Monday, December 11, 2017

3000, more or less -- and a new book

Blogger tells me that the previous post is number 3000.  That's not quite accurate.  I started blogging on a different platform, and I was very active on the blog back in the pre-twitter days.  Also the 3000 posts that Blogger counts includes drafts saved by the blog.

Still, it seems that a celebratory note is appropriate.  ESPECIALLY since yesterday I started another a new book, an English translation of Le Tournoi de Chauvency.  Le Tournoi is a verse account written in 1285 of a tournament in the north of France.  The poem seems to be a lighthearted celebration of the "noble, beautiful and good people" who took part, either as participants or as audience.  It's one of the few tournament accounts about real people.  Most such descriptions are about tournaments in Arthur's court or at least in Arthur's time.

So have a festive breakfast! I will say more about Chauvency soon.

Money to burn on books? Check out ISD holiday offerings

ISD is a disributer of Medieval Studies scholarly books, generally high quality books from small presses.  For instance they distribute my Deeds of Arms series by Freelance Academy Press.

Last week I got a special offer flyer from them and it made my mouth water.  The boks on offer were mainly art oriented and the contents promised to be interesting and beautiful.

Note that these books are by no means cheap, but they have been marked down substantially.  Just the thing, if you can afford it, to give to the love of your life -- or  yourself, if you can justify the expense.

The William Morris Manuscript of The Odes of Horace
by William Morris, introduction by Clive Wilmer, translated by William Gladstone

Hardback, 2 volumes, 186 pages (facsimile + 240p commentary and translation, 183 col illus.)
Publication Date: November 2016

Regular Price: $275.00 /
Special Offer Price: $195.00

Pompeii, a Different Perspective:

Via dell'Abbondanza, a long road, well traveled​

by Arthur Stephens and Jennifer Stephens

Hardback, 126 pages
Publication Date: June 2017
Regular Price: $50.00 / 
Special Offer Price: $40.00

Mosaics of Ravenna: Image and Meaning
by Jutta Dresken-Weiland
Hardback, 320 pages
Publication Date: July 2017

Regular Price: $108.00 /
Special Offer Price: $87.00

Martin Luther. Treasures of the Reformation: Catalogue
edited by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and The Morgan Library and Museum​

Hardback, 504 pages, 488 color illus.
Publication Date: September 2016
Regular Price: $44.95 / 

Egyptian Wall Painting

by Francesco Tiradritti

Hardback, 392 pages, 350 color illus.
Publication Date: December 2008
Original Price: $150.00 /
Special Offer Price: $60.00
Publisher: Abbeville Press

Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Good Duke now speaks English! Done, sort of (again)

Back on October 13, I announced on this blog that I had (sort of) finished my translation of  the Chronicle of the Good Duke Louis de Bourbon.  Maybe one more  run-through and I'd be able  to start a new project.

Well,  my collaborator Phil Paine and I have done considerably more than that since October.  The problems we faced as we worked on the remaining trouble spots were really difficult -- which only makes sense if you think about it.

So today's announcement should be limited.  What's done is an acceptable translation from Middle French to modern English.  Truth be told there are a very few spots where figuring out what the best equivalent in Modern English is still uncertain.  Also missing are a short glossary of mostly military terms, a map (maybe) and an introduction that will help non-specialists understand the context of the chronicle.

And there is one big thing that remains to be done; I have to retranslate our rather literal English translation into a modern one.

Why is this necessary?  Well, let me tell you of my own experiences.  About ten years ago, I was teaching late medieval history.  I did my best to find accessible, affordable, translations, or translations that were in the public domain.  There were a few century-old public domain works that might have been fun, but as I looked them over, I realized that they would be very difficult for students of the 21st century to read.  Somebody would have to translate the translation first!

That's what I have to do now.  I'm going to treat the text Phil and I have produced and act like it is the base text, and transform it into a modern work, without constantly going back to the Middle French original (though you and I know that I will be looking closely at that original.

