Carnivalesque 63

Carnivalesque 63 – an Ancient and Medieval Version!
Do cities that are just NOT THERE any more matter? You bet they do! But how do we show people what was there if there’s no there there any more? Go look at what can be done with Antioch on the Orontes.
How do you get extant but really fragile manuscripts out of the library where more than one scholar at a time can use them? Here are some really interesting digitalization examples.
And how do you get the DNA out of a manuscript folio to figure out things about – well, about everything, starting with the sheep herd the page was made from. Well, first you have to convince a librarian that a set of 40-micron diameter holes in the edge of a manuscript is acceptable. Then you have to use Michael Drout’s new machine – prototype now available!
Bit players in the grand play of the Fall of the Roman Empire and the eventual emergence of the modern western European nations? Not so fast, buddy! Go read about the Burgundian Civil War and think harder about what makes people(s) central to the story.
Not a bit player at all – the power behind the throne – a new life of the Empress Theodora.
Periodization is always a question. In question? Questionable? But much like bit players and great powers, definition is important, if impossible. Magistra et Mater asks “How late should the late antique go?”
So you didn’t make it to Kalamazoo this year? Jonathan Jarrett covered a BUNCH of sessions incredibly thoroughly – here, here, here, and here He’s not quite Prof. Dr. Boethius P. von Korncrake, but hey – most of us aren’t.
The most important Kalamazoo news? The Chaucer Blogger steps forward!
And finally, what I think must be the most-forwarded ancient or medieval story of the year — the lurid cemetary of the Gladiators at York. Men bitten by Tigers! Differential development of right arms! At least three of my students in Greek Art & Architecture this semester forwarded this to me – and it was on every list serve I’m on, too. And then ADM sent it as a suggestion, too – so clearly Gladiators are In the News!
Happy reading!


My Bible reading this season seems to be flipping around to a book I haven’t read lately. The gone, but not forgotten Old Oligarch (can it really be 4 years ago he gave up blogging?) would understand my delight in Leviticus, but this week I’m reading Tobit for the first time in years.
I can really see why the Reformers were eager to toss this one out! In the benighted 16th Century they couldn’t imagine that fragments of Hebrew and Aramaic versions would one day turn up at Qumran, and their petty argument that it only survived in the Greek would go ‘boom.’ Famous last words in historical disciplines: “There is no evidence that . . .”
Always say “There is no evidence currently available.” Archaeology may well prove you silly otherwise.
So, Tobit. Angels who care – and tell white lies! Demons who flee to Egypt at the stink of fish, are run down, and bound hand and foot! Almsgiving and burying the dead (ooooh – Corporal Works of Mercy!). You can see how that would make Luther nuts. I enjoyed it – the description that it’s a religious novel with good historical detail works for me. And why shouldn’t we have a few of those in the Canon to read, too?
Even worse, from the Reformed point of view, must’ve been Tobit 12:10 (in either recension):
So now when you and Sarra prayed, I brought the memorial of your prayer before the glory of the Lord and did likewise when you would bury the dead.
There’s your Guardian Angel right there, laying your prayers as offerings before the Lord. Can’t have that!

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XII

Canto XII
A few quick notes about thoughts Canto XII threw up –
Dante and Virgil have to climb down a rock-slide to get to the next ring. I wonder where Dante got the idea that the Harrowing of Hell – Christ’s Descent into Hell Virgil described in Limbo was so violently ruinous to the physical structure of Hell? Is it an ancient topos, or something new to Dante? I really should ask my acquaintance Georgia Frank over at Colgate, who has studied early descent into Hell and purgatory. Maybe we can get her to come do a guest turn in the spring of ’11 when we teach this!
Remember that fraud is something that beasts can’t do? The Minotaur, of course, is the offspring of a fraudulent cow – Daedalus made a cow for Pasiphaë to crawl into so she could be impregnated by Poseidon’s bull (oh, those Greeks!). The Minotaur, though, is guarding the violent, along with the centaurs. Hmm.
About the Centaurs, who are racing around the river of fire, shooting arrows at any violent man (mainly famous rulers) who rises too far out of the stream, again, half-beasts to guard the bestially violent – specifically those who were violent against others. Also on my coffee table is Machiavelli’s The Prince, which will come up in November in European Studies 101, and Machiavelli makes a rather different use of centaurs in his chapter 18 – “In What Mode Faith Should be Kept by Princes.”

