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Ask a Medievalist
75 minutes | 13 days ago
Episode #26: Valentine’s Day
Summary “Wuv… twue wuv…will follow you fowever…” Interested in a brief history of Valentine’s Day? You’re in luck. From the question of who was the historical saint to when the day became associated with romance, Em and Jesse start with ancient Roman fertility festivals like Lupercalia and trace the rituals forward through to references in Chaucer and Shakespeare. From cis to trans, straight to gay and everything in between, we have the info you’re interested in. Annotations and Corrections 1/ Correction: you actually can use the frozen ganache in the center trick for chocolate-based chocolate lava cakes too. See this video and also this one that has both versions. 2/ St. Valentine, the 3rd century bishop. Interestingly, he is also the patron saint of the plague. And the island of Lesbos. [Lots of saints are patrons of plague (plague sufferers, that is). I think we’ve spent the past year learning why so many saints were needed in this specialty. St. Sebastian is among the most well known–his near death from arrows is probably the reason why he’s connected to plague. Apollo was the god of healing and plague, and he shot arrows at people/places to send plague. The connection between arrows and plague stuck around in early Christianity, and Sebastian is shot full of arrows. (Although this isn’t how he actually dies; he’s ultimately beaten to death). We talked about St. Sebastian in our plague episode–see episode 2, note 36.–Jesse] This site has some information on the meanings of gemstones in the Medieval period, and so does this blog post from the British Museum. Also here. Jesse: Medieval lapidaries (a lapidary is a book about the properties of stones and gems) were very common. If you’re looking for scholarly sources that will take you far more in-depth than the above websites, I recommend Katelyn Mesler’s article “The Medieval Lapidary of Techel/Azareus on Engraved Stones and Its Jewish Appropriations,” in Aleph 14.2. (2014): 75–143. The article is about the Jewish influence on a popular Christian lapidary, and it also has numerous great sources in the notes and citations. 3/ [11:30] “No one had come up with the idea of being tolerant of other religions…” Genghis Khan was apparently very tolerant of religious differences as long as you gave over enough loot. But he wouldn’t be around for almost another thousand years. 4/ Lupercalia (see the section “Name” for more on Februa.) Monty Python: putting things on top of other things Candlemas The redemption of the firstborn is kind of discussed in a couple of places in the Torah and also in Jewish law–basically, if you have a son and you don’t want him to be a priest, you give five silver shekels to a kohen (priestly class–we’ve discussed this a little bit before). Interestingly (for my children at least), if the son is born by c-section, you don’t have to redeem them. I don’t know why. [Weird! –Jesse] 5/ Parlement of Foules, by Geoffrey Chaucer. (This website also references the Paston letters, as does the site referenced here: The Paston Letters.) For this was on seynt Volantynys day Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make Of euery kynde that men thinke may And that so heuge a noyse gan they make That erthe & eyr & tre & euery lake So ful was that onethe was there space For me to stonde, so ful was al the place.” In modern English: For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day When every bird comes there to choose his match (Of every kind that men may think of!), And that so huge a noise they began to make That earth and air and tree and every lake Was so full, that not easily was there space For me to stand—so full was all the place. 6/ Charles, Duke of Orleans wrote the poem “A Farewell to Love” to his wife from his prison after being captured in the Battle of Agincourt. Charles was kept in England for about 25 years. The poem above was written to his second wife, who died before his return to France (his first wife had died in childbirth). 7/ From Hamlet, act IV, scene 5: To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine. Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes, And dupp’d the chamber-door; Let in the maid, that out a maid Never departed more. From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, act IV, scene 1: Good morrow, friends. Saint Valentine is past: Begin these wood-birds but to couple now? 7/ [27:30] What can I say? Dr. Jesse really likes penguins. [I do!!!!–Jesse] Wisconsin is literally knee-deep in snow right now. The book about the gay penguin couple is And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, with illustrations by Henry Cole. Also this: https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/gay-penguin-power-couple-fostering-second-egg-sydney-aquarium-n1077411 8/ [30:30] This is the article Dr. Jesse is referencing: “How Pandemics Wreak Havoc–and Open Minds,” by Lawrence Wright, from the July 13, 2020 issue of the New Yorker. Key quote: Reading Cicero’s letters—or other abandoned works, like Livy’s history of Rome—revealed to Petrarch how degraded civilization had become. He christened the period after the fall of Rome the Dark Ages. 9/ [34:30] The Symposium. Em is wrong, Sappho does not appear in this dialog. [Socrates gives Diotima the credit for what he learned about love.–Jesse] Sappho (c. 630-c. 570 BCE). For more on Hedwig, Symposium, and Phaedrus see episode 7, note 10. Hedwig and the Angry Inch / “The Origin of Love” Spotify link. Lyrics. Platonic Dialogue Phaedrus. There is a mention of Sappho here! Pastoral. Good Wikipedia article, but it doesn’t discuss why pastoral poetry was so frequently coded as queer from the early modern period on. [41:40] Full quote: When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room. Truly, I would the gods had made thee poetical. As You Like It, act III, scene 3 (emphasis added) Huge tracts of land. 10/ Brunetto Latini, episode 9, note 17 (really good, informative, long note!!). 11/ John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Villard Books, 1994, Amazon link, Wikipedia link. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, University of Chicago Press, 1980, Amazon link, Wikipedia link. Boswell had a disagreement with Michel Foucault about homosexuality, in that Foucault basically saw identities (not behaviors) like “homosexual” and “heterosexual” as being socially constructed whereas Boswell saw them as basically a fact of human nature. They were apparently on good terms despite this disagreement. And then they both died of AIDS tragically young, Foucault in 1984 at age 57 and Boswell in 1994 at age 47. (Let’s all just take a moment and remember what a terrible person Ronald Regan was for his handling of that plague. Okay.) 12/ Jacqueline Murray, “Twice Marginal and Twice Invisible: Lesbians in the Middle Ages,” Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, ed. Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage. New York: Garland, 1996, 191–222. Link to full text. 13/ Hildegard: see episode 6 beginning around 34:00 and notes 17 and 23; episode 7, note 7. Hadewijch: episode 7, notes 2 and 8. Bieiris de Roman(s), first half of 13th century. The last stanza of her canso reads as follows: Bella doman, cui pretz e joi enansa e gen parlar, a vos mas coblas man, car en vos es gajess’ e alegranssa, e tot lo ben qu’om en domna deman. Lovely woman, whom joy and noble speech uplift, and merit, to you my stanzas go, for in you are gaiety and happiness, and all good things one could ask of a woman. (See Wikipedia article for sources.) 14/ Jesse: Tiresias! In the Wikipedia article under the section “Blindness and Gift of Prophecy,” you can see the story of Tiresias being transformed into a woman after striking two snakes “coupling” (and after living 7 years as a woman striking 2 coupling snakes again–or maybe leaving them alone–and being transformed into a man). However, I’m not linking to this article because it states that Hera “punished” Tiresias for striking the snakes. 1) It’s not certain that Hera transformed him; the cause of the transformation is usually not only unclear but opaque. Hera may not show up in this story until the argument with Zeus over sexual pleasure. 2) ***Much more importantly,*** it’s not clear that it’s a punishment! There’s no judgement at all in most versions, although it sometimes seems implied that Tiresias had a sense that he would be transformed (at least in some way) and wanted to see what would happen. It could even be a form of reward. The article goes on to state that after 7 years Tiresias was “released from his sentence and permitted to regain his masculinity.” I don’t know who edited the article, but somebody needs to fix that sh*t. For all the frequent sexism of the ancient world, that is NOT what most versions say–the transformation is again usually described without judgement. Shikandi Brother Marinos: see episode 5, note 23. Eleno / Elena de Céspedes. See also Israel Burshatin, “Written on the body: slave or Hermaphrodite in sixteenth-century Spain” in Queer Iberia: Sexualities, Cultures, and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999): 420–456. Herculine Barbin Pope Joan (and also this Straight Dope article)–a MYTH! Everything about this is a misogynist myth! However, for more on a woman (NOT Joan) being portrayed as a pope (or more specifically as a tarot card “La Papessa”) see Barbara Newman, “The Heretic Saint: Guglielma of Bohemia, Milan, and Brunate,” in Church History 74.1 (March 2005): 1–38 (especially pages 28–30).
