Episode 37: Child’s Play


1560s painting depicting children playing.
The 1560 painting “Children’s Games,” painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Question: What did kids do before Gameboy?
Answer: Everything.


Important works:

Nicholas Orme’s Medieval Children.

Barbara Hanawalt’s The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Children’s Games.

1/ Bringing Up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman, is the book about how the French raise children. Achtung Baby, by Sara Zaske, is a similar book about Germany. There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather tackles the subject from a Scandinavian point of view, and The Danish Way of Parenting will help you bring up tiny happy vikings. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, is about how Asian (Asian American?) mothers push their offspring to academic success. There’s basically an endless number of these books purporting to tell parents the same secrets: how to get your kids to eat vegetables, do their homework, and occasionally let you talk to your spouse without interrupting so you don’t entirely lose your mind and sense of self. In my professional opinion, some of it works, some of it doesn’t, and whether you lose your sense of self is entirely up to you.

Jesse: The “weird” (and horrible) part is how integral colonialist and imperialist perspectives are to a lot of the views of childrearing that we are discussing at the beginning of this episode. A breathtaking sense of entitlement is required for anyone to hold the incredibly patronizing view that someone (probably a white, western woman) is “discovering” child rearing techniques used by non-western cultures (or even western cultures of which the aforementioned woman is not a part!). It doesn’t matter how many times the woman acknowledges her privilege, the whole concept is still colonialist nonsense.

Em: I looked up the chapter I’m referring to, and the writer’s claim is a bit more circumscribed–she merely suggests that births in small-group hunter-gatherer societies (which, as she describes them, are basically egalitarian utopias) are painless, relaxed, guided only by the wise elder women of the tribe, and also lead to babies that develop better moral sense than the poor babies whose mothers have things like epidurals and C-sections available. Relatedly, please, if you are ever looking at someone with a PhD and feeling intimidated, remember that there are a ton of PhD-having people who are basically idiots.

2/ Jesse: I just went to see Free Guy (with Ryan Renolds and Taika Waititi), and there is a nice discussion about the importance and fun of swings.

3/ Pet rock.

4/ A roulette wheel actually has 37, 38, or 39 spaces, depending on if you are playing the single/double/triple zero version. Please credit this podcast when you win $2 off a guy in a pub.

5/ In Terry Pratchett’s Snuff, young Sam (Commander Sam Vimes’s son) very happily collects animal poo.

6/ Hula hoops are most closely related to an Australian exercise hoop made from bamboo brought back to the US in the 1950s, but hoops have been used for various reasons throughout history, the hoop dance being only one example. Check out the Tiktok of hoop dancer James Jones for a sample.

The toy/toys mentioned in Gilgamesh is/are actually called “pukku” and “mikku.” They appear in tablet XII, which contains a story of Enkidu glimpsing the underworld, as a sort of preview of his death at the end of the poem. Nobody is entirely sure what they are (at least, per The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition, and Cuneiform Texts, vol. 2, A. R. George, Oxford University Press, 2003, see p. 898). Based on context, a mikku is something made from a long stick, and a pukku is made from a tree trunk. So hoop and stick is a possible translation, or drum/drumstick, or any number of other things. Other poems describe people fighting battles as “clash[ing] together like pukku and mekku” or send[ing] heads rolling like heavy pukkus.” This issue comes up more than you’d think in literature, where we often have no idea what certain things that were very familiar to the authors were, just because the world has changed so much. Bill Bryson mentions a 19th century shaker that sat on Victorian tables alongside salt and pepper–no one knows what it contained.

7/ Cripple Mr Onion is actually a card game similar in some respects to poker and blackjack (summary with rules here).

8/ The Last Dance includes a famous scene of Michael Jordan playing “quarters” (the game where you toss a quarter close to–but not touching–a wall, and the closest player wins).

9/ Em: When I say “we” were prevented from playing with matches, I mean me and my siblings–Jesse, as far as we know, was a perfect child who did not try such a thing. Or didn’t get caught.

10/ The Seventh Seal contains the most famous depiction of a medieval dance line.

11/ The Manneken Pis. Brussels is super proud of this statue for some reason. [Jesse: I mean, it’s pretty cool!]

Jeanneke Pis: gender equality for the win!

12/ Relevant to our discussion of knucklebones, Jesse randomly found these dice made of actual human bones. Super weird and creepy, with possible consent issues! Not available in several states! (Em forgot to add this in while actually editing the episode, so we’ll just leave it here as a final note.)

Episode 31: May Day, May Day!


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

Annotations and Corrections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14/ For more on alcohol, see Episode 27!

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

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