Friday, February 29, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

For your consideration:
  • Michael Drout has a post on crackpot theories and Beowulf.
  • The Medieval Club of New York has the announcement for their "The Subjects of Friendship, Medieval and Medievalist" event on Friday, March 7th. Me, I'll be at a gala at the Fitzgerald Museum, but if you're out that-a-way, you should consider going.
  • The Heroic Age has an update with all sorts of Calls for Papers and the like.
  • Steven Till has the medieval term of the day, investiture, as well as the cover art for George R.R. Martin's next book.
  • Navit struggles with primogeniture in Beowulf.
  • Heavenfield has questions about King Alfrith of Northumbria, his relationship to Aldhelm, and his baptism.
  • The weird medieval tribe this week is the Panotioi. Many of the descendants of the Panotioi have either been President or have run for the office.
  • JLJ also gives us another installment of Today in Medieval History, in which she explains the origins of leap year. Please note, however, the skull & crossbones on her arm -- she's turned to piracy!
  • Modern Medieval has been boasting that it is the top Google hit for the phrase "medieval porn." In an effort to attain medieval online supremacy, therefore, I include the following words in this post, carefully selected from Google Zeitgeist: American Idol, anna nicole smith, badoo, barack obama, bill richardson, britney spears, chris benoit, club penguin, dailymotion, ebuddy, facebook, fred thompson, Heroes, hillary clinton, hi5, iphone, iran, joe biden, john edwards, john mccain, mitt romney, myspace, nokes (ok, not really, but I was feeling left out), paris hilton, ron paul, rudy giuliani, second life, tmz, transformers, vanessa hudgens, webkinz, youtube, 2007 cricket world cup.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Best Medievalist News -- EVER!!!

Here is the best possible news for medievalists. Oh, Boethius, who needs the consolation of philosophy when you've got mead to console you?

How I Know I'm a Medieval Geek

I spent several minutes examining the image at the top of this post, thinking that the hand looked familiar but I couldn't remember from where, before I realized I still hadn't read the actual post.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

OE by DL, anyone?

I've had several people who don't live in Troy express an interest in taking my Old English class via distance learning. Now, the problem here is the phrase "express an interest," which is meant to imply a noncommital comment.

At the moment, my Old English class is scheduled to be a traditional "brick & mortar" class meeting TTh 11:30-12:45. I can fight to get an evening slot instead, however, and see if I can get the University to let me teach it as a distance learning class.*

To do this would take a expenditure of political capital, as well as a big chunk of my time, not to mention re-designing the class to work in the DL environment. It's worth doing if I get enough people wanting to take it via distance learning, but definitely not worth it for two or three folks.

Therefore, I am willing to fight to change this to a DL class if I get enough commitments from you folks out there to take it. Notice I said "commitments" -- that is, you promise to take the class if it is at all possible -- a general vague interest is not enough. Please also note that the University isn't going to use all this expensive infrastructure for people who want to, ehem, "unofficially audit the class." You'll have to commit to actually taking the class as an official student.

This class is intended for undergraduates with no previous experience with Old English. Folks who have previously studied OE will not find much of use here, but on the good side there is no prerequisite. We'll start with a brief bit of the history of the English language, followed by a week's study of modern English grammar (which we'll use as a basis for the study of OE grammar -- those of you with Latin background will already know all that stuff). After that, the first half of the semester is learning grammar and vocabulary, so grading will be mostly by quiz, though you'll also be expected to do an oral recitation of some OE verse.** The second half of the semester will be translations of verse and prose.*** Every day I'll assign a certain number of lines for you to translate, and every day in class we'll go over the translations together. The final project will be to translate a certain number of lines of verse (usually around 20-30), and to write an accompanying essay defending the translation and editorial choices you made.

So, the upshot is this: If the above class sounds cool, and you are willing to commit to take the class from August to December 2008, e-mail me this week. If I get enough commitments, I'll fight to get a DL slot. If not, well, I hope you can find an Old English class near you. By the way, when you e-mail me, please also include your real name and contact information, not just your nom de blog.

