Monthly Archives: March 2010

Spy Wednesday poem from Ireland

As quoted in Keating’s history, and in Bishop O’Brien’s dictionary:

Ceadaoin luidh Judas tar ord:
a lorg deamhan, dioghal garg:
ceadaoin, ro ghabh Saint im saith:
ceadaoin ro bhraith Iosa ard.

My translation:

Wednesday, Judas went out under orders
from the fierce demon, vengeful and cruel;
Wednesday, great greed for wealth received;
Wednesday, great betrayal of high Jesus.

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Vatican Library Digitization

This is pretty exciting news for our civilization. The Vatican Library is one of the great treasures of Planet Earth, and it’s never been as thoroughly accessible as it now can be.

Via Roger Pearse.

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Spy Wednesday

One of the old names for today is “Spy Wednesday”. This was a translation of the old Gaelic name for the day, which was “Ceadaoin an Bhraith”.

‘Ceadaoin’ is Wednesday — “first” (cead) + “fast” (aoine), since the Early Christians fasted on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. (Thursday is “between fasts” and Friday is just plain “Fast”.

The word ‘braith’ comes from the verb ‘braithim’, which according to O’Brien’s old dictionary meant both “to observe, spy, reconnoiter” and “to betray”. So probably there was a translation error.

Anyway, really it’s “Treachery Wednesday”, but it sounds cooler this way. I’m not sure how far back the expression goes, but there’s an early 15th century Irish ms that has a Latin text with an Irish intro and outro, which is titled this in Irish.

The Welsh use a closely cognate expression, apparently. Volume 12 of the Transactions of the Honourable Society of the Cymmrodorion (what a name!) note the expression “Dydd Mercher y Brad” (Wednesday of Betrayal) already in use in a poem from the 1200’s. So maybe this is a Welsh expression, at root. (I don’t know if the coincidence of “betray” and “observe, spy, scout” is present in Welsh.)

Since this is a commemoration of the constant danger of treachery, and since the name is obviously relevant to them, it is allegedly the custom of members of the CIA to attend a Mass today that is said for them. (I guess the liturgical color of spooks is Passion-red.)
Spies are not always regarded a bad thing in the Bible, of course. The children of Israel who spied out the land were doing a good thing; not reporting their findings accurately was what was bad. The men who spied on Jericho and were rescued by Rahab were good Israeli agents, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

Of course, the official name is “Holy Wednesday” or “Wednesday in Holy Week”. But the Internet and spy novelists have done a lot to put the name “Spy Wednesday” back into common English usage. It’s just cooler, you know? ๐Ÿ™‚ It used to be more of a day of abstinence in the Latin Rite in many places; so it had more prominence then.

Here’s a poem about it. Make sure you scroll down past the fish. ๐Ÿ™‚

This year in the Ordinary Form, the first reading from Isaiah about the Suffering Servant asks the musical question (among other things): “Who is my adversary? Let him come near me.” Which isn’t primarily referring to Judas, but it works out that way. ๐Ÿ™‚ The psalm is rather interesting, too; and the Gospel is all about Judas selling Jesus out.

The old Extraordinary Form readings are different. You get a first reading about “I am trampling out the vineyard”, which is a bit scary; the psalm is a cry for help; and the Gospel is about Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest.

Here’s the old breviary readings for the day.


Apparently, the old local regs in Ireland in the 1800’s still declared that one should not eat “white meats” (white foods = milk, butter, cheese, et al) on Ash Wednesday, Spy Wednesday, or Good Friday. There was also strict control of eggs and milk throughout Lent. (You could only eat an egg at dinner, and no eggs at all on Friday.) Sundays were considerably relaxed, but even that wasn’t saying much. And so on. Here you go, in Irish and English.

These are of course the people who think walking around barefoot all night in a cave, without food or water or sleep, is a good plan. Yep, gotta love Celtic spirituality! So sweet and easy!

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Come O’er the Sea, Strider

In a lot of ways, Monty Python’s Life of Brian is about rhetoric and grammar at school and university, even more than it’s about being political and religious satire. These were the parts I liked. One of the deepest things they did was having a speaker for the Judean Liberation Front ask the rhetorical question “What have the Romans ever done for us?”, and have the crowd answer him. At length.

In the relentlessly literal part of my brain, I have to say that I often find myself answering rhetorical questions. I find that a lot of science fiction fans also do this. Writers from the other side of the mental tracks don’t seem to realize that it’s a bad idea to raise rhetorical questions with fandom, unless you want an answer and are sure it won’t negate yours. Answers tend to derail the rhetoric, and at any rate, cause us to forget the rest of the essay in order to grapple with the incongruent rhetorical question.

So when N.K. Jemisin (whose first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is a pretty good read if you like actual fantastic worlds and supernaturalness in your supernatural romance) writes an essay on why it’s rather interesting to write fantasy that doesn’t get stuck on standard tropes, I found myself more concerned with the rhetorical question.

Here it is:

“All those stories about restoring a deposed king to a usurped throne, for example โ€” well, what makes the deposed king any better than the usurper? Why must power be kept in the hands of the people who originally had it (and werenโ€™t competent enough to hold it) as opposed to someone new, with better organizing skills and possibly fresh ideas? The message in these fantasies seems to be support the status quo! Donโ€™t question it! Change is bad! What does it mean that we readers find such comfort in these fantasies that weโ€™ve made quite a few of them bestsellers?”

