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 Confederate battle flag, Em’s panic-inducing trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, and the noises that eagles make.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ Daily Show from 2001 reminds us that Colbert is a master. [OK, this was 19 years ago! My sense of time during my own life is bad.–Jesse]

Daily Show 2015

Daily Show in 2017 on Confederate Memorial Day

On Bree Newsome’s removal of South Carolina’s Confederate flag.

Jesse: Trevor Noah is amazing, but I miss Jon Stewart soooooooooooo much. Why can’t we have both? (I guess we’ve proven we don’t deserve such bounty.) Many, many sobbing emojis.

2/ Berlin Wall: 1961–1989 (or 1991, depending on how you’re counting).

3/ Madison had statues of Forward (a lady who is kind of our symbol?) and Hans Cristian Heg pulled down. HCH is an interesting case because he was a Norwegian immigrant and an abolitionist, anti-slavery activist (who led Wisconsin’s anti-slave-catcher militia), politician, and prison reformer who died of wounds received at the Battle of Chikamauga. However, just because he was pretty great for his time doesn’t necessarily mean that he would be great by our standards today–I’ve seen some allegations that he wasn’t exactly pro-Black (which aren’t really substantiated in any news article, so I don’t know); he was also a “49er,” meaning he went West to participate in the Gold Rush–incidentally, Wisconsin’s motto, “Forward,” is partially about Westward expansion, which is, you know, a lot about the Federal Government massacring (or permitting the massacre of) various indigenous peoples in order to permit (White) settlers to move in. (Also it feels weird to think about Wisconsin as “West.” Hmm.) So–I get it. I don’t totally believe that the people who pulled down the statues were aware of these things when they were doing the destruction–I think they were just angry. Buuuuuut you know, whatever, seems justified.

Also they (i.e., the same group that pulled down the statues) beat up a state congressperson, but no one was upset about that for some reason. (He is a Democrat, and Republicans control the House and Senate here, so that’s probably why we didn’t hear too much.) He has since co-sponsored legislation with Republicans that would make it a crime to pull down statues. I feel like he might be taking the wrong lesson from this.

I wanted to add a note on the guy who got arrested (Yeshua Musa, who was a local BLM activist), because while I think I gave the story as I understood it at the time, it’s worthy of thinking more about–he has been indicted on federal extortion charges and faces up to 40 years in federal prison. Also, he wasn’t demanding money from local businesses (as I suggest in the podcast discussion), he was demanding a meal. Whatever else I have to say about his behavior, I do pretty much feel like the Justice Department has made the decision to charge the heck out of him in order to use him as an example. I guess I don’t know too much about the situation (my suspicion is that a lot of stuff isn’t really getting covered by the papers), but I’ve noticed that political activist groups, like BLM (and other similar local ones), are not nostalgic or petty, and when they get angry about someone getting arrested there’s probably a real (and strategic) reason behind it. The anger about Mr. Musa’s arrest has persisted, and a few other local activists have also been arrested, which is very suspicious in my opinion.

Jesse: I think that this is an excellent example of why we should spend more money on social services and less on police. Many Americans have been taught to believe that police protect us from crime, and that can absolutely be true, but that is not the main function of the police. As the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) points out, the verb “to police” comes from “Middle French, French policer to administer, govern, control (1461 in Middle French).” **Control** is the operative word in this definition. The noun “police” is best understood today as the OED’s definition 5a: “The civil force of a state responsible for maintaining public order and enforcing the law, including preventing and detecting crime.” We frequently assume that the most important words here are “preventing and detecting crime,” but one of the most important functions of the police has always been “maintaining public order and enforcing the law.” “Maintaining and enforcing” tends to lead directly to the final verb in the OED’s definition of “to police”–i.e., control.

The police are the civil arm of the state, and their main purpose is to control citizens who are seen as in need of “maintaining and enforcing.” This is why African Americans are stopped when driving “nice” (i.e., expensive) cars in “nice” (i.e., white) neighborhoods, or when entering their own houses (in “nice” neighborhoods). The goal is a surveillance state that controls citizens by watching them–i.e., policing them–and, most importantly, by ensuring that those citizens know that they are being policed and have no power to change the system because they lack knowledge of the system and how it works. Meanwhile, white citizens–and particularly white wealthy citizens–have intimate knowledge of the system’s inner workings because they are born into the institutional hierarchy, allowing them to get off with a warning or to receive sentences below the legal minimum for all sorts of crimes including rape–the same crime for which many innocent African American men have been lynched–because these (white) men supposedly have “bright futures.”

The more citizens are controlled, the more they rebel. Until we can solve homelessness and hunger, provide mental and physical health care to all who need it, and ****treat everyone with equal respect**** (instead of making some people feel that they are being watched their entire lives by a civil force just waiting to throw them in jail), we will not solve violent crime. More police do not make us safer. If everything looks like a nail to a hammer, police are similar–they only have the tools to look at people as “criminals” or “not criminals.” Police are not trained or equipped to do anything else. The more police you put into “violent neighborhoods” without social services, the more violence there will be. The more hammers you buy, the more nails you use.

Thanks to Michel Foucault for the theory on knowledge, power, and surveillance. Check out Discipline and Punish.

4/ By the way, if you’re interested in law enforcement spending as a percentage of city or county budget AND you live in Wisconsin, my running buddy Tamarine put together this super useful website.

5/ I have no idea why right around 10 minutes it sounds like Em is speaking from inside a paper bag. Crinkle, crinkle. Sorry about that.

6/ Far Side comic: Didn't Like Dances with Wolves Society

(All credit to the great Gary Larson.)

For the record, I (Em) am opposed to all films with the basic plot of “white man joins a foreign culture and becomes its most awesome member.”

Custard’s Last Stand was in Janesville, WI. They made really good frozen custard (I think custard is a Wisconsin thing? It’s like ice cream but creamier, because they add more egg yolk). And to be fair, General Custar was never portrayed by them as a hero in any sense. [Seems more like they were celebrating his death with delicious desert.–Jesse]

Jesse: The actual traditional (Lakota) name for the Battle of Little Bighorn is the Battle of Greasy Grass. (Little Bighorn is the river nearby.)

7/ Ledger drawings. I had never heard of this but it’s super cool.

Jesse: Here’s the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn) as recorded in Lakota ledger art by One Bull: Custer’s War, c. 1900, 39 x 69 inches (irregular), pigments, ink on muslin (Minneapolis Institute of Art)

For a photograph of One Bull (Henry Oscar One Bull/Tȟatȟáŋka Waŋžíla [Hunkpapa Lakota]) see here.

8/ Buffalo Calf Road Woman, also called Brave Woman, is credited with knocking Custer off his horse. Moving Robe Woman is credited with stabbing him. There were actually a lot of women warriors present at the battle.

9/ [18:25] The locals, by the way, do not pronounce it fon du lac.

Is “Mendota” a fake Indian name? Sort of. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, it was suggested by surveyor Frank Hudson around 1850ish, claiming it comes from the Dakota language, mde (lake) ota (great). He also suggested “Monona” for our other lake, claiming it meant “wild rice” in Potawatomi–of this one, the WHS adds,

The word Monona I have sought in a good many Indian vocabularies without success, yet I trust Mr. Hudson had reason to say that its import is beautiful

(James Davie Butler)
Later scholars have reason to doubt all of his etymologies. The names (and those of several of our other lakes, Wingra, Waubesa, and Kegonsa) were basically chosen because they sound Native American and were easier to pronounce than the actual Native names. The original Ho-Chunk name for the area was Dejope (sometimes romanized as Taychopera), meaning “Four Lakes.”

And as a palate cleanser, here’s Alice Cooper schooling us all about the source of the name Milwaukee. [Yes, for about a decade after the movie came out everyone repeated this speech constantly!–Jesse]

Various etymologies of the name Chicago.

10/ I mean, when you live in a world where Maxwell House sponsors Passover Haggadot, it seems plausible that Colombian coffee would sponsor a World’s Fair in Chicago. Maybe. Anyway, the country of Colombia, by the way, does take its name from Christopher Columbus–it was named by a Venezuelan revolutionary named Francisco de Miranda who had originally envisioned liberating all the Spanish New World colonies and creating an independent empire that would be named that. (How did things work out for him? Badly. Died in prison in Spain, buried in a mass grave there. So it goes.)

11/ The exhibition Em was thinking of is probably the Paris Colonial Exposition, which was held in 1931. Although there were a lot of similar exhibitions, for example the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, aka the Crystal Palace Exhibition, held in London in 1851, or the Japanese Village in Knightsbridge (also London) in 1885, whose denizens were involved with the creation of The Mikado.

Also I want to point out these cards that the Singer Sewing Machine company printed for the Colombian Exposition! They’re actually pretty interesting, in that often they depict people from around the world posed in their native costumes with sewing machines–sometimes they are sewing what look like native textiles, and sometimes not (e.g., Japan). Anyway in grad school I (Em) worked for a professor who was obsessed with these, so I did a bunch of research on them (all of Singer’s records are held at the Wisconsin State Historical Society). Some of them have pretty awful text (like one that implies that the aboriginals in India–meaning, like, Indian people–have no literature–WHAT?), but the artwork is often pretty interesting. Anyway, sewing machines are actually really an important part of women’s liberation!

Erik Larson wrote a book about the Chicago World’s Fair called The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, but I think it is mostly famous for the parts about H.H. Holmes.

The tribe that left was the Labrador Inuit.

Jesse: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition actually took place in 1893 (not 1892) because…you know, these things take time. Here are some pictures.