*i.e. real-time, not e-mail, wherein distant students are watching on a monitor and participating via video cam and microphone.
** This is the part that current and future high school teachers find particularly useful -- confidence in pronunciation.
***No, we won't be translating Beowulf. I find it's too hard for beginners, though I may find a very tiny easy section for us to translate. We will however, be translating a few dirty riddles near the end of the semester as a little reward for those who have survived the Old English boot camp experience. Riddles are really, really hard to translate, but are so much fun that they're worth it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

The rain is really pouring here, so I got to work a bit late. Let's see how many of these I can post before I teach Canterbury Tales.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sword & Shield Saturday

Saturday we hosted a Society for Creative Anachronism demonstration on Troy's campus, and had about 50+ students show up. I originally met the SCA group doing research for a book, and they really wanted to come to campus, in large part because they are hoping to reinvigorate an SCA chapter that was at Troy University, but had disappeared years earlier.
I thought I might find a venue to invite them, probably in conjunction with something having to do with medieval literature, but then something odd happened. The International Student Cultural Organization (of which I'm the faculty advisor) heard about the SCA Pillage on the Plains weekend, and wanted to sponsor something like that for international students. At first, I tried to talk them out of it -- I didn't really get the connection -- but they said that they really wanted to do something different than the usual bowling/dances/trips. This sure seemed different, so we set it up.

The only disappointment about the event was that we were hoping for more of our new international students, but all the int'l students who showed up have been here for a while. Except for that, the event was well-attended, and after four hours we still had a crowd. At one point, I even had to bully some students away from the manuscript illumination demo to allow the scribe a chance to eat lunch! We even had a number of kids come, and they had a great time. Unfortunately, my camera started malfunctioning part-way through the event, so my images are limited, but here are a few:

Explaining to students

Preparing for battle


Discussing medieval fashion

Weaving and manuscript illumination

Fighting on the Quad

Little Jedis

Friday, February 22, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sword & Shield Saturday

Live near Troy? We're having a medieval demonstration for the new international students. Here's the official press release:
Troy University’s MediEvolution Project and the International Student Cultural Organization welcome the community to a Medieval Demonstration on February 23rd from 10 am to 2 pm on Shackelford Quad in Troy, AL. This event features the Society for Creative Anachronism, a non-profit educational organization devoted to the study of the Middle Ages. The event will feature weapons demonstration, dance, arts and crafts, and much more. Troy University main campus hosts the event, encouraging visitors from the surrounding community. The International Student Cultural Organization (ISCO) is an organization devoted to promoting cultural exchange and understanding between international and American students. The Troy University English Department’s MediEvolution Project promotes medieval studies through popular outreach, such as this demonstration.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

As usual, lots of interesting medievalia out there:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Elves and Fairies

I've been thinking a lot about fairies recently -- perhaps more than an adult man should. Someone asked me a question about fairies sometime ago, and it started me thinking about how fairies manifest themselves in our culture.

Medieval elves have always struck me as being somewhat closer to our contemporary idea of fairies: small, mischievous little sprites, with just a bit more of a dangerous edge. Tinkerbell might betray you to Captain Hook, but medieval elves could shoot you and your livestock with invisible arrows that would make you sick, perhaps even mortally ill.

In that way, I don't think medieval elves occupied the position of "other" in the sense of being non/human.* There were "others" in the medieval mind -- for example, trolls in Scandinavian folklore often seem very nearly human, and certain kinds of fairies (the kind that look more like The Fairy-Queen or Midsummer Night's Dream fairies), as well as all those weird foreign tribes who are cynephalous or acephalous or scatocephalous.** Instead, they are a way of labelling the unknown.

Being "elfshot," which sounds ridiculous to the modern mind, is strikingly similar to the ideas that you and I hold to. "What? Invisible flying elves shoot you with invisible darts that you cannot even feel, and you become ill? Preposterous! Everyone knows that invisible flying creatures called germs and viruses, that you cannot even feel, enter your body and you become ill!"

How many times have we gone to see a physician about an ailment, and we are told "it's some kind of bug going around -- here, I'll prescribe you an antibiotic." Throwing antibiotics at patients is another way of saying that we don't know what is causing the illness, but it's probably some kind of bacteria. Ditto for a lot of other ailments. One problem with studying Latin is that you'll hear from your physician that you have something with a Latin name, and you realize from that Latin name that they don't know what's causing it either.

So, we throw a Latin tag on it, we label it "viral" or "bacterial" or whatnot, and we call it a day. As many times as not, this is really our way of saying that illness is caused by a variety of invisible things, and it could be any one of them. Elves and fairies occupy the same space, I think. Unlike witchcraft, which suggests a malevolent human agent, elves are fairies are just part of the natural world. When we same someone is "elfshot," we are saying that an illness is caused by one of any number of invisible things, and it could be any of them.

