Episode 29: D’You Like Dags?


Dogs have long been reputed to be man’s best friend. But how long is “long”? The answer is close to 10,000 years (at least). Join Em and Jesse as they look back at the intertwined history of humanity and canine-ity, from Odysseus’s dog Argos to Hachiko, who waited ten years for his owner to come home from work. With some interesting discussions of famous medieval animals, including Alfonso the Wise’s pet weasel and Chanticleer the rooster.

A lady with dogs from the Alphonso Psalter
A lady with dogs from the Alphonso Psalter, c. 1284-1316 (Add MS 24686, British Library).

Annotations and Corrections

1/ 1:33 I sound confused about llamas . . . I think I am poorly remembering an argument from Guns, Germs, and Steel. [Some interesting context for Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2005/08/03/guns-germs-and-steel-reconsidered –Jesse]

2/ 2:08 Talking smack about André [Awwwwwwww.-Jesse]

Andre in my old office
He can be kind of a jerk, but he’s also very nice when he wants to be.


3/ Our alcohol episode was episode 27.

4/ 7:08 Here is the Wikipedia article about the famous silver fox domestication experiment:

5/ If you’re interested in hunting, check out the famous medieval hunting manuscript Le Livre de chasse written by Gaston Phoebus (Gaston III, Count of Foix) between 1387 and 1389. This text was translated and adapted into English as The Master of Game by Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York between 1406 and 1413.

6/ 10:11 Turnspit dogs! In England, they’re mentioned at least as early as John Caius’s 1570 De canibus Britannicis (On English Dogs)

7/ There are many references to cats and dogs in the Talmud! Here is the one Em is discussing, and in true Jewish scholarly fashion, there are two possible sayings: 1) don’t go barefoot in a house with a cat because you’ll puncture your foot with the small bones of the snakes it has killed, and 2) don’t go go into a house without a cat in the dark because there might be snakes that will get you.

“Rav Pappa said: With regard to a house in which there is a cat, a person should not enter there barefoot. What is the reason? Because the cat might kill a snake and eat it, and the snake has small bones, and if a small bone gets into one’s foot it cannot be removed, and he will be in danger. Some say that Rav Pappa said: With regard to a house in which there is no cat, a person should not enter there in the dark. What is the reason? Since there is no cat to hunt snakes, perhaps a snake will wrap itself around him without him knowing and he will be in danger.” (Pesachim 112b:10)

Here is a general romp through Talmudic references to cats: https://www.sefaria.org/topics/cats?tab=sources

8/ 12:03 Anchoresses could have cats: see episode 5 (especially note 3).

Domestication of dogs! https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-wolves-really-became-dogs-180970014/

9/ 14:58 Pompeii “Beware the Dog” mosaic!

Roman doggo statue (copy of a lost Greek statue): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molossus_(dog)#/media/File:Molossian_Hound,_British_Museum.jpg
Another Roman doggo: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/255121

Greek or Roman girl with puppy: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/248754

Greek doggo guarding owner’s tomb (in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens–Jesse can personally attest to this good doggo’s awesomeness). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Funerary_statue_of_a_dog_at_the_National_Archaeological_Museum_of_Athens_on_7_May_2018.jpg

Good Chinese doggos: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/42361

Pre-Columbian American doggos:
https://ncartmuseum.org/art/detail/dog_effigy https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pot-bellied_Dog_Figure,_Mexico,_State_of_Colima,_200_BC_-_500_AD,_ceramic,_Pre-Columbian_collection,_Worcester_Art_Museum_-_IMG_7646.JPG

Neo-Assyrian doggos: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/W_1856-0903-1509

Some of the oldest depictions of dogs, from Iran: https://www.persee.fr/doc/paleo_0153-9345_2007_num_33_1_5213

Possibly even older depictions of dogs from Saudi Arabia: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/8000-year-old-rock-carvings-may-be-earliest-depiction-domesticated-dogs-180967266/

More dogs! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_depictions_of_dogs

10/ 17:28 Historic dogs vs modern–you’ll notice that lots of the breeds in note 9 are referenced as “extinct” while still looking very recognizable! You can see a bunch of comparison photos from the early 20th century here.

11/ 19:08 Sorry about the eye thing!

HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel did a great story on dog breed (“Unnatural Selection”) in season 20 episode 4 (April 2014), but it doesn’t seem to be available for viewing anywhere. So, trigger warning on this article about the problem: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/evolution-petface-180967987/
And a more hopeful article https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/although-purebred-dogs-can-be-best-in-show-are-they-worst-in-health/

12/ 19:52 Shout out to Thong Daeng, the most famous basenji of all time, possibly.

13/ Dr. Moudhy Al-Rashid is an Assyriologist who sometimes posts about good Mesopotamian doggos on twitter.

14/ If you’re interested in sirens as funeral monuments, here are some pictures!

15/ The train station dog was an Akita named Hachiko. Don’t read that story unless you feel like crying.

16/ Book of Tobit: The dog is not integral to the story but loyally accompanies Tobit’s son Tobias on his travels (notice the brief mentions in the Wikipedia summary). The dog was interpreted as a symbol of loyalty and was a favorite feature of medieval portrayals of The Book of Tobit.
Doggo sleeping on the bed when Tobias gets married (stained glass, 1520): https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O64856/tobias-and-sara-on-their-panel-unknown/
Doggo just chilling (1415) http://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/page/194/112314
And from 1332: https://manuscripts.kb.nl/zoom/BYVANCKB%3Amimi_mmw_10b21%3A088r_min

17/ Le Menagier de Paris (1393) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Ménagier_de_Paris
Here is the translation Goodman of Paris. Scroll down to pp. 107–108 for the stories in the podcast.

18/ Dogs protecting lost children: example 1, example 2. There are many more.

19/ St. Guinefort: I swear we discussed him, but I can’t find him in the previous episodes.

20/ The blessing of animals is held on or near St. Francis’s feast day (Oct 4th).

For more on St. Francis of Assisi, see episode 4 notes 14–17 and episode 23 note 7.

21/ The race in Siena is called the PALIO. The “pallagio” is, I assume, an off-brand Vegas hotel. It’s the only race in the world, as far as I know, where a horse that has lost its rider can still win if it finishes first.

22/ Alfonso the Wise’s Cantigas de Santa Maria.
Here is the song in question: http://csm.mml.ox.ac.uk/index.php?p=poemdata_view&rec=354

23/ Riki-tikki-tavi.

24/ The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Musée de Cluny.

Maltese dogs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maltese_dog

25/ Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: the Prioress’s introduction in the General Prologue begins at line 118, and the discussion of her love of animals is lines 142–150.

Jesse: My claim here might not be true! Obviously far, far more money overall goes to charities that help humans. The discussion here is about a very specific, focused scenario (which still might not be true–the study might have skewed its data to make a point about discrimination). However, there is still a huge debate on whether it’s “immoral” to give to an animal charity “instead of” a human charity. If you want to go down this rabbit hole, feel free to Google!

Em: One thing that I believe is true is that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals predates the establishment of similar charities for the prevention of cruelty to children. (RSPCA was established in 1824, the ASPCA was established in 1866, and the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the first child protective agency in the world, was founded in 1874.

26/ For more on Marie de France (flourished 1160–1215), see episode 19 note 13.
Here is Marie’s fable “The Cock and the Fox.”

Here is Chaucer’s adaptation of Marie’s fable, the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, starring the rooster Chanticleer.

27/ For more on Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) see episode 6 beginning around 34:00 and notes 17 and 23. This text is from Book 7 (“Animals”) of the Physica. Dogs are section 20 of this chapter in Priscilla Throop’s translation.

28/ A shout out to Walker-Meikle’s book Medieval Pets.

Also, see Mythbusters episode “Hair of the Dog” (season 8, episode 12) on how hard it is to trick tracking dogs.

This episode is dedicated to Edgar, Maya, and Wrigley! Shout out to Snatch for the title.

Edgar and Maya
Edgar and Maya in the back seat of a car.
Wrigley in a sweater

Episode 28: Food


Hungry? Grab a snack and join Em and Jesse for a discussion of food in the Middle Ages–what did a well-equipped kitchen contain? What kind of dishes were cooked, with what ingredients? And who did the cooking and baking? With some digressions on international variations of hand pies and sandwiches, Wisconsin fish fries, and some modern recreations of Medieval recipes.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ [0:56] For more on the eucharist, check out episode 3 (on Passover and Easter) and episode 6 (especially the long section on the feast of Corpus Christi).

Caroline Bynum’s Holy Feast, Holy Fast. Amazon link.

2/ [5:45] We recorded this on a different day than usual, and for some reason three or four trains went by Dr. Jesse’s house in less than an hour and a half. [I love trains! We’ve got both freight and Amtrak. Invest in train travel!–JN]

3/ [8:30] Actually, my research suggests that the German immigrants who came to Wisconsin were Catholics, so that is where the fish fry tradition came from.–Em

4/ [9:45] Dr. Jesse alludes to the fact that in the laws of Kashrut, fish is considered pareve, meaning it can be eaten with both meat dishes or dairy dishes. (This means specifically fish–not seafood like shrimp or clams.)

5/ [11:00] The Seal of New York City: BEWARE stereotypical/racist Native American imagery! We are linking to the image for the beavers. And the Wikipedia article is here. As of July 2020, Bill de Blasio was in favor of a commission to rethink the seal.

6/ [15:00] The Chester Harrowing is discussed in episode 8 note 26 and episode 27 note 18 [1:02:03].

7/ [16:40] Hrotsvit has come up several times, but the best place to look for more on her is in her own episode, which was number 22.

8/ Chaucer’s Cook: Here’s the description of the Cook in the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales (lines 379–387). You can also link to the Cook’s Tale from here (sidebar on the left).

9/ [24:20] An Aga is basically a cast iron box that gets hot slowly and then stays hot for a long time. They seem to use a lot of fuel, and (consequently?) they are very posh in Britain.

Here’s a nice blog on hearths and ovens.

10/ [24:30] Maggie Walker came up in episode 10 (note 2), Icons and Iconography. I don’t know who’s blog this is, but if you scroll down you’ll see a picture of the kitchen with the stove (and the kitchen table with an awesome yellow checkered tablecloth).

11/ [30:10] For the frequency (or lack thereof) of communion, see Miri Rubin’s Corpus Christi esp. pp. 147–148. Amazon link.

12/ [31:20] Writing and Rebellion: England in 1381, by Steven Justice. Amazon link.

13/ [32:30] For a lot of the specific information in this episode from utensils to foodstuffs, I recommend Melitta Weiss Adamson’s Food in Medieval Times. For the possibility of roasting a whole ox on a spit, see Adamson, bottom of page 60.

14/ [34:51] Spoons: we don’t talk about it a lot, but I think it’s interesting to mention that spoons and knives existed for quite a while before the idea of having your own personal flatware for eating with at a meal became a thing.–Em

15/ [35:40] Making cheese is pretty easy–bring a gallon of, for example, goat’s milk to a simmer, add some salt and lemon juice, strain out the curds and squeeze out the liquid. Boom, you have chevre. (If you do this with cow’s milk and don’t squeeze out too much liquid, you have ricotta.) However, making really good cheese is much more complicated and can involve different types of rennet, starters, kneading, aging, etc. [Cheese is one of humanity’s greatest discoveries!–JN]

16/ [36:45] Weird Al’s Amish Paradise. (Also note the call out to Buster Keaton with the wall falling over Weird Al. We discussed Buster Keaton in episode 22 note 2–including the falling house façade–and in episode 21, note 3.)

17/ [38:00] Soap tho? [The Middle Ages had soap! It was made using tallow and lots of lye, generally speaking.–JN]

18/ [41:00] Somehow, suggesting that a pastie and a taco are essentially the same thing is like suggesting that a Pop Tart is a kind of ravioli–technically correct, but likely to start a fight. [Food fight!!–JN]

19/ [42:15] Banh mi: apparently, “banh” as a corruption of “pain” or “banh mi” as a version of “pain de mie” is a folk etymology, and the use of “banh” to mean a type of rice cake (like banh Tet) dates to the 13th century. It is written in Nom (Vietnamese Chinese characters) with 餅, pronounced “bing” in Mandarin! “Mi” means “wheat.” “Pho mai” DOES actually come from “fromage,” and inevitably meant Vache Qui Rie (Laughing Cow) brand cheese. The term “banh mi” is used to mean a sandwich, I believe, in the US and other places that aren’t VN. This is an example of synecdoche. In VN you’d say the filling, like “banh mi pho mai” (cheese sandwich). Are they like a taco? This assertion makes me uncomfortable. [I mean no, except in as much as a taco is like a sandwich… 🙂 –JN]

20/ [46:00] Le Viandier. Some fun translations of these recipes can be found here.

21/ [55:00] Liber de Coquina.

22/ The Forme of Cury. For the recipes, see here, and also here.

23/ Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook: Part 1, part 2, part 3. Part two begins with a reading of the recipe for stuffed goose Dr. Jesse recited.

24/ [1:00:40] Again, a shout out to Melitta Weiss Adamson’s Food in Medieval Times. Amazon link. This quote is from pages 63–64.

25/ [1:05:15] Pater Noster = Our Father = Lord’s Prayer. A “Miserere” is Psalm 51 (or 50 in the Vulgate): “Have mercy upon me, O God” (miserere = mercy).

26/ [1:08:25] Meryl Streep savages an onion. [Love this moment!–JN]

27/ [1:11:05] “We haven’t started cooking chicken with sound waves or anything.” Technically we have started cooking chicken with microwaves though, which is a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. Although, thermal radiation (heat) is also a type of electromagnetic radiation, so… I’m actually torn on whether this counts as an improvement in existing technology or something fundamentally different.

28/ Other cooking shows:
The always awesome Sohla El-Wayly has just started a historic food cooking project with the history channel.

I think the Alton Brown episode of relevance here is season 14, episode 16: A Bird in the Pie Is Worth Two in the Bush. Sadly not freely available, but you can probably stream it on YouTube or something.

This guy does historical baking.

Ann Reardon also cooks historical dishes…here, she’s also cooking from The Forme of Cury.

29/ [1:14:15] St. Apollonia was mentioned in episode 10, note 37.

Medieval Fur Preservation

We mention at the end of every podcast that we’ll take your questions. But we have been regrettably slow in answering the ones we haven’t incorporated into the actual episodes. There have been a lot of reasons for this–plague inertia, Dr. Jesse’s class schedule/general academicness, Em having some health issues (and, uh, a baby). But now, for 2021, we’re cleaning up our act, and we’re going to post the questions we answer here! So keep on sending them in!

From A.:

How did people preserve furs in medieval times? Would any peasant do it, or did it require special tradesperson materials?

As with many things in the Middle Ages, some techniques to preserve furs were open to anyone and others required specialized craftspeople. Sumptuary laws also governed the furs that people of different classes and professions could wear. Moreover, if peasants killed (or poached) rabbits or squirrels, etc., for fur, the quality of the end product was likely to be lower than that of imported fur (unless you were a skilled peasant who lived in an area with highly prized animals).

Fur and leather production were related crafts. There were a number of specialty tanners (depending on the type/quality of leather being created) as well as taw(y)ers or whittawers who tawed skin (rather than tanning it) by using alum and salts (for example) to create a white leather. Grömer, Russ-Popa, and Saliari discuss this process at length on page 72.

Grömer, Russ-Popa, and Saliari on fur: “When manufacturing furs, special attention is given to ensure that the hair retains its firm hold on the skin. The pre-tanning operations are similar to those of leather manufacturing. Traditionally, skins can be processed without tanning. They only receive preservative treatments that soften the skin and protect them from bacterial attack. For fur, tanning, tawing or treatment with oils is also possible (Thomson 2006: 73); treatment with smoke [one of the most original processing methods, which is still practiced today (Trommer 2008: 15)] is also an option” (73). Smoke preservation would be possible for most people, but the chemicals and knowledge needed for tanning or tawing were generally reserved for craftspeople.

Here is a portion of Grömer, Russ-Popa, and Saliari’s discussion of tawing: “Another method to produce leather is to treat the hides with alum. Here, a paste of alum is kneaded into the pelt. Besides alum, the paste can obtain other ingredients such as salt, egg yolks, butter or flour (Thomson 2006: 72). This process is repeated until the leather is tawed. The advantages of tawing versus vegetable tanning are: faster production, softer leather and lighter weight. These help explain why it was favoured amongst the craft conditions in Antiquity and the Medieval Period. The produced leather is white and therefore readily dyed (Trommer 2008: 26). The disadvantage of this method is the washability of the alum. If the alum is removed by water, the leather again behaves like a raw skin and, for example, is prone to putrefaction. Due to the washability of alum, this method is considered to be a semi-tanning method. The origin of this method is assumed to be Asia Minor, with some evidence also from ancient Egypt. The Romans and Arabs therefore contributed significantly to its spread (Trommer 2008: 24)” (72).

Karina Grömer, Gabriela Russ-Popa and Konstantina Saliari, “Products of animal skin from Antiquity to the Medieval Period” in Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien. Serie A für Mineralogie und Petrographie, Geologie und Paläontologie, Anthropologie und Prähistorie, 119. Bd. (15 Feb. 2017): 69–93. [Available on JSTOR.]

The sources they cite in the paragraph I’ve quoted above are:
Thomson, R. (2006): Testing leathers and related materials. − In: Kite, M. & Thomson, R. (Hrsg.): Conservation of leather and related materials – pp. 58–65, Oxford (Taylor and Francis Ltd).

Trommer, B. (2008): Archäologisches Leder. Herkunft, Gerbstoffe, Technologien, Alterungs- und Abbauverhalten. – 244 pp., Saarbrücken (Verlag Dr. Müller).