the Hoboken (NJ)Bamboo and Rattan Works – on Jefferson Street – there is now a Bamboo and Rattan museum on Jefferson.  For a while I was a primary supplier of sword stock for the Middle Kingdom.  Another benefit was the availability of good quality vegetables. When we lived in Ohio, those of us who were in the know thought the slogan on the car licenses “New Jersey The Garden State” was a bad joke.  Everyone knew New Jersey was a filthy place.  But if you ever drove south on the New Jersey Turnpike you quickly found yourself surrounded by gardens!  

I was able to contribute towards my living expenses and have a moderate amount  of fun thanks to a job that  I am sure came my way because our neighbor was important in Middlesex County politics.  The County ran some swimming sites (lakes and resevo1poir, not pools) and needed lifeguards.  I  had the proper certification as a lifeguard, which meant I was qualified!

I can’t remember the name of the park  (Silver something?)  The beach was attractive, near older houses, though the whole area was being suburbanized.  But behind that pleasant exterior was a terrible secret.

Now it can be told!  That Silver something was badly polluted (My guess, from later experience, is that the houses had inadequate septic systems.) The County put on a show of dealing with the pollution:  The head lifeguard, a man in his 30s or 40s, went out in a boat on a regular basis and dumpted a chlorine product into the reservoir.That apparently brought the level of bacterial pollution down to a level where the government could to say that it was safe to swim in.

Being a lifeguard where I worked was a bit boring.  You hoped it would stay that way.  The guards had big breaks to keep them alert.  I read a lot of old science fiction novels in my breaks.  There were enough of us to keep a close eye on things.  Most days the attendance was far from being overwhelming.  On big holidays we sometimes had huge crowds.  Black churches got schoolbuses and brought platoons of kids.  Not too many white people did the same.

It didn’t stay boring.  There was a day where enough things went bad that tragedy resulted.  It started with a black kid pretending to be drowning.  He called out “Help!” “help” and grinned at the guards.  Both I and the lifeguard  next to me were focused on removing the troublemaker.  When we finally got to the rope that separated the designated swimming area from deeper waters, we  discovered that while we were distracted by the kid an older man had got in trouble and died.  I’d noticed him acting a bit odd, but unlike the kid, he was undramatic.

It was a sad day for us guards.   We’d  done our jobs under challenging conditions, and failed.


Thursday, January 05, 2023

Two movies: Spencer and Mr. Sunshine

 Spencer -- now on Prime<p>

The theme of this movie is that the atmosphere of the royal court drove Princess Diana nuts and only when she escaped did she become the beautiful, charming good mother, Diana Spencer.  I have seen this on the big screen and I'm not impressed.  The rest of the royal family really gets a hatchet job -- and quite possibly deserved it.  But the Hollywood-style finale is really too much.<p/>

Mr. Sunshine -- Korea <p/>

The excellences of this 20-some series can hardly be overstated.  Well, it is perhaps too long.  Otherwise, it is an amazing feat, artistically showing much about vulnerable Joseon (Korea) at the time of the Russian-Japanese war.  The music! The costumes!  The script! The outdoor photography! The colors! The you name it!

Burning down modern societies -- Umair Haque, truthteller

 For quite a while the American economist  Umair Haque has been telling the truth about the most toxic forces in current politics, namely "the GOP" and "the Tory Party." His analysis is based on facts known to anyone who follows the news closely enough, but the big picture he provides may be unique.  Many people are  pessimistic about the future, but I don't know anyone who has such a bleak view of the present.  Umair Haque always seems to have an extreme view, but just wait a few months or years and you'll have to admit the extreme view was right, and more realistic than the commonsensical view based on old assumptions.</p>
Have a look at today's post at Eudaimonia and Co ( -- Why Democracy’s Broken in America (and Britain).  It's a long post and I have edited it somewhat. I urge you to read the whole thing.

Yesterday was a pivotal moment in American politics. Having won control of the House of Representatives, the post-Trump GOP struggled — three times — to elect a Speaker. The last time such a vote had to go multiple rounds? Over a century ago.

Meanwhile, in Britain, an eerily similar scenario was unfolding. The nation in dire, profound crisis — and the government, nowhere to be found, facing literally scorn and condemnation from everyone to its medical establishment to its scientists to its journalists to plenty of average people.

