Monday, August 30, 2010

Oooh, Sinfjotli Burned Granmar! That's Just Cold.

One of my favorite scenes in The Saga of the Volsungs is one in which Sinfjotli and Granmar are exchanging insults, in a custom similar to "the dozens" in American culture. What I like best about it is that the insults aren't exactly insulting to us outside medieval Norse culture; they're just odd.

For example, Sinfjotli finally gets the best of Granmar with this beauty:
Do you remember when you were a mare, with the stallion Grani and I rode
you at full speed on Bravoll? Afterward you were the goatherd of the giant

I'm not sure how I would react if someone used this on me. I'd probably looked stunned for a moment, then say, "What? Your granny is a stallion and you rode her on the Bravo channel?"

As for saying I was a goatherd of the giant Golnir, I'd punch him in the face. I may be a goatherd, but I'm no goatherd for Golnir!

Beowulf Mini-Lecture

Just as a little test of things to come, here's my Beowulf mini-lecture I'm using for my online course.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Up-Coming Nokes Sightings

Over the next couple of weeks, Wordhoarders will have several opportunities to see me at public venues:

  • As many have already discovered, I've been setting up mini-lectures for my online World Lit class at Those aren't really part of the outreach I plan to do with "Professor Awesome, PhD's Medieval Book Club," but I'll probably host them on the site. At the moment, most are not on medieval topics, but I'll post my Beowulf mini-lecture Monday or Tuesday. When we do the Medieval Book Club our first topic will also be Beowulf, but those will be a series of 10-or-so posts over as many weeks. I'll re-announce those when I post them.
  • I'll be appearing next week at the academic conference within the Dragon*Con convention. That's one of the places where it's hardest to keep my regular academic self and my Prof. Awesome alter-ego separate. One place I will definitely be appearing as Dr. Richard Scott Nokes is the "Mythology and Stargate" session on Saturday at 4PM in the Marriot A706, where I'll be talking about Norse mythology and the Stargate franchise. As many people have asked me since, no, I will not have an autograph-signing session (it just feels so weird to me when people ask for my autograph), but if you ask me for one, I'd be happy to sign as either myself or Professor Awesome.
  • I'll be appearing on the Strait Talks radio program on Sunday the 29th at 6:30 PM EST. Though it's a show based out of Philly, I think you can listen to it streaming live from the website. Since the show appears to be a lot about voting, economic, and political issues, I'm not sure yet what medieval stuff they want to talk about, but hey, I'm game.
  • I'll also be appearing in my classes, but you've got to pay tuition for that. And suffer the indignity of my lectures.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chaucer-Themed Cruise

In the film Tenure (the 2009 comedy, not the 2007 film of the same title), the department chair is telling her colleagues of the "Chaucer-themed Caribbean cruise" she went on.

Just as I was thinking, "Aw, cool!" they had to go and spoil it. As the scene fades out, she's heard to say, "And of course the captain spoke absolutely flawless Old English..."


Add to that disappointment that I immediately went online to see if there were such a thing as a Chaucer-themed Caribbean cruise, but I found none. Now, an Old English-themed cruise would be pretty exciting, what with the potential for Viking issues.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

RIP: Bernard Knox

This is classical, not medieval, but I devoured all of Bernard Knox's writings I could lay hands on when I was a freshman. For some reason, I got it into my head to read every extant ancient Greek play (or at least every one in our library), and though I didn't finish, I got a lot farther than you might think. I read a lot of Bernard Knox.

I was pretty amazed to find he had been in the OSS (predecessor to the CIA). How many people can have a story as cool as this one in his obituary?
The O.S.S. later sent him into northern Italy for an equally dangerous mission with the Italian underground, and it was there that he rekindled his passion for the classics. Holed up in an abandoned villa, he discovered a bound copy of Virgil and opened it to a section of the first Georgic that begins, “Here right and wrong are reversed; so many wars in the world, so many faces of evil.”