Thus, you must know that there are two kinds of combat: one with laws, the other with force. The first is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first is often not enough, one must have recourse to the second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to know well how to use the beast and the man. This role was taught covertly to princes by ancient writers, who wrote that Achilles, and many other ancient princes, were given to Chiron the centaur to be raised, so that he would look after them with his discipline. To have as teacher a half-beast, half-man means nothing other than that a prince needs to know how to use both natures; and the one without the other is not lasting. (The Prince, Mansfield translation, p 69)

Machiavelli and Dante both link the centaurs with rulers, one for training and one for punishment. Hm. Since one of the ways I amuse myself when I read Machiavelli is thinking of him as writing a manual for getting Lorenzo de Medici to Hell even faster than the average member of that family, noticing this helps.
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.

Peer review and ‘excellence’

This looks very interesting: How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgmentreviewed here at Inside Higher Ed. For anyone who has ever not gotten a grant – or who has thought that getting a grant is proof of the excellence of something or other, this is recommended reading. Consider this: “One panel Lamont observed simply didn’t award all the fellowships it could have because the reviewers wanted to leave for the airport.”

Carnivalesque 45 – a blog carnival of Ancient and Medieval findings

Welcome to Carnivalesque 45 – a blog carnival of Ancient and Medieval findings!
Lots of people are talking conferences – it’s a way of not thinking about grading, of course. J. J. Cohen at In the Middle gets some organizational information about what sort of audience to expect for his paper at the Leeds Congress and breaks out into a rash:

Yeah, nooo pressure at all. I’ll just wear a nice suit and juggle oranges on a unicycle while reading from my translation of Judith Butler’s Giving an Account of Oneself into medieval Latin. Slowly.

Dr. Virago complains at Quod She about her future office, but then she shows pictures of the Modern Panopticon! She’s right – those are a lot of windows to clap to.
What brings people to the blogs they read? Jonthan Jarrett at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe (IN a Corner of Tenth-Century Europe? I’m not sure) looks at his referrer logs and decides to do something for the searchers.

If I leave aside the porn searches and count only strings that look academic, the two things that bring people to this blog from search engines more than anything else are, firstly, my piece on the First Crusade, which is good as that’s what it’s there for, and secondly, the piece I wrote about Charles the Simple, because it includes a reference to and a map of the Treaty of Verdun. It’s searches for “treaty of Verdun” that bring people to that, and they can’t really be getting what they want out of it. I’m not going to try and fill that gap here, because there are already better sites out there explaining what the Treaty was, but I will do two things. Firstly, I will make an important point about the Treaty’s effect, and then I will do what I do best, or at least most, and tell you a story from a charter that helps to illustrate the sort of thing that was going on.

Dr. Weevil is also checking meta-blog information. He blogged a bit from 14th century essayist Yoshida Kenko that reminded him of the essence of blogging:

If I fail to say what lies on my mind it gives me a feeling of flatulence; I shall therefore give my brush free rein. Mine is a foolish diversion, but these pages are meant to be torn up, and no one is likely to see them. (Kenko, Essays in Idleness 19, tr. Donald Keene)

Then a little later,

Belatedly wondering if anyone else had quoted Kenko’s proto-blogger manifesto, I did a Google search on “Kenko + blogger + Idleness + flatulence”. The first result of “about 93” was my own 11:57pm post, dated (timed?) “9 minutes ago”, which means that Google had it in their database approximately 25 minutes after I posted it. I would be less impressed if I had even 0.1% (e.g.) InstaPundit‘s traffic.

Speaking of meta-blogging, how many of us started out as anonymous bloggers only to be outed? Or noticed? It just happened to Another Damned Medievalist.
Disiecta membra! Got to love them! Carl Pyrdum at Got Medieval shows us a marginal guy ripping himself apart! And monkeys!
We don’t always have to reinterpret the same ol’ same ol’ – we can dig up new stuff! But then we find ourselves in an arms race with, you know, the public. Who sometimes dig things up without consulting the experts. Alun Salt at Archeoastronomy considers all sorts of issues along these lines – starting with Great Britain’s current finding regime, the Portable Antiquity Scheme. The broader consideration is of how we might encourage a world in which a conserved heritage is more valuable than a marketed heritage. Lots of links for people interested in ethics and morals of archaeology. Here’s the Portable Antiquity Scheme in case you don’t already have it bookmarked.
Talking about the ethics and morality of archaeology, Dr. Martin Rundkvist at Aardvarchaeology offers a guest entry by Florian Freistetter of Astrodicticum Simplex – who manages to go to a lecture and restrain himself from standing up and shouting by taking diligent notes:

A few weeks ago, on 17th October, I had the dubious pleasure of attending a lecture by Erich von Däniken with the title Götterdämmerung, “Twilight of the Gods”. The great hall in Jena’s Volkshaus was rather full: I believe there were 650 to 700 people there. It was a strange feeling, being in the same room as all those people and knowing that most of them would probably believe what Däniken was going to tell them.