What’s going on here? This story is about many things, but it’s not just about Kevin McCarthy, America, Trump, or even the GOP. It’s about something that I can’t say until the very end, because, well, these days, when people hear simple truths like the one I’m about to reveal — which you should already well know — they react in a kind of near-comical rage and denial. So let’s cover the bases first.

What’s going on here is that America and Britain appear to have become ungovernable. They are fallen democracies who appear now not to be capable of that most simple and fundamental of democratic tasks — self-governance.

It’s easy enough to say something like “the GOP’s Trumpist wing is holding it hostage!! They won’t let a Speaker be chosen!”...  But the story’s much deeper than that, and it’s about time that we all learned the lesson in it, instead of — as we’ve been doing for over a decade — dancing uncomfortably around the gigantic vampiric reptile beast in the room.

Why is it that America’s GOP and Britain’s Tories have made their societies ungovernable? Why are they so incompetent at the very task they put themselves forward for, governanceWhy…put yourself forward to…govern…a society…if you can’t even begin to take the very first steps towards doing it?

Don’t take it from me. Just today, Britain is in pretty much the exact same position as America, only worse. How so? Prime Minister Rishi “Ebenezer” Sunak gave an hour-long speech, about fixing the incredible array of problems facing his nation, stemming from the self-inflicted disaster of Brexit. His answers amount to…nothing. As in, literally, do nothing. The response? Here’s what one of Britain’s top journalists, Beth Rigby, incredulous, had to say:

In the real world, you can’t get a train, you can’t get a doctor’s appointment, nurses are going to food banks, and when you do dial 999 you can’t be sure than an ambulance is going to get there in time to save your loved one. That’s the reality of Britain in 2023.

And now you’re here giving people more promises about how you might change the country that they’ve heard many times before during 13 years of Conservative rule.

...And there, in America, is the GOP reducing democracy itself to a shambles, acting like spoiled children, unable to agree on who should be the Speaker of the House they just won.

What’s behind all this?

There’s a very simple answer to that question, and it goes like this.

Most modern political parties are interested in governance because they believe there should be something to governWhat is government? It’s the administration of public goods. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Let’s go through a few, to make the point. Justice Departments administer the public good of…justice. Health Departments and systems like the NHS administer the public good of…public health... s.

Governments exist to administer public goods. Now, some people know that, and most people who’ve been to grad school can say it, but few people really understand it well. To say that simple enough phrase also carries with it a certain pretty basic implication: that people who form parties that vie for power in government believe in public goods.

Because if you don’t, well, then…what is there to govern? If you don’t believe in public goods, you are basically saying that the there is no job of governance to be done....

Maybe you’re seeing where I’m going with this. Perhaps you see my point already, because it’s hardly rocket science.

Neither the GOP nor the Tories believe in public goods. Not believing in public goods, they can’t do the job of governanceBecause of course, to them, the task they’ve set out to accomplish isn’t governance at all.

It’s the destruction of public goods. But that’s not governance, especially not in a modern democracy. What is it? Well, it’s a lot of things: ignorance, folly, hate, bigotry, rage, stupidity, and self-destruction, to name just a few.

That’s not just me calling names. It’s me trying to point out empirical facts. What do we know about human society at this juncture? About the project of civilization itself? Well, perhaps the most crucial lesson we learned, ever, period, full stop, is the one that Europe taught. Europe was nothing just one short human lifetime ago. I mean that literally. It was ashes. It’s great cities were destroyed, it’s societies were bankrupt by war, it’s governments and democracies had been shattered by the iron fist of fascism.

And in one human lifetime, Europe rose to enjoy not just the world’s highest living standards, but history’sThink about that. Because we don’t. Not enough. I don’t just mean you and I, I mean my peers in the world of economics. There are just a handful of economists who really grasp that lesson, and teach it, and they’re the best in the world — Piketty, Stiglitz, and so forth — but they are ostracized by media entirely, so the average person never learns this lesson, and hence, ironically, foolishly, even Europe is troubled today, precisely by underinvestment in the public goods that lifted it to the highest living standards in human history.

How did the European Miracle happen? Why was it that Europeans ended up living the world’s longest, happiest, most stable lives? Public goodsAfter the war, Europe did something radical, heretofore unseen in human history — all of it. It rewrote constitutions to make everything from healthcare to housing to transportation to education right down to, in some cases, abstractions like dignity, universal human rights. ...

