Monday, October 26, 2009

French = Medieval Terrorists

Though I take his point in this article on the Battle of Agincourt, I doubt the French will appreciate the comparison to al Qaeda -- or maybe that was the point of the comment?

Even if you take away Agincourt, the English will always have an abiding love of insulting the French to unite them.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Questions about Minstrels, Troubadours, Jongleurs, and Trouveres? We've Got Answers!

Today I received the following e-mail, from a student who was no doubt looking for Professor Awesome, PhD (expert on everything), and not the lowly Nokes (expert on a tiny number of obscure things). Identifying details have been redacted:
My name is [Whoever] and I am a senior [in high school]. In our English class we are required to write a twelfth-year research paper. I have chosen the topic of comparing and contrasting the work and lifestyles of medieval minstrels, troubadors, jongleurs, and trouveres. Besides the usual paper/Internet sources of information, we are required to interview an expert for our papers.

Well, I'm generally an expert on medieval lit, but not a specialist on troubadours ... but I know there are lots of Wordhoarders out there who know more on this topic than you can imagine. So, I call on the collective Vahalla of medievalists to respond to this young woman's six questions:
  1. How did poems and styles of stories differ between medieval entertainers?
  2. Where would minstrels and troubadors perform their lyric poems?
  3. Were minstrels literate? Could they read and write music? Explain.
  4. How were troubadors trained? By their own families? Were they apprenticed to masters? Were they trained in guilds?
  5. What was the level of education of jongleurs? Were they often self-taught?
  6. What other important ideas about my topic can you tell me that I have failed to ask you for?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reasons to Date a Medievalist

Over on Facebook, a discussion recently erupted about reasons to date geeks. Through a link someone posted, I saw that articles and posts on this subject abound, but they're typically about computer geeks specifically. What the world needs is an apologia for dating medievalists. Here are just a few reasons:

Romance -- medieval troubadours invented romance. Want a woman who knows how to be the coquette damsel? A medievalist is for you. Want a man who will literally fight in your name in shining armor? Again, you're looking for a medievalist. Medievalists understand the deep symbolic resonance of a rose, and they're not afraid to use it.

Brains -- Let's face it, as a class medievalists are just plain smarter than other people. Academic medievalists can often read more dead languages than most people can read living languages. We know what happened between the fall of Rome and the discovery of the New World. We know art, philosophy, you name it. You'll never find conversation with a medievalist dull.

Crafts -- Popular medievalists hold the hands-on knowledge. They do their own leatherworking, smith their own armor and inscribe their own manuscripts. These are women who can start with an unsheered sheep and end with a beautiful, ornate article of clothing. These are men who look at plywood and see the start of a shield. If you're dating a medievalist, you'll find lots of repairs around the house or alterations to your clothing just get done.

Costumes -- For a medievalist, Halloween means standing in front of your closet changing garb from one period or region to another. Plus, your costume is likely to be tailor-made.

Sex -- Medievalists have know the Art of Courtly Love, and can probably discuss sexuality through Augustine and Jerome. If your name is John and you want to be called Eleanor, a medievalist understands why. We're the ones who can really get medieval on your ass -- but we know the limits, thanks to Abelard & Heloise. Plus the costume thing, if that's your scene.

Religion -- We'll go to church with you, and when's the last time you had a lover who did that? Plus, we'll actually enjoy the liturgy.

Apocalypse -- If civilization collapses, who would you rather be with: the National Guard, or the Society for Creative Anachronism? I'd go with the SCA, because as soon as the gasoline and ammo run out, you'll need guys who can fletch their own arrows and pierce a zombie's eye at 50 yards. Never again have a date go bad because of unexpected apocalypse.

These are just a few reasons, but I'm sure you Wordhoarders can come up with more. So, medievalists and those who love us, tell us your own reasons in the comments.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Review: Dante's Inferno Boardgame

