Episode 33: Ooh, Crafty Lady


Part two of women as artisans. Join Em and Jesse as they discuss more about the work women did in the Middle Ages, including quite a lot about guilds and textiles, including spinning, embroidery, quilting, and silkworking. Find out which guilds accepted women, how were they treated, to what extent were they involved in local politics, and also some interesting notes about how Norwegian dried cod became popular among West African immigrants to the US.


Recommended text for this episode:

Reassessing the Roles of Women as ‘Makers’ of Medieval Art and Architecture edited by Therese Martin. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

Maryanne Kowaleski and Judith M. Bennett, “Crafts, Gilds, and Women in the Middle Ages: Fifty Years after Marian K. Dale,” Signs 14.2 (Winter 1989): 474–501.

Also recommended:

Marian K. Dale, “The London Silkwomen of the Fifteenth Century,” Economic History Review, 1st ser., 4 (1933) 324–335.

Kay Lacey, “The Production of ‘Narrow Ware’ by Silkwomen in Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century England,” Textile History 18.2 (1987): 187–204.

For the London Guild ordinances discussed in this episode, see Frances Consitt, The London Weavers’ Company (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933), 1: 229–30, 292, 312–14, 320.

1/ We have probably linked to this before, but check out this video for more on the Lord Mayor of London and how to get the job. Of interest, although the city of London has been around since Roman times, the office of mayor has only existed since 1189 (it converted to lord mayor in 1354). Although now lord mayors do not serve multiple consecutive terms, the first-ever mayor of London, Sir Henry FitzAlan (aka Sir Henry fitz Ailwin de Londonstane), served 24 consecutive terms.

2/ For the female Viking warrior, see episode 20, note 11. Also https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/researchers-reaffirm-famed-ancient-viking-warrior-was-biologically-female-180971541/

Boudica (Iceni–i.e. British Celtic–queen in the first century CE who fought the Roman forces in Britain) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boudica

In her introduction to her new translation of Beowulf, Maria Dahvana Headley discusses women as warriors and the ways in which the assumptions of (male) scholars have hidden them.

3/ For more on silkworking and women in guilds in England, see Maryanne Kowaleski and Judith M. Bennett. “Crafts, Gilds, and Women in the Middle Ages: Fifty Years after Marian K. Dale,” Signs 14.2 (Winter 1989): 474–501.

For the London Guild ordinances discussed, see Frances Consitt, The London Weavers’ Company (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933), 1: 229–30, 292, 312–14, 320.

See also all articles referenced above!

4/ For more on the way women’s work is devalued (and on the fact that the entrance of women into a field can devalue it): https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/upshot/as-women-take-over-a-male-dominated-field-the-pay-drops.html

5/ The women/men ratio comes from Kowaleski and Bennett (see above) and Maryanne Kowaleski, “The History of Urban Families in Medieval England,” Journal of Medieval History 14.1 (1988): 47–63, esp. 54–56.

6/ The information on women’s guilds in Europe comes largely from Kowaleski and Bennett (see above).

7/ The information on Ireland (and the value of a needle) is from Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh, “Mere Embroiderers? Women and Art in Early Medieval Ireland,” in Reassessing the Roles of Women, ed. Martin (Leiden: Brill, 2012): 93–128, esp. 93.

8/ The information on the stole in Girona, Spain is from Pierre Alain Mariaux, “Women in the Making: Early Medieval Signatures and Artists’ Portraits (9th–12th c)” in Reassessing the Roles of Women, ed. Martin (Leiden: Brill, 2012): 393–427, esp. 419.

9/ Gee’s Bend Quilts: https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/gees-bend-quiltmakers

10/ Alisa LaGamma, “The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design without End,” African Arts 42.1 (Spring 2009): 88–99, esp. 90–91. The artist I mention is El Anatsui (b.1944, Ghanian): https://art21.org/artist/el-anatsui/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw2NyFBhDoARIsAMtHtZ77XuccoWzMzx-3uQgYcZUDdgfPm-qg6ilxCPvdWKtZ0Aczehc3Mn4aAsiZEALw_wcB

You can check out Bisa Butler’s quilts on her Instagram here and at the Art Institute here.

