Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's "American Chopper" Meets "A Knight's Tale"!

H/t to MB, my informant on all aspects of modern-day medieval warfare, for the heads-up about the Knights of Mayhem. Sadly, NatGeo is not part of my basic cable package, and I refuse to give KableTown any more of my hard-earned ducats, so I have missed the recent series premiere, and have had to piece things together by relying on the internet.

Holy crap, Lancelot, full-contact jousting is back! Don your greaves and helmet, saddle up your destrier, and aim your lance at your opponent's torso! But as Sir Hugh of the Vale might tell you, it's all fun and games until someone ends up with a lance splinter in his neck.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What's in Your Wallet?

The most recent issue of National Geographic has an article on the Staffordshire treasure, a massive Anglo-Saxon treasure-hoard, which was discovered by an amateur treasure hunter in 2009.  Check it out! 

The treasure was found near Lichfield, in what was once Mercia, one of the most important kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy. It comprises hundreds of gold and silver artifacts, from roughly 600-800 (although the hoard could have been deposited later), most of which are martial (sword pommels, knife hilts, etc.), and all of which are 100% gorgeous. 

 "Scyld's strong son was the glory of Denmark;
his father's warriors were wound round his heart
with golden rings, bound to their prince 
by his father's treasure. So young men 
build the future, wisely open-handed in peace,
protected in war; so warriors earn
their fame, and wealth is shaped with a sword." 
(Beowulf, ll. 19-25)

Where the gold came from is something of a mystery--it might have been recycled from Roman solidii. Likewise, the garnets in the pieces probably came from central or southern Europe, but it's not clear how they ended up as part of an Anglo-Saxon hoard. 

Oh, and the guy who discovered the hoard? He was living on government assistance. Not anymore. Time to buy a metal detector.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Forging and Forgery

I gave a talk earlier this week on twelfth century neoplatonism and literary depictions of medieval automata and their creators in twelfth and thirteenth-century French literary texts. Building on the works of Macrobius and Chalcidius, later medieval philosophers like Bernard Silvestris and Alain de Lille used the metaphor of "natura artifex"--Nature as artisan--to describe the work of human generation in artisanal terms. Natura hammers out new people using her hammer and anvil, creating them from parts. Yet this metaphor is an attempt on the part of philosophers to describe the mysterious work of Natura--translating divine forms into materiality.
Le Roman de la Rose, France, 15th cent., Yale University, MS 418.

Writers of literary texts, though, described automata and their makers not in artisanal terms, but instead in elevated terms--as philosophers, sorcerers, and wise men, educated in the deepest secrets and mysteries of nature. However, as these men tried to copy Natura's work, making artificial people and animals, their work was considered debased, as it involved aping divine prerogative and copying natural forms. Natura forges people; people make forgeries.