It will be a challenge to keep some of the medieval flavor., to avoid too much exoticism or a very dull 21st century presentation.   OTOH, it should be fun to try.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Trump and Russia: It was that close

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo argues that a defacto alliance between Russia and the USA came THAT CLOSE to being implemented in the earliest days of the Trump Administration:

Since this rapid settling of accounts with Russia is no longer the focus or at least at the forefront of coverage, we need to refresh our memories of exactly what was intended. The Trump transition planned to move rapidly in its first days and weeks in office to engineer a dramatic reshuffling of policy toward Russia, in essence a grand bargain which would start with lifting the December 2016 sanctions as well as those imposed in March 2014 for the annexation of Crimea. But it wouldn’t end there. It was also to include a basic reorientation of policy in the Middle East (a policy of close collaboration with Russia in Syria and Iraq/ISIS) and at least some shift in US policy toward Europe and the EU. ...

Despite the claim that Flynn had gone rogue and that Vice President Pence was lied to, details that emerged in the Flynn plea documents make clear that Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak were widely discussed among President Trump’s top advisors. Pence almost certainly knew about them, though we as yet have no direct proof of this. Events were moving rapidly. A string of denials about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak were hit with a rush of leaks that refuted each in turn. By February 13th Flynn was out. The next day President Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into his activities. Comey politely refused. Events were moving quickly and badly.

Various reports, including Isikoff’s, tells us that the staff planning for a rapprochement which was kicked off in the administration’s first days continued. Indeed, in the months since we’ve seen it pop up here and there. There have been repeated hints of discussions to return the diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration in late December. In his May trip to Europe Trump had to be coaxed and prodded to commit to the defense of NATO allies. We saw it in Trump’s bizarre and semi-secret Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov just after firing Comey. Still, it seems clear that by mid-February, with Flynn fired and the Russia scandal dominating the headlines, any hope of an immediate and thorough-going reset in relations with Russia were abandoned as unrealistic. While the desire is clearly still there, it has been the drama of the unfolding investigation, rather than a grand partnership with Russia that has dominated the news and the administration ever since.

Image:  The new alliances that resulted from the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756

Friday, December 01, 2017

Josh Marshall's excellent Christmas book list

Image:  Chris Wickham, one of the excellent historians listed here.

Josh Marshall is the editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo, my favorite source for news out of Washington, DC.  I think he is pretty smart and judicious.  Marshall, it seems, was trained as a historian, and I think it shows.

When not writing or managing, Marshal reads history.  He has made available some of the best histories he's read recently, and his list shows remarkable good taste.  I'm including most of that post  here.