Also, Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peña created a performance piece in 1992 called The Couple in the Cage: Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West. The piece critiqued colonialism and the Columbian Exposition (which reinforced Columbus’s colonialism by displaying people as exhibits). Fusco and Gomez-Peña performed their piece around the world, particularly in museums and other locations linked to colonialism. Audiences/visitors were never explicitly told that it was a performance art piece, and many people apparently thought it was real. Fusco and Gomez-Peña performed at the Field Museum, and some people canceled their memberships (believing that the Field Museum was once again displaying human beings as exhibits). Being from Chicago, I remember the controversy incredibly well. Probably my first real introduction to performance art! Here’s the video that Fusco and Gomez-Peña made of their performance piece.

12/ Scott Joplin’s 1911 opera is called Treemonisha, and it actually sounds like a pretty interesting piece–Joplin was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer for it. For those with shorter attention spans, the overture is here, and for those with longer ones, here’s an entire production (runtime is 1:40).

Jesse: Treemonisha is a gorgeous opera–here’s a video of Houston Grand Opera’s full production.

13/ The Field Museum’s website is here.

Here is the Field Museum’s original announcement about the renovation of the American Hall (to open in 2021, hopefully). Here is the website for the new exhibit Apsáalooke Women and Warriors that was supposed to open in March 2020. Here is the exhibit announcement.

14/ Franz Boas. Somewhat weirdly, he died suddenly in the arms of Claude Levi-Strauss, another major anthropologist.

Zora Neale Hurston. He taught her in New York, by the way, not Chicago (she was a student at Barnard College, he was a professor at Columbia University, which at the time did not admit women). [Jesse: Hurston’s book Mules and Men is an extremely important ethnographic study (and really interesting read, obviously). Amazon link.

Em: Weirdly, a lot of fiction writers have degrees in anthropology, including Kurt Vonnegut.

15/ [32:xx] “When people go look in the Yucatan…” Meaning, probably, when anthropologists go and look… There’s a non-zero chance that for every news article announcing the finding of a new “lost” city, there’s a group of indigenous people going, “What do you mean, lost?”

16/ For those interested, you can click here to read about the Cu Chi tunnels. They have set up a few for visit by Westerners–meaning they made them wider for us. I remember very little of the visit beyond the centipedes, and also discovering that pitch black tunnels that may somewhere contain very large bugs will give me a panic attack. There are also a lot of short stories by Vietnam vets that are assigned ad nauseum in English classes that feature them. With no slight intended, if I never have to read “The Things They Carried” again I will be a happy revolutionary.

17/ If you’re interested in the history of the Mexica, Tenochtitlan, this is one of the videos I saw about it that gives an exciting view of how cool the city was.

For reference, Skara Brae is the Neolithic settlement in the Orkney islands Em was referring to. Built around 3180 BCE.

18/ Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492–1640. I won’t recap it here, but if you are interested in how the various powers perceived the worlds they came to, this website has a pretty decent summary. And of course, Eddie Izzard also reminds us of the importance of flags in claiming things.

Jesse: Planting a flag is purposefully phallic. Colonialism involves rape in both the metaphoric and very, very literal senses.

19/ From Ulysses, end of section 2:

—Mr Dedalus!
Running after me. No more letters, I hope.
—Just one moment.
—Yes, sir, Stephen said, turning back at the gate.
Mr Deasy halted, breathing hard and swallowing his breath.
—I just wanted to say, he said. Ireland, they say, has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No. And do you know why?
He frowned sternly on the bright air.
—Why, sir? Stephen asked, beginning to smile.
—Because she never let them in, Mr Deasy said solemnly.
A coughball of laughter leaped from his throat dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm. He turned back quickly, coughing, laughing, his lifted arms waving to the air.
—She never let them in, he cried again through his laughter as he stamped on gaitered feet over the gravel of the path. That’s why.

I rest my case.

20/ Cryptojews in New Mexico? (This is a minor but incredibly cool plot point that comes up in Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion (book 2 of the Baroque Cycle), IIRC.)

21/ In a lot of places that aren’t Canada/the US/Europe, racism still involves skin tone, with lighter skin tones being favored over darker ones–so racism does exist but as an echo of the way it exists in majority White countries. [Colorism is a huge issue everywhere, and we’ll probably talk about it on a future episode.–Jesse]

22/ Cahokia.

The interesting thing about the size of cities is that you have to work out ways to deal with things like waste removal as the population gets more dense, or else you will get a lot of disease. You have to figure out really good farming methods, because in general people in cities aren’t doing farming, so you need surplus calories for them. Big cities are complex cities.

Jesse: Images of the North American (Mississipian) copper plates I’m talking about vs an image of an Old English copper bird.

23/ I forgot to ask–would slaves have been counted in the 1790 census? (Em)

Jesse: Here’s the info: Essentially, enslaved people were counted as members of their owner’s household (but only statistically, not defined in any way by name, age, sex, or birthplace, which is why it’s so difficult for African Americans to trace their ancestry). The infamous Constitutional decree (Article I section 2) that enslaved persons count as 3/5ths of a person is specifically for taxation and representation (in the House of Representatives). These purposes (taxes and representation) are the real reason the Census exists, not to learn just for funsies how many people live in the USA. The point was to keep the South from benefiting (through tax revenue and representation) from a huge population of people who lived in the South but did not themselves benefit from tax revenue or representation. The problem is that even though egregious issues (like the 3/5ths rule) have been discarded, many of the compromises that were made between free states and slave states (and big states and little states) still cause immense harm and deny full representation to many people.

24/ Here are some various Colbert clips about eagles. Not really relevant but hilarious. [LOVE.–Jesse]

25/ Long-nosed god maskettes.

Jesse: See the copper bird comparison above in Note 22.

Here is the website for the brilliant, wonderful exhibit at the Cycladic Museum in Athens Picasso and Antiquity.

Em: Impressionists and ukiyo-e art.

Jesse: Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951) was a chemist who became incredibly wealthy and had a fundamental belief in a humanities education. The workers at his factory spent two hours a day discussing subjects like philosophy and aesthetics. Barnes viewed his art collection as educational, displaying it in groups he called “ensembles” that emphasized the influence of (for example) African art on the Modernist movement in European art.

Barnes was definitely not perfect, but the Barnes Foundation did some things that were extraordinary for an art museum at the time (and even today). In fact, most articles about the Barnes Foundation mainly (or even solely) discuss the European art in the collection. Christa Clarke’s 2015 book African Art in the Barnes Foundation: The Triumph of L’Art nègre and the Harlem Renaissance is one of the first to discuss the incredible importance of African art to Barnes’s collection and to his own philosophy of art. As this review states: “Aside from collecting African objects, Barnes instructed architect Paul Cret to implement African motifs into the plans for the original Barnes Foundation building in Merion, Pennsylvania. The entrance to the facility featured designs replicated from African masks and other sculptures in the collection, thus making a strong visual statement that African art has a place among other great art. It is noteworthy that Barnes chose to emphasize African decorative patterning over European examples in his collection. Once inside the building, Barnes specially arranged his collection into what he called “ensembles,” arranging disparate works of art in relationship to others to provoke formal connections for greater aesthetic appreciation. He displayed African and European artworks alongside each other to emphasize the relationship of modernist painting to African sculpture. In the collection’s current location in downtown Philadelphia, the artworks are displayed in Barnes’s original ensembles. However, the new building does not invoke explicit connections to African art like its predecessor, although a few visible references remain.”

The Barnes Foundation’s move to a new building (amidst lawsuits and such) is a conversation for another time. However, we applaud his desire to shift the way Americans thought about art, starting with the Foundation’s building (unlike most art museums that attempt to look like ancient Greek temples, thus whitewashing and appropriating ancient Greek culture for the West).

26/ Em: I remember having a discussion about art in college based on an article in the NYT Magazine, and I think the upshot was basically, “Things that are art are art because they’re in an art museum”–that is, that the things that can actually constitute art are now so weird and varied that it takes the legitimizing gaze of the art museum (well, probably the curator) to discern what is and isn’t art. Along with some snobbery about artist versus artisan, which I guess was maybe once upon a time a distinction that made sense, but now “artisan” refers to how people bake bread or make ice cream, the people formerly referred to as artisans are now makers of folk art, and artists usually don’t make art in the sense by which the word “art” is typically meant–like for example Judy Chicago sets colored smoke bombs in different landscapes, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped buildings in colorful cloth, and Ai Weiwei just raised $1.4 million for charity by selling surgical masks with a woodcut of a middle finger silk screened onto them. So WHO EVEN KNOWS is what I’m saying. Dada dada dada dada dada.

Okay, let me try this again now that I have had a night’s sleep. What is the difference between this quilt and this quilt? Answer: one is held by an art museum and one is held by a history museum.

Jesse: Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party can be seen in person at the Brooklyn Museum when it reopens and also here. Feminist art is fun.

Also, art and performance are both nebulous concepts in many ways, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unimportant. Not everything is Art (or Performance), but it’s important that we’re starting to realize that the supposedly legitimizing gaze of a museum is NOT necessary for something to be Art. Museums are–like many institutions–inherently bigoted, and it will be some time before that changes in any meaningful sense. The bigotry of such institutions not only keeps out certain artists but also certain audiences. Thus, we widen our definitions to include things that are more accessible to both artists and viewers, like graffiti and outdoor murals. Like cave paintings, these have always been art because they require talent, self-expression, an ability to create, and a desire to converse and/or critique. However, the very fact of their inclusivity probably reinforced the “vandalism” label that they so often received. Only now, when artists who were inspired by street artists (or who used to be street artists) are selling for very exclusive amounts of money has everyone decided that it’s art. (No, I’m not just talking about Banksy. Check out the links.)

