Monthly Archives: October 2012

French Apocalypse Art

Here’s a drawing of a nice stained glass picture of Jesus enthroned, with a double-edged sword in his mouth.

Here’s a photo in color.

Here’s a rider from the Apocalypse of St. Sever, which is one of the Beatus manuscript copies.

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Still More Liebana

Another old picture from a Spanish book.

Unfortunately, though Liebana is warmer than other valleys, it turns out that it’s also pretty damp, because of the river and the sea winds.

Covadonga isn’t far away, and both valleys were formed by river wearing away limestone. So it’s sort of like the gorges in places like Kentucky, except with more elevation and mountains around them.

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Liebana Again

Found an old travel book that mentions Liebana, and points out that the valley is a sort of “sun-trap” that doesn’t get as cold as surrounding mountains and valleys. Grapes grow there, which they don’t in most other surrounding areas, and the author compliments the monks for finding this “Happy Valley” to cultivate and live in.

Here’s a nice black and white photo of “The Vale of Liebana.”

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My Mother Loves Me!

My parents went to a reunion earlier this month of guys who’d been stationed in the same army listening posts in an allied country. So my mom got all the people who weren’t going to take home their hotel free soaps, shampoos, etc. to give them to her, because her club donates them to a shelter for battered women.

However, like many business hotels, this one also had little coffeemakers in the room with free coffeepot-sized coffee pods, which most of the attendees were also not planning to use. So Mom added them to her requests. Since the battered women have their coffee squared away, she decided she should give them to me!

So now I have a bag of darned fine Columbian coffee pods, and another of decaf. I had a cup of the Columbian this morning, and hoodoggy, were those attendees missing out!

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Polenta in an Anglo-Saxon Latin Glossary

“Polenta” is defined as “farina subtilissima.” (“The finest-ground flour.”)

I looked it up in my more normal classical Latin dictionary, which defines it as “barley meal,” “parched and crushed grain,” or (in the Bible, which was what the Anglo-Saxons wanted it for) as “parched grain.” Nowadays, of course, polenta is a corn/maize dish.

Anyway, it’s fun to meet up with cognates and earlier meanings for words.

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Ephrem’s Anti-Heresy Alphabet Hymn

Roger Pearse commissioned a translation from Syriac of St. Ephrem’s hymn against the heresies, from a gentleman and scholar by the name of Adam MacCollum. It’s pretty darned cool.

So now, as part of my ongoing quest to versify everything, I present my totally non-literary, non-scholarly, MacCollum-derived verse translation of the first three alphabet verses!

As the alphabet
Is complete and done,
With no letter lacking
Nor adding one,
So the Truth is set
In the Gospel, yes.
Like the alphabet
No more, no less,
It is perfect yet.

Blessed be Your image in the alphabet!

Because Marcion
Added falsehood on,
The Church threw him out,
And now he is gone.
Valentinus told it wrong,
The Quqite twisted words,
Bardaisan lied in song,
Mani manically absurd:
Thistles and thorns
Bundled up to burn.
May good God in mercy turn
Them from straying in our corn!

Blessed be the One the wicked can’t worry and warn!

Greedy Valentinus stole Church sheep
And gave them all his name.
The Quqite and clever Bardaisan
Were next to do the same.
Then they combined their flocks;
Marcion kept his apart;
Crazy Mani grabbed a part.
They bit each other, rabid crocks,
And self-named all their sheep.

Blessed be the One who threw them out of His house for keeps!

Heh… yeah, not exactly a hymn as we think of it. More like a sermon in song form. (Ephrem and Bardaisan did the duelling songwriter thing.)


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When Pet Peeves Attack

I understand that people have certain pet peeves, and that this often comes out when they edit. The problem is that some pet peeves make otherwise adept users of the English language sound like they’re not native English speakers, or even native Indo-European speakers. It’s very common to find people who dislike certain metaphorical or idiomatic expressions, and thus are determined to interpret them literally — as if they were non-native speakers — when in fact they understand the expression perfectly well, and are simply determined to resist its fossilized wit.