What about the other kinds of elves, trolls, and fae, the big ones? The ones who are "others," and nearly human, occupy a more malevolent (or at least alien) intelligence in the world. I use the word "alien" intentionally, because aliens (the outerspace, abducting kind) work in the same way for our culture. If Fox Mulder had lived a millennium earlier, he'd have been an Inquisitor, looking into claims that children had been abducted by fairies, or were perhaps changlings. Indeed, our "alien/human hybrid" of science fiction is just another version of the changling.

We haven't really changed much at all. Elves, fairies, changlings or viruses, bacteria and aliens -- in many ways we still occupy the same mental geographical landscape, we've just changed the names of some of the more prominent features.

*For those more lit-theory minded, I'm arguing that medieval elves aren't truly subalterns ... not because they can't be Gramscian-style proles, nor because they aren't the colonized oppressed (though, I guess one could argue that man encroaching on natural spaces acts as a kind of colonization), but because they don't occupy a pseudo-human category at all. That's the last time I'll use lit-theory jargon in this post.

** OK, I made that last one up, but I know some people like that.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Now that the 100,000th visitor contest is over, I can clear the pipes of some of these links that built up. I desperately wanted to write something this weekend about fairies, but I didn't want to knock the contest off the top. Expect more original posting to come soon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Be My 100,000th Visitor!

Looking at my counter, I'll probably have my 100,000th visitor sometime tonight or Saturday morning. This calls for prizes! I've got one final copy of my latest book, Global Perspectives on Medieval English Literature, Language, and Culture that hasn't already been designated for relatives -- a $45 value. I'll send that last copy to Mr./Ms. 100,000.

How to win:
OK, actually figuring out who is 100,000 isn't all that easy, because a lot of you get your Wordhoard through RSS feeds like my own subscription service or some reader, and so you don't count unless you actually click on it to open a new window (I think). Furthermore, some of my visitors are Googlers who are looking for something specific, glance for about 5 seconds, and realize that what they want isn't here, so they navigate away.

Here's what I'll do: I'll check the Wordhoard obsessively. The first person to post a comment in this thread after the counter flips to 100,000 will win. That means in order to win you'll have to actually visit the page and do a little typing. Obviously, anonymous posters can't win (since I won't know who you are). If you want to advance the counter, be sure to visit the Wordhoard by clicking on the page ... don't just read it from your e-mail subscription or in your subscription service.

If I've forgotten some technological glitch, well, then, I'll just muddle through and pick the closest person to 100,000 that I can.

Ready ... set ... comment!!!

Today in Medieval History

Jennifer Lynn Jordan over at Per Omnia Saecula has started a new video feature, Today in Medieval History. This week's entry is on St. Valentine's Day, and features a magical appearing/disappearing cat. It is, perhaps, a Cheshire Cat?


So as to avoid confusing this Chaucerian parody of the current Archbishop of Canterbury with the Chaucerian origins of Valentine's Day, I didn't link to this yesterday ... but today's a new day. Normally I would have just put it in my Morning Medieval Miscellany, but since people actually went to the trouble to e-mail me the links, I thought I ought to give it its own post.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I have a love/hate relationship with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In small doses, I love it, but if I have to teach it too frequently, I start to hate it. This morning, I go to teach SGGK with a dreadful sense of boredom that one can get with texts that almost teach themselves. When I hear myself talking about the "five fives" on the pentangle, in my mind my voice is Ben Stein's.

On a happier note, today is Valentine's Day, so perhaps not a bad day for a poem in which seduction plays a central role. Here are various Valentine's Day love notes from around the medieval blogosphere for you:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Back from the Areopagus Lectures

The Areopagus Lectures turned out to be a bit of a chore for me, because I lost my voice. Believe it or not, Orlando was both cooler and less humid than Alabama, and the sudden change in humidity coupled with me exchanging anecdotes for a few hours with an old friend resulted in me croaking my way through the papers.

The first paper, "Why Myth Matters," was exactly what needed to be said first. I was a little trepidatious about giving a paper about the Bible as myth at a Christian college, and wondered if I might have to make the first five minutes caveats and a basic lecture on the difference between the word "myth" as the Discovery Channel uses it, and as literary scholars use it. Greg Hartley took care of all that, however, and threw in some CS Lewis for good measure.

My first paper, "Lies I Tell My Daughter," was basically about martyrdom myths in the Bible, late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, contrasting them with prosperity gospels of the 20th and early 21st Centuries. If anyone got cheesed off at what I said, it was probably from this lecture.

