To put the pan in the demic

I’ve noticed that the words ‘pandemic’ and ‘epidemic’ have recently been used interchangeably in the media and in everyday speech. Any extensive outburst of a contagious disease is a pandemic or an epidemic, depending on which prefix you prefer or comes to mind first. Pandemic sounds a bit more catastrophic, while epidemic has a scientific,Continue reading “To put the pan in the demic”

Of individuals and crowds

News travelled very slowly in the past. Just as it took months for individuals to reach distant lands, so did news reports reach different individuals and communities with significant retardation. In premodern Europe, oral information circulated more speedily than written reports. In the medieval period, necrologues travelled quickly from one monastic community to another. BeforeContinue reading “Of individuals and crowds”

Conflict and change

It’s hard to find a time in European history when conflicts recede and stasis takes over, like in the history of the great Asian kingdoms and empires. The European ancient period was a cycle of conflicts between small city-states, tribes against tribes, factions against factions, senators against dictators. In the long classical period, the paxContinue reading “Conflict and change”

In defence of ignorance

We’re not going anywhere these days. So let’s glance back in time. Our stop: the Middle Ages, Homer and creativity. The medieval period has been called many things: the age of faith, the Dark Ages, lowercase/uppercase, the age of chivalry, of castles, the age of the Gothic, the post-classical period, pre-Renaissance, pre-modern, epithets galore, foreverContinue reading “In defence of ignorance”

Circles and lines

The ancient and medieval idea of ‘old’ is very different from our own. Modern culture was the first to introduce the notion of historical distance in a way that was significant enough to bring a shift in our consciousness. For the premodern mind, old meant old in the way our grandparents are old. To getContinue reading “Circles and lines”

The rise and fall of a medieval woman from cheese to oat: Matilda de Briouze

The study of medieval women has become quite trendy in the last decades or so. The narrative sources can tell us quite a lot about some women who have been able to escape the rigid and circumscribing expectations of most medieval authors. Perhaps there is no better example than the exceptional figure of Matilda deContinue reading “The rise and fall of a medieval woman from cheese to oat: Matilda de Briouze”

The postmodernist vision of history through Baudelaire’s ‘Le Charogne’ (I)

Having recently read Gabrielle Spiegel’s The Past as text, I realised how important it is to reflect on the articulation of text and reality. The more recent poststructuralist views that everything is textuality may ultimately be a foolish experiment, but it has the potential to cast light on some of the problems arising from the attemptContinue reading “The postmodernist vision of history through Baudelaire’s ‘Le Charogne’ (I)”

The mediaeval reindeer

The reindeer is among my favourite creatures. Its antlers bespeak strength, yet there is an air of delicate loneliness about it that make it fit quite well in the desolate northern landscapes. With all my affection for the beast, I had no idea that there was a description of it dating back to the MiddleContinue reading “The mediaeval reindeer”

Medieval robots? Well, close

And it’s here: the first soothsaying robotic head in human history. The year is, well, uncertain but somewhere between 990-1003. For convenience, let’s make it 991, when it features neatly in the manuscript I am currently working on for my doctoral thesis. The story goes like this. There was a famous pope who, before becomingContinue reading “Medieval robots? Well, close”

King John and Jugurtha

While reading Sallust’s ‘Bellum Iugurthinum’, I am struck at how similar England’s king John and Jugurtha often seem to be. Take for instance this passage: “To these words [of Nabdalsa, Numidian chieftain suspected of treason], the king made a courteous reply, disguising his real feelings. After putting to death Bomilcar and many others whom heContinue reading “King John and Jugurtha”