27/ The Moche people of Peru–100–700 CE. Check out their art on that Wikipedia page–be forewarned not all of it is safe for work.

28/ Phallus tree.

Jesse: I just watched the National Theatre’s 2017 production of Amadeus (first performed in 1979), in which Peter Shaffer portrays Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as an astonishingly childish human being–someone who never matured emotionally past the age of 6, when kids repeat swear words and scatological phrases with glee and gusto because the words and phrases are “naughty.” Amadeus is a great play, and it’s very, very fictional. Nonetheless, watching it reminded me that the representation of Mozart is based on the modern (Puritanic) concept that “real” adults don’t enjoy scatological or sexual humor and that Mozart’s enjoyment of same (seen here) is somehow the result of a stunted emotional maturity instead of excellent evidence that Mozart had an awesome sense of humor and probably would have enjoyed movies like Bridesmaids or TV shows like South Park (or, you know, any one of a million other movies and TV shows with similar sensibilities). Apparently his whole family wrote to each other in this vein, and his wife (Constanze Weber) thought the letters were extremely witty. (The Wikipedia article linked above includes a quote from Hermann Abert’s book W.A.Mozart (translated by Stewart Spencer): “Although in dubious taste, the letters to his cousin are full of wit and deserve mentioning, although they cannot of course be published in their entirety.

29/ Jesse: Neanderthals may also have marked stones in purposeful (possibly symbolic or artistic) ways.

30/ Note that when Jesse starts talking about the four-character dance drama (around 1:10:10), she means Sor Juana’s Loa, i.e., the prologue, not the full play that came after the Loa (i.e., The Auto Sacramental of the Divine Narcissus).

Jesse: Yes, we’ll talk more about both of these in our Decolonizing Medieval Theatre discussion! The Mayan K’iche’ dance drama is the Rabinal Achi. Here’s a fun UNESCO heritage video. Here is Dennis Tedlock’s book about Rabinal Achi (including a translation). Also, the Wikipedia article.

This excellent collection includes a translation of both Rabinal Achi and Sor Juana de la Cruz’s Loa for the Divine Narcissus (the four-character dance drama). [Quick note that the translation of Rabinal Achi in this collection has been Christianized, so the two warrior characters known as “Thirteen Yellow Jaguars” and “Thirteen Yellow Eagles” have become “Twelve Yellow Jaguars” and “Twelve Yellow Eagles” instead (for example). In addition, the translation of this play ends with the defeated warrior being executed via sacrifice, with his chest opened on a sacrificial stone, even though the performance tradition simply executes him via beheading. Presumably this death was too European (while the “13” in the warriors’ names was too pagan). Can’t win for losing. Anyway, Tedlock has some great things to say about this in his book.]

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648–1695) was of Spanish descent but was born, lived, and died in Mexico Despite her position as a colonizer, she was also an educated woman in a society that did not necessarily value educated women (or any women). She seems to have recognized the similarities between her own position and that of the colonial subjugation of the Aztecs, and she knew Nahuatl well enough to incorporate it into some of her work.

Cruz’s Loa for the Auto Sacramental of the Divine Narcissus (a Loa is essentially a prologue) is a fascinating work. Cruz constructs the Loa in many ways as an Aztec dance drama melded with a European morality play, theatrically representing her premise that Catholicism was syncretically aligned with Aztec religion.

As promised, we will discuss both Cruz’s Loa and the K’iche’ Rabinal Achi further in a future episode.

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 modern American lives as well as the Middle Ages? This episode has a lot of the decolonization theory, and coming episodes will have a lot more of the practice part, but this episode does have some fun discussions of pulling down statues, weird characters in Thomas Pynchon novels, non-English versions of Shakespearean plays, and various forms of Orientalism in fine art, like the odalisque and the picturesque.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

Continue reading “Episode 11: Decolonization: Theory and Practice”

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

Continue reading “Episode 10: Icons and Iconography”

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 initially burned as a heretic, and one of whom was treated, ultimately, as a saint rather than a demoniac.

Annotations, Corrections, and Notes

1/ In fact, George Floyd was murdered on May 25th, so even though on the 31st it felt like the protests had been going on for weeks already, it was only one week, as noted, when we recorded this episode. Viva la revolution!

2/ Caroline Walker Bynum and Paul Freedman, Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999 (link). [Quote from page 1.–Jesse]

3/ Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. The miniseries (available on Prime) is extremely charming.

Jesse: For more on Margery Kempe, see episode 6, note 29; episode 7, note 23; and episode 8, note 4. For apophatic mysticism, see episode 7, notes 12 and 15 (and the whole section on Marguerite Porete.)

4/ Jesse: [The millennium] has to mark something. What does it mark?
Em: Bigger fines at Blockbuster video.

For our younger listeners, during the “Y2K Crisis,” people were worried that when the year turned to “2000,” computers would read it as “00” and assume it was 1900, thereby somehow messing up a bunch of things. This was solved by people updating computers to read a date stamp with a four-digit year instead of a two-digit one, and nothing happened, except in a few cases overdue videos were found to have absurd fees (which were then waived).

For our even younger listeners, Blockbuster Video was a place you could go to if you wanted to rent video cassettes and DVDs in the days before internet-based streaming services.

The last functioning Blockbuster Video is in Bend, OR.

5/ Back in the late 90s/early 2000s there was a series of movies about Americans fighting the end of the world: Independence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Core are just a few of the films in this genre. Will Smith does actually literally punch an alien in the face in Independence Day. [I love Will Smith, and I love this scene (relevant moment at 0:46.)–Jesse]

Jesse: Monster movies can signify many things, but Godzilla’s apocalyptic sensibility is a direct response to nuclear war, which had made the end of the world suddenly appear to be an achievable goal for humanity. Specifically, Godzilla is a response to the US dropping two atomic bombs on Japan and causing a humanitarian catastrophe in a manner not previously seen in global history. So while the movie contains the message that humanity has caused its own destruction (by awakening Godzilla), there’s also the stark reminder that only the US has ever dropped a nuclear bomb on a country, and that country was Japan.

6/ Supernova records: Supernova SN 185, which appeared in 185 CE, was the earliest supernova to make it into human records, although some researchers have suggested that HB9, which happened around 4600 BCE, may have been captured in rock carvings in Kashmir, India.

7/ Eschatology: The study of the end of the world. [Quote from Bynum and Freedman, page 3.–Jesse]

Jesse: For an example of Christ at the Last Judgment in a rainbow nimbus, see Giotto’s Last Judgment in the Scrovegni or Arena Chapel. The Doomsday pageant from the Middle English York Cycle play was produced by the Mercers, and a very famous document (the Mercers’ Indenture) from 1433 details all the items used in the pageant, including “A cloude & ij peces of rainbow of tymber” or “a cloud and two pieces of rainbow made of timber.” Presumably, the cloud and rainbow covered the “brandreth of Iren” (or iron) that Jesus sat on when he was lowered from and lifted back up to heaven at the beginning and end of the pageant. The document is reprinted in the Records of Early English Drama (or REED) York, volume 1, pages 55–56.

8/ The poem is “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. The play is A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry.

Jesse: Lorraine Hansberry’s father case, Hansberry vs. Lee, deals specifically with restrictive covenants.

Harlem by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Em: Redlining was a relatively common practice for quite a long time–technically, the term is used for any systematic denial of services to any group(s) of people. So if a bank were giving loans to White people with lower incomes but denying loans to Black people with the same or higher incomes, that is redlining. But so would be the police or fire department refusing to go to certain neighborhoods. The term originated from a time when banks drew on actual, paper maps to mark areas that were considered good and bad for investment–red lines meant risky area, do not invest here. In response, communities would create racial covenants in their housing deeds that would be used to keep non-White and Jewish people out of certain areas, thus creating the ethnicly/racially segregated neighborhoods we often associate with big cities without any need for the city’s government to do anything. In some places (like in nearby Monona, WI), there are some neighborhoods that still carry covenants within their paperwork stating to whom houses may or may not be sold–although they are unenforceable now, they can be extremely difficult to remove from deeds and such, so they remain as an unsavory reminder of our recent past. This article on racial covenants and redlining has a good overview. Covenants were declared illegal by the Supreme Court in 1948, but they persisted a while longer before falling into disuse. Redlining and other forms of housing discrimination have sadly persisted a lot longer.

The Root video on redlining.

Adam Ruins Everything video on redlining.

9/Jesse: Dante’s Inferno, Canto 19–the Simoniacs! For more on simony see Wikipedia. When I say “good pope” or “bad pope,” I am voicing Dante’s opinion, not my own.

Italian unification was in 1861. Papal infallibility is established in 1869–70. Vatican City is established as a modern independent city state in 1929.

For more on all this, see below, notes 11 and 12.

10/ Odysseus (aka Ulysses) is in the eighth ring of the eighth circle, along with Diomedes, reserved for counselors of fraud–because of all his schemes used to win the Trojan War. Dante would have been referring to the version of the Trojan War recounted in The Aeneid, so of course he doesn’t see Odysseus as one of the good guys. [To be fair, Homer wrote around 750 BCE. Once we get to 5th century Athens–i.e., democratic Athens during the 400s BCE, the century of the Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides–Odysseus is no longer a hero. The classical Greek plays depict Odysseus as Dante depicts him, because a man who can scheme and convince anyone to do anything by verbally manipulating them is obviously a danger to a democracy.–Jesse] [Em: I am weirdly disappointed to know this. Odysseus forever.]

11/ We talked a little about the pope losing the papal states in the notes from episode 8 (note 10). It was around 1870. The era in which the pope was basically a prisoner in the Vatican is called the Savoyard era and it stretches from 1870–1929. See also the first two minutes of this video.