The second paper was Brian D. Smith on "Mythology and Neo-Paganism." Essentially, it discussed various strains of neo-paganism and their mythological underpinnings. I suppose this paper is the reason my earlier post of the schedule at the Areopagus lectures got batted around some pagan/wiccan websites, but so far as I can tell no one commented beyond the initial linkage. Frankly, other than the expected discussion of how neo-paganism is dangerous to Christianity, I doubt most neo-pagans would find much to disagree with in his paper. It was a learned and fair-handed portrayal. This is not to say that anyone could have walked away thinking Prof. Smith is a fan of paganism (neo or otherwise), but simply to say that he was careful not to offer a Chick-tract version of neo-paganism.

The third paper way by my old friend Dr. Les Hardin. Besides being a really awesome guy, Les is a really awesome scholar, and laid out a carefully structured reading of Revelation that tied it into emperor-worship in the first century. I've heard him speak on Revelation as part of the apocalyptic genre before, and he was just as good as ever. Unfortunately, he stole my anecdote about the first time we met*, so I'll have to take revenge at a later date.

The last paper, mine, was not meant to be nearly so controversial as the first, though it got a lot more questions, mostly about cultural mythologies of masculinity and femininity. Perhaps this is a reflection on the fact that the first paper I gave was a real downer.

In any case, Florida Christian College was very gracious. They put me up in a lovely apartment, offered a generous honorarium, and had a good spread of papers. Not only did the students show up, but folks from the surrounding churches came as well. I was expecting the questions to be about on the level I get when I present at scifi/fantasy conventions, but the Areopagus crowd was more sophisticated, and had a solid knowledge of the Bible, allowing for a bit more subtlety in argumentation and allusion. If I'm ever invited back, I'll go enthusiastically.

One last thing: FCC videotaped the lectures to put them online. Unfortunately, one of the lectures had serious technical problems, another wasn't geared for video, and mine has me croaking hoarsely. The papers were planned for oral presentation before a popular crowd, so they would need serious re-tooling for print publication. When I left, the compromise solution they were talking about was re-recording the missing parts from the technical problems, then posting them as downloadable audio files. By the time I left, nothing had yet been decided. I'll try to let Wordhoarders know how/when/where the lectures will be available.

*When Les and I first met, he was talking about a particular parable (I can't remember which one). I disagreed with his reading, and felt that the NIV's editing of the parable made it seem like it was stand-alone, when in fact it should have been combined thematically with some other parables. I based my argument on a verbal "cue" in the text that suggested that the parable should be linked to the rest. Les misunderstood me, and heard "cue" as "Q," and thought I was talking about the "Q Gospel." He argued vigorously against the existence of Q, furthermore arguing that even if we accepted the existence of Q, it wouldn't help us to understand the question at hand ... to which I replied, "No, I meant verbal cues..." That's when I knew I liked him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yes, I'm Ignoring You

I got back from the Aeropagus Lectures a couple of hours ago to find my e-mail box 97%+ full, and nearly 400 unread posts in Google Reader.

Therefore, unless you are a student, or had some unbelievably important-looking subject heading (such as "Re: Aaargh! My eyeballs are melting and only a blood transfusion from you can end the pain!"), I probably ignored your e-mail. After an hour of deleting every non-medieval heading in my Reader and still having well over 300 unread posts, I simply went down the list and hit "Mark all as read."

So, if there's some big news, such as the skeletons of King Arthur and Alfred the Great have been found choking one another over a 4th century Gaelic/Latin parallel version of Beowulf, along with a rough draft of Boethius II: How Philosophy Bummed Me Out, an admission from Saladin that he was secretly a Christian, a picture of CS Lewis karate-chopping JRR Tolkien, and video footage of Gary Gygax getting mauled by a lycanthrope SCAer ... well, I missed that news, and have no comment on it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Feh ... I think I'll be out of town when the Wordhoard gets its 100,000th unique visitor. I was hoping to track it and send a free copy of my book to Mr./Mr. 100,000 but that looks like it won't be possible.

Speaking of the book, if anyone wants to review Global Perspectives for their journal, let me know and I'll pass your name, etc. on to the publisher.

  • The Heroic Age has an update with all sorts of conference announcements and calls for papers.
  • Will McLean notices something about Brits thinking all sorts of real people were fictional, and visa-versa -- some of the "correct" answers, particularly the medieval ones, are questionable. By the way, I've been looking online for the complete survey results. Does anyone know where to find them?
  • Scribal Terror has a link to a list of popular misconceptions about the Middle Ages. An oldie, but a goodie.
  • You too can become Charlemagne!
  • More on Mary (the mother of Jesus) from Heavenfield, and her role as a kind of catch-all saint in the Anglo-Saxon period.
  • Carl Pyrdum shows us what medieval doctors looked like (by which he means physicians, not the Doctors of the Church).
  • Cinerati tells of the new Age of Conan board game. The box says it has 150 pieces -- ha! Someone who has played Axis and Allies, I laugh at your mere 150 pieces!