If you think Dante's Inferno might be a difficult text to turn into a game, well, you're right. The Dante's Inferno boardgame makes a bold try, but the very nature of the subject matter means that the metaphor of the game becomes confused in order to make it playable.
When I played this game with a small group of folks, we found the board itself rather interesting. The game doesn't exactly have a board; rather, it's like a puzzle that you set up. Unlike some other moving-clicklets-around-a-table style games, in this game, you assemble the puzzle as you go. Placing more pieces allows access inward (toward the center of Hell), but in our game we never reached a point where all the pieces were placed, replicating the broken bridges you find in Dante's work.
The goal of the game is to manuever one of your men (we called them pilgrims in my group, but the game just calls them "player figures") down to the center of Hell to defeat Satan. In order to do so, players have to avoid the occasional wandering demon and the sabotage of competing players. To progress, players acquire four different resources that they can spend to do various things -- place a tile, pick of a tile, put an additional player figure into play, or descend to a lower circle of Hell.
In terms of play, our first game didn't go well, but I think the consensus was that it wasn't the fault of the game, it was simply that we didn't understand it well enough to place pilgrims and player resources strategically at the beginning. The first few circles of Hell were a grind, but eventually we started acquiring resources to progress, and the game picked up steam. I would suggest to anyone buying this game to expect the first session to be less than fun, rather tedious, though I think subsequent game sessions would be much more fun as players figure out strategy.
The metaphor of the game is a bit messed up. For example, the four resources players collect are each sins (lust, violence, gluttony, and hypocrisy). This led to some bizarre statements, such as, "I can't get anywhere without more hypocrisy" or "I'll trade anyone some of my lust for some gluttony" (thus was prostitution born, I would guess). This all made sense in game play, but why would it be useful to collect sin as a resource in Hell? Wouldn't that be a bad thing? If you're a pilgrim, you don't want sin to keep you there, and if you're one of the damned, you don't want to end up in an inner-more circle, do you?
Finally, the object of the game was odd: To get to the center of Hell and defeat Lucifer. Defeat Lucifer? He's already frozen at the center of Hell -- what more exactly could you do to him? At first I thought the object was to be some sort of Messiah figure and lead four kinds of sinners out of Hell past Lucifer, but that's not the way the game works.
So, Dante's Inferno boardgame -- fun once you figure out the strategy, a little iffy on translating the book to game medium.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Michael Drout Is Hot

One unintended(?) side effect of Michael Drout's appearance on the History Channel's Clash of the Gods series is that at least one of my undergrads has developed a crush on him and thinks he's hot.

Of course he's hot. Aren't all medievalists?

The Wordhoard LIVES!

In my efforts to upgrade the Wordhoard with the latest techno-stuff, I kinda crashed the site with nasty java scripting (whatever that is. I'm just a parrot repeating what I'm told). After a few days my minion Nina was able to bring the Wordhoard back from the dead ... she's a sort of cyber-necromancer.

Here's the upshot for the time being:
1.) No #medieval Twitter feed. Messing around with that was where I did bad stuff.
2.) Comments will still not appear on the front page. Methinks Nina's still working on that one. To me, that's the more important of the two -- the kind of detail that made the Wordhoard a public space rather than just my own innane natterings.

Anyway, three cheers to Nina (and her husband Michael) for all their technohelp over the last few days. Oh, yeah, Michael helped me pick out a netbook! For those of you who are more comfortable with medieval manuscripts, think of a desktop computer as a folio, a laptop as a quarto, and a netbook as an octavo. I've got a new electronic octavo.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Free Market Economy Insults Me

I've got a colleague who's always checking to see if his books are being sold used online, and what the going rate is. Out of curiosity (and to avoid looking at midterms), I checked out my own Global Perspectives on Medieval English Literature, Language, and Culture.

ABEBooks lists four copies right now -- priced at $28.00, $30.00, $30.50, and $87.98.

Wait ... $87.98? The book is still in print, and sells for $45 from MIP! Someone out there is hoping to get double that? What is it, a gold-plated edition?

But wait -- there's an insult lurking elsewhere in those results. The $28.oo description runs like this: "Hardcover with DJ. Unread, as new."

Unread?! UNREAD?! You couldn't even be bothered to break the binding? So basically, you took one look at this book and said to yourself, "This looks so bad that not only will I never read it, but I'll sell it at half its value in the hope that someone will use it as toilet paper!"

So, to whomever sold my book unread, I say this: Therein were the secrets of the universe. And now you'll never know them. So there.

RIP: Peter Foote

Old Norse News discusses the career of Peter Foote.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Let's see how much I can get done before the supplicants come regarding their midterms:
Hooray! With only two interruptions, I finished it!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Now that I'm back from Cub Scout camp, it's time for a Miscellany!
And that's it for now. I started putting this together four hours ago, and a string of students seeking advice on their midterms has prevented me from looking at more than the above. Enjoy! I hope to catch up later.