The cauldron and promise of Eastern Europe.
As I noted, I’m generally not interested in reading about contemporary history. And things from the last 100 years I generally see as contemporary history. But I’ve been interested lately in the recent history of Eastern Europe and the aftermath of World War I. These are two very different but related books. Vanquished is about the aftermath of World War I in the East – the relevant point being that the war really didn’t end in the East until the early 1920s. In many respects there were continuing cycles of brutalizing violence in the East that continued – with only a relatively brief interruption in the late 1920s – right through into World War I. This is critical to understanding the origins of fascisms and all the subsequent history of the continent. An engrossing, really important read.
The Reconstruction of Nations goes back into the Early Modern period. It’s largely a history of and a paean to a certain strain of cosmopolitan, multi-national Polish history. I have a general knowledge of the very different path to the formation of nation-states in Eastern Europe versus Western Europe. This book helped me understand that history at a much, much deeper level. It also greatly deepened my understanding and perspective on the current struggle between nationalism and multinationalism which is roiling Europe and in many respects the entire globe. These are both books I highly, highly recommend. (I also did a podcast interview with the author of Reconstruction of Nations.)
History from one certain understanding begins with writing. Writing is when most of the things that historians use to understand the past come into view, when some of them even come into existence. But of course the human past did not begin with writing. Writing is a fairly recent development and in some parts of the world it’s extremely recent. Indeed, writing itself, certainly in its literary permutation, is often less reliable that modern archeology, at least on the things archeology lets us see clearly. These are three books that look at the distant past, often spanning thousands of years, mainly before the advent of writing. By Steppe, Desert and Ocean is simply the last 10,000 years of Eurasian history, the vast and surprisingly integrated stretch of land from the Pacific coast of China to Spain – where did human civilizations first develop over this expanse, how did they came into contact with each other, what were the key drivers of change. Excellent book.
Pathfinders covers some of the same territory but from a different vantage point. We tend to think of the history of exploration as the history of largely Western Europeans traveling to the Americas, Africa and Asia starting in the 1400s. There’s a whole complex and political debate about whether this counts as discovery versus conquest. But set that all aside. People have been traveling and settling new places for thousands, even tens of thousands of years, starting from the initial migrations out of Africa and culminating in the island explorers who spread out from southeast Asia to populate most of the islands of the Pacific. Basically, how did humans go from an origination point in one part of Africa to populate almost the entire globe, all long before the history of any kind of writing. Almost all long before Western European exploration. That’s this book. Fascinating read.
The last of these three is one of the densest books I’ve read in a very long time but also one of the most transformative in my understanding of numerous topics. It’s so dense that I would recommend reading it even if you read only the first half and then find it simply too tough going after the first half. (That’s what happened to me the first time. Then months later I went back to try to tackle the second half.) Because to me it went from being very dense and complex to almost impenetrable. That probably doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation. But, a transformative learning experience about the history of language, archeology, history and much more.
About half the world speaks an Indo-European language. It’s by far the biggest language family. That is largely because the ancestor language “proto-Indo-European” is the ancestor language of major languages in India, Iran and most of Europe. From Europe, English and Spanish came to dominate the Western Hemisphere. That’s a lot of people. But where and when did this language come from and how do we prove it? The premise of this book is that the speakers of this original language began in the steppe lands north of the Black Sea, which is to say modern southern Ukraine and southern Russia with Romania, Moldova and a few other countries in the mix. I don’t even know where to begin in explaining the book. But that’s what it’s about. It’s not an easy read but I found it a deeply fascinating and transformative one.
Here are three books on Rome. We begin with the city itself in its republican period and end up with the civilization of Rome in which the city of Rome itself had become a peripheral part. SPQR is a new treatment of the whole civilization from one of our leading contemporary historians of Roman history. A very good read. The Triumph of Empire is a new look, a new interpretation of what we once called the early decline of the Romand Empire. That is what we might call the long 3rd century that takes us from high imperial years of the Antonine emperors – Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius – to the the breakdown of the third century and reconstitution of the empire under Diocletian and Constantine. I found it a very interesting discussion and history of just why this happened, the mix of successional breakdown, invasions, the rise of a new, more aggressive dynasty/state in Iran, the changing structure and personnel of the empire beginning in the early third century which anticipated the very different composition of the imperial government starting in the 4th century. If you’re interested in this period, I found it an illuminating, interesting read.
Finally, Chris Wickham’s book on the Late Antique period and the ‘Dark Ages’. The concept of a ‘dark ages’ has been under assault by historians for decades. From another perspective, it has progressively had its historiography colonized by historians from the classical period. All of these histories are – broadly speaking – efforts to understand this period on its own terms rather than just a long period when everything went to shit between the Classical era and the Renaissance or at least during the High Middle Ages. Wickham looks at the period as parts of an evolution from the classical world, still deeply formed by many of its basic assumptions. He is also attempting to push off efforts to look at this period as the proto-history of modern states. So looking at the societies and states or quasi-states of 8th and 9th century Gaul isn’t a way to understand the deeper history or origination of … say, modern France with all its nationalist mythologies. As with all these histories, modern archeology is making itself felt at the expense of the literary record which was always incomplete and wanting. Anyway, another really illuminating and pleasurable read, like every book I’ve read by this author.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

, A Burgundian Death. The tournament in Le Chevalier Délibéré

I have just discovered that the site has a number of publications about the medieval tournament.