Let me put that more simply. Europe’s living standards rose to the highest levels in human history because Europeans enjoyed the greatest public goods in history: from public health, to education, to transport, and so forth. There is absolutely no debate on this score. It’s not my “opinion.” It is a fact, buttressed by volumes of evidence. This is the great lesson of the 20th century, one of the most crucial in history, and now I can restate it in a simpler, more powerful form.

We know the key to human prosperity. It’s called investment in public goods. They a) lift living standards while b) keeping societies equal and c) sharing wealth broadly, thus d) creating a relatively stable middle class that e) is the key for democracy to endure.


But America and Britain are a different story. They have been overrun by parties which genuinely don’t believe public goods should exist.

Hence, America and Britain are in ultra-severe crisis. In them, living standards are plummeting, not rising. Everything from life expectancy to real income just goes on falling, and trust in institutions and systems goes with it — and as that goes, so average people begin to turn to parties who don’t believe in public goods to express their bitterness and rage. A vicious circle thus kicks in. That is how the GOP took the house and the Tories have managed to stay in power for twelve years.

Think back to what Beth Rigby had to say. She was incredulous that the Prime Minister’s plan for dealing with…people dying because you can’t get an ambulance…people shivering in the cold…nurses going to for banks…was…doing nothing. So, too, American journalists are incredulous that the GOP can’t choose a Speaker. But this is where it ends.

What, precisely? Now we can put it all much more concisely.

The politics of nihilism.

That is what not “believing in” public goods really is. Public goods aren’t like, say, God. There’s no evidence that God exists, but you can believe in him anyways, and I don’t say that unkindly, I mean it expansively. But “not believing” in public goods isn’t like that: it’s like denying climate change, or saying the earth is flat, because, like I said, the great lesson of the 20th century is that public goods are the key. To what? To everything. From prosperity, to the democracy it hold together, to having a middle class, to people trusting systems and institutions enough to believe in a thing called civilization. All of it hinges on public goods. You can “not believe in them,” therefore, but that’s just another way of revealing your mind-shattering ignorance.

Which is where the GOP and Tories are. What they embody and enact before us every single day.

Let me sum all that up now. If you don’t believe in public goods, well…what is there to govern? Hence, parties like the GOP and the Tories are incapable of governance.  ...

Hence, Rishi Sunak’s got this wierd grin plastered on his face…while he literally touts doing nothing…to save the NHS…which is dying…leaving kids to literally die because they can’t get to the hospital in less than a full day…because that’s where this begins, which is also where it ends. If you don’t “believe in” public goods, hey, what is there to be upset about when they collapse around you, in smoldering ashes, billowing flames?

But you know what the most fundamental public good of all itself is? Governance.

We could put it another way. CooperationThere are levels of public goods ...

But the Big One, underlying them all? Is governance itself. The idea that we can govern ourselves, for the common good.

These parties also have distinctly authoritarian bents because they don’t believe in this primary public good at all. They don’t think of governance as a public good, ie, something “we” do, for the common good. They think of that form of governance as something to be destroyed — usually to enact the hierarchies and class distinctions of a distant past. You’re the peasant, I’m the lord, you’re the nobody, I’m the “real” citizen, you’re the underman, I’m the uberman. See the link here?

... [ T]he modern day GOP and the Tories [are] parties who don’t believe in modern social contracts, are completely incompetent at the very jobs they put themselves forward to do, running modern societies, because modern societies are about administering public goods, the foremost one of those being democracy itself, and then come things like healthcare, education, transport, and so on.

These parties — and the figures in them — don’t care about any of that. That stuff is just an impediment. To what? To supremacist fantasies of nostalgic, delusional utopias that never existed, basically. The GOP is only interested in what it can take away from Americans — books, words, rights, contraceptives. The Tories built their magical fantasyland — it was called Brexit, and the only problem was that it shattered the country, decimated the economy, caused a tsunami of human and financial capital flight, and destroyed Britain’s future. But they don’t care, because, hey, at least it purified the nation, and those dirty foreigners are gone. But then what? Then we have a bonfire.

You know the phrase “bonfire of the vanities”? What this is about is a bonfire of the modernities. These parties — the GOP, the Tories, those who follow in their footsteps, like the European hard right — don’t have any plan, vision, agenda, in the modern sense whatsoever — to construct new public goods we desperately need, like, say, clean manufacturing, or new hospitals and schools, or even renew old ones, like, for example, the Colorado River not drying up. They don’t care about that. They don’t “believe in” it. Their only agenda is destructive.

