Friday, October 13, 2017

It's done! Sort of

I have been boring various friends and family for months (only months?) by saying the translation of the Chronicle of the Good Duke Louis of Bourbon is almost done.  Well, it is still not done done but my collaborator, Phil Paine and I, will probably need to do only one more pass over the translation each, write an introduction and a glossary and then -- ta da! We are very close to writing a proposal. to send to a publisher.
And I can spend my writing time on something else.
Image: guess.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Thoughts upon leaving church

As I walked home from last Sunday's service at my neighborhood Anglican church,  I was mulling over three points.

1.  The newsletter asked us to pray for the bishop people and clergy of "The Territory of the People. " This reminded me of a scene in the movie Becket where the pope after an interview with Becket marvels over the humility of the exiled archbishop, while an infuriated Italian cardinal condemns Becket for his pride.  I know nothing about "the People" but it seems to me that there a variety of ways to interpret that name

2.  Why does anyone alive today care about King David?

3,  Paul's Letter to the Philippians:  What is really going on here?  (I often feel that way about Paul.)  I am very much aware that all of Paul's letters were written before the gospels.

Image:  A standard view of Paul.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A new Charny book


Just the otherday I heard from an Australian independent scholar named Ian Wilson, who with the help of Hugh Duncan is producing  a two-volume book on Charny, one volume of biography and one consisting of translations of the Livre Charny and Charny's Questions.

I thought you'd like that!

I haven't had time to read the unfinished work, but what seems to be the most important aspect is that Wilson argues that The Book of Chivalry was not written by Geoffroi Charny, but by his son, who had the same name.

More later!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Trump: white president

White people knew, back in the 19th century: if you wanted a high-quality black clown at your entertainment, it better be a white guy in blackface.  Everybody knew that whites could do even blackness better than black people.

At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates explains the American blindness to American racism.

This transfiguration is not novel. It is a return to form. The tightly intertwined stories of the white working class and black Americans go back to the prehistory of the United States—and the use of one as a cudgel to silence the claims of the other goes back nearly as far. Like the black working class, the white working class originated in bondage—the former in the lifelong bondage of slavery, the latter in the temporary bondage of indenture. In the early 17th century, these two classes were remarkably, though not totally, free of racist enmity. But by the 18th century, the country’s master class had begun etching race into law while phasing out indentured servitude in favor of a more enduring labor solution. From these and other changes of law and economy, a bargain emerged: The descendants of indenture would enjoy the full benefits of whiteness, the most definitional benefit being that they would never sink to the level of the slave. But if the bargain protected white workers from slavery, it did not protect them from near-slave wages or backbreaking labor to attain them, and always there lurked a fear of having their benefits revoked. This early white working class “expressed soaring desires to be rid of the age-old inequalities of Europe and of any hint of slavery,” according to David R. Roediger, a professor of American studies at the University of Kansas. “They also expressed the rather more pedestrian goal of simply not being mistaken for slaves, or ‘negers’ or ‘negurs.’ ”

  Roediger relates the experience, around 1807, of a British investor who made the mistake of asking a white maid in New England whether her “master” was home. The maid admonished the investor, not merely for implying that she had a “master” and thus was a “sarvant” but for his basic ignorance of American hierarchy. “None but negers are sarvants,” the maid is reported to have said. In law and economics and then in custom, a racist distinction not limited to the household emerged between the “help” (or the “freemen,” or the white workers) and the “servants” (the “negers,” the slaves). The former were virtuous and just, worthy of citizenship, progeny of Jefferson and, later, Jackson. The latter were servile and parasitic, dim-witted and lazy, the children of African savagery. But the dignity accorded to white labor was situational, dependent on the scorn heaped upon black labor—much as the honor accorded a “virtuous lady” was dependent on the derision directed at a “loose woman.” And like chivalrous gentlemen who claim to honor the lady while raping the “whore,” planters and their apologists could claim to honor white labor while driving the enslaved.
And so George Fitzhugh, a prominent 19th-century Southern pro-slavery intellectual, could in a single stroke deplore the exploitation of free whites’ labor while defending the exploitation of enslaved blacks’ labor. Fitzhugh attacked white capitalists as “cannibals,” feeding off the labor of their fellow whites. The white workers were “ ‘slaves without masters;’ the little fish, who were food for all the larger.” Fitzhugh inveighed against a “professional man” who’d “amassed a fortune” by exploiting his fellow whites. But whereas Fitzhugh imagined white workers as devoured by capital, he imagined black workers as elevated by enslavement...