For instance, A Burgundian Death. The tournament in Le Chevalier Délibéré
Still slogging away at the Good Duke.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sensible politics

Politicians are our employees, and no matter how likable they are, and no matter how much of ourselves we see in them, we have to be able to critique them openly and harshly, like the self-interested, careerist, complete strangers that they are. Our country’s very existence is predicated on the notion that we, the regular people, are in charge. We cannot look to political figures as people who are owed loyalty. Every decision someone who holds office makes is a decision they should be held accountable for justifying. “Because I said so” is a fair thing for a parent to argue, it is not something an elected official should ever suggest. 

Image: Didn't get the memo

Monday, October 30, 2017

Face-mask bans of the future!

Earlier this month, Austria brought in a law that bans face-covering and now the head of the Austrian police union, Hermann Greylinger, wants it scrapped.
"It is unenforceable," says Greylinger.
Austria's law, like the one in Quebec, broadens the prohibitions on face-covering to avoid the appearance of discrimination, so police are being called to investigate anyone wearing a costume. Last week in a Lego store, they tried to arrest a Lego Ninja.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Polizei stürmt Lego-Store in Wien. Grund: Verstoß gegen das Vermummungsverbot.

 The unanswered question:  Why is a bunny wearing glasses the official mascot of the Austrian parliament?
"The  [Austrian prohibition on face coverings] was not written as a burka ban for constitutional reasons and now this crap is happening," [Hermann Greylinger, [head of the Austrian police union] says.
 [He's complaining about police being required to enforce the ban.
Aamna Mohdin is a reporter with the digital news outlet Quartz. She covers European issues related to diversity, immigration, economics and justice. She's been watching the confusion in Austria since the ban was implemented.

"I think at the heart of the problem is, you can't make a law that specifically targets Muslims and get away with it," she tells me on Day 6.
"That's discriminatory. So the governments in Europe and in Quebec, they have to create laws that will somehow hold up in court.When you do that, you're kind of confronted with the awkward fact that people wear face-coverings for all sorts of reasons."

Those reasons include promoting a new line of Lego.
"The Austrian police ended up raiding the Lego store in Vienna after receiving a complaint that a Ninja Lego was violating the face-covering ban. And it kind of led to this really extremely heated argument," Mohdin says.

"No fines were issued to the woman because she was willing to take off the head covering. And the police agreed that the face-covering that she was wearing fits the exemption that was within her professional occupation."

Police were also called to respond to a human sized bunny that is official mascot of the Austrian parliament, a man dressed as a shark, and a university student who covered her face because she was cold.

Police suspect they're being called by people who want to draw attention to the absurdity of the law.
Lesko, Austrian Parliament MascotLesko, the mascot of Austria's parliament in 2014. (Parlamentsdirektion / Bildagentur Zolles KG / Martin Steiger)
               Policy based on misperception
Mohdin estimates there are 150 women in Austria who wear a veil. In Quebec, the number may be even lower. She says when polled, people tend to overstate the percentage of Muslims living in their country.

Mohdin believes the popularity of laws banning face-covering is tied to a misperception of the overall numbers of Muslims in those jurisdictions.

"In France, they overestimate their Muslim population by like 17 times or so, and I think that's because we kind of feed into this narrative that there's this Islamic invasion, especially in Europe — this fear that people who don't fit our culture, norms and values are coming over here, and they're overtaking everything that we hold dear."

Friday, October 27, 2017

Who does this remind you of?

The French Duke of Bourbon spent much of the 1360s and 70s taking castles back from the English soldiers who had occupied them after defeating the French at Poitiers (1365).  The duke (known to his fans as "the Good Duke") established a reputation for both his warrior skills and his honorable behavior toward friend and foe.

In one incident the Good Duke was trying to undermine and capture the castle of Vertreuil (not so far from Poitiers) by challenging the most noble English member of the garrison to fight one-on-one in a mine (a tunnel dug as part of an attack on a strong point).  It turned out that there was no high-ranking Englishman present.  The commander was absent and his second-in-command, a man named Montferrand, did not even rank as a squire.  Montferrand took up the challenge, and found himself facing an impressive man-at-arms, who declined to give his name.  But soon the secret was out: the French, watching the fight in the mine, (which must have been rather short and shallow) cheered on their duke with cries of "Bourbon, Bourbon."  