Ash Wednesday -- belated!

One way I know I'm in the South ... whenever Ash Wednesday comes along, people tell the Catholics, "Hey, you got somethin' on yer forehead!" As Sean Connery says in The Untouchables, "Ah, the ignorance of the heathen." It almost makes me want to become Catholic just to cause trouble.

What I found myself wondering today was the origins of Ash Wednesday. Catholic Encyclopedia gives a date of at least the 8th Century. That places it probably in the early Middle Ages ... and Catholic Encyclopedia also quotes a bit from Aelfric. The main description reads:
The name dies cinerum (day of ashes) which it bears in the Roman Missal is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary and probably dates from at least the eighth century. On this day all the faithful according to ancient custom are exhorted to approach the altar before the beginning of Mass, and there the priest, dipping his thumb into ashes previously blessed, marks the forehead -- or in case of clerics upon the place of the tonsure -- of each the sign of the cross, saying the words: "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." The ashes used in this ceremony are made by burning the remains of the palms blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. In the blessing of the ashes four prayers are used, all of them ancient. The ashes are sprinkled with holy water and fumigated with incense. The celebrant himself, be he bishop or cardinal, receives, either standing or seated, the ashes from some other priest, usually the highest in dignity of those present. In earlier ages a penitential procession often followed the rite of the distribution of the ashes, but this is not now prescribed.

Do any Wordhoarders know more about the origins?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I'm finally coming up for air after about two weeks of breakneck writing, leaving the number of medieval blogposts in my reader in the hundreds ... so I'll just link for a while until I get sick of linking. My apologies in advance to any medievalists out there whose fine posts are skipped by your exhausted Wordhoard host.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Areopagus Lectures

I'll be speaking at the Areopagus Lectures at Florida Christian College this Saturday, February 9th. If you'll be in the Kissimmee/Orlando area, you can register here.

The Agenda:

8:00 - 9:00 Breakfast and welcome
9:00 - 10:00 "Why Myth Matters," Prof. Greg Hartley
10:00 - 10:15 Break
10:15 - 11:15 "Lies I Tell My Daughter: Christian Myth in Modern Culture," Me
11:15 - 11:30 Break
11:30 - 12:30 " Mythology and Neo-Paganism," Prof. Brian D. Smith
1:30 - 1:30 Lunch with presenters (ain't you lucky? That's "with presenters!")
1:30 - 2:30 "John, Revelation, and the Myth of the Divine Emperor," Dr. Les Hardin
2:30 - 2:45 Break
2:45 - 3:45 "The Warrior Christ: Myth and Masculinity in Depictions of Jesus," Me again
3:45 - 4:00 Closing

My topics are far more medieval than the titles suggest. In the first address, I'll talk about Tertullian, Juliana, and St. Guinefort; in the second, I'll talk about Gregory the Great, Augustine (of Canterbury), Norse mythology, and the Dream of the Rood.

Don't worry, this won't be too hoity-toity -- I'm writing my papers so that a reasonably smart high school graduate can follow them. Actually, that's why I've been blogging so irregularly lately; it takes more effort for me to write easily-understandable papers for oral presentation than it does to write in the mode of Eliade or Frye, so I've been working hard to make this stuff understandable.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Google Toolbar, How I Hate Thee


Somehow the Google toolbar got installed on my computer over the last two days. I say "somehow" because I certainly didn't put it there. My best guess is that one of my children accidentally installed it, though it's possible that I accidentally installed it myself, since the dang thing is insidiously bundled with every other thing you might possibly download. I've probably unchecked that "also install Google Toolbar" button about a dozen times since the beginning of the year.

Finally it got on my computer, so I decided to give it a chance. I needn't have wasted my time. It adds another toolbar to the top of my computer, so that the top 20% of my monitor space is toolbars. Incidentally, the Google toolbar offers not one single service I have any need for. Even the Google search box is redundant, since I keep my Internet Explorer search box set for Google anyway.

So what is it that finally made my head explode? Norton Internet Security very nicely (and silently!) blocks popups for me. Google has decided that it too will help out by blocking popups. The problem is that whenever Google blocks a popup, they make a little noise and give me a popup bragging about how they blocked a popup!

Google! Stop being evil!