Friday, February 28, 2014

The Hourglass

Detail, Allegory of Good Government
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1338
The hourglass has become a symbol of medieval technology, one of our first attempts to quantify and measure time. We know it existed in the 14th century, from a 1338 fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1290 - 1348) in which the allegorical figure of Temperance holds one (Temperance, after all, is about taking a "measured" response to something, rather than uncontrolled actions). In 1345, an English merchant's receipts show that he paid for "twelve glass horologes" in Flanders, establishing that they were probably already prevalent and in demand.

Sailors found the sand-filled hourglass a definite improvement over its predecessor, the clepsydra* (the water clock), which was affected too much by the swaying of the ocean. When Magellan (c.1480 - 1521) circumnavigated the globe, his fleet had 18 hourglasses per ship, with a page dedicated to turning each one to keep accurate time.

They were also preferable in the early Middle Ages to clocks, because they did not rely on complicated and delicate machinery that needed frequent maintenance.

Where and when was the hourglass invented? A story that it was invented in the 800s by a monk at Chartres named Liutprand has no evidence to support it. The clue to the origin may be in the construction. The earliest hourglasses used marble dust for the sand. Also, the hourglass required expertise in glass-blowing. The likeliest location for these two features of the hourglass to be brought together is Italy, particularly Venice, where glass-blowing was a highly developed art and marble was readily available.

By the end of the 14th century, hourglasses were so common that the Goodman of Paris, writing a guidebook for his young wife in the 1390s, included a recipe for preparing the sand/dust for an hourglass:
Take the grease which comes from the sawdust of marble when those great tombs of black marble be sawn, then boil it well in wine like a piece of meat and skim it, and then set it out to dry in the sun; and boil, skim and dry nine times; and thus it will be good.
Not only must the hourglass have become common, but its construction was clearly something that could be contributed to by a regular household.

*clepsydra is from the Greek and means "water thief"; they could be very elaborate, but were naturally susceptible to humidity and temperature.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Problems in Gaza

Gaza is currently the largest city in Palestine with over a half-million inhabitants. Its history stretches back more than 3000 years, its government having passed from Egyptians to Philistines to Romans to Byzantines and more.

At one stage in its history it was converted to Christianity, and the person given credit for that conversion is known as Saint Porphyry of Gaza. His story comes to us from the Vita Porphyrii ["Life of Porphyry"] by Mark the Deacon, an Egyptian monk who was a contemporary and assistant to Porphyry.

Gaza had been in Roman hands at the time—with several temples consecrated to the Roman gods—and the hostility of the Byzantine Emperor Diocletian (303-313) and Emperor Julian (362-363) to Christians created an environment that led to many Christian martyrs and the destruction of their places of worship. According to the Vita, a 45-year-old Porphyry was made bishop of a Gaza with fewer than 300 Christians and an atmosphere so unfavorable to them that their church had been built far outside the walls of the city. A drought the following year was even blamed on Porphyry's presence.

In 398, therefore, Porphyry sent his deacon, Mark, to Constantinople to ask the (now friendly to Christians) Emperor Arcadius for help. Soldiers arrived to close the pagan temples, but a bribe to their leader caused them to leave the major pagan temple open. Also, just closing the temples did not do anything to change the attitudes of the pagans toward the Christians. Discrimination continued, so Porphyry himself went to Constantinople and convinced Arcadius' Empress Eudoxia to get from Arcadius an order to destroy the pagan temples in Gaza. This time the destruction of pagan temples and pagan artifacts—including personal effects from homes—was total.

Discrimination continued; whomever was in power in the ensuing centuries oppressed the native inhabitants, who fought back against the authority.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Five-Paragraph Essay

Found on Pinterest...seriously
The five-paragraph essay was treated as the cornerstone of English classes when I was growing up: it was drummed into me when I was a high school student, and it was a necessity in the English Department at my first teaching job. Despite the fact that a topic does not always fall into three points, enforcing the structure of five paragraphs was considered an ideal way to teach essay writing.

The formal parts of the five-paragraph can be found all over, and of course on Wikipedia:
  • Introduction: Introducing a topic. An important part of this is the three-pronged thesis.
  • Body paragraph 1: Explaining the first part of the three-pronged thesis
  • Body paragraph 2: Explaining the second part of the three-pronged thesis
  • Body paragraph 3: Explaining the third part of the three-pronged thesis
  • Conclusion: Summing up points and restating thesis
Wikipedia informs me that it is also called (I don't recall ever seeing these terms before today) the "hamburger essay" [see illustration above], "one three one," and the "three-tier essay."

Looking for the origin of the five-paragraph format takes us back in time past the nuns who taught me, past John Dewey, past McGuffey Readers; we have to look back to the first century CE, to a work that was mistakenly attributed to Cicero.