Hence, on both sides of the Atlantic, there’s now a bonfire of the modernities....


The bonfire of the modernities is about setting fire to all that [= public goods].

It’s the only thing that these parties believe in. But what are they? Now I can say the thing I said I couldn’t say before. This is what modern conservatism has devolved to. It’s nihilism — moral, ontological, economic, social. It’s in proud, violent denial of the most crucial lessons of history, because saying “I don’t believe in public goods” is, LOL, the 21st century socioeconomic equivalent of wagging a finger and shouting “the earth is flat!”

This is where it ends, friends. In the bonfire of the modernities. America and Britain will be grappling with this problem — a political of nihilism that wants to burn it all down, which also means that it can’t, by definition, govern anything, especially not a functioning modern society, because it’s too busy trying to get the rest of us to believe the Big Lie that public goods are the Devil, and only an exorcism by way of the ritual purification of hate and ignorance is what can cure us. Hence, the bonfire of the modernities — the one that’s burning down America and Britain, while the rest of the world watches, shocked and bewildered.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Are you a Nazi?

 According to a German news source ZLIVE-NEWS ZLIVE-NEWS - 

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announces the production of hypersonic weapons.

Via Telegram, the former president shared that the enemy is not only entrenched in the Kiev governorate,“ butIt also exists in Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and a whole host of other places that have sworn allegiance to the Nazis of today.“

Need anything more be said? 

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Muhlberger's World History: This blog

Muhlberger's World History: This blog: Dear readers, if you've been reading this blog for a long time you will have noticed that I have been writing a lot less. I used it first when I was teaching undergraduates and placing material such as syllaby and assigments on the web to make them easily available. I also posted pictures and news items that some might find interesting. I also put in random stuff that had no obvious connection to the courses I usually taught. Nipissing University was a small place and you could not expect it to offer everything.

They said. I didn't buy it.

So I used the blog to draw attention to events and trends, current and historical that I thought were not adequately covered, while still discussing my ongoing research on deeds of arms in the late Middle Ages.

Then things changed. I retired, and had no students. I wrote some books, which summarized my conclusions on the significance of deeds of arms. And as far as current events, a lot of people woke up and started writing about the things that I had been watching. Quite a few of them were more informed about their favorite subject than I could be.

And my Parkinson's got worse which made writing a chore. Right now I am only using two fingers, and it's slow.

What then is this blog good for? I am going to use it to save things that are of particular interest to me, and perhaps to my small number of faithful readers. They and whatever others who stumble across the blog are welcome to respond:

And the past posts constitute a small treasure trove of historical material. Have a look.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Umair Haque on Free Speech

Umair Haque is an American pessimist, who is depressing to read because his worst-case analysis is usually right. His arguments are backed up by a much deeper understanding of history than most commentators have. Compare him to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, whose historical knowledge is impressive. Recently Umair Haque wrote a piece on"Everything the far right touches dies,".It made a number of interesting points, but the part I liked best was what he had to say on free speech.
Now. What is “free speech”, anyways? Let me give you an example from my own life, and countless other people’s. When I was a kid, I used to get all kinds of names, beaten, abused, bullied. I was a sensitive, creative soul, and I wasn’t like the other boys at all. I wanted to make music and write poetry, not compete for trophies on playing fields.


Maybe you were like me a little bit. What effect does it have to be harassed and insulted and threatened? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. Pretty soon, you go silent. Because of course that’s the point of beating you down, emotionally, verbally, maybe even physically. You grow afraid, and of course instilling fear is the point of intimidation. So for about two years, I was just…silent. I starting flunking my classes and not talking to anyone. I was practically catatonic.

Then I discovered a haven in the unlikeliest of places, which were nightclubs downtown, where the gay community protected a little kid like me fiercely, even though I wasn’t gay. Suddenly, I was cool — and I found my voice again. That little parable, and maybe you’ve lived it, or your kids are living it right now, is about what free speech really is. It’s the idea that everyone should have a voice. Everyone. If I’m using mine to take yours away, though, what we end up with is a loss of speech. And that is why we have rules — as civilized societies — about what forms of speech cause harm, by taking away other people’s dignity, voice, relationships, even place in society.