Kente cloth is specifically from Ghana; you can see a cool map of different fabrics of Africa here.

11/ For more on Yinka Shonibare, see episode 11, note 21 and episode 14, note 21. Also Google him! http://yinkashonibare.com/

For more on Dutch Wax Fabric (and Shonibare): https://hyperallergic.com/335472/how-dutch-wax-fabrics-became-a-mainstay-of-african-fashion/

12/ Minnesota, dried fish (pre-lutefisk), and Nigerian immigrants: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/where-to-find-lutefisk

For those not familiar, lutefisk is fish preserved with lye.

Concerning cod.

13/ Women working in wood and stone! See Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh, “Mere Embroiderers? Women and Art in Early Medieval Ireland,” in Reassessing the Roles of Women, ed. Martin (Leiden: Brill, 2012): 93–128, esp. 99.

Also see: Nancy L. Wicker, “Nimble-Fingered Maidens in Scandinavia: Women as Artists and Patrons,” in Reassessing the Roles of Women, ed. Martin (Leiden: Brill, 2012): 865–902, esp. 867.

14/ 9,000-year-old linen woven with hemp from Çatalhöyük: https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/centuries-old-fabric-found-in-catalhoyuk-61883

Medieval Viking and Early Modern Scandinavian cloth made with hemp: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep02686

The Shakespeare quote is from Twelfth Night I.iii

Episode 32: You Better Work, Beeyatch


Em and Jesse reminisce about libraries they have known, discuss scriptoria and book-making before the printing press, and talk about women who worked in various Medieval professional guilds, how they got there, and what they did with their money.

Annotations and Corrections

Recommended text for this episode: Reassessing the Roles of Women as ‘Makers’ of Medieval Art and Architecture. Edited by Therese Martin. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

1/ Things that are artisanal: bread, cheese, beer, anything made in Brooklyn. . . .

2/ Christmas Book Flood!! Or the Jolabokaflod.

3/ The relationship between Finnish and Hungarian is actually pretty complicated. The Finno-Uralic language family has nine language groupings in it; the major languages are, in order of number of speakers, Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, and then a bunch of minority languages that are spoken by very small groups (tribes, I guess), like Mari, Udmurt, Mordvin, and so on. These languages have some structural, lexicographical, and phonetic similarities, but how they’re actually related is still a subject of debate, as is the question of how they might be related to other Indo-European (or non-Indo-European languages). There are also linguists who claim that these are all just a bunch of weird languages that got stuck together and they’re not actually related, as well as weird theories that propose Finnish is related to Basque (probably the most famous isolate) or Hungarian is related to Etruscan.

4/ The movie was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Good movie, but, uh, wow. Some uncomfortable stuff in there, made more awkward because I was watching it in a kind of art house movie theatre with mostly a bunch of Boomers. . . .

5/ DIY Quarto https://www.folger.edu/publishing-shakespeare/diy-quarto

6/ This site has some examples of different handwriting styles.

Palaeography is the study of historic writing, handwriting systems, etc. We’re discussing medieval Palaeography!

For more on cats, scribes, and their fights, see episode 30 (especially notes 12 and 13), and also this blog: https://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/paws-pee-and-mice-cats-among-medieval-manuscripts/

A palimpsest is text that’s hidden (invisible to the naked eye) under another text that’s been written over it. Modern technology (ultraviolet light/photography) has made palimpsests visible again without damaging the surface text.

7/ Luttrell Psalter (BL MS 42130): Here’s a link to f157r (that’s the front–recto–of page/leaf 157). Click forward to see amazing and delightful scenes from the Luttrell village, or backwards to see animals and Biblical scenes, and fantastic illuminations.