Rhetorica ad Herennium ["Rehetoric: for Herennius"] was a very popular early book on rhetoric. Because Cicero wrote a well-known book on rhetoric (called De inventione ["Concerning the art of discovery"], he was given credit (right up through the Renaissance) for writing this more-complete book. In it, the author offers a format for an argument that may sound familiar to you:
  • Exordium — Exhorting your reader to listen to your topic
  • Narratio — Narrating/explaining what your topic is
  • Divisio — Dividing your topic into main points
  • Confirmatio — Confirming your points with arguments (usually three)
  • Refutatio — Offering opposing arguments & refuting them
  • Conclusio — Concluding your essay with a summary of your arguments
The Refutatio is often a part of a larger essay. The five-paragraph essay can be boiled down to
  • Paragraph 1: Narratio + Divisio
  • Paragraph 2-4: Confirmatio
  • Paragraph 5: Conclusio
...and I spent my teenage years hoping never to be constrained in that way again!

You can read the Rhetorica ad Herennium here.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

King of the Broken Kingdom

The various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms
Poor Æthelbert! All the attention this blog gives him is in regard to wergild. He deserves attention for more than putting a price on murder and dislodged teeth. But not today. Today we get side-tracked by the title given to him.

According to Bede, Æthelbert (c. 560 – 24 February 616) was the third of eight kings to be a bretwalda. In context, it is clear that it refers to a ruler who holds sway over various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The term is used by various authors, but is spelled differently. Remember that, at the time, there would be no universal education that would ensure "standard spelling" among all Anglo-Saxon writers. So some manuscripts describing the same status use Bryten-wealda or Breten-anweald.

Because we are talking about Britain, the reader who knows no Anglo-Saxon might hazard a guess that the bret/bryt- root refers to "Britain" and weald might have something to do with "wield" as in "to wield power." This would be an excellent guess, and satisfied scholars for a long time.

One king however, Æthelstan, was referred to as brytenwealda ealles ðyses ealondes, which is best translated as "ruler of all these islands." If brytenwealda already meant "Britain-ruler" there would be no need for the rest of the phrase referring to "all these islands."

The likeliest source of the bret/bryt- root is now thought to the verb breotan which means "to break" or "to disperse." The origin of the phrase used to describe the kings who rule over more than their local kingdom therefore refers to their rule over the "broken" or widely dispersed territories of the Anglo-Saxons. The resemblance to the word "Brit" is coincidental.

A step closer to a true King of all Britains would wait until the late 9th century with King Alfred the Great.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Price of a Man (With Details)

King Æthelbert of Kent (c.560-616) was first mentioned here in an explanation of wergild, the price paid by law for a man's death by the killer. This system helped to halt the endless "Hatfield and McCoy" style of revenge killings that could destroy families and tear apart a community.

But was each man worth the same amount? And what were they worth? And what if he wasn't killed, but there was some other transgression that required revenge? Æthelbert had that covered; here are some "items from the menu":

[The bracketed items are my translations of the Anglo-Saxon terms.]
3. If the king drink at any one's home, and any one there do any lyswe [corrupt thing], let him make two-fold bot [compensation].
4. If a freeman steal from the king, let him pay ninefold.
5. If a man slay another in the king's tun [manor], let him make bot with fifty shillings.
6. If any one slay a freeman, fifty shillings to the king, as drihtinbeah [lord's payment].
7. If the king's ambihtsmith [court craftsman], or laadrinc [escort], slay a man, let him pay a half leodgeld [wergild for manslaughter].
8. The king's mundbyrd [protection], fifty shillings.
9. If a freeman steal from a freeman, let him make threefold bot; and let the king have the wite [penalty fee] and all the chattels.
10. If a man lie with the king's maiden, let him pay a bot of fifty shillings.
12. Let the king's fedels [livestock] be paid for with twenty shillings
13. If a man slay another in an earl's tun [earl's/lord's village/manor], let him make bot with twelve shillings.
14. If a man lie with an earl's birele [steward], let him make bot with twelve shillings.
15. A ceorl's [low-class freeman; a churl] mundbyrd, seven shillings.
16. If a man lie with a ceorl's birele, let him make bot with six shillings; with a slave of the second (class), fifty sceatts [coin worth 1/20th of a shilling]; with one of the third, thirty sceatts.
17. If any one be the first to make an inroad into a man's tun, let him make bot with six shillings; let him who follows, with three shillings; after, each, a shilling.
18. If a man furnish weapons to another where there is strife, though no evil be done, let him make bot with six shillings.
19. If wegreaf [highway robbery] be done, let him make bot with six shillings.
20. If the man be slain, let him make bot with twenty shillings.
21. If a man slay another, let him make bot with a half leodgeld of 100 shillings. . . .
31. If a freeman lie with a freeman's wife, let him pay for it with his wergild, and provide another wife with his own money, and bring her to the other.
(...regarding fighting:)
34. If there be an exposure of the bone, let bot be made with three shillings.
35. If there be an injury of the bone, let bot be made with four shillings.
38. If a shoulder be lamed, let bot be made with thirty shillings.
39. If an ear be struck off, let bot be made with twelve shillings.
40. If the other ear hear not, let bot be made with twenty-five shillings.
41. If an ear be pierced, let bot be made with three shillings.
42. If an ear be mutilated, let bot be made with six shillings. 
(...and what I think is my favorite:)
51. For each of the four front teeth, six shillings; for the tooth which stands next to them four shillings; for that which stands next to that, three shillings; and then afterwards, for each a shilling. (See this explained on YouTube.)
It goes on. There are 85 rules of payment in all. You can find them (and more early medieval laws) here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Peter Damian & Omnipotence