Speaking of aliens, Michael Drout, in his only political blog posting, asked Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?
Gesta at On Boundaries posted on a Chris Wickham lecture, ‘The problem of the dialogues between medieval history and medieval archaeology.’ Gesta links comments on the same lecture by Jonathan Jarrett and Magistra et Mater, and notes:

What is interesting from my point of view is that clearly I had my teaching head on rather than my research head in this lecture. While Magistra and Jonathan were mulling over the implications for the way they write history, I was pondering how we start to address the problems at undergrad level. I fear I am becoming institutionalised.

Do you know what Zenobia really looked like? Judith Weingarten has some ideas. Coin pictures at Zenobia, Empress of the East!
And since we’re turning to the classical world, let’s talk Classics as a major – and one of those awkward conversations we sometimes have this time of year during registration for Spring classes. Are your students declaring majors? Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti has Ed Turner’s letter to young Ted Turner (yeah, that Ted Turner) on the subject. Ed wrote:

“I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on my way home today.”

How would you help Ted answer Ed?*
Edward Cook at Ralph the Sacred River tells us why the Jesus Bowl is just another crock. Everyone loves Magic Bowls, but this one’s nothing special.
And a different sort of bowl – and back to the idea of the morality of digging up or owning things, Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber talks about buying a Song dynasty bowl. Read the comments.
Just remember, don’t go buying things as if the sales catalog is accurate! David Nishimura at Cronaca pointed out a couple of stories about a Fatimid ewer selling at Christie’s for 3.2 million pounds. The same piece had been cataloged in January of 2008 as a 19th century claret jug and valued at 100-300 pounds. Jug, ewer – is it the price point that inflects the nomenclature? Whatever – caveat emptor!
The December 2008 Carnivalesque Logo (early modern) will be hosted at Investigations of a Dog. Go make suggestions!

*Fun fact to know and tell – Ted Turner started Latin under the same man I did, W.O.E.A. Humphreys at the McCallie School. Note that I am not listed as one of the notable alumni.

Latin through the ages

Speaking of languages (see previous entry), I just finished Nicholas Ostler’s Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin. In our usual way, I bought this for my father for Christmas and got it back from him to read this August. (I had actually read Ostler’s Empires of the Word: a Language History of the World before giving it to him for Christmas, so he can pass that along to someone else. What did he get for his recent birthday? A box of lightly read books. Why give someone something you wouldn’t read yourself?)
Ad Infinitum is not one of those books of a little Latin for the unfortunate like Amo, Amas, Amat and More, nor is it a book for linguists. Ostler manages a deeply informed and well-written look at a language across time. He’s certainly read with genuine specialist ability about things from the Etruscan influence on Latin (perhaps where I learned the most) to the current debates about the shift from Late Latin to Proto-Romance languages (here’s some of my blogging on the topic; Ostler’s discussion around pages 160-170 is great – I may xerox it and hand it out to a class). He is suitably skeptical about the Humanists to keep me happy, and he does a great job with the Iberian and Latin American traditions. I really didn’t know much about the Mexican Latinists.
The final chapter is pretty weak – he’s a little scattered there. But then, so is Latin in the modern world. He misses the next Renovatio that I fantasize about when I want to run away from it all – the explosion of Latin being taught in seminaries in Africa. Pray for the wild popularity of the Benedictine Revival in Africa and Asia, and maybe we’ll see something like the wacky Latin of the Hibernians of the 7th and 8th Century flourish anew.

Why we blog – and badges!

I apologize for the slow posting lately – I’m in a frenzy of deadlineness. I’m trying to get several things finished before the tenure box goes in – and then there’s actually writing the tenure case. I have a teaching philosophy, but I’d rather enact it than write about it (and isn’t that just the kind of sentence I need to use?).
And I’ve had a house guest this week who comes up periodically from Atlanta to read things at the Cornell Library (mainly in the rare book room) that he can’t get elsewhere. He stays with me and drives down to Ithaca every morning. Having a human being (sorry Argyle) to talk with reduces some of the blog-urge. Oh – he blogs occasionally at Reformation Professor. Ah – grad school friends. You forget sometimes how much you miss them.
And then there’s the Hand List of Words for Talking about Medieval Badges.
I did most of the reading in dictionaries for this year before last and left the text file sitting on my hard drive. I was looking up some words again and realized that I had those already and might as well post them somewhere I can get at them. Take a look. I’m up to cockle-shelled, an adjectival derivative of a cockleshell shaped badge. The example the OED gave was of a St. Michael badge (Mont St Michel also used the cockleshell, being sea-girt and all).

