Monday, March 30, 2009

Beowulf: Prince of the Geats Event

The Troy University MediEvolution Project presents:

Beowulf: Prince of the Geats

with introduction by special guest:
Scott Wegener, Producer and Director

Q & A Session following the film

Suggested Donation: $3 students, $5 non-students
100% of proceeds go to the American Cancer Society

Wednesday, 1 April 2009
6:00 p.m.

New Location!
Claudia Crosby Theater

King Arthur Undergraduate Symposium

This week, the Troy University Department of English is proud to present the Language and Literature Undergraduate Symposium: "King Arthur in Popular Culture and Medieval Literature."

  • “The Magician: The Journey of Merlin from his Childhood in The Lost Years of Merlin to his Mature Character in The Once and Future King”
    Eric Anderson
  • “King Arthur for the Millennial Audience: Faith in Antonio Fuqua and Chretien de Troyes”
    Erin Warde
  • “Reversing the Polarity: Arthurian Science and Politics in Doctor Who”
    Joel Norman
  • “‘She Looked Down to Camelot’: The Lady of Shallot, Elaine of Ascolat, and Lorena McKennitt”
    Jessica Williams
  • “Tristan and Isolde: From the Nineteenth Century through the Twenty-First Century”
    Rebecca Jordan

    Chair: Erin Murray

    The symposium will be held Wednesday, 1 April 2009 at 3:30 p.m. in the Claudia Crosby Theater. It is free and open to the public.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New Robin Hood Manuscript

I'm not sure why some fictional medieval figures have faded into obscurity, and others have flourished. Robin Hood is definitely one who has flourished. has links and also an interview about the new Robin Hood manuscript.

Academics will probably be most interested in the interview, non-academics in the original article.

No word yet on whether or not the marginalia depicts him as an anthropomorphic fox.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Video of "Beowulf vs. the Nazis" Now Up

The long-awaited video of my "Beowulf vs. the Nazis" lecture is now up. You can view it online here (scroll down to the bottom of the page), or you can download the file directly for offline viewing here.

As you can tell from the awkwardness of the delivery, I am the anti-Barack Obama: he can't speak without a teleprompter, and I can't speak with one.

Note to self: find some way to practice with a teleprompter so you don't sound so canned in the future. It's harder than it looks!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Synagoga and Ecclesia

Got Medieval has a post about Synagoga and Ecclesia, the personifications (one of my colleagues insists on "anthropomorphizations" -- phooey on that) of the Old Law and New Law.

By the way, what do feminist scholars have to say about always personifying these abstract concepts in the feminine?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Baba Brinkman's Rap Canterbury Tales

For those of my students who are reading the Canterbury Tales this week, here's a guy rapping the end of the Wife of Bath's Tale.

Not my cup of tea, but you might like it.

h/t Modern Medieval

Elf as a Word

Podictionary discusses the etymology of the word elf. If you're interested in that, you should also see Alaric Hall's excellent Elves in Anglo-Saxon England.

You Know You've Read the Decameron a Lot When...

... your students quiz you with a little parlor game, giving you the day and number of a story, and you've got to tell which one it is without looking.

E.g.: Day 4, Story 5 -- the one about the head in the pot of basil.

I miss a lot, but I get enough right to establish geek credentials.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Battlestar Galactica -- Daybreak, Part I

OK, completely non-medieval question here. I missed BSG on Friday, which is normally not a big deal because I can usually watch it on the next week. Yesterday and today, however, SciFi seems to have only the episode recap up, and not the episode itself.

What gives? Does anyone know where, if anywhere, we can see the episode "Daybreak, Part I" now?

By the by, my schedule may cause me to miss the series finale next week too, and if I have to wait until the DVD comes out to see the end, my head may 'splode.

Medieval Forum Special Edition

Even though Medieval Forum retired with George Tuma, he and Dinah Hazell kept the site itself alive so that all their past work didn't simply disappear into the internet ether.

It looks like Medieval Forum is being resurrected, albeit in a slightly different form. Since the old pages still get a lot of research traffic, they have published a special edition of Middle English romances in translation. Dinah Hazell tells me that this summer they hope to have a second special edition of complaint literature.

The translations include:
... as well as an introduction, appendix, bibliography, commentary, and notes for each work.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Medieval Life Expectancy

Shanna Worthen (aka "Owlfish") has a discussion going on about medieval life expectancy, and she's hit on one of my pet peeves: the misleading way we talk about life expectancy.

My whole life, I've heard life expectancy numbers batted around for the Middle Ages -- and they have always been suspiciously round, usually around 30. As Worthen and her commenters point out, in order to arrive at that sort of figure, you have to do some statistically naive things, and talk about "life expectancy" in a misleading way.

It reminds me of the slick way people use statistics politically. For example, whenever a politician cites a figure that "such-and-such millions of Americans are without private health insurance," he's trying to pull a fast one, because that figure often includes those who are already covered under Medicare and Medicaid. A reasonable person, however, hearing that statistic in a stump speech, is going to assume that those millions of people are without any kind of health care. In fact, usually, the goal of someone using such a figure is to raise the number of people on government health care, thereby ensuring that next year they can say "such-and-such millions more Americans are without private health insurance" -- because those people have left the private market having been picked up by the same government entitlement the pol is pushing. Arguably, what the politician is saying is true, but a reasonable person without the benefit of time to parse the phrase will be misled.

Similarly, the 25 year life expectancy figure is misleading. It suggests that 30 is old, and 50 is absolutely ancient. That's not true, though. People in the Middle Ages lived just as long as people do today -- it's the average that's different. Walk into any village of reasonable size, and you'd find some old gaffer or widow of 80+ years. What you wouldn't find is a Miami retirement community filled with such people.

Why did I use health care as the example of misleading statistics? Because every so often we read in the paper that there's some sort of medical advancement that's going to "raise life expectancy," and the reporter seems to think that means humans will live longer.

We won't. While the average might go up, our bodies still have an expiration date. More and more of us might push 100, but we're not about to start living to 200+. Consider this: If we accept as a given that the average life expectancy of the Middle Ages was 25, then life expectancy has tripled, right? Since we know from both historical and archaeological records that some people lived to 80+ years in the Middle Ages, wouldn't that mean that people are living three times as long? Shouldn't there be some 240 year olds running around, grousing that things just aren't the same since Thomas Jefferson died?

And therein lies the problem. Even if the statistic is accurate, people hear something very different than the statistic is saying. A stat talking about life expectance tripling is about the average tripling, but the way it is popularly perceived is that the length of time people live has tripled. And, of course, it isn't. If you're old enough to read this, a century from now you'll be dead, no matter how much life expectancy rises.

Morning Medieval Miscellany

Muhahaha! Now for a second time, I'm taking over the Morning Medieval Miscellany! I'm out of control!
  • Steven Till has a discussion going of the "five foundational books of medieval history."
  • Via Cinerati, Geekerati has a BlogTalkRadio discussion of Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne (book) and Dragon Age: Origins (video game).
  • Heroic Dreams has images, video, and discussion of Will Kalif's new sword.
  • NinaLog points us to a medieval names archive. If anyone cares, whenever I'm called upon to have a medieval name (on a computer game, or SCA, or whatever), I generally use "Wulfstan" because a.) It's a cool name, and b.) I really like the Wulfstan who wrote the Sermo Lupi ad Anglos. Given the pun on his name in the title, I'm guessing he thought it's a cool name, too.
  • Old Norse News has a list of medieval papers scheduled for the Society for Advancement of Scandinavian Studies meeting.
Spring Break is ending now, so I'll leave the Miscellanies for Karma and Rivkah until my new computer gets here ... it just takes too long on this old computer (this post has taken about an hour!) I leave you with the trailer for Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage. h/t News for Medievalists.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Morning Medieval Miscellany

I know, I know ... I promised to leave these MMMs to Karma and Rivkah until my new computer arrives, but I'm on Spring Break and can't help myself!

Ah, the nostalgia of doing a Morning Medieval Miscellany. I really miss it. Oh, where, oh where is my new office computer?!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Medieval Vampires

What does it mean, I wonder, to be a vampire? According an article in NewScientist,
A SKELETON exhumed from a grave in Venice is being claimed as the first known example of the "vampires" widely referred to in contemporary documents.

The evidence for it being a vampire was that she was buried with a brick in her mouth, presumably to keep her from chewing on her burial shroud.

OK, we're pushing the word "medieval" a bit here to the end of the 16th century, but every so often I'll hear tell of a vampire story from before the modern era, and every time I'm struck by how little it resembles what I think a vampire should be. Not every undead creature is a "vampire," but people seem interested in seeing them everywhere, like your favorite saint in a tortilla.

It strikes me that, at minimum, to be a vampire a creature must satisfy the following criteria:
  1. It must be dead.
  2. It must have been human in life.
  3. It must be physically animated.
  4. It must consume blood in order to maintain undeath/animation.
Anything less than that isn't a vampire in my view. It's something else, and though I've run into medieval werewolves, I've yet to run into a medieval vampire. Anyone out there have an ancient/classical/medieval vampire they know of?

h/t Medieval News, Archaeology on Europe

Monday, March 09, 2009

Drout Kicks Butt, Takes Names

Michael Drout vows to "die on this hill" in defense of medieval studies.

Maw, git my guns. We're formin' a posse, and we'll hang every mother's son what says their lame field that covers a few decades in one country is more important than ours, or that whatever was the "hot" topic at the last gatherin' of administrative hornswagglers is where we oughta put our labors.

Not a Total Loss at Cologne has a report from the scene of the archive collapse at Cologne, where they have recovered over 100 medieval books and over 200 folders with manuscript fragments. I don't like the sound of this, though:
...other manuscripts were found wet and needed to be shock frozen so they could be treated and preserved at another location...

While I'm guessing freezing isn't exactly the best thing for the health of a manuscript, it's a darn sight better than sitting in a puddle under a heap of rubble.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

New Medieval Pop Culture Blog

The Society for the Study of Popular Culture and the Middle Ages now has its own blog. Adjust your RSS readers accordingly.

Thanks for all the hard work to Michael Torregrossa!


I emerge briefly from midterm grading jail to amaze you with this sentence from one of the midterms:
Almost every work of literature has an example of the use of language.

Almost? I've been trying to figure out what that almost is doing there. Pop-up books, maybe? The international language of love? A picture being worth a thousand word?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Crazy Sheep DNA Video

Wormtalk and Slugspeak has a short video about the "Crazy Sheep DNA" project for dating medieval manuscripts. The Wheaton Connections program sounds pretty cool. Go forth and view!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Medieval Academy CfP

The Medieval Academy CfPs are up. There's one called "The Middle Ages in Film;" why aren't there ever any called "Film in the Middle Ages?" I'd pay cash money to hear those papers.

h/t Heroic Age

The New York Times Discusses Something Me Know a Bit About

The New York Times (and its defenders) is such an easy target; it feels like beating a kitten every time I have to write about the latest stupidity they have written in their pages. This op/ed in particular is of medieval interest. It defends Barack Obama's incorrect usage of I/me.

Now, frankly, I couldn't possibly care less whether Obama has good grammar or not. If you want a grammar scold, look up your middle school English teacher. Furthermore, the article claims that "the president has been roundly criticized by bloggers" for his mis-use of I and me. Unsurprisingly, none of these blogged criticisms is cited by the article. As a blogging English professor, I think I'm pretty plugged in to what are the hot language topics on the inter-web-o-net-o-sphere, and I haven't picked up any of that. I did a bit of searching, and could find not a single blog post or article on the topic, with the exception of those responding to this particular NYT piece. I suspect that phrase should be translated like this:
I've noticed Obama frequently makes this freshman-level grammatical error, but lest people accuse me of insufficient zeal for Obama, I'm going to blame evil bloggers for raising the issue. After all, surely someone out there must have blogged on this, right?

Just remember this when reading any journalistic piece, a bit of wisdom I've picked up from reading thousands of papers: When the writer makes vague reference and doesn't actually cite the source, it generally means he's making it up.

Let's assume, though, for the sake of argument, that two different people have blogged on this topic (thus meeting the minimum requirement for the plural form of "bloggers") -- what about the merits of their argument? O'Conner and Kellerman write:
For centuries, it was perfectly acceptable to use either “I” or “me” as the object of a verb or preposition, especially after “and.”

After citing a line from Shakespeare (Hello? Anyone else aware that it is poetry?) and a letter from Byron (one wonders how long they had to search to find that error), they then suggest:
It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that language mavens began kvetching about “I” and “me." [....] Why did these 19th-century wordies insist “I” is “I” and “me” is “me”? They were probably influenced by Latin, with its rigid treatment of subject and object pronouns.

Now, the 19th-century grammar scolds were indeed enamored of Latin constructions, and gave us such rules as "never split an infinitive," etc. But the real reason you can't find older grammars in English talking about these errors isn't that they are only recently considered errors, but because there weren't a lot of books on grammar earlier than that. Heck, Johnson didn't even produce the first dictionary in English until the 1700s!

In their diligent efforts to find Obama free from linguistic sin (and to sell their book), O'Conner and Kellerman seem to suggest that all that inflection of pronouns is a Latin thing, and was never part of English. Is this true? Let's read what one of those 19th-century language mavens had to say. Henry Sweet, in his 1886 An Anglo-Saxon Primer lists the singular first-person pronoun like this:
Nom. ic (I)
Acc me
Dat. me
Gen. min

Weird -- he lists the nominative (subject) form as "I" and the accusative (direct object) and dative (indirect object) forms as "me," and he's not even talking about Latin! It's almost as if (gasp!) Old English and Middle English treated subject and object pronouns in this way!

Look, if you want to defend Obama, that's fine, but let's not create some sort of fantasy world in which he's demonstrating a purer pre-19th century grammar usage for the rest of us Latin-befuddled rubes. Why not, instead, accept Pope's wisdom: "To err is human?"