78 minutes | a month ago
Episode 25: Jews on Stage
Synopsis Jews in space? No, Jews on stage. What was the world like for Jewish actors during the Middle Ages? Well, it was a bit of a mixed bag, honestly. Yes, there were times and places where Jewish life was severely proscribed, but there were also places where Jewish actors and playwrights were celebrated for their skills and performed at the highest echelons. Join Em and Jesse as they discuss the world of Jewish theater from the Middle Ages up to the mid-twentieth century. Also we talk about The Merchant of Venice some more, because of course we do. Annotations and Corrections 1/ Outside of Israel, a number of holidays are celebrated for two nights so that people can be sure of celebrating them during the time when they’re celebrated in Israel. 2/ Re the revolution: I think we won? Hopefully, you still have power and an RSS feed to be able to listen to this podcast. 3/ If you’re interested in Yiddish theater, check this out. 4/ Yiddish is mostly spoken by Haredi and Hasidic Jews. I don’t have a great source for how many Yiddish speakers there are worldwide right now. One source says at least 150,000 in the US and Canada. I assume 90% of them live in Brooklyn and the rest in Montreal. 5/ Indecent on PBS. Indecent by Paula Vogel: https://www.amazon.com/Indecent-TCG-Paula-Vogel/dp/1559365471 Indecent is available on broadwayhd.com: https://www.broadwayhd.com/categories/plays and sometime available via PBS https://www.pbs.org/video/indecent-zvm9ct/ Info on Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance here: https://web.uwm.edu/yiddish-stage/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-god-of-vengeance and here (includes an image of the entire cast after their arrest for obscenity): https://www.jewishboston.com/read/sholem-aschs-god-of-vengeance-challenges-modern-theater-audiences/ Info on the obscenity trial here (includes images of the complete pamphlet published in defense of God of Vengeance): https://web.uwm.edu/yiddish-stage/an-open-letter-by-sholom-asch-author-of-got-fun-nekome and here: https://news.yale.edu/2015/10/15/defending-indecent-play-god-vengeance-yale-university-library-archives-0 5/ Jewish wizards in Harry Potter = Anthony Goldstein (Ravenclaw) https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/17/jk-rowling-confirms-that-there-were-jewish-wizards-harry-potter 6/ Erith Jaffe-Berg, “Performance as exchange: Taxation and Jewish Theater in Early Modern Italy” in Theatre Survey 54.3 (Sept 2013): 389–417. 7/ Leone de Sommi (c.1527–c.1592) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leone_de%27_Sommi 8/ At least one high profile case of a Jewish child secretly baptized was the Mortara case, which actually happened later on, in the 1850s. The Church held that it had the authority to remove the child based on the papal bull Postremo mense, which was written by Pope Benedict XIV in 1747 and lays out the guidelines under which it is allowable to baptize a Jewish child without its parents’ consent. The Church was still doing this as of WWII. In Australia: The Stolen Generation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generations In the US: https://www.vox.com/2019/10/14/20913408/us-stole-thousands-of-native-american-children In Canada: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/06/decades-after-government-seizure-of-children-indigenous-canadians-will-receive-compensation In Canada, there used to be laws specifying that once a person had less than a certain percentage of tribal blood (possibly 25%), they could no longer register as part of a tribe. Since a fair number of people marry outside of the tribe, this would have the effect of shrinking the tribal membership relatively quickly. [These are known as “Blood Quantum” laws, and the USA has them as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_quantum_laws Here’s an interesting discussion of Canada: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/josiah-wilson-indian-act-hereditary-governance-1.3668636 –Jesse] [I think the Canadian laws are also discussed in Thomas King’s excellent The Truth About Stories.–Em] 9/ Jesse: This specific discussion of sumptuary laws is taken from Jaffe-Ber’s article (especially p. 392). We’ve previously mentioned Sara Lipton’s Dark Mirror, which is a great resource. 10/ It’s good to be the king (NSFW). 11/ Recommending Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages https://www.amazon.com/Invention-Race-European-Middle-Ages/dp/1108435092/ 12/ Em: When I say my skin is clear, I don’t mean “unblemished,” I mean it’s see-through. 13/ Jesse: Our discussion is based largely on Ötzi, who was discovered in 2012 to be most closely related to modern-day Sardinians but also closely related to prehistoric remains from Bulgaria and Sweden. https://www.livescience.com/24667-iceman-mummy-otzi-closest-relatives.html However in 2013, it was discovered that Ötzi has at least 19 close genetic relatives *still living* in the Austrian Tyrol region (where he might have originated himself). https://www.nbcnews.com/sciencemain/scientists-say-otzi-iceman-has-living-relatives-5-300-years-8C11392771 14/ We talked about the hats in episode 10 note 39. 15/ Sara Lipton “Where Are the Gothic Jewish Women? On the Non-Iconography of the Jewess in the Cantigas de Santa Maria” Jewish History, vol. 22, no. 1/2, The Elka Klein Memorial Volume (2008), pp. 139–177 (quote from p. 142). 16/ The Bechdel (or Bechdel Wallace) test: a test named for but not invented by Alison Bechdel (who popularized it), which states that in order to pass a film must contain 1) two female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) and their discussion can’t be about a man. Here’s the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test And here is Bechdel’s comic where she describes it (and shows her friend Liz Wallace inventing it): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test#/media/File:Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin).jpg The last film I (Em) watched was Inception, and I don’t think it passed the test. 17/ Plessy v Ferguson (1896) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_v._Ferguson 18/ Caster Semenya https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/sports/olympics/caster-semenya-court-ruling.html David Roche writes about trans* athlete rights: https://trailrunnermag.com/people/transgender-athlete-rights-are-human-rights.html Jesse asks, somewhat rhetorically, why women can’t play baseball. As far as I can tell, the answer is probably Kennesaw Mountain Landis. [Probably! He was evil.–Jesse] 19/ Lucerne Easter play: http://theaterhistoryonline.blogspot.com/2014/08/lucerne-passion-play.html (some good images of the staging diagrams by Renward Cysat.) 20/ English play–the Croxton Play of the Sacrament https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croxton_Play_of_the_Sacrament (no one is killed!) French play: Mistere de la Sainte Hostie See Jody Enders “Theater Makes History: Ritual Murder by Proxy in the ‘Mistere de la Sainte Hostie'” in Speculum Vol. 79, No. 4 (Oct., 2004), pp. 991–1016. Judenfrage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Question (Na ja, wir haben die Judenfrage, aber was ist die Judenantwort?)
73 minutes | a month ago
Episode 24: Stages in the Middle Ages
Synopsis Em and Jesse discuss physical performance spaces, from Greek amphitheaters to pageant carts to prosceniums, and the changes theaters have seen over time. There’s a lot of Renaissance stuff in here, including an interesting discussion of the various theaters Shakespeare would have premiered plays–the Globe and the Rose–with some interesting digressions about the Blues Brothers, American Realism, and also the Bishop of Winchester and the area of Southwark known as the Liberty of the Clink. Annotations and Corrections 1/ Hrotsvit was indeed episode 22. 2/ They shout at each other on someone’s lawn because doing the histories is less risky than doing the comedies, as I understand it (of which everyone has their specific favorite). The histories generally involve a lot of shouting. 3/ Bob’s Country Roadhouse: we got both types of music–country AND western. I assume the bottles thrown after they start singing “Rawhide” are appreciative bottles. Jesse: We forgot to mention that animals can also show up at outdoor theatres (Bats! Racoons!). This definitely adds to the participatory “all-in-this-together” feeling and serves as a nice reminder that the environment can’t be controlled. Also, the most famous medieval theatre fire is probably this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bal_des_Ardents 4/ A surprising number of early indoor theatres still exist. The earliest extant indoor theatres of modern Western Europe are in Italy. (“Modern” in this instance means after the fall of Rome, and “indoor theatre” specifies a space built specifically for performance.) 1580–85: Teatro Olimpico, Vicienza 1588–90: Teatro all’Antica, Sabbioneta 1617–18: Theatre Farnese, Parma Proscenium style: from the Greek “pro skene,” in front of the scenery. The oldest theatre, Teatro Olimpico, has a permanent skene with perspective scenery visible through the arches: it can be seen here. Here’s the floor plan, where you can see the paths for the Teatro Olimpico’s perspective scenery. The entire back half of the stage is for the scenery and the skene. 5/ Later Baroque theatres such as Sweden’s Drottningholm Palace Theatre (opened 1754, rebuilt 1764-66) allowed actors to go a little upstage into the scenery without ruining the perspective. Nonetheless, actors tended to remain downstage, particularly on what we would now consider the apron (the small part of the stage that thrusts out in front of the proscenium arch). Here are some floor plans. Here’s a GREAT video of the scenery changing at the Drottningholm Palace Theatre! You even see how they change it backstage (no computers or mechanization!). Český Krumlov Castle Theatre (1767) in the Czech Republic is also an excellent example of a Baroque theatre. The video on this page has a lot of fun stills, including some of waves like those promoted by Nicola Sabbatini (1574–1654). See also this page (Sabbatini also used periaktoi, or triangular set pieces that could change scenery quickly. Very brief video here. This video shows the Český Krumlov Castle Theatre scenery changing at 3:16. If you watch the complete video, you’ll notice that the dancer never goes very far upstage. Here’s another video from the Český Krumlov Castle Theatre–the scenery changes at 10:45. You’ll notice that the scenery isn’t used to create a perspective, and the actors do make use of the upstage space. A cloud descends at 13:49. 6/ Bertolt Brecht, 1898–1956. 7/ The Theatre, built by James Burbage. Built in 1576, it’s not technically the very first purpose built theatre in England, but it’s the one that lasts. Burbage’s brother-in-law, John Brayne, built the actual first purpose-built theatre (the Red Lion) in 1567, but it was not successful. 8/ A Hark, a Vagrant! Comic about Richard III. An article about the identification of his body from 2013. His bones were discovered in 2012 and reinterred in 2015. (Richard III was buried in Greyfriars, which was Franciscan and was dissolved in 1538 by Henry VIII.–Jesse) The Rose. In Shakespeare in Love, we meet Richard Burbage (played by Martin Clunes) and, as Jesse mentions, Philip Henslowe (played by Geoffrey Rush). We don’t meet Cuthbert Burbage. 9/ I think I thought the stage was taller because whenever a tv show (Good Omens comes to mind) shoots in there, they shoot the actors on stage at an angle that makes them seem very tall. 10/ Bishop of Winchester / Southwark. The bishopric goes back to the year 634 CE, in case you were curious. Also, the bishop of Winchester gets to sit in the House of Lords and was typically the royal chancellor or treasurer. More on the Liberty of the Clink here. The bishop who got the license for permitting prostitution and brothels was the younger brother of King Stephen (the license, however, was granted by King Henry II, who was his first cousin once removed). 11/ For more on American dance dramas, see episode 12 (note 30) and episode 17 (notes 4 and 6). For more on maps, see episode 14 (notes 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22), episode 11 (note 21), and episode 19 (note 8). 12/ La bohème: An opera by Puccini. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl dies of tuberculosis. Basically the same as the plot of the film Moulin Rouge. [Also the same story as Rent, famously! Because Rent is an adaptation of Bohème.–Jesse] For more on Figaro, see episode 21 (note 5). 13/ Em: I just rewatched part of Deadpool while hanging out in L&D Triage two weeks ago (and texted Jesse about it while I was there). He breaks the fourth wall very effectively. [My love of Deadpool cannot be overstated.–Jesse]
