Trinkets for the confined court

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Yesterday I wrote that the 12th century was the return of boredom to Europe. How else would we explain all the exciting works written at the time?

It is time to give some examples of literary distractions from that period. I’d like to talk about trifles. Not sponge cakes, but trivialities. At least that’s how one 12th-century writer titled his exciting mélange of stories and curiosities: ‘De Nugis Curialium’, Of the Trifles of Courtiers, the trinkets of the bored aristocracy, the knick-knacks of the age.

The 12th century wouldn’t be the same if it hadn’t produced Walter Map (died around 1210). Every age needs its satirist, and Walter was his century’s finest. He wrote only one book, but it is well known that top-vintage mockery is as rare as gold. So Walter is forgiven for his literary thrift. He’s also forgiven for being Welsh (For the love of Juvenal, please forgive me as well).

Walter’s Trifles are readable, nay, toothsome, in every generation. There are over 60 stories arranged into five categories. To find a fil rouge running through all of these would be to miss the point. Walter is the jester-historian, a title never before or since bestowed on any other littérateur. He actually calls himself a hunter bringing the game home for the reader to enjoy: Venator vester sum, feras vobis affero, fercula faciatis.

There are two vampire stories, a ghost story, countless historical trivia of dubious veracity, and crazy stories including one about a devilish pet snake. Forget the girl with the dragon tattoo, there’s one who actually turns into a dragon when no-one’s watching. Eat this, Larsson!

Walter’s Trifles have the power to dispel all tedium, which is always the mark of a good writer. Whether you’re an English noble at the court of King Henry II or a poor bugger in latter-day confinement, Walter has an ointment for your wounds.

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