Monthly Archives: April 2009

All Right-Minded People Are Philologists.

Apparently, when the mysterious old man came up to Justin Martyr and began to convert him, Justin Martyr was thinking about philology.

Yet another reason to love Justin Martyr, as if we needed one….

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ABC Is Canceling Cupid. Again.

And this time, I didn’t even know that it was on yet! I swear to you, I thought they weren’t showing it until this summer.

OTOH, not having an episode about a linguist is probably what doomed them this time.

You can watch the new Cupid incarnation over on Veoh.

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Reason #627 Why Nobody Asks Me to Teach CCD

On the penitential nature of abstinence from fleshmeat, in one of Fr. Z’s comboxes:

“It’s not that it’s a luxury; it’s that it’s bloody red flesh. Like Jesus’ flesh.
“(Not to gross you out or anything.)”

I should also add that one of my cousins once told me that I look scary when I say things like this.

Ah, well. But it does explain to non-Latin-speakers why we don’t abstain from fishies or eggses. Not much chance of confusing Jesus’ wounded body on the cross with a nice flaky whitefish or a chicken ovum served sunny side up.

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That Tecumseh Show on PBS

Mostly pretty good.

It did rather underplay Tenskwatawa killing several Wyandots (one of them a former chief, IIRC, and several of them Christians) as witches. It presented Tensk’s resulting alienation of his own tribe as a matter mainly of politics rather than of a gruesome, psycho-in-charge killing of members of allied tribes. Mentioned Tensk trying to get rid of European things, but didn’t talk about his command that all dogs be killed. Oddly, it quoted Tensk’s prophecy that the earth would turn over and bury US people, but didn’t talk about the New Madrid earthquake seeming to confirm that. (Although it did make much of the earlier solar eclipse.)

On the Tecumseh side, I was very surprised that it didn’t mention his famous intervention to save US prisoners of war during the whole Fort Miami/Fort Meigs mess, and his associated lecture of the British on proper standards of care for prisoners. (It wasn’t that Tecumseh had anything against torture — Shawnees didn’t — but he did have something against uncontrolled warriors and Brits leaving instead of controlling the situation and facilitating the exchange of prisoners with the US not turning into a bloodbath.) The US prisoners were not just grateful for their lives but amused by this, and it’s one of the major reasons Tecumseh came into US folklore as someone to admire instead of a villain. So why leave it out?

On the Shawnee side, they only mentioned the previous generation’s fights during the American Revolution, and never mentioned that in Tecumseh’s grandfather’s time, the whole tribe and many others were forced to flee the Ohio Country in scattered bands, always pursued by Iroquois death squads all the way to the Southern seaboard or the Tennessee mountains, just so that the Iroquois could use the whole area as a fur farm. One suspects that was a tad bit influential on the Shawnee psyche.

Anyway, the whole thing would have been worth it just for the presentation of classic Shawnee oratory, and getting to hear spoken Shawnee. Good stuff.

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Stuff I Hate: Super-Speshul Heroines of Historical Mysteries

On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with a sleuth being quirky and bizarre. Such qualities were part of the detective story tradition long before Sherlock Holmes; and he certainly cemented it.

On the other hand, one goes to a historical mystery for entertainment and enlightenment in a world not like ours. One therefore would like a sleuth who is part of that world as well as investigating it, unless the story is actually about time travel. The sleuth should be able to bridge the gap between the reader and that world, yes. But there’s no point advertising someone as a medieval sleuth if he never has any medieval thoughts or feelings.

Which brings me to The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin, a good example of fairly common problems across the whole genre. It’s a sequel, so it may suffer from sophomore sequel-itis — suffering a big drop in quality from the first book, which was the book the author put all her efforts into writing and selling. But the author recaps the original story several times within the first few chapters, with excruciating thoroughness. Indeed, I daresay the only thing I don’t know about the plot of the first book is whodunit.

Anyway, despite all the research that went into the setting (England, Henry II), the heroine keeps pulling you right out of it. She is super-speshul, you see. It’s not enough that she be a woman physician trained at Salerno’s university and expert in the forensics of the day. No. Because that would be too ordinary. How can the heroine of the book be only a skilled practitioner?

No, she has to have been found on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and improbably named Vesuvia. (Which name she never uses.) She has to have been found and adopted by a Jewish doctor who married a Christian woman. (But the heroine doesn’t believe in God at all, so this goes unused also. She might as well have been found by Yazidis or Shinto/Buddhists.) She has to have not just an Arab associate, but one who’s a castrato. (And I’m sure he has other super-speshul qualities.) She also has a middle-aged lower class Englishwoman to associate with her, but just as you get relieved to encounter somebody normal, the heroine tells you that “Despite being middle-aged, she still had a sense of adventure.” You couldn’t just find that out, you see. You had to be told.