83 minutes | 2 months ago
Episode 23: Christmas Time Is Here, By Golly
Synopsis Let’s talk about possible pagan origins for everyone’s favorite late-December excuse to eat a lot of pie. In addition, Em and Jesse discuss the surprisingly capitalist early traditions associated with St. Nicholas and the various strange beings who accompany Santa in different countries, from Pere Fouettard (who whips bad children in France) to the Krampus. Annotations and Corrections 1/ At the time we recorded this episode, it sounded as though the Big 10 were not going to have a season, but the Big 10 later announced an eight-game season (by the time this comes out, the Badgers will have played six with two cancellations because of the plague). The Wisconsin state legislature is still extremely useless. Gimme that Old Time Religion as performed by the inimitable Pete Seeger. Sadly, this wound up being the twenty-third episode posted. But it was the twenty-fifth one recorded. Jesse: Here’s an article in the Chicago Tribune and a picture of the Atheist/Agnostic “A” (with a sigh wishing everyone “Happy Winter Solstice”) in Daley Plaza. (I guess it went up in 2013 for the first time.) https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2013-12-04-chi-atheists-agnostics-have-their-own-display-at-daley-plaza-20131204-story.html Here’s a picture of the “A” lit up at night. https://wgnradio.com/wgn-radio/a-christmas-tree-a-menorah-and-a-giant-a/ The Christmas tree moved to Millenium Park in 2015, Leaving the Menorah, Nativity scene, and “A” in Daley Plaza. I have seen the Kinara there as well for Kawanza, but for some reason I can’t find pictures of it on the interwebs. 2/ The Feast of the Circumcision: in Jewish tradition, baby boys are circumcised eight days after birth in a ceremony called a bris (in Yiddish) or brit milah (Hebrew). So counting the 25th as day 1, Jesus’ bris was on Jan 1st. If you want to know just waaay too much about ritual circumcision, here is that wikipedia page, and if you want to live a happy life don’t ever get involved in a discussion of circumcision on the internet. 3/ Jesse mentions that St. Nicholas’s day is Dec 6th. This year, for the first time ever, I saw a sign in our supermarket saying, “Don’t forget St. Nicholas’s Day!” (I guess reminding people to buy gifts or something for their kids?) [Oh, wow! I’ve definitely heard the occasional reference from people I know who celebrate it, but I’ve never seen a USA business reference it.–Jesse] 4/ The comic about the Xmas tree, and here’s one about Mithras, too. (You can click on the panels to view them at a larger size.) Jesse: When I say the importance of the SUN to Christianity I do not mean the son/sun pun (which doesn’t work in Latin); I mean the metaphor of God as the Sun (frequently portrayed as beams of light in medieval paintings). 5/ [26:10] The cattle of the sun are from The Odyssey. Jesse: In The Odyssey the cattle of the sun belong to Helios (a Titan), but in the Homeric “Hymn to Hermes,” the baby Hermes steals the cattle of the sun (brilliantly) from Apollo (the Olympian sun god). This is why it’s so hard to be definitive about anything. Here’s the “Hymn to Hermes:” https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D4 Apis bull: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apis_(deity) You can read the bull of heaven story here starting at p. 14. The main moral is, as a corollary to “When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES,” consider the rule, “If a goddess asks you out, try to let her down gently.” Basically, when Ishtar/Inanna proposes to Gilgamesh, he says, “Hey…haven’t you had a bunch of lovers that you got tired of and left?” and then he lists them off. Ishtar/Inanna is…not charmed by this behavior, as you might expect. 6/ We discussed the Christ child and the women who associated themselves with Mary and so on in episode 6 (Mysticism and Motherhood). 7/ Jesse: For more on the African wise man, see The Image of the Black in Western Art Vol 2: From the Early Christian Era to the “Age of Discovery” Pt 1: From the Demonic Threat to the Incarnation of Sainthood pp 21-25. African men first appear in imagery as attendants: an attendant of Herod, in a scene of the Magi before Herod painted near Rouen in the late 1100s, and as attendants of the Magi by the 1260s (for example, Nicola Pisano’s pulpit in Siena https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/italy-tuscany-region-siena-baptistry-nicola-pisano-pulpit-news-photo/122216191). By the second half of the 1300s, the image of an African magus/king seems to have appeared, and it’s well established by the 1400s. https://www.amazon.com/Image-Black-Western-Art-Incarnation/dp/0674052560 Em: [36:40] I feel like St. Francis trying to make this point about how you don’t really need a church (building), etc. is an interesting lesson in how some people wind up as heretics and some don’t. Because let’s be clear–there were definitely monks who got declared heretics because they claimed that Christ and his disciples owned no property and therefore they (the monks) should be allowed to not own any property singly or jointly. [Yeah, it helps to have a pope on your side! Pope Gregory IX, to be exact (starting when he was a cardinal)–see Episode 4 nt 15.–Jesse] Jesse: For more on Francis as Mary Magdalene, see episode 11 (in the vicinity of note 35). Here we’re discussing Francis imitating the Virgin Mary (for more on this see Catherine M. Mooney, “Imitiatio Christi or Imitatio Mariae?: Clare of Assisi and Her Interpreters,” in Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their Interpreters, ed. Catherine M. Mooney (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 52-77). The First and Second Lives of St. Francis were written by Thomas of Celano, while Bonaventure’s (slightly later) Life of Francis became the official version. I’m quoting my own translations of the Latin here. 8/ The Slaughter (or Massacre) of the Innocents was the subject of many important and affecting paintings, including by Guido Reni and Peter Paul Reubens. I cannot think what it must be like acted out. (Also, Caravaggio did a lot of great paintings with religious themes, but as far as I can tell he didn’t do one of the slaughter of innocents. Oops.) 9/ Caganer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caganer See also the poop log Tió de Nadal or Caga tió: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tió_de_Nadal Apologies that this is coming out too late for you all to order one for your nativity scenes this year. 10/ Père Fouettard. I (Em) am just now realizing as I write this out that “fouette” is the French word for whipping (i.e., crème fouetté = whipped cream), so Père Fouettard is like Father Whips-a-Lot. There’s your etymology lesson for the day. 11/ Myroblyte saints: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myroblyte_saint Jesse: The symbolism that has arisen around the gifts assumes that the gold=king; frankincense=God (incense is burned during mass, for example); myrrh=mortal/death (it foretells Christ’s death as the unction that would be used for Last Rites). Of course Christ was Jewish, and Jews didn’t perform Last Rites. Nonetheless, all the gifts are symbolic of kingship. I think this is what Jesse means by the traditional pawn broker’s insignia: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Pawnbroker%27s_sign%2C_Camden_High_Street%2C_London.JPG [Yes!!–Jesse] This is the Medici coat of arms. More variations here. 12/ Black Pete / Zwarte Piet. For reference, the Reconquista started in the 700s and ended in 1492. [The Reconquista refers to Christian attmepts to take back the Iberian penensul from Muslim rule after the Umayyad conquest. It took a while..–Jesse] 13/ Krampus. 14/ Jean Bodel (c.1165-c.1210), author of Le Jeu de saint Nicholas, the first non-liturgical play written in French. Bodel later died of leprosy. [Everyone should check out the chapter on him in Carol Symes A Common Stage https://www.amazon.com/Common-Stage-Medieval-Conjunctions-Religion/dp/0801445817 –Jesse] If somehow you haven’t seen one, this is a bishop’s mitre. Jesse: The King from Beyond the Withered Tree has a name that’s supposed to suggest that he’s from waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out in the nowhere lands. However, the Middle Ages also had a legend about an ancient tree (possibly near Hebron) that dried up when Christ died. (Since early modern times it’s been associated with the Oak of Mamre.) The concept of a “dry tree” marking a significant spot/event is not specific to Christianity. Anyhow, the point is that he’s from beyond the boundaries of…all the known religions? Very far away. For more on the dry tree, see Gasse, Rosanne. “The Dry Tree Legend in Medieval Literature.” Fifteenth-Century Studies 38, edited by Rosanne Gasse and Barbara I. Gusick, by Edelgard E. DuBruck, vol. 38, Boydell & Brewer, Rochester, New York, 2013, pp. 65–96; 91 nt 26. 15/ Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was Queen Victoria’s cousin by virtue of her mother having been the sister of his father. They had nine children together, all of whom lived to adulthood. Their son became Edward VII, the first monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. They changed the name to Windsor during WWI because of anti-German sentiment. Also, they were related to basically half of the people who were monarchs in Europe, including the Russian czar and King Leopold I. 16/ Jesse: Here is Christ hanging in the branches of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as the serpent tempts Adam and Eve, foreshadowing the fact that the Fall of Adam and Eve will give rise to Christ, the new Adam who will open the door (to eternal life/salvation/heaven) that Adam and Eve closed. (Mary is the new Eve, a virgin who not only resists temptation but bears God’s child/fruit.) In essence, Adam and Eve gain Knowledge but lose Eternal Life (they’re banned from the Garden so they won’t eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and gain immortality alongside their knowledge, thus becoming like gods). However, the Cross is the new Tree of Life, and Christ is its fruit. The depiction of the serpent with a woman’s face seducing Eve is a conversation for another time. https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/3672/willem-vrelant-adam-and-eve-eating-the-forbidden-fruit-flemish-early-1460s/ Here is one of many, many images of the cross planted in Adam’s skull: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Francesco_di_Vannuccio._Crucifixion_with_the_Virgin_and_Saint_John_the_Evangelistc._1387-88_Philadelphia_Museum_of_Art_(CAT94).jpg Fra Angelico took a more subtle approach: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437007 Here is the beginning of 8 miniatures in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves on the Legend of the True Cross. (Seth is dispatched for a branch from the Tree of Mercy.) https://www.themorgan.org/collection/hours-of-catherine-of-cleves/191 (The miniature are every few pages, so hit next a few times.) Here is the tress growing from Adam’s skull: https://www.themorgan.org/collection/hours-of-catherine-of-cleves/202 Here’s a random image of Eve on one side of the Tree of Knowledge and Mary and the Christ child on the other. https://www.themorgan.org/collection/hours-of-catherine-of-cleves/222 17/ I cannot find a clip of the scene in The Lion in Winter that I am describing, but you can see the tree in this clip. Also, the clip contains Katherine Hepburn being amazing. 18/ Okay, instead of hiding from your family, people are probably more likely to be spending Christmas mostly alone this year. Hope this episode provides a bit of distraction, if not a salve.
