Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Chalice: A Novel

Those who enjoyed Nancy Bilyeau's debut historical novel The Crown will find its sequel The Chalice  even more heart-wrenching and suspenseful. Once again we follow the adventures of former Dominican novice Joanna Stafford as she is torn from her peaceful country life and thrust into the maelstrom of Tudor-era intrigue. Having survived the dissolution of the monasteries, Joanna is trying to start a tapestry business in order to earn her living, when suddenly her wealthy and prominent Courtenay cousins arrive in town. They take her to stay with them in their mysterious old house in London where Joanna soon discovers that people and situations are not always what they seem. To her great discomfiture, it is revealed to Joanna that she is the key figure in a prophecy, a prophecy which pursues her wherever she goes. In the meantime, she struggles to keep her Catholic faith in a hostile environment, as well as deal with temptations of the flesh.

It is not always clear to me what Joanna's canonical status is, whether she was a novice or professed nun in temporary vows.  Since she is referred to as a novice and yet there is also mention of her vows, I assume she has made her first profession. At any rate, this confusion reflects Joanna's own turmoil and uncertainty at being taken from her monastery and cut off from legitimate church authority. She is also torn in her affections for two very different young men. The interior struggles of Joanna amid the exterior hostilities and dangers make for a bitter mystical chalice which she must drink. Joanna, like many in England at the time, are drawn into their own Gethsemane where, in an imperfect but sincere way, they are called to imitate Christ in His Agony. Joanna strives to be a faithful Catholic in spite of what is going on around her, and is shown spending time in prayer. I must say, having once had to leave a cloistered monastery novitiate when I was the around the same age as Joanna, I find her reactions to be extremely authentic for her circumstances.

The times described in The Chalice parallel our own in many ways, not only with the confusion in religious belief and practice but also the penchant for the occult. Now in the sixteenth century, what we now consider to be science overlapped a great deal with what we now consider to be arcane. For instance, astrology was seen as being part of astronomy, and was not necessarily a means of divination but rather part of understanding the workings of the natural order. There were also all kinds of false mystics and professional mediums. There is a scene where Joanna is taken against her will to see some kind of a creepy fortuneteller in a dangerous part of town, and we are made to feel her horror and disgust at having anything at all to do with the dark forces.

Along with Joanna and her friends, there are a colorful assortment of characters in The Chalice, people whom Joanna meets in the course of her adventures. I think the author did a superb job in creating well-rounded and complex personalities, all of whom have their weaknesses and strengths. The various settings add to the changing complexion of the story, whether it be a country village in England or a prison in Flanders. Both fast-paced adventure and  morality tale, The Chalice is a page-turner with the courage to explore spiritual and moral issues from the point of view of an impetuous but pious young lady.

(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the author's representative in exchange for my honest opinion.)


Marriage by Proxy

Marie-Antoinette's first wedding ceremony. To quote:
On 19 April 1770, the Archduchess Marie Antoinette married Louis, the Dauphin of France, by proxy. At 6:00 pm, the 14 year old bride, wearing a glistening and luxurious gown of cloth of silver, with a train carried by Countess Trautmannsdorf, entered the Church of the Augustine Friars, where her parents had got married too 34 years ago. Her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, led her up the aisle, before sitting down, next to her son Joseph, on a dais to the right of the altar.

The ceremony was officiated by the Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Visconti. Marie Antoinette's proxy bridegroom was her brother the Archduke Ferdinand. His role was easy. Antonia Fraser, in her biography of Marie Antoinette, says that Ferdinand "simply had to take the Latin vow, 'I am willing and thus make my promise,' kneel beside his sister and enjoy the nuptial supper at her side." Then, the vows were taken and the rings blessed. (Read entire post.)

Monday, April 29, 2013


Above is a rug made by Marie-Antoinette and Madame Elisabeth during their years of imprisonment. It was begun in the Tuileries Palace in 1791; they continued working on it in the Temple prison. (Via Louis XX.)


Hadrian's Wall

How photographs can change history. From the BBC:
Hundreds of miles away from Hadrian's Wall, a man surfing the internet from the comfort of his home stumbled across something that astonished the professionals. Bryn Gethin's discovery on his computer in Warwickshire, was one of a number, based on aerial photography and imaging techniques, that are rewriting a whole era of Roman history. He spotted something while browsing old LIDAR (light detection and ranging) images, which show remains even if covered by trees or buildings. Experts say he had potentially discovered the camp of the men who actually built the wall that runs across the country from Tyneside to Cumbria. Surveyor Humphrey Welfare, currently investigating the site, said the camp would not have been seen without aerial images.

"It gives us another little insight, a little window into what happened during the construction of the wall," he said. "And that's how archaeology builds up, piece by piece."

It was known the wall supported civilian communities which provided goods and services in a local economy that benefitted both occupiers and natives. But it seems there were Iron Age settlements hundreds of years before the arrival of the Romans who, rather than being an aggressive conquering force, forged working relationships with the resident population. (Read entire article.)


The Plight of Adjunct Professors

Since I am interested in teaching online college level courses, I found this article to be of interest. To quote:
While hiring greater numbers of adjuncts might make economic sense for universities, it hasn’t gone without some serious, often warranted, criticism. That’s because adjuncts, as a temporary workforce, haven’t been treated especially well by the universities who employ them. While there are exceptions, most adjuncts are faced with pretty abysmal working conditions causing this once invisible campus group to become a serious point of contention among many worried about the state of higher education.

Though some might dismiss adjunct work as part-time and therefore less stressful than that done by full-time, tenured professors, that isn’t the reality for most adjuncts, at least not if they want to make a living wage. A survey by the Center for the Future of Higher Education found that 54% were teaching at multiple institutions, often because work at one school wasn’t enough to pay the bills. While most only teach at two schools, it’s not unheard of for adjuncts to take on work at three or even four schools within a single semester, leading to some serious hours commuting from campus to campus.

This commute can add not only additional time but also costs to each work week, and with one third of adjuncts making less than $2,987 per class, commuting costs can quickly put a strain on adjunct income, which has lagged behind inflation for almost two decades.

This poor pay, about $25,000 a year on average, has left many relying on public assistance to make ends meet. Since 2007, the number of Americans with a master’s degree or higher who use public assistance programs has doubled, and it’s no secret that many of these downtrodden by highly educated individuals work as adjuncts, barely eking out the $19,000 a year that puts them below the poverty line for an individual. Add to that a lack of health care and retirement benefits due to their part-time status and adjuncts are actually worse off than university staff that perform jobs that require nothing more than a high school education.