But the heroine sleuth’s more super-speshul than that. She’s not just an atheist. She’s fervently anti-religion as well, and not for any of the standard medieval reasons of being anti-hypocrisy, anti-clergy without vows of poverty, or anti-fundraising. No, both the Church and Judaism are actively evil organizations designed to stop Progress. She says this a lot. And yet she deigns to be friends with such a high-ranking Minion of Evil as an abbot, and not in some kind of resistance movement, either. One concludes that she’s really okay with Evil, on the whole. Maybe she thinks it’s like having contacts in the Mob.

We do actually get to spend some time inside the head of Abbot Minion of Evil. You don’t enjoy it, though. You get told that the Church is a gnostic organization, believing that the body is nothing and only the soul matters, including in a medical sense. (Well, I guess all those hospitals and herb monks were just figments of my imagination, then. Not to mention Jesus as Good Physician.) You also learn that only Super-Speshul Sleuth had been the only one who taught him about reason and reasoned argument, because high ranking monks never know anything about anything intellectual. And he doesn’t just like the heroine or think of her like a daughter. Nope. He loves her and would do anything at all for her, except that actually he doesn’t because that would make the backstory inconvenient.

As for the backstory, between books she got driven out of town and is now living in the fens. Not because land was cheaper, there was less competition, she got a suggestion from her abbot friend, and the patients had need, so she moved. That would be too easy and sensible. No, no, she had to be driven out, because Super-Speshul People are always Persecuted by envious lesser beings.

As Michael Flynn did a good job of pointing out in his novel Eifelheim, the whole reason that experimentum and other bits of the scientific method caught on was that it fit neatly into the earlier medieval way of thinking about scripture and philosophical/moral topics. It wasn’t at odds with the Church or with Christianity at all; and the same goes for Judaism’s intellectual/spiritual traditions.

Now, it’s entirely possible that you could write a medieval atheist woman doctor who struck one as real instead of super-speshul. Heck, you could see Dr. House doing his thing in any age. But the things that such a person would dislike and protest would not be the same things a modern atheist doctor would dislike and protest. She would know that the Church was Learning’s good right arm, and might resent being forced to associate so much with them. Or more likely, she would just make nice with Church and Synagogue, and not think the matter much worth quibbling about unless asked directly. The conflict between Christian and Jewish cultural background when thrust into a less cosmopolitan place — that would be more of a concern to her.

I also think it’s entirely possible that a good editor would have red-penciled every piece of dialogue and narration which annoyed me, because I didn’t see anything essential to the story in any of them. They could also have suggested rewrites of the more over-modern pieces of dialogue. You don’t have to write historical books in total states of forsoothness, but the dialogue ought to reflect some medieval mindset. “These people are coming with me or I won’t go” is modern, and a cliche to boot. “I’m sure your lord didn’t mean me to leave behind my retinue of assistants” is more what a medieval person would be thinking.

The sad thing is that when the author’s bad habits get out of the way, she writes clean and interesting scenes. I’m sure there’s a mystery underneath there somewhere, if I had the patience to dig it out. Since editors nowadays don’t bother to do this for authors, the author is going to have to hire somebody who will, or learn to do it herself. Until that time, I won’t be reading her again.

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Medieval Recreation – The Pilgrimage!

Sometimes, folks in the SCA are accused of being not quite as hardcore as your medieval reenactors. Heck, sometimes even the Renfaire folks get uppity about having more historic cred — and this from people who think adding Pirates of the Caribbean stuff is in period.

However, the honor of the Society is to be upheld in fine style this summer, as they walk the walk.

Literally.

The Finns of Drachenwald are organizing a pilgrimage, in garb, to Santiago de Compostela.

Of course, we immediately run into the elaborate and somewhat lame justifications and explanations, lest anyone confuse a non-profit educational organization with either a mere club or a group doing something (horrors!) religious. And the ten foot rule. And going to church is not listed, except under the bland label of “free time”. But hey, this is the hazard of joining a group founded in Berkeley. :)

What does impress me is that they’re holding a one-day pilgrimage practice, so people can find out early if their sandals are going to give them blisters or their backpacks be too heavy.

Anyway, if anybody out there is an old Scadian and has a week this summer that just cries out for walking through Spanish mountains and penitence, you now know a group you can go with. :) Here are the Mass times. :)

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Great Hymns of the Middle Ages, compiled by Eveline Warner Brainerd

This is a really nice collection of poetic translations, but there’s no point even trying to read it at Google Books. They totally messed up the formatting over there. Just go over to archive.org and download the pdf.

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