Monday, April 11, 2016

Women's sport

From The 3/30/16

Medieval sports were, for the most part, chances for men to practice their martial skills in less dangerous ways and largely relegated women to the role of cheerleaders. There was one sport, however, that welcomed both men and women to the field: falconry. Rooted in the ancient world, falconry was used for necessary hunting in the Middle Ages – such as finding food and killing vermin – but it was also an extremely popular sport for the nobility. Falcons and hawks were usually trained to hunt small prey, like rabbits and other birds, as they do in the natural world, but their training was sometimes expanded to include attacking larger prey, like deer, in order to weaken and distract the animals so that hunters and their dogs could finish them off.  Unlike boar and stag hunting, falconry did not involve a face-to-face encounter with a dangerous animal, so it was a safer sport for respectable medieval ladies: less physically demanding, less rushed, and less bloody.

There was a wide range of birds to train and use to hunt, including the gyrfalcon, goshawk, and sparrowhawk. A common bird for ladies was the peregrine falcon. Peregrines were often chosen by ladies because they are relatively small, lighter to hold on the fist, and especially graceful in the air. Peregrines attack their prey by closing their talons into fists and diving, breaking the bones of other birds and knocking them out of the sky. In order to accomplish this backbreaking feat, peregrines execute spectacular dives in excess of 300 kmph – they are the fastest creatures on the planet. 

Because falconry allowed for women and men to spend the day riding out into nature and having picnic lunches in full view of chaperons, it was the perfect opportunity for them to flirt and get to know each other. Soon enough, falconry became inextricably linked to romance. Medieval writers could not resist bringing love and falconry together. In one version of Tristan and Isolde, Isolde is compared to a falcon on the hunt with darting eyes (Clason, p.48); in Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowles, the raptors are arguing over mates (Clason, p.47); and in the Middle English Sir Orfeo (ll.303-308), it is an otherworldly party of women hunting with falcons that leads Orfeo to his lost lady-love. Marie de France takes the hawking and love theme one step further in Yonec, a lai in which a knight actually shapeshifts into the body of a hawk to visit his lady for romantic liaisons, imprisoned, as she is, in a tower. The beautiful illustrations in the fourteenth-century Codex Manesse feature lots of falconry and romance, and I especially love the famous page 69r, which features two snuggling lovers and a woman with a grey bird (perhaps a peregrine) on her fist. Outside of the realm of books, archaeologists have also found ladies hunting with falcons on both mirrors – often a lover’s gift – and on the carved hilt of a knife (Gilchrist, p.110, 127).

If you’d like to read an authentic medieval manual on falconry (minus the romance), you can check out a thirteenth-century book, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus , written by the Holy Roman Emperor himself, Frederick II. For a much more modern and personal account, I’d recommend the award-winning H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. For a deliciously cheesy ‘80’s movie about love, birds, and lovebirds, check out Ladyhawke.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Palmyra saved?

The news this morning announced that Palmyra, the great archaeological treasure in Syria was retaken by the Syrian army from ISIS. If true, this is something to be celebrated. Some authorities speculate that the site could be restored in 5 years, but with continuing warfare and a massive refugee problem, that is probably not the top item on Syria's list. Still, as a history buff fascinated with this particular locale, I hope it remains safe from further destruction by fanatics of any stripe and can be opened again to the public.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monastic orders

Here is a very quick guide to medieval monastic orders:Early Christian monasticism – this practice started emerging in Egypt and Syria around the third century, where men began to seek out solitary existences devoted to prayer and meditation. St Anthony of Egypt (d.356) is considered to be the father of monasticism, having spent 80 years living as a hermit. Soon these individuals started to congregate into small communities for prayer and instruction. The idea of monastic settlements would find acceptance into the Christian world and slowly spread to Byzantium and Western Europe. Saint Basil the Great (c. 330 – 379) created monastic rules that were generally followed within the Byzantine Empire.
Celtic monasticism – as Christianity spread into Ireland and parts of Great Britain during the late 4th and 5th centuries, monastic communities emerged in places such as Iona, Lindisfarne and Kildare. Several early Irish monks were noted for being missionaries, traveling into Great Britain and continental Europe to convert non-Chrisitians.
Benedictines – members of an order founded by St. Benedict in the sixth century, they were perhaps the most common type of monastic community during the Middle Ages. Known as the Black Monks because of their style of clothing, and were noted for their commitment to writing. Several medieval Popes were originally Benedictine monks.
Cluniacs – a reformed component within the Benedictines, this order was centred around the monastery of Cluny in France. Founded in 910, they believed that monastic rules had grown lax and too involved in secular affairs. These monks would follow stricter practices and spend more time in prayer. This movement spread out to other parts of Europe, so by the 12th century one could find about 300 houses, all of which were subordinate to the abbot of Cluny.
Cistercians – starting with a French abbey founded at Citeaux in 1098, they valued manual labour, self-sufficiency and a return to a more literal adoption of the Benedictine rules. Called the White Monks for wearing white cloaks, their most famous member was Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153), a well known preacher who was frequently involved in ecclesiastical and political issues. By the 15th century, one could find over 750 Cistercian houses across Europe.Cistercians at work in a detail from the Life of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, illustrated by Jörg Breu the Elder (1500)Carthusians – an order founded in Germany in 1084, they were noted for their austerity, where members lived in their own cells and spent several hours a day in prayer and meditation. By the end of the Middle Ages, one could find about 200 houses spread across Europe.
Premonstratensians – Founded in France in 1120 by St Norbet of Xanten, this order combined a contemplative life with an active role of teaching and preaching. Also called the White Canons, this order was involved with converting pagan peoples in Eastern Europe.
Trinitarians – an order based in Iberia, their main function was to help ransom Christian captives from Muslim lands.
Beguines – a lay order for women that began around the 12th century, they were most popular in the Netherlands and Germany. Focused on charity and prayer, some of the women involved were known for their mysticism and for getting in trouble with ecclesiastical authorities for their views.
Beghards – a male lay order that emerged from the Beguines, it was centred around the Low Countries and France. Like the Beguines, men involved here did not take formal monastic vows but were committed to prayer and social work.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Umberto Eco

Let us join the world in paying tribute to Umberto Eco, medieval scholar and novelist, who died recently. He was 84.

Born in Alessandria, Italy, Eco studied medieval philosophy and literature at the University of Turin, In 2008, he was asked about his interest in the Middle Ages: "I would say that it’s because the period is exactly the opposite of the way people imagine it. To me, they were not the Dark Ages. They were a luminous time, the fertile soil out of which would spring the Renaissance. A period of chaotic and effervescent transition—the birth of the modern city, of the banking system, of the university, of our modern idea of Europe, with its languages, nations, and cultures."

Eco continued his academic career in Italy, and in 1959 published Sviluppo dell’estetica medievale (translated into English in 1985 as Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages), which summarized his views on medieval aesthetic ideas. His academic career flourished as he took on numerous other subjects, including media studies, semiotics and anthropology. He also taught at Columbia University and Harvard University, before retiring as professor emeritus at the University of Bologna in 2008.

Eco once said, “I think of myself as a serious professor who, during the weekend, writes novels.” His novels, however, gained him worldwide fame, beginning with The Name of the Rose, which was first published in Italian in 1980. Soon translated into other languages, the work sold more than 14 million copies and was made into a Hollywood film. Set in in Italian abbey during the year 1327, it follows a monk named William of Baskerville as he tries to deal with both heresy and murder at the monastery.  As one reviewer commented, “although the work stands on its own as a murder mystery, it is more accurately seen as a questioning of ‘truth’ from theological, philosophical, scholarly, and historical perspectives.”

Monday, February 22, 2016

Rosemary final

Here are the final 9 things that were found in a medieval manuscript as the uses for rosemary.
15. Likewise, take the leaf of the rosemary, and boil it, and wash your head, and great weakness from rage, or other causes, will fall away from you, and you will be well.
16. Likewise, take rosemary and plant it in the earth at the head of your vineyard, and it will be better than before.
17. Likewise, take the leaf of the rosemary, and boil it with holy water and dilute some white wine with this water, and make a sop, and it will restore your appetite for eating.
18. Likewise, take the leaf of the rosemary and boil it in strong vinegar and, while it is still hot, put it on your body and know that it will draw diarrhea from your body.
19. Likewise, take the leaf of the rosemary and boil it in water and when it has cooled to lukewarm, wash your feet with it and then take a cloth and wrap your legs, and all inflammation of gout and other maladies will go from you, and it will heal.
20. Likewise, take great quantities of rosemary leaves and boil them in water, and bathe the man who has become mad from illness, and he will be restored to sanity.
21. Likewise, take rosemary and make a fire of it and direct smoke into a hole where you know there is a snake, and it will quickly come out.
22. Likewise, take the leaf of the rosemary and boil it, and when it cools drink it. It will quickly chase away all thirst and you will be restored.

23. Likewise, take the flower of the rosemary and put it your trunk where you keep your cloth, or your books, and you will not need fear the worms that can destroy them.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Rosemary 2

Continuing with the uses of Rosemary listed in the 14th century...
8. Likewise, take the leaves of the rosemary and put it in your bed, and you will not have nightmares.
9. Likewise, take the rosemary and make a vapor from it, and it will prolong your youth and strengthen your limbs.
10. Likewise, take the leaf of the rosemary and grind it up and put it on a crab, and it will cause it to die immediately.
11. Likewise, take rosemary and its leaves and grind them up and make 6 spoonfuls of sauce, and eat it with whatever you please, and it will make it good and wholesome.
12. Likewise, take rosemary and keep it in your house, and you will have nothing to fear from serpents or scorpions.
13. Likewise, take a leaf of rosemary and put it in wine, and it will give it a good, firm bouquet and a good flavor, and it will be clean and clear.

14. Likewise, take the wood of the rosemary, and put it into a barrel, or cask, and drink the wine from it. It is good for every illness, and will drive away boils of the breast.

Friday, February 12, 2016

city life

Right now I'm working on a new book set in 1896 New York city and some of my research begins with Lyndsey Faye's fabulous book, The Gods of Gotham   I definitely recommend you read this fascinating historical novel beginning in 1845 when New York's first police force appears
It struck me that while trains existed, even an elevated, most of the characters got around like our Vespers characters did - either on foot or carriage or horseback.  Mostly on foot
Also the picture drawn of sanitation, jobs, tenement living and the like were basically squalid
No beautiful public baths so prevalent in medieval Mediterranean cities and not much municipal clean-up like 13th Palermo had.  In fact one of our characters, Raynaldus Dr Rogerio, was a magistrate in his quarter of Palermo and one of his responsibilities was daily street clean-up, not to mention organizing the night watch.

Just an interesting comparison ...