 Speaking in 1848, Senator John C. Calhoun saw slavery as the explicit foundation for a democratic union among whites, working and not:

With us the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

St. Catherine's monastery delivers again

At the base of Mount Sinai in Egypt there is a very ancient monastery, St. Catherine's, which may have been patronized by Constantine's mother Helena and was apparently built by the emperor Justinian.  The monastery is best known for its collection of manuscripts, which include some of the most important sources for the text of the Bible.

The most famous manuscripts from St. C's were discovered and studied in the 19th century, while other mss (=manuscripts) were found in caves in the 20th.  Now scholars are using advanced technology to read the original texts of reused mss. The Independent explains:
Monks originally wrote their texts down on parchments which were later scrubbed off and used to write the Bible by future generations who spoke more modern languages. But a new technique developed by researchers allows them to see the original text hidden from the naked eye in a development hailed as “new golden age of discovery”.
Researchers took photographs of the material using different parts of the light spectrum and put the electronic images through a computer algorithm.
The method allows them to see the first writing laid down on the parchments, which at the time were highly valuable, before they were re-used in later years.
The scholars seem to be most excited by finding writings in obscure  or dead languages, like the one spoken in Caucasian Albania (not the same as the Albania next to Greece).  But I find this mindblowing:

“I don’t know of any library in the world that parallels it,” said Mr Phelps [from the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California]. “The monastery is an institution from the Roman Empire that continues operating according to its original mission.”

Image: By Berthold Werner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Bad good men at arms and a Good Duke

The phrase "good men-at-arms" was a military cliche in the Hundred Years War.  It identified the notional standard for well-equipped, capable cavalrymen.  Most of us would look at a man-at-arms and think, "knight."

As time went on, the adjective "good" merged with the rest of the phrase so that the "goodness" of the good man-at-arms was simply a matter of definition.  Some years back I noticed this while reading the chronicler Froissart, who had one of his characters scornfully tell their opponents, "You are not good good men-at-arms." I'll bet that stung!

So were there any bad good men-at-arms?

Well, if there were, they are probably in the book I just sent off to the publisher, Murder, Rape and Treason, volume 5 of the Deeds of Arms Series.  Like other books in this series,it combines a short history of one kind of "deed" with translated accounts of medieval examples; in this case, descriptions of some of the flashiest judicial combats,  in which one warrior accused another of a treacherous, secret crime and the other said the first lied.  Under some circumstances, this led to the two men fighting to death.

One of them had to be a bad liar, right?

Murder etc. being done, I get to move on to the Chronicle of the Good Duke, whom I have discussed before.  The question now is, if Louis of Bourbon was good, were his contemporaries bad?  He lived in the generation before the Maid (=Jeanne Darc) so maybe so, even though no one gets the label "bad."

Here's the Good Duke, coming to a book-seller near you, if  not immediately:

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Mason-Dixon line

From the BBC: A crown stone along the line. The Beeb thinks this admittedly difficult surveying project was more important than Franklin's electical work. Hmm.

University of Guelph - an unknown gem

Yesterday I visited the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. This is a medium-sized university in a medium-sized city which I believe is little known outside of Ontario, and even in the province it is mainly known for its agricultural program and its veterinary expertise. This obscurity is quite unfair. I know second hand of some excellent undergraduate programs that they have developed in recent years, and first-hand of the friendly atmosphere.
But what really impressed me was the beauty of the campus. Guelph was a tiny place not so long ago, and so most of the facilities are quite new. The designers of the modern campus did a fabulous job of laying it out, and designing buildings that are both very similar (most all of them are close to being the same height) but far from being identical. The campus also is big enough yet compact enough to make the place very easy to get around on foot.
One feature worth noting is the arboretum, or what Joni Mitchell would call a "tree museum," but one you don't even need to pay a dollar and a half "to seeum." Image below:

Fairy tale princess

In connection with the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death, Hilary Martel at the Guardian makes a very thought-provoking observation:
When people described Diana as a “fairytale princess”, were they thinking of the cleaned-up versions? Fairytales are not about gauzy frocks and ego gratification. They are about child murder, cannibalism, starvation, deformity, desperate human creatures cast into the form of beasts, or chained by spells, or immured alive in thorns. The caged child is milk-fed, finger felt for plumpness by the witch, and if there is a happy-ever-after, it is usually written on someone’s skin.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Written in Blood