Pam Gilchrist and her husband both worked as adjuncts at several universities for more than a decade before moving on. “We jokingly called it ‘a paid hobby.’ I love to teach. Unfortunately, I simply couldn’t make a living serving as an adjunct.” (Read entire article.)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bathing Gowns

Marie-Antoinette was never without one. From Jane Austen's World:
During the 18th century women wore a long flannel shift while bathing, sometimes with lead weights sewn into the hem to keep the skirts from floating up. (Word Wenches: Keeping It Clean.)


The time it took to prepare for a bath was long and arduous. Water had to be hauled from the well, heated in sufficient quantities, and then hauled up the stairs before the water cooled. One did not take a quick bath in such an instance, but would linger in the tub until the water became too cold for comfort. One imagines that a roaring fire kept the room (and bather) warm. In those days, aristocratic women entertained visitors in their dressing rooms while wearing elaborate dressing gowns (Read entire post.)

Harry Dexter White and Capitalism

From the Whittaker Chambers blog:
In the end, it remains difficult to say why Harry Dexter White acted as he did. Why did a Soviet spy construct a system that helped save and indefinitely prolong world capitalism? It is in the nature of espionage that documentation is rare and inaccessible, and witnesses lie. What evidence we have suggests something like the following about White’s career: in 1934, when he was an academic, the US Treasury asked him to report on the problem of a monetary standard. His response already included basics of what became the Bretton Woods system: a case against both the gold standard and floating exchange rates (the latter of which White regarded as practically feasible, but politically unlikely) and a case for the adjustable peg, to be kept in place by an international monetary fund. This report got him a longer term job at the Treasury. Sometime after this, White began passing information to Whittaker Chambers, a GRU agent. One memorandum in White’s handwriting survives, and though it contains little if anything that qualifies as actual confidential information, perhaps other, vanished memos contained secrets for the Soviets. According to Chambers, White was keen also to send the Soviets his plan for monetary reform in the USSR, and the Soviets were eager to have it. (Read entire post.)

The Great Cat Massacre

I read the book many years ago. The cruelty to animals that was tolerated in times past is difficult to read about.
Our own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of pre-industrial Europe. The perception of that distance may serve as the starting point of an investigation, for anthropologists have found that the best points of entry in an attempt to penetrate an alien culture can be those where it seems to be most opaque. When you realise that you are not getting something – a joke, a proverb, a ceremony that is particularly meaningful to the natives, you can see where to grasp a foreign system of meaning in order to unravel it. By getting the joke of the great cat massacre, it may be possible to 'get' a basic ingredient of artisanal culture under the Old Regime.

The first explanation that probably would occur to most readers of Contat's story is that the cat massacre served as an oblique attack on the master and his wife. Contat set the event in the context of remarks about the disparity between the lot of workers and the bourgeois – a matter of the basic elements in life: work, food, and sleep. The injustice seemed especially flagrant in the case of the apprentices, who were treated like animals while the animals were promoted over their heads to the position the boys should have occupied, the place at the master's table. Although the apprentices seem most abused, the text makes it clear that the killing of the cats expressed a hatred for the bourgeois that had spread among all the workers: 'The masters love cats; consequently [the workers] hate them.' After master-minding the massacre, Leveille became the hero of the shop, because 'all workers are in league against the masters. It is enough to speak badly of them [the masters] to be esteemed by the whole assembly of typographers'.

Historians have tended to treat the era of artisanal manufacturing as an idyllic period before the onset of industrialisation. Some even portray the workshop as a kind of extended family in which master and journeymen laboured at the same tasks, ate at the same table, and sometimes slept under the same roof. Had anything happened to poison the atmosphere of the printing shops in Paris by 1740? (Read entire post.)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Audrey's Timeless Appeal

From The Globe and Mail:
Her style communicates that inner character. Sure, she had help in crafting her image. Hubert de Givenchy, the designer and lifelong friend who was responsible for her iconic little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, perfected her minimalist chic. And Roman makeup artist Alberto de Rossi invented her “mascara look” and the “wing” eyebrows that helped define her beauty. But there was an idiosyncratic element to the way she put herself together that was not deliberate, that wasn’t dictated by a stylist-on-retainer.

She was a woman of a thousand head scarves, oversized round sunglasses and flats. (Salvatore Ferragamo made a shoe for her, a testament of her ability to influence fashion trends.) She loved to carry a small basket as a purse in the summer and in the winter. Not a choice for convenience or safekeeping of things, it suggested a certain Hollygo– lightness of being, a fondness for strolling through the garden of life or an outdoor market full of choices, ready to collect that which delighted her. Even in her last years, she carried one to gather roses from her garden. (Read entire article.)

Benjamin Britten: Music, Sex, and Politics

A new book about the modern British composer is reviewed by R.J. Stove. (I don't think Rob cares much for Britten's music.) To quote:
It has become a cliché among such books’ reviewers to observe that Britten is as popular now as when he died in 1976. He is certainly as much talked about as he was then. How much this verbiage concerns his music is another issue. (After the nauseating revelations of earlier biographers, John Bridcut and the late Humphrey Carpenter, no newspaper in 2013 would dare use the headline with which London’s Sunday Times flagged the composer’s obituary: “Britten: a man with purity of vision.”)

We need not adopt the indefensibly extreme stance of dismissing Britten as a Harvey Milk with brains to point out that his initial cheer squad drew disproportionately upon musical semi-literates. Tributes to him as “English music’s savior” or “the first major English composer since Purcell” were always absurd. The truth is, artistic criteria play a smaller role in Britten’s current repute than in that of any other important modern creative musician, Shostakovich excepted. For most present-day pundits, Britten and Shostakovich matter primarily as dissidents, sexual dissidence assuming the same inspirational role with the Englishman that political dissidence has with the Russian. Both men accordingly generate innumerable column inches from a commentariat largely uninterested in musical considerations. (Read entire article.)

For All the Tea in China...

The eighteenth century fascination with East Asia and tea. To quote:
High-class people in the 18th century were obsessed with East Asia. Go to any stately home of the period and you will find any amount of Chinese wallpaper and lacquered cabinets. European well-to-do’s sought to imitate their oriental cousins. They rode in sedan chairs (a sort of European version of the palanquin). They communicated with fans. Even the oh-so-English custom of taking tea, which derives from the period, is a poor imitation of the Chinese tea ceremony.Why the fascination? Because European fleets were making the journey to and from the Far East in order to furnish people with luxuries, and bringing back tales of exotic lands with them.