What is “Arabic” and how do you go about teaching it?

Mark Liberman at Language Log has a great post with lots of updates about the state of Arabic mastery among State Department personnel in Baghdad and then expanding out to the question of what kind of Arabic to learn and what is Arabic anyway. I apologize that the link seems to take you into the middle of the post – click and scoll up to start reading, because the whol thing is very interesting! Among other things, he links to a fascinating article (link is to a pdf) about the problems of diglossia for Arabs and Arabic literacy; it’s a long paper, and Liberman chooses several anecdotes and excerpts (tempting enough that I read the whole thing – I keep asking people who know Arabic how far apart the dialects really are; the simple answer, “pretty far”).
So why is this of more than casual interest for medievalists? Read Liberman’s next to last paragraph:

This situation makes the task of foreign learners more difficult, since they need to learn to deal appropriately with a very broad range of mixtures of “high” and “low” languages. This is true to some extent in any language, but the range of diglossia in “Arabic” appears to be significantly greater than in most other modern situations. You need to imagine a situation in which “Latin” is used to refer not only to classical and patristic Latin, but also to the spoken versions French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese (with none of them having any standard written form).

I don’t need to imagine a situation like that – I read about it all the time. It’s called “the 8th and 9th centuries in Western Europe.” Roger Wright, a student of early Spanish, pushed a lot of medievalists to start thinking about what Latin was before and after Alcuin and De litteris colendis, the Carolingian edict on how Latin was to be taught and pronounced when read aloud. To simplify, Wright says (and the field has come around a long way to him) that before Alcuin, written Latin was an elaborate spelling convention for proto-Romance. The whole question of when proto-Romance ceased to be one thing and became proto-Spanish, proto-French, proto-Italian and such and the degree to which these things were separable from Late Latin is wildly controversial, but it’s exactly what Liberman is asking us to think about while thinking about diglossia and dialect problems in Arabic.
The situation of Latin/Romance diglossia in the West in the 8th and 9th centuries is important to me because early on in the dissertation my historian advisor asked something along the lines of his famous “but did the hand that guided the plow understand Augustine’s sermon?” Did anyone other than clergymen understand the monumental inscriptions I was looking at? Did I need to posit a tour guide to translate them for lay visitors to buildings? How seriously could we take the idea of programmatic intention if no one could read them? Funny – I blogged about this in late June last year, too.
So, back to Arabic. What do we Americans think we’re doing when we teach Modern Standard Arabic on the college level? After reading the Maamouri piece I’m beginning to wonder if we’re teaching Latin and then sending our students out to deal with a lot of speakers of Spanish, Italian, and French.

Charlemagne’s Palace Chapel at Aachen

This on the right is pretty much the view of the intended audience – what Charlemagne would have seen from the vantage point of his throne if he looked up at the dome.

The throne sits on the 2nd floor gallery on the west side of the central octagonal core (to the left on the section – click for a pop-up). Charlemagne could walk west from his throne to a window overlooking an large courtyard or could sit on his throne and look up and across the central core at the chapel at the mosaic of Christ enthroned (the parallelism was not lost), around him in the gallery level at his court, or down and across the core to the altar.

The big inscription that I was talking about the other day ran around the cornice (more or less) between the gallery level and the lower level. I’m still looking for a good free photograph of that.

Drawing from Georg Dehio/Gustav von Bezold: Kirchliche Baukunst des Abendlandes. Stuttgart: Verlag der Cotta’schen Buchhandlung 1887-1901, Plate No. 40. I found it at the Wikimedia Commons

Longtime readers may be wondering about this burst of images lately – I’ve been realizing that I can use Creative Commons licensed photos off of flickr but it hadn’t occurred to me until this morning that you could search that way! Damn you Alun Salt! That little blogpost of mine on the administrative senior managers overuling marks in the archaeology department at Bournemouth got picked up for Four Stone Hearth XII – a Carnival of Archaeology. I go over there to read the other entries and come across Alun Salt’s note on alternatives to stock photography. Alun has a couple of suggestions, one of which is a flickr creative commons search. He uses Delphi. I change the search terms to aachen chapel and come up with 5 great shots, one of which you see above.

So I guess you’ll be seeing more pictures. That’s not a bad thing.