Really, who could be more awesome than that?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Medieval Car & Boat Rally

Usually I'm pretty good and picking up what the medievalist metaphor is in pop culture emanations, but I'm bumfuzzled by the 15th National Car and Boat Rally in Cardiff. Is it just that the Medieval Melee happened to be going on at the same time, or is there some kind of connection I'm missing?

It seems like a great opportunity to show off some reconstructed medieval boats, but if that's happening, it's not in the article.


Chowder spoofs about everything in the fantasy genre from the 80s.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Staffordshire Hoard Origins

I was talking about the Staffordshire Hoard in class yesterday, when the subject of its origins came up. I had previously heard two, opposing theories:
  1. That the hoard had been stripped from the losers' weapons by the winners. This seems pretty plausible, until you ask the question -- wait, the winners lost a huge hoard of gold and silver and didn't go back to find it? Surely the hoard would have been too heavy and bulky for just one guy to carry, so several guys lost it?
  2. That the hoard had been stripped from the losers' weapons and buried for safekeeping by the losers themselves, but everyone who knew where it was died in the battle. Again, plausible, but I'm trying to imagine a scenario in which you're in the middle of a battle, losing, then take a time-out to strip your weapon and bury the appointments.
After class, though, I realized that I heard these two theories in the fall -- in other words, shortly after the Hoard's discovery. These weren't fully-developed ideas; they were probably just barely beyond the point of speculation, whipped up on the fly.

Now that a year has passed and specialists have had time to examine and discuss the Hoard a bit more carefully, has some sort of consensus been reached as to the Hoard's origins? Have either of the above explanations been further developed, or has some third explanation perhaps emerged?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Frozen Edda

I couldn't find my copy of the Prose Edda. I looked everywhere for it. Finally, I gave up and opened the refrigerator to get a drink -- and there it was cooling in the fridge.

Snorri Sturluson, still chillin'.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why I Won't Sign

Fashionable medieval scholars have of late seized on an issue to use as a shibboleth, to distinguish us from them, culminating in the boycott of the Medieval Academy of America. The Medieval Academy is the oldest and most venerable organization of medieval scholars in North America. In 2011, the MAA is scheduled to hold its annual conference at Arizona State University.

A couple of months ago, scholars began to call for the MAA to reconsider meeting in Arizona, in order to protest Arizona Immigration Law SB1070, particularly provisions that allowed police to check the immigration status of people stopped during the enforcement of other laws (such as, for example, a traffic violation). The Obama Administration sued the State of Arizona, and a federal judged blocked the more controversial elements of the law. As of this writing, it seems likely that the case will eventually wind up in the Supreme Court.

Over the last month-and-a-half, about 170 people signed an open letter to the MAA condemning the law as “racist and inhumane” and calling for its repeal, and urging the MAA to consider meeting elsewhere or cancelling the meeting [Full disclosure: I consider myself a friend of many of the signatories]. Earlier this month, the MAA met and decided to go forth with the meeting, though promised to “ensure that the program of the meeting reflects and relates to similar issues at stake in medieval society, including such topics as race, ethnicity, immigration, tolerance, treatment of minority groups, protest against governmental policies judged unjust, and standards of judicial and legislative morality.”

The decision and letter provoked outrage, and calls to boycott not just Arizona or the 2011 conference, but the Medieval Academy altogether. Blogs and listservs have be inflamed with accusations that the MAA is complicit in transforming Arizona into a fascist police state, and (in a stunning about-face) that it’s to be expected anyway since the MAA is just a bunch of old white male fuddy-duddies who don’t like women and minorities.

At first, I ignored the controversy. These sorts of eruptions are an unfortunate part of scholarly life, and generally fade away on their own as one group postures for itself, easily assured of their own piety and the ethical degeneracy of others. Every so often, however, the great Academic Beast is aroused by these eruptions, swallowing the unwary into its maw. I fear the Beast is on a rampage now, and all that remains is to either capitulate or resist. I choose resistance.

I did not sign the letter calling for the boycott of Arizona, nor will I sign similar future letters. I will not boycott the Medieval Academy of America, though I have no plans to go to their 2011 conference (a decision based entirely on my limited travel budget).