Montferrand found himself in a quandry.  He was fighting someone who very much outranked him, and who might be inclined to execute him as a brigand once Vertreuil was taken.  ("English" soldiers in the Hundred Years War were often foreigners -- Bretons, Scots, Gascons with little standing in local society. They were hated by the French.)  Montferrand made a daring move by appealing to honor.  Montferrand said he would surrender Vertreuil to the Good Duke, if the duke would knight him.  The duke agreed and everyone was satisfied.  I'll tell the rest of the story another time.
But now that we are here, look at this passage, with the Good Duke
and Montferrand trading compliments:

Reynaud de Montferrand knelt before the duke and said to him, "My very redoubtable lord, I thank you most humbly for the benefits and honors which have come to me from you, to be a knight by the hand of so high and valiant a prince as you are; so it is an honor to me and all my lineage forever." The duke answered, "Sir Reynaud, chivalry is very strong in you for you are a valiant man of good lineage."
What does that bolded phrase remind you of?  And what does that say about the process of translation?

Image:  The castle of Vertrieul, after it was rebuilt in the 15th century.  Older castles in that part of France were rebuilt because they were destroyed in campaigns like the one described here.

Monday, October 23, 2017

An interesting post:Why I'm down on conservatism

See the last line.

By Robert

Conservatism in a nutshell:

“Reality is awful. Let’s do our best to build ourselves a way out of it. And once we find good tools, let’s agree we’re going to beat the living daylights out of anyone who tries to take them away.”

Consider, say, Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine. I never came down with polio. Nobody in my generation did. But my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Boettcher, did, and she spent the rest of her life in a heavy leg brace for it. I can’t even begin to imagine how much awful polio was.

Once upon a time, polio was reality. But then some things happened to deliver us from reality: namely, free inquiry gave us the scientific method, economic growth made it possible for Jonas Salk to go to medical school instead of forcing him to toil in the fields, and literally thousands of brilliant minds came together, some of them self-organizing and some of them organized by the government, and … wow: polio is no longer part of reality.

Free inquiry and free markets killed polio. Jonas Salk’s research team was the weapon.

That’s conservatism: discovering what things have historically worked really, really well to transform our reality, and then protecting the hell out of these things against any Johnny-Come-Lately who has a bright idea to fix things that will just require us to throw away this one thing that’s historically been a really good idea but right now doesn’t seem to be working well.

Across the board, life for the poor today is vastly better than it was a century ago. Some people like to say “a century ago, nobody had a iPhone!”, but seriously, that’s missing the point. A century ago you could have died of polio. Or smallpox. Or tuberculosis (although that’s beginning to come back). A century ago the poor didn’t even have books, but now we’ve got Project Gutenberg and Wikipedia delivering a tremendous amount of the great literature and the knowledge of the world for anyone who walks into a public library.

(Man, public libraries! These are a great honking good idea! Let’s conserve the daylights out of them!)

What has historically worked really well for America?

Free inquiry. Free speech. Free association. Free religion. Free markets. The Rule of Law. Equality under the law. Radically populist checks on government power. Oh, and public libraries!

These are great honking good ideas. These have track records of success literally centuries long. They are the best tools we have at creating a better tomorrow. Anyone who argues, “well, it’s outmoded and outdated and hasn’t worked well for twenty years, so let’s get rid of it” deserves to be tarred, feathered, and run out of town two steps ahead of a pitchfork-wielding mob.

Why do I hate liberals? Because everywhere I look nowadays I see liberals trying to throw out these time-tested reliable tools.

Why do I hate conservatives even more? Because everywhere I look nowadays I see them abrogating their most sacred charge: conserving the important things.

I can forgive liberals for their excesses. Really. It’s the nature of all progress that to get a single good idea you have to plow through a hundred terrible ones, and most of the terrible ones look good up until they create a total disaster. If liberals want to put forward terrible ideas, I’ll grit my teeth and smile bravely. Yes, please, tell me more about your idea to eliminate income inequality by shifting to a mud-based economy. Fascinating. I’ll give it a fair hearing, because you never know, it might actually work.