84 minutes | 2 months ago
Episode 22: The Strong Voice of Gandersheim
Summary Em and Jesse discuss the life and plays of Hrotsvit, the strong voice of Gandersheim and the first named playwright in western Europe. Small content warning, we do discuss rape in this episode, but not explicitly. Annotations and Corrections 1/ For those too young to remember Benny Hill, this is what Em is talking about. 2/ Buster Keaton falls out a window about 25 seconds into this compilation. There’s also a very late in life Buster Keaton in the film version of A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum–it’s the last film he was in and he is still wonderful. [This montage is so great! Some things worth noticing: the ladder trick is an ACTUAL lazzo from early modern Italy (and let’s be fair, has probably existed since the invention of the ladder). The moment when Keaton misses the building and falls through the awnings–he was supposed to make it to the other building, but when he missed, he created a new lazzo. (Tom Cruise recently did a building-jumping stunt, missed the building, and crushed his ankle.) The house facade falling on Keaton (from Steamboat Bill, Jr., 1928) is absolutely real. It’s probably Keaton’s most famous–and most copied–stunt, but most people do it with a fake façade. Keaton used a real wall and a TINY window. –JN] For reference, his given name was Joseph Frank Keaton (later he changed his middle name to Francis). The version of his nickname origin story is a version that he told; others sources suggest he was a bit older (18 months vs 6 months) and the nickname was given by another actor named George Pardy. I’m pretty sure we have linked to Charlie Chaplin dancing with the globe previously, but go ahead and watch it again (actual dance starts around 1:45). And if you haven’t seen it, just go watch Modern Times. 3/ Minstrelsy was a 19th century phenomenon consisting of comic skits, musical acts, and the like, primarily depicting Black people as played by White actors. Here, you can hear the great Tom Lehrer riffing on what he calls the “Southern” song. (And before Jesse can mention it, it’s a little unfair to call the laws of the South “Medieval”–the Middle Ages were a long and complicated time and in many ways better to people of color than the South was. But it rhymed.) Jesse: Minstrelsy=Blackface=terrible history of US entertainment. Great commentaries on this fact appear in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled and Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles, while great commentaries on the continued use of Blackface can be seen here (from SNL). For a reminder that voice minstrelsy still exists, or if that’s behind a paywall, try this, and, of course, Hari Kondabolu’s The Problem with Apu. Em: We previously linked to RZA’s jingle in episode 15, but here it is again. 4/ Want to hear all of Carmina Burana? Click here. Composed by Carl Orff, text by a lot of people. 5/ Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: the first named playwright in Europe. 935–1002 CE. [I said 1001/2 in the podcast, but in fact her death could have been as early as 973, when she may have written her last work. However, it’s possible that she wrote another text later, which would have required her to live until 1002, if all sources are believed. Either way, I tend to lengthen her life rather than shorten it. Just because she wrote her last work c.973 (if, in fact, this was her last work), it does not mean she died immediately. Even if records are wrong, she may have written later works that are no longer extant (or that haven’t been attributed to her). Most people leave her death date open, which seems fair–we could just say she lived in the second half of the 10th century. See Katharina Wilson’s essay in the collection Medieval Women Writers, edited by Wilson, esp. p. 30 and note 5 p. 42–43. Peter Dronke points out that in 1007 Gandersheim was made a dependency of the diocese of Hildesheim, so the “feminist uptopia” discussed here lasted about the length of Hrotsvit’s time in at Gandersheim. At least she presumably didn’t live to see this happen. Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages, p. 295 note 26–JN] Jesse: This Falstaff moment is in 1 Henry IV, Act IV scene ii. 6/ We have probably linked to this before, but if you want a beginner-friendly overview on the topic of “What exactly is the Vatican?,” here you go. 7/ Jesse: For a description (in Italian) of the “feminist utopia” described here, see: Ferruccio Bertini, Il teatro di Rosvita: con un saggio di traduzione e di interpretazione del Callimaco (Genova: Tilgher, 1979), p. 9. Peter Dronke, Women Writers… Amazon link. Autonomous peasant collective. As I’ve gotten older and know more people like Dennis, this has become funnier and funnier. 8/ Christine de Pizan (1364–c.1430): I actually don’t think we’ve mentioned her before. 9/ Terence: I still think we have mentioned him, but I can’t find him in the notes anywhere (as close to an index as we are able to come) and unfortunately I don’t have any memory whatsoever. So–here you go, short summary: lived right around 185–159 BCE (give or take), Roman African playwright who got his start as a slave but was later freed. Wrote six plays, traveled to Greece to gather material and was never heard from again. 10/ Dactylic hexameter: each line has five dactyls (a long-short-short foot) and a final sixth foot that is two syllables (usually a spondee–two long syllables–or a trochee, which is long-short). It isn’t much used in English except by Longfellow in “Evangeline” (e.g., “THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks…”), and by Public Enemy in “Bring the Noise,” when they wrote lines like, “Never badder than bad cause the brother is madder than mad / At the fact that’s corrupt as a senator…” The double dactyl is a form of light verse that, when done well, is at least marginally more amusing than a limerick. It was invented by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal in 1951 (or possibly by Hecht and John Hollander in 1966). The form is two four-line stanzas, each comprising three lines of dactylic dimeter (that is, two dactyls per line) with a choriamb (long-short-short-long) as the fourth. The first line is always two nonsense words, often “higgeldy piggeldy.” Here are a bunch. Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is written with dactyls. Byron’s “the destruction of the anapest”…no…”The Destruction of Sennacherib.” It’s written in anapests (two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable; short-short-long), which are rarely used in English. (It sounds like the galloping hoofbeats of the Assyrian army maybe?) James Thurber made some fun of this poem in this essay (“Miscellaneous Mentions”), but it doesn’t excerpt very well. 11/ Jesse: The Passion of the Holy Virgins Agape, Chionia, and Hirena (aka “Dulcitius”). Dronke’s note is in Women Writers, p. 294 note 11. Dronke discusses the source on p. 77: “a strange source, a late Roman Passion of St Anastasia, which troubled its twentieth-century editor, the great Bollandist Delehaye, because of the amount of ‘fantasy’ and ‘audacious fiction’ that had contaminated what was doubtless a ‘good’ original. The very features that disquieted Delehaye were those that attracted Hrotsvitha: in fact, she chose to focus on these and ignore all else, discarding even the figure of St Anastasia, the protagonist in the source. Hrotsvitha selected, and brought to life, especially the three sisters (whom her source introduced only as minor characters, protégées of Anastasia) and villain-buffoons, Dulcitius and Sisinnius, who are mocked and confounded by those girls” (Dronke, Women Writers, 77; see also p. 297 note 56). Kathnina Wilson’s Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: A Florilegium of her Works (Library of Medieval Women). The Latin is “voluptas parit poenam, necessitas autem coronam.” Here’s the entire play in Latin. Maleficium (witchcraft/sorcery): Dulcitius and Sissinus refer to the women as witches using witchcraft (“maleficiis” and “maleficam”). 12/ A list of some Renaissance women painters. A lot of women artists specialized in still lifes because it would have been inappropriate for them to learn anatomy (often carried out by painting nude male figures). 13/ 1:10:40 “George Sanders” = George Sand. 14/ For more on the Shellys, see episode 20 note 16. Here is “You and Me and PB Shelley” by Ogden Nash. 15/ This is an amazing Google document for pre-1945 BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, global plays that the internet is working on. 16/ I can’t link to them all, but Kate Beaton did some of my favorite parodies of Wuthering Heights.
65 minutes | 3 months ago
Episode 21: Watch Out for That Banana Peel
Summary If you’ve ever pondered how “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana,” then this episode is for you. Join Jesse and Em as they discuss physical comedy and the origins of the commedia dell’arte, its French cousin the comedie francaise, and the Japanese comedic Kyogen style. With a lot of digressions about the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Key and Peele, Monty Python, and pretty much everyone else who has ever been funny on film. Annotations and Corrections 1/ Previous episodes in this series include: The Not-Evolution of Theatre (episode 15), Much Ado About Puppets (episode 16), and Dance Like Nobody’s Watching (episode 17). 2/ Jesse: Commedia dell’arte is incredibly complex, and there’s a LOT written about it. Here’s the Wikipedia article. If you want to delve deeper, I recommend The Routledge Companion to Commedia dell’Arte edited by Chaffee and Crick, which includes many essays by many scholars as well as a bibliography. Em: I apologize for my continual mispronunciation of “commedia.” I was raised in a barn (that wasn’t in Italy). The Comédie Française was founded in 1680 through the combining of two companies, one of which was Moliere’s former troupe (which was now run by his widow, Armande Béjart, and had already merged with another company shortly after Moliere’s death). The Comédie Française thus traces its origin directly back to Moliere and lays claim to being the oldest continuously active theatre company in Europe. (The Comédie Française actually lays claim to being the oldest continuously active theatre company in the world, but…that’s much harder to prove). The Servant of Two Masters (Il servitore di due padroni), by Carlo Goldoni. Carlo Gozzi (1720–1806) wrote a number of plays that deserve fame in their own right but are most famous for operatic adaptations (Turandot, adapted by Puccini, and The Love of Three Oranges, which was adapted by Prokofiev and premiered in Chicago, are probably the best known). Gozzi’s plays The Stage King, The Serpent Woman, and The Green Bird (adapted by Julie Taymore in 1996) also remain famous. Some of the zanni: Harlequin: initially referred to Arlecchino, a comic clown type of character. Most well-known as a servant character. Unrelated to harlequin romance novels, but definitely related to Harley Quinn. [Actually, Harlequin is the name of the publishing company that published the romance novels that eventually gave rise to the name “Harlequin Romance” (a bit like Kleenex=tissue, I guess). Their logo (their original logo, anyway) was a diamond with a jester/Arlecchino figure inside. The diamond itself mimics the diamond patches on Arlecchino’s costume. Today the logo seems to be the diamond with an “H” inside, but the diamond remains. Harlequin was purchased by NewsCorp in 2014 and is now a division of HarperCollins. To get a good look at Arlecchino’s costume with its patches, click here.–JN] Columbina: A smart, sassy female version of Harlequin. Jesse: Arlecchino and Columbina are both zanni, or clowns. Zanni were frequently servants (often of one of the vecchi or old man characters like Pantalone). Brighella and Pulcinella (who becomes Punch in England’s Punch and Judy puppet shows) are other examples of zanni. Zanni could be silly and inept or examples of the “smart servant” type. The Braggart Soldier, aka il Capitano: A soldier who uses the fact that none of the locals know him to brag about his conquests and rank in an effort to impress others. Some of the vecchi: Il Dottore, or the Doctor: an old man who serves as an obstacle for the young lovers. He typically dresses in black academic robes and fancies himself an intellectual, although he often speaks nonsense. [Yes, an important reminder that Il Dottore is a professor–a PhD, basically–not a medical doctor. The medical doctor was il Medico or Il Medico della peste, who wore the famous plague doctor’s mask. Not until the modern era did “doctor” automatically mean “medical doctor.”–JN] Pantalone, or Pantaloon: an old, wealthy (and greedy) man. Innamorati: The young lovers. Jesse: The “set list” was called a canovaccio. Some of the lazzi: (See also Mel Gordon’s essay “Lazzi” in the Routledge Companion above in note 2 and his book Lazzi: The Comic Routines of the Commedia dell’Arte.) The lazzo of falling: Harlequin falls from a high ladder or wall after being shot, shaken, or gravitationally abandoned. The lazzo of the statue: someone is pretending to be a statue, and makes fun of some passers-by when not regarded. Getting teeth pulled: c.f. The sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors (Steve Martin!) Food lazzi: c.f. Charlie Chaplin’s version from Modern Times. Also, this category includes lazzi where a character has to attend/serve two dinners at the same time. 3/ The Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers. You can see how they’re both playing stock characters even though they have specific roles within the film. Buster Keaton clips and analysis from Every Frame a Painting. Charlie Chaplin clips (eating machine–there’s nothing like food lazzi for many many lols!). And here’s some more hilarious commentary on mechanization and industrialization. We previously discussed The Great Dictator in episode 10 (see note 20). Alan Alda doing Groucho. 4/ Kate Bornstein wrote a play called Hidden: A Gender waaaaaay back in 1989. (You can find the play in her book Gender Outlaw. Here’s the film of the play. –JN] 5/ I would try to summarize the plot of The Magic Flute here, but it doesn’t make that much sense, to be honest. Sort of a boy is sent to rescue girl who was kidnapped, finds out that the person holding her captive wants him to go through various trials to be worthy of her, engages in some weirdly masonic-like rites, at some point the Queen of the Night sings “Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,” and at the end somehow everyone gets married and the Queen of the Night and her co-conspirators are magically cast out into eternal night. The music is pretty amazing though. Here’s a version with Diane Damrau singing the Queen of the Night. The parts in it range from “singable by a decent amateur” to “top coloratura soprano arias of all time.” The Marriage of Figaro. [Again, super great music. Obviously. This is Mozart. Anyhow, Figaro is also the main character of Beaumarchais’s play The Barber of Seville. The most famous opera version of The Barber of Seville is Rossini’s. It’s worth noting that Lorenzo Da Ponte–who was super interesting and Jewish, although his father converted the family to Catholicism–wrote Mozart’s libretto for The Marriage of Figaro, Don GIovanni, and Cosi fan tutte, so…that’s impressive. –JN] 6/ Falstaff, outlaw/knight/braggart and friend of Prince Hal, appears in Henry IV, pt 1 (probably the best one if you’re interested in him), Henry IV, pt 2 (he gets a couple of famous speeches here, too), The Merry Wives of Windsor (a comedy that has its devotees, but I’m not one of them–probably because it doesn’t read especially well–from Jesse’s comments below, you’d probably have to see it performed), and Henry V (largely off-stage, if I recall correctly). [Falstaff is only off stage in Henry V for many reasons, among them the fact that his death is reported (countless possible reasons why Shakespeare decided to do this). Merry Wives is a tremendous Commedia style play–the mature version of Comedy of Errors, which is also wonderful fun as long as you have someone directing who knows how to direct farce. Farce is HARD; if you get it wrong, it’s not funny, and there is no point.