For example, the very common expression “His eyes darted around the room,” or “his eyes darted about,” which is really the same thing in small.

Now, it’s true that “darted” usually means “to move quickly, like a spear or dart”. But that’s the 16th century meaning. The 14th century meaning, which gives the verb its hidden force, is “to stab and pierce with a spear/dart/arbalest bolt.”

Now, as everyone medieval knows, your eyes are armed with arrows and other missile weapons, like darts. You have sharp eyes, keen sight. If someone is looking at you, your pupils — which, by common metonymy, are your eyes — can dart side to side. But if you are looking at something, you feel your eyes dart around the room; your piercing gaze is stabbing into various separate things in turn and thus bringing you visual information. (And making people fall in love with you, if you’re young and beautiful; your eyes dart their eyes.)

The beautiful and clever thing about “his eyes darted around the room” is that it brings together both meanings of “dart”: the inner feeling of eye movement and the outer looking-upon of eye movement. You don’t know whether it’s going to be REM or alertness or shiftiness until you hit the modifiers, which is exciting and interesting. When you find out, it preserves a feeling of action when the character’s body is otherwise still.

Of course, I’ve noticed that many editors don’t like uncertainty in such matters, and would rather have the sort of sentences where you can guess the ending from the first few words. But nobody worries about “run” having twenty or thirty different meanings, so why worry about “dart” having two? It’s a puzzlement.

But I will also bring in authority on my side; because if it’s good enough for Shakespeare and Spenser, it’s hardly a newcomer expression.

“Now show the wound mine eye hath made in thee.
Scratch thee but with a pin, and there remains
Some scar of it; lean but upon a rush,
The cicatrice and capable impressure
Thy palm some moment keeps. But now mine eyes,
Which I have darted at thee, hurt thee not.”
— Shakespeare, As You Like It.

“In her two eyes, two living lamps did flame,
Kindled above, at the heavenly light,
And darting fiery beams out of the same
So passing pearceant, and so wondrous bright,
That quite bereaved the rash beholders of their sight.”
— Spenser

Now, it’s sad that I have to explain this beautiful frozen poem, but I have to do something to fight all that strange new clunky use of “gaze” as a substitute for “eyes” in common expressions. That’s a pet peeve for me. (Especially since poor “gaze” has been so mistreated by literary theorists in recent years.) In the last year or so, this has been a fad. It has stopped me dead and made me gag, in some writers I respect. So when I came across one of the carriers of the fad virus, someone who is otherwise a really good writer, I had to link and try persuasion. (And the rest of her blog is very helpful and useful, so do take a look at it.)

And no, sf and fantasy editors can’t drive out every idiomatic expression by whining about how it could be literal in an sf setting. It would be a Sisyphean task. There aren’t any English words or expressions in existence that don’t contain buried figurative language, except possibly “a” and “the.” Trying to eliminate all figurative speech is where madness lies. As long as all your latent metaphors aren’t jumping out of hiding and blocking the narrative road, you’re good.

(Although it makes you sound more literary to pick a bunch of latent metaphors that are all on the same topic, if anyone notices; and a lot of rhetoric is the conscious use of half-noticed imagery and motifs to manipulate listeners.)

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Andrea Alton’s Demon of Undoing – Now on Kindle!!

Demon of Undoing by Andrea Alton isn’t a super-literary book. But it is super-fun sf with the feel of fantasy, fun aliens, fun alien viewpoint character… and darn it, it’s just fun. It came out from Baen in 1988, and I swear it’s been out of print since 1989 or so. Luckily I bought the book and kept it, and I’ve reread it tons of times because it’s fun. The author hasn’t published anything since, except some indie novels that surfaced and disappeared before I could send money out of my hot little hands. I really really need her to publish more. So I need you to buy this book.