Why won’t I sign? Why won’t I boycott?

One of the most important writings in my intellectual development as a young man was Václav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless. Published in 1985, it calls for citizens to live in truth – and Havel wrote it as man who had just gotten out of prison, living under an actual authoritarian government. When he published it, he wasn’t posturing or being hyperbolic; his very life was at stake.

Havel writes of a shopkeeper:
The manager of a fruit and vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the World, Unite!” Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? [….] If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached from not having the proper “decoration” in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say. (“The Power of the Powerless” in Without Force or Lies: Voices from the Revolution of Central Europe in 1989-90, San Francisco, Mercury House, 1990. 48-49)
Replace the shopkeeper with an academic, and you have the situation in which we find ourselves. It isn’t that the shopkeeper is necessarily against the workers uniting – that’s beside the point. No one imagines the workers of the world will suddenly see that sign among the vegetables and say to themselves, “You know what? Now that I’ve seen that sign, I think I’ll throw off the shackles of capitalism,” any more than anyone imagines that the citizens of Arizona will hear of the dozens of medievalists clamoring for a boycott of their state and say to themselves, “You know what? Now that I know these medieval scholars are unhappy, I think I’ll vote for completely open borders.”

Rather than being about altering the situation, these initiatives are about capitulation. As Havel translates the sign, “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” (Havel 49). Canny graduate students and untenured scholars know this message, and know that their future success relies in part on the zeal with which they proclaim it.

Not that anyone will ever tell them they must place such a sign (or sign such a letter). Indeed, such an explicit command would be counter-productive. In such a case,
The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides the behind the façade of something high. And that something is ideology.

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. (Havel 49-50)

And such we have here. I’m sure that in their hearts, some really do feel passionately, but medievalists happily go off to conferences in other states and countries that have objectionable laws. I myself narrowly missed being caught up in a police raid for illegal immigrants in a country where I was (legally) working, yet I have since attended conferences there several times. No, the point is not to change the Arizona law – no one is so pathetic to think that such an impotent boycott is going to cause any legal change – the point is to get others to acquiesce, to coerce others into acknowledging the scholars supposed ethical and moral superiority.

Havel tells us, from personal experience, that if the greengrocer begins to live within the truth, “the bill is not long in coming” (Havel 62). I’m sure I’ll be paying the bill for this – but I should acknowledge that the risk to me as a tenured professor is small compared to what Havel experienced. Some will no doubt openly hurl hateful accusations at me, probably accusing me of being racist, classist, or sexist (the three favorite accusations of academics). Others will just mutter darkly. Articles that would have once passed peer review may be rejected on vague grounds. Invitations that might have been offered to contribute to a conference or book will be withheld. I’ll lose some Facebook friends, and will probably have my website delinked.

But for me, this is a tiny price to pay for opposing the Academic Beast. Graduate students and junior faculty could find themselves devoured. To these I would say, live and speak according to your conscience, but know what happens to the greengrocer in the story. Tread carefully, and avoid the trap of believing that this medieval scholars’ debate has anything to do with immigration. In the future, when you see other similar issues, understand what is really being demanded of you.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Medieval Miscellany

An "Old English Accent"

In this article about people auditioning for the Sarasota Medieval Fair, we're told of one of the castmates:
"I'm going to do everything correctly with your daughter, at least twice," he declared in a broken, old English accent.

Uh, I'm guessing they just mean "fake English accent" -- what would be an "old English" accent? And how could that accent be "broken?"

There's a photo gallery of the auditions here, and if you want to see a REAL Old English accent, there's one below.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Still Here

Sorry for the delay -- I've started working the video blogging, but a series of unrelated technical problems have kept me from posting. It's coming, really!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sims Medieval

We can expect Sims Medieval at the end of next year. Apparently it'll be like the SCA for very lazy people who don't want to get up out of their desk chair.

Given my daughter's love the The Sims, I suspect we'll own this game when the time comes. I wonder if the armor rusts when a knight wets himself because his player won't let him go to the toilet?