–JN] 7/ Moliere: French guy, wrote some plays, including Tartuffe. [Moliere is amazing, all respect, know and love him! But he did marry his lover’s daughter. So….yeah. For more, click on Armande Béjart’s link in note 2 above.–JN] 8/ Kyogen: Japanese comedic counterpart to Noh (we talked about Noh in episode 17 and a bit in episode 20 if you need a refresher. It has come up at least twice–I think that means it’s going to be on the exam). Also, Einstein on the Beach is about five hours long, and it is typically performed without intermission, although the audience is permitted to come and go as they wish. To hear the section of the opera Em is referencing (with the counting), click here. A warning–I had only ever heard a recording of this before, and watching the visuals…doesn’t really clear anything up. Glass definitely has other operas that are a little more straightforward (The Penal Colony, for example). We discussed Tropic Thunder in episode 15 (see note 2). Some Kyogen plays: Jesse: Thunderbolt (or Kaminari aka Thunder): a Thunderbolt falls from the sky, bruises his tailbone, and is cured by a quack medical doctor who performs acupuncture (a quack lazzo of acupuncture, actually). The doctor and humanity in general are then rewarded. Here’s a clip of the acupuncture lazzo. A translation of the play can be found in Karen Brazell’s Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays. Mushrooms. (No idea if this is a good translation or not.) YouTube video of it. [Great video of the play; I show this in class. A translation can also be found in Brazell’s anthology linked above, although Kenny’s translation linked immediately above is probably good too.–JN] The Delicious Poison. [Kenny’s translation of The Delicious Poison or Busu is in Brazell’s anthology linked above. Kenny’s translation of Mushrooms is also linked above.–JN] 9/ Hrotsvit is discussed in episode 6 (note 18) and in episode 20 (and in the forthcoming episode 22). Jesse: Aristophanes was awesome. Lysistrata! Jesse: Terence was a great comic Roman playwright who was tremendously influential in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period and is therefore one of the roots of modern western comedy. He was (North) African, probably from Carthage, and was brought to Rome as an enslaved person. He was educated and eventually freed because of his talent, whereupon he acquired the name Terence. His full name is Publius Terentius Afer–he actually took the “Terentius/Terence” from the man who enslaved (but then also freed) him. Jesse: Were the past 4 years worth it to watch Kate McKinnon play Rudy Giuliani (slightly NSFW) on SNL? I will have to think about it. There are too many Kenan Thompson clips to choose from, but this one is amazing and also has Leslie Jones. (To be fair, the lazzi are pretty restrained in that one. Here’s another one with lots of lazzi that may be considered NSFW.) Conan O’Brien on Colbert. The Ministry of Silly Walks (apologies–I could not find a version that was longer or had more pixels). [Honestly there are too many Monty Python possibilities to link to. Google and start watching!–JN!] The Key and Peele aerobics skit. Also, if you’re interested in Jordan Peele’s interest in horror, this skit about racist zombies is worth watching (and hilarious, regardless of your interest in horror). 10/ Jesse: For more on Commedia, check out this modern company in DC, Faction of Fools. Here are some great images from Piccolo Teatro di Milano (in Milan), and this link should be all the images from their amazing production of Servant of Two Masters, stretching back decades. Here are some masks made today (we are not endorsing this company). Again, not an endorsement for this one either, but a lot of great images of masks–click through the characters.
84 minutes | 4 months ago
Episode 20: Vampires, Ghosts, and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night
Summary We got all your vampire subtypes: sparkling, British, and thirsty for the blood of the living. We got a couple of different types of ghosts, including hungry ghosts and dybbuks. And we got discussions of ghost stories that appear in both Noh drama and Chinese opera. All that, and we also talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s what you need today, so come and listen! Annotations and Corrections 1/ Vampires that sparkle = Twilight. Vampires with appealing British accents = Spike (James Marsters) from Buffy, although apparently a lot of films have British vampires, since the villains in American films tend to be British anyway…and vampires are supposed to be kind of sexy and kind of evil… (c.f. The Hunger, where David Bowie plays a vampire.) Jesse’s reference to a film called The Batman: Robert Pattinson (who played Edward in Twilight and who actually is British) is scheduled to play Batman in it. I have to admit, while listening to this I totally forgot that Pattinson was British and was trying to track down a Batman film starring James Marsters (who is American but famously played a British vampire, as discussed above). [James Marsters is definitely the best British vampire. And he only sparkled metaphorically, which…seems better. Vampires are soulless, and sparkling suggest divinity somehow. But maybe not in the Twilight franchise! I haven’t read them.–JN] 2/ Religions that have a Hell without a heaven: the Ancient Greeks [and Romans], although their Hell was kind of subdivided in different ways depending on who you are. [To be fair, it’s not “Hell;” it’s the afterlife. Everyone goes there, and some people end up in good places, some people in bad places, and some people end up in boring places.–JN] 3/ We got a question from an alert listener about how well The Seventh Seal reflects the actual Middle Ages. I don’t think Jesse gave too direct of an answer, other than “it’s a good film, you should watch it.” [The movie reflects the Middle Ages excellently in many ways, especially philosophically and artistically. See note 7 below!–JN] 4/ Materialism: The idea that there’s no soul, you’re just driven around by your brain. Note: this is different from dialectical materialism, which is a Marxist idea about how labor, class, and economic status interact to form social structures (meaning, here, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, I guess). 5/ The Clockwork Monk episode of Radiolab. Rather more famous automated owl. [Yes! All hail Harryhousen.–JN] The film Hugo features an automaton that was inspired by Henri Maillardet’s automaton. Article on Maillardet Automaton and the film. Wikipedia article on the Maillardet automaton (with pictures). The Antikythera mechanism. Unclear whether anyone put it in a bag of rice when they fished it out in 1901. 6/ The story of Hildr resurrecting the soldiers, also known as Hjaðningavíd, or the Saga of Hild. 7/ The terracotta soldiers were not just Qin dynasty, they were placed in the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China and founder of the Qin dynasty (which went from 221 to 206 BCE). Note that “China” was not synonymous with the China we see on maps today. You can see the soldiers if you travel to Xi’an (which–I think it’s about 24+ hours by train from Beijing; it’s certainly at least a 12-hour drive, so it’s a bit of a schlepp), or there’s a touring exhibition that we both saw when it came to the Field Museum in Chicago. [SO AMAZING!!!!–JN] The use of mercury may have been a Taoist thing–I can’t find any evidence one way or another, but they did a lot of weird alchemical stuff. Or it may have been used as traps, or just because it looks like water. There are also, according to legends, crossbows aimed at people who might break in. Jesse: A memento mori is anything that reminds a living person of death (the phrase means “remembrance of death”). Usually this is portrayed as a skeleton (or skull) confronting a living person. Hamlet’s speech to Yorick’s skull is a great example. The point is never to forget that we all end up dead, so we’d better make our lives count (and not do evil, petty, stupid things). One of my favorites is the image that inspired Bergman’s Seventh Seal–a painting of Death playing chess with someone. It was painted by Albertus Pictor (c. 1440–c. 1507) in the Täby kyrka (Täby Church) in Sweden, and we actually see Pictor in the process of painting it in the Seventh Seal. 8/ In Buffy, the cross is what drives away vampires, regardless of the religion of both the person holding the cross and the vampire (or vampire’s former religion?). In at least one episode of Doctor Who, the person’s belief in another thing or person is what is protective, rather than the actual physical symbol (e.g., season 26’s The Curse of Fenric). Also, I watched the scene in 30 Days of Night, and she doesn’t actually have a cross, so while the vampire gets to deny the existence of any deities, it’s unclear whether having the actual cross would have made a difference (warning, that scene is a bit creepy). Also, here’s a scene of a vampire being staked from Dracula: Dead and Loving It (this scene is not especially creepy). [Ha! Love it. –JN] Jesse: Anne Rice’s vampires can go out during the day, but not in the movies as I recall. 9/ Saul Epstein and Sara Robinson, “The Soul, Evil Spirits, and the Undead: Vampires, Death, and Burial in Jewish Folklore and Law,” in Preternatural: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, v. 1, no. 2(2012): 232–251 Link. [37:00] “A Jewish woman died, and she wasn’t buried for three days…” It is traditional in Judaism to bury people as soon as possible after death, for a variety of reasons. Nowadays the reason is usually given as “Jews don’t practice embalming, so it’s necessary,” but obviously the tradition is a lot older than embalming and has a lot of interesting roots. [For Joshua Trachtenberg on estries, see Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 38–39.–JN] Vlad the Impaler / Vlad Dracula: the ultimate freedom fighter vs terrorist–depends on whose side you’re on. Lilith: famed namesake of Lilith Fair. Apropos of the next note, she also turns up in Sandman a bit. Neil Gaiman, “Parliament of Rooks,” Sandman vol. 40. It’s in vol. 6 (Fables & Reflections of the collected Sandman. This is the same collection that contains “Three Septembers and a January,” which is about Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States, and is extremely charming. A midrash is a story told by rabbis to explain weird or contradictory or missing things from the Torah. [Yes–the middle wife becomes a memento mori even though death didn’t exist yet. Hmmmm.–JN] Founder of Aikido: Morihei Ueshiba. “Osensei” is an honorific meaning “great teacher.” Wole Soyinka, Death of the King’s Horsemen. Summary here. Egungun is a Yoruban masquerade carried out as part of ancestor worship. Junji Ito is the maga horror artist. The short story is “Gentle Goodbye” in Fragments of Horror. 10/ We recorded this episode in early September–Zhong Yuan Jie was Sept. 2nd this year. Hungry Ghost Scroll Hungry ghost detail picture Atsumori is mentioned in episode 17 (see note 7). [56:00] “And this is all based on real wars…” The ghost part may or may not have been an exaggeration. [Yes, yes, I do not claim the ghost part is real, but the wars sure were!–JN ] 11/ Tomoe Gozen. Whether she was an actual historical person or not seems to be a question, but there are a number of other actual female warriors, aka onna-bugeisha, in Japanese history. [In fairness to Tomoe, “not proven to be historical” is one of those things people say about women who did incredible things but cannot be 100% verified. Joan of Arc is so over verified there’s not much to be done to discredit her, although people try. More recently, there are people trying to argue that a Viking warrior proven via DNA to be genetically female wasn’t actually a warrior, because whhhhhhaaaaaaaaa, women just didn’t DO those things! Except Valkyrie in myth, of course. And so on. –JN] Tomoe (Noh play). 12/ Guan Hanqing (c. 1241–1320), The Injustice to Duo E / Snow in Midsummer. This play was also discussed (more briefly) in episode 15 (see note 14). Confucianism is notable for putting into place this exam system by which anyone (well, probably only men, and probably only men of a particular class or above who would have had time to become literate and study for them etc.) could get a post in the government–an early attempt at a meritocracy, call it. The Temple of Literature in Hanoi, which dates from 1070, is dedicated to Confucius and features stelae in the shape of turtles carved with the names of everyone who passed the exams between 1442–1779. So just remember, grad students: no one except your mom and your advisor probably read your whole thesis, but someday if you’re lucky you can become a footnote in the bottom of someone else’s thesis. Or in their podcast notes. [Yes! A *true* honor.–JN] Also, Em was wrong–the last civil service exam in Viet Nam was held in 1919, not “after WWII.” It was the last country to hold Confucian civil service exams. [Wow, that’s still amazing.–JN] 13/ Bakemono-no-e. (For non-American listeners, BYU = Brigham Young University, which is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They probably own it because their church has such an extensive history of proselytizing everywhere. But their website on the stroll is pretty extensive though, so check it out.) 14/ Takeda Izumo II, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Namiki Senryu I, Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees. [Kitsune–the awesome fox. –JN] 15/ Legend of the White Snake. Jesse: For more on White Snake, see episode 15, note 14. About halfway through the note you’ll reach a paragraph with good White Snake info and videos. Em: Talking to a Taiwanese friend, it seems it’s not totally clear that the Legend of White Snake is actually a Daoist legend, despite what the above-linked Wikipedia page claims (the Wiki page concurs with my assessment–a Daoist legend, although White Snake is not one of the eight immortals, and the villain is (disguised as) a Buddhist monk). It’s such an old story, it is totally possible that Daoists later retold the story in a way that cast Daoism as the prime mover, as it were. 16/ Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly had a very complicated relationship with her father, and I find it pretty fascinating, so buckle up. The man who raised her was (actual) famous philosopher William Godwin. (NOTE: Not the Godwin of Godwin’s Law–that’s lawyer Mike Godwin.) As you might guess from her name, Mary Shelly was the daughter of famed feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, a book that dared to argue (in 1792!) that women were not naturally inferior to men, they just seemed that way because they were unvalued and uneducated. Anyway, MW and WG had a sort of bohemian relationship, including living in separate houses after marriage to retain their independence. But he adopted her daughter Fanny from another relationship and then she died eleven days after having Mary, so he wound up raising both girls rather suddenly. A while later he remarried to a woman with two children of her own (Charles and Claire Clairmont) and had another child with her (William the Younger). The children were all well-educated, although Godwin thought that Mary was especially bright. PB Shelly was a romantic poet who happened to be married (to a woman named Harriet, with whom he had a child and while she was pregnant with their second) when he ran off with his mentor’s daughter Mary, who was SIXTEEN. Like–literally they ran off to Switzerland together, and brought her step-sister Claire (also sixteen) along, who would go on to have a child out of wedlock with Lord Byron. And Harriet did eventually commit suicide–while pregnant (a third/later pregnancy that may have been by a different man). Also, Mary’s elder half-sister, Fanny, may also have been in love with Shelly and eventually committed suicide (and he wrote a poem about it). Also, Godwin was constantly in debt and Shelly gave him money. Anyway, when Frankenstein was initially published it was anonymous, but because PB Shelly wrote the introduction and the book was dedicated to Godwin, everyone assumed he was also the author. BUT actually it was another Shelly. Speaking of which, when Em says “Shelly’s mother attempted suicide, but wound up dying in childbirth later”–she means Mary Shelly’s mother, not PB Shelly. Apologize for any confusion. So, there’s your soap opera for today.