It’s a tale of adventure, cleverness, stubbornness, the bond between brothers in arms, and totally ignoring the Prime Directive. In a good way.

It’s only $2.00 on Kindle. You can borrow it for free, if you don’t trust me. You can afford it.

You will enjoy it.

I do miss the Kevin Davies cover, which was beautiful and book-accurate. I saw the painting for it at my first real sf convention. If life were fair, Demon of Undoing would be an anime with at least 26 episodes of adventure and intrigue.


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The New Doctors of the Church

St. Hildegarde of Bingen and St. John of Avila were officially named Doctors of the Church this morning in Rome, at the beginning of a bishops’ synod there.

Yes, I was crazy enough to get up 3:30 in the morning to see the Pope read the proclamation.

You can watch the rerun today on EWTN, at the much saner hour of 3 PM EST.

Via Foxfier, we learn about Michael Flynn’s hilarious use of Dr. St. Hildegarde to perform a takedown of anti-Catholic ideas about the Middle Ages being a time when the Church persecuted women who were herbalists, had visions, spoke out, wrote books, composed music, and corrected men. Hee! (Unfortunately, the rest of the post is a very sad review of recent disturbing news.)

Other female Doctors of the Church include St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Catherine of Siena.

Of course, the Church has always encouraged women to be teachers of Christian doctrine to the young. And when I say “always,” I point to Paul’s letter to young Bishop Timothy, which attributes his earliest Christian learning to his mother and grandmother, St. Eunice and St. Lois. And there have always been learned Christian women who were eager to learn Christian doctrine and theology, as shown by St. Mary of Bethany listening to Christ in full rabbi’s disciple mode. (And this was natural, because Judaism also included many learned women, including Paul’s teacher who also appears in the Bible, Gamaliel. His daughter is quoted in the Talmud.)

The truth of the matter is that, while some times and places have been restrictive for Catholic women in their practices or disciplines, the general principle has been that Catholic women can teach the Gospel any time that they’re not actually in church learning it, and that this has often gone to the extent of being given the okay for public layperson preaching. (Particularly in Italy, where there are several medieval woman preacher saints, including one who did it as a little girl prodigy.) Plenty of women wrote learned books of theology or visions or Christian plays or what have you, and we have multiple copies of many because they were passed all around Europe. Probably many books whose authors we don’t know are treatises by women religious, just as many anonymous books are by men religious who didn’t bother to sign their names. Nuns and canonesses focused on doing good works, but they were also supposed to spend most of their time somewhere on the spectrum between scholar and mystic. Study was generally a good thing, and Jesus and St. Jerome’s support of women religious throwing themselves into it was a powerful precedent. Plenty of literature and scholarly work resulted from such places, even if it has not all survived for us to read. You will note that Mother Angelica of EWTN is just another in a long line of great nun teachers of the public.

St. Hildegarde of Bingen also didn’t come out of nowhere. She came from the group of extremely learned, visionary, and skilled women religious who taught and trained her, and she taught and trained many such women herself. Most of her works were written primarily for her sister nuns in her own community, although she was unusually assiduous in spreading her books and talks to the rest of the world. The major thing that was unusual about her was that she was too sick all the time as a child to receive the same schooling as her sister nuns, and thus had to pick up a lot of things piecemeal.

She was unusually gifted, but she was different from her fellow nuns in degree of gifts, not in kind. All over the Christian world, East and West, from the beginning of Christianity on, there is always a corps of thousands of Christian women religious, whose vocation is praying and thinking as well as working. People who don’t remember that are missing a large part of the world. In her time, Chaucer’s Prioress was a bit too worldly and gadabout (English nuns of her time were constantly being told to work on holiness back in the monastery, not go on pilgrimages) and a bit too slack about holiness and study, but she had the right to have a career of community life, holiness, and study — no less than the Wife of Bath had a right to get married again to bad young men.