But while we’re giving liberals permission to blow our society up in the name of progress, conservatives need to be standing watch around the precious things and saying, “No. You don’t get to mess with this. Go away. Remember, these tools are the absolute best ones we have. Not only would we happily give our lives to protect them… we would happily give your lives if you threaten them.”

As much as liberals infuriate me, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing: generating a ton of really bad ideas and chasing after them furiously. Sooner or later one or two of them will pan out. It’ll be good for all of us when they do.

But conservatives…

Man, show up. Stand your damned post. Protect the things that need protecting. Free inquiry. Free speech. Free association. Free religion. Free markets. The Rule of Law. Equality under the law. Radically populist checks on government power. Public libraries.

But right now the conservatives aren’t conserving anything.

Friday, October 13, 2017

It's done! Sort of

I have been boring various friends and family for months (only months?) by saying the translation of the Chronicle of the Good Duke Louis of Bourbon is almost done.  Well, it is still not done done but my collaborator, Phil Paine and I, will probably need to do only one more pass over the translation each, write an introduction and a glossary and then -- ta da! We are very close to writing a proposal to send to a publisher.
And I can spend my writing time on something else.
Image: guess.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Thoughts upon leaving church

As I walked home from last Sunday's service at my neighborhood Anglican church,  I was mulling over three points.

1.  The newsletter asked us to pray for the bishop people and clergy of "The Territory of the People. " This reminded me of a scene in the movie Becket where the pope after an interview with Becket marvels over the humility of the exiled archbishop, while an infuriated Italian cardinal condemns Becket for his pride.  I know nothing about "the People" but it seems to me that there a variety of ways to interpret that name

2.  Why does anyone alive today care about King David?

3,  Paul's Letter to the Philippians:  What is really going on here?  (I often feel that way about Paul.)  I am very much aware that all of Paul's letters were written before the gospels.

Image:  A standard view of Paul.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A new Charny book


Just the otherday I heard from an Australian independent scholar named Ian Wilson, who with the help of Hugh Duncan is producing  a two-volume book on Charny, one volume of biography and one consisting of translations of the Livre Charny and Charny's Questions.

I thought you'd like that!

I haven't had time to read the unfinished work, but what seems to be the most important aspect is that Wilson argues that The Book of Chivalry was not written by Geoffroi Charny, but by his son, who had the same name.

More later!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Trump: white president

White people knew, back in the 19th century: if you wanted a high-quality black clown at your entertainment, it better be a white guy in blackface.  Everybody knew that whites could do even blackness better than black people.

At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates explains the American blindness to American racism.

This transfiguration is not novel. It is a return to form. The tightly intertwined stories of the white working class and black Americans go back to the prehistory of the United States—and the use of one as a cudgel to silence the claims of the other goes back nearly as far. Like the black working class, the white working class originated in bondage—the former in the lifelong bondage of slavery, the latter in the temporary bondage of indenture. In the early 17th century, these two classes were remarkably, though not totally, free of racist enmity. But by the 18th century, the country’s master class had begun etching race into law while phasing out indentured servitude in favor of a more enduring labor solution. From these and other changes of law and economy, a bargain emerged: The descendants of indenture would enjoy the full benefits of whiteness, the most definitional benefit being that they would never sink to the level of the slave. But if the bargain protected white workers from slavery, it did not protect them from near-slave wages or backbreaking labor to attain them, and always there lurked a fear of having their benefits revoked. This early white working class “expressed soaring desires to be rid of the age-old inequalities of Europe and of any hint of slavery,” according to David R. Roediger, a professor of American studies at the University of Kansas. “They also expressed the rather more pedestrian goal of simply not being mistaken for slaves, or ‘negers’ or ‘negurs.’ ”