81 minutes | 4 months ago
Episode 19: A Few Good Werewolves
Synopsis From Bisclavret to Remus Lupin, werewolves have been portrayed in fiction for centuries–and portrayed both positively and negatively, by Jews and Christians alike. Join Em and Jessie as they discuss Medieval legends about these amazing beasts. And also a little bit about golems, kappas, and zombies/revenants, plus other creepy facts. Annotations and Corrections 1/ Jesse, we have to save some monsters for next year’s episode. [There are always plenty of monsters! We haven’t even started.–JN] 2/ The children’s book Jesse is thinking of may be The Book of Hob Stories, by William Mayne. [Yes! It’s a whole series.–JN] Jesse: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare) II.i, the First Fairy to Puck: Either I mistake your shape and making quite, Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are not you he That frights the maidens of the villagery; Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern And bootless make the breathless housewife churn; And sometime make the drink to bear no barm; Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm? Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck, You do their work, and they shall have good luck: Are not you he? 3/ If we haven’t linked to it before, Daniel Radcliffe’s letter to the Trevor Project is here. 4/ The basilisk was discussed in episode 2 (see note 12). Jesse: The Winter’s Tale (Shakespeare) I.ii, Polixenes to Camillo: Make me not sighted like the basilisk: I have look’d on thousands, who have sped the better By my regard, but kill’d none so. Camillo,– Also, while we’re on names, Harry Potter, and Shakespeare–Hermione is the very long-suffering wife of the jealous King Leontes in The Winter’s Tale (which precipitates the above dialogue between Polixenes and Camillo). In Greek mythology, Hermione was the daughter of Helen of Troy and Menelaus, King of Sparta (so, when Helen went off to Troy with Paris, she left her daughter Hermione behind). Wikipedia has pictures of Kappas if you’re curious. [In reading this Wikipedia page, I realized that kappa maki, a sushi roll containing rice and strips of cucumber, is named for the folkloric Kappa, which are said to like cucumber and are often given offerings of the same. I just need to pause a moment to gather in the fragments of my mind.–Em] 5/ Werewolves, not swearwolves. [10:30] “Be careful when you meet people in Harry Potter…” I feel like a solid grounding in classical languages would be pretty important in that world. Actually a little weird that Hogwarts didn’t have a Latin (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, …) teacher… Fenrir, child of Loki. For the Terry Pratchett book with the support group for shy banshees and reluctant zombies, see Reaper Man. One of the zombies (Reg Shoe) eventually becomes a recurring character in the various Night Watch books as well. [Yes, I think the support group is for the “differently alive.”–JN] The main Terry Pratchett books with golems are Feet of Clay, Going Postal, and Making Money, although like Reg Shoe they tend to turn up in the background of various others of the books. The Ted Chiang short story about golems is “Seventy-Two Letters,” and it can be found in his first collection, Exhalation. The X-Files episode with golems is “Kaddish” (season 4, episode 15). 6/ Yod-hay-vav-hay: it doesn’t spell out “Jehovah” in Hebrew because of grammar. (I think I had the Tetragrammaton mixed up in my head with some of the elements of the plot of “The Nine Billion Names of God,” by Arthur C. Clark. Honestly, I think that says something about how I have typically approached religion, somehow. –Em) 7/ For liminality, see episode 18, note 8. 8/ The Hereford World Map can be found in episode 11, note 21 and episode 14, note 21. 9/ Puck’s list, which immediately follows the First Fairy’s question above (II.i): I am that merry wanderer of the night. I jest to Oberon and make him smile When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile, Neighing in likeness of a filly foal: And sometime lurk I in a gossip’s bowl, In very likeness of a roasted crab, And when she drinks, against her lips I bob And on her wither’d dewlap pour the ale. The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale, Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me; Then slip I from her bum, down topples she, And ‘tailor’ cries, and falls into a cough; And then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh, And waxen in their mirth and neeze and swear A merrier hour was never wasted there. —Midsummer Night’s Dream, act II, scene 1 We also see him drug a bunch of teenagers and turn the head of Bottom the weaver into that of an ass throughout the course of the play, among other things. [College-age kids by today’s standards. Also, while Oberon could certainly be accused of roofying Titania, Puck’s use of the drug on Demetrius raises some really interesting questions–i.e., that some men are loyal to their lovers (Lysander, except for a drug slip up by Puck, whoops), while some men are not (Demetrius). The happy ending of Midsummer depends on Demetrius remaining drugged for the rest of his life, presumably. Poor Helena?–JN] 10/ Jan Potocki is the author of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. It’s a real cult classic. I don’t know if he’s really known for anything else, honestly, other than his extremely creative mode of death. 11/ Werewolves of London, by the great philosopher Warren Zevon. [Terry Pratchett also has some great werewolves who are good, bad, and ambiguous, but the main werewolf character is a good female werewolf who is a member of the Watch, Angua.–JN] Concerning the etymology of werewolf, I wish to direct everyone’s attention to this poem by Christian Morgenstern, translated by Jerome Lettvin: The Werewolf One night, a werewolf, having dined, Left his wife to clean the cave And visited a scholar’s grave — Asking “How am I declined?” Whatever way the case was pressed The ghost could not decline his guest, But told the wolf (who’d been well-bred And crossed his paws before the dead). “The Iswolf, so we may commence, the Waswolf, simple past in tense, the Beenwolf, perfect, so construed, the Werewolf is subjunctive mood.” The werewolf’s teeth with thanks were bright, But, mitigating his delight, There rose the thought, how could one be Hypostasized contingency? The ghost observed that few could live, If werewolves were indicative; Whereat his guest perceived the role Of Individual in the Whole. Condition contrary to fact, A single werewolf Being lacked — But in his conjugation showed The full existence, a la mode. This translation by Alexander Gross is also great. A Werewolf, troubled by his name, Left wife and brood one night and came To a hidden graveyard to enlist The aid of a long-dead philologist. “Oh sage, wake up, please don’t berate me,” He howled sadly, “Just conjugate me.” The seer arose a bit unsteady Yawned twice, wheezed once, and then was ready. “Well, ‘Werewolf’ is your plural past, While ‘Waswolf’ is singularly cast: There’s ‘Amwolf’ too, the present tense, And ‘Iswolf,’ ‘Arewolf’ in this same sense.” “I know that–I’m no mental cripple– The future form and participle Are what I crave,” the beast replied. The scholar paused–again he tried: “A ‘Will-be-wolf?’ It’s just too long: ‘Shall-be-wolf?’ ‘Has-been-wolf?’ Utterly wrong! Such words are wounds beyond all suture– I’m sorry, but you have no future.” The Werewolf knew better–his sons still slept At home, and homewards now he crept, Happy, humble, without apology For such folly of philology. (The Zwicky site linked above has several other charming translations.) 12/ The board game in which King Cnut makes an appearance. 7.2 is a decent rating but the reviews don’t seem super positive. [Ah well. If you’re interested, check out the OED’s definition of werewolf for the quote from Cnut’s Laws, and check out the “Middle Ages” section of WIkipedia’s “Werewolf” page for a translation.–JN] 13/ Marie de France (flourished 1160-1215), poet at the court of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry II is known for being Peter O’Toole. The Aquitaine: In case you were curious, it’s in the south near where France runs into modern-day Spain. The largest city there is Bordeaux. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Anowa, by Ama Ata Aidoo. Not, uh, not a comedy. [Great play though!–JN] Gerald of Wales. 14/ Article on Jewish werewolves! By Northwestern professor David Shyovitz “Christians and Jews in the Twelfth Century Werewolf Renaissance,” Journal of the History of Ideas 75 (2014): 521-43. Wikipedia on the Hasidim of Ashkenaz. Genesis, 49:27: Benjamin is a wolf, he will prey; in the morning he will devour plunder, and in the evening he will divide the spoil.” I’m just going to point out that elsewhere in the chapter, Napthali is called “a swift gazelle,” and no one has written that he’s a weregazelle or anything, presumably because that’s not really a thing. So the preexisting tradition of people turning into wolves probably works in Benjamin’s favor here. This raises an interesting question we don’t get into in the episode: why is there a pre-existing tradition of people turning into wolves rather than other dangerous animals such as tigers, bears, hippopotami, etc.? I feel like the privileged relationship between humans and dogs has somehow spilled over to wolves, but beyond that I’m not really sure–someone get Alexandra Horowitz on the phone… 15/ Elijah was assumed into heaven in 2 Kings. This is also the chapter where Elisha, who was Elijah’s companion and in a really bad mood, calls out two bears to tear apart 42 children who are teasing him for being bald. Some might call that an overreaction. Enoch is assumed into heaven in Genesis 5:24. Unlike Elijah, there’s not much there. If you are saying, “But wait, back in the episodes about Dante and Hell you mentioned that Christian belief is that no one went to heaven before Christ’s death, and yet here are two people that Christians seem to believe…went to heaven…before Christ’s death,” yes, you have pointed out an interesting doctrinal problem. It’s not clear to me how this is solved, except by the pope basically saying, “Yeah, G-d can make exceptions if He wants to.” [The fact they didn’t die seems to be the key. If you died, you had to wait in Limbo for Jesus to open Heaven.