The big trading powers in the water at the time were the East India Companies: the English and the Dutch (known as the VOC, or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie). The two countries had already fought each other over the right to control the spice trade in the 17th century, and England had lost. The Netherlands controlled the main part of the spice trade from their base in Batavia (Jakarta). They were also the only Europeans allowed to trade directly with Japan after the Sakoku (closed country) Edict of 1635. They were restricted to the man-made island of Deshima, in Nagasaki harbour, and all other European traders had to go through them. (That’s why if you see any genuine Japanese lacquer-ware from before 1868 – as opposed to the inferior Chinese sort – in an English stately home, you can be sure it was very, very expensive!) England, however, had its company factories in India (where it exerted ever-increasing power), China, and a changing array of places in between. (Read entire post.)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Earl Grey

Tea and the Duchess. To quote:
The real Charles Grey was described as ‘tall, slim and strikingly handsome’. He had been born on 13 March 1764 into a prominent Northumberland family, with its country seat at Howick Hall. One of seven children, he went to Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, and at the age of 22 was elected to Parliament. He gravitated towards Whig politics and was closely associated with Charles James Fox, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and the Prince of Wales.

Shortly after becoming an MP he was introduced to Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. She was of course already married but he pursued her with headstrong impetuosity. She became pregnant by him in 1791 but their relationship was doomed: Georgiana went abroad to have their child, Eliza Courtney, returning to her husband in September 1793 and handing the child over to Grey’s parents to raise. (Read entire post.)

A Brief History of Property Tax

Taxes have long been with us. To quote:
The earliest known tax records, dating from approximately six thousand years B.C., are in the form of clay tablets found in the ancient city-state of Lagash in modern day Iraq, just northwest of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The king used a tax system called bala, which meant “rotation.” The assessors would focus on one area of the citystate, assessing and taxing one area each month, thereby breaking down the arduous task into more manageable components. (This is a lesson that we have used in present day Boston by not attempting to focus on all property in a revaluation year. Instead, we focus great attention on the valuation of retail and industrial property during one year, following up the next year with apartments or other sub-sets of property. This allows a thorough review of the various components of value and ultimately leads to better assessments.) In Lagash taxes were very low, but in a time of crisis or war the tax rate was ten percent of all goods, which were primarily composed of food. (Read entire post.)

The Cosmological Revolution

The sexual revolution has reached its logical conclusion. From Rod Dreher via Maggie Gallagher:
Our post-Christian culture, then, is an “anti-culture.” We are compelled by the logic of modernity and the myth of individual freedom to continue tearing away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.

Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen.

It also remains to be seen whether we can keep Christianity without accepting Christian chastity. Sociologist Christian Smith’s research on what he has termed “moralistic therapeutic deism”—the feelgood, pseudo-Christianity that has supplanted the normative version of the faith in contemporary America—suggests that the task will be extremely difficult. (Read entire article.)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Churching of the Duchesse de Berry

Marie-Caroline of Naples, the Duchesse de Berry, celebrates her churching ceremony in what looks like either the private chapel or parish church, perhaps at Rosny, her country estate. She is holding the infant Duc de Bordeaux, born after the violent death of the Duc de Berry in 1820. The baby's nurse is kneeling in red behind her. It was a tradition for Catholic mothers to formally return to church forty days after giving birth, carrying the child, led by a priest with his stole. This was in imitation of the purification of the Virgin, when the Child Jesus was presented in the Temple, forty days after His birth. (Via Louis XX.)


The Loss of Feminine Dignity

Can the upheaval of the sexual revolution be reversed? To quote Mary Woodard:
The story goes something like this. For a woman, up until fairly recently, sex was a risky thing. She could ask much of a man before she consented to being his. She was the one who risked getting pregnant. The one who would have to carry the child, birth it, and nurture it. She had a right to be picky.

She could require things of her potential suitor. She could say, “If you want me, you had better be kind, and generous, and considerate, and just, and good, and honest. Will you promise to look after me and our potential child? On a lesser note, I like chocolate. Also, roses would not be amiss. Are you up on your diamond knowledge? Have I told you how much a like pearls?”

And in being picky, she civilized the male who wanted her, turning him into a man.

But then, along came the Sexual Revolution. Any personal risk to the woman was greatly lessened. Sex became cheap, and in turn women cheapened their very selves and lowered their own previously high requirements in order to attract the men whom they could no longer require anything from.

In an odd twist of fate, the sexual revolution—meant to raise women to grand heights of freedom and choice—birthed not only the strippers and the woman who was trying to have fun watching them with her husband, it also brought forth the fourteen-year-old girl who is made to feel guilty if she doesn’t attend to the “needs” of her male classmates.

It’s all fun and games, until you look at your child and realize that it has never occurred to her that she is absolutely priceless and worthy of any good thing she desires in a man.

No one has ever shown her this.

And it is the showing that matters. Telling your daughter “You are worth more than that!” means nothing, if you don’t require anything better yourself. (Read entire article.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Medallion of Louis XVI

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Share

The Daughter of Richard III

Author Susan Higginbotham shares some of her phenomenal research on the Plantagenets. To quote:
I was surprised to see that although Wikipedia has an entry on John, Richard III’s illegitimate son, there was no entry for his illegitimate daughter, Katherine Plantagenet. This may be because while little is known about John, even less is known about Katherine.

To start with, we do not know when John or Katherine were born or the identity of their mothers. It is often confidently asserted by admirers of Richard III that the children were born before his marriage, and while it seems likelier than not that Katherine at least was the product of his bachelor days, it is impossible to say this with certainty. We do not even know whether the children had the same mother.

Historian Rosemary Horrox, however, has identified a possible candidate as Katherine’s mother: Katherine Haute, who received an annuity of five pounds from Richard’s estates in East Anglia. Horrox suggests that Katherine was the wife of James Haute, a kinsman of Elizabeth Woodville. Had young Richard, Duke of Gloucester, wishing to make honorable provision for a former mistress, sought the queen’s help in arranging a suitable match for her? If so—and this is, of course, no more than speculation—it is yet another factor undermining the claim that the relationship between Richard and the queen was hostile before 1483.

