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Research Fail: Dave Duncan Edition

Everybody who writes historical fiction, or any other book that needs research, will have a failure somewhere.

In Dave Duncan’s otherwise excellent medieval alt-history fantasy, Ironfoot, his failure comes in his description of Old English grammar. It’s hard to write about the future in Old English, he says, because it has no future tense.

Um. Dave. Neither does Modern English. Not the conjugation-within-the-verb kind. We have “compound tenses,” which use a helper verb like “will” or “shall.”

It’s also possible to talk about the future in English by using time markers.

“Tomorrow, we go to the Moon!”

“As soon as the rocket finishes refueling and fires up, we go to the Moon!”

I blame elementary school grammar classes. They don’t actually teach people the rules of English grammar; instead, they focus on an idealized version based on Latin.

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Here’s an Interesting Historical Figure.

St. Joseph of Palestine.

No, not St. Joseph the Carpenter. No, this is a different guy.

Among the notable Christians of Emperor Constantine’s time was an ex-disciple of Rabbi Hillel II (?). He was named Joseph, and was left the guardianship of Hillel’s son, Judah, after the rabbi died. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and also worked as an envoy for them.

Joseph alleged that in his last days, Hillel sent for a “physician” who was actually the local bishop, and received a “bath for his health” that was actually Baptism. Joseph kept silent about this, but he did get interested in reading the Gospels. At one point, he had a vision of Jesus. So he decided to become a Christian, but hadn’t done anything about it when he was caught with his suspicious Christian books, all the way out in Cilicia, where he was being an envoy. He was saved from being drowned in the river by the public arrival of s Cilician bishop, who took Joseph off to safety.

Emperor Constantine got very interested in the story and made Joseph a high officia in AD 323. During his time in office, he dealt with opposition by both Jews and Arian Christians, as he tried to build a church in his headquarters city, Tiberias. He also built churches in several Galilean towns important to the Gospels, including Sepphoris, Nazareth, and Capernaum. (There’s a lot of question as to whether any Christians lived there, or if he was just trying to create pilgrimage centers, or what. Apparently these were big centers of unrest during the Jewish revolt against Constantius Gallus.)

The good life ended when Emperor Constantine started to favor Arian bishops and persecute orthodox ones. Joseph moved to a nice place in Scythopolis, which had the advantage of being away from both Jewish and Christian factions. He used his place as a safe house for orthodox folks in trouble, including St. Eusebius of Vercelli and St. Epiphanius (who recorded his story in his book on heresies, the Panarion, in Lib. 30, c. 4).

Joseph died in AD 356. His feastday is July 22, and it is on the calendars of both East and West. He’s also known as Joseph of Tiberias.

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St. Ammonius and the Unwed Pregnant Girl

One time, they brought an unwed pregnant girl to Father Amun and his monks in the desert, and they said, “Give her a penance.”

But he blessed her womb with the Sign of the Cross, and ordered that pieces of cloth be given to her, to serve as a shroud in case the mother or her baby died.

And they asked, “What are you doing? Put a penance on her!”

But Father Amun said, “But my brothers, you see that she is in danger of death. What can I do?”

Amun felt unworthy to judge others. He was merciful and full of goodness toward people.

— Adapted from Anthony Alcock’s translation of the Syrian “Apothegmata of Amun.”

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Our Lady of Knock Documentary: Strange Occurrences in an Irish Village

There’s an interesting Irish documentary on Amazon Prime right now: “Strange Occurrences in an Irish Village.” (The name comes from one of the early newspaper articles about the Knock apparition.)

The 2016 documentary focuses on the modern history of Knock, and how the locals are trying to help renew the pilgrimages and the Irish love for the Catholic Church. Unfortunately a lot of Irish-Americans are more interested than a lot of Irish!

Anyway, there’s a great bit at the beginning where Knock villagers read from the original depositions made by their ancestors. I didn’t realize that the apparition was first heralded by the following words:

“When did the deacon put up those new statues?”

“I didn’t know we were getting statues.”

(Of course, they weren’t statues; they were mysterious images of saints that appeared strangely solid, but could not be felt with the hand.)

The documentary does get into a lot of the history later on, and you get to see a lot of the actual local sites and landscape. County Mayo is cool.

Knock’s story tends to be retold in a syrupy way, so I really like a more matter-of-fact retelling that doesn’t minimize the miracle. I also like the locals who are featured; they are the salt of the earth. You also learn that even in these softer days, there are young Irishmen who like to make a barefoot pilgrimage to Knock.

I also didn’t realize that at least one of the witnesses, Mary O’Connell Byrne, was found to be incorrupt in her coffin when they added a family member to her grave.

The annoying bit is that they have some goofy music moments when people are being serious and solemn. But overall it’s a very beautiful documentary, and you learn a lot about how hard people work together to keep up a nice shrine for God.

(And yes, of course there’s a bit where they talk to two nuns, and one of them is faithful and conservative but painted as obsessed, but the other gets into women’s ordination. Sigh.)

It looks like Knock isn’t all that crowded for most of the year, which is kind of a shame for them; but is probably nice for you if you go there.

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The Best Law Video You’ll See All Week

“The Magical Birth Canal”.

Safe for work, unless you have humorless coworkers scalded by conscience.

(So… maybe not safe for work.)

Anyway, a very cute and winning presentation of one of our society’s fundamental injustices.

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Aphra Behn’s Name

One would assume that Aphra Behn’s name came from Latin or Greek, and from the martyr, St. Afra.

Actually, it’s a Puritan name. “Aphrah” is Hebrew for dust, and comes from the thing in Micah about the “house of dust.”

This and many other interesting tidbits can be found in Oddities of Puritan Nomenclature, which is also a very good book about medieval English names.

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St. Erin?

Or, Why Do Good Catholics Think This Is a Good Baptismal Name?

Yes, Irish-American Catholics tend to assume that anything they like is pre-approved by the Pope. But why did American Catholics start naming their girls Erin? Why is it such a thing? Why? Why? Why?

— First off, Erin is really “Eirinn.” It’s the Gaelic dative form of Eire, or its Old Irish form, Eriu. Eire is the name of Ireland, or the island upon which Ireland and Northern Ireland are found; and Eriu is the name of its personification, the goddess Eriu. (Which in Proto-Celtic meant something like “land, fat land, abundant land.”)

So are people naming their kids “for Ireland” or “to Ireland”? Or are they really using the genitive form “Eireann,” and thus naming them “of Ireland”?

Maybe, maybe not. There are actually two dialects of Irish where the dative form Eirinn can be used as a nominative form, instead of using Eire. Obviously, these dialects were influential, since they show up in sayings like “Erin go bragh.”

— Okay. So… what does it mean to name your kid after a country? Why does the Social Security Administration show all these “Erins” showing up in 1947? I don’t know. There may have been an influential movie or novel character, but that’s just a guess, or it may have just been a general consensus that “Erin go bragh” sounds pretty.

From a Catholic point of view, though, the name “Erin” is kind of weird. Yes, Ireland is the land of saints and scholars, but it is not itself holy. (As the vote for legalized abortion has abundantly proved.)

— So there are a couple of different options. It could be referring to Our Lady’s title “Queen of Ireland,” if it were actually using the genitive form Eireann. The title “Queen of Ireland” was connected with the 19th century apparitions at Knock, where Mary appeared to a good chunk of a village, and it appears in several popular prayers and songs praising Our Lady of Knock.

There’s also a wonderworking painting of Mary in Gyor, Hungary, called “Our Lady of Ireland,” because it had originally hung in Clonfert Cathedral, and had been rescued by the exiled Bishop Lynch (who left it to the Bishop of Gyor). Calvinists, Lutherans, and even a rabbi signed a deposition talking about how the painting shed real tears of blood on March 17, 1697. Here’s an article in Hungarian, with pictures of it in the cathedral.

There is a copy of this painting in St. Stephen’s Church in Toledo, Ohio, which was given in 1913 by Toledo’s bishop to his Hungarian parish; but unfortunately I’ve never seen it. The copy was touched to the actual painting, and is thus a relic itself.

Here’s an article with pictures of the Toledo copy and the original painting, by the amazing Jeffrey Smith! And here’s a closer view of the original. Was it by an Irish painter?

So yup, a shorter version of “Rian Eireann” or “Muire na hEireann” (“Mary of Ireland,” which is the translation used in Ireland for “Our Lady, Queen of Ireland”) is a real possibility. I think all of you Erins have a lovely patroness!

— However, there’s also a very famous title of St. Brigid that comes to mind. She was called “the Mary of the Gaels” (Muire na Gael).

— The other possibility is that it’s yet another version of the Greek “Irene,” peace, and the various St. Irenes. This name is sometimes written “Erina,” “Erena,” or “Herena.”

— “Erinna” is also an ancient Greek name, associated with a pagan Greek poetess of that name, Erinna of Telos.

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