–JN] 16/ Christina the Astonishing was previously discussed in episode 9 (see note 29 and relevant part of the episode). I (Em) would say she’s seriously one of the weirdest stories we have talked about on this podcast, and we have talked about quite a lot of weird stories. [Yay!–JN] 17/ Thriller. [Since MJ is dead, we can acknowledge the genius of this video. It is the best.–JN] Warm Bodies is the zombie romantic comedy movie mentioned. 18/ Nancy Caciola, Afterlives: The Return of the Dead in the Middle Ages. Cornell University Press, 2016. Amazon link. Matins happened sometime between 3am and dawn. 19/ The ST:TNG episode I mention was Night Terrors (season 4, episode 17). In it, the corpses sitting up is explained as a hallucination caused by lack of REM sleep (which is another actual thing). “The Fall of the House of Usher,” by Edgar Allan Poe. Caitlin Doughty (Ask a Mortician) addressed a story about a woman who woke up alive at a funeral home recently. It turns out it wasn’t a podcast–it was a New Yorker article: “What Does It Mean to Die?” Recently (10/19/20): “Michigan Woman Found Alive at Funeral Home Dies 8 Weeks Later“
64 minutes | 4 months ago
Episode 18: Halloween: A Not-So-Spooky History
Summary Halloween! A time of candy, Pagan ritual, sexy bus driver costumes, and syncretism. How much of this holiday has been handed down to us from the middle ages, and how much is modern? Join Em and Jesse for an exciting discussion of the medieval version of All Hallows’ Eve, with some fun digressions on the myths of Persephone/Ishtar in the underworld, JK Rowling, the movie Wicker Man, and why people are unlikely to put razor blades in Halloween candy. Annotations and Corrections 1/ Syncretism: when people with different beliefs run into each other, and for whatever reason they decide that they have actually been believing in the same religion even though they use different names for things–for example, Haitian Vodou involves many elements of syncretism between West African folk beliefs and Roman Catholic beliefs; for example, many of the lwa (the second level of deity, typically Yoruban gods) are syncretized with Catholic saints (Papa Legba, for example, is variously associated with St. Peter, St. Lazarus, and St. Anthony). Syncretism can happen because of cultural struggle (the Haitians were transported from West Africa to slavery in Haiti, where they were captives of French Catholics), or because two cultures live next to each other for a long time, or for other reasons. [Yeah, it’s a little more complicated than blending, borrowing, appropriating, and other words that get used for this sort of thing.–Jesse] 2/ There has been a weird revival of the Hades and Persephone story, probably because of this immensely popular web comic (hitherto unknown to me, but it’s entirely adorable) OR this other adorable web comic about them (what is even going on), but also there are a lot of memes like this that honestly I like because they retell the story in a way that gives Persephone a much more active hand in determining her fate than other versions. Although I find the interest in this particular story a little surprising–maybe because unlike Zeus or Poseidon, Hades seems to have been pretty loyal to her? Other versions of the myth, which we discuss somewhat in passing, involve Persephone being abducted by Hades and then tricked into eating pomegranate seeds. Homer doesn’t mention the abduction myth in the Iliad or the Odyssey and just describes her as a formidable queen of the Shades. Hesiod mentions the abduction briefly. Either way, it’s worth noting that “Persephone” might mean “bringer of destruction,” which is kind of appropriate for a nature goddess, right? I mean, nature is not a benign force. Nature is flowers in a meadow, but nature is also bears and sharks and moose and hippopotamuses and tornadoes. Jesse: It’s true that Homer doesn’t mention the abduction myth in the Iliad or the Odyssey; in fact, his description of Persephone focuses on the fact that she is to be feared. Hesiod also implies that she is as terrifying as her husband Hades (Theogony lines 768 and 775), although he also briefly mentions that Persephone is carried off from her mother by Hades (Theogony lines 914–15). Hesiod’s Theogony at Perseus Project It’s clear from Hesiod that Persephone’s dread aspect (Hesiod’s ἐπαινῆς Περσεφονείης) and her abduction by Hades are not mutually exclusive elements of the myth. The abduction is clearly a stable and long-standing part of the story–as is the fact that Zeus enables it by essentially giving Persephone to his brother Hades without her mother Demeter’s knowledge or permission–and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (not actually written by Homer) gives an incredibly detailed and fairly graphic account of the abduction. In this version, Persephone eats the pomegranate and has to spend 1/3 (later 1/2) of the year with Hades but gets to spend 2/3 of the year with her mother Demeter. You can read the Homeric Hymn to Demeter at Perseus Project. On the subject of Persephone’s name (Περσεφονη)–it probably does not mean bringer of destruction. This is a false etymology–at some point, someone decided to deconstruct Persephone’s name accordingly, but her name did not actually derive from these terms. The false etymology relies on πέρθω (pertho; future tense πέρσω persō), which means “to destroy” and φονή (phonē), which means “carnage” or “a bloody murder.” Again, it’s a great false etymology, but her name didn’t actually derive from those words; someone created the derivation based on the name which was already in existence. In addition, Persephone is frequently referred to (and represented in statues as) a kore, or a young girl. While this may seem at odds with her “dreadful” nature, she strikes fear into people based on her position as Queen of the Underworld (she’s good at her job), not based on the fact that she is depicted as personally or physically terrifying (like Athena is, for example). The Ninnion Tablet. 3/ Ishtar in the underworld was also discussed in a previous episode–see episode 8, note 18. [Here’s Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld (Sumerian text recorded c. 1750 BCE).–Jesse] 4/ Samhain (pronounced “Sa-wan”): a Gaelic harvest festival. All Hallows’ Day Eve = Oct. 31st All Hallows’ Day / All Saints’ Day = Nov 1st All Souls’ Day = Nov 2nd Jesse: Again, the usual booooooooo at JK Rowling for being a TERF. 5/ The Pantheon, aka the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs. 6/ The Wicker Man came out in 1973 and starred Christopher Lee, among others. There’s also a remake from 2006 starring Nicholas Cage. I haven’t seen either, but just looking at their ratings, one may be slightly better than another. Interestingly, the original novel was set in Cornwall. 7/ Day of the Dead / Dia de los Muertos, possibly originally a celebration of Mictecacihuatl, queen of the underworld, who swallows the stars during the day. 8/ The idea of liminality comes up constantly in the study of beliefs/traditions and folklore. It basically means being in a state where you’re between two categories of thing (such as being in between childhood and adulthood during a coming-of-age ritual). There’s often a certain danger associated with people in this state (one of the reason you don’t interrupt rituals). [Victor Turner is the one to read on liminality, if you’re interested. Here’s the Wikipedia entry to give you a place to start. –Jesse] 9/ Turnip lanterns: extremely creepy example. 10/ Unrelatedly, mumming is mentioned in Ulysses I.97–98. In context: —The aunt thinks you killed your mother, he said. That’s why she won’t let me have anything to do with you. —Someone killed her, Stephen said gloomily. —You could have knelt down, damn it, Kinch, when your dying mother asked you, Buck Mulligan said. I’m hyperborean as much as you. But to think of your mother begging you with her last breath to kneel down and pray for her. And you refused. There is something sinister in you…. He broke off and lathered again lightly his farther cheek. A tolerant smile curled his lips. —But a lovely mummer! he murmured to himself. Kinch, the loveliest mummer of them all! If I’m reading this correctly, “mummer” appears to be a play on words, both Mulligan accusing Stephen of acting (or more like performing his atheism at inappropriate times?) and also suggesting that his mother was a lovely person. [It might also be a pun on Stephen’s name–December 26, St Stephen’s Day, is a day for mumming.–Jesse] (Probably all of the above, knowing Joyce.–Em) Jesse: For some fun mumming pictures, zoom in on the bottom right of this page and on the bottom left of this page Notice the awesome animal masks! For the dragons, check out Philip Butterworth’s article “Late Medieval Performing Dragons” in The Yearbook of English Studies vol. 43, Early English Drama (2013), pp. 318–342. Also check out this great image from the Luttrell Psalter (1320–1340)–go to the down arrow at the far (top) right and scroll down to 184r to see the dragon at the bottom of the page. Entertainment (acrobats/mumming, jousting) from the Luttrell Psalter here [f 69v and f 82r–two separate pages]. And for more on the Luttrell Psalter, check here. 11/ Snopes on poisoning of Halloween candy. Apparently there have been a few cases of people putting razor blades and such in candy/apples, but people are almost never hurt by the implements, and at worst have required a few stitches.