And those rules don’t come from businesses — but from democratic governance, at least in our societies. We all agree to them, because they benefit us all. So some kinds of speech aren’t really freeing at all. Instead, they choke off speech, at a net, larger level. It’s easy enough to understand what those kinds of speech are. When I was a kid, I’d get called a “f*ggot” or racist slurs literally a hundred times a week — even by teachers and coaches. Is that free speech? Of course not. It’s the precise opposite, because it took my voice away, and its intention is to take away the voice away of everyone from gay people to people of color to anyone who doesn’t support intimidation and violence and so forth.


Obvious, right? And yet a lot of people don’t understand this. Or they pretend not to, anyways, because they want to be bullies and brutes, they want the freedom to intimidate and harass and hector and demean and take away dignity and relationships and someone else’s place in society.


That’s not free speech at all. It’s the diametrical opposite: hate. That’s the second point you should understand. There are two forms of gaslighting at work here, thanks to everyone’s least favorite crackpot billionaire: one is the idea that we don’t really have free speech without him, LOL, when of course we do, but the second, which is even more noxious, is the idea that free speech is about me silencing you, with intimidation, threats, aggression, hate.
Have a look at what he has to say.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

News from Tigray

In Tigray, Ethiopia, doctors cannot afford to feed their families. 


Thursday, October 06, 2022

A good summary of Walter Goffart's contribution to the history of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

I was Walter Goffart's student and believe me it was a challenging experience. I learned a tremendous amount from informal discussions in his office and from his comments in the margins of drafts of my thesis. I found a good summary of some of his work on a bookseller's site and I put it here for the benefit of readers who might be interested in a period that fascinated him and me.
The Migration Age is still envisioned as an onrush of expansionary Germans pouring unwanted into the Roman Empire and subjecting it to pressures so great that its western parts collapsed under the weight. Further developing the themes set forth in his classic Barbarians and Romans, Walter Goffart dismantles this grand narrative, shaking the barbarians of late antiquity out of this Germanic setting and reimagining the role of foreigners in the Later Roman Empire. The Empire was not swamped by a migratory Germanic flood for the simple reason that there was no single ancient Germanic civilization to be transplanted onto ex-Roman soil. Since the sixteenth century, the belief that purposeful Germans existed in parallel with the Romans has been a fixed point in European history.

Goffart uncovers the origins of this historical untruth and argues that any projection of a modern Germany out of an ancient one is illusory. Rather, the multiplicity of northern peoples once living on the edges of the Empire participated with the Romans in the larger stirrings of late antiquity. Most relevant among these was the long militarization that gripped late Roman society concurrently with its Christianization. If the fragmented foreign peoples with which the Empire dealt gave Rome an advantage in maintaining its ascendancy, the readiness to admit military talents of any social origin to positions of leadership opened the door of imperial service to immigrants from beyond its frontiers. Many barbarians were settled in the provinces without dislodging the Roman residents or destabilizing landownership; some were even incorporated into the ruling families of the Empire. The outcome of this process, Goffart argues, was a society headed by elites of soldiers and Christian clergy--one we have come to call medieval.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

The Fall of Dubai

The city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is the playground for the ultra-rich who by luck have inherited peroleum wealth on an amazing scale. And money attracts money. Photographers are attracted to the extraordinary feats made possible by such wealth. If you search for Dubai you will see amazing buildings, malls, and unique automobiles.

The toys (skyscrapers to vehicles) are remarkable. (And "shiny"!) But I had not got thru one of these colllections (these collections are unrelentingly positive) when I started seeing a ghostly blogpost that does not yet exist: The Fall of Dubai, Surely Dubai is exceedingly fragile, depending on the central role of petroleum and the health of the banking system !!!! Not to mention the support of foreign patrons. If these supports fail, one can imagine what Dubai will look like. Dr. Beachcombing whose intelligent blog yet survives talks about Rome c. 600 AD and imagines the near-ghost town it must have been:

Let’s take the lowest sensible estimate for classical Rome – half a million – and the highest for Rome c. 600, about 50,000. That means that the population has not only been decimated, but that it had been decimated nine times over. And what is more these heirs of Rome (as fashionable ‘late antique’ historians call them) were resident in an echo box; a city that they no longer had the technology to repair, let alone recreate, where nine out of every ten residences were empty, where three and four story buildings gradually keeled over into the streets and where the Parthenon [Pantheon?]and the Coliseum looked down mockingly on the little people below, not so much dwarfs on giants’ shoulders, as blue-bottles buzzing around a cow’s backside.