Nothing is known about Katherine Plantagenet’s early years, or where she spent them. She is not named in the records of Richard’s coronation as one of the ladies receiving robes for the occasion. Richard’s seizure of the throne in 1483, however, wrought a vast change in Katherine’s own fortunes: the following year, she married an earl. (Read entire post.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria

From the Mad Monarchist:
Although he may not have been what the world would consider a “successful” monarch, I have always had a soft spot for the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I. He was, undoubtedly, handicapped but probably not so disabled as most people think and he was a very kind man, a devoutly religious man and a monarch who did the best he could for as long as he could. He was born on April 19, 1793, the first son of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II and his consort Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily. Unfortunately, because the two were so closely related (being double first cousins), Ferdinand was born with some severe disabilities. The Emperor was overjoyed with the birth of his little boy, looking with his heart rather than his head, and hurriedly announced the arrival of a “healthy” baby which was certainly not the case. Medical staff had to work hard to keep him alive and it was evident from his unusually large head that he had severe problems. Among his ailments were water on the brain, soft bones and severe epilepsy, causing him to have as many as twenty seizures a day. There were also other neurological problems that became evident as he grew older. He was, for example, very slow in learning to talk and when he did, suffered from a considerable speech impediment. (Read entire post.)

Men and Women are Different

Gender stereotypes have been confirmed as true. (Believe it or not.) To quote The Telegraph:
A new analysis of a survey of 10,000 people found that each sex has firmly entrenched characteristics, with women showing more sensitivity, warmth and apprehension than men. In contrast, emotional stability, dominance, rule-consciousness and vigilance are more typically male characteristics, experts said. Previous research has claimed that that average personality differences between men and women are small. But the new analysis published in the Public Library of Science One journal revealed that each sex shares a distinct set of characteristics, with just 18 per cent of men having a typically "female" set of traits or vice versa. Past studies have shown that men and women average similar scores on the 16PF5 – a well-known and frequently used measure of personality. (Read entire article.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Elizabeth I and Other Women

Did Elizabeth really hate other women? Or just the idea of marriage in general? From author Sandra Byrd:
There has long been an “urban rumor” that Elizabeth Tudor hated other women. It’s true that she was a female monarch in a time which greatly preferred sovereign men.  (Note the extent to which her father, Henry VIII, extended himself to get a male heir, as well as  the contents of John Knox’s much-circulated pamphlet, “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,” which railed against sitting queens and regents of the era.) Elizabeth  didn’t forestall imprisoning women for long periods of time, such as her Grey cousins and Mary Queen of Scots, when she felt they threatened her throne, which admittedly may have seemed unfeminine and harsh.

Because of her ruling position, Queen Elizabeth was never really able to be an equal companion with anyone.  William Cecil,  1st Baron Burghley, who dedicated his life to her service, once said the queen was “more than a man and, in truth, something less than a woman.” And yet, perhaps that was a man's perspective, or one man's perspective of a woman with power.  

Elizabeth knew how to dress like a woman, flirt like a woman, fall in love like a woman, and there were certainly women who were in every sense her lifelong friends. Take for example, Katherine Carey Knollys, daughter of Mary Boleyn.  Shortly after Elizabeth became queen, she installed this cousin as Chief Lady of the Bedchamber and kept her close at hand, perhaps to the detriment of Knollys family, till the day Lady Knollys died. (Read entire post.)

Stepmothers as Villains

The dark side of medieval motherhood.To quote:
Although there are examples of ‘good’ stepmothers from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, (St Margaret of Scotland and Adeliza of Louvain just to name a few), this paper will focus on those of evil repute, the women who provoked vehement disapproval from medieval chroniclers. I will primarily concentrate on William of Malmesbury’s portrayal of the Anglo-Saxon queen Ælfthryth. I have chosen to focus solely on the writings of Anglo-Norman chroniclers in this period, asI am curious to discover what viewpoints they held about these women and what this can tell us about the broader themes of female lordship, social stereotypes, and the family dynamic.

While some women received praise and accolades for wielding manly (virilis) power and authority by medieval chroniclers, others were marginalized for the same actions. It is important to examine this dichotomy to pinpoint distinguishing characteristics and determine why some women were successful in exercising female lordship while others were seen as unnatural and even monstrous.

Anglo-Norman writers seem to assign women to one of two extremes within the chronicles: on one side there are women who are presented as visions of perfection. With almost super-human ease, these women excel at marriage, motherhood, and religious devotion all of which are reflected in their physical beauty. These women do not seek power, but act admirably if they are required to wield it in the name of a husband, son or father. At the other extreme lie women who represent the very worst qualities of the female sex. These women may also be physically beautiful, but this beauty does not reflect nobility of character. Rather, these women are temptresses, adulteresses who may even be accused of witchcraft and murder. These are women who crave power for personal gain rather than for familial glorification or the public good and who pursue it all cost. Both extremes are exaggerated examples and I would posit that the majority of Anglo-Norman noblewomen existed in a midway state between the two. (Read entire article.)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Languedoc in the Spring

From a recent traveler to the South of France:
Carcassonne finally fell on my last afternoon. The rampart walks were green with spring grass and several shops and restaurants were still closed, resting before the summer invasion. If you stuck to the edges it was fun: the Château Comtal tour was a lesson in medieval defensive architecture – even if much of it was built in the 19th century – and the Basilica of St Nazaire rang with the sound of a choir.

It was worth visiting just for the relief of a battle in its south transept – so energetic that the medieval knights and their weapons almost exploded out of the stone – and a simple effigy of Simon de Montfort, ambitious 12th-century nobleman, scourge of the Cathars and father to the de Montfort who led an English rebellion against Henry III.

A path wound out of the Port d'Aude, past kitchen staff from the Hotel de la Cité having a fag break before popping back to work via a medieval turret, and led down to the basse ville, a grid of streets between the Aude and Canal du Midi. At the Café Felix on the main square, bavette et frites was the plat du jour and most of the diners were regulars, as they have been since it opened in 1945.

There were zinc bottle drawers behind the bar and on the wall an old photograph of Felix himself, in rugby kit – English rugby is a regional passion – squatting in a vineyard. Above him was a familiar skyline of turrets and towers, battlements and embrasures. Blacker, less perfect, a smile before extensive dental work, but unmistakably my old friend Carcassonne. (Read entire post.)

Health and Meditation

Doctors recommend meditation. From the Wall Street Journal:
Integrative medicine programs including meditation are increasingly showing up at hospitals and clinics across the country. Recent research has found that meditation can lower blood pressure and help patients with chronic illness cope with pain and depression. In a study published last year, meditation sharply reduced the risk of heart attack or stroke among a group of African-Americans with heart disease. (Read entire article.)

Author Websites

From author Michael Hyatt:
  1. Having a really slick, graphically-clever website does not necessarily correlate with more traffic. In fact, the ones that made use of the latest flash and embedded video technologies scored at the low-end of the traffic scale.
  2. Having a large media platform does not necessarily correlate with more traffic. Yes, Dave Ramsey has a huge media platform on both TV and radio. However, one of the authors with the biggest media platforms was dead last. Interestingly, if I were on the list, my site has the fourth largest traffic, and I have no media platform at all.
  3. Having a large organization behind you does not necessarily correlate with more traffic. Some authors with large organizations were near the top; some near the bottom.
  4. Having a young and hip image does does not necessarily correlate with more traffic. In fact, there seems to be an inverse correlation. Maybe the older authors work harder at it. Perhaps the younger authors think that being cool is enough. Regardless, most of the ones I assumed would be web-savvy are not—at least in terms of generating meaningful traffic.
(Read entire post.) Share

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The 101 Nights

A new discovery in Islamic literature. From Egypt Independent:
“101 Nights” is not simply an abridged version of the well-known “1,001 Nights.” In fact, Ott explains, the collections have only two stories in common — “The Ebony Horse” and “The King’s Son and the Seven Viziers,” popularly known as “The Book of Sinbad.”

What is most exciting about the “101 Nights” is its geographical origin and the fantastic setting of its tales. All seven preserved manuscripts of the collection come from North Africa and Andalusia, and some of the characters point to the history of the Western part of the Muslim world.

In the first tale of the “101 Nights,” we meet a trader from Qayrawan, Tunisia, and Umayyad caliphs are repeatedly referenced throughout the collection. In fact, Caliph Abdel Malik bin Marwan and his three sons enjoy a similar status in the “101 Nights” as that of the Abbasid Caliph Haroun al-Rashid in the “1,001 Nights.”

This, Ott explains, is due to the historical role played by the Umayyads in the history of Andalusia, and the emirate of Cordoba being considered the successor dynasty of the fallen caliphate of the Umayyads in Damascus.

So, even though the “101 Nights” is set in the faraway kingdom of India, the fascinating setting comes off more like a stereotypical backdrop rather than possessing any geographical or historical magnitude, says Ott.
“It is certainly not by chance that this backdrop has something Oriental about it when seen from an Arabic perspective. It is an image of an Orient that is far away, unfamiliar and exotic — for this reason, particularly attractive,” Ott says.

This was the farthest and hence most exotic setting imagined at the time. And part of the popularity of the “101 Nights” in its era, argues Ott, is that it took its readers and listeners, as they were commonly told out loud by a storyteller, from the furthest West in Andalusia to the extreme Eastern point of the Islamic world.
(Read entire article.)

Via Medieval News. Share

Law and Justice in 12th Century England

From historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick:
Today's research snippet. The laws and customs of the Realms of England on the matters of homicide and rape at the end of the reign of Henry II, from the Glanvill treatise. This gives some fascinating insights into medieval life. For example - that 60 was the cut off age for trial by combat, which suggests that society viewed you as fit and capable up to that age - pretty much discounting the silly statements you sometimes see saying people were old by the time they were 35! Also interesting to see the class divisions. Why it was a high status thing to face ordeal by hot iron as opposed to ordeal by water which was for peasants, I don't know! (Read entire post.)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lucy Wright and the Shakers

The Shakers were a uniquely American, quasi-monastic, charismatic Protestant movement, founded outside of Albany, New York. They expressed their religious fervor through dance. To quote:
Lucy worked diligently to energize the westward expansion of Shakerism.  Under her administration the decision was made, in 1804, to send out the mission which eventually led to the establishment of 7 Shaker societies in Kentucky, Ohio, & Indiana.  By 1840, an estimated 5,000 or more Shakers lived in 19 principal communities in New England, New York, Ohio, & Kentucky. Brothers and sisters lived in dormitory accommodations in dwelling houses separated by sex. Males & females used separate stairways, & meeting houses had separate entrances & seating arrangements. Daily labors were also divided by gender. Shaker communities were agriculturally-based. Communities grew their own produce, raised livestock, wove cloth, made finely-crafted furniture, & sold a variety of goods to what they referred to as the (outside) “World.”

This type of communal living may have appealed to many for both spiritual & practical reasons. Membership freed individuals from the responsibility of individual land ownership, while providing converts with clothing, daily meals, & jobs. It also liberated many from the constraints of marriage & childbirth. Although the Shakers chose not to procreate, families with children often joined, & communities also adopted children. At the age of 21, these young adults could either choose to become full covenant members or leave to live in the World. (Read entire post.)

Wagner Revisited

The ultimate musical seduction. To quote:
The experience of Act III of Die Walküre that evening was as far removed from Hollywood shallowness as I am capable of imagining. Through the combination of music and drama, I had understood the complexity and, above all, the truthfulness of two characters locked in a disagreement that could not be resolved. The experience was qualitatively different from anything I’d known from watching a stage play or reading a novel. Even more revealingly, I was sure that I couldn’t fully explain it in words.

And that is why, I suspect, we are still listening to Wagner 200 years after his birth, why we continue to be drawn in, often with reservations, sometimes more completely and authentically. (Read entire article.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Medieval Baths

Contrary to popular belief, people in medieval times believed in cleanliness. It was during to Renaissance that people stopped bathing. To quote:
Personal hygiene did exist in the Middle Ages – people were well aware that cleaning their face and hands – health manuals from the period note that it was important to get rid of dirt and grime. They also explained that it was important to keep the entire body clean. For example, the fourteenth-century writer Magninius Mediolanesis stated in his work Regimen sanitatis that ”The bath cleans the external body parts of dirt left behind from exercise on the outside of the body.”

He also adds a second reason for bathing: “if any of the waste products of third digestion are left under the skin that were not resolved by exercise and massage, these will be resolved by the bath.” There was a strong connection between bathing and eating, which could affect one’s overall health (these ideas have not quite left us – many people might remember their mother telling them not to go swimming for an hour after a meal). Baths could relieve digestion, stop diarrhoea – but taken improperly cold lead to weakness of the heart, nausea or fainting. (Read entire post.)


The death of the savings account and the end of retirement dreams.
The biggest fear among many boomers today is not having enough money to retire. Often it's due to circumstances during their working years that kept them from building up their nest eggs. But along with these upright hard-working folks is another element of boomers who've fallen into the subtle trap of lifestyle creep.
Unlike their frugal parents and grandparents who lived through the great depression of the 1930s, most baby-boomers under age 60 have never seen anything but prosperity. Their mindsets are totally opposite, and spending and carrying large debt have become their normal way of life. 

Reverse mortgages, originally aimed at the elderly who needed more income but simply wanted to continue living in their life-long homes and neighborhoods, have now become giant debit cards for many age 62 and above baby boomers who not only want to maintain, but kick up their retirement lifestyle. 

But when they start tapping their home equity as a cookie jar for things they never had before, it's lunacy, especially when they have no clue of the future financial emergencies they might be faced with. 

Lifestyles of the Rich and Stupid ... Preferring to look rich than ever be rich, they live in a constant state of FEAR... False Extravagance Appearing Real. Sure, we can blame it on our great American culture that promotes the love of money and spending over investing and saving, just as we can blame our cigarette makers and distilleries for our smoking- and drinking-related deaths. But the real root of the problem lies not with the distributor... but the distributee. (Read entire post.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Paris: A Love Story

"I hope that my readers will also draw comfort from the fact that there are other lives beyond the one that one loses." ~ Kati Marton, NPR interview
 Paris: A Love Story was a book that is interesting to me because there is a great deal about Paris in it. While there is little about the historical Paris there is plenty about restaurants, cafés, hotels, parks, shops and glamorous condos, in as much as they have played a part in the life of journalist, author and socialite Kati Marton. I had not heard of Kati before; she is the former wife of the late ABC World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings. The memoir has much about their stormy affair, as well as Kati's other affairs and the tragedy of an abortion, amid the excuses and regrets of an ex-Catholic trying not to have any "Catholic guilt". While separated from Peter, Kati began her relationship with diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who in time became her third husband. The backdrops of Paris and other exotic places give a hopeful romantic glimmer to happenings which in small-town America would be just plain tawdry. Also, the frequent mention of Hilary Clinton and other left-wing luminaries reminds the readers that they are reading about very important people, although not necessarily people I would personally enjoy sipping wine with on the Champs Élysées. However, I must say Ambassador Holbrooke (God rest him) comes across as warm and charming and Kati's dinner parties sound like fun.

According to NPR:
Kati Marton's new book is called Paris: A Love Story — but it's really more of a book about love and loss than one about the City of Light.

Marton, formerly a correspondent for ABC News and NPR, has written about her remarkable parents, who were Holocaust survivors and reporters in Hungary, and came to the United States after the uprising in Budapest. And she's tried to solve the mysteries around what happened to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who risked his life to rescue Jews during World War II; and George Polk, the American journalist who was killed covering a civil war in Greece.

Yet Marton's name has also appeared in columns over the years because she was married to Peter Jennings, the late ABC News anchor, for almost 15 years; their occasional trials, strayings and separations became items. Jennings died in 2005; by then Marton was married to diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Their 15-year marriage ended with his death in 2010.

Many of her happiest and most vexing moments were spent with those men in Paris — and Marton tells NPR's Scott Simon that writing her new memoir was a kind of healing experience. (Read entire article.)
Other than helping me conjure up images of what it is like to be in Paris while independently wealthy, I enjoyed reading about Kati's exciting years as a foreign correspondent. Her fluency in French and other languages opened many doors for her, thanks to her Hungarian parents, once political prisoners of the Communist regime. As dissident intellectuals, they provided her with an excellent education. Many fascinating geopolitical happenings of the past three or four decades are resurrected in the memory by Paris: A Love Story. The unique point of view offered on those world events alone makes the book worthwhile. Share

Meanwhile, in Hungary...

The schools have been handed over to religious institutions. To quote:
The Hungarian government is transferring public schools to religious institutions, reported the French magazine L’Express.

This policy has infuriated socialist leaders within and outside Hungary and even in European countries where public education has had calamitous results. The angry complaints center on the fact that traditional morals are being restored with the help of Hungarian government policy.

Schools have brought back the singing of religious hymns as well as beginning the classes with prayer. And students’ parents get to choose the catechism to be taught to their children.

Churches retain their school subsidies regardless of the number of students. In the small town of Alsoörs, which L’Express presents as a typical case, out of a total of ninty-six families only two voted against transferring the school to the Church, underscoring the strong popular support this measure has. (Read entire article.)

Abortion and the Early Christians

From Justin Buzzard:
The first Christians engaged extensively with the abortion culture of their day.

One of the earliest Christian references to abortion is found in the Didache. It represents the first Christian statement opposing abortion. A late 1st century or early 2nd century document, the Didache is essentially a code of Christian community life complete with instructions on morality, worship, ritual, and politics. In a section expounding the commandment,“Love your neighbor as yourself,” the Didache lists a series of “thou shalt not” statements, including prohibitions against murder, adultery, illicit sex, theft, and practicing magic.

From the middle of this list comes the prohibition, “you will not murder offspring by means of abortion.” Further along comes a list of those who are a part of the “way of death.” Alongside “those persecutors of the good” and “those not showing mercy to the poor,” stands the condemnation of “those murders of children, those corrupters of God’s workmanship.” Here, the Didache links abortion with murder and presumes the humanity of the fetus. With this first of many Christian statements against abortion, “thou shalt not abort” becomes aligned with the ancient Hebrew commandment against murder, presenting the abortion-frequent Greco-Roman world with a vital countercultural path.

Tertullian (160-240 A.D.) offers, perhaps, the early church’s strongest polemic against abortion. In his most acclaimed work, Apology, addressed to both the Roman emperor and a series of Roman governors, bold Tertullian proclaims:
In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.
(Read entire post.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reformation Myths

From Eamon Duffy:
The creation of the Public Record Office in 1838 made accessible thousands of documents from Tudor England, but didn’t radically alter this traditional spin on the Reformation story. The greatest Victorian historian of Tudor England was James Anthony Froude, who eagerly explored the archives, but read them through inherited spectacles. A Protestant to his fingertips, he hated clergy, doctrine, religious mystery and, above all, Catholicism. He saw the break with Rome as the beginning of Britain’s rise to imperial greatness, and the Reformation as a confrontation between two incompatible civilisations. Froude knew that the Reformation had been imposed to begin with on a reluctant nation, but he rejoiced that this had happened.
A disciple of Thomas Carlyle, he thought history was not for the little people, but was made by heroes. “Up to the defeat of the Armada,” he wrote, “manhood suffrage in England would at any moment have brought back the Pope.” Happily, there was no democracy in Tudor England, and the country had been saved from itself by the tyrannical Henry VIII, and if the abbeys were unroofed, and a few hundred priests butchered in the process, that was a small price for imperial greatness and the march of progress. Shorn of its more blatant jingoistic rhetoric, Froude’s Protestant version of the Reformation would be recycled in the writing of academic history late into the 20th century.

Historians no longer take that venerable Protestant version for granted, but it is still alive and well in the wider culture. It underpins, for example, Shekhar Kapur’s biopic Elizabeth. It was reiterated recently by the journalist Simon Jenkins when he wrote that “most Britons had, by the late 15th century, come to regard the Roman church as an alien, corrupt and reactionary agent of intellectual oppression, awash in magic and superstition. They could not wait to see the back of it.” (Read entire article.)

Women Apostles

Those who think that women need to be priestesses in order to make an impact on the Church have greatly underestimated women. From Fr. Mark:
"Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'; and she told them that He had said these things to her." (John 20:18
Women Apostles
I am thinking, on this eve of the feast of the Divine Mercy, of four women raised up by the Spirit of God in the course of the last century to deliver a message to the Church. Each one prophesied the mystery of the Divine Mercy in her own language, using her own vocabulary, images, and unique feminine sensibility.
Two were French: Thérèse and Yvonne-Aimée; one was Spanish: Josefa Menendez; and one was Polish: Maria Faustina Kowalska. Two were humble laysisters charged with the lowliest tasks in their convents, all the while receiving the secrets of Heaven: Josefa and Faustina. One, Thérèse, was a young Carmelite hidden away in her cloister, and dreaming of doing great deeds for France (like Jeanne d'Arc), for missionaries, and for the salvation of sinners. And one, Yvonne-Aimée, was a heroine of the French resistance during World War II, a spiritual mother to priests, a divinely-inspired risk-taker for love for her Jesus, and a bold and prudent renovator of religious life. (Read entire post.)


A New Royal Palace

Buckingham Palace is described by an 1835 edition of The Lady's Magazine.
The principal entrance door, in the centre of the building, opens into the grand hall, which extends to the right and left, but the length does not exceed one-third of the breadth; it is tesselated with white and gray veined marble, and surrounded on three sides by a flight of seven steps, which support groups of white marble double columns. Ascending the steps which face the entrance, the sculpture gallery is reached, extending 160 feet along the centre of the palace; the ceiling is supported by nine double columns, the floor inlaid with oak in devices; and at the extreme right is a circular alcove, with a mosaic star in coloured woods, containing the king's cipher. The centre door of the sculpture gallery leads to a large oblong room, with a semicircular projection, containing five long windows, looking into the gardens. The room is fitted up with bookcases of gilt trellis-work, lined with silk, and massively carved rosewood library tables; it is destined for the king's council room. (Read entire post.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Origins of the Cake Myth

Here is an informative discussion from the Tea at Trianon forum about the most enduring myth about Marie-Antoinette. To quote:
According to legend, when Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, was told that her subjects had no bread to eat she replied, “Let them eat cake!” If individuals could not afford or obtain bread, obtaining a more luxurious item was a flat impossibility and so her response was evidence of her naiveté at best and frigid apathy at worst.

The twist is she never said that, as we well know. But I got curious as to how that legend got spread around and did some digging. I thought I'd share my theory here to test its validity.

Some scholars trace this legend to Rousseau’s Confessions, where an anonymous French princess responds “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” upon learning of the starvation of her people. Brioche, a luxury bread enriched with eggs and butter, is not precisely synonymous with the English idea of cake but the translation was likely modified to appeal to Anglophone minds.

In any case, bastardized translation or no, Marie Antoinette was not likely the French princess Rousseau was referring to in his autobiography, considering it was not completed until 1769 – making Antoinette approximately fourteen years old and not someone whose opinion on the status of the French people would be sought. This is of course, assuming that Rousseau really did have a tangible princess in mind and was not instead making a story up for poignancy’s sake.

Marie Antoinette being, essentially, exonerated from this calumny the question remains: where did it come from? I have seen some insist that it was invented by the scheming courtiers at Versailles, led by Madame du Barry, while others insist that it was a form of Revolutionary propaganda printed in order to discredit Antoinette in the eyes of the masses.

In reality, while Madame du Barry was fond of deriding Antoinette’s Austrian heritage and some Revolutionaries were fond of the caricatures of the L’Autrichienne, the reality is that there is no evidence that Antoinette was ever accused of uttering her most famous phrase during her lifetime. (Read entire discussion thread.)

Of Rules, Rubrics, and Zeal

A timely letter from Fr. Mark:
In my now long monastic life I have known the poison of an evil zeal of bitterness. It stinks of pharisaism. It is the panoply of those who would uphold the letter of the law at any price, even if it means pushing souls over the edge into an abyss of despair. How easy it is to fall into the deception of priding oneself on one's virtue, on one's spotless record of spiritual achievement, or on one's scrupulous attention to the minutest rubric, while looking at others with a sneer of disdain.

It is in no way Benedictine to think oneself justified in beating up others verbally so as to coerce them into conformity with one's own notion of what is virtuous. Saint Benedict would have us, instead, practice a humble patience. Every virtue has its hour. There are souls who have striven for the better part of a lifetime to acquire patience, or sobriety, or chastity, or temperance; then, when they least expected it, and after having failed to attain it, even over decades, the very virtue that seemed impossible was, as it were, dropped gently into their soul.

Precocious virtues of the self-help variety are extremely dangerous: the patience that makes one condescending to poor wretches tossed on the waves of their emotions; the sobriety that makes one peer into the lives of others from the height of one's own puritanical posing; the chastity that makes the lily-white (be they preserved or reconstituted therein) as prideful as demons; the temperance that takes pleasure in pointing out -- in all charity, mind you -- that another is excessively self-indulgent, excessively addicted to his pleasures, excessively wanting in mortification, or poverty, or separation from the world. (Read entire post.)
Please read the article in full before commenting.

