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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in medieval

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Magic of the Quill

Ic seah wrætlice     wuhte feower
samed siþian     swearte · wæran lastas
swaþu swiþe blacu     swift wæs on fore
fulgum framra     fleotgan lyfte
deaf under yþe     dreag unstille
winnende wiga     se him wægas tæcneþ
ofer fæted gold     feower eallū


The riddles of the Exeter Book give us oblique snapshots of everyday life for the monks in the Middle Ages. You can easily imagine the scribes fixing on something within site and coming up with a poetic and misleading description where metaphor can throw a reader off the track. But the metaphors reveal power, too. Riddle 40 (51 in the Krapp-Dobbie edition) refers to one of the ubiquitous items in their lives: the pen or quill.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Riddle Me This

One of the genres you may not expect to be popular in the Middle Ages is that of riddles. They're not usually as straightforward as the riddles we know. They tend to be more metaphorical. I mentioned before in The Magic of Names the riddle that has 'magpie' as its solution (probably). Many of them are scatalogical or full of double entendres, which also doesn't fit our image of pious monks -- but it's our picture of monks that's wrong.

The myth persists that the church ruled the Middle Ages with a heavy hand. Like the myth that people thought the world was flat, it's just wrong. Many people who thought of themselves as Christian went to church once a year to confess and that was enough for them. Many monks who were part of the church were no more devoted to their religion than the average slacker working for a giant corporation is. It gave them a living if they weren't inheriting any wealth. For many it was an easy life (see Chaucer's monk for example).

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Sweet riddle! Love it. Thanks for sharing! A most interesting blog.
  • Dragon Dancer
    Dragon Dancer says #
    Haha, I was gonna say apple.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    The answer is of course -- an onion!

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Fake Magic

I've long had a fascinating with grifters and fakes. In the Middle Ages, as now, there were plenty of folk looking for a quick windfall by pretending to be something they were not. Sometimes they had good reasons: the young woman Silence who pretended to be a minstrel and then a knight and rose to the heights of both professions needed to hide the fact that -- well, she was female.

Most often of course the hoodwinking was to get money out of the unwary (like Chaucer's Canon's Yeoman's tale). Money wasn't the only motivator though: there are few guilty pleasures as delicious as revenge well-served. A fine example is the Scottish text, The Freiris of Berwick.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Sounding Out the Water Elf

If someone suffers from the disease brought by the 'water elf' the Anglo-Saxon medieval charm advises that one ought to make a compound of nineteen different herbs, soak them in ale then add holy water. Of course to make them effective, the important step is to also sing over them this charm three times:

Ic binne awrat betest beadowræda,
swa benne ne burnon, ne burston,
ne fundian, ne feologan, ne hoppettan,
ne wund waxsian,
ne dolh diopian;
ac him self healde halewæge,
ne ace þe þon ma þe eorþan on eare ace.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Medieval Consolations

The test of any philosophy is how it helps you survive difficulty. It is simple enough to hold the line in good times, but when your misfortunes seem to know no end, your patience and perseverance were truly tested. The Anglo-Saxons had a trust in wyrd both as pagans and as Christians. The thought might best be summed up in the refrain from the poem Deor:

Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg. 

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Getting Medieval

Sometimes gifts arrive in a timely manner. Just in time for the beginning of the semester, a news story broke that provided fodder for first day discussion in my medieval courses: Pagans demand return of church buildings 'stolen' 1,300 years agoUsually it's great when the news covers the Middle Ages because it makes the period seem more relevant to my students who generally think things that happened a couple of decades ago are 'ancient' already.

This news item gave me a chance to say yes, it was the practice to 'repurpose' temples: we have a letter from Pope Gregory instructing an abbot to follow this advice:

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    "these modern pagans have no leg to stand on with their argument that the buildings belonged to them. The temples might just as we
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    There were translations of portions of the bible: King Alfred had Genesis translated in the ninth century because he was afraid of

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Dangerous Fairy Women

Anyone acquainted with the long history of fairy encounters from the most ancient to Thomas of Erceldoune to now knows, as Graham Joyce would tell you, to be wary of the EDFF (extremely dangerous fairy folk). You wouldn't call them fairies either, if you had any sense. Be polite to the Gentry.

Yet in the past there were many men foolish enough to try to summon them as lovers.

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  • Thesseli
    Thesseli says #
    "This mix of misogyny and lechery" -- doesn't that phrase exactly describe most modern men's attitudes towards women? Which is wh

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