St. Peter Damian, letter writer
Peter Damian (c.1007 - 21 February 1072/3), the author of the Liber Gomorrhianus, was more than just a critic of priests' vices. He was a reformer whose piety caused him to be named a Doctor of the Church and to be placed in one of the highest levels of Heaven by Dante.*

He has a place in philosophy, however, due to one of the 180 letters he wrote. This particular one is called De divina omnipotentia ["Concerning divine omnipotence"]. In it, he discusses two questions that came up in a mealtime conversation during a visit to the Abbey of Monte Cassino.

Before we jump into his answers to the two questions in his letter, we must first bring up the Law on Non-contradiction, which states that a thing cannot be at once true and untrue. Sounds sensible. Aristotle in his Metaphysics states definitively that "contradictory propositions are not true simultaneously." He was building on Plato and Socrates and others.

The two questions that Damian tackles are these:
  1. Can God restore a woman's virginity?
  2. Can God undo history?
Damian maintains the view of God's omnipotence that says he can restore virginity. Virginity is a good thing, and so regaining it is a good thing; God will do something if it is a good thing. Therefore, God can and would do it, if He felt the situation warranted it. Restoring virginity would require two things: restoring the merit of virginity and restoring the physical change that loss of virginity causes (restoring the "integrity of the flesh"). The first is accomplished by returning to God's Grace, the second a simple matter of God restoring a person's flesh to an earlier condition.

Does this, then, imply that Damian believes that God can undo history? Not quite. In the case of restoring virginity, Damian states that God can do so as a miracle in the present time. He is not undoing an event that took place; He is changing a person's current state back to an original state.

Then what about history?

Damian, after a long and complicated discussion of the law of non-contradiction (and criticism of his peers for not understanding the subtleties of the question), explains that God cannot turn what has been done into something that has not been done. He denies, however, that this is an instance of a lack of omnipotence. Damian argues that God's omnipotence is His ability to bring about what is good. Creating a contradiction by changing what has been done to something that has not been done would be creating a contradiction, and therefore would be a bad thing. It would be turning something into nothing, and God creates things out of nothing, He will not create nothing out of something.

Okay, fine, but what about evil things? Wouldn't it be good for God to undo evil actions? Damian gets a little vague about this, and tells his audience not to worry about evil things. Evil things don't have the same kind of existence/value as good things, and so to erase them does not create a contradiction in the same way as erasing from the historical record a good thing.

Well, who am I to argue?

*In Canto XXI of the Paradiso, in the Seventh Heaven, a bright soul comes to speak to Dante and identifies himself as Peter Damian. The subject of corrupt popes comes up (surprise!).

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Book of Gomorrah

PLEASE NOTE: This post should have a NSFW [Not Safe For Work] label. My apologies if this is not to your liking.


Illumination from Liber Gomorrhianus
Peter Damian (c.1007 - 21 February 1072/3), who later became a saint, wrote a book called Liber Gomorrhianus ["The Book of Gomorroah"]. Addressed to Pope Leo IX about 1050, it blasted the clergy for their many sexual vices. There are many works that condemn sexual practices that were considered deviant—such as handbooks designed to describe (and help one avoid) vice—but the Liber Gomorrhianus goes into much greater detail than others.

There are four particular vices he rails against:
Four types of this form of criminal wickedness can be distinguished in an effort to show you the totality of the whole matter in an orderly way: some sin with themselves alone [masturbation]; some by the hands of others [mutual masturbation]; others between the thighs [interfemoral intercourse]; and finally, others commit the complete act against nature [anal intercourse]. The ascending gradation among these is such that the last mentioned are judged to be more serious that the preceding. Indeed a greater penance is imposed on those who fall with others than those who defile only themselves; and those who complete the act are to be judged more severely than those who are defiled through femoral fornication. The devil's artful fraud devises these degrees of failing into ruin such that the higher the level the unfortunate soul reaches in them, the deeper it sinks in the depths of hell's pit.*
He finds particularly damning those priests who have relations with young boys, and those superiors who do not enforce proper discipline and punch these actions.

Damian made no friends with this exposé of clerical sins. Pope Leo IX came to dislike the book, feeling that the situation was not as widespread in the Church for which he had responsibility and authority as the Liber painted it. The pope did not mete out punishments as harsh as the Liber suggested, choosing to dismiss only those priests who were long-time repeat offenders.