Here is the link to f. 202v (that’s the back of page/leaf 202): “A knight with the Luttrell arms, mounted, armed, and attended by two women identified by their heraldic surcoats as Agnes Sutton (d. 1340) and Beatrice Le Scrope (the wife and the daughter-in-law of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell)” according to the British Library description. The knight is presumably Sir Geoffrey himself (with his wife and daughter-in-law, yay).

See episode 8 note 24 for all the great info on the Master of Catherine of Cleves (active ca. 1435–60). Here’s the Morgan Library’s website on The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: https://www.themorgan.org/collection/Hours-of-Catherine-of-Cleves

Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry: This was created by the Limbourg Brothers.

The Lindisfarne Gospels: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindisfarne_Gospels (Created by Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne.)

8/ Extensive reading: reading a lot of books. Intensive reading: reading one book really closely (many people read their bible this way, whatever their religion is).

9/Hildegard’s Ordo Virtutum was discussed in episode 6 (see notes 17 and 23).

10/ For more on women as illuminators, see Christine Havice, “Women and the Production of Art in the Middle Ages,” in Double Vision: Perspectives on Gender and the Visual Arts. Edited by Natalie Harris Bluestone. Associated University Presses, 1995. Pages 67–94.

Reassessing the Roles of Women as ‘Makers’ of Medieval Art and Architecture, edited by Therese Martin. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

For more on the nuns of St Katharine’s in Nuremberg, see Jane Carroll, “Subversive Obedience: Images of Spiritual Reform by and for Fifteenth-Century Nuns,” in Reassessing the Roles, ed. Martin pp. 705–737. (Full cite of Martin’s above.)

For more on Donella, see Loretta Vandi, “‘The Woman with the Flower.’ Social and Artistic Identity in Medieval Italy,” in Gesta 39.1 (2000): 73–77.

For more on Guda see Pierre Alain Mariaux, “Women in the making: Early Medieval Signatures and Artists’ Portraits (9th–12th c.),” in Reassessing the Roles, ed. Martin, pp. 393–427, esp. 413–415. (Full cite of Martin’s text above.)

11/ Not sure what I referring to here, so instead here’s a link to a really important article from 1971 on feminist art history, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists” by Linda Nochlin:

12/ Antonia Pulci (1452/54–1501) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonia_Tanini_Pulci

Plautilla Nelli’s Last Supper: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/plautilla-nelli-last-supper

13/ Meredith Parsons Lillich, “Gothic Glaziers: Monks, Jews, Taxpayers, Bretons, Women,” in Journal of Glass Studies 27 (1985): 72–92.

Christine Hediger, “Female Donors of Medieval Stained-Glass Windows,” in Investigations in Medieval Stained Glass Materials, Methods, and Expressions edited by Elizabeth Carson Pastan and Brigitte Kurmann-Schwarz (Leiden: Brill, 2019): 239–250 (esp. 241, for servant story and prostitutes story, and 247 for the “restored” male heads story).

14/ Vigil Raber (1490–1552) ran his studio with his wife, who continued to run the studio after his death. See M.A. Katrizky, “What Did Vigil Raber’s Stage Really Look Like?,” in Vigil Raber: Zur 450 Wiederkehr seines Todesjahres eds. Michael Gebhardt and Max Siller (Innsbruck: Universitaetsverlag Wagner, 2004): 85–116 (p. 85).

See episode 6 note 33 too.

15/ For those curious, this site has a breakdown of percentage male/female in different careers worldwide (excluding China and India for which data were not available), using data from the International Labour Organization. An example of a career with a 12% male participation rate is personal care worker (i.e., health care assistant–I think in the US we would call this an LPN type of position). A career with 10% female participation is commissioned armed forces officer. A similar table from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics gives the figures for the US in 2020. One career here that has 11.8% women in it is electrical and electronics engineers. A career that is largely female is preschool and kindergarten teachers–only 1.2% male. Interestingly, a solid 25% of private detectives are female, and there are 800,000 of them in the country.