79 minutes | 4 months ago
Episode 17: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching
Synopsis Dance dramas are theatrical presentations that use dance (and sometimes words, but mostly dance) to tell a story. Em and Jesse look at dance dramas from around the world, from Mesoamerica before and after the Spanish invasion to Japan. With a number of digressions involving Prince, Irish step dancing, Alvin Ailey, and the movie Being John Malkovich. Annotations and Corrections 1/ A shout out to Manual Cinema in Chicago. Here’s the Candyman trailer. We talked about Kara Walker in episode 10 (see notes 16 and 24). 2/ The theatre in the Water Tower is Lookingglass Theatre. Mr and Mrs Pennyworth (trailer here) was a Lookingglass Theatre production with Manual Cinema. If you’re in Chicago, we recommend them both. The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is here. They’re doing workshops at the end of October/through November 2020 online, and more will undoubtedly pop up. Check them out. Also, check out the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta–great programming for kids. 3/ Dance drama! We talked about this a little bit at the end of episode 12 (note 30), in the context of Aztec and Mayan dance dramas. Misty Copeland is the first African American woman to become a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre, which is one of the biggest ballet companies in the US (if you are like me/Em and don’t understand what a principal dancer is–it’s like having a fifth degree black belt in dance, I guess). For his own purple reasons, Prince hired her to dance on top of his piano (and throughout his stage show) back when he was still alive and touring. [Heart.–Jesse] Race in ballet is a complicated topic, but it is worth noting that until relatively recently, it was common for non-White ballerinas to powder their skin while performing to appear paler, while some roles were danced by White dancers wearing blackface. In addition, there are traditional standards for what ballerinas look like that privilege the look of white bodies. Finally, ballet is expensive to train in if you’re not being paid–think $200 per month for pointe shoes. The Richmond, VA woman who took up Irish dance is Morgan Bullock and video of her can be found here. Ballerinas changing the Lee statue in Richmond (and much more!): Brown Ballerinas for Change. Alvin Ailey founded his own dance troupe and choreographed a landmark piece called “Revelations.” More about “Revelations” here. An excerpt from Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake. NYT write-up. 2/ Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz (1648–1695). Wrote the Loa for the (Auto Sacramental of the) Divine Narcissus. See episode 12, note 30 and following. Of women elsewhere in Europe doing amazing things during this time, look no farther than Sophia of the Palatinate (1630–1714), who became electress of Hanover and was mother of (the British) King George I. Had seven children who lived to adulthood and had Gottfried Leibniz as her librarian and personal friend before dying age 83. Her descendants now occupy all seven European thrones and Luxembourg. Anne (1665–1714) was also queen of England during this period (beginning 1702). 3/ Nahuatl is an interesting language. Here are some words in it you already know or might recognize: chipotle, coyotl, axolotl, chocolotl. [English likes to import food words. Lots of other words too, English is a very spongy language, but definitely food words.–Jesse] The Chester play was discussed in episode 8 (see note 26). The Spanish-style morality play discussed here is a last judgment play (titled Final Judgment) in Nahuatl. An English translation can be found in Stages of Conflict edited by Taylor and Townsend. Sor Juana de la Cruz’s Loa and the Mayan Rabinal Achi can also be found in translation in this excellent collection. A slightly fuller explanation of the sexism of the Final Judgment: The priest stops our heroine, Lucia, from confessing(!!!) and accuses her of not accepting the seventh sacrament, holy matrimony. Presumably the point isn’t just that she’d been sleeping around but that she may have been married in an Aztec ceremony, which of course wouldn’t count. I refrained from mentioning in the podcast that Christ himself appears (it’s the Last Judgment, remember) and berates Lucia, helping to thrust her into Hell(!!!!). Again, the play is horrifically sexist and excruciatingly colonialist, but it’s a fascinating study. “You have to be allowed to confess everything, that’s the point.” See also Michel Foucault’s History of Human Sexuality, vol. 1 on the link/transfer between confession to priests and confession to analysts in modern society. [Oooooo, yes!–Jesse] [24:21] “They have a God…” They actually have a couple of gods–Quetzalcoatl, and the one I am struggling to name, Coatlicue (“Snake Skirt”). (“Coatl” means snake in Nahuatl; -tl or -tli are absolutive singular suffixes for non-possessed nouns, I hope Dou are glad I looked that up.) Jesse: Interestingly, Coatlicue is a mother goddess, so it’s possible that an indigenous audience would have seen Lucia actually turned into Coatlicue after (as a reward for?) the horrors Christ and the Spanish attempt to visit on her. Probably not the ending the Spanish intended. I’d also like to give a shout out here to contemporary lesbian, Chicana, playwright Cherrie Moraga. Check out The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea and Heart of the Earth: A Popol Vuh Story to get started. 4/ The Mayan dance drama Rabinal Achi was also discussed in episode 12 (see note 30). 5/ On the ritualistic language of courtrooms: (Thanks to this site) But also there are specific things that people DO in courtrooms and ways that they act (the swearing in, the way the judge and jury are addressed, the times of standing and sitting) are incredibly ritualistic. 6/ This discussion is about Christ’s trial scenes in the York Cycle plays. Henry IV had the Archbishop of York, Richard Scrope, convicted of treason and executed. However, it took two judges to do the job (the first judge refused). In the York Cycle, Pilate is unwilling to condemn Christ in his first trial before Pilate, but in the second trial before Pilate, Pilate is more than happy to condemn Christ. Pamela King has demonstrated that these two scenes from the York Cycle clearly represent the real events of the Archbishop’s trials and consequently draw a connection between Pilate and the government of Henry IV. See Pamela King The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2006); pgs. 189–200. Amazon link. Over the course of Shakespeare’s 2 Henry IV Act IV, we see the Archbishop of York (Richard Scrope) arrested for treason and summarily executed. Links to the York Cycle, The First Trial before Pilate, and The Second Trial before Pilate. The Revello Passion Play or La Passione di Revello. Sacra rappresentazione quattrocentesca di ignoto piemontese edited by Anna Cornagliotti (Amazon Italy link. If you read Italian, check out WorldCat! The Mayan warrior at the far left in the middle has a shield and a raised club/battle axe. (This is an image from the Dresden Codex.) For more codices, see this site. Here’s a statue of a Mayan warrior with a shield (presumably the club or axe is missing from the open hand). From Dennis Tedlock’s Rabinal Achi: A Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice, p. 131. Just for fun, a Mayan statue of a young corn god (Mayan and Aztec culture definitely intermingled!). Mayan sacrifice by decapitation (Close up on the axe, middle/left.) The intersex servant is referred to as a slave but clearly has a fairly important ceremonial position. The change of number in the warriors’ names from 13 Yellow (or Golden) Eagles and 13 Yellow (or Golden) Jaguars to 12 happened before the script was written down in the extant version. Nonetheless, the symbolism of the numbers makes it fairly clear that this is a change–one that was apparently made quite early, presumably as part of the process of adapting Rabinal Achi slightly in order to be allowed to continue performing it under the Spanish. (Of the many other dance dramas that existed, this is the only one we still have.) This is a change that would have aligned nicely with the new performance date of St Paul’s Day and other similar syncretic adaptations. 7/ Atsumori. And here’s a full performance. Watch times if you don’t have time to watch the whole performance: entrance of waki/priest 6:00–8:00; entrance of shite/Atsumori disguised as a common grass cutter 18:35–20:20; entrance of kyogen/townsperson 41:20–42:00; entrance of Atsumori as ghost-warrior self 1:00:00–1:01:40; Atsumori dances out his death 1:18:20–1:21:20 and 1:26:00–end (notice the use of the sword). Zeami Motokiyo wrote it and a lot of other stuff. 8/ [1:07:35] Em should have said “Chinese-speaking people” rather than “Chinese people.” We regret the error. 9/ Beyoncé (feat. Kendrick Lamar). Still super iconic. Jesse: I purposely ignored black/brown/yellow/redface in my comments on “full face makeup,” because while racist makeup is an extremely important thing to discuss, it should NOT be used as an excuse to explain why the so-called West seems to have given up on full face makeup and/or masks. These issues are partially related, but also separate. 10/ Being John Malkovich. Still one of the most surreal films I [Em] has ever seen, I think. Basil Twist and Stickman–a marionette performance that will make you cry.
68 minutes | 5 months ago
Episode 16: Much Ado About Puppets
Summary Puppets are actually a pretty medieval art form–and not just for kids. These puppets do and say things that would have been politically risky for the humans controlling them to say, and also they are real works of art. Join us as we look puppetry traditions of Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey, and Egypt. With … Continue reading "Episode 16: Much Ado About Puppets"
73 minutes | 5 months ago
Episode 15: The Not-Evolution of Theatre
Summary In which Em and Jess discuss the important theoretical contributions of Tropic Thunder and Blazing Saddles to performance studies, thereby illustrating the important differences between performance, theatre, and ritual and vital questions about their respective origins. Also, Jess calls Socrates evil, and then Em and Jess decolonize medieval theatre beginning with India and China. … Continue reading "Episode 15: The Not-Evolution of Theatre"
87 minutes | 6 months ago
Episode 14: Decolonization and Asia
Summary “One night in Bangkok makes a hard man tremble.” Weird concept musicals by Abba members aside, Asia is a place that many in the West have a fairly Orientalist relationship with, seeing it as both exotic and primitive. In today’s episode, we explore that relationship; starting with the French “restoration” of Angkor Wat, we … Continue reading "Episode 14: Decolonization and Asia"
74 minutes | 6 months ago
Episode 13: Decolonizing Africa
Summary In the words of the great philosopher Toto, “I bless the RAINS down in AFRICA.” [This song plays every year at the Saturday night dance at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, otherwise known as Kalamazoo. Very medieval. –Jesse] We explore Africa from a decolonizing viewpoint, including words of wisdom from deceased UW–Madison professor … Continue reading "Episode 13: Decolonizing Africa"
75 minutes | 7 months ago
Episode 12: The Americas Before Colonization
Summary Welcome to part two of our series on decolonization. This week, Em and Jesse discuss what the Middle Ages looked like in the Americas before the arrival of colonizers. We take brief looks at the Mayan, Aztec, Mississipian, and Moche civilizations and a few of their many achievements. With some fun digressions about the … Continue reading "Episode 12: The Americas Before Colonization"
80 minutes | 7 months ago
Episode 11: Decolonization: Theory and Practice
Summary “Pulling down statues isn’t erasing history….erasing history is the fact that you live on land stolen from a people you can’t name.” Em and Jesse dive into the theory and practice of decolonization–what does it mean, what are post-colonial studies, and how can we put this knowledge into practice, reforming our views of our … Continue reading "Episode 11: Decolonization: Theory and Practice"
85 minutes | 8 months ago
Episode 10: Icons and Iconography
Summary In which we discuss iconography (the study of icons), primarily so we can talk about the protests relating to/attempting to tear down the Robert E. Lee (and other major Confederate) statue(s) in Richmond, VA. But there’s also some good stuff on Medieval iconography, Kehinde Wiley, GB Trudeau, and Beyoncé. Notes, Corrections, Annotations 1/ For … Continue reading "Episode 10: Icons and Iconography"
71 minutes | 8 months ago
Episode 9: Heretics and Saints
Summary If heretics go directly to hell, and saints go directly to heaven, what happens if you burn as a heretic someone who later turns out to be a saint? Em and Jesse talk about Dante, sainthood and the inquisitio process, and finally look at the cases of two female saints, one of whom was … Continue reading "Episode 9: Heretics and Saints"
85 minutes | 9 months ago
Episode 8: Hell and Damnation
Summary Come with us into Hell. We’ll accompany Dante and Virgil as they pass through the nine circles and out into purgatory and heaven. On the way, we’ll chat about Margery Kemp and Julian of Norwich, Hellboy, D&D, Giotto’s Scrovengi Chapel, and the tendency of ogliarchs to use philanthropy to try and make people like … Continue reading "Episode 8: Hell and Damnation"
66 minutes | 9 months ago
Episode 7: Love and Hell
Summary What is the purpose of sin, and why is it allowed? Why does Hell exist? When people go to Hell, do they stay there forever, and is there any way of getting them out? Em and Jesse take a look at the Medieval personification of God’s love and how several major female mystics tackled … Continue reading "Episode 7: Love and Hell"
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