*from Pierre J. Payer (ed.): Book of Gomorrah: An eleventh century treatise against clerical homosexual practise, Waterloo, Ont., 1982.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fighting Over the Body

St. Michael and All Angels, Haselbury Plucknett
On 20 February 1154, a fight broke out over a corpse. The corpse "belonged" to Wulfric of Haselbury, and two groups wanted it.

Wulfric was born about 1080 in southwest England. He became a priest—a very worldly one, who liked hunting, until an encounter with a beggar motivated him to focus on being a decent parish priest. In 1125, however, he took the additional step of going to be an anchorite at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset (without asking permission from his bishop, but the Cluniac monks nearby welcomed his choice). His devotion made him many friends and admirers. He would mortify his flesh through wearing chain mail, fasting, and immersing himself in cold water.

The local lord, Sir William FitzWalter, sent food and visited. The parish priest also visited, as did several others.

Even King Henry I and King Stephen visited and received his advice—not always advice they wanted to hear. Wulfric prophesied (correctly) Henry's death, and lectured the visiting Stephen on his government's many evils.

When Wulfric died, the monks of nearby Montacute that had consistently supported him felt that the remains of this saintly man should come to them for proper internment (and a potential shrine that would draw pilgrims and donations). They were opposed by the parish locals under the leadership of the parish priest, Osbern. Wulfric's body remained in his cell, buried there by the authority of the Bishop of Bath. Osbern moved the body twice in the church to keep the remains secret; no one knows the exact location now.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kublai Khan

Today is the anniversary of the death of Kublai Khan (1215 - 1294), grandson of Genghis Khan. During his 34-year reign (he was crowned on 5 May 1260, succeeding his brother, Möngke Khan), he accomplished many notable things.

One was establishing the Yuan dynasty and extending his rule over one-fifth of the inhabited land area of the world. Before his death he had become not only the ruler of Mongolia but also the first non-Chinese Emperor of China.

He was known for curiosity about other religions and countries that led to great tolerance of foreigners. The reputation of Tibetan monks as healers inspired him to add a Tibetan priest to his retinue. He showed great interest in Christianity, requesting that the pope send him 100 priests and some relics of Christ. (He didn't get them.) He was a Buddhist who did not appreciate Taoism, but he did show respect for Taoism, putting Taoist temples under the jurisdiction of his "Academy of Scholarly Worthies." Kublai also had 30 Muslims in his administration, some of whom were governors of provinces.

He was attentive to infrastructure needs, rebuilding the Grand Canal (at 1104 miles, the longest canal in the world, linking the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers). He also repaired highways and public buildings. He extended taxation to Mongol merchants.

Paper currency had been used by this time for a generation or two, but Kublai established a uniform currency throughout his territory. Based on silver and gold, the paper money could be converted at any time. Later, however, Kublai needed to produce more money for some of his plans, and issued new notes that were not backed by precious metals. This example of fiat money (possibly the first in the world) would always be accepted by the government.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Golden Legend, Part 2

A copy sold by Christies in 2002 for $688,000
About 1260, the Archbishop of Genoa, Jacobus de Voragine, wrote a collection of hagiographies (saints' lives) which he called Legenda sanctorum ["Legends of the saints"]. It turned out to be extremely popular, quickly taking on the name by which it is known today: Legenda aurea ["The Golden Legend"]. Over 800 hand-made copies exist from the era prior to the printing press.

The term "legend" at the time was able to convey the idea of truth as well as fiction in this kind of work, and rightfully so. Jacobus was not concerned with creating a well-documented and historically accurate account of saints. He was interested in producing inspiration and enlightenment, and that cannot be left to the facts.

And so we have our major reports of saints such as St. George whose faith enabled him to slay the Dragon, and St. Christopher whose name means Christ-bearer and whose major feat in life was to bear a child across a river who turned out to be Jesus Christ in disguise. The 20th century acknowledges that these saints are likely never to have existed, but for Jacobus their example for Christians is far more important than determining whether they actually lived. He not only told the stories of their lives and major exploits (in great detail), he frequently analyzed their names, explaining their symbolic significance. Jacobus knew Latin, and would have been aware that his interpretations of Latin names was frequently more creative than etymological, but that didn't matter to him as much as holding the saints up as exemplars for proper behavior. He did not, however, take an "anything goes" approach: in his life of St. Margaret, when she is swallowed by a dragon whose belly breaks open due to her prayer, he labels the incident "apocryphal."

Which is not to say that he made everything up on his own. Scholars believe that he was drawing much of his knowledge from previous texts that they can identify. In fact, the 16th century—a time of church reform and re-examination of long-held beliefs and practices—saw a rejection of many of the stories of the Legend because of their fanciful nature. Still, it was an extremely popular work for the masses. William Caxton's English edition in 1483 went to several printings between then and 1527, attesting to its enduring attraction for readers. Although the chapters tend to start sounding the same after a time, it is still studied today as an example of medieval tastes and beliefs.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Saint Valentine

[We pause in our discussion of The Golden Legend to share an entry from it.]