16/ Actual city of London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrObZ_HZZUc

17/ When I say it was less likely that women would paint people as opposed to still lifes, I meant during the Renaissance. Obviously women take nude drawing classes all the time now without much comment. (I have, anyway.)–Em

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.

Episode 30: Felis Catus Is Your Taxonomic Nomenclature


Cats are tiny lions that live in your home. But how long have they lived with humans? Have they always had the position of respect they enjoy now? Also, what’s up with racoons? Em and Jesse discuss cats in the Middle Ages (and also other animals kept as pets, including squirrels, monkeys, and birds). We explore various poetic odes to cats written through the ages (real and apocryphal), examples of cats getting into trouble in scriptoria, and also a few digressions on James Joyce.


0/ Title ref.

1/ Ghostbusters (Dr. Venkman): “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together–mass hysteria!” https://youtu.be/SA1SxZoFmOU

2/ Cat domestication! https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/domesticated-cats-dna-genetics-pets-science

3/ CBS Sunday Morning “Are we making racoons smarter?” https://youtu.be/CnZ-8cVxhNA

Racoon GEICO commercial (there are many, here is one): https://youtu.be/gUpMoNMlCts

Interesting fact: in cities, where there is abundant food for animals like racoons and opossums, the animals start breeding year-round, rather than seasonally.

4/ Caitlin Doughty’s Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death https://www.amazon.com/Will-Cat-Eat-Eyeballs-Questions/dp/039365270X

Interview with Doughty: https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/09/10/mortician-death-caitlin-doughty-book

Webcomic Strange Planet: “Who’s a moral creature?” (i.e., dogs!) https://twitter.com/nathanwpyle/status/1233112182126235649?s=20

Strange Planet‘s vibrating creature (i.e., cat): https://twitter.com/nathanwpyle/status/1107432804822994944?s=20

Strange Planet illuminates the way we stereotypically view dogs (companions, loyal, “good” in a truly moral sense) vs the way we stereotypically view cats (aloof, solitary, untamed, amoral).

5/ Anchoresses: episode 5, especially note 3.

6/ Irina Metzler, “Heretical Cats: Animal Symbolism in Religious Discourse,” in Medium Aevum Quotidianum, vol. 59 (2009): 16–32. These stories of the cat as symbolic of the devil are from pp. 18–19.

Here is a 14th century image of the poor widow surrounded by angels and the rich man surrounded by cats (representing the evils of his life, panderers and flatterers, etc). The image is in Bibliothèque Nationale, MS fr. 312, f. 334v. The illuminator is Pierre Remiet, and the text is Vincent de Beauvais, Miroir Historial [Speculum historiale], vol. 1, 2, 4, traduction en français par Jean de Vignay. Miroir historial, vol. 1, Livres I–VIII.

See also Michael Camille, Master of Death, which is about the illuminator Remiet. This image appears in Camille on p. 157.

7/ For more on Hildegard and dogs, check out episode 29 note 27.

8/ Alain of Lille (c.1128–c.1202/3): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_de_Lille

Cathars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharism See also Metzler, p. 24.

9/ Dominicans! A dog statue in Marburg, Germany stands on a building that pre-Reformation was a Domincan monastery. This good pup is illustrating that the Dominicans are “domini canes” or “hounds of the Lord.”

The fresco “The Church Militant and Church Triumphant” in Santa Maria Novella in Florence (1365) by Andrea di Bonaiuto.

Here’s a close up: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Andrea_di_Bonaiuto._Santa_Maria_Novella_1366-7_fresco_0011.jpg

Andrea di Bonaiuto: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_di_Bonaiuto_da_Firenze

10/ For awesome dog figurines, see episode 29 note 9.

For medieval cats licking themselves, there are many internet threads such as https://www.sadanduseless.com/funny-medieval-art/ (we are linking this for the images, not the text on the blog post!).

11/ Pietro Lorenzetti’s Last Supper in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi (lower church): https://www.wga.hu/html_m/l/lorenzet/pietro/1/1vault/2lastsu.html (click on the image for a close up!)

Pietro Lorenzetti (c.1280–1348) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietro_Lorenzetti

12/ Cats paw prints on a manuscript! https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/130326-animals-medieval-manuscript-books-cats-history


13/ Medieval cat pee on a manuscript!
https://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/paws-pee-and-mice-cats-among-medieval-manuscripts/ (scroll down past the paw prints image)

14/ The Librarians (TV series!) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Librarians_(2014_TV_series)

15/ Students from the Rochester Institute of Technology created an imaging system: https://www.rit.edu/news/rit-students-discover-hidden-15th-century-text-medieval-manuscripts

Since this episode was recorded, a paper came out in Nature about using computers to virtually unfold complexly folded letters from pre-1830 (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21326-w).

16/ Christopher Smart (1722–1771) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Smart
Long poem Jubilate Agno https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilate_Agno

The section of Jubilate Agno known as “(For I will consider) My Cat Jeoffry:” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45173/jubilate-agno

17/ “Pangur Bán” (9th century Irish poem)
Seamus Heaney translation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/48267/pangur-ban

The poem is contained in the Reichenau Primer.

18/ Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” lines 348–356: https://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/wbt-par.htm

19/ Barbara Newman’s Chaucer parody about cats: B. Newman, ‘The “Cattes Tale”: A Chaucer Apocryphon,’ The Chaucer Review 26:4 (1992), pp. 411–23.

A Catte ther was, fulfilld of furrinesse,
And that a worthy beeste, as I may gesse
For of his herys al golden was the hewe,
And he so wys was, unnethes wolde he mewe,
But lay abedde and slepte with open ye,
Til that his frend Magnificat gan crye
Wel koude he cheere of vertu countrefete:
Nas nowher cat so swift to stele his mete.
Of milk and eek of mys he was ful fayn
But briddes loved he best, to telle yow pleyn.
Ful fetisly his tayl he gan upcaste
As any pekok proude; and atte laste.
I herde that sely beeste purr, parfay,
In verray parfit pleyn felinitee.
[Newman 411-412.]

The above article is helpfully prefaced with this note: “Chaucer was a serious poet, but he was also a comic poet, and he was rarely ‘solemn.’ Scholarship is perforce always serious, and almost always solemn as well. Here for once it is not.
Lest anyone believe everything said below, the reader is warned. The Editors” [411].

Julian of Norwich icon: https://www.trinitystores.com/artwork/julian-norwich (For more see episode 5, note 3).

20/ Petrarch (1304–1374) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrarch

Juliana Schiesari, “Portrait of the Poet as a Dog: Petrarch’s Epistola Metrica III, 5,” in Italica Vol. 84, No. 2/3 (Summer–Autumn, 2007), pp. 162–172.

“(Not?) Petrarch’s Cat:” https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2018/12/not-petrarchs-cat.html

Petrarch can also be found in episode 2 (note 20) and (in the notes only) in episode 26, note 7.

21/ The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries  (see episode 29, note 24)

These tapestries include monkeys as pets–for example:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lady_and_the_Unicorn#/media/File:The_Lady_and_the_unicorn_Touch.jpg (mid left)

Scroll down for a close up in this article about the extent to which Algerian Jews participated in the monkey trade: http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0259-94222018000100018

22/ Blackadder III Episode 1 “Dish and Dishonesty”

(Edmund comes in with his ‘Lords’ robe)

E: Voila, Mrs. Miggins. My robes of State. My thousand pounds well spent,
I think.

M: Oooohhh, very nice! Oooohhhhhh, it’s real cat, isn’t it?

E: This is not cat, Mrs. Miggins. This is finest, leather-trimmed ermine
with gold medallion accessories.

M: Oh go on, Mr. Blackadder — it’s cat. Oooh, look, they’ve left the little
collars on!

E: (reads a collar) ‘Mr. Frisky. If found, please return to Emma Hamilton,
