Episode 21: Watch Out for That Banana Peel

Summary

If you’ve ever pondered how “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana,” then this episode is for you. Join Jesse and Em as they discuss physical comedy and the origins of the commedia dell’arte, its French cousin the comedie francaise, and the Japanese comedic Kyogen style. With a lot of digressions about the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Key and Peele, Monty Python, and pretty much everyone else who has ever been funny on film.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Previous episodes in this series include: The Not-Evolution of Theatre (episode 15), Much Ado About Puppets (episode 16), and Dance Like Nobody’s Watching (episode 17).

2/ Jesse: Commedia dell’arte is incredibly complex, and there’s a LOT written about it. Here’s the Wikipedia article.

If you want to delve deeper, I recommend The Routledge Companion to Commedia dell’Arte edited by Chaffee and Crick, which includes many essays by many scholars as well as a bibliography.

Em: I apologize for my continual mispronunciation of “commedia.” I was raised in a barn (that wasn’t in Italy).

The Comédie Française was founded in 1680 through the combining of two companies, one of which was Moliere’s former troupe (which was now run by his widow, Armande Béjart, and had already merged with another company shortly after Moliere’s death). The Comédie Française thus traces its origin directly back to Moliere and lays claim to being the oldest continuously active theatre company in Europe. (The Comédie Française actually lays claim to being the oldest continuously active theatre company in the world, but…that’s much harder to prove).

The Servant of Two Masters (Il servitore di due padroni), by Carlo Goldoni.

Carlo Gozzi (1720–1806) wrote a number of plays that deserve fame in their own right but are most famous for operatic adaptations (Turandot, adapted by Puccini, and The Love of Three Oranges, which was adapted by Prokofiev and premiered in Chicago, are probably the best known). Gozzi’s plays The Stage King, The Serpent Woman, and The Green Bird (adapted by Julie Taymore in 1996) also remain famous.

Some of the zanni:
Harlequin: initially referred to Arlecchino, a comic clown type of character. Most well-known as a servant character. Unrelated to harlequin romance novels, but definitely related to Harley Quinn. [Actually, Harlequin is the name of the publishing company that published the romance novels that eventually gave rise to the name “Harlequin Romance” (a bit like Kleenex=tissue, I guess). Their logo (their original logo, anyway) was a diamond with a jester/Arlecchino figure inside. The diamond itself mimics the diamond patches on Arlecchino’s costume. Today the logo seems to be the diamond with an “H” inside, but the diamond remains. Harlequin was purchased by NewsCorp in 2014 and is now a division of HarperCollins. To get a good look at Arlecchino’s costume with its patches, click here.–JN]

Columbina: A smart, sassy female version of Harlequin.

Jesse: Arlecchino and Columbina are both zanni, or clowns. Zanni were frequently servants (often of one of the vecchi or old man characters like Pantalone). Brighella and Pulcinella (who becomes Punch in England’s Punch and Judy puppet shows) are other examples of zanni. Zanni could be silly and inept or examples of the “smart servant” type.

The Braggart Soldier, aka il Capitano: A soldier who uses the fact that none of the locals know him to brag about his conquests and rank in an effort to impress others.

Some of the vecchi:
Il Dottore, or the Doctor: an old man who serves as an obstacle for the young lovers. He typically dresses in black academic robes and fancies himself an intellectual, although he often speaks nonsense. [Yes, an important reminder that Il Dottore is a professor–a PhD, basically–not a medical doctor. The medical doctor was il Medico or Il Medico della peste, who wore the famous plague doctor’s mask. Not until the modern era did “doctor” automatically mean “medical doctor.”–JN]

Pantalone, or Pantaloon: an old, wealthy (and greedy) man.

Innamorati: The young lovers.

Jesse: The “set list” was called a canovaccio.

Some of the lazzi:
(See also Mel Gordon’s essay “Lazzi” in the Routledge Companion above in note 2 and his book Lazzi: The Comic Routines of the Commedia dell’Arte.)

The lazzo of falling: Harlequin falls from a high ladder or wall after being shot, shaken, or gravitationally abandoned.

The lazzo of the statue: someone is pretending to be a statue, and makes fun of some passers-by when not regarded.

Getting teeth pulled: c.f. The sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors (Steve Martin!)

Food lazzi: c.f. Charlie Chaplin’s version from Modern Times. Also, this category includes lazzi where a character has to attend/serve two dinners at the same time.

3/ The Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers. You can see how they’re both playing stock characters even though they have specific roles within the film.

Buster Keaton clips and analysis from Every Frame a Painting.

Charlie Chaplin clips (eating machine–there’s nothing like food lazzi for many many lols!). And here’s some more hilarious commentary on mechanization and industrialization.

We previously discussed The Great Dictator in episode 10 (see note 20).

Alan Alda doing Groucho.

4/ Kate Bornstein wrote a play called Hidden: A Gender waaaaaay back in 1989. (You can find the play in her book Gender Outlaw. Here’s the film of the play. –JN]

5/ I would try to summarize the plot of The Magic Flute here, but it doesn’t make that much sense, to be honest. Sort of a boy is sent to rescue girl who was kidnapped, finds out that the person holding her captive wants him to go through various trials to be worthy of her, engages in some weirdly masonic-like rites, at some point the Queen of the Night sings “Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,” and at the end somehow everyone gets married and the Queen of the Night and her co-conspirators are magically cast out into eternal night.

The music is pretty amazing though. Here’s a version with Diane Damrau singing the Queen of the Night. The parts in it range from “singable by a decent amateur” to “top coloratura soprano arias of all time.”

The Marriage of Figaro. [Again, super great music. Obviously. This is Mozart. Anyhow, Figaro is also the main character of Beaumarchais’s play The Barber of Seville. The most famous opera version of The Barber of Seville is Rossini’s. It’s worth noting that Lorenzo Da Ponte–who was super interesting and Jewish, although his father converted the family to Catholicism–wrote Mozart’s libretto for The Marriage of Figaro, Don GIovanni, and Cosi fan tutte, so…that’s impressive. –JN]

6/ Falstaff, outlaw/knight/braggart and friend of Prince Hal, appears in Henry IV, pt 1 (probably the best one if you’re interested in him), Henry IV, pt 2 (he gets a couple of famous speeches here, too), The Merry Wives of Windsor (a comedy that has its devotees, but I’m not one of them–probably because it doesn’t read especially well–from Jesse’s comments below, you’d probably have to see it performed), and Henry V (largely off-stage, if I recall correctly). [Falstaff is only off stage in Henry V for many reasons, among them the fact that his death is reported (countless possible reasons why Shakespeare decided to do this). Merry Wives is a tremendous Commedia style play–the mature version of Comedy of Errors, which is also wonderful fun as long as you have someone directing who knows how to direct farce. Farce is HARD; if you get it wrong, it’s not funny, and there is no point.–JN]

7/ Moliere: French guy, wrote some plays, including Tartuffe. [Moliere is amazing, all respect, know and love him! But he did marry his lover’s daughter. So….yeah. For more, click on Armande Béjart’s link in note 2 above.–JN]

8/ Kyogen: Japanese comedic counterpart to Noh (we talked about Noh in episode 17 and a bit in episode 20 if you need a refresher. It has come up at least twice–I think that means it’s going to be on the exam).

Also, Einstein on the Beach is about five hours long, and it is typically performed without intermission, although the audience is permitted to come and go as they wish. To hear the section of the opera Em is referencing (with the counting), click here. A warning–I had only ever heard a recording of this before, and watching the visuals…doesn’t really clear anything up. Glass definitely has other operas that are a little more straightforward (The Penal Colony, for example).

We discussed Tropic Thunder in episode 15 (see note 2).

Some Kyogen plays:
Jesse: Thunderbolt (or Kaminari aka Thunder): a Thunderbolt falls from the sky, bruises his tailbone, and is cured by a quack medical doctor who performs acupuncture (a quack lazzo of acupuncture, actually). The doctor and humanity in general are then rewarded. Here’s a clip of the acupuncture lazzo. A translation of the play can be found in Karen Brazell’s Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays.

Mushrooms. (No idea if this is a good translation or not.) YouTube video of it. [Great video of the play; I show this in class. A translation can also be found in Brazell’s anthology linked above, although Kenny’s translation linked immediately above is probably good too.–JN]

The Delicious Poison. [Kenny’s translation of The Delicious Poison or Busu is in Brazell’s anthology linked above. Kenny’s translation of Mushrooms is also linked above.–JN]

9/ Hrotsvit is discussed in episode 6 (note 18) and in episode 20 (and in the forthcoming episode 22).

Jesse: Aristophanes was awesome. Lysistrata!

Jesse: Terence was a great comic Roman playwright who was tremendously influential in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period and is therefore one of the roots of modern western comedy. He was (North) African, probably from Carthage, and was brought to Rome as an enslaved person. He was educated and eventually freed because of his talent, whereupon he acquired the name Terence. His full name is Publius Terentius Afer–he actually took the “Terentius/Terence” from the man who enslaved (but then also freed) him.

Jesse: Were the past 4 years worth it to watch Kate McKinnon play Rudy Giuliani (slightly NSFW) on SNL? I will have to think about it. There are too many Kenan Thompson clips to choose from, but this one is amazing and also has Leslie Jones. (To be fair, the lazzi are pretty restrained in that one. Here’s another one with lots of lazzi that may be considered NSFW.)

Conan O’Brien on Colbert.

The Ministry of Silly Walks (apologies–I could not find a version that was longer or had more pixels). [Honestly there are too many Monty Python possibilities to link to. Google and start watching!–JN!]

The Key and Peele aerobics skit. Also, if you’re interested in Jordan Peele’s interest in horror, this skit about racist zombies is worth watching (and hilarious, regardless of your interest in horror).

10/ Jesse: For more on Commedia, check out this modern company in DC, Faction of Fools. Here are some great images from Piccolo Teatro di Milano (in Milan), and this link should be all the images from their amazing production of Servant of Two Masters, stretching back decades. Here are some masks made today (we are not endorsing this company). Again, not an endorsement for this one either, but a lot of great images of masks–click through the characters.

Episode 20: Vampires, Ghosts, and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night

Summary

We got all your vampire subtypes: sparkling, British, and thirsty for the blood of the living. We got a couple of different types of ghosts, including hungry ghosts and dybbuks. And we got discussions of ghost stories that appear in both Noh drama and Chinese opera. All that, and we also talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s what you need today, so come and listen!

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Vampires that sparkle = Twilight. Vampires with appealing British accents = Spike (James Marsters) from Buffy, although apparently a lot of films have British vampires, since the villains in American films tend to be British anyway…and vampires are supposed to be kind of sexy and kind of evil… (c.f. The Hunger, where David Bowie plays a vampire.)

Jesse’s reference to a film called The Batman: Robert Pattinson (who played Edward in Twilight and who actually is British) is scheduled to play Batman in it. I have to admit, while listening to this I totally forgot that Pattinson was British and was trying to track down a Batman film starring James Marsters (who is American but famously played a British vampire, as discussed above). [James Marsters is definitely the best British vampire. And he only sparkled metaphorically, which…seems better. Vampires are soulless, and sparkling suggest divinity somehow. But maybe not in the Twilight franchise! I haven’t read them.–JN]

2/ Religions that have a Hell without a heaven: the Ancient Greeks [and Romans], although their Hell was kind of subdivided in different ways depending on who you are. [To be fair, it’s not “Hell;” it’s the afterlife. Everyone goes there, and some people end up in good places, some people in bad places, and some people end up in boring places.–JN]

3/ We got a question from an alert listener about how well The Seventh Seal reflects the actual Middle Ages. I don’t think Jesse gave too direct of an answer, other than “it’s a good film, you should watch it.” [The movie reflects the Middle Ages excellently in many ways, especially philosophically and artistically. See note 7 below!–JN]

4/ Materialism: The idea that there’s no soul, you’re just driven around by your brain.

Note: this is different from dialectical materialism, which is a Marxist idea about how labor, class, and economic status interact to form social structures (meaning, here, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, I guess).

5/ The Clockwork Monk episode of Radiolab.

Rather more famous automated owl. [Yes! All hail Harryhousen.–JN]

The film Hugo features an automaton that was inspired by Henri Maillardet’s automaton.

Article on Maillardet Automaton and the film.

Wikipedia article on the Maillardet automaton (with pictures).

The Antikythera mechanism. Unclear whether anyone put it in a bag of rice when they fished it out in 1901.

6/ The story of Hildr resurrecting the soldiers, also known as Hjaðningavíd, or the Saga of Hild.

7/ The terracotta soldiers were not just Qin dynasty, they were placed in the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China and founder of the Qin dynasty (which went from 221 to 206 BCE). Note that “China” was not synonymous with the China we see on maps today. You can see the soldiers if you travel to Xi’an (which–I think it’s about 24+ hours by train from Beijing; it’s certainly at least a 12-hour drive, so it’s a bit of a schlepp), or there’s a touring exhibition that we both saw when it came to the Field Museum in Chicago. [SO AMAZING!!!!–JN]

The use of mercury may have been a Taoist thing–I can’t find any evidence one way or another, but they did a lot of weird alchemical stuff. Or it may have been used as traps, or just because it looks like water. There are also, according to legends, crossbows aimed at people who might break in.

Jesse: A memento mori is anything that reminds a living person of death (the phrase means “remembrance of death”). Usually this is portrayed as a skeleton (or skull) confronting a living person. Hamlet’s speech to Yorick’s skull is a great example. The point is never to forget that we all end up dead, so we’d better make our lives count (and not do evil, petty, stupid things). One of my favorites is the image that inspired Bergman’s Seventh Seal–a painting of Death playing chess with someone. It was painted by Albertus Pictor (c. 1440–c. 1507) in the Täby kyrka (Täby Church) in Sweden, and we actually see Pictor in the process of painting it in the Seventh Seal.

8/ In Buffy, the cross is what drives away vampires, regardless of the religion of both the person holding the cross and the vampire (or vampire’s former religion?). In at least one episode of Doctor Who, the person’s belief in another thing or person is what is protective, rather than the actual physical symbol (e.g., season 26’s The Curse of Fenric). Also, I watched the scene in 30 Days of Night, and she doesn’t actually have a cross, so while the vampire gets to deny the existence of any deities, it’s unclear whether having the actual cross would have made a difference (warning, that scene is a bit creepy).

Also, here’s a scene of a vampire being staked from Dracula: Dead and Loving It (this scene is not especially creepy). [Ha! Love it. –JN]

Jesse: Anne Rice’s vampires can go out during the day, but not in the movies as I recall.

9/ Saul Epstein and Sara Robinson, “The Soul, Evil Spirits, and the Undead: Vampires, Death, and Burial in Jewish Folklore and Law,” in Preternatural: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, v. 1, no. 2(2012): 232–251 Link.

[37:00] “A Jewish woman died, and she wasn’t buried for three days…” It is traditional in Judaism to bury people as soon as possible after death, for a variety of reasons. Nowadays the reason is usually given as “Jews don’t practice embalming, so it’s necessary,” but obviously the tradition is a lot older than embalming and has a lot of interesting roots.

[For Joshua Trachtenberg on estries, see Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 38–39.–JN]

Vlad the Impaler / Vlad Dracula: the ultimate freedom fighter vs terrorist–depends on whose side you’re on.

Lilith: famed namesake of Lilith Fair. Apropos of the next note, she also turns up in Sandman a bit.

Neil Gaiman, “Parliament of Rooks,” Sandman vol. 40. It’s in vol. 6 (Fables & Reflections of the collected Sandman. This is the same collection that contains “Three Septembers and a January,” which is about Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States, and is extremely charming.

A midrash is a story told by rabbis to explain weird or contradictory or missing things from the Torah. [Yes–the middle wife becomes a memento mori even though death didn’t exist yet. Hmmmm.–JN]

Founder of Aikido: Morihei Ueshiba. “Osensei” is an honorific meaning “great teacher.”

Wole Soyinka, Death of the King’s Horsemen. Summary here. Egungun is a Yoruban masquerade carried out as part of ancestor worship.

Junji Ito is the maga horror artist. The short story is “Gentle Goodbye” in Fragments of Horror.

10/ We recorded this episode in early September–Zhong Yuan Jie was Sept. 2nd this year.

Hungry Ghost Scroll

Hungry ghost detail picture

Atsumori is mentioned in episode 17 (see note 7).

[56:00] “And this is all based on real wars…” The ghost part may or may not have been an exaggeration. [Yes, yes, I do not claim the ghost part is real, but the wars sure were!–JN ]

11/ Tomoe Gozen. Whether she was an actual historical person or not seems to be a question, but there are a number of other actual female warriors, aka onna-bugeisha, in Japanese history. [In fairness to Tomoe, “not proven to be historical” is one of those things people say about women who did incredible things but cannot be 100% verified. Joan of Arc is so over verified there’s not much to be done to discredit her, although people try. More recently, there are people trying to argue that a Viking warrior proven via DNA to be genetically female wasn’t actually a warrior, because whhhhhhaaaaaaaaa, women just didn’t DO those things! Except Valkyrie in myth, of course. And so on. –JN]

Tomoe (Noh play).

12/ Guan Hanqing (c. 1241–1320), The Injustice to Duo E / Snow in Midsummer. This play was also discussed (more briefly) in episode 15 (see note 14).

Confucianism is notable for putting into place this exam system by which anyone (well, probably only men, and probably only men of a particular class or above who would have had time to become literate and study for them etc.) could get a post in the government–an early attempt at a meritocracy, call it. The Temple of Literature in Hanoi, which dates from 1070, is dedicated to Confucius and features stelae in the shape of turtles carved with the names of everyone who passed the exams between 1442–1779. So just remember, grad students: no one except your mom and your advisor probably read your whole thesis, but someday if you’re lucky you can become a footnote in the bottom of someone else’s thesis. Or in their podcast notes. [Yes! A *true* honor.–JN]

Also, Em was wrong–the last civil service exam in Viet Nam was held in 1919, not “after WWII.” It was the last country to hold Confucian civil service exams. [Wow, that’s still amazing.–JN]

13/ Bakemono-no-e. (For non-American listeners, BYU = Brigham Young University, which is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They probably own it because their church has such an extensive history of proselytizing everywhere. But their website on the stroll is pretty extensive though, so check it out.)

14/ Takeda Izumo II, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Namiki Senryu I, Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees. [Kitsune–the awesome fox. –JN]

15/ Legend of the White Snake.

Jesse: For more on White Snake, see episode 15, note 14. About halfway through the note you’ll reach a paragraph with good White Snake info and videos.

Em: Talking to a Taiwanese friend, it seems it’s not totally clear that the Legend of White Snake is actually a Daoist legend, despite what the above-linked Wikipedia page claims (the Wiki page concurs with my assessment–a Daoist legend, although White Snake is not one of the eight immortals, and the villain is (disguised as) a Buddhist monk). It’s such an old story, it is totally possible that Daoists later retold the story in a way that cast Daoism as the prime mover, as it were.

16/ Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly had a very complicated relationship with her father, and I find it pretty fascinating, so buckle up. The man who raised her was (actual) famous philosopher William Godwin. (NOTE: Not the Godwin of Godwin’s Law–that’s lawyer Mike Godwin.) As you might guess from her name, Mary Shelly was the daughter of famed feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, a book that dared to argue (in 1792!) that women were not naturally inferior to men, they just seemed that way because they were unvalued and uneducated. Anyway, MW and WG had a sort of bohemian relationship, including living in separate houses after marriage to retain their independence. But he adopted her daughter Fanny from another relationship and then she died eleven days after having Mary, so he wound up raising both girls rather suddenly. A while later he remarried to a woman with two children of her own (Charles and Claire Clairmont) and had another child with her (William the Younger). The children were all well-educated, although Godwin thought that Mary was especially bright. PB Shelly was a romantic poet who happened to be married (to a woman named Harriet, with whom he had a child and while she was pregnant with their second) when he ran off with his mentor’s daughter Mary, who was SIXTEEN. Like–literally they ran off to Switzerland together, and brought her step-sister Claire (also sixteen) along, who would go on to have a child out of wedlock with Lord Byron. And Harriet did eventually commit suicide–while pregnant (a third/later pregnancy that may have been by a different man). Also, Mary’s elder half-sister, Fanny, may also have been in love with Shelly and eventually committed suicide (and he wrote a poem about it). Also, Godwin was constantly in debt and Shelly gave him money. Anyway, when Frankenstein was initially published it was anonymous, but because PB Shelly wrote the introduction and the book was dedicated to Godwin, everyone assumed he was also the author. BUT actually it was another Shelly. Speaking of which, when Em says “Shelly’s mother attempted suicide, but wound up dying in childbirth later”–she means Mary Shelly’s mother, not PB Shelly. Apologize for any confusion.

So, there’s your soap opera for today.

Episode 19: A Few Good Werewolves

Synopsis

From Bisclavret to Remus Lupin, werewolves have been portrayed in fiction for centuries–and portrayed both positively and negatively, by Jews and Christians alike. Join Em and Jessie as they discuss Medieval legends about these amazing beasts. And also a little bit about golems, kappas, and zombies/revenants, plus other creepy facts.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Jesse, we have to save some monsters for next year’s episode. [There are always plenty of monsters! We haven’t even started.–JN]

2/ The children’s book Jesse is thinking of may be The Book of Hob Stories, by William Mayne. [Yes! It’s a whole series.–JN]

Jesse: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare) II.i, the First Fairy to Puck:

Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?

3/ If we haven’t linked to it before, Daniel Radcliffe’s letter to the Trevor Project is here.

4/ The basilisk was discussed in episode 2 (see note 12).

Jesse: The Winter’s Tale (Shakespeare) I.ii, Polixenes to Camillo:

Make me not sighted like the basilisk:
I have look’d on thousands, who have sped the better
By my regard, but kill’d none so. Camillo,–

Also, while we’re on names, Harry Potter, and Shakespeare–Hermione is the very long-suffering wife of the jealous King Leontes in The Winter’s Tale (which precipitates the above dialogue between Polixenes and Camillo). In Greek mythology, Hermione was the daughter of Helen of Troy and Menelaus, King of Sparta (so, when Helen went off to Troy with Paris, she left her daughter Hermione behind).

Wikipedia has pictures of Kappas if you’re curious. [In reading this Wikipedia page, I realized that kappa maki, a sushi roll containing rice and strips of cucumber, is named for the folkloric Kappa, which are said to like cucumber and are often given offerings of the same.

I just need to pause a moment to gather in the fragments of my mind.–Em]

5/ Werewolves, not swearwolves.

[10:30] “Be careful when you meet people in Harry Potter…” I feel like a solid grounding in classical languages would be pretty important in that world. Actually a little weird that Hogwarts didn’t have a Latin (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, …) teacher…

Fenrir, child of Loki.

For the Terry Pratchett book with the support group for shy banshees and reluctant zombies, see Reaper Man. One of the zombies (Reg Shoe) eventually becomes a recurring character in the various Night Watch books as well. [Yes, I think the support group is for the “differently alive.”–JN]

The main Terry Pratchett books with golems are Feet of Clay, Going Postal, and Making Money, although like Reg Shoe they tend to turn up in the background of various others of the books.

The Ted Chiang short story about golems is “Seventy-Two Letters,” and it can be found in his first collection, Exhalation.

The X-Files episode with golems is “Kaddish” (season 4, episode 15).

6/ Yod-hay-vav-hay: it doesn’t spell out “Jehovah” in Hebrew because of grammar. (I think I had the Tetragrammaton mixed up in my head with some of the elements of the plot of “The Nine Billion Names of God,” by Arthur C. Clark. Honestly, I think that says something about how I have typically approached religion, somehow. –Em)

7/ For liminality, see episode 18, note 8.

8/ The Hereford World Map can be found in episode 11, note 21 and episode 14, note 21.

9/ Puck’s list, which immediately follows the First Fairy’s question above (II.i):

I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal:
And sometime lurk I in a gossip’s bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her wither’d dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And ‘tailor’ cries, and falls into a cough;
And then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh,
And waxen in their mirth and neeze and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there.

Midsummer Night’s Dream, act II, scene 1

We also see him drug a bunch of teenagers and turn the head of Bottom the weaver into that of an ass throughout the course of the play, among other things. [College-age kids by today’s standards. Also, while Oberon could certainly be accused of roofying Titania, Puck’s use of the drug on Demetrius raises some really interesting questions–i.e., that some men are loyal to their lovers (Lysander, except for a drug slip up by Puck, whoops), while some men are not (Demetrius). The happy ending of Midsummer depends on Demetrius remaining drugged for the rest of his life, presumably. Poor Helena?–JN]

10/ Jan Potocki is the author of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. It’s a real cult classic. I don’t know if he’s really known for anything else, honestly, other than his extremely creative mode of death.

11/ Werewolves of London, by the great philosopher Warren Zevon.

[Terry Pratchett also has some great werewolves who are good, bad, and ambiguous, but the main werewolf character is a good female werewolf who is a member of the Watch, Angua.–JN]

Concerning the etymology of werewolf, I wish to direct everyone’s attention to this poem by Christian Morgenstern, translated by Jerome Lettvin:

The Werewolf

One night, a werewolf, having dined,
Left his wife to clean the cave
And visited a scholar’s grave —
Asking “How am I declined?”

Whatever way the case was pressed
The ghost could not decline his guest,
But told the wolf (who’d been well-bred
And crossed his paws before the dead).

“The Iswolf, so we may commence,
the Waswolf, simple past in tense,
the Beenwolf, perfect, so construed,
the Werewolf is subjunctive mood.”

The werewolf’s teeth with thanks were bright,
But, mitigating his delight,
There rose the thought, how could one be
Hypostasized contingency?

The ghost observed that few could live,
If werewolves were indicative;
Whereat his guest perceived the role

Of Individual in the Whole.

Condition contrary to fact,
A single werewolf Being lacked —
But in his conjugation showed
The full existence, a la mode.

This translation by Alexander Gross is also great.

A Werewolf, troubled by his name,
Left wife and brood one night and came
To a hidden graveyard to enlist
The aid of a long-dead philologist.

“Oh sage, wake up, please don’t berate me,”
He howled sadly, “Just conjugate me.”
The seer arose a bit unsteady
Yawned twice, wheezed once, and then was ready.

“Well, ‘Werewolf’ is your plural past,
While ‘Waswolf’ is singularly cast:
There’s ‘Amwolf’ too, the present tense,
And ‘Iswolf,’ ‘Arewolf’ in this same sense.”

“I know that–I’m no mental cripple–
The future form and participle
Are what I crave,” the beast replied.
The scholar paused–again he tried:

“A ‘Will-be-wolf?’ It’s just too long:
‘Shall-be-wolf?’ ‘Has-been-wolf?’ Utterly wrong!
Such words are wounds beyond all suture–
I’m sorry, but you have no future.”

The Werewolf knew better–his sons still slept
At home, and homewards now he crept,
Happy, humble, without apology
For such folly of philology.

(The Zwicky site linked above has several other charming translations.)

12/ The board game in which King Cnut makes an appearance. 7.2 is a decent rating but the reviews don’t seem super positive. [Ah well. If you’re interested, check out the OED’s definition of werewolf for the quote from Cnut’s Laws, and check out the “Middle Ages” section of WIkipedia’s “Werewolf” page for a translation.–JN]

13/ Marie de France (flourished 1160-1215), poet at the court of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Henry II is known for being Peter O’Toole.

The Aquitaine: In case you were curious, it’s in the south near where France runs into modern-day Spain. The largest city there is Bordeaux.

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.

Anowa, by Ama Ata Aidoo. Not, uh, not a comedy. [Great play though!–JN]

Gerald of Wales.

14/ Article on Jewish werewolves! By Northwestern professor David Shyovitz “Christians and Jews in the Twelfth Century Werewolf Renaissance,” Journal of the History of Ideas 75 (2014): 521-43.

Wikipedia on the Hasidim of Ashkenaz.

Genesis, 49:27: Benjamin is a wolf, he will prey; in the morning he will devour plunder, and in the evening he will divide the spoil.”

I’m just going to point out that elsewhere in the chapter, Napthali is called “a swift gazelle,” and no one has written that he’s a weregazelle or anything, presumably because that’s not really a thing. So the preexisting tradition of people turning into wolves probably works in Benjamin’s favor here.

This raises an interesting question we don’t get into in the episode: why is there a pre-existing tradition of people turning into wolves rather than other dangerous animals such as tigers, bears, hippopotami, etc.? I feel like the privileged relationship between humans and dogs has somehow spilled over to wolves, but beyond that I’m not really sure–someone get Alexandra Horowitz on the phone…

15/ Elijah was assumed into heaven in 2 Kings. This is also the chapter where Elisha, who was Elijah’s companion and in a really bad mood, calls out two bears to tear apart 42 children who are teasing him for being bald. Some might call that an overreaction.

Enoch is assumed into heaven in Genesis 5:24. Unlike Elijah, there’s not much there.

If you are saying, “But wait, back in the episodes about Dante and Hell you mentioned that Christian belief is that no one went to heaven before Christ’s death, and yet here are two people that Christians seem to believe…went to heaven…before Christ’s death,” yes, you have pointed out an interesting doctrinal problem. It’s not clear to me how this is solved, except by the pope basically saying, “Yeah, G-d can make exceptions if He wants to.” [The fact they didn’t die seems to be the key. If you died, you had to wait in Limbo for Jesus to open Heaven.–JN]

16/ Christina the Astonishing was previously discussed in episode 9 (see note 29 and relevant part of the episode). I (Em) would say she’s seriously one of the weirdest stories we have talked about on this podcast, and we have talked about quite a lot of weird stories. [Yay!–JN]

17/ Thriller. [Since MJ is dead, we can acknowledge the genius of this video. It is the best.–JN]

Warm Bodies is the zombie romantic comedy movie mentioned.

18/ Nancy Caciola, Afterlives: The Return of the Dead in the Middle Ages. Cornell University Press, 2016. Amazon link.

Matins happened sometime between 3am and dawn.

19/ The ST:TNG episode I mention was Night Terrors (season 4, episode 17). In it, the corpses sitting up is explained as a hallucination caused by lack of REM sleep (which is another actual thing).

The Fall of the House of Usher,” by Edgar Allan Poe.

Caitlin Doughty (Ask a Mortician) addressed a story about a woman who woke up alive at a funeral home recently.

It turns out it wasn’t a podcast–it was a New Yorker article: “What Does It Mean to Die?

Recently (10/19/20): “Michigan Woman Found Alive at Funeral Home Dies 8 Weeks Later

Episode 18: Halloween: A Not-So-Spooky History

Summary

Halloween! A time of candy, Pagan ritual, sexy bus driver costumes, and syncretism. How much of this holiday has been handed down to us from the middle ages, and how much is modern? Join Em and Jesse for an exciting discussion of the medieval version of All Hallows’ Eve, with some fun digressions on the myths of Persephone/Ishtar in the underworld, JK Rowling, the movie Wicker Man, and why people are unlikely to put razor blades in Halloween candy.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Syncretism: when people with different beliefs run into each other, and for whatever reason they decide that they have actually been believing in the same religion even though they use different names for things–for example, Haitian Vodou involves many elements of syncretism between West African folk beliefs and Roman Catholic beliefs; for example, many of the lwa (the second level of deity, typically Yoruban gods) are syncretized with Catholic saints (Papa Legba, for example, is variously associated with St. Peter, St. Lazarus, and St. Anthony). Syncretism can happen because of cultural struggle (the Haitians were transported from West Africa to slavery in Haiti, where they were captives of French Catholics), or because two cultures live next to each other for a long time, or for other reasons. [Yeah, it’s a little more complicated than blending, borrowing, appropriating, and other words that get used for this sort of thing.–Jesse]

2/ There has been a weird revival of the Hades and Persephone story, probably because of this immensely popular web comic (hitherto unknown to me, but it’s entirely adorable) OR this other adorable web comic about them (what is even going on), but also there are a lot of memes like this that honestly I like because they retell the story in a way that gives Persephone a much more active hand in determining her fate than other versions. Although I find the interest in this particular story a little surprising–maybe because unlike Zeus or Poseidon, Hades seems to have been pretty loyal to her?

Other versions of the myth, which we discuss somewhat in passing, involve Persephone being abducted by Hades and then tricked into eating pomegranate seeds. Homer doesn’t mention the abduction myth in the Iliad or the Odyssey and just describes her as a formidable queen of the Shades. Hesiod mentions the abduction briefly. Either way, it’s worth noting that “Persephone” might mean “bringer of destruction,” which is kind of appropriate for a nature goddess, right? I mean, nature is not a benign force. Nature is flowers in a meadow, but nature is also bears and sharks and moose and hippopotamuses and tornadoes.

Jesse: It’s true that Homer doesn’t mention the abduction myth in the Iliad or the Odyssey; in fact, his description of Persephone focuses on the fact that she is to be feared. Hesiod also implies that she is as terrifying as her husband Hades (Theogony lines 768 and 775), although he also briefly mentions that Persephone is carried off from her mother by Hades (Theogony lines 914–15).

Hesiod’s Theogony at Perseus Project

It’s clear from Hesiod that Persephone’s dread aspect (Hesiod’s ἐπαινῆς Περσεφονείης) and her abduction by Hades are not mutually exclusive elements of the myth. The abduction is clearly a stable and long-standing part of the story–as is the fact that Zeus enables it by essentially giving Persephone to his brother Hades without her mother Demeter’s knowledge or permission–and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (not actually written by Homer) gives an incredibly detailed and fairly graphic account of the abduction. In this version, Persephone eats the pomegranate and has to spend 1/3 (later 1/2) of the year with Hades but gets to spend 2/3 of the year with her mother Demeter. You can read the Homeric Hymn to Demeter at Perseus Project.

On the subject of Persephone’s name (Περσεφονη)–it probably does not mean bringer of destruction. This is a false etymology–at some point, someone decided to deconstruct Persephone’s name accordingly, but her name did not actually derive from these terms. The false etymology relies on πέρθω (pertho; future tense πέρσω persō), which means “to destroy” and φονή (phonē), which means “carnage” or “a bloody murder.” Again, it’s a great false etymology, but her name didn’t actually derive from those words; someone created the derivation based on the name which was already in existence. In addition, Persephone is frequently referred to (and represented in statues as) a kore, or a young girl. While this may seem at odds with her “dreadful” nature, she strikes fear into people based on her position as Queen of the Underworld (she’s good at her job), not based on the fact that she is depicted as personally or physically terrifying (like Athena is, for example).

The Ninnion Tablet.

3/ Ishtar in the underworld was also discussed in a previous episode–see episode 8, note 18. [Here’s Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld (Sumerian text recorded c. 1750 BCE).–Jesse]

4/ Samhain (pronounced “Sa-wan”): a Gaelic harvest festival.

All Hallows’ Day Eve = Oct. 31st
All Hallows’ Day / All Saints’ Day = Nov 1st
All Souls’ Day = Nov 2nd

Jesse: Again, the usual booooooooo at JK Rowling for being a TERF.

5/ The Pantheon, aka the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs.

6/ The Wicker Man came out in 1973 and starred Christopher Lee, among others. There’s also a remake from 2006 starring Nicholas Cage. I haven’t seen either, but just looking at their ratings, one may be slightly better than another. Interestingly, the original novel was set in Cornwall.

7/ Day of the Dead / Dia de los Muertos, possibly originally a celebration of Mictecacihuatl, queen of the underworld, who swallows the stars during the day.

8/ The idea of liminality comes up constantly in the study of beliefs/traditions and folklore. It basically means being in a state where you’re between two categories of thing (such as being in between childhood and adulthood during a coming-of-age ritual). There’s often a certain danger associated with people in this state (one of the reason you don’t interrupt rituals). [Victor Turner is the one to read on liminality, if you’re interested. Here’s the Wikipedia entry to give you a place to start. –Jesse]

9/ Turnip lanterns: extremely creepy example.

10/ Unrelatedly, mumming is mentioned in Ulysses I.97–98. In context:

—The aunt thinks you killed your mother, he said. That’s why she won’t let me have anything to do with you.

—Someone killed her, Stephen said gloomily.

—You could have knelt down, damn it, Kinch, when your dying mother asked you, Buck Mulligan said. I’m hyperborean as much as you. But to think of your mother begging you with her last breath to kneel down and pray for her. And you refused. There is something sinister in you….

He broke off and lathered again lightly his farther cheek. A tolerant smile curled his lips.

—But a lovely mummer! he murmured to himself. Kinch, the loveliest mummer of them all!

If I’m reading this correctly, “mummer” appears to be a play on words, both Mulligan accusing Stephen of acting (or more like performing his atheism at inappropriate times?) and also suggesting that his mother was a lovely person. [It might also be a pun on Stephen’s name–December 26, St Stephen’s Day, is a day for mumming.–Jesse] (Probably all of the above, knowing Joyce.–Em)

Jesse: For some fun mumming pictures, zoom in on the bottom right of this page and on the bottom left of this page Notice the awesome animal masks!

For the dragons, check out Philip Butterworth’s article “Late Medieval Performing Dragons” in The Yearbook of English Studies vol. 43, Early English Drama (2013), pp. 318–342. Also check out this great image from the Luttrell Psalter (1320–1340)–go to the down arrow at the far (top) right and scroll down to 184r to see the dragon at the bottom of the page.

Entertainment (acrobats/mumming, jousting) from the Luttrell Psalter here [f 69v and f 82r–two separate pages]. And for more on the Luttrell Psalter, check here.

11/ Snopes on poisoning of Halloween candy.

Apparently there have been a few cases of people putting razor blades and such in candy/apples, but people are almost never hurt by the implements, and at worst have required a few stitches.

Episode 17: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Synopsis

Dance dramas are theatrical presentations that use dance (and sometimes words, but mostly dance) to tell a story. Em and Jesse look at dance dramas from around the world, from Mesoamerica before and after the Spanish invasion to Japan. With a number of digressions involving Prince, Irish step dancing, Alvin Ailey, and the movie Being John Malkovich.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ A shout out to Manual Cinema in Chicago. Here’s the Candyman trailer.

We talked about Kara Walker in episode 10 (see notes 16 and 24).

2/ The theatre in the Water Tower is Lookingglass Theatre. Mr and Mrs Pennyworth (trailer here) was a Lookingglass Theatre production with Manual Cinema. If you’re in Chicago, we recommend them both.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is here. They’re doing workshops at the end of October/through November 2020 online, and more will undoubtedly pop up. Check them out.

Also, check out the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta–great programming for kids.

3/ Dance drama! We talked about this a little bit at the end of episode 12 (note 30), in the context of Aztec and Mayan dance dramas.

Misty Copeland is the first African American woman to become a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre, which is one of the biggest ballet companies in the US (if you are like me/Em and don’t understand what a principal dancer is–it’s like having a fifth degree black belt in dance, I guess). For his own purple reasons, Prince hired her to dance on top of his piano (and throughout his stage show) back when he was still alive and touring. [Heart.–Jesse]

Race in ballet is a complicated topic, but it is worth noting that until relatively recently, it was common for non-White ballerinas to powder their skin while performing to appear paler, while some roles were danced by White dancers wearing blackface. In addition, there are traditional standards for what ballerinas look like that privilege the look of white bodies. Finally, ballet is expensive to train in if you’re not being paid–think $200 per month for pointe shoes.

The Richmond, VA woman who took up Irish dance is Morgan Bullock and video of her can be found here.

Ballerinas changing the Lee statue in Richmond (and much more!): Brown Ballerinas for Change.

Alvin Ailey founded his own dance troupe and choreographed a landmark piece called “Revelations.” More about “Revelations” here.

An excerpt from Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake. NYT write-up.

2/ Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz (1648–1695). Wrote the Loa for the (Auto Sacramental of the) Divine Narcissus. See episode 12, note 30 and following.

Of women elsewhere in Europe doing amazing things during this time, look no farther than Sophia of the Palatinate (1630–1714), who became electress of Hanover and was mother of (the British) King George I. Had seven children who lived to adulthood and had Gottfried Leibniz as her librarian and personal friend before dying age 83. Her descendants now occupy all seven European thrones and Luxembourg.

Anne (1665–1714) was also queen of England during this period (beginning 1702).

3/ Nahuatl is an interesting language. Here are some words in it you already know or might recognize: chipotle, coyotl, axolotl, chocolotl. [English likes to import food words. Lots of other words too, English is a very spongy language, but definitely food words.–Jesse]

The Chester play was discussed in episode 8 (see note 26).

The Spanish-style morality play discussed here is a last judgment play (titled Final Judgment) in Nahuatl. An English translation can be found in Stages of Conflict edited by Taylor and Townsend. Sor Juana de la Cruz’s Loa and the Mayan Rabinal Achi can also be found in translation in this excellent collection.

A slightly fuller explanation of the sexism of the Final Judgment: The priest stops our heroine, Lucia, from confessing(!!!) and accuses her of not accepting the seventh sacrament, holy matrimony. Presumably the point isn’t just that she’d been sleeping around but that she may have been married in an Aztec ceremony, which of course wouldn’t count. I refrained from mentioning in the podcast that Christ himself appears (it’s the Last Judgment, remember) and berates Lucia, helping to thrust her into Hell(!!!!). Again, the play is horrifically sexist and excruciatingly colonialist, but it’s a fascinating study.

“You have to be allowed to confess everything, that’s the point.” See also Michel Foucault’s History of Human Sexuality, vol. 1 on the link/transfer between confession to priests and confession to analysts in modern society. [Oooooo, yes!–Jesse]

[24:21] “They have a God…” They actually have a couple of gods–Quetzalcoatl, and the one I am struggling to name, Coatlicue (“Snake Skirt”). (“Coatl” means snake in Nahuatl; -tl or -tli are absolutive singular suffixes for non-possessed nouns, I hope Dou are glad I looked that up.)

Jesse: Interestingly, Coatlicue is a mother goddess, so it’s possible that an indigenous audience would have seen Lucia actually turned into Coatlicue after (as a reward for?) the horrors Christ and the Spanish attempt to visit on her. Probably not the ending the Spanish intended.

I’d also like to give a shout out here to contemporary lesbian, Chicana, playwright Cherrie Moraga. Check out The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea and Heart of the Earth: A Popol Vuh Story to get started.

4/ The Mayan dance drama Rabinal Achi was also discussed in episode 12 (see note 30).

5/ On the ritualistic language of courtrooms:

(Thanks to this site)

But also there are specific things that people DO in courtrooms and ways that they act (the swearing in, the way the judge and jury are addressed, the times of standing and sitting) are incredibly ritualistic.

6/ This discussion is about Christ’s trial scenes in the York Cycle plays. Henry IV had the Archbishop of York, Richard Scrope, convicted of treason and executed. However, it took two judges to do the job (the first judge refused). In the York Cycle, Pilate is unwilling to condemn Christ in his first trial before Pilate, but in the second trial before Pilate, Pilate is more than happy to condemn Christ. Pamela King has demonstrated that these two scenes from the York Cycle clearly represent the real events of the Archbishop’s trials and consequently draw a connection between Pilate and the government of Henry IV. See Pamela King The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2006); pgs. 189–200. Amazon link.

Over the course of Shakespeare’s 2 Henry IV Act IV, we see the Archbishop of York (Richard Scrope) arrested for treason and summarily executed.

Links to the York Cycle, The First Trial before Pilate, and The Second Trial before Pilate.

The Revello Passion Play or La Passione di Revello. Sacra rappresentazione quattrocentesca di ignoto piemontese edited by Anna Cornagliotti (Amazon Italy link. If you read Italian, check out WorldCat!

The Mayan warrior at the far left in the middle has a shield and a raised club/battle axe. (This is an image from the Dresden Codex.) For more codices, see this site.

Here’s a statue of a Mayan warrior with a shield (presumably the club or axe is missing from the open hand).

From Dennis Tedlock’s Rabinal Achi: A Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice, p. 131.

Just for fun, a Mayan statue of a young corn god (Mayan and Aztec culture definitely intermingled!).

Mayan sacrifice by decapitation (Close up on the axe, middle/left.)

The intersex servant is referred to as a slave but clearly has a fairly important ceremonial position.

The change of number in the warriors’ names from 13 Yellow (or Golden) Eagles and 13 Yellow (or Golden) Jaguars to 12 happened before the script was written down in the extant version. Nonetheless, the symbolism of the numbers makes it fairly clear that this is a change–one that was apparently made quite early, presumably as part of the process of adapting Rabinal Achi slightly in order to be allowed to continue performing it under the Spanish. (Of the many other dance dramas that existed, this is the only one we still have.) This is a change that would have aligned nicely with the new performance date of St Paul’s Day and other similar syncretic adaptations.

7/ Atsumori. And here’s a full performance. Watch times if you don’t have time to watch the whole performance: entrance of waki/priest 6:00–8:00; entrance of shite/Atsumori disguised as a common grass cutter 18:35–20:20; entrance of kyogen/townsperson 41:20–42:00; entrance of Atsumori as ghost-warrior self 1:00:00–1:01:40; Atsumori dances out his death 1:18:20–1:21:20 and 1:26:00–end (notice the use of the sword).

Zeami Motokiyo wrote it and a lot of other stuff.

8/ [1:07:35] Em should have said “Chinese-speaking people” rather than “Chinese people.” We regret the error.

9/ Beyoncé (feat. Kendrick Lamar). Still super iconic.

Jesse: I purposely ignored black/brown/yellow/redface in my comments on “full face makeup,” because while racist makeup is an extremely important thing to discuss, it should NOT be used as an excuse to explain why the so-called West seems to have given up on full face makeup and/or masks. These issues are partially related, but also separate.

10/ Being John Malkovich. Still one of the most surreal films I [Em] has ever seen, I think.

Basil Twist and Stickman–a marionette performance that will make you cry.

Episode 16: Much Ado About Puppets

Summary

Puppets are actually a pretty medieval art form–and not just for kids. These puppets do and say things that would have been politically risky for the humans controlling them to say, and also they are real works of art. Join us as we look puppetry traditions of Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey, and Egypt. With some digressions about the fun of buying random pastries at Chinese bakeries, and also Shakespeare.

Annotations, Notes, Corrections

1/ Em: I have made vegan mooncakes (mooncakes, or 月餅 / yue bing, are the pastry with egg yolks inside–typically salted duck eggs, I think–there might be other pastries like this too). My Taiwanese friends were, hmm, gracious. Also, I have made my own red bean paste, and it is basically all sugar (well, a lot of recipes have a 1:1 ratio of adzuki beans to sugar; some note that if you’re using the bean paste in pastry, as opposed to serving it on its own, you should use more).

Also, the mushrooms I got hung up on: cat ear mushroom/nam meo is actually, I think, the Vietnamese name for it. The Chinese name is black wood ear/黑木耳, so the word “mushroom” was actually not on the menu, hence my confusion. BUT also it turns out that in the Middle Ages (at least, according to Wikipedia), they were called Jew’s Ear mushrooms! And in fact the Latin name is Auricuularia auricula-judae. Why? The mushrooms themselves are vaguely ear-shaped, and tradition holds that Judas Iscariot hanged himself on an elder tree, which is where the mushrooms grow (in some places).

Jesse: Food is amazing!!! We should have a food episode!!

2/ Cesar: Gaul is full of barbarians.
France, 1500 years later: We are the resurgence of classical civilization, of which Greece and Rome were the primary lights.
Cesar: My, how the turntables have… turned.

3/ Concerning Titus Andronicus: the villain, Aaron the Moor, has the best evil monologue in all of Shakespeare. You can read it here. That is the only thing I really have to say about that play, which in other respects is…really bloody.

Jesse: 3 Henry VI, I.iv–Queen Margaret has (Richard Duke of) York stand on a molehill (which parallels the hill at Calvary) and crowns him with a paper crown (which parallels Jesus’s crown of thorns). Margaret also gives York a handkerchief to dry his tears, and the handkerchief is stained in the blood of his son (Edmund Earl of) Rutland. In this moment, Rutland is symbolic of the Christ child, while his blood on the handkerchief is reminiscent of the collecting of Christ’s blood in the chalice (aka the holy grail) at the crucifixion. We get some good father/son symbolism as well, before York is stabbed to death by Margaret and Clifford. Shakespeare is clearly using the symbolism from Passion plays to great advantage.

Margaret also gets some truly extraordinary lines (it IS Shakespeare): “Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland,/ Come, make him stand upon this molehill here,/ That raught at mountains with outstretched arms,/ Yet parted but the shadow with his hand.” (I love this line so much.)

Also of interest, the 1592 pamphlet written by playwright Robert Green (probably, and published by Henry Chettle), titled Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance, includes the famous lines “there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that, with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie.” The quote refers to a jack-of-all-trades (Johannes Factotum) who thinks a lot of himself as a an actor (player) even though his ability is really due to the playwrights who write his lines (beautified with our–playwrights’–feathers), and now he thinks he can do anything (Johannes Factotum) including write his own plays as well as the “real” playwrights (bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you)!!! The line “Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide” comes from this scene in 3 Henry VI, where York memorably calls Margaret “O tiger’s heart wrapt in a woman’s hide!” The pun on “Shake-scene” and “Shake-spear” is presumably to identify Shakespeare to any reader who didn’t see or hear about the line in 3 Henry VI (and, of course, to make fun of him again). Anyhow, this pamphlet is the earliest extant external reference to Shakespeare that we’ve got, and it’s one of the ways we know he started out as an actor before he started writing plays. It’s also how we know he’d already written the Henry VI plays by/in 1592. Interestingly, Greene died before the pamphlet was published, and his publisher later seems to have apologized to Shakespeare “The other, whom at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that, as I have moderated the heat of living writers and might have used my own discretion (especially in such a case, the author being dead), that I did not I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault, because myself have seen his demeanor no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes. Besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing that approves his art.” See the Groat’s-Worth of Wit section here and here.

3 Henry VI I.iv is a phenomenal scene, and I recommend it!

4/ Moll Cutpurse showed up in episode 6 (see note 20).

5/ Bunraku.
Some great videos here and here.
UNESCO Heritage video.

Here’s the full CBS 60 minutes video on Kabuki (you need to be a subscriber to watch it, I think–sorry!).

6/ [34:10] The Rogue One character I was thinking of was probably Chirrut Imwe, possibly because he fights with a jo (ish) and is played by Donnie Yen, who typically makes his living playing various badasses like Ip Man.

I don’t know if he was specifically the character Jesse was referring to, but there are certainly a lot of articles online about the connection between Star Wars and Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress.

7/ Here’s a guy covering “Master of Puppets” on a shamisen.

Basil Twist’s website. Here’s Basil Twist on Dogugaeshi (also with his shamisen player, who is a woman who is a master).

Here are the western Baroque theatres (we talk about these in a future episode):
Drottningholms Slottsteater (Sweden). And a video.

Cesky Krumlov Castle Baroque Theatre (scenery changes at 3:17).

Cesky Krumlov Castle.

8/ Ibn Daniyal came up back in episode 1 (see note 16). I feel like he maybe came up somewhere else too, but if he did he wasn’t footnoted. Maybe I just think he came up more because he was one of the names that came up when Jesse and I started discussing making the podcast. (This site gives his birth as 1238 not 1248–needless to say, there’s some uncertainty here.)

Jesse: Apparently the translation of the plays is out of print, but I’m sure the library (or ILL) will have it!

9/ Wayang:  The Wikipedia site is quite good and includes a lot of great history and images.

Wayang kulit videos: UNESCO Heritage video.
Complete performance from visiting artist-scholar Madé Sidia at the University of Richmond.
Wayang Kulit Star Wars.

Wayang Golek (rod puppets).

Wayang klitik or krucil (images): The British Museum’s information on them (click on “related objectes”). And specific puppets: a king, and the hero Sapulaga. Videos here and here.

Wayang wong: video and mask.

10/ Tholu bommalata.
Videos here (notice that the color shines through, which can be true in wayang kulit as well) and here.

[50:48] Jesse: Ooops, another moment of messy sound on my end. Sorry all!

11/ Múa rối nước: Water puppets. Not a ton of places on the web have background info, but a guy named Derek Gaboriault wrote his senior honors thesis at Western Kentucky University on them back in 2009. Check out p. 20 and on. Also, apologies for my accent, which is…confused.

Here’s a shorter video with some fun puppets in it.

Fun fact: rice is grown in flooded paddies because the water prevents the weeds from growing, but the rice plants do fine. The technique dates from the neolithic era.

The lake in Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake, aka the Lake of the Returned Sword.

12/ Karagoz and Hacivat. This website has some great info.

UNESCO Heritage video (not in English).
More videos here and here.

13/ Bread and Puppet Theater.

14/ Bardcore is a genre where musicians reset modern pop songs for period (or period-esque) instruments, and occasionally rewriting the songs in Old or Middle English or Latin. Check out some examples (and just Google Bardcore!):

Jolene” (covered by Hildegard von Blingin’).
Summertime Sadness” (covered by Hildegard von Blingin’).

Episode 15: The Not-Evolution of Theatre

Summary

In which Em and Jess discuss the important theoretical contributions of Tropic Thunder and Blazing Saddles to performance studies, thereby illustrating the important differences between performance, theatre, and ritual and vital questions about their respective origins.

Also, Jess calls Socrates evil, and then Em and Jess decolonize medieval theatre beginning with India and China.

(Aristotle loves theatre and therefore was not evil.)

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ Okay, to be honest–we didn’t talk about Australia, and that is a super colonized place that is ripe for a reevaluation–evidently, the period we refer to as “the middle ages” is typically called “prehistory” in Australia because there were no written records. (Refer to previous rant about the privileging of written records over other forms of memory.) Sometime we will have to circle back and think about this. [I read “super colonized” as “spider colonized” at first, which also rings true for Australia. But yes–we will definitely have to cover Australia and New Zealand!–JN]

2/ The dudes are emerging. [So many layers!!!–JN]

The new ice cream truck jingle by RZA. Turkey in the Straw information.

White Christmas “Minstrel Number”.

A NY Times article on the Met production of Othello. [Seriously, WTF!!! Come on, Met!–JN]]

I think the Ben Stiller/Spielberg movie was Empire of the Sun. [Yes, it was!–JN]

The Sean Penn movie was I Am Sam. I [Em] hadn’t heard of it, and–wow. Reading the summary, all I can say is it deserves whatever fun Ben Stiller was able to poke at it.

Also, as a face-blind person, the fact that so many actors become famous because they look like other actors is the bane of my freaking existence.

And here is the trailer for Satan’s Alley.

3/ [17:35] On performing parenthood: welcome to Em’s theory of how gender inequalities get perpetuated from generation to generation despite the idea that women shouldn’t have to do 100% of childcare and homemaking being a thing since at least 1989. (Actually probably a lot of women had this idea earlier, but 1989 is when The Second Shift was published.)

This doesn’t have too much to do with medieval studies, but whatever, sez I. [This was definitely an issue in the Middle Ages! We should have a medieval kid/parenthood episode.–JN] [I would totally be in for that.–Em]

4/ For Ishtar/Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld, see Episode 8 nt. 18.

Oedipus Rex, by Tom Lehrer.

5/ [29:59] “Socrates is evil…we’ll footnote that.” Stub footnote so Jesse can provide some proof or something. Otherwise we are going to get nailed on this by the ancient philosophy crowd. [I stand by this!! I have long rants on this, but I can boil it down to a few points. 1) Socrates’s students–specifically Critias–were responsible for a coup that overthrew the democracy in 404 BCE and installed the Thirty Tyrants, who were sympathetic to Sparta (to whom Athens had just lost the Peloponnesian War). 2) The Tyrants, especially Critias, were only in power for 8 months but managed to kill a LOT of people (maybe 5% of the Athenian population). Scholars have excused this over the years as “necessary” blah blah BS. IT’S FASCIST; THEY WERE FASCISTS. (Or more properly proto-fascist, I guess.) 3) Socrates hated democracy and loved the idea of an oligarchy composed of elite individuals. (Read Plato’s Republic.) Welp, turns out oligarchs are f**king monsters. 4) Critias again. 5) The democracy was restored in 403 BCE, and it was agreed that because SO MANY PEOPLE HAD BEEN KILLED by the tyrants, the newly restored democracy would only kill the tyrants themselves and their closest allies. Everyone else would be given amnesty. SOCRATES continued to preach oligarchy. 6) Seriously, read Plato’s early work. It’s not actually Socrates, of course, but it’s certainly influenced by Socrates. He was a classist, elitist snob. 7) Socrates was told to stop preaching oligarchy (i.e., the idea that the best government was one run by a few “qualified” individuals), but he wouldn’t stop. He was told to leave town; he wouldn’t. He couldn’t be executed directly for his role in the 404 BCE coup because of the general amnesty. (His role was difficult to prove anyway, despite Critias. The tyrants ordered Socrates to help in an execution, but Socrates said later that he just went home). So, “corrupting the youth” was a euphemism for “convincing people to overthrow the democracy.” 8) We celebrate Socrates as a martyr to education and freedom of speech, which is the most BS thing ever. He was a genius philosopher, and he’s had an astonishing impact on Western Civilization (via Plato). BUT he was pretty evil too. He is, of course, not the only philosopher to have felt that he isn’t responsible for terrible things done according to his philosophy.–JN]

Em: Okay, in my Introduction to Ancient Philosophy class (where we read Socrates’s Apology), we definitely did not talk about it in any sort of historical context, and…I don’t remember if we talked about what “corrupting the youth” actually meant. Huh.

6/ Recovering Ancient Greek music (including Euripides’s famous chorus of the furies from Orestes).

For more on Greeks and whiteness, see Episode 11, midway through note 15 (on the Elgin Marbles).

7/ I was in a play where we just sang A Health to the Company in the middle of Henry IV pt 1. I dunno, directing is hard, probably.

Also, to be fair to community theatre, setting all the songs to different Beatles tunes did work pretty well. I do love community theatre, it is the most punk of all available theatres.

8/ The Banana Song, for those curious:

Time to gather your arse up off the floor,
(have a bana-na)
Brush your teeth and go toddling off to war,
Wave your hand to sleepy land,
Kiss those dreams away,S
Tell Miss Grable you’re not able,
Not till V-E Day, oh,
Ev’rything’ll be grand in Civvie Street
(have a ban-ana)
Bubbly wine and girls wiv lips so sweet–
But there’s still the German or two to fight,
So show us a smile that’s shiny bright,
And then, as we may have suggested once before–
Gather yer blooming arse up off the floor!

This site has all the song lyrics in Gravity’s Rainbow. There are actually song lyrics in all of his books. Sadly, only one of the books ever got made into a film (Inherent Vice–it was weird).

Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.

9/ Jesse: Here is the website of the Athens Epidaurus Festival. They live streamed Aeschylus’s Persians from Epidaurus this year when the festival finally reopened.

The theatre of Herodes Atticus.

10/ Hrotsvit was in episode 6 (note 18); she’ll also be discussed extensively in a forthcoming episode.

11/ Kalidasa, The Recognition of Shakuntala.

Sudraka, The Little Clay Cart.

The Natya Shastra.

12/ Things England brought back from India (an incomplete list):

  • Spices
  • Paisley
  • Sanskrit drama
  • Some really big diamonds
  • A lot of other artefacts, including a Buddha statue (the Sultanganj Buddha) that weighs over 500 kg (over 1,000 lbs)
  • Approximately $45 trillion worth of stuff (in 2017 USD) over 173 years

13/ Sanskrit is still a language that is around today and you can learn it. There are about 3 million people worldwide who speak it and maybe 25k speak it as their primary language, but I believe what they speak is different from the “perfected” version of Sanskrit you might learn on your way to a degree in Buddhism (in Em’s program, you had to take a semester or two of Sanskrit before you could take Pali, the primary language of Buddhist texts–note that Em did a different track and didn’t take either).

Also, incidentally, Thai derives a fair amount of its script from Devanagari (the script Sanskrit is written in), but not in a way that is obvious if you look at the two abrugidas side by side.

“When we speak of horses” is a misquote from Henry V, act 1, scene 1 (actual quote: Think when we talk of horses, that you see them / Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth).

14/ Chinese opera: Dear China, I say this with the greatest respect as a Sinophile and a lover of opera: your opera is pretty extra.

Also I (Em) forgot, when we had this conversation, that Samuel Ramey used to leap out of the orchestra pit when he played Mephistopheles. Maybe. I was told this at one point. [Yes, in Boito’s Mephistopheles! I saw it at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Great production! Also, it starts with something akin to the Dialogue in Heaven, a medieval tradition followed by Goethe in Faust (and hence by Boito in his opera about Mephistopheles and Faust). Goethe might have decided to include the Dialogue in Heaven specifically because of the influence of Sanskrit dramas, which apparently made prologues cool again. Anyway, the Devil shows up to talk to God and bets God that he (the Devil) can tempt Faust. It’s quite Jobian. Anyway, this is why Ramey lept from the orchestra pit (Hell) to the stage (Heaven) to have a chat with God.–JN]

Jesse: Also, a shout out to David Cangelosi’s Mime in Wagner’s Ring Cycle (in a production originated at Lyric Opera of Chicago), where he climbed around the set of his hut (hanging from the rafters and such). It was very exciting!

Zaju 雜劇 is traditional Chinese theater. The technical term for Chinese opera is xiqu (戲曲), I think.

The Injustice to Dou E, by Guan Hanqing. Technically I think it’s not “E” like the letter e, it’s “ə” (not in the sense of an unaccented vowel, just that’s the sound). Unless the pronounciation has changed since the Middle Ages–totally possible. Hm. We will also discuss this one more in a future episode.

The Chalk Circle by Li Qianfu.

Possibly, rather than a common source (although that would also be pretty cool), people have merely observed certain human traits that are universal? [Nope, there’s definitely a common source. I mean, it’s not hard to believe–Genghis Khan’s troops traveled in both directions, for example, but so did a lot of other people, and people bring stories–JN]

Jesse: Here’s a favorite scene–it’s the battle scene in White Snake. The legend is old. Briefly, the hero is a female immortal (a white snake), who falls in love with a mortal. An evil monk tries to separate them, and White Snake and her best friend (the female immortal Green Snake) rally their good troops to fight the monk and his evil troops. This scene is the fight–color symbolism of good vs evil abounds. There are a lot of dancers and acrobats in this battle scene, but the women playing White Snake and Green Snake are also singers. (More on this in an upcoming episode too.)

Here’s the first half of the opera, to hear the singing.

In medieval Chinese theatre, men could play women and women could play men. Much later, only men were allowed to perform on stage (probably because of the influence of Japan). Today, women again play female roles. However, Mei Lanfang was one of the most famous male Chinese opera stars of the twentieth century, and he specialized in female roles. Seeing him perform on stage inspired Brecht to theorize alienation (Verfremdungseffekt). Here’s a (poor quality because it’s old!) video of Mei Lanfang.

Here’s a reconstruction of a medieval mural of a Chinese acting troupe. The leader of the troupe is in the center in red, and she’s costumed in a manner that suggests she might be about to play a male lead role. The female actors appear to be dressed in robes that cover their feet, regardless of the gender of character they are playing. (This is not because of foot binding, which didn’t exist yet. Instead, It seems to be a way to signal to the viewer that these actors are women, regardless of how they are costumed. It might also have been a way for women playing male roles to disguise the size of their feet.) Also interesting, some of the men in the mural seem to have fake beards. On the left, we can just barely see a stage hand peeking out from backstage. In other words, this is a troupe in costume and ready to perform!

Here is the original mural. The text above the mural reads “Ráodū liked it. Zhōng Dūxiù, a famous actress of sǎnyuè performed here. The fourth month of year one in era Tàidìng.” This is how we know for sure that the troupe is led by a women, Zhōng Dūxiù.

15/ As Jesse says, we don’t often set new lyrics to existing tunes…but Weird Al and Tom Lehrer sure do. (Side note: Tom Lehrer is now 92 and still, as of this writing, alive.)

Jesse: Yaaay Tom Lehrer!!! Also, Weird Al tells the following story about “Smells like Nirvana:” Weird Al asked Kurt Cobain if he (Weird Al) could parody “Smells like Teen Spirit,” and Cobain said he liked Weird Al, but so many of his parodies were about food, and Cobain didn’t want this one to be about food. And Weird Al said–Don’t worry, it’s going to be about how nobody can understand your lyrics. And Cobain said yes.

I love this because A+ for both Cobain and Weird Al. And also, Weird Al was not wrong.

Episode 14: Decolonization and Asia

Summary

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man tremble.” Weird concept musicals by Abba members aside, Asia is a place that many in the West have a fairly Orientalist relationship with, seeing it as both exotic and primitive. In today’s episode, we explore that relationship; starting with the French “restoration” of Angkor Wat, we move on to the naming of countries and map making. Includes some digressions on CSI, lese-mageste laws, the play Cambodian Rock Band, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. If you’re not a regular reader of the notes, be sure to at least check out note 20 (around 1:10:40) for transcription of a bit that had to be cut because of recording issues.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ Jesse: If anyone is wondering, the CSI:Miami episode is “Man Down,” season 5, episode 15 (aired in February 2007).

Em: Sir Archibald Mapsalot III.

2/ Emily: “So, Asia… uh… It’s really big.”

About Mongolia: There’s a lot of China that is farther west than Mongolia, but you could also say the same thing for a lot of South/Southeast Asia–China is very big. Technically, the US Department of State classes it as East Asia, but I don’t believe the UW-Madison Department of East Asian Languages and Literature had anything to do with it (go figure). Arguably it has more in common with a lot of Central Asia owing to having been ruled by various Steppe nomad tribes–although come to that, China was as well, and–

Anyway, enjoy this song by the premiere heavy metal band of Mongolia, the HU. [Great song!–Jesse]

3/ Anthony Reid’s Wikipedia page has a list of his publications. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce vols. I and II are the ones that I read.

4/ The lese-majeste laws in Thailand basically limit what can be said about the royal family (as well as royal development projects, the royal institution, the entire Chakri dynasty, and any previous Thai king). Every couple of years, there’s a big case of some foreigner being brought up on charges for drunkenly punching a portrait of the king or stepping on a bank note or something. Unclear how this will change under the new king (Rama X), who is not as beloved as his father was. There have been a bunch of higher profile cases recently (a lot more protests recently).

The King Never Smiles, by Paul M. Handley, was an unauthorized biography of Rama IX (Bhumibol) and did not paint him in a good light (I believe it cast some doubt on the official story of how he came to be king as well–although other biographers, including the authorized biographer William Stevenson, have also proposed weird theories and gotten their books banned as a result). If all of this sounds very mysterious, go read Ananda Mahidol’s (Rama VIII) Wikipedia page.

5/ The mysterious book about Thai prisons may have been The Damage Done by Warren Fellows, but “Thai Prison Memoirs” is an entire genre–here’s a list of several. Note that they are disturbing.

QI clip about prison. [Most of QI is hilarious. This clip is not!–Jesse]

6/ Siem Reap, Cambodia. Lovely place. Be careful not to wander through random fields and be careful going out late at night–one of the unfortunate legacies of the various wars Southeast Asia has faced (both the Viet Nam War and the Khmer Rouge takeover) is that there are unexploded mines and other ordinance in many places–I believe Cambodia has the highest ratio of amputees per capita in the world because of this.

Em’s entire shpiel about Angkor is largely drawn from Penny Edwards, Cambodge, University of Hawai’i Press, 2008. Amazon link.

French Indochina was Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Three major types of Buddhism:

  1. Mahayana Buddhism (e.g., Zen): Anyone can become enlightened through meditation.
  2. Theravada Buddhism: We will support the monks so they can become enlightened. The good karma this generates will allow us to be reborn and become monks to become enlightened.
  3. Vajrayana Buddhism (e.g., Tibetan, like the Dalai Lama): Kind of Mahayana, kind of its own thing. It’s–weird. (Like, intentionally weird stuff–a lot of esoteric rituals.)

In general, you get Mahayana Buddhism in China, the Koreas, and Japan; Theravada Buddhism in mainland SE Asia + Sri Lanka; and Vajrayana Buddhsim in Tibet and its mountainous border regions (Northern India, Nepal, Bhutan), and also in Mongolia, Tuva, and parts of Western China (the Steppes, including, oddly enough, Kalmykia–a Russian federal subject with the population of Madison that is the only place in Europe where Buddhism is the most-practiced religion).

7/ Columbusing: Discovering Things for White People. [Reverse Columbusing is usually just assimilation. 🙁 –Jesse]

Old joke: What did Watson and Crick discover?
Answer: Rosalind Franklin’s research notes. [Love this, glad we could use it here!–Jesse]

8/ “There were Khmer people living in Cambodia…” Worth noting, though Em explains a bit later on that Siem Reap was not part of Cambodia when Mouhout found it, that the capital had been moved from Siem Reap to Oudong (not directly–it moved all over the place), possibly as a result of the war with Thailand that led to Cambodia losing the Siem Reap area in the first place. In 1865, the capital was moved again to Phnom Penh, where it remains to this day.

9/ For more on icons, see episode 10.

10/ The whole Khmer Rouge situation was way more complex than can be summarized here. (And I [Em] didn’t really want to talk about it in the episode, because there’s a TON of legit history in Cambodia, and not everything has to be about the KR.) But I think we talked about it enough that I should provide a few resources…I am trying to think of how I learned about it…and the answer is really when I visited the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) in Cambodia, that was sort of when I started to find out about it (there was a bar that showed a documentary that I wound up watching too, and the next day I think I went to Tuol Sleng–there are a lot of really well-documented sites in Phnom Penh). But since flying to Phnom Penh is not a great option at the moment, you might want to check out this virtual exhibit by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The cliff notes version is something like:

  • The Khmer Rouge were a radical Communist/Marxist group that took over Cambodia in 1975 and held power until 1979. Saloth Sar, alias Pol Pot, was its leader.
  • Unlike other Communist groups in the region (like the North Vietnamese), the KR had this weird ideology that focused on the rural peasantry and a rejection of technology/intellectualism.
  • The KR was a brutal regime that singled out and killed intellectuals, city residents, religious practitioners (of any religion, I believe), and Cham and Vietnamese minorities. Even wearing glasses was enough to get you sent to one of their prisons, where you would be interrogated, tortured, and killed.
  • In 1979, the Vietnamese government got tired of Cambodian incursions into Vietnam and launched an attack, eventually toppling the regime. Although foreign journalists had been writing about the situation well before that (see, for example, the film The Killing Fields), the international community did nothing, and some intellectuals (like Noam Chomsky) actually denounced refugees, saying they were anti-Communist and therefore clearly lying about their experiences.
  • The KR were largely never brought to justice–Saloth Sar died in 1998, having been imprisoned on house arrest for about nine months, and many KR members continued to serve in the government of Cambodia for a long time. However, relatively recently a few of the surviving members of the regime were convicted by a UN tribunal. Part of the problem was apparently finding a definition of genocide that would include most of the people Cambodia killed (about one to three million people in all, about a fifth of the population of the country), but exclude “the killing of a specific class of people,” which would also have implicated Stalin (and thus made Russia–part of the international court–angry). My former colleague Dr. Michelle Caswell has written a lot about the KR, record keeping, and archiving–I suggest checking out her works.
  • Because a lot of Cambodians don’t like the Vietnamese much, there are still a lot of sympathies in the country for the KR–their legacy has been very politicized and the atrocities (somewhat) forgotten. Which is a weird and terrifying sentence to write. Also I met a woman who was with the Vietnamese army when they rolled in (I think everyone was required to serve–I don’t remember what her position was) and she mentioned how she would always remember the smell in Phnom Penh when they arrived…
  • Sorry, that got dark. Anyway, Cambodia is a nice place to visit now.

Jesse: We can all agree that the definition of genocide should have included Stalin, and that is all I have to say about Russia at the moment.

11/ Lauren Yee, Cambodian Rock Band. The play premiered at South Coast Rep, and the main actor Jesse is discussing is Joe Ngo. Check out this essay he wrote for TheaterMania about how his parents’ stories as survivors of the KR became integral to the play!

Also check out the music of Dengue Fever. This is the one you have possibly heard before if you are into Welcome to Night Vale. But they have a ton of other songs up on YouTube–just be sure to search for “Dengue Fever Band.” [Here’s a Spotify link to the Signature Theatre cast album of Cambodian Rock Band. Their album is also available to buy.–Jesse]

12/ Per the name of Thailand/Siam: Thailand was always known as “muang Thai” to the people who lived there (“muang” means city, but also state! Tricky). The name Siam seems to have a disputed source–possibly Pali, Sanskrit, Mon, or from the Chinese “Xian” (which, so the theory goes, would have been pronounced Shi-an and turned into Siam by Portugese traders). Anyway, “Siam” was the official name from around the time of King Mongkut (Rama IV, ruled during the 1850s-60s) until 1939, and then briefly again from 1946-48.

Officially, the US refers to the country-formerly-known-as-Burma as Burma. The UN uses Myanmar. Both names are related to the majority ethnic group (Barmar), one being a more literary form and one more colloquial. The country’s post-colonial government adopted the name “Myanmar” in 1989 as part of a project to kick British colonial romanizations/spellings out of English.

Jesse: Check out Guy Delisle’s work! Here’s the Burma Chronicles link.

13/ Otzi: the oldest known mummy found in Europe (i.e., the one from longest ago, not the actual oldest at time of death).

14/ I’m not going to link to all the various disputes we mention. The biggest things to remember about borders are: they are always porus; things flow across them, in part because ethnic/tribal/etc. groups tend to extend across them; China has a lot of border disputes.

15/ Les Blancs, by Lorraine Hansbury. Fun fact: Lorraine Hansbury attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. [Yay!!!!–Jesse]

16/ [58ish] Actually, it’s “54°40′[N] or fight.” Incidentally, that is not where the border between the US and Canada wound up, which is more like 49° N (except for Vancouver Island). Also, in the 1840s, Canada was really the British Empire, so it’s not like we were going to fight Canada–we were going to re-litigate the revolution. (Although: that distinction doesn’t prevent (modern day) Canada from claiming credit for burning down the White House during the War of 1812 (different war than referenced in the 1812 overture, but still a good one). [Yes! Same War of 1812 referenced in this song, which is what the Candian version is based on. –Jesse]

17/ McGirt v. Oklahoma is the case.

Jesse: Our poet laureate is Joy Harjo.

18/ Map from June 2016.
Maybe from August 2019.

Jesse: Notice how empty the eastern US is…Trail of Tears, other forced migrations, and so much genocide.

More on map projections here and here.

London Underground map.

Also, true story: the DLR (“docklands light rail”) is on the same map (this is how you would get to Canary Wharf, to give a landmark you may have heard of), but if you’re at King’s Cross St Pancras, there’s no one who will tell you that you can actually change from the Jubilee line to the DLR. Em is apparently carrying a lot of unresolved bitterness about the London Underground. But she does love the Parisian Metro. It’s all about finding a language you understand. [I just want to reiterate how much I love subways and all trains and they are the BEST.–Jesse]

The London Underground is not a political movement.

Map of New York’s subways and burroughs. If you look at Central Park in Manhattan, you’ll see how wonky (“stylized”) the map is.

19/ Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation, University of Hawai’i Press, 1997. Amazon link. I think he is now professor emeritus.

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, 1983. Amazon link (to revised ed.). Another classic by a scholar of Southeast Asia (although with a bit more broad application).

20/ At 1:10:40ish, we had a recording issue. Here is a transcription of what Dr. Jesse said:

…and so the maps that the navigator had created and learned showed the swells of the oceans. Right? Because islands have swells. And so you could tell when you were lying in the bottom of the boat, specifically [there were] four different swells and you could tell where you were in the island chain by the swells. Of course, European navigators mostly used the surface of the ocean, and didn’t have landmarks outside of islands. The idea that the swells themselves are landmarks is a sort of wonderful point. And something that it took Europeans a while to realize that this was the way they were navigating. And it’s also, of course, why people from the Pacific islands, those types of navigation are how they manage to travel from island to island and also manage to get to places like California and stuff. You have a sort of ability to recognize features that aren’t on most maps, but are there and recognizable nevertheless. Or if you think of something like an electrocardiogram, right? That’s a map, right?

[I know I have to stop saying “right” so much! I can’t help it–it’s a great way to get students to nod at you to show that they’re paying attention.–Jesse]

Sorry for the remaining buzz I was unable to remove.

21/ See Abel Buell’s 1784 map (with giant states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia) here and read up on it and him here.

Compare Buell’s 1784 map to the 1721 Catawba map sent to Francis Nicholson, the royal governor of South Carolina.

Yinka Shonibare. See also episode 11 note 21.

Here is the Hereford Mappa Mundi (World Map).

Here’s a video on Shonibare’s project on the world map.

Here are some articles about Shoibare’s project with good pictures and comments: Article 1, article 2.

22/ T and O Map.

23/ Czechoslovakia, for the young ones in the audience, existed from 1918 to 1993. Subsequently it became the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The USSR ended in 1991.

The story about the fall of the Berlin Wall being reported while I was in the back seat of my mom’s station wagon on I-90 outside of Chicago (I feel like we were stuck in rush hour traffic (probably near O’Hare) and maybe going through one of those awesome Midwestern thunderstorms) is true as far as I remember. Official demolition of the wall began in June of 1990, so I think that is when we had the conversation, rather than when the Brandenburg Gate officially opened in 1989 or when demolition was completed in November of 1990.

The fact that she was upset says a lot about what being Jewish was like in the US after WWII. For more on this, read Maus. [READ MAUS. Just…read it.–Jesse]

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.

Episode 2: Plague

“Death and famine stalk the land like two great stalking things.” — Blackadder

Summary

It’s the Black Death, the original plague! Em and Jesse discuss the outbreaks of plague that bookended the Middle Ages–the Plague of Justinian (around 540 CE) and the better-known outbreak that spread across Asia into Western Europe and eventually hit the British Isles in the 1300s. We discuss Medieval responses to plague, such as quarantine, scientific inquiry, and pograms, as well as the ways the plague is reflected in literature of the time.

Notes, Citations, and Corrections

1/ Sorry about the sound quality this episode. We both had some various technical difficulties.

2/ No letters! We know Latin, and we know that technically the word bacteria is plural, and the word bacterium is singular.

3/ Notice the beginning and end of my “pretend I don’t know anything” interviewing technique. For the entire rest of the episode it’s totally clear I know at least a bit about the plague, so I don’t know why I decided to start off like I was totally clueless. Oh well. (Related suggestion: if you’re interested in the biological nitty gritty of the plague, check out the relevant episodes of This Podcast Will Kill You. They talk a lot about the actual physical effects of the disease and the bacteria behind it, Y. pestis. Fair warning, it’s a bit gory.)

4/ Concerning plagues that are not THE plague, if you ever want to really freak yourself out, check out this story on Smallpox  (full article here if you don’t have access to the New Yorker archives). There is a really good reason, in my opinion, why it was not only one of the first diseases humans started experimenting with vaccinating against, but why it was the first eradicated.

5/ Just to add–the San Francisco plague outbreak of 1900–1904–we didn’t discuss it because we already had enough plague to discuss, but it was shockingly like the current COVID-19 outbreak in several ways, including the quarantining of boats in San Francisco Bay and a lot of blame falling (unfairly) on Chinese Americans.

6/ Around 6:50 Jesse mentions an outbreak in the late 1900s, but she means late 1800s (late 19th century). [Again, I get excited and misspeak! I’m working on this.–JN]

7/ The death rate of plague with antibiotics is about 11% (with the CDC noting it’s hard to study because of a paucity of cases). That’s…not great.

8/ Monica H. Green, “When Numbers Don’t Count: Changing Perspectives on the Justinianic Plague,” EIDOLON (Nov. 18, 2019), https://eidolon.pub/when-numbers-dont-count-56a2b3c3d07. Monica Green, ed., Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death, The Medieval Globe, vol. 1, no. 1 (Arc Medieval Press, 2014), https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/medieval_globe/1/. Google her work!

9/ “Three to four thousand years ago” was around the year 2000 BCE. The first Egyptian pyramid was already 600 years old at that point. [I also mention early Aegean and Greek civilization as reference points. Cycladic civilization is roughly 3200–1050 BCE, Minoan civilization is roughly 2700–1100 BCE, and Mycenean civilization is roughly 1600–1100 BCE. 1100 BCE was a system collapse, possibly the one remembered in The Iliad as the Trojan War.–JN]

10/ Rats! A reminder (in case we weren’t clear enough) that fleas are primarily responsible for transmitting the plague. Rats can carry the flea, but so can other rodents (some squirrels, for example). Also, not all rats are equally likely to carry the flea. Be nice to rats!

11/ “If you saw a rabbit while you were pregnant, it could make you give birth to a rabbit or something.” Or more likely a baby with a harelip (the term dates from the mid-16th century). There were weird case reports of women giving birth to things like rabbits and cats (e.g., Mary Toft in the 1720s). Unclear to me how much of this is hysteria/some other mental illness vs outright fraud. [Ooooo, I can’t explain it all here, but hysteria and the medicalization of gynecology would make a great episode, if anyone is interested. In a relevant context, Horrox quotes Jean de Venette, who suggested that imagination as well as contagion could make someone sick (i.e., someone imagined they were going to become sick, so they did): “death and sickness came by imagination, or by contact with others and consequent contagion” (p. 55). Horrox explains more on page 107. For this and many other sources from our episode, see Rosemary Horrox, ed. and trans., The Black Death, Manchester Medieval Sources, book 1 (Manchester University Press: 1994), pp. 41–45 (link)–JN]

12/ (26:37) Jesse: The basilisk…who we all know because of J.K. Rowling.
Me: Right… (you can actually hear my brain panicking as I try to remember whether it’s a lizard or a snake. Now, looking at some pictures, I can see that it is described as a “serpent” but occasionally drawn with legs.) [The basilisk is the king of snakes–basil from Greek basileus, or king. The basilisk is hatched from the egg of a serpent or toad that’s been incubated by a rooster. The basilisk can kill with one glance, and its venom is instantaneously poisonous, probably even by touch.–JN]

13/ A Winter’s Tale: A later Shakespearian play sometimes felt to be a “problem play” because it begins very seriously and tragically and eventually has a happy ending. Contains one of the most famous stage directions of all time, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” [It’s a gorgeous, brilliant dramedy about a jealous man and the women (and children) who deal with him. It’s also an extraordinary commentary on the mother/daughter relationship, and one of Shakespeare’s many great discussions on female friendship. It also has some very medieval moments–we might talk about it again!–JN]

Additional Jesse note: Shakespeare! We’ll probably talk about him in every episode. Shakespeare was obviously familiar with the plague and experienced quarantines and closed theatres. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo would have received the letter explaining Juliet’s “death” if Friar Lawrence’s fellow friar hadn’t been quarantined because he wanted to travel with a friend, and the friend had been visiting plague victims! (No good deed goes unpunished.) Friar John couldn’t even get someone to take the letter in his place or simply to return it to Friar Lawrence because everyone was worried about infection. (They didn’t have Purell to wipe down letters.) This is a plot point that used to seem silly, but now it presumably makes sense again. Friars were among the high risk health care workers of their day (and ours, presumably).

14/ A case where the goods were unloaded…but then no one would buy them. See Rosemary Horrox, ed. and trans., The Black Death, Manchester Medieval Sources, book 1 (Manchester University Press: 1994), pp. 41–45 (link). Louis Heyligen was a musician in the service of a cardinal at the Holy See (aka the Roman Curia or the home of the papacy) in Avignon. (For the Avignon Papacy, which I’m sure we’ll discuss in a future episode, see Wikipedia. The pope wasn’t in Rome, he was in Avignon.) Louis wrote a long letter home to Bruges warning them of the coming plague and describing the plague in Avignon, including the various forms the disease takes, the danger of contagion, and the fact that the disease is known to travel and that ships have been chased from the harbor due to suspicion of contagion. He adds that “no kinds of spices are eaten or handled, unless they have been in stock for a year, because men are afraid that they might have come from the galleys [ships–JN] of which I spoke” (p. 45). He also recommends self quarantining. Sadly his employer, Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, died of the plague.

15/ The ultimate Italian pasty is Sfogliatella. Don’t @ me.