UPDATE: Here’s a nice story about a Hildegarde scholar at St. Xavier University in Chicago. She was in Rome today for the doctorization. 🙂

Rome Reports with a short story about St. H, including footage from a movie about her from a couple years back. (Haven’t seen the movie.)

One thing: movies are always making people who see visions look dazed and confused, and the clips on YouTube seem to bear this rule out. In real life, known visionaries usually look unusually peaceful and calm (often so calm that contemporaries think visionaries look like stupid happy cows,) and so joyful that their joy is resented by others who are less deeply happy (although other people are drawn to this because they want to be happy too). I don’t really see this being used by actors much, possibly because it’s much easier to look sad than to glow like a supernaturally sunlit window. Hildegard got migraines, which made her life a bit less fun, but the rest is kinda ridiculous.

Well, this sounds like a really stupid novel, although possibly it is ill-characterized by the reviewer. Mother Jutta was an excellent sort of person who obviously attracted people, given that she went from being an anchoress to having tons of little girls sent to her to be taught. Little Hildegard was more like the pet protegee than some kind of abused and imprisoned Protestant stereotype of nuns; she lived with Jutta in an anchor hold, not a prison; and in any case, she had so many childhood migraines that she had to rest in a dark, quiet room most days, which wasn’t something you could do back home in her parents’ sunlit rooms at their lord’s busy, noisy castle. This sort of overly dramatic stuff is just insane. If you want to write a novel about a mistreated and misunderstood nun, you can easily find historical precedents for that in bad convents. But usually nuns (and anchoresses) were getting in trouble for having too nice and non-ascetic a lifestyle, in St. H’s day. It was also perfectly normal for any busy administrator

We also see that, as with St. Teresa of Avila, she only began to be a mover and shaker in her forties. Many women think in their hearts that life is over when youth is over. It’s not true.

St. Hildegard was extremely creative and visionary in her expression of very orthodox ideas from God (well, of course they would be) and from books.

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The Legend of St. Mena. Boot to the Head!

Roger Pearse pointed to an interesting text in Old Nubian about Jesus on the Mount of Olives before the Ascension, telling Peter and company some interesting facts about the Cross, and including a beautiful hymn. (It’s in Griffith’s Nubian Texts, and starts on p. 41 for the Nubian, and p. 47 for the English translation.)

But of course I found and fixed on another text and translation which starts off the same book: “The Legend of St. Menas,” from British Museum Or. MS 6805. It’s a good fairy tale/legend sort of story, so I’ll retell it.

Once upon a time, there was a pagan woman who lived in the suburbs of Alexandria. She was rich and happily married, but she was barren. All her maids, who were married women, were also barren. All the people in her house were barren. Even every cow, goat, and chicken she had was barren. She couldn’t so much as get an egg for breakfast in the morning. Needless to say, she was very sad and felt shamed. Was it something she had done? Was there anything she could do? She tried everything, but nothing worked.

Then one eggless morning, she heard a bunch of Christian monks going by, telling about the great miracles of St. Mena, the soldier-hermit-martyr, going on at the church at Lake Mareotis, both at the monastery founded at his old hermitage out in the desert, and in the church in Philoxenite where his martyr bones were buried. So she said, “God of St. Mena, if you will command even one of my hens to lay, I will go to that Christian church in Philoxenite on Lake Mareotis, and give you the first egg.”

And lo! one of the hens did lay — but only one egg.

But the pagan woman was true to her word, and grateful. She immediately took the egg to the riverside and went to take passage on a boat going to Philoxenite, taking one of her maids with her to give her countenance. But when she found a boat going to Philoxenite, the boatman asked her why she wanted to go.

“I’m going to the church of St. Mena,” she said.

“But why are you going to a Christian shrine? I can tell you’re a pagan.”

“I’m going to dedicate this egg to the God of St. Mena, so that He will let me conceive too.”