12/ Specifically, the doctrine of papal infallibility was proclaimed in 1870 (first Vatican council), and it states the pope cannot “err or teach error when he speaks on matters of faith and morals ex cathedra” (source). Meaning that if you ask him what the weather is going to be and he tells you he thinks it will rain and then it doesn’t rain, there’s not considered to be a contradiction. However, per that same NYT article, it seems as though if he doesn’t declare that he’s speaking infallibly, it doesn’t necessarily count as infallible–the doctrine doesn’t mean all teachings the pope gives are assumed to be infallible ex post facto.

13/ Pope Nicholas III apparently got the job of pope through family connections (some connections!) and was never a priest until that point (although he was a cardinal earlier? Catholicism is weird).

14/ The next evil pope, per Dante, was Boniface VIII. Nicholas also predicts another evil pope, Clement V.

15/ New question: Who would we ADD to Dante’s Hell? You can only choose one. Clearly Stephen Miller belongs in the 8th circle / 8th ring. (Okay I will save it for the “Em Is Angry about Politics” podcast.)

The modern circle of Hell that can replace the sodomites is people who call meetings for things that could have been an email. (Clearly this is a form of pride? But a specific one that deserves mention.)

16/ “Our grandfather was taught to baptize kids…” Our grandfather was a cardiologist, so if he was taught to do baptisms it must have been part of the standard medical curriculum, because I don’t think he spent too much time doing deliveries. [All doctors were theoretically supposed to be able to reassure a parent that their child had been baptized in the case of a stillbirth. I don’t know if he *really* knew what to say, and I imagine that once Vatican II took hold it was no longer an issue. He did have a wonderful story about safely delivering a healthy baby in a car–just outside the hospital, I think–as a med student. When he proudly recounted the tale to one of his fellow residents, the guy just wanted to know what kind of car it had been.–Jesse]

17/ Michael Camille, “The Pose of the Queer: Dante’s Gaze, Brunetto Latini’s Body,” in Queering the Middle Ages, Glenn Burger and Steven F. Kruger, eds. University of Minnesota Press, 2001. (Link). (PS If you buy and read this book, please leave it a nicer review than the current one that is up there on Amazon, which is crummy. Like dude, why did you do that.) This is the illustration:

Borrowed from Wikipedia, but it's public domain.
Dante and Virgil meet the Sodomites. From Dante’s “Divina Commedia”, Cantica del Inferno. Ms.597/1424,folio 113.Italian,first half 14th.

As a side note, Brunetto Latini was a respected politician and philosopher who, among other things, was married (he had a daughter). A lot of the paper can be read here.

Jesse: Camille’s essay is great! Many gay and bisexual people throughout history have been married, of course, specifically to have children to carry on the family name and/or fortune, etc. Latini seems to have written at least one love poem to a man (one poem has been discovered so far), possibly to Bondie Dietaiuti. It’s important to note that Dante and Latini were friends, and they’re glad to see each other in this scene. It’s truly fascinating, because Dante draws a brilliant portrait of his former mentor Latini. Dante clearly admires and respects him, using the formal you/voi form that Dante presumably used in real life when Latini was alive. The scene is extremely moving, and it’s tempting to think that Dante treats Latini this way because homosexuality is a love-based sin. Presumably this is not how Dante viewed it when he wrote the Inferno, since he makes homosexuality a Seventh Circle-level sin (a sin of violence). Interestingly, Dante may have changed his mind about homosexuality by the time he wrote Purgatory, where homosexuality is a sin of incontinence (lust), the same as heterosexual sinners who sinned because of lust. So–maybe what we see here is Dante’s indecision on the sin of homosexuality. At any rate, Latini certainly isn’t ashamed (even though he’s in the Seventh Circle, which is fairly far in), and he and Dante have a wonderful conversation.

18/ Agnes Nutter explodes in episode 2 of the Good Omens miniseries.

19/ Kevin Smith, dir., Dogma. [Morgan Freeman has frequently played God, but that doesn’t manifest in possession, just in an awesome portrayal of God.–Jesse]

20/ Feast of Corpus Christi: See episode 6, notes 14 and 16 (and accompanying audio, of course).

21/ Jesse: For more on Dyan Eliot, Proving Woman, see episode 6, note 11. This comparison on testing people like gold is from page 282 (and check out Fallen Bodies as well). Latin probare (to prove). A probatio is a proof (the test itself or the evidence).

22/ [35:40] “The way you test people… is compared to the same test…that you gave a gold coin to prove that it is real.” For a minute I legit thought Jesse was going to say you bite the person making the claim (you bite a gold coin to look for teeth marks, which indicate gold + lead, a softer metal, and therefore a forged coin). But this is a slightly different type of test. (I know that there was at least one neurologist who wrote about it, and I think it was Harold Klawans in Toscanini’s Fumble, but it has been so long since I read it that I am not altogether sure.)

Jesse: Ha! Biting might work too. (Does she feel it? If not, the possession might be divine.)

23/ Jean Gerson: See episode 6, notes 25, 27, and 33 and also episode 8 (he’s mentioned in the audio accompanying note 9) because he keeps coming up for some reason.

Jesse: To find these Gerson’s “On distinguishing true from false revelations” (1401) in English translation, see McGuire’s Paulist press collection Jean Gerson: Early Works. Gerson compares testing the coin of spiritual revelation to testing gold on page 338. For more on Gerson’s texts mentioned here, see Elliott’s Proving Woman, 283–284. See Elliott’s introduction for this quote: “Ultimately, the distance between saint and heretic practically disappeared” (6).

An inquisitio is a seeking, searching, examining, inquiring.

24/ University of Paris, aka the Sorbonne: originally emerged in 1150 in association with the cathedral school of Notre Dame de Paris, it was officially chartered by King Philip II in 1200 and recognized by Pope Innocent III in 1215. It was the second oldest university in Europe (the University of Bologna being the oldest; although Oxford claims to be older) and, following a suppression during the French Revolution, was reestablished by Napoleon as the University of France in 1806 and remained open continuously until it was divided into thirteen autonomous universities in 1970. So…is it the same university today that opened in 1150? This is a Ship of Theseus question.

Jesse: a scholastic disputatio is an arguing, reasoning, or debate. As Dyan Elliott notes in Proving Woman, “[i]n the disputatio, a scholar first isolates an area of investigation in the form of a proposition, which is presented as a quaestio. The quaestio is then interrogated so that two opposing sides emerge,” one for the proposition and one against it (234, 236). The disputatio is also closely related to the inquisitio or inquisitional procedure. An inquisitio is an inquiry into heresy in which the inquisitor often “combines the roles of prosecutor and judge” (234).

Elliott comments that “the scholastic disputatio can be regarded as but another version of the inquisitio,” an academic variation in which “the verdict [is] preordained, the same side always wins” (234). This preordained ending is obviously dangerous, and helps explain why Gerson could not effectively defend Joan of Arc.

25/ Famously, Christopher Hitchens served as an advocat diaboli for Mother Theresa’s sainthood inquisition. Spoiler alert–she was still sainted. [Yes, but we don’t canonize people the way we used to, and it’s not just because of modern skepticism—a lot of it is based on medieval sKepticism (and sexism).–Jesse]

26/ Please at this juncture check out “The Inquisition,” from History of the World, Part I. Thank you (note, this is not 100% G rated, although you could probably show it on network TV). Additionally, nobody expects…the Spanish Inquisition.

27/ Joan of Arc (1412-May 30, 1431). Podcast recorded 589 years one day later. [Yay! She’s still awesome.–Jesse]

28/ Concerning the burning of witches.

Jesse: Quick language note–Henry IV was the first English king after the Norman Conquest to speak English as his first language. During the reign of Richard II (whom Henry IV deposed in 1399 and murdered in 1400), English had become an important literary language (see Chaucer, for example).

29/ Jesse: Christina the Astonishing or Mirabilis (1150-1224) from Sint Truiden (St Trond in French). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christina_the_Astonishing

Barbara Newman “Possessed by the Spirit: Devout Women, Demoniacs, and the Apostolic Life in the Thirteenth Century” Speculum Vol. 73, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 733–770.

WorldCat link to the translation of Thomas of Cantimpré’s Life of Christina the Astonishing.

Thomas of Cantimpré (1201–1272) was a Dominican who wrote a number of Lives of holy women.

30/ Richard Kieckhefer, another Northwestern scholar. Interestingly (for those of us who are devoted readers of fiction, anyway), there’s a fair amount about the Inquisition in The Name of the Rose without really discussing that the Inquisition was not the organized machine we usually think of (whose main weapons are fear, surprise, and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope–).
Jesse: See Kieckhefer’s “The Office of Inquisition and Medieval Heresy: The Transition from Personal to Institutional Jurisdiction,” in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 46.1 (Jan 1995), pp. 36–61.

Conrad of Marburg (1180–1233)

Elizabeth of Hungary (1207–1231)

Pope Benedict XII (Jacques Fornier) (1285–1342)

31/ If I recall correctly, the records of the torture/questioning of the main character (Menocchio) in The Cheese and the Worms were quite detailed. But that’s a tale for another day.

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 them.

Notes and Annotations

1/ Minne/affective piety: see episode 7, note 1.

2/ Hildegard: see episode 6, notes 17 and 23.

Marguerite Porete: see episode 7, notes 15 and 17.

3/ Jesse: Julian of Norwich: see episode 5, note 3 and episode 7, note 22. Jesus tells Julian that “Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well” and “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me” (225, 233). This translation is from the Paulist Press translation of Julian’s Showings, translated by Colledge and Walsh. The original is in the Watson and Jenkins edition, pp. 209, 223.

4/ Jesse: Margery Kemp: see episode 6, note 29 and episode 7, note 23. Margery Kempe wrote one of the first (if not the first) autobiographies in English: The Book of Margery Kemp. Also see the British Library page. I recommend the Norton Critical translation by Lynn Staley, which I’m quoting in this episode (p. 117). The original is edited by Barry Windeatt (p. 303 for the quotes in this episode).

5/ Dante: Writer, failed politician, egoist. [“Failed politician” is a little unfair–he’s probably a better person for having been on the side that got exiled. I think he’d agree though–and with “egoist” too. –Jesse]

7/ For the terminally curious, here is the D&D Chick tract. I like that this comic includes two young women in the D&D group and…apparently the DM is some older woman? Anyway, it’s extremely unrealistic that the DM would just kill off a character like that. It’s very rude. Serious D&D players can hang onto their characters for years, and killing off a character permanently is a pretty intense situation. Also I have never been invited to join a coven devoted to ANY deity after participating in D&D, which honestly is a little disappointing.

Interesting and relevant side story, I’ve also been involved in the creation of a D&D adventure that started in limbo and worked its way through Dante’s Inferno. [So awesome! I want in on that adventure.–Jesse]

Jesse: In Medieval Crossover, Barbara Newman points out that “for us, the secular is the normative, unmarked default category, while the sacred is the marked, asymmetrical Other. In the Middle Ages it was the reverse” (viii). She goes on to comment that “the secular had to establish a niche” within the sacred paradigm that framed medieval society (viii). Barbara Newman, Medieval Crossover: Reading the Secular against the Sacred (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013)

8/ I think Jesse had read the Hellboy pancakes comic because I bought the collection that included it while I was staying with her in Manhattan one weekend, and true to form she read the whole thing before I flew out. [Yes that’s right!! I actually hadn’t read that one before, probably because it’s not based on . . . uh . . . myth/folklore. Now I own the complete Hellboy in nice editions, and I have a small figurine of young Hellboy with his pancakes. The figurine is marooned in my office on campus, and I can’t get back in the building without special arrangements because of quarantine, which is why I can’t include a picture of it sitting on my desk. When it comes to Hellboy, the Mignola illustrated ones are the best, but they’re all amazing, and the stand-alone short stories are all phenomenal. Mignola spoke at VCU last year, and it was magical.–Jesse]

9/ Jesse: Here is the Isaac Bashevis Singer book, The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah (not the miracle of light, oops–it’s been a while!).

Jean Gerson: see episode 6, notes 25 and 27 and 33.

John Ciardi, The Inferno. Here is the collected translation.

For more on the famous inscription over the gate of Hell (and the complete translation and original text) see episode 7, note 25.

10/ [27:15] “Some [popes] . . . are much more bent on conquest and territory.” For those unfamiliar with the history of the Catholic Church, during this period the Pope had control not just of tiny Vatican City, but also a much larger swath of territory called the Papal States. This YouTube video is a good explanation of the origins of Vatican City.

11/ Interestingly (or not), Guelph is now the name of a suburb of Toronto.

12/ Purgatory, canto 6. I had no idea that there was ANY basis in reality of Romeo and Juliet. [The Montecchi and the Cappelletti–known to us as the Montagues and the Capulets–were apparently two factions in the political feuding of time.–Jesse]

13/ Sleeping and mortality: See episode 3, note 27.

Jesse: The beasts are a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf (taken from Jeremiah 5:6). They symbolize (probably but not necessarily in this order) malice and fraud, violence and ambition, and incontinence (i.e., lack of self-restraint–sins like avarice, gluttony, and lust).

14/ On the dark lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets: As the local nerd, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention there’s an episode of Doctor Who (new series) in which it’s implied that the Doctor’s companion Martha Jones is the dark lady.

15/ Re names: is this related to the choice of “Beatrice” as a character in Much Ado About Nothing? [Probably! It becomes a famous Italian name because of Dante.–Jesse]

16/ “We know nothing about what Dante’s marriage was like . . . they had kids.” Crucially, they had kids before he started writing Inferno. Also, interestingly, his daughter took the name “Sister Beatrice” when she became a nun. [Yes, which I think is a positive sign that means Dante was a good dad?–Jesse]

Jesse: We’ll have an episode on the vernacular at some point, but in the meantime check out episode 4 note 16 for St Francis’s vernacular poetry.

17/ Jesse: Not the Georgics! The moment occurs in Virgil’s Eclogues (specifically Eclogue 4). Here is the Wikipedia page about it!

18/ List of trips to the underworld: see episode 3, note 32 (and corresponding discussion in episode).

Jesse: Here’s Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld (Sumerian text recorded c. 1750 BCE).

I should have said that Virgil was buried in Naples. His tomb is still there, but his remains seem to have disappeared. Dante is buried in Ravenna. He’s never left, but he’s had a hectic afterlife (mostly to prevent stealing him–no wonder Virgil disappeared!). Check it out!

19/ [41:24ish] Elijah is carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot in 2 Kings 2:11. And at the end of that chapter, Elisha commands two bears to tear apart a bunch of kids who make fun of him for being bald. So. Interesting section of the bible overall, that. [Jews frequently believe that Elijah bodily entered heaven–still alive–but Christians frequently do not, because of the importance that Jesus was first and that Mary is the only other so assumed into Heaven. By this reasoning, Elijah was carried away but not directly into heaven. Elijah is worthy of a whole episode, so I kind of hurried on by him. Sorry Elijah!–Jesse]

Jesse: Belief in Mary’s Assumption arises fairly early in the Middle Ages but isn’t officially celebrated until the 8th century and isn’t dogmatically defined until 1950 (by Pope Pius XII). Also see The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption by Stephen Shoemaker.

20/ River Lethe. There’s also apparently a river in Alaska called the Lethe.

21/ Jesse: Here’s a great series of Dante maps. Here is the site’s direct link to all three of Dante’s worlds combined. Notice that half the world is land and half (where Mount Purgatory is) is covered in water. Dante takes this from classical mythology, which at least as far back as Homer viewed the world as surrounded by ocean.

The mystic or celestial rose (like rose windows in a cathedral) is the final level of Paradise before God. The flowering rose is a symbol of divine love and light, while the tiered petals reflect the hierarchies of heaven. See this link.

More Dante maps.

22/ Saturn is the outermost planet that was known at the time; Uranus had been observed possibly as far back as 128 BCE but wasn’t identified as a planet until 1781.

23/ “They thought the stars were fixed . . . in an orbit, like the planets.” Ted Chiang also wrote a short story about this: “Omphalos,” from Exhalation. [Clarification–this all works a lot like electron shells, except that the Middle Ages didn’t know about electrons. The Middle Ages envisioned the universe as a nesting doll, but with spheres. The Earth is in the center, and it is enclosed by numerous (increasingly large) spheres. The planets were thought to be able to move in their individual spheres like electrons in an electron shell, but the stars were all thought to be fixed in one single sphere that moved as a whole (like sparkles on a twirling Christmas ornament). It’s easy to demonstrate and draw but hard to explain in words!–Jesse]

24/ Jesse: Catherine of Cleves (1417–1476) is most famous for her Book of Hours (from Utrecht, ca. 1440). Books of Hours were personal prayer books (frequently divided by days of the week) and medieval bestsellers. Catherine’s Book of Hours was illuminated by one of the greatest Dutch masters of the time, known to us only as the Master of Catherine of Cleves (active ca. 1435–60). Here is the Morgan Library’s homepage on the book.

Monday was devoted to the Hours of the Dead (their pains supposedly ceased on Sunday but were renewed on Monday). The opening page has a man dying (with a lot of drama around him!), and there are souls in the mouth of Purgatory on the page opposite him (because he hopes to go to Purgatory). Yes, this is technically a “Purgatorymouth” not a Hellmouth, but hey. Check out the full description and see the image here.

Next up, two more images from the Monday Hours of the Dead: an angel feeding the souls in the Purgatorymouth (a bit of hope brought to these souls presumably due to the person praying these Hours on their behalf), and finally an angel leading them out of the Purgatorymouth (again, possibly due to the person who is so tearfully and sincerely praying the Hours on their behalf).

This AMAZING triple Hellmouth (Do you see the mouth in the red of the middle mouth?) is from the Office of the Dead, which was prayed to free friends and relatives from Purgatory. That being said, this image of Hell was a reminder of what happened when people went beyond redemption. The Office of the Dead does them no good.

Michalangelo’s Last Judgment (1536–1541).

Giotto’s Last Judgment in the Scrovegni or Arena Chapel (c.1305).

25/ I think David Koch also has a fountain in front of the Met. Super weird; really threw me the first time I was in NYC.

26/ Chester Mystery Plays

Chester Harrowing (original text)

27/ N-Town Plays

N-Town Harrowing (Middle English text: part 1; part 2)

28/ Gehenna

29/ Ultramarine blue: Seriously, look at the chapel (see note 24 above). It is gorgeous. But this is like in modern terms putting gold or platinum on every surface of your private jet. Ultramarine blue is made from lapis lazuli, which was only mined in one area in Afghanistan.

Jesse: Chartres blue is the equivalent for stained glass windows. There’s a myth that we don’t know how to make it anymore, but really it’s just that we can’t necessarily recreate it exactly the way the medieval glassmakers made it (or, more specifically, we can’t be sure that we’re recreating it the same way they did–medieval recipes and instructions can be difficult to follow). Check out the Virgin window (the Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere)!

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 these questions, and then dive into Dante’s vision of Hell in The Inferno.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Minne: love personified. [Minne is also German/Germanic and is part of the medieval courtly love tradition (“Lady Love”). The women in this episode frequently make use of the conventions of courtly love–for example, portraying Christ as a knight. However, Minne also extends far, far beyond courtly love in the philosophies of affective piety described in this episode. Minne becomes a pillar of these women’s philosophies, and consequently it takes more than one episode to describe Minne fully. But we tried to provide a start! I specify Dutch here because of Hadewijch, who wrote in Middle Dutch.–Jesse]

2/ Hadewijch of Brabent or Antwerp. If you’re really interested in more on her philosophy, check out episode 237 of the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast.

Jesse: Hadewijch lived in the first half of the thirteenth century presumably (based on her writings in the Brabant region). Her Wikipedia article is here. For more on Hadewijch and Minne, also see McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism, pp. 199–222.

3/ [5:55] For reference, the printing press was invented in the West around 1440. (It was invented in China about 900 years earlier, in 593.)

4/ Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms. We should definitely talk about this as soon as we finish this series on mysticism and Hell. Also, this was one of my grad school readings, thanks.–Em

5/ We talk a bit in this episode and in several others about the change from writing in Latin to writing in “the Vernacular”–whatever the local language was. Dante and Chaucer are two early examples in their respective languages, but I’m not certain exactly when it became a “thing.” Certainly I think it must have started as education moved out of monasteries and into universities in the 12th century. [This seems like part of a future episode! I love the question of the vernacular. Manuscripts, writing, and illumination might be a future episode as well.–Jesse]

Booker T. Washington is an example of someone who taught himself to read English.

6/ The Crusader Bible in our site header is actually in Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian (Persian written in Hebrew characters). See the Citations tab for links to more info on it!

7/ Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)–see Episode 6 beginning around 34:00 and notes 17 and 23.

8/ Jesse: Poem 16 (this is a short excerpt, the full poem is pp. 168–171) in Hadewijch: The Complete Works, introduced and translated by Mother Columba Hart O.S.B. This is part of a series I mention frequently, The Classics of Western Spirituality, published by Paulist Press.

9/ Arma Christi: Episode 5, note 24.

10/ Phaedrus: I remember it as one of the more interesting of the Platonic dialogues, primarily because the main character in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance refers to himself as “Phaedrus,” and also because Socrates really seems to be low-key trying to seduce the guy he’s interviewing.

Symposium: Probably the second-most famous of Plato’s dialogues (The Republic is the most famous). Here is Neal Patrick Harris singing the song “Origin of Love,” which is the story Jesse is referring to. (Wikipedia describes John Cameron Mitchell as “deeply Roman Catholic,” so there’s a chance he knew about Hadewijch. He’s also a former member of the Northwestern Theatre Mafia.)

Gnosis: Knowledge. See also Gnosticism. The character of Tommy Gnosis in Hedwig is very purposefully named.

11/ South Park: I believe this is the episode under discussion. [Yes!! Say what you will, South Park can be brilliant. This episode really illustrates the “unpayable debt” quite well. Also, it’s Kyle (the Jewish character) who buys the unlimited credit card of course, NOT Stan. Kyle essentially lives out a parallel of the Passion throughout the episode. Cartman is obviously Judas.–Jesse]

12/ Apophatic mysticism: Here’s the Wikipedia article, but really you should check out the books on Marguerite Porete. See note 15 below.–Jesse

13/ Ted Chiang, “Hell Is the Absence of God,” in Your Life and Others, Tor, 2002. It feels like Chiang has written stories about a lot of what we talk about.

14/ Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit. I don’t have a preferred translation or anything, but here’s the Wikipedia page for a summary.

15/ Marguerite Porete: History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps did an episode on her, too. Interesting fact, from the 12th century on, Middle Ages glass mirrors would have been made by blowing a sphere of glass, flattening it, and then cutting it to the desired shape and backing it with steel or silver. Prior to that, mirrors were usually just polished metal (and probably after that, too–glass mirrors were very expensive).

Jesse: Marguerite Porete (d. 1 June 1310). Here is her Wikipedia page. Aside from Porete’s own book The Mirror of Simple Souls, also see McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism, pp. 244–265; Sean Field, The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor; Amy Hollywood, The Soul as Virgin Wife; and John van Engen “Marguerite (Porete) of Hainault and the Medieval Low Countries” in Marguerite Porete et le Miroir des Simples Ames: Perspectives Historiques, Philosophiques et Littéraires, edited by Sean L. Field, Robert E. Lerner, and Sylvain Piron, (Vrin: Paris, 2013), pp. 25–68.

16/ Meister Eckhart. As I mentioned above, universities really kicked off in the late 12th/early 13th centuries, and Meister Eckhart, who studied at both the universities in Cologne and in Paris, was a beneficiary of these, earning a Master of Theology in Paris in 1302.

Jesse: Meister Eckhart c.1260–c.1328). John of Ruusbroec (1293/94–1381).

17/ [31:20] “…you could match up specific passages with the trial transcripts…” The Inquisition kept very good records.

Jesse: In 1946, Romana Guarnieri identified Marguerite Porete as the previously unnamed beguine author of the Mirror. This dovetails nicely with Episode 6 note 29 on Hope Emily Allen’s identification of Margery Kempe’s Book. There was work done on the Mirror prior to 1946 (in the early 20th century) as the book of an unknown mystic, and this work was also done by excellent female scholars, Evelyn Underhill and Clare Kirchberger (although they attributed the work to a male author, probably based on the fact that the translator of the Middle English manuscript refers to the author as “he”). Women recognizing and writing about women seems like a good topic for the future. (Also, it’s important!)

Guarnieri found a Latin text of the Mirror in the Vatican, thereby proving that all the copies of the condemned text had not been destroyed despite the fact that they were supposed to have been destroyed (along with the condemned Porete herself). Instead, the Mirror exists in multiple translations–“no fewer than six versions in four languages with thirteen manuscripts, making it among the more widely disseminated of the vernacular mystical texts of the Middle Ages” (McGinn, Flowering, p. 246). The languages are Middle English, Latin, Middle French, and Medieval Italian. The original Old French does not seem to have survived (or just hasn’t been discovered yet!).

Guarnieri “based her claim [of Porete’s authorship] on the near identity between the three condemned passages cited in the trial documents and the chronicle of Nangis and portions of the Mirror” (Hollywood, Acute Melancholia and Other Essays, p. 137).

Guarnieri published her discovery in “Lo Specchio delle anime semplici e Margherita Poirette,” in L’Osservatore Romano, 16 June 1946. It’s reprinted in Guarnieri, “Il movimento del Libero Spirito,” Archivio Italiano per la storia della pietà, Vol. 4 (1965), pp. 661–63. For more on Marguerite Porete as the author of the Mirror, see Sean Field, Robert Lerner, and Sylvain Piron “A return to the evidence for Marguerite Porete’s authorship of the Mirror of Simple Souls” in Journal of Medieval History, 43.2 (March 2017), pp. 153–173.

18/ Jesse: Council of Vienne (1311–12). I’m quoting p. viii from the Foreword by Kent Emery, Jr. of the Colledge, Marler, Grant translation published by University of Notre Dame Press.

McGinn, Flowering, chapter 5! The specific page numbers are cited above a lot.

19/ In the intervening time, it seems both Eckhart and Porete have been rehabilitated with the Church–or at least, The Mirror of Simple Souls was published by Burns Oates and Washbourne, LTD (publisher to the Holy See) with nihil obstat (meaning “nothing objectionable”) and imprimatur (meaning it was authorized by the Church).

20/ Julian of Norwich. See episode 5 note 3 and below note 22.

21/ [43:00] It has often been observed, mostly by writers of children’s stories, that children have a remarkable ability to accept punishment to bad people as appropriate and not seem especially frightened by it. However, there are plenty of adults today with traumatic memories of watching when Bambi’s mom gets shot or the evil queen comes after Snow White who serve as evidence that a lot of what kids are responding/not responding to is the presentation rather than (exclusively) the content. When you read a kid a Grimm Brothers story at bedtime, you’re probably not acting it out like you were C3PO telling the Ewoks about Darth Vader, while on the other hand movies make everything more vivid and dramatic. The reason kids are okay with Henry the train getting walled up in a tunnel is that it’s not presented as a terrible thing to have happen but as an appropriate punishment for someone who is being naughty. It’s only as adults that we become aware of the larger context (i.e. being bricked up in a tunnel forever is terrifying) and understand that what’s being presented is often quite horrible. On the other hand, my child is terrified of Kermit the Frog right now, so clearly presentation isn’t everything.–Em [Kermit is definitively the best.–Jesse]

22/ “Sin is necessary”: I was told a long time ago about a theory that the fall of man (i.e., original sin) was necessary, possibly because if people never had free will to choose between sinning and not sinning (between good and evil), salvation would be meaningless. But Google is not bringing this theory up, so maybe I made it up in my head? –Em

Jesse: No, no this is absolutely true. The “felix culpa” or “fortunate fall” refers to the idea that Adam’s sin/fall actually made things better for humanity. One common explanation is that without sin Jesus would not have been needed to save humanity, which would deprive humanity of the full extent of God’s love. This theme is discussed around Milton a lot.

However, Julian does not seem to be aiming at the idea of “felix culpa.” Goodness of any kind, for Julian, cannot come out of sin (which exists outside God’s Love and goodness). In the episode, I’m quoting from the Paulist Press translation of Julian’s Showings by Colledge and Walsh, pp. 224–225 and 233. The original is in the Watson and Jenkins edition, pp. 207 and 209; 221 and 223.

23/ Jesse: The Book of Margery Kemp. and the British Library page. I recommend the Norton Critical translation by Lynn Staley. See pp. 16–17 on banking credit, p. 38 on Kempe saving people with her tears, and p. 117 on Kempe’s worries about people being damned. The original is edited by Barry Windeatt. See pp. 79–81, 136, and 302–303.

24/ Lollards: followers of John Wycliffe. See episode 6, note 9.

25/ Dante. Wrote some books. We’ll talk more about him next time. Jesse has promised to transcribe the Italian of the gate text, so this is a stub for her to do that.

Jesse: “I shall the effect of this good lesson keep
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven
Whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads
And recks not his own rede.” (Ophelia to Laertes in Hamlet, I.iii).

The inscription over the gate of Hell opens the third canto of the Inferno. My English translations of Dante are always John Ciardi’s translation.

Italian is from here.

I am the way into the city of woe,
I am the way to a forsaken people,
I am the way into eternal sorrow.

Sacred justice moved my architect,
I was raised here by divine omnipotence,
Primordial love and ultimate intellect.

Only those elements time cannot wear
Were made before me, and beyond time I stand.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Per me si va nella città dolente,
per me si va nell’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore:
fecemi la divina potestate,
la somma sapienza e ‘l primo amore.

Dinanzi a me non fur cose create
se non eterne, ed io eterna duro:
lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.

26/ Jesse: I can’t believe I got this slightly wrong (and also didn’t trust my instincts enough to say it was Blake, because who else would it be?): “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when he wrote of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (William Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).

Episode 6: Mysticism and Motherhood

Summary

From the feast of Corpus Christi to the mystical marriage between St. Catherine of Siena and Jesus Himself, Em and Jesse dive into the world of Medieval mysticism and affective piety, exploring the ways in which women were able to co-opt the stereotypes of men into positive portrayals of female piety. Brief content note–there’s nothing explicit, but we do mention circumcision in this episode.

Annotations, Notes, and Corrections

Continue reading “Episode 6: Mysticism and Motherhood”

Episode 5: Hermits and Anchoresses

Summary

Em and Jesse begin a journey into the world of Medieval mysticism with a discussion of hermits and anchorites/anchoresses. With some interesting discussions of cats, Michel Foucault, Plato, and Siddhartha Gautama.

Annotations, Notes, and Corrections

Continue reading “Episode 5: Hermits and Anchoresses”

Episode 4: Passover and Easter, pt. 2

Summary

Em and Jesse continue their discussion of Passover and Easter, including the Venerable Bede’s take on Easter’s pagan origins, blood libel, and some long digressions about monasteries, Pope Francis, Saint Francis, and Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

Annotations, Citations, and Corrections

Continue reading “Episode 4: Passover and Easter, pt. 2”

Episode 3: Passover and Easter, part 1

Summary

Em and Jesse retell the story of Passover, and then discuss the story of the crucifixion in the New Testament and how the two dovetail. In the process, they cover Medieval traditions surrounding Easter week in a wide-ranging discussion that also touches on Gilgamesh, the harrowing of hell, and Peeps.

Citations, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ While listening back to this, I had a moment where I realized how many new varieties of yogurt are available now than were available when I was in college.  For those unfamiliar, the forbidden Passover grains are wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt, and “kitniyot,” which means “legumes,” but in Ashkenazi tradition is a category that includes rice, corn , soybeans, lentils, and products derived from them. For weird historic reasons, potatoes are okay. (Also the key to really surviving while keeping kosher for Passover if you’re vegetarian is to keep Sephardic Kosher. Or eat a lot of sad potatoes.)

2/ Rivers are powerful symbols of purification and cleansing, travel and liberation, and boundaries. The Israelites had to cross the Red Sea to reach freedom, but the Biblical (New Testament) importance of the River Jordan–where John the Baptist baptized Jesus–becomes synchronous with the idea of freedom in the USA, where rivers formed boundaries between Slave states and Free states. While the Mississippi looms largest in the mythological psyche of the USA, the most famous crossing in American literature is probably Eliza’s escape across the frozen Ohio River in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. No artistic statement on the subject is greater than Alvin Ailey’s, seen here in a clip of the second movement (“Take Me to the Water”) from Revelations. –JN

3/ Yul Brynner: Hotter than a slave owner. But also–the guy was from Vladivostok, but played, among others, a pharaoh and a Thai king. C.f. “The Romans in Films” from Mythologies by Roland Barthes (Editions du Seuil, 1952; trans. by Annette Lavers, Paladin, 1972) . (I realize that this is a podcast about Medieval history and not a chance to critique films that came out in 1956. But all of this is to say–Ramses didn’t look like Brynner, and Moses didn’t look like Charlton Heston. That is Hollywood whitewashing.–Em)

4/ [7:30] “…People who are trying to derive that the Earth began on October 15th, 5032 BC…” Actually, October 23, 4004 BCE. Em was slightly off.

5/ The whole discussion of “the Egyptians built the pyramids” reminds me of the short story “Tower of Babylon” by Ted Chiang (in Story of Your Life and Others, Tor, 2002) . [Nat Geo article on the so-called “workers’ villages.”–JN]

6/ Suzan-Lori Parks, who is an amazing playwright, does “Watch Me Work”. This is a public art piece, but also an opportunity to carve out time for writing. Since we taped the episode, I’ve done one, and it was pretty cool. She works for 20 min (and so does everyone else), and then she answers questions from the audience for 40 minutes. [SLP is the BEST.–JN]

7/ I should clarify: Moses is allowed to lead the Israelites to the promised land, and he is technically allowed to see the promised land (which he famously does from the top of Mount Nebo before dying), but he’s not allowed in. In War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), Caesar similarly leads the apes to the promised land and dies within sight of it.–JN

8/ Transubstantiation: the conversion of the substance of the Eucharist (bread and wine) into the body and blood of Christ during communion. Consubstantial (the word I am trying to remember): of the same substance or essence, often used with the trinity (e.g., Christ is consubstantial with God the Father). As I allude to, a significant amount of my knowledge about Catholicism comes from reading Ulysses (and other books–Paradise Lost, Inferno, The Master and Margarita, etc.). –Em

9/ Triduum: From the evening on Holy Thursday until the evening of Easter Sunday. It sounds like I’m saying it to myself as “tri-deum,” which is–not right.–Em

10/ Palmesel donkey. Here is one in the collection at the Met from the fifteenth century. It weighs 182 lbs and is 62 inches tall, making it basically life-size.

11/ Palms symbolized victory. Palm branches were thrown before Jesus on his triumphant return to Jerusalem to signify his (future) victory–i.e., Jesus’s return is being compared to the triumphant return of a Roman conqueror. Jesus has not yet been victorious (his victory will be to conquer death one week later on Easter Sunday), but the fact of his return makes it certain that he will achieve his victory. Throughout the Middle Ages, martyrs are pictured with palm branches to signify their martyrdom–a spiritual victory.–JN

12/ In case anyone is curious or (like me) confused about the terminology, the Septuagint is actually a translation of the Hebrew bible into Greek that was made for use by Greek-speaking Jews. It also includes several books now considered apocryphal. And the Vulgate is the Latin version, which we discuss more later.

13/ A shout out to Hesiod (active between 750–650 BCE), who is awesome.–JN

14/ St. Jerome is, among other things, the patron saint of librarians. There are many exceptional paintings of him, including this one by one of my favorite painters, Caravaggio:

And here is another excellent one by Albrecht Durer that even gets the lion in there:

St. Jerome in His Study

15/ Androcles and the lion. A story strongly associated with Aesop, and also with Aesop’s fable “The Lion and the Mouse.”

16/ [31:05] I cannot believe I got through this discussion of Jerusalem under the Romans without making a ”Romani ite domum” reference. I correct that defect here.–Em

17/ Jesse: Everyone knows what’s going to happen at the end of the week.
Em: Chocolate?
Jesse: Salvation.
Em: Oh.

18/ They made a movie about the temptation of Christ called, um, The Last Temptation of Christ, starring Willam Dafoe, who ALSO c.f. note 3 above probably didn’t look like Christ. I actually haven’t seen the whole film, just the bit of it that turns up in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. (Extra side note, David Bowie played Pilate. Which–first of all, I love the way he says “So you’re the king of the Jews?” at the beginning of that clip as though he just bumped into Jesus at a cocktail party, and second, THAT HAIR is EXACTLY what Barthes is talking about.–Em)

19/ The “sons of Aaron set alien fire before the L-rd” was part of my Torah portion. The actual story is Leviticus chapter 10, but my parsha was Numbers 3, which is a much less interesting retelling.

20/ Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (HarperCollins, 2007). Summary of relevant parts: it’s hard to be the chosen one.

21/ Godspell: “Alas For You” (clip from the 1973 movie, which is awesome).–JN

[I hadn’t seen Godspell, so I looked it up and learned that the 2001 revival used former presidential candidate and crystal fan Marianne Williamson as one of the philosophers in “The Tower of Babel” song. That…takes a very broad view of what constitutes a philosopher.–Em]

22/ Yiimimangaliso: The Mysteries. Here is Michael Billington’s review in The Guardian of the 2009 remount. The more political 2001 version that I reference here (and that Billington references in his review of the remount) can be seen on DVD from WorldCat when libraries reopen! Here is the Wikipedia article for the Isango Ensemble, and here is their website.–JN

23/ [39:13] “It’s perfectly correct to use ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively.’ ” Bluh. Fight me, Njus. [You got it! English is an inclusive, not an exclusive, language! That’s one of English’s best qualities. The OED’s [Oxford English Dictionary, the be-all and end-all of English language dictionaries] definition for “literally:” I.1.c. “colloquial. Used to indicate that some (frequently conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’. Now one of the most common uses, although often considered irregular in standard English since it reverses the original sense of literally (‘not figuratively or metaphorically’).” Earliest usage cited in the OED for this meaning is 1769! I rest my case; people who consider this “irregular” are stodgy, inflexible, afraid of change, and 250 years behind the times.–JN]

24/ [39:30] I left it in, because having offended all the Hasidic Jews already, now I can also be very offensive to all the Christians listening. Buddhists in the audience, sorry I couldn’t get to you today, we’ll see what we can do in future episodes.

Actually, I hope that by asking questions like this, I can help people see that the things that they take for granted as normal parts of their lives (taking communion at church for example) are actually really weird and, as Jesse says, they come from very old roots.

Some stories where people eat bits of gods: Kronos/Saturn famously eats his children (as rendered by Goya in everyone’s favorite painting). In Gilgamesh, he and Enkidu kill and eat the Bull of Heaven, although it’s not totally clear that the bull is a deity. And in Marvel Zombies (Marvel Comics, Dec. 2005–Apr. 2006) mini-series, the X-Men/Avengers/Fantastic Four kill and eat Galactus.

Jesse: Cannibalism isn’t as widespread as people probably think (colonialist propaganda!)–usually it’s taboo and done out of necessity (starvation). As a taboo, it’s one of the great fears of humanity. There’s lots of symbolic cannibalism in Greek myth–Kronos (devouring your children so they don’t replace you), Tantalus (testing the gods), and Thyestes (revenge! and the story from which Shakespeare got parts of Titus Andronicus. There’s our Shakespeare reference for today.). There’s also Metis (“metis” means wisdom or craft) who was swallowed whole by Zeus when she was pregnant (again, so Zeus’s kids wouldn’t replace him), leading to Athena bursting from Zeus’s head fully grown and armed as a warrior. Despite all these myths, the Greeks didn’t practice cannibalism or theophagy (god eating). Instead, like many religions that have come down to us, they sacrificed animals to the gods and ate the sacrifices as animals (not as a means of ingesting the gods). Humans are occasionally sacrificed to the gods (Pentheus), but they aren’t eaten (presumably! The whole Pentheus myth cuts it a little close). Nor are gods eaten directly by humans, although we do eat their “fruit” (wine from Dionysus, grain from Demeter, etc). This is what makes Jesus so phenomenal–he IS the sacrifice to god which must be eaten (even though he is also the god to whom the sacrifice is being made). Wut. Death and resurrection happen a lot (Osiris for example), but to be both god and sacrifice is highly unusual. There do seem to very, very old roots to the idea of ingesting a god, but they can be hard to parse–usually information is not coming from the source but from outsiders who are primed to misunderstand it, and once Christianity arrives, it can be very hard for Christian colonizers to recognize that other people’s practices are unique and special. (In addition to viewing non-Christian practices as barbaric, there was a tendency to conflate anything that seemed similar to eucharistic practice with the concept of ingesting one’s gods.)

All this being said, symbolic ingesting of gods (or life force–wine for blood, etc), is suuuuuuuuper old and definitely well documented. Cannibalism has also been documented. Ingesting gods in a manner similar to the Eucharist is…fuzzy. There’s lots of very old overlapping symbolism though.–JN

25/ The Last Supper. Famously depicted at the very end of the Middle Ages by Leonardo Da Vinci. [Yes! If you’re wondering why they’re all facing us and sitting on one side of the table, it’s because they’re the high table! It’s like the Harry Potter movies here. It’s not clear that Da Vinci knew the room would become a refectory, but the Last Supper was a common subject for refectories–the monks or nuns could eat their meals, with Jesus and his apostles as their high table. The room did, in fact, become the refectory at the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.–JN]

26/ Paradise Lost: in book 3:

I formd them free, and free they must remain,
Till they enthrall themselves: I else must change
Thir nature, and revoke the high Decree
Unchangeable, Eternal, which ordain’d
Thir freedom, they themselves ordain’d thir fall.

(Full text: Project Gutenberg. You’ll have to figure out the lines of the quote here yourself, I cannot find my physical copy and the Gutenberg version doesn’t have line numbers.)

27/ This is tablet 11: On Gligamesh’s search for immortality, he is asked by Utnapishtim to stay awake for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh falls asleep after a while (I [Em] forget how long it takes) and Utnapsihtim’s wife places a loaf of bread next to him for every day he sleeps. So then he wakes up and the ferryman Urshanabi takes him home. On the way they stop and pick a plant that will make him young, but while he’s bathing a snake eats it. [Sleep! It’s a sign of mortality–i.e., death.

Sleep is also the thing that “knits up the raveled sleave of care,” of course (Macbeth II.ii), and in that play its counterpart (death) is also seen as peaceful sleep. Macbeth describes the dead Duncan: “After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well” (III.ii), giving us the sense that mortality and death provide a spiritual rest and renewal from the hardships of life. Nonetheless, Shakespeare’s most famous analysis of sleep is probably Hamlet’s, who has a very different view (despite not having committed the horrors Macbeth has):

To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. (iii.i)

–JN]

28/ “Pilate…washes his hands of it.” I believe in The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov writes that Pilate realizes Jesus’ divinity and that he has to let him die. (Recognizing Bulgakov might not be the best person to take theology lessons from, it is a really excellent book.)

29/ The Medieval legend about the cross being planted where Adam was buried: this actually came up back when I was interviewing Jesse for the comic that started everything, and there’s SO MUCH mythos surrounding trees, all I could fit in was a skull underneath the tree in this panel.

If you click on this link to Giotto’s depiction and enlarge the image (or click here), you’ll see Adam’s skull peeping out from the broken rock in which the Cross is planted. Adam’s skull is in many medieval depictions, but Giotto is the master. Here is a link to Adam and Eve being tempted in the Garden with Christ hanging in the tree (foreshadowing Christ as the new Adam, symbolizing Christ as the fruit of the Tree of Life–the Tree that Adam and Even are forbidden–foreshadowing the the legend of the Cross, and symbolizing many other things we’ll probably talk about in the future–not least of all the female serpent!) Early 1460s illumination is by Flemish artist Willem Vrelant (active 1454–1481).–JN

30/ “Pom…mus?” Yeah, one of the two of us took Latin, and twas not me [Em].

31/ “The preferred Northwestern translation…” (meaning Northwestern University). There are a lot of various translations of the New Testament that one runs into–this is not one of them.

32/ The harrowing of hell is one of those cool Medieval traditions that doesn’t much get talked about today, as far as I [Em] know. We will discuss it further in a hell-focused episode because there is a lot to say about it. But I do believe that in Dante’s Inferno, it is much remarked upon. Of course, there are a lot of other, older myths describing a heroic figure or deity descending into hell and returning–Ishtar/Inanna, Persephone, Odysseus, Orpheus, Aeneas, and Enkidu (in the epic of Gilgamesh) all descend into hell and return, some more successfully than others.

Jesse: Quick note on Dante! Dante is led through Hell by Virgil, who’s been there before (because Virgil wrote the Aeneid, and Aeneas went to the underworld.) Virgil keeps getting tripped up by stuff in their path–since he went down to Hell before Jesus died, he hasn’t been there since things have changed because of the Harrowing. The Harrowing included a giant earthquake, resulting in blocked paths and various problems that Virgil didn’t have to deal with last time.

33/ The ten plagues: blood, frogs, lice, boils, hail, wild beasts, cattle dying, flies, locust, darkness, and the death of the firstborn (which the Jews famously avoided by killing a lamb and putting its blood on the doorposts of their houses–immortalized on the Seder plate by a bone, typically a shank bone or a chicken bone, or if you cannot get a bone, like say you are a vegetarian and do not just have bones lying around your house, a carrot labeled “bone” will do in a pinch).

34/ Jewish tradition is to bury people very quickly after death (it still is) without embalming. Also, Shabbat (the Sabbath) is thought to begin at sunset the night before (so Friday night–this is because Judaism follows a lunar calendar), and you aren’t allowed to do work/labor on the Sabbath, so you have to get the burial done Friday afternoon or wait until Sunday, pretty much.

35/ Mary Magdalene: She comes up again in future episodes! But also, what is with naming all the characters Mary? SMH.–Em

36/ “Noli me tángere” is also a really important Philippino novel by José Rizal. And a weird throwaway line in the best X-Files episode ever, Hollywood, A.D.. Um, probably it’s a lot of other things, too. [Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt”–JN]

37/ “The eleven [apostles] who are still left.” I assume Judas dropped out. And since Jesse didn’t say otherwise, he probably moved to a farm downstate and had a nice retirement and nothing bad ever happened to him, since he wasn’t really a bad guy, just compelled by fate to do an unpleasant job. [I assume we’ll talk about Judas later, so I won’t waste the words now!–JN]

38/ “The immaculate conception.” Mary was born free of original sin. C.f. “The Ballad of Joking Jesus” in Ulysses, “My mother’s a jew, my father’s a bird,” [1.585], also later on Joyce quotes from an (incredibly controversial) 1884 work entitled La vie de Jésus, “[Joseph:] –Qui vous a mis dans cette fichue position? [Mary:] –C’est le pigeon, Joseph” (3.161–162).

Jesse: Immaculate conception was extremely controversial in the Middle Ages, and didn’t become official Catholic orthodoxy until Pope Pius IX promulgated Ineffabilis Deus in 1854.

39/ Mary visiting Elizabeth. This is officially  “the Visitation.” Some artistic examples:

Stained Glass Panel with the Visitation, 1444.
The Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 42v, 1405–1408/9.