I would love to make a pilgrimage to Silverstream Priory someday. The bookstore looks marvelous! Share

Of Refinement and Good Manners

In Regency England. To quote:
Etiquette demanded a person behaved with courteous dignity to acquaintance and stranger alike at all times. Well-bred individuals and those seeking to be seen as such were instructed to keep at arm's length any who presumed too great a familiarity. Icy politeness was the best weapon in putting so-called 'vulgar mushrooms' in their place.

To be considered wall-mannered, an individual had to control their features, their physical bodies, and their speech when in company. Extremes of emotion and public outbursts were unacceptable, as was anything pretentious or flamboyant. A woman, though, could have the vapors, faint, or suffer from hysteria if confronted by vulgarity or an unpleasant scene.

All forms of vulgarity were unacceptable and to be continually guarded against. Laughter, too, was moderated in polite company, particularly among women. Men might engage in unrestrained mirth in the company of other men or among women of low repute for whom the rules of etiquette were more or less irrelevant. (Read entire article.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Don Bosco's Prince

The young Polish prince who gave up a life of privilege to serve the poor.
He was born on 2 August 1858 in Paris, France, the firstborn son to Prince Ladislaus of Poland and Princess Maria Amparo, daughter of the Queen of Spain. The noble Czartoryski Family had been living in exile in France for almost 30 years, in the Lambert Palace. Here, with the hope of restoring unity in Poland, they continued to direct activities between their fellow Polish countrymen and the European chancelleries.

It was already planned that Augusto would be a future “reference point” for this restoration and would carry on the “Czartoryski” name. God’s designs, however, were to unfold differently.  When Augusto was 6, his mother died of tuberculosis; the disease was also transmitted to him, and for the rest of his life he would be plagued by ill health. Although he had to make “forced pilgrimages” with his father to Italy, Switzerland, Egypt and Spain in search of a cure, he never regained his health.

When Don Bosco came to Paris and celebrated Mass in the family chapel of the Lambert Palace, Augusto saw in this holy founder and teacher the “father of his soul” and guide for his future. While Augusto remained quiet and withdrawn in the face of matrimony plans made for him by his father, he had no intention of continuing the “noble line”. Indeed, after his first encounter with the Salesian saint, he was more resolute than ever to answer God’s call by becoming a Salesian. (Read entire post.)


In St. Michaels, Maryland.
For the fourth year in a row, St. Michaels will usher in the spring season with goblets brimming with wine. A streetscape event with tasting opportunities mapped out amidst local retail stores, hotels, and restaurants, WineFest at St. Michaels is set to hit the streets on April 27th and 28th.

While wine is something available in every season to those seeking it out in the Bay Hundred area of Talbot County, this weekend-long event brings in more than what is being poured at St. Michaels Winery....Those wines will be at this year’s WineFest in addition to bottles from New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Spain, France, Canada, Argentina, Chile, and other parts of the United States. ( Read entire post.)

Medieval Werewolves

The rage of the wolf. From Medievalists.net:
Introduction: The metamorphosis of man to beast has captivated audiences for over four thousand years. The interest in human metamorphosis is visible in ancient art and literature, originally transmitted through oral tradition, medieval secular and clerical writing, as well as contemporary movies and novels. While modern, Hollywood werewolves are often the bestial, savage counterparts to the sexy, predatory vampire, they are merely the latest metamorphosis of a creature which has fascinated humanity for millennia.
The earliest recorded secular mention of werewolves is in the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, dated approximately 2000 BCE. The goddess of love, Ishtar, attempts to seduce King Gilgamesh, who reminds her of a former lover: “You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks… And if you and I should be lovers, should not I be served in the same fashion as all these others whom you loved once?”. In addition to being the first literary indication of interest in metamorphosis, the story also links women—malicious women, in particular—to metamorphosis, as well as indicates a single or prolonged transformation: she “turned him into a wolf” and “now his own herd-boys chase him.” The shepherd was transformed and remains so. Also significant is King Gilgamesh‟s companion, Enkidu, a half-man, half-beast who was covered with matted hair and lived as a beast until learning of human desires. Clearly, an interest in human transformation and with human/beast hybrids was alive in ancient Mesopotamia. (Read entire article.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ӕlfwynn of Mercia

Granddaughter of Alfred the Great.
Ӕlfwynn was the daughter of Ealdorman Ӕthelred of Mercia and Ӕthelflaed, eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great. The best guess on the birth of Ӕlfwynn is c. 888 as her parents probably married sometime between 882 and 887. The chronicler William of Malmesbury states that Ӕthelflaed had no more children either because the birth of Ӕlfwynn was difficult or she didn’t like the pain of the delivery. Ӕthelflaed’s brother Edward had a son named Ӕthelstan. Either on the advice of Edward or their father Alfred, Ӕthelstan was sent to Mercia to be educated by Ӕthelflaed. We can imagine that Ӕlfwynn took part in the same studies as her cousin. Ӕthelflaed may have personally supervised their education, appointed a bishop as tutor or organized several tutors in her household.

Ӕlfwynn‘s father did not seek the crown of Mercia. For many years he spent time on campaign with King Alfred and his brother-in-law Edward, fighting Vikings and trying to consolidate the many kingdoms of England. By 902, Ӕthelred was in bad health and Ӕlfwynn’s mother was the actual ruler of Mercia. She was to work together with her brother Edward in building forts and fighting Viking invaders. (Read entire article.)

Pictish Writing

A new discovery.
A new language dating back to the Scottish Iron Age has been identified on carved stones. These inscriptions are believed to belong to the early Pict society living from ca 300 to 843 AD, in modern-day eastern and northern Scotland. The Picts, meaning “the Painted Ones”, were named by the Roman Eumenius in 297 AD and are renowned for having repeatedly repelled invasions from both Romans and Angles, creating a clear North-South division of the British Isles.

Celtic tribes around Ireland, Wales and Scotland are known for their use of stylised stones as signs of ownership and to indicate their names. In the past, some two dozen Pictish Ogham inscriptions had been found in the north and north-west of Scotland. Oghams, also called Primitive Irish, compose a lexigraphic language and the earliest inscriptions discovered date back to the 4th century AD.

The new written language discovered in Scotland differ however very much from Ogham as the study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, led by Rob Lee, Philip Jonathan and Pauline Ziman reveals. (Read entire article.)