Then, remember, perhaps the actual population of Imperial Rome was more like a million and the population of Rome c. 600 was more like ten thousand, a hundredth of what it had been. The psychopathic Anglo-Saxon guard, the tourist from Scythia and the Pope and his tiny administration could shout as loud as they wanted and no one would have heard them in their ghost town. No one was listening, not even the red baked tiles made in a happier age.

Is this the future of Dubai?  I wouldn't bet against it. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

(Queen Invisible)

 I've been following the death of the Queen fairly closely, somewhat to my own surprise.  I shouldn't have been. I'm a historian with an interest in the celebration of power..I have been fascinated by the efforts of commentators to put Elizabeth in historical perspective.  And what have they been saying?

Next to nothing!

Well, more specifically (my own summary, not entirely fair):

  • Elizabeth was the longest reigning monarch ever 
  • None of us can remember when she wasn't Queen (actually an interesting point)
  • She was Head of the world-wide Commonwealth (which people aren't entirely unhappy with)

What struck me first was the total absence of comparisons to (Queen Invisible).(Queen Invisible) is such an obvious comparison point. 
  • She sat on the same throne as Elizabeth did.  
  •  Her reign was very close to being as long as Elizabeth's. 
  •  She was also head of a world-wide organization, though it had a different name 
I only have only heard one commentator refer to the most obvious point:  If you bundle the last few years of her father's reign with Elizabeth's, you see the disappearance of the (world wide organization which (Queen Invisible) was head of , which we will not name.)

Now I can see that in the celebration of  a monarch's life you might not want to discuss at length such an embarrassing  fact.  But the complete disappearance of (Queen Invisible)'s very name! A woman whose very name is stamped on every continent, on islands, waterfalls, provinces, major cities, and country crossroads.  (Queen Invisible) is gone because she is a background for everything.

A whole era was named after (Queen Invisible) in recognition of her symbolic place in world culture.  Will there be a Second Elizabethan era? a Carolean era? Ah, here I may surprise you by plumping for EII.  People my age woke up one day (1973) to find that  the clunky old furniture that their parents hid in the attic were now valuable antiques.  Other things were already named after (Queen Invisible), who receded farther into the past. needed a symbol for the new historical awareness they gained.  Elizabeth filled the bill. She was after all old enough to be an historical figure based on the idealized Great-Grandmother. In the near term, this excludes the more controversial public record of  Elizabeth as an institution.  

Image:  > Who is this woman? 


Monday, September 05, 2022

Thursday, July 28, 2022

My reaction to The Last Duel (2021)

I finally got a chance to see last year's The Last Duel, by my favorite poster and director, Ridley Scott. Some of my friends were less than enthusiastic when the movie came out, but I found it based on a credible reconstruction of 14th century French culture. A few "for-instances" show: the extremely strong desire to maintain one's honor; excellent interiors; the fact that different people speak different languages in different contexts; and so forth. What I respect most about this movie is that many details are included that only the most persnickety re-enactor or medieval archaeologist would notice Yet here they are, casting a glamor of reality over the whole drama.  I have to say that some of my good friends found the helmets used to be so wrong as to be a major flaw in the movie and really put them off.  I say, sadly, persnickety!  So much is right with the movie that I can't see this as a mortal sin.

My own work on duels and deeds of arms has a curious connection with the movie The Last Duel and the preceding book of the same by Eric Jager. Around the turn of the millennium I became aware of Jager's work. Frankly, I wasn't all that impressed -- at least, not until I found out that major Hollywood studios seemed to be showing an interest in making movies based on medieval deeds of arms. One day I got a call from a studio asking whether I knew of a translation of the account of the Combat of the Thirty. That was the end -- because at this early stage of my research I had not found the sources for the Combat.

,,> Anyway, I have found my interests, if no movie. Congratulations to Professor Jager -- and my gratitude for inspiring, in part, my decision to be a little more bold.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Two books on Charny!