Yesterday my copy of Game of Thrones versus History: Written in Blood arrived.  This is noteworthy because I wrote chapter 3, "Chivalry in Westeros."  Despite my involvement in this project (which included me being paid real money), I have always been skeptical of these attempts to teach history to the general public -- or at least the general fandom -- by drawing comparisons between the fictional treatment (there are, as you may imagine, more than one about Middle Earth) and  what we pros call "the real stuff." (No, we don't do that, we are too stuffy.)

But in this case, it works.  The "real stuff" is explained and interpreted with respect, as is the fictional environment.   The writing is good and accessible!  The scholars who wrote the various articles are really very good indeed.

I have to wonder what they are like in the classroom,  Actually the editor, Brian Pavlac, in telling how he got involved in the project gives us reason to believe that he at least knows how to enchant undergraduate students.

Must reconsider my earlier attitude.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Celebrating Robert E. Lee

Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo asks where those Confederate monuments came from, and why.
What is little discussed today is that the North and the South made a tacit bargain in the years after the Civil War to valorize Southern generals as a way to salve the sting of Southern defeat and provide a cultural and political basis for uniting the country with more than military force. That meant the abandonment of free blacks in the South after the mid-1870s. It is important to see this not only as the abandonment of the ex-slaves of the South. It is difficult to pull away the subsequent history to realize that it was entirely possible in the aftermath of the Civil War that the US would be condemned to perpetual warfare, insurrection and foreign intervention. But if the opposite, the United States that went on to become a global superpower, is what was gained it was gained at a terrible price and a price paid more or less solely by black citizens.
However one judges that past, knowing its full history leaves no reason or rationale for continue the valorization of Lee. He was a traitor and a traitor in a terrible cause. That is his only mark on American history. Whether he was a personal gentle man, nice to his pets or a decent field general hardly matters.
Even this though leaves the full squalidness of Lee’s legacy not quite told. There is the Lee of the Civil War and then the mythic Lee of later decades. Today the battle over Lee’s legacy is mainly played out over the various statues of Lee which still stand across the South. The notional focus on this weekend’s tragic events in Charlottesville was a protest over plans to remove a Lee statue. But those statues don’t date to the Civil War, the years just after the Civil War. In most cases they date to decades later.
The historical chronology is important to understand. Reconstruction is generally dated from 1865 to 1877 when the federal government withdrew federal troops and allowed the restoration of so-called ‘home rule’ in the South. But black political power and biracial political coalitions didn’t disappear overnight. Though the sheet anchor protecting black citizenship was withdrawn, it took the better part of a generation for what we now recognize as the Jim Crow system to be firmly entrenched throughout the South. To note but one example, the judicial cornerstone of Jim Crow, ‘separate but equal’, only became the law of the land with Plessy v Ferguson in 1896.
That statuary which is only beginning to come down in our day dates largely from this era and constituted a celebration and affirmation of this victory. Not the victory of the Civil War, which was of course a defeat but the sectional victory to define the post-war settlement.
... All of these statues date not from the Civil War Era but from the decades of the establishment of Jim Crow, to celebrate the South’s ability to establish an apartheid system on the ruins of the Antebellum slave South. A statue of Lee in uniform, mounted on a horse in a southern town square has only ever had one meaning: white supremacy. These statues didn’t come to be associated with racism and Jim Crow only after the Civil War had receded into memory. They were created, from the start, to mark and celebrate the foundations of Jim Crow, uncontested white rule. More mythically, but to the same end, they were built to glorify a vision of the South in which her black citizens had no place

Monday, August 14, 2017

A welcome tribute at Pennsic War 46

If you are not interested in the Society for Creative Anachronism, skip this.

I used to be relatively famous in the SCA for being one of the very few people  who had attended all of the yearly Pennsic wars, and for having fought in all the major battles.  Well, my health has prevented me from doing this for the past two years.  This year, somebody did something about it.  My daughter Eanor's husband, who goes  by the medieval name Haroun, decided to host a deed of arms in my honor early in this Pennsic war.  (If you don't know what a deed of arms is, I've got several relevant books on them for sale.)

I had already decided not to be miserable and envious of my friends having a good time, and I had succeded, pretty much, but this deed of arms and the efforts of Eanor and Haroun sure made it easier. One feature of deeds of arms in the SCA is that there is usually a book in which participants record their thoughts about the event, the hosts, etc. For this deed there was a blue-bound book
The fighters who turned out, filled with respectful, eloquent, even philosophical messages.
I was truly touched.
I was also impressed by how well-spoken and thoughtful these people were, remembering that their distinguishing characteristic is that they like to hit their friends with wooden swords while wearing funny clothes.
One person who I would have liked to have seen was Bill Colbert (William de Montegilt), who is one of the most senior members of the SCA, noted also for his long service in unglamorous jobs. I respect William because he joined very early on in the East Kingdom. He was -- like many back then -- an unlikely warrior, one who you might think would not be able to take the punishment. But he's still with us, more than 40 years on.
Pictures to follow.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent A Fourteenth-Century Princess and her World, by Anthony Goodman

I would like to read this book, maybe even own it. The publishers describe it this way.

"Anthony Goodman's brilliant yet accessible scholarship draws in the reader in the most entertaining and vibrant way. He was one of our greatest historians of the later medieval period, whose warm humanity shines forth in his writing. He has given us, as a parting gift, the definitive biography of an exceptional, intriguing woman. I cannot recommend it highly enough." ALISON WEIR

Joan Plantagenet (1328-1385), acclaimed in her youth as the "Fair Maid of Kent", became notorious for making both a clandestine and a bigamous marriage in her teens and, in her thirties, a scandalous marriage to her kinsman, Edward III's son and heir, Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince. Despite these transgressions, she later became one of the most influential people in the realm and a highly respected source of stability. Her life provides a distinctive perspective of a noblewoman at the heart of affairs in fourteenth-century England, a period when the Crown, despite enjoying some striking triumphs, also faced a series of political and social crises which shook conventional expectations. Furthermore, her life adds depth to our understanding of a time when marriage began to be regarded not just as a dynastic arrangement but a contract freely entered into by a couple.

This accessibly written account of her life sets her in the full context of her world, and vividly portrays a spirited medieval woman who was determined to be mistress of her fate and to make a mark in challenging times.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Richard III: the new evidence

Back when I was young and naive, I thought that Richard III of England, a famous villain, had been hard done by. Part of it was the belief, common among "Ricardians," that the evil king had been slandered by his enemies, who said that he was a hunchback, the physical distortion reflecting his twisted soul.

I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that Richard was much like any other royal thug in an unstable kingdom. But the idea that Richard was the victim of a disinformation campaign -- that made sense to me.

Years later, Richard III's body was found in Leicester (people always say "buried in a car park," but the the tomb was originally inside a prominent church. Guess what! Richard did have a bad case of scoliosis, namely a twisted spine. Experts who examined the skeleton had to wonder, whether the one good thing even his enemies were willing to grant him, courage and skill at arms, could possibly be true. A very interesting research project located a living Briton with a very similar case of scoliosis. This man, hight Dominic Smee, was put through his paces. He learned to ride a warhorse, wear armor, fight on foot and on horseback, and was tested for general fitness

. Guess what!

.Mr.Smee did very well. He did have some restrictions on his breathing due to his asymmetrical rib cage, but he was quite capable otherwise.

Guess what Mr. Smee did for fun, before he became the dead king's body double?

He was a reenactor at the Battle of Bosworth historic site.

There is a very interesting documentary on the subject here.>

Image: Larry Olivier as the evil king.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Life in the incomprehensible future -- a classic scenario

It is a scene in many a time-travel novel.  Boy genius, who works in his secret lab, creates a device that will take him to the future (he's not interested in Julius Caesar or even Cleopatra).

So he goes to the near gfuture and finds that its pretty much what you'd expect, with a few inventions more or less.


There is one cultural or religious or social innovation that absolutely shocks the boy genius and his friends.  How  can people who are otherwise so much like them think/believe/do that? B.g. flees to the farther future where a certain normality has been restored.

It occurred to me a little while ago that we have -- many of us -- crossed over such a line, and would deeply  shock time travelers from the near past.

Why so?  Same-sex marriage.  We are the weird ones, no matter who we are married to and the b.g. can't get over us.