“Well, it takes eight days to get from here to Philoxenite, and eight days back. We make a lot of stops getting there, and then we make a lot of stops around the lake before we even start coming back here. You look like a frail sort of lady to put in my rough boat, and your husband would worry if you were gone so long, and I might get in trouble. So why don’t you just give me the egg, and I’ll take it to the church for you.”

So the woman thought about it and agreed. She gave the boatman her egg (carefully packaged to keep cool, possibly preserved in oil or vinegar or salty water) and went home with her maid. The boatman took the egg down into the hold of the boat, put the package in a little bin in the cool food area, and then his son pushed off and went to Philoxenite.

But he had a lot of cargo, and plenty of things to do and people to see, and a lot was on his mind. So what with one thing and another, the boatman totally forgot about the egg. They left Philoxenite and headed off to the other side of the lake. And when they got there, the boatman noticed the package.

He opened it up, saw the egg, and asked his son, “Where did this egg come from?”

“Don’t you remember that, Dad? A pagan lady gave you that egg to put in the church of St. Mena.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, cook it for me to eat.”

Well, three days went by, and they came to a village where they pulled the boat out of the water on Saturday night, and then the boatman went to Mass there on Sunday morning, planning to receive Communion like normal at the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary.

But when he went into church, and the Trisagion hymn had been sung, and the people went up to the baptismal font to cross themselves with holy water, the boatman looked down into the font and saw St. Mena’s reflection in the water! He was dressed in his officer armor, mounted on a white horse — and about to spit the boatman on his spear of flame!

The boatman didn’t stop to see what would happen. He scrambled over to the icon of the Virgin Mary and begged the Theotokos, “Save me with your power, for I have sinned!”

St. Mena rode over, scowled at him, and said, “What am I going to do with you? Is it by Our Lady’s power that you think you can go around stealing and receiving Communion, just like nothing had happened?” Then he grabbed the boatman and gave him a boot to the head.

Immediately, the boatman felt a rooster fly down out of his butt.* The rooster flew up onto the horse, and crowed.

Menas, naked boatman, and rooster

The egg’s revenge. Click for bigger version.

St. Mena rode off with the rooster, telling the boatman to go and sin no more.

St. Mena, and his horse, and his rooster, came to the house of the pagan woman and knocked at the door, calling the woman’s name. She ran and opened the door, rather dumbfounded to find a flame-weaponed Imperial officer with a rooster under his arm. He handed her the rooster and said, “Lady, take this rooster and let it out among your chickens to make them fruitful. You shall bear a son too, lady, and you shall call him Mena. All your married servants will also have children, and all your livestock will bear. And lady, go receive baptism for the remission of your sins.” And immediately after saying this, the saint vanished, horse and spear and all.

So it all happened as the saint had said, and the house was suddenly full of pregnant women and expectant fathers, and the farmyard was full of pregnant cows and goats, and the chickens were laying non-stop. And when the days of her pregnancy and rest were over, and the days of the pregnancies and maternity leaves of her servants were too, the ex-pagan woman traveled all the way to Lake Mareotis, to Philoxenite, to the church of St. Mena, with her husband and the whole household (except the hired substitutes who were home watching the farm). And when they all asked, the priests there baptized the lady and her husband and her son Mena and the servants of her household, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And they lived as Christians ever after, sending all their first fruits all the way to the church in Philoxenite, as a thank you to the good saint.

And as for the boatman, I assume he never again ate a customer’s cargo, because nobody wants chickens flying out of his butt!*


*Or mouth. The translation isn’t clear on where the digested-egg/rooster “descended” from, because the manuscript is pretty munched up. The mss picture, published in color facsimile in Budge’s Texts Relating to Saint Mena, shows the boatman naked except for a loincloth concession to Mass (as sailors frequently went naked back then, including St. Peter out fishing). The loincloth has fallen off in his panic and he’s holding it in his hands to protect his modesty, and the rooster is under his butt. So yeah, I’m thinking the saint kicked it out the latter end of his digestive tract.