Wilson, Ian; Nigel Bryant, ed. and trans. The Book of Geoffroi de Charny with the Livre Charny. (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2021). Reviewed by Steven Muhlberger Nipissing University (retired)

Over the last two generations there has been a boom in the publication of medieval biographies and memoirs of knights and treatises on chivalry written by knights. These works, which have lurked for centuries in their original languages in archives and exclusive libraries, are increasingly being made available in translation. Chivalry, a classic topic in the study of the Middle Age is (again) a hot topic for scholars, and scholars of chivalry are glad to have more accessible versions of these difficult texts. They preserve memoirs (some mildly or extensively fictionalized) or didactic treatises which provide rare insights into the values of active knights.

Foremost among these author-knights is the now- famous Geoffroi de Charny, a prominent French knight of the mid-14th century who died at the battle of Poitiers (1356), while defending the Oriflamme and King Jean II. Geoffroi de Charny has long been credited with the authorship of three works on chivalry. The verse Livre Charny (which I call “Charny’s Book”) is an account of the difficulties of adopting and following the ‘Profession of Arms.’ The well-known translator Nigel Bryant has provided both an edition and an English translation of Livre Charny (pp.-53-128). The Demandes -- Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments and War -- are a collection of mostly legal case studies which were meant to illustrate problems of the law of arms. A third book is The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny a prose treatment which overlaps material in Charny’s Book.

Between the three books we are given some of the most serious thoughts of one of France’s foremost knights of the 14th century.

Charny was a member of the lesser gentry (and a third son at that); nevertheless he rose through the ranks. Early in his career he depended on patrons to provide him with the large sums of money necessary to replace lost equipment and, twice, to pay very large ransoms. But some people seem to have thought him worth it. His appointments to military office speak to how he was rated as a practical man-at-arms. Charny’s rank and his personal influence did not entitle him to any largely patronage-motivated appointments. We can imagine that he had a big and fierce personality much appreciated by his military colleagues. Further, Charny’s success as a diplomat and a royal counselor shows that he had flexibility and charm as well.

In the last years of his life Charny was close to King Jean; both men were concerned with the apparent decline of chivalry in France and they worked together toward fixing it. The king founded a chivalric order, the Order of the Star; Charny was commissioned (6 Jan 1351) to compile the Demandes so that the Order could answer the questions and agree on the standards that should establish chivalry. Charny’s Book must have been finished at least by 14 Aug 1352, when French warriors, many members of the Order of the Star among them, were defeated by the English at Mauron. These men of high rank were slaughtered because they held to the “no retreat” doctrine of King Jean and Charny. The loss of so many knights of the Star took the air out of the king’s project but did not divide the two men; Charny remained the bearer of the Oriflamme until he was killed at Poitiers in 1356.

Perhaps Wilson’s most important goal is offering a “revised understanding” of Charny based on a wider collection of manuscripts which preserve information about Charny’s military career and the chronology of his writings. The relevant manuscripts, regarded by Wilson as “ understudied” are the “Oxford” manuscript (Holkham ms. 43, at the Bodleian) and the “Madrid” manuscript (Biblioteca Nacional de España ms. 9270) . Using these and better-known Brussels, Paris and Swiss manuscripts, Wilson builds an “alternative understanding” of Charny’s career and writing. It is interesting to see how illustrations made The Book of Geoffroi de Charny a heftier text, one of which probably involved Charny working with a prestigious illustrator, Jean le Noir. Wilson shows that the works of Charny constituted a substantial codicological project that caught a moment at the French royal court.

Wilson’s revised understanding includes a rejection of the existing scholarly consensus that the prose Book of Chivalry of was written by the knight we have been discussing, the same author of Charny’s Book and the Demandes, who died at Poitiers. Rather, Wilson contends that the Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny was written at a later date by another man of the same name, the first Charny’s nephew, who had reason to revive his uncle’s tradition as a pious and determined knight. The Book of Chivalry was an elaborated presentation of ideas first presented in Charny’s Book. Whether Wilson’s reconstruction of the relationship between the two “books” is ultimately accepted will depend on hard work and luck. The evidence is difficult and limited in scope. I found the detailed and careful work done by Wilson impressive but not conclusive.

But this book has more to offer than the complex puzzle surrounding the three works attributed to Charny. What can be said about the excellent translation except that it is excellent? Bryant’s contribution may well attract readers with diverse interests, and give them a lively text with which to examine the concept and practice of chivalry

Later: I have been re-reading Charny and some of the scholarship about him, and I have come to the conclusion that Charny terrified his contempories.