  Roediger relates the experience, around 1807, of a British investor who made the mistake of asking a white maid in New England whether her “master” was home. The maid admonished the investor, not merely for implying that she had a “master” and thus was a “sarvant” but for his basic ignorance of American hierarchy. “None but negers are sarvants,” the maid is reported to have said. In law and economics and then in custom, a racist distinction not limited to the household emerged between the “help” (or the “freemen,” or the white workers) and the “servants” (the “negers,” the slaves). The former were virtuous and just, worthy of citizenship, progeny of Jefferson and, later, Jackson. The latter were servile and parasitic, dim-witted and lazy, the children of African savagery. But the dignity accorded to white labor was situational, dependent on the scorn heaped upon black labor—much as the honor accorded a “virtuous lady” was dependent on the derision directed at a “loose woman.” And like chivalrous gentlemen who claim to honor the lady while raping the “whore,” planters and their apologists could claim to honor white labor while driving the enslaved.
And so George Fitzhugh, a prominent 19th-century Southern pro-slavery intellectual, could in a single stroke deplore the exploitation of free whites’ labor while defending the exploitation of enslaved blacks’ labor. Fitzhugh attacked white capitalists as “cannibals,” feeding off the labor of their fellow whites. The white workers were “ ‘slaves without masters;’ the little fish, who were food for all the larger.” Fitzhugh inveighed against a “professional man” who’d “amassed a fortune” by exploiting his fellow whites. But whereas Fitzhugh imagined white workers as devoured by capital, he imagined black workers as elevated by enslavement...

 Speaking in 1848, Senator John C. Calhoun saw slavery as the explicit foundation for a democratic union among whites, working and not:

With us the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

St. Catherine's monastery delivers again

At the base of Mount Sinai in Egypt there is a very ancient monastery, St. Catherine's, which may have been patronized by Constantine's mother Helena and was apparently built by the emperor Justinian.  The monastery is best known for its collection of manuscripts, which include some of the most important sources for the text of the Bible.

The most famous manuscripts from St. C's were discovered and studied in the 19th century, while other mss (=manuscripts) were found in caves in the 20th.  Now scholars are using advanced technology to read the original texts of reused mss. The Independent explains:
Monks originally wrote their texts down on parchments which were later scrubbed off and used to write the Bible by future generations who spoke more modern languages. But a new technique developed by researchers allows them to see the original text hidden from the naked eye in a development hailed as “new golden age of discovery”.
Researchers took photographs of the material using different parts of the light spectrum and put the electronic images through a computer algorithm.
The method allows them to see the first writing laid down on the parchments, which at the time were highly valuable, before they were re-used in later years.
The scholars seem to be most excited by finding writings in obscure  or dead languages, like the one spoken in Caucasian Albania (not the same as the Albania next to Greece).  But I find this mindblowing:

“I don’t know of any library in the world that parallels it,” said Mr Phelps [from the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California]. “The monastery is an institution from the Roman Empire that continues operating according to its original mission.”

Image: By Berthold Werner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Bad good men at arms and a Good Duke

The phrase "good men-at-arms" was a military cliche in the Hundred Years War.  It identified the notional standard for well-equipped, capable cavalrymen.  Most of us would look at a man-at-arms and think, "knight."

As time went on, the adjective "good" merged with the rest of the phrase so that the "goodness" of the good man-at-arms was simply a matter of definition.  Some years back I noticed this while reading the chronicler Froissart, who had one of his characters scornfully tell their opponents, "You are not good good men-at-arms." I'll bet that stung!

So were there any bad good men-at-arms?

Well, if there were, they are probably in the book I just sent off to the publisher, Murder, Rape and Treason, volume 5 of the Deeds of Arms Series.  Like other books in this series,it combines a short history of one kind of "deed" with translated accounts of medieval examples; in this case, descriptions of some of the flashiest judicial combats,  in which one warrior accused another of a treacherous, secret crime and the other said the first lied.  Under some circumstances, this led to the two men fighting to death.

One of them had to be a bad liar, right?

Murder etc. being done, I get to move on to the Chronicle of the Good Duke, whom I have discussed before.  The question now is, if Louis of Bourbon was good, were his contemporaries bad?  He lived in the generation before the Maid (=Jeanne Darc) so maybe so, even though no one gets the label "bad."

Here's the Good Duke, coming to a book-seller near you, if  not immediately: