“50 Graves Uncovered at Medieval Pilgrimage Site in England”

This is a super great article! In August, archaeologists uncovered a site of about fifty graves near the medieval city of Lichfield. It was a place that pilgrims traveled to because it housed the tomb of St. Chad. I just wanted to share this article because it noted the great lengths that pilgrimages could be. Last class we discussed the distance that Gowther ran for penitence. Because this was something that people just did, it amazes me to think about the possibility of making a pilgrimage now. Can you imagine how much work and class you would miss? The archaeologists also note the importance of the skeletons’ teeth because it can give us more insight to the diets of 12th century people in England.



Redemption through death (and lots of it)

Hi all, so I just finished reading Sir Gowther and Gowther’s character put me on an emotional rollercoaster. It is really hard for me to accept that a character that starts out so wicked can ultimately be forgiven of all his sins and be revered as a “varre corsent parfett”(727) (or a very pious person). I find it hard to believe that the Sultan who forces war over the Emperor that does not want to give his daughter away is more evil than Sir Gowther himself. For instance, from lines 181-204, Gowther is shown raping wives, killing their husbands, forcing friars to jump off cliffs and burning hermits and widows – all before seeking out his absolution. However, his path of destruction does not stop after seeking out the Pope, as he is shown cutting the heads off the Sultan’s men and destroying his army. Now, I’m not saying the Sultan didn’t have it coming, as he probably did, but Gowther is a killing machine and to think that he ends up becoming a holy figure really does not make sense to me. The ways in which he destroys people resemble that of Cu Chulainn in The Tain, though I feel that Sir Gowther kills for the goal of absolution whereas Cu Chulainn kills out of necessity of life. I’m interested in hearing what you all have to say about this, either on here or tomorrow in class.

On a lighter note (maybe), Gowther’s life as a child, killing nurses and ripping the nipple off another woman (his mother?), seriously reminds me of films involving children that are either spawned from Satan or possessed. Maybe films like The Omen or The Exorcist could draw comparisons to Gowther as a child.  Also, I’m interested in knowing if this story has been adapted for children as some sort of religious propaganda, possibly as a way to teach people that they can be forgiven of their sins, no matter how terrible they may have been. Anyway, I’m going to stop rambling now!

Caves on caves on caves (Star Wars)

Star Wars and Caves in Medieval Literature

I thought this was a fun concept. The parallel between caves in medieval literature and the caves in cinema, such as Star Wars, makes for an interesting discussion. I was unable to find a published article (not sure if there is one), but the video presents the idea just fine. I believe some of the examples they used to relate the caves and their meanings could have been a little more in depth. As a child watching the movies I never tried to understand Luke in the Rancor pit as some form of a growth tool or test for the Jedi. I would like to here if anybody else can make any parallels between the two, or if someone can dispute any of the examples posed in the video.

I am also trying to find a relationship between Luke trapped in the Wampa’s (snow monster) cave on Hoth and a piece of literature. If anybody has any ideas or readings that may relate to this, please post them.

Thank you

Hebrew in Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

I know we’re heading into Middle English, but I really had to share this article. This Anglo-Saxon scholar has been studying the use of Hebrew language in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Often the monks that wrote these manuscripts would just make up words and letters in Hebrew. Apparently Damian Fleming is making an announcement on October 28th that will change the way that we think about English interest in religion and other languages. Usually the Renaissance period is given credit for giving importance to Hebrew in England, but we have to assume that scholars were always interested in other languages. And to the point about falsifying Hebrew letters or just making them up: maybe we don’t know these letters, but the Anglo-Saxon monks knew about them. We’ve seen how in English (during even the same time periods), words are spelled differently. How can we ever be sure that people are just attempting to be intelligent?


Prince of Dyfed Youtube Video.


I find that searching Youtube for videos on the stories that we are reading in class can be incredibly helpful.  This one in particular,  The Prince of Dyfed, Pwyll. It  something we had read earlier,  was something I stumbled upon a few days ago.  I meant to post it before class on that specific day,  but I forgot to do so.  This video is sort of corny,  like it was made for a high school level class,  but hearing and seeing visuals to go along with the reading always helped me understand the tale about the switching of the bodies and how they ruled each others kingdoms for so long. It’s interesting to see someone else’s interpretation.

King Arthur IS real!!!!!!

Or so this episode of Expedition Unknown*, seen on the Travel Channel, would have you believe. It does what any good programming does and draws you in with dramatic music and sudden cliff-hanger like cuts to commercials, but it lacks a convincing argument for why Arthur is real. They unfortunately rely on an amateur historian, Adam Ardrey, for the dramatic climax of the show (many of the reviews of his book complain of a lack of research done by Ardrey’s). What it does do a good job of is showing parts of England and Scotland that we might otherwise never see; the archaeological sites are interesting (Merlin’s Cave is pretty awesome!), and just seeing the landscapes that the Anglo-Saxon peoples conquered and lived on is worth a watch.

*note: I had technical trouble watching the whole episode straight through, but with some artful clicking around the commercials it’s doable!

So, I found a few short cartoon clips from the same cartoon about The Tain, mostly focusing of Cu Chulainn. Unfortunately (for me, anyway), the cartoon seems to have been made for children as a way to ease them into the tale, as it portrays Medb as an evil queen and Cu Chulainn as strictly a caring hero. Also, the battle scene between Fer Diad and Cu Chulainn ends with the death of both men, which obviously is not the case in our book. The clip is only five minutes, so check it out! (the gae bolga in this looks so weak, too!). Cu Chulainn cartoon

I guess I’m still struggling with the fact that Cu Chulainn is regarded as a heroic figure by many people, as much of my research has much alluded to. I’d like to think that a true heroic character wouldn’t kill every living being that he or she comes in contact with. There are a bunch of comic images of the character here: cu chu and apparently he even fights Thor in one of the issues. He also seems to be regarded as one of the greatest warriors to come out of Ireland – and don’t get me wrong – he is very powerful, but I feel like people form opinions about his character without fully reading the text or having only seen adaptions like the cartoon clip from earlier. Anyway, I’ll stop rambling now, if anyone wants to give me some opinions about his character, that would be great. I’m going to be writing my final paper trying to dig deeper into his character and the hyper-masculinity portrayed throughout the text.

“The Tain” by The Decemberists

I got to an interesting (to say the least) part of YouTube and found this video. An indie rock band put out an EP in 2004 called The Tain and it consists of just one eighteen-minute song. The lyrics do not seem to have anything to do with the original story of The Táin, but the music video that accompanies it uses silhouette images and text to tell the tale. What interests me most is the representation of Cuchulainn (as it’s spelled here). I’ve looked up a view images of him and I love his Dragonball-esque hair and style. I was hoping that someone could open a dialogue with me on the meaning of this animation. I can’t stop watching it because I can’t tell if it’s amazing or awful. My favorite things about reading The Táin are the layers and complexities that are sometimes unapparent in other Medieval texts. It’s as much about pride and heroism as it is about femininity, empire and fidelity. It takes on various perspectives often questioning a monarch’s right to rule and right to take what they wish to be theirs. With no dialogue, it’s hard for this video version to encompass all of that, but it does really get to the heart of the importance of the Irish landscape.

Here’s a cool rendering of Cu Chulainn that I found on DeviantArt.

I would totally use him in Mortal Kombat.

More books to read…and a bit of TV as well!

At the start of the semester I shared this book with Professor Hostetter, and thought I could share it with everyone else!

The Wake is a novel about post-apocalyptic England, during the Norman invasions. The author, Paul Kingsnorth, decided to write the novel in a hybrid language, merging Old English with our modern English. Here is an excerpt to give you an idea:

loc it is well cnawan there is those wolde be tellan lies and those with only them selfs in mynd. there is those now who specs of us and what we done but who cnawan triewe no man cnawan triewe but i and what i tell i will tell as i sceolde and all that will be telt will be all the triewth.

Choosing to write in this manner Kingsnorth transports his readers to undoubtedly another time and place. I think this also has an affect on the reader’s level of comfort. I felt somewhat disoriented when first digging into reading this, and I think that mirrors how the characters we follow are feeling, “as the men travel across the scorched English landscape.”

Another book I have found while frequenting book stores is Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives. I’ve only picked it up and skimmed it, but it looks like an interesting read with info and stories to help dispel nasty stereotypes about the Medieval era. It might not be a comprehensive account, but it seems accessible and entertaining. To accompany the book, there is a BBC series by Terry Jones of the same name. It looks like all of the episodes (around 30 minutes each) are on YouTube, and again are informative and entertaining! Cheers!

Carly Fiorina’s Neomedievalism

This op-ed was in the New York Times a few days ago — it’s by my old adviser Bruce Holsinger, a professor of literature and music at UVA. It critiques the simplistic use of the Middle Ages by one of the contenders for the Republican nomination, Carly Florin. To her credit, she probably does know when the Middle Ages were, unlike Ben Carson, who has shown himself to know precious little besides neurosurgery.

Charlottesville, Va. — On Sunday night Carly Fiorina went back to college — sort of.

Answering questions at a New Hampshire town hall, Mrs. Fiorina was asked how Americans could be confident that she would be serious in taking on the Islamic State. Her reply was rather surprising. At last, she asserted, her undergraduate degree in medieval studies “has come in handy.”

How could medieval studies prepare a president for the global struggle against Islamist fundamentalism? Well, Mrs. Fiorina explained, “What ISIS wants to do is drive us back to the Middle Ages, literally.”

And did she mean literally. “Every single one of the techniques that ISIS is using,” she elaborated, “the crucifixions, the beheadings, the burning alive, those were commonly used techniques in the Middle Ages.” She added, “ISIS wants to take its territory back to the Middle Ages.”

Sounds familiar. Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American political discourse was flooded with this kind of language. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld spoke of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s “medieval vision of the future.” The writer Christopher Hitchens warned of the Taliban’s program of “medieval stultification.” Osama bin Laden himself mastered this medievalist idiom, invoking the Crusades time and again in his polemics against the West.

Mrs. Fiorina’s resort to this sort of garden-variety medievalism represents a failure of historical imagination on at least three levels.

The first is a failure to recognize the modernity of the Islamic State and other transnational terrorist organizations. Like Al Qaeda before it, the Islamic State has been adept at exploiting contemporary mass culture and social media as tools of propaganda and recruitment for its murderous campaign. And the Islamic State’s destruction of the Roman-era ruins at Palmyra plays on a particularly modern investment in the preservation of antiquities, as did the Taliban’s dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001.

Mrs. Fiorina’s second failure of historical imagination is embodied by her embrace of the same neomedievalist logic that helped shape the early years of the war on terror: If our enemies are nonstate actors, too primitive to be recognized as members of modern nations, we are perfectly justified in denying them the rights guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions. Mrs. Fiorina has already made clear her comfort with the abrogation of the torture convention. (Waterboarding, she has said, helped “keep our nation safe.”)

Third, and most damning in Mrs. Fiorina’s case, is a failure to respect history itself, a willful refusal to learn from the era she claims as an area of expertise. Rather than invoking the medieval world for its brutality, she might have looked to that epoch for, say, the birth of the university. Or she might have looked to the multiethnic civilization of medieval Spain, hailed by the medievalist María Rosa Menocal for forming a “culture of tolerance” among Muslims, Jews and Christians.

And while judicial torture was routine during the Roman Empire, the practice was largely abandoned in the early Middle Ages. Only with the revival of Roman law centuries later did torture again become an accepted part of legal inquiry.

As for crucifixion? Read the Gospels, Mrs. Fiorina. It was the Romans, not the Heathobards, who crucified Jesus Christ. The medievals did a lot of beheading, sure. So did the French Revolution.

What makes Mrs. Fiorina’s political medievalism particularly sad (even a little tragic) is its betrayal of her own, more considered reflections on the impact of her training on her intellectual formation. She is one of the few conservatives who have spoken incisively about the importance of the humanities without resorting to bromides about the timeless values of the Western tradition.

This came across most clearly in Mrs. Fiorina’s address to the Stanford University class of 2001. The most valuable course she took at Stanford, she told the graduates, wasn’t economics or politics, but a seminar called “Christian, Islamic and Jewish Political Philosophies of the Middle Ages.”

Each week, she explained, students had to distill what they’d read into a mere two pages: “The rigor of the distillation process, the exercise of refinement, that’s where the real learning happened. It was an incredible, heady skill to master. Through the years, I’ve used it again and again — the mental exercise of synthesis and distillation and getting to the very heart of things.”

Rarely has the value of humanistic education been defended so eloquently. Whatever your politics, I tell my students, take heart. When your annoying Uncle Fred asks why you’re majoring in philosophy instead of commerce, tell him you know of a Fortune 500 C.E.O. who majored in medieval studies — not only majored in it, but also credits it with shaping her into the successful public figure she became.

How dispiriting to watch a person of Mrs. Fiorina’s talents reduce her rich historical education to a series of flattening clichés. Instead of encouraging us to learn from the medieval past in all its complexities, she’s promoting a distorted vision of history with little to teach us about the difficult truths of the present.