Episode 31: May Day, May Day!


From Groundhog Day to Hocktide to May Day to Midsummer to Mother’s Day, there are a ton of spring holidays! Join Em and Jesse as we discuss St. George and Medieval dragons, Saint Walpurga and Walpurgisnacht, Pagan syncretism, and a whole lot more. With some digressions about brunch.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Groundhog Day  is really about https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uw63_YyNsF4

We are posting this on Friday, 4/23. There was snow in Wisconsin (and around the country) earlier this week. Yay, spring.

2/ Hocktide! Check out Katherine L. French, “‘To Free Them from Binding’: Women in the Late Medieval English Parish,” in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Winter, 1997); pp. 387–412.

Also see David N. Klausner (ed.), Record of Early English Drama (REED): Herefordshire and Worcestershire (Toronto, I990), 349–350, 553–554.

3/ St George! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George

Philip Butterworth, “Late Medieval Performing Dragons” in The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 43: Early English Drama (2013), pp. 318–342.

dePaola, Tomie. The Knight and the Dragon. Puffin Books, 1998. Amazon link. Sadly, Tomie dePaola died at the age of 85 approximately one year ago (March 30, 2020).

4/ Here is the Dragon Chariot in the Luttrell Psalter (BL MS 42130 f184r): http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_42130_f184r

Here is the print made “after” (he didn’t make the engraving himself) Bruegel the elder’s c1559 De beurs op St. George dagen [aka The Fair of St George’s Day] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Fair_of_Saint_George%27s_Day_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg [Click on the image to zoom in just a little above left of center for the Dragon Wagon!]

5/ John Babington’s Pyrotechnia (1635) (discussed in Butterworth’s essay) https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/345291

6/ Norwich’s dragon, Snap! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edyVLlzAMxs

7/ May Day! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_Day

Beltane https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltane

8/ Floralia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floralia

Pliny the Elder’s text in Latin (Natural History, book 18, section 286–scroll down!): http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Pliny_the_Elder/18*.html

Here is the translation from Perseus Project, where it’s Book 18.69 (middle of the fourth paragraph): https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Plin.+Nat.+18.69&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137

9/ Saint Walpurga https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Walpurga

Walpurgisnacht https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walpurgis_Night

10/ Robert Grosseteste (c1168–1253) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Grosseteste

Grosseteste’s complaints about Maying can be found in E. K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, 2 vols (London, 1903), 1: 91.

Bruce Moore discusses Maying and Chaucer in “‘Allone, Withouten Any Compaignye:’ The Mayings in Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale,'” in The Chaucer Review, Spring, 1991, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Spring, 1991), pp. 285–301.

11/ Maypole! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maypole

Susan Crane Performance of the Self https://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/13751.html

12/ Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Lysander in I.i and Theseus in IV.i

See also the Valentine’s Day episode (episode 26)!

13/ Adam de la Halle (1240–1287) wrote a brilliant Robin and Marion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeu_de_Robin_et_Marion

Spotify links to the music of Adam de la Halle’s Robin and Marion:

For posterity, “Honey I Love You” is played like this:
Person A sits on Person B’s lap. (Can you tell this is a pre-COVID game?) Person A leans face close to Person B and says, “Honey, if you love me, would you please, please smile?” in as beguiling a manner as possible. Person B’s job is to reply, “Honey, I love you, but I just can’t smile” without breaking. If Person B starts to smile or laugh, they have to become the sitter and Person A is allowed to rejoin the crowd.

Bryn Mawr’s May Day Celebration: https://www.brynmawr.edu/activities/traditions (scroll down just a hair)

14/ For more on alcohol, see Episode 27!

Amusingly, and possibly related to Em’s rant about Mother’s Day, this was the first episode we recorded after Em had a baby.

King Bhumibol, also known as Rama IX, ascended the throne in 1946 and was coronated in 1950, just about three years before Elizabeth II did the same on the other side of the world. Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee was celebrated in 2012. Long the longest-reigning female monarch and longest-reigning British monarch, she became the longest-reigning monarch in 2016 when Bhumibol died at the age of 88. Her platinum jubilee is planned for 2022 and I (Em) can only assume she’ll make it. I assume that she’s going to be the queen for the rest of time, honestly.

Episode 30: Felis Catus Is Your Taxonomic Nomenclature


Cats are tiny lions that live in your home. But how long have they lived with humans? Have they always had the position of respect they enjoy now? Also, what’s up with racoons? Em and Jesse discuss cats in the Middle Ages (and also other animals kept as pets, including squirrels, monkeys, and birds). We explore various poetic odes to cats written through the ages (real and apocryphal), examples of cats getting into trouble in scriptoria, and also a few digressions on James Joyce.


0/ Title ref.

1/ Ghostbusters (Dr. Venkman): “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together–mass hysteria!” https://youtu.be/SA1SxZoFmOU

2/ Cat domestication! https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/domesticated-cats-dna-genetics-pets-science

3/ CBS Sunday Morning “Are we making racoons smarter?” https://youtu.be/CnZ-8cVxhNA

Racoon GEICO commercial (there are many, here is one): https://youtu.be/gUpMoNMlCts

Interesting fact: in cities, where there is abundant food for animals like racoons and opossums, the animals start breeding year-round, rather than seasonally.

4/ Caitlin Doughty’s Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death https://www.amazon.com/Will-Cat-Eat-Eyeballs-Questions/dp/039365270X

Interview with Doughty: https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/09/10/mortician-death-caitlin-doughty-book

Webcomic Strange Planet: “Who’s a moral creature?” (i.e., dogs!) https://twitter.com/nathanwpyle/status/1233112182126235649?s=20

Strange Planet‘s vibrating creature (i.e., cat): https://twitter.com/nathanwpyle/status/1107432804822994944?s=20

Strange Planet illuminates the way we stereotypically view dogs (companions, loyal, “good” in a truly moral sense) vs the way we stereotypically view cats (aloof, solitary, untamed, amoral).

5/ Anchoresses: episode 5, especially note 3.

6/ Irina Metzler, “Heretical Cats: Animal Symbolism in Religious Discourse,” in Medium Aevum Quotidianum, vol. 59 (2009): 16–32. These stories of the cat as symbolic of the devil are from pp. 18–19.

Here is a 14th century image of the poor widow surrounded by angels and the rich man surrounded by cats (representing the evils of his life, panderers and flatterers, etc). The image is in Bibliothèque Nationale, MS fr. 312, f. 334v. The illuminator is Pierre Remiet, and the text is Vincent de Beauvais, Miroir Historial [Speculum historiale], vol. 1, 2, 4, traduction en français par Jean de Vignay. Miroir historial, vol. 1, Livres I–VIII.

See also Michael Camille, Master of Death, which is about the illuminator Remiet. This image appears in Camille on p. 157.

7/ For more on Hildegard and dogs, check out episode 29 note 27.

8/ Alain of Lille (c.1128–c.1202/3): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_de_Lille

Cathars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharism See also Metzler, p. 24.

9/ Dominicans! A dog statue in Marburg, Germany stands on a building that pre-Reformation was a Domincan monastery. This good pup is illustrating that the Dominicans are “domini canes” or “hounds of the Lord.”

The fresco “The Church Militant and Church Triumphant” in Santa Maria Novella in Florence (1365) by Andrea di Bonaiuto.

Here’s a close up: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Andrea_di_Bonaiuto._Santa_Maria_Novella_1366-7_fresco_0011.jpg

Andrea di Bonaiuto: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_di_Bonaiuto_da_Firenze

10/ For awesome dog figurines, see episode 29 note 9.

For medieval cats licking themselves, there are many internet threads such as https://www.sadanduseless.com/funny-medieval-art/ (we are linking this for the images, not the text on the blog post!).

11/ Pietro Lorenzetti’s Last Supper in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi (lower church): https://www.wga.hu/html_m/l/lorenzet/pietro/1/1vault/2lastsu.html (click on the image for a close up!)

Pietro Lorenzetti (c.1280–1348) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietro_Lorenzetti

12/ Cats paw prints on a manuscript! https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/130326-animals-medieval-manuscript-books-cats-history


13/ Medieval cat pee on a manuscript!
https://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/paws-pee-and-mice-cats-among-medieval-manuscripts/ (scroll down past the paw prints image)

14/ The Librarians (TV series!) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Librarians_(2014_TV_series)

15/ Students from the Rochester Institute of Technology created an imaging system: https://www.rit.edu/news/rit-students-discover-hidden-15th-century-text-medieval-manuscripts

Since this episode was recorded, a paper came out in Nature about using computers to virtually unfold complexly folded letters from pre-1830 (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21326-w).

16/ Christopher Smart (1722–1771) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Smart
Long poem Jubilate Agno https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilate_Agno

The section of Jubilate Agno known as “(For I will consider) My Cat Jeoffry:” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45173/jubilate-agno

17/ “Pangur Bán” (9th century Irish poem)
Seamus Heaney translation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/48267/pangur-ban

The poem is contained in the Reichenau Primer.

18/ Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” lines 348–356: https://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/wbt-par.htm

19/ Barbara Newman’s Chaucer parody about cats: B. Newman, ‘The “Cattes Tale”: A Chaucer Apocryphon,’ The Chaucer Review 26:4 (1992), pp. 411–23.

A Catte ther was, fulfilld of furrinesse,
And that a worthy beeste, as I may gesse
For of his herys al golden was the hewe,
And he so wys was, unnethes wolde he mewe,
But lay abedde and slepte with open ye,
Til that his frend Magnificat gan crye
Wel koude he cheere of vertu countrefete:
Nas nowher cat so swift to stele his mete.
Of milk and eek of mys he was ful fayn
But briddes loved he best, to telle yow pleyn.
Ful fetisly his tayl he gan upcaste
As any pekok proude; and atte laste.
I herde that sely beeste purr, parfay,
In verray parfit pleyn felinitee.
[Newman 411-412.]

The above article is helpfully prefaced with this note: “Chaucer was a serious poet, but he was also a comic poet, and he was rarely ‘solemn.’ Scholarship is perforce always serious, and almost always solemn as well. Here for once it is not.
Lest anyone believe everything said below, the reader is warned. The Editors” [411].

Julian of Norwich icon: https://www.trinitystores.com/artwork/julian-norwich (For more see episode 5, note 3).

20/ Petrarch (1304–1374) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrarch

Juliana Schiesari, “Portrait of the Poet as a Dog: Petrarch’s Epistola Metrica III, 5,” in Italica Vol. 84, No. 2/3 (Summer–Autumn, 2007), pp. 162–172.

“(Not?) Petrarch’s Cat:” https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2018/12/not-petrarchs-cat.html

Petrarch can also be found in episode 2 (note 20) and (in the notes only) in episode 26, note 7.

21/ The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries  (see episode 29, note 24)

These tapestries include monkeys as pets–for example:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lady_and_the_Unicorn#/media/File:The_Lady_and_the_unicorn_Touch.jpg (mid left)

Scroll down for a close up in this article about the extent to which Algerian Jews participated in the monkey trade: http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0259-94222018000100018

22/ Blackadder III Episode 1 “Dish and Dishonesty”

(Edmund comes in with his ‘Lords’ robe)

E: Voila, Mrs. Miggins. My robes of State. My thousand pounds well spent,
I think.

M: Oooohhh, very nice! Oooohhhhhh, it’s real cat, isn’t it?

E: This is not cat, Mrs. Miggins. This is finest, leather-trimmed ermine
with gold medallion accessories.

M: Oh go on, Mr. Blackadder — it’s cat. Oooh, look, they’ve left the little
collars on!

E: (reads a collar) ‘Mr. Frisky. If found, please return to Emma Hamilton,
Marine Parade, Portsmouth’? oh God! Ah, well, who cares about a dead cat now that I’m a fat cat.

M: Oooh, you’re full of yourself today, Mr. B!

E: …which is more than can be said for Mr. Frisky.

23/ James Joyce, The Cat and the Devil

The book is actually a letter from Joyce to his grandson, not his nephew. I regret this error. Also, despite Amazon claiming copies of this are going for $300+, I routinely find copies on AbeBooks for under $25. So if you want a copy, look around. The version illustrated by Blachon is the best. I don’t know if Ellmann had anything to say about Joyce and cats, but in addition to The Cat and the Devil, Leopold Bloom (the main character of Ulysses) has a cat, so I assume Joyce liked them.