Teaching the Specialty – Charlemagne and me

This week I get to luxuriate in 9th century architecture and art. I decided – entirely selfishly – to spend a day or two in my first-half-medieval-200-level-course with Charlemagne’s palace complex at Aachen as the hinge. My students have gotten used to the idea that we jump from coin inscriptions to monumental inscriptions – denarius to apse mosaic – and this will be no exception. The 806 denarius from Frankfurt with KAROLVS IMP AUG (Charles Emperor Augustus) on one side and XPISTIANA RELIGIO (Christian Religion) on the other is a big one for me – and it gets compared in my classes to the dedicatory inscription that ran around the inside of the palatine chapel, where Charlemagne is called princeps rather than emperor. Fun fun fun!

Click to see! This image is taken from Georg Dehio/Gustav von Bezold: Kirchliche Baukunst des Abendlandes. Stuttgart: Verlag der Cotta’schen Buchhandlung 1887-1901, Plate No. 40. I found it at the Wikimedia Commons, which has some of the strangest stuff. This plan was first published in 1887 and has to be use with caution. Historians and engravers had a bad habit of regularizing angles that offended them!

Film Version of Hildegard of Bingen? Hmm.

Google news is wonderful – where else would I come across a story from Variety? Not my usual reading. Trotta tracks back to middle ages / Vet to direct Bingen bio. That means that an experienced director is doing a movie on Hildegard! Here’s the director’s imdb page (or, as Variety calls her, the helmer).
If you don’t know about Hildegard I hardly know where to tell you to start, other than DON’T GOOGLE HER. Goodness knows she’s been poorly served. Maybe the old Catholic Encyclopedia? It’s certainly sound, as far as it goes. There was some very silly stuff done with Hildegard in the 1980s by Matthew Fox, ex-O.P., et al. Part of the problem there is that medieval medicine, in its dependence on classical theory-driven medicine, is a lot like modern new age medicine (or ‘traditional healing’ everywhere). You know – the power of gems to heal, the life force of plants, etc.* An important reason to reject in the Bear & Co. edition of Hildegard’s great Scivias ** (link goes to a better version) is that though the translation was pretty good someone (the publisher? Then-Fr. Matthew?) chose to leave out a lot of chapters. Now I’m the first to agree that there’s nothing duller than most medieval mysticism, and the book is over 400 pages without the material, but it was telling which chapters they left out. You see, they printed a list of those chapter headings in the back. And excluded chapters cover LOTS of things about Sin and Damnation and Judgment that didn’t line up very well with Matthew Fox’s whatever-it-was-he-called-it. Creation Spirituality?
So be cautious using great ones – other ones have piggy-backed on their words.

* the relationship between pre-modern non-Western medicines is much more complicated than that, but lemme tell you – if I don’t get tenure and I want to stay in Upstate New York (though why the 2nd part of that equation would be true I couldn’t tell you) I could make a living in Ithaca selling my knowledge of 4 Humors Healing. “Here, ma’am – give little Johnny leeks for that jitteriness – they’ll cool him down!”
** well, besides the fact that I had to buy my copy at an alternative bookstore and it STILL after all these years smells of patchouli

Arnaldo Momigliano and me

I’m trying to make all my reading right now do double duty – and since I’m teach 3 chronologically neighboring courses next semester that’s not difficult. I just packed a book of Arnaldo Momigliano reprints for the trip down to DC – On Pagans, Jews, and Christians (1987 – most of these are articles from the last 15 years of his life). He was always good on history and historiography – and what he has to say about Judaism in the Roman Empire is useful to me for both the Roman Art & Power course and early Christian (which I call First Christian Millennium – up to but not emphasizing Romanesque). The articles on “The Disadvantages of Monotheism for a Universal State” and “Some Preliminary Remarks on the ‘Religious Opposition’ to the Roman Empire” are both essential.
If I have time on the way back I’ll read more of Ittai Gradel’s Emperor Worship and Roman Religion, which is looking very interesting (after about 20 pages).
Both of these authors are interested in what really goes on in Roman religion – and if we can even use the word religion usefully about Romans. Gradel is pretty clear that it’s a word with an inherently christianizing meaning – which doesn’t mean that it’s useless or wrong, but that it must be handled carefully.
Two of the big topics of Roman Art & Power are Augustus’s Altar of Peace and the emperor cult. One of the things I’m going to have everyone do this time through is write a short paper about a coin (shades of T.S.Burns, for those of you who’ve known me too long) and imperial cultus. Last time I didn’t require the exercise, but one of the best things I got all semester was a short paper on a coin showing Augustus’s wife (or widow, and that was the point – was she the wife or mother of the emperor at the time of the striking?) Livia as SALUS AUGUSTA, which means something like “Imperial Welfare.”
This also helps me teach First Christian Millennium by reminding me in considerable detail what it is Christians are refusing to do in sacrificing to the emperor.