Here beginneth the Life of Saint Valentine, and first the interpretation of his name. 
Valentine is as much to say as containing valour that is perseverant in great holiness. Valentine is said also as a valiant knight, for he was a right noble knight of God, and the knight is said valiant that fleeth not, and smiteth and defendeth valiantly and overcometh much puissantly. And so Saint Valentine withdrew him not from his martyrdom in fleeing, he smote in destroying the idols, he defended the faith, he overcame in suffering. 
Of Saint Valentine the martyr. 
Saint Valentine, friend of our Lord and priest of great authority, was at Rome. It happed that Claudius the emperor made him to come tofore him and said to him in demanding: What thing is that which I have heard of thee, Valentine? Why wilt thou not abide in our amity, and worship the idols and renounce the vain opinion of thy creance? Saint Valentine answered him: If thou hadst very knowledge of the grace of Jesu Christ thou shouldest not say this that thou sayest, but shouldest reny the idols and worship very God. Then said to Saint Valentine a prince which was of the council of the emperor: What wilt thou say of our gods and of their holy life? And Saint Valentine answered: I say none other thing of them but that they were men mortal and mechant and full of all ordure and evil. Then said Claudius the emperor: If Jesu Christ be God verily, wherefore sayst thou not the truth? And Saint Valentine said: Certainly Jesu Christ is only very God, and if thou believe in him, verily thy soul shall be saved, thy realm shall multiply, and he shall give to thee alway victory of thine enemies. Then Claudius turned him unto all them that were there, and said to them: Lords, Romans, hear ye how wisely and reasonably this man speaketh? Anon the provost of the city said: The emperor is deceived and betrayed, how may we leave that which we have holden and been accustomed to hold sith our infancy? With these words the emperor turned and changed his courage, and Saint Valentine was delivered in the keeping of the provost. 
When Saint Valentine was brought in an house in prison, then he prayed to God, saying: Lord Jesu Christ very God, which art very light, enlumine this house in such wise that they that dwell therein may know thee to be very God. And the provost said: I marvel me that thou sayest that thy God is very light, and nevertheless, if he may make my daughter to hear and see, which long time hath been blind, I shall do all that thou commandest me, and shall believe in thy God. Saint Valentine anon put him in prayers, and by his prayers the daughter of the provost received again her sight, and anon all they of the the house were converted. After, the emperor did do smite off the head of Saint Valentine, the year of our Lord two hundred and eighty. Then let us pray to Saint Valentine that he get us pardon of our sins. Amen.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Golden Legend, Part 1

The post about Julian the Hospitaller mentioned its source in the Legenda Aurea ["The Golden Legend"] of Jacobus de Voragine. It was about time to get around to one of the most popular works of the Middle Ages.

Originally called Legenda sanctorum ["Legends of the saints"], it was written by Jacobus de Voragine (c.1230 - 1298). Born in Varazze on the northwest coast of Italy,* Jacobus became a Dominican and teacher in 1244. He was active in several roles in the Order, including being offered to be made archbishop of Genoa, a position he initially refused. In 1292 he finally agreed, and was invited to Rome by Pope Nicholas IV. Unfortunately, when he reached Rome the pope was very ill and unable to perform the ceremony. It took a little while to find a replacement, during which time the cardinals chose to consecrate Jacobus in his new title. As Archbishop of Genoa, he worked to reconcile the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. He also repaired churches and monasteries, enforced discipline in the clergy, and made an Italian translation of the Bible (now lost).

He also wrote extensively: sermons on saints, a book on the Gospels, a book on all aspects of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a defense of Dominicans, and a summary of the virtues and life of Dominican William Perrault. His most enduring contribution to posterity was the collection of saints' tales now called The Golden Legend, which will be a good topic for tomorrow.

He died of natural causes, and was beatified by Pope Pius VII in 1816.

*"de Voragine" is the Latin for "from Varazze."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Saint Oedipus?

St. Julian killing his parents.
Oil on panel, c.1488, by Antonio della Corna
Everyone knows the story of Oedipus. Not to be outdone, early Christianity has its own story of a similar patricidal tragedy. The popular 13th century Legenda Aurea ["Golden Legend"] of Jacobus de Voragine is the source of many saints' legends—sometimes the only source, and therefore suspect—and it is where we learn the story of St. Julian the Hospitaller.

At his birth (early in the first century CE), his father saw pagan witches lay a curse on his son that would cause him to kill his parents some day. His father realized that killing his son was the best plan to avoid his and his wife's own future demise, but the baby's mother would not allow it. Unfortunately, the boy Julian frequently saw his mother crying while he was growing up, and one day at the age of ten she told him why. Learning that his fate was to kill his parents, and swearing that he would never do so, he left home. After 50 days of walking, he had reached Galicia in northwest Spain. He eventually married.

Twenty years later, his parents decided to go looking for him. Arriving in Galicia, they visited the altar of St. James to pray. Coming out, they met a woman and asked her if she could take in a pair of travelers who had nowhere to stay. She agreed, and took them home. Explaining that her husband, Julian, was out hunting, they discovered that they had met their own daughter-in-law. Delighted to have found each other, she put them into her own bed to sleep.

In the words of the Legend,
And on the morn the wife of Julian went to the church, and her husband came home whiles she was at church, and entered into his chamber for to awake his wife. And he saw twain in his bed, and had weened that it had been a man that had lain with his wife, and slew them both with his sword, and after, went out and saw his wife coming from church.
Then he was much abashed and demanded of his wife who they were that lay in his bed, then she said that they were his father and his mother, which had long sought him, and she had laid them in his bed.
[link]
The horribly distraught Julian was comforted by his wife, who implored him to keep faith in God. To atone, Julian built several hospitals for the comfort of strangers.

He is the patron saint of hunters and of innkeepers. His feast day is 12 February.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Papal Secretary Makes His Mark

Poggio's notes on monument [link]
Many months ago this post mentioned a time when there were three popes at once, who were finally removed and replaced with a fourth. The truth is that there was a two-year gap before the Cardinals settled on a single pope. During this time, what did all the servants and staff of the Vatican do with themselves? One of them went searching for manuscripts from the past and made of them a gift to the future.

His name was Gian Francesco Poggio (later called "Bracciolini," and he was born in Tuscany on 11 February, 1380, but grew up in Florence where his father took him to be educated. It was soon clear that he had a great talent: his penmanship. In an age when all documents were created by hand, penmanship was prized. He was put in school to become a notary.

Notaries were authorized to oversee certain legal documents and transactions. At 21 he was a member of the Notaries Guild in Florence. Two years later, he was working for a cardinal, and a few months after that, for the Vatican itself. With his penmanship skills and knowledge of proper document organization and preparation, he quickly moved up through all the ranks of official Vatican scriptors, working under four popes.

Then came 1414 and the Council of Constance that got rid of all three warring popes, beginning a two-year gap in the need for secretaries who produced official documents. Poggio decided to travel. He visited the German spa at Baden, abbeys in Switzerland and Swabia, St. Gall and many others. He brought to light sole copies of important works by classical authors that might have otherwise disintegrated without being copied.

At Gall he found unique documents by Cicero, Quintilian, Statius, Gaius Valerius Flaccus, and more. Cicero's complete Orations were recovered at Cluny. The only known copy of the encyclopedic De Rerum Natura ["On the Nature of Things"] by Lucretius was recovered from a German monastery (probably Fulda). One Harvard scholar credits Lucretius' 7400-line poem on the world with kickstarting the Renaissance.

He returned to his Vatican duties, being named Apostolicus Secretarius, the papal secretary, under the newly elected Pope Martin V. He traveled a great deal still, moving around when the pope did and on re-assignments (he spent five years in England, which he hated), looking for manuscripts that needed bringing into the light. He worked under several more popes until he finally retired to a villa that he had built with the money from the sale of a manuscript by Livy. In 1453,* he was offered the position of Chancellor of the Florentine Republic by Cosimo de Medici. He fulfilled his duties there until his death in 1459.

*Coincidentally, he retired from a career created by his excellent hand-writing of documents at the same time Gutenberg was perfecting movable type and ushering in an era of mass-produced books.

Monday, February 10, 2014

St. Scholastica, Weather Witch

Today is her feast day, as well as the anniversary of the St. Scholastica's Day Riot in Oxford. She was the twin sister of Saint Benedict, but made quite the name for herself. Like her brother, most of what we know about her came from the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I (mentioned here).

She was born in Italy (c.480 - 10 February 542), and devoted herself to God in her youth. She founded a monastery for women about five miles from Monte Cassino, where her more famous brother had a community.

The communities were "gender-specific," so when the siblings wanted to meet they chose a neutral location. During one of these visits, she wanted her brother to stay overnight, but he was loath to spend a night away from his monastery. Chapter 33 of the Dialogues tells the tale of what happened next:
At that time, the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen. The Nun, hearing this denial of her brother, joined her hands together, laid them on the table, bowed her head on her hands, and prayed to almighty God. 
Lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightning and thundering, and such abundance of rain, that neither venerable Benedict, nor his monks that were with him, could put their heads out of doors. The holy Nun, having rested her head on her hands, poured forth such a flood of tears on the table, that she transformed the clear air to a watery sky. 
After the end of her devotions, that storm of rain followed; her prayer and the rain so met together, that as she lifted up her head from the table, the thunder began.  So it was that in one and the very same instant that she lifted up her head, she brought down the rain.
The man of God, seeing that he could not, in the midst of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain return to his Abbey, began to be heavy and to complain to his sister, saying: "God forgive you, what have you done?" She answered him, "I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me; I have desired it of our good Lord, and he has granted my petition. Therefore if you can now depart, in God's name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone." [link]
The next day he departed; three days later she died. Benedict had her body brought to Monte Cassino and laid in his own tomb.

Scholastica is the patron saint of nuns, and is invoked during storms.

Friday, February 7, 2014

War of the Eight Saints

Pope Gregory XI arriving in Rome in 1377
Fresco by Giorgio Vasari
Pope Gregory XI wanted land. He was the last pope to reside in Avignon in France rather than in the Vatican in Rome. Even though he enjoyed living in Avignon, he still felt that the pope deserved more land in Italy. He set out to achieve that by expanding the Papal States, territory that belonged to the papacy.

Understandably, the Italian city-states objected to this; if Gregory wanted more land, he was going to have to take it by force. Gregory was fine with that option. He was fighting a battle with Milan, and when that ended in 1375, he had the opportunity to send his army against Florence, which held lands that would have been ideal for Gregory. Thus started the "War of Eight Saints."

The head of Gregory's mercenary army was an Englishman, John Hawkwood. Florence decided they could "buy off" Hawkwood. They offered him (and his army) 130,000 florins to sign a one-year nonaggression pact with Florence. For Hawkwood himself, they offered an annual payment of 600 florins in a five-year contract and a lifetime annual pension of 1200 florins! Hawkwood kept his involvement to the Papal States themselves, avoiding conflict with Florentine territory. Gregory had to use other forces to attack key areas in Italy.

Who were the "Eight Saints" of the war? Their names aren't agreed upon, and they weren't saints. Gregory excommunicated Florence for its opposition, using the phrase otto dei preti ["eight priests"] to refer to specific men whose acts prompted the excommunication.* These eight would have been one (or both) of two groups of eight men: one was appointed to come up with the means of buying off Hawkwood (these men also forced a loan on the clergy of Florence to amass the money needed for Hawkwood); the other was the otto della guerra ["eight men of war"], eight men appointed to manage the war against Gregory.

Gregory ultimately returned to Rome in January 1378. If he wanted to maintain his property in Italy, he was going to have to oversee it personally. In a sense, the Avignon papacy ended by default.

*Florence had an unexpected reaction to excommunication—unexpected to our modern ideas of how devout the Middle Ages were. Someday...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Stones of Magnesia

A perpetual motion machine powered by magnetism,
described by Peter Peregrinus
Magnets/lodestones have fascinated people for at least 25 centuries. We should first clarify the names. The word "lodestone" was first used in the 16th century and refers to the metal ore with magnetic properties. The word "magnet" was coined by the Greeks far earlier and refers to "stones from Magnesia." Magnesia was a region in Thessaly where it was easy to find the magnetic ore.

Aristotle informs us that Thales of Miletus (625 - c.525 BCE) was certain that magnetism, since it caused the rock to move, was a sign that all things—even rocks—were imbued with divine power; essentially, with "soul." Pliny the Elder mentioned a mountain near the Indus River that was a giant magnet. Superstitions about magnets abounded, and it was incorporated into legends. A mid-twelfth century romance about Aeneas claimed that the walls of Carthage had meanest in them that drew and incapacitated the weapons of Aeneas' men.

Bishop of Paris William of Auvergne in 1231-6 used magnetism as an analogy for the motion of the celestial spheres. A generation later, a French scholar named Peter Peregrinus, or Peter of Maricourt, wrote Epistolæ de Magnete ["Letters on the Magnet"] to a friend, explaining the observable properties of magnets. He describes the two poles, attraction and repulsion, and how to make efficient compasses. His work was so thorough that no one bothered to write another work on magnets until 1600, and that person quoted Peter's work.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fair Rosamund

Fair Rosamund's Well today.
Blenheim Palace is of fairly recent vintage—the early 1700s is "recent" in the context of a blog devoted to the Middle Ages—but the site contains some much older features. A spring on the property fills a well that existed at least as far back as 1166, when royal accounts list a building project designed to enclose the spring, known at the time as Everswell. The name can be accounted for by a local legend that says it never runs dry. Nowadays, it has a different name; from the 16th century on, it has been referred to as "Rosamund's Well."

The Rosamund of the name is Rosamund Clifford, who would have been unknown to history but for an event that pushed her into prominence. Daughter of Walter Clifford, she was born sometime before 1150. Her father's position in government was sufficient that the king had reason to call on him. Sometime in 1163 (according to best guesses), Henry II did just that, stopping at Clifford Castle on the River Wye on his way to deal with a Welsh problem. That is likely where and when he first met Rosamund...

...and when they fell in love.

Henry was married—Eleanor of Aquitaine had divorced the king of France in 1152 and married Henry in 1154—but kings never let marriage stop them. There is much gossip and legend surrounding "Fair Rosamund," but there are a few things we can say for certain. One is that she was a very patient lover: given Henry's campaigns in England and on the continent, between 1163 and her death in 1176, they would not have been able to be in each other's presence for more than 2-3 years total. Stories that she traveled with him can not be substantiated by contemporary evidence.

The likelihood that she bore children for Henry is slim. Later suggestions that his son Geoffrey was hers make no sense, given that she would have had to been pregnant with Geoffrey while she was a baby.*

It is very likely that Henry kept her in Woodstock, which at the time was essentially a hunting lodge about 10 miles north of Oxford. The legend that he built a maze around it to keep her safe is untrue. It is possible, I suppose, that she really did bathe at Rosamund's Well. Blenheim Palace is just west of Woodstock, built on the grounds that once were part of the Woodstock lodge and the enclosed deer park.

She went to live in seclusion among the nuns at a monastery in Godstow in 1176, once her status as the king's mistress became known. She died shortly thereafter, and the king contributed to a family-built  tomb for her at Godstow. In 1191, the bishop of Lincoln found that her tomb, situated in the choir of the church, had become a popular site for locals to leave flowers. Shocked at the veneration given to a mistress, he had her tomb moved outside the monastery. Like so many other sites, it was destroyed by another Henry known for mistresses: Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.

*The illegitimacy of Geoffrey is not an invention; Eleanor was not his mother. The chronicler Walter Map (1140 - c.1209) claims Geoffrey's mother was someone named Ykenai.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Invention of Acne...

A copy of his work [source]
...was a typographical error.

The word "acne" does not come from a classical language root; that is, not in the way we usually derive our modern medical terms. It was described by a Greek physician and then mis-transcribed in a later volume of his work.

Aetius of Amida was a contemporary of Theodoric the Great (454 - 526; mentioned here in connection with Grammar). He was known for the breadth of his learning; his writings show a great knowledge of those who came before him as well as personal skill. He came out of Mesopotamia and learned medicine at Alexandria, known for its medical school.

His famous work was Sixteen Books on Medicine, in which he compiles knowledge from Galen and others of whom we would otherwise have little information: the surgeons Rufus of Ephesus and Leonidas, and the obstetricians and gynecologists Soranus of Ephesus and Philumenus. He is not completely derivative, however. He includes original treatments for eyes, ears, nose and throat, as well as goiter and rabies and others. He also addresses surgical procedures such as for a fistula or tonsilitis.

Although a Christian, he was not immune to the cures that came from non-Christian sources. He relates spells and charms popular in Egypt at the time. Also, in explaining how to help a person suffering from a bone stuck in the throat, he makes the earliest reference to St. Blaise.

As for the condition in which the skin is covered with small eruptions or peaks, he used the Greek word ἀκμή ["acme"; point]. Unfortunately, a scribal error in a later copy turned this into ἀκνή ["acne"]. The popularity of his text made this the common name for the affliction, and so it remains.

Monday, February 3, 2014

An English Mercenary

Funerary monument to Hawkwood
This is the story of how an English soldier of no particular background rose to such prominence that a monument to him sits in Florence, Italy.

John Hawkwood was born about 1320, perhaps in Essex; anecdotes that he apprenticed in London as a tailor before becoming a soldier cannot be substantiated. He served in the Hundred Years War under Edward III. He may have fought at Crécy and Poitiers—again, we cannot be sure of his exact whereabouts during the war—but it is certain that he was no longer employed as a soldier once the Treaty of Brétigny was concluded in 1360.

The life of a soldier suited him, apparently—or he simply had no desire to find passage back to England. He joined one of the mercenary companies that sprang up on the continent. These groups, with no particular allegiance to any nationality and willing to fight for pay against anyone, were called Free Companies. He soon became a member of one called the "Great Company of English and Germans," also known as the White Company. By 1362 he was leading the White Company in battles all over Italy.

Hawkwood was shrewd—some would say "dishonest" or "unethical." Knowing that the White Company was a military force to be reckoned with, he would manipulate the Italian city-states that wanted help. If one offered a contract for the Company's services, he would go to their potential employer's enemy and ask for more money to refuse the initial contract. Sometimes he would be paid simply not to fight for the other side. Florence did this for three months in 1375, when the White Company was employed by Pope Gregory XI to fight Florence.

Despite this behavior, the White Company under Hawkwood gained a reputation for sticking to a contract and not deserting the battle or acting like lawless marauders once a battle was done. Military discipline was one of the commodities you gained when employing the White Company.

Besides being a mercenary, his life dovetailed with other historical events. In 1368, Edward III's son Lionel of Antwerp married Violante Visconti, daughter of then-ruler of Milan, Galeazzo II Visconti. Hawkwood was in attendance and might have met some of the other wedding guests: Geoffrey Chaucer, Petrarch, and the French chronicler Jean Froissart.

John Hawkwood died on 17 March 1394 in Florence. He had lived at that point for several years in peaceful retirement, enjoying the citizenship and pension and villa Florence had given him. Praised for his part in maintaining Florentine independence, he was buried with state honors. Plans for a bronze statue were abandoned due to cost, but 40 years later a monument was created for him by Paolo Uccello, a fresco designed to resemble bronze.

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