St. Menas/Mina/Minas/Mena is a saint in the calendars of both East and West, and was very well-known throughout Asia and Europe at one time. His feast day used to be November 10 (and I assume it still is). If you have a local Coptic church dedicated to St. Mina, this is the guy. He really lived, and his career as Christian soldier and hermit wasn’t all that uncommon among early Christians. (Especially if you were a soldier’s son, after the law was passed that forced Legionaries’ sons to serve their twenty years in the Legions.) His shrine church and monastery were both very famous for miracles, and the monastery for holy monks and scholars. The Copts have a new monastery, dedicated in the Sixties to him, that’s near the old site.


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Catholics in Anime: Shibata Maria in Angelic Layer

I don’t watch or read a lot of CLAMP’s anime or manga, but I’m pretty fond of Angelic Layer, their unusually clean answer to Pokemon and other “partner” tournament fighting animes. In this case, it’s the near future, and the partner is a tiny electronically-animated doll with movements controlled by its owner’s thoughts as channeled through an electronic helmet. Like the better-known and more tedious Cardcaptor Sakura, the main characters are mostly female, but Angelic Layer‘s are a lot easier to relate to.

Anyway, the team of CLAMP creators seem to have a weird aesthetic fixation with Catholic-like private schools in their work, but I don’t know if there’s any biographical reason for that. This character is unusually realistic, however.

In episode 7 of Angelic Layer, the main character is matched against Shibata Maria, a Japanese Catholic with a lot of anger issues. She resents her name, because she doesn’t want to be meek. She resents her parents’ constant insistence that their athletic daughter stay inside and take care of her sickly brother (because they both work in an office, which in Japan means “work late”), which doesn’t let her spend time with friends outside of school. Eventually she lost friends because of this. (And the parents don’t even show up to watch Maria at the all-Tokyo tournament, so it would seem she has reasons for her anger.) But she’s also angry at people who push around her little brother, whom she does love. Needless to say, she dresses and acts like a tough in her rare free time at the tournament, and fights hard.

You can watch English-dubbed episodes of Angelic Layer free at The WB, including episode 7. The dub voices are a bit annoying, but it’s still quite watchable.

Shibata seems to be the real life family name of quite a few Japanese Catholics. That’s probably because the town of Shibata in Niigata has a fairly old Catholic community. Here’s a picture of their modern parish church. Here’s the obituary of Mr. Shibata Yukinori.

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Chinese Restaurant Served Roadkill Deer?

I believe that they hauled in roadkill. (And who wouldn’t? Fresh roadkill deer is good eatin’.)

What I don’t believe is that they planned to serve good venison to customers, when it would have been much nicer for Chinese cooks far from home to clean, butcher, cook, and eat all the deer goodies themselves, in true Chinese banquet cuisine style. Probably every part but the hooves would have gotten used and put into their tummies, except maybe the hooves. (Although Chinese cuisine does include dishes that would cook down hooves, too.) And if they had used venison in their stirfry, I’d take that as a plus, not a minus.

What I also don’t believe is that anybody from Kentucky actually objected. Man, there are some weenies in Kentucky today. I suppose you might report it if you thought somebody hunting out of season, but that’s about it.

A more robust story from Virginia. Apparently the blood trail kinda grossed some customers out.

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Babylon 5 Actor Now National Talk Show Host

Jerry Doyle, best known for playing Garibaldi on Babylon 5 and for his Las Vegas radio talk show, is taking over Michael Savage’s 3 PM to 6 PM timeslot on Talk Radio Network. His show’s been syndicated for a while, but not in my area (that I know of).

I met him once at Marcon in Columbus, at one of his first sf cons, and did a little goferish steering him around. He was a pretty nice guy, and a good talker. Not sure what his current politics are, but he’s probably worth a listen.

Here’s a press release from Talk Radio Network about The Jerry Doyle Show. It includes a link to the show’s webpage, including podcasts.


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