Heh. I think we all sympathize with ranting about the stuff we dislike. But the answers to these rhetorical questions turn the reader perpendicular to Jemisin’s point. “Why can’t I get some different tropes here?” is the better question to ask, because it’s an open question with a variety of interesting answers. All these rhetorical questions do have answers, and Jemisin probably knows a lot of them. Just because she doesn’t like those answers doesn’t mean that others have to share that dislike. (In fact, she could probably be persuaded to like them, if the trappings and the lead-up were right. But never mind. That’s a distraction, too.)

The reason so many fantasies are written about the return of the deposed king is that A) Tolkien did it, B) Arthurian legend’s based on it (at beginning and end), C) Christianity and Judaism both expect a Messiah any time now as part of their core beliefs, D) Homer and Greek myths have deposed kings return a lot, and E) fairly recent history and politics of the post-Reformation British Isles turned on the return of deposed kings several times. So we have perhaps the most influential example of a genre; the Matter of Britain; the foundations of Western civ; and actual stuff that happened in real life in English, Scottish, and Irish history, and thus affected the history of American and Australian settlement, and indeed of all sorts of folks everywhere. If the true king were on the throne, for certain values of ‘true king’, everything really would be different.

So these are the sorts of answers that are distracting readers from Jemisin’s essay:

“Because my ancestors would never have met or come to America if the true king had/hadn’t made it to the throne.” “Because it’s one of the implied truisms of Irish and Scottish rebel music.” “Because King Charles II really did wander the land looking ugly but charming everyone, and he was the first king in hundreds of years not to disappoint English Catholics.” “Because my name starts with Mac or O and thus I am the descendant of kings, and who knows where I’d be if my clan were still in power.” (I think the answer to this one for the romance fans is not so much ‘queen of all I survey’ as ‘surrounded by cute Irish/Scottish guys and lovely scenery’. And of course they know they’re probably common clanspeople, and that their relatives also left because the land was hard. That’s not the point.) “Because Europe has spent more than a thousand years with Camelot as an important symbol of good governance and romance, which is supposed to return when most needed.” “Because ‘He will return to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom will have no end’.” Etc., etc.

But heck, this sort of thing is important to the human imagination even beyond the traditional bounds of Christendom and the Jewish world. Heck, lots of things went into the transformation of Shogunate Japan into modern Japan. But its legend, even at the time, was as much about “If the divine emperor had his rights, everything would be different!” as “Crud, we’ve got to find a better way of defending Japan from all these foreigners!” So you can’t get away from it, and it’s unreasonable to chide people for it. It’s as if you were yelling at them, “How dare you walk across gravel as if it’s an uneven surface composed of thousands of discrete rocks!”

Jemisin can choose to write about something different, and that’s fine. (Although actually, that’s exactly what The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is about, and that’s part of why it’s selling well. There’s a lot of witty twists, but it’s definitely a return of deposed people to power. So you still wrote what the market wanted, but in a way it didn’t know it wanted until you did it. Heh. But I agree that writers having fun are more likely to provide me with fun.)

But all you pundits out there — just don’t tell us you don’t know why it is, unless you really don’t. And don’t ever raise a question rhetorically unless you know both the answer, and that it serves your point.

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John C. Wright’s Fave Chinese Show Coming to US on DVD

Chinese Paladin III. As described on Mr. Wright’s blog.

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Lady Iron Monkey!

UPDATE: Link fixed!

This intentionally goofy 70’s kung fu movie is one of my favorites. Here’s a review that explains its charm quite well. Lots of screenshots, too.

Just bear in mind that Shorty and Fatty are dubbed to sound like Stan & Ollie….

Here’s the opening credits, demonstrating the basic moves behind monkey kung fu, and playing some funky Seventies music with brass.

Apparently, this movie was directed by the same guy who brought Jackie Chan his big breakthrough.

Other movies with the actress


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The Freaky Folded Lead Sepulchre of Gabii

Those crazy Wolverines from U of M have found themselves a genuine mystery in the ancient Italian town of Gabii.

Gabii was one of Rome’s early neighbors and rivals in the surrounding region of Latium, occupying a highly defensible position between lakes. It sat on top of a big chunk of fireproof volcanic rock, though, so when Rome grew powerful, it built itself bigger by diminishing Gabii. However, as it became a backwater, Gabii had a second life as a Roman lake resort town.

There were eleven classical statues found at Gabii and put in the Borghese Museum. Napoleon bought them and stuck them in the Louvre. There was also a beautiful colored mosaic floor found in the ruins of a villa in Gabii, which Borghese sold to Hervey, the Earl of Bristol, for use at his country seat. I’m looking for a picture of that.

St. Symphorosa’s husband St. Getulius was supposed to have hailed from Gabii. He decided to retire from the Army without asking because of his Christian views, and was executed with six relatives and converted friends for his pains. St. Primitivus, one of them, had his body thrown into the lake; St. Exuperantius recovered it. So Gabii had ruins of an old church of St. Primitivus, at least in the 19th century.

Here’s Gabii on Google Maps. See where it says you’re looking at what used to be Lake Regillus, of the famous battle?

At the moment there’s no Street View, but there’s some kind of panorama thing from Google Earth. It apparently points you right at the temple of Juno.

Here’s an old book describing a short jaunt from Rome to the ruins of Gabii, along the Via Prenestina. Very useful for identifying what you see on Google Maps.

UM has a site called the Gabii Project, and a blog called Lapis Gabinus.

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