16/ Medical and scientific manuals for how to treat plague: the “most authoritative” (Horrox, p. 158) is the Paris medical faculty’s two-part treatise on causes (part 1) and preventions/cures (part 2). For an excerpt in English, see Horrox, p. 158–163.

17/ “A friend who works on relations between Jews and Christians…has discussed the ways in which there would be questions…” Dr. Katelyn Mesler is the friend! We’ll discuss this and cite more in a future episode.

18/ Copernicus (1473–1543) was known for reorganizing the model of the solar system (“everything goes around the Sun, which is the center of the universe”, c.f. the previous model which had Earth at the center of everything). Galileo (1564–1642) noticed moons orbiting Jupiter and suggested that the Sun was only one thing around which things were orbiting among many and probably wasn’t that special.

It is interesting to note that all the planets up to and including Jupiter were known about since ancient times. Saturn was discovered in 1610 (by Galileo, natch–right around the same time he discovered the four moons of Jupiter now known as the Galilean moons). Uranus was discovered in 1781 by William Herschel, and Neptune was discovered in 1846 by a bunch of mathematicians. That’s a lot of science done with visible light telescopes using hand-ground lenses.

19/ Interesting but not really relevant–in the scifi novel The Three-Body Problem, the appearance of three stars in conjunction is also a bad omen (albeit for different reasons).

20/ I have read some of Petrarch’s sonnets, but I don’t think I realized Laura was a real person. [Dante’s Beatrice was also a real person, but…the distance between real and literary trope is fairly wide in both cases. –JN]

21/ The Decameron: If you’re making a list of “books from the Middle Ages that come up again and again in literature from the Medieval period to the present day,” The Decameron should definitely be on that list. Also, Aubrey Plaza was recently in a film based on some of the stories in it called The Little Hours. (I haven’t seen it.)

22/ Quarantine! Jesse’s Note: The Middle Ages tried to quarantine during the first outbreak of the 1347 plague, but (as we have found today with Covid-19), it was already too late. However, an early instance of quarantine that appears to have worked took place in 1377 in Ragusa (Dubrovnik). See Jane Stevens Crawshaw, “The Renaissance Invention of Quarantine” in The Fifteenth Century XII: Society in an Age of Plague, edited by Linda Clark and Carole Rawcliffe (Boydell & Brewer, 2013), especially page 163 note 10 (link). (I am using quarantine to mean purposeful isolation, not the technical 40-day period–some early quarantines were 30 days, etc. We’re going to talk about isolation as a medieval concept, religious trend, and more in a future episode. The basic point is that quarantine may have seemed a more obvious solution to the Middle Ages than it seems to be for us–even though it absolutely works! We just have a society that discourages isolation.)

23/ Apparently, Pope Francis recently granted a plenary indulgence to anyone who watched/listened to his blessing urbi et orbi. So this is definitely still a thing that happens!

24/ The specific question of “is electricity fire” is discussed briefly in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman (you can read the specific section here). Rereading this I’m struck by how much I disagree with a lot of what he’s saying now, and the definite anti-Colonialist bent some of the other speakers seem to have…a long time before Fanon and Said! But “the early fifties” was a pretty different world from now, so it’s not that surprising that I might disagree. I did really enjoy his books and they were very influential on me when I was younger.

25/ Pope Gregory I: The guy Gregorian chant was named for. The guy/name was so popular that it was used for fifteen more popes and two antipopes.

26/ The Golden Legend.

27/ H.P. Lovecraft, “The Haunter of the Dark,” Weird Tales of December 1936, vol. 28, no. 5, pp. 538–553 (link) is a pretty prime example of this. And–look, I know that a lot of people have strong feelings on Lovecraft, both pro and con. My feelings are most easily summarized as “Racism bad, creepy architecture good.” [Yes, and so many extraordinary works have been strongly influenced by HPL–Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Alan Moore’s Providence, and Megan James’s Innsmouth, to name a few.–JN]

28/ The flagellants–see Richard Kieckhefer, ”Radical tendencies in the flagellant movement of the mid-fourteenth century,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, vol 4 (1974), pp. 157–176 (link).

29/ Em: What actually does happen if you are a priest leading prayers for the end of the plague and they don’t work? Do you just say, you know, G-d is not happy yet, we haven’t repented enough? Jesse: Yup, basically.

30/ Henry Knighton’s wonderful opinions can be found in Horrox, p. 130.

31/ The Westminster Chronicle is in Horrox, p. 131.

32/ Pogroms related to Jews possibly spreading the plague–see Horrox (throughout). There are so many sources about this–I (Jesse) definitely underplayed it for this episode, because I assume we’ll talk about these horrors in the future.

33/ Henry Suso. This story is in Horrox, p. 223–226.

34/ The Pardoner’s Tale.

35/ The Three Living and the Three Dead: The British Library has a great article on this, with some really neat pictures from illuminated manuscripts.

36/ St. Sebastian is the patron saint of plague. I think he’s also the patron saint of gay men (er, not literally, but “Sebastian Melmoth” was a name used by Oscar Wilde during his exile, and something about those arrows is suggestive?).

37/ Stephen Greenblatt, “Invisible Bullets,” originally published in 1988 link. To quote from the notes, “Greenblatt’s title refers to the way the English colonists duped the natives of North America into believing that the English god had shot those natives who were dying of diseases imported from Europe by the colonists with invisible bullets” (first endnote at link). Rereading his essay, I feel that he is a little too credulous of what the Europeans reported their experiences with the Native Americans to be, rather than questioning the extent to which the things they are reporting (viz. a lack of sophistication among the natives, their belief that perhaps the gods favored the Europeans or the European god was “true” and theirs wasn’t) might be a product of mistranslation, wishful thinking, spin doctoring, and so forth. Greenblatt was (is, I guess) part of a movement called New Historicism that tried to use literature to understand history. My problems with his essay aside, New Historicism apparently made Harold Bloom cranky, so I can only support it.

38/ Not necessarily related to the episode, but more reading if you are interested in this topic: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe is an interesting chronicle of an outbreak of plague a bit later (1665). One striking moment being, persuant to Jesse’s comment that even if the plague was kind of a curse from an angry deity, it was good to go to a doctor, the narrator suggests that instead of leaving town (because he has no one to watch his shop), he will stay where he is and trust in God, and his brother replies that it is stupid to stay and trust God with your life rather than leave town to save your life and trust God with your things.

Episode 1: An Introduction to the Middle Ages

Summary:

Em and Jesse discuss the inspiration behind the podcast and try to answer a few questions: What are the Middle Ages? How are they different from the Dark Age? Where did the name “Middle Ages” come from? Why study the Middle Ages? Also, Jesse makes controversial claims about Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus.

Notes, Corrections, and Citations:

1/ This is the comic referenced

2/ Neil Gaiman (esp. Sandman) / Reading Rainbow. This was a Twitter Thing (actual tweets can be seen here)…here’s an older podcast LeVar Burton did reading a Neil Gaiman story called “Chivalry.”  It looks like he did livestream “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale,” but I don’t see the actual recording–maybe it didn’t get archived? 

3/ John Dee: Professional weirdo. Ben Jonson did have a book of Dee’s; it is called Liber Iuratus Honorii [usually translated as “the sworn book  of Honorius”]. Here is the catalog entry, courtesy of Dr. Kate Mesler.

4/Marlow’s Dr Faustus–was it secretly about John Dee? Probably not. Dee probably didn’t have this reputation yet (i.e., super powerful and/or evil), and anyway he was abroad in Europe when Marlowe wrote his play. Also, Faustus was a real guy who died around 1541. His legend was already spreading in chapbooks by the 1580s, and there was an English translation by 1588. Marlowe wrote his play between 1589-1592, clearly based on the legend of Faust.

5/ Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist–Jonson ended up with one of Dee’s books, so he certainly knew about him. Also, Dee had probably just died (with his reputation in tatters) when Jonson wrote the play, so–it’s not impossible that Jonson had Dee on his mind when writing the play.

6/ Geoffrey Chaucer: I’m not going to say he’s a big deal, but if you know of one person from the Middle Ages, it’s probably him.

7/ Rocca Paolina https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocca_Paolina Jesse got the timeline of the discovery/excavation a little off. 

8/ Tolkien 

9/ Monty Python and the Holy Grail / Terry Jones. Terry Jones died in January 2020. Because of his fame in other arenas, it’s actually quite difficult to find a bibliography of his medieval works online. A few prominent ones are Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives (co-written with Alan Ereira) and Chaucer’s Knight.

10/ Aztalan state park. Aztalan is the name of a city that was founded around 1100 CE. I’m not actually sure how many people lived there–the sources I see note the largest city of the Mississippians during this period was 30,000 people, but that was in Cahokia (IL). Why is it called Aztalan? Because the Aztecs’ origin stories claimed that they had migrated to Mexico from somewhere to the north, and because the site has 1/ earthen pyramids, and 2/ apparently, evidence of cannibalism (this claim doesn’t seem widely repeated, so take it with a grain of salt). There has been significant evidence that the Americas were very much shaped by the Native Americans: example

11/ The Hungry Woman and Heart of the Earth by Cherrie Moraga

12/ The Popul Vuh is the Mayan book of creation. There are many translations out there (I own at least two of them somehow) so I won’t link to any specific one. But it’s an interesting read.

13/ There have been a ton of books written about the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the various terrible things they did there. If you are interested specifically in the ways Christianity and native culture interacted, one more interesting book I have read is Inca Bodies and the Body of Christ by Carolyn Dean. (Join in next week for more of my new secret series, Em Recommends Her Grad School Reading List.) 

14/ Genghis Khan: If you really want to know about the Mongols, check out the relevant episodes of the Hardcore History podcast as a starting point.

15/ Kublai Khan took the throne in 1260 and ruled until 1294. He was Genghis’s grandson.

16/ Ibn Daniyal: A brief biography with a disappointingly bowdlerized summary of his plays can be found here.  

Plays in translation (they are XXX rated): English version, another cheaper English version, Arabic version.

17/ At around 29:40 Jesse asserts that Medieval Theatre is “in many ways” more interesting than Renaissance theatre, and that’s not even the most controversial thing she has alleged in this episode!

18/ ”It’s almost a cliché in certain…time traveling shows…” specifically I was thinking of an episode of Stargate SG-1 (which typically has no time travel in it, sorry). Looks like there were a bunch of scenes where Dr. Daniel Jackson badmouths the Dark Ages, actually. Example. Example

19/ Miracle Workers: The Dark Ages. I haven’t seen it (neither has Jesse) but apparently it has Daniel Radcliffe in it. And a duck. So.

20/ Blackadder: best show ever? … 

21/ Agricola: Spend a good four hours pretending to be a mud farming peasant. 

22/ Europa Universalis 4: Spend a thousand hours conquering the globe. It really will teach you a lot of geography. (I definitely haven’t spent a thousand hours playing this, but it is how I learned about a shocking number of kingdoms/countries/sultinates/etc. that existed before the modern era.)

23/ During the discussion of plays, Jesse was unclear. [Sorry about that! Em thought I conflated Mankind and the Ordinalia. This is what happens when I get excited–I talk very, very quickly and skip key details that I forget everyone doesn’t already know. I will work on this for the sake of the podcast! And also my students.-JN] Mankind is a great morality play from East Anglia. The Ordinalia are three Cornish plays: the Origo Mundi (The Origin of the World), a Passion, and a Resurrection. The “world play” refers to the first play, even though usually a “world play” contains the entire history of the world from creation to doomsday (and in this case, even the entire cycle doesn’t include a Doomsday). 

24/ Henry VI is a series of three plays by Shakespeare, not to be confused with Henry V (one play, quite good) or Henry IV (two plays, first one is generally thought to be better than the second). Jesse says Henry VII gets the throne back for a year before being killed by Edward IV–this is actually Henry VI! 

25/ National Theatre Live: this is probably the link you want

26/ Mary Shelley wrote during the summer of 1816, which was actually made famously cold by the 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora (or Tamboro). Krakatoa (also an Indonesian volcano) has erupted many times, but the one everyone thinks of as “the eruption” was in 1883.

27/ It’s also worth noting that Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, so the fact that Frankenstein was specifically about man’s hubris is probably not accidental? I don’t know. I wanted to shoehorn that Mary Wollstonecraft fact in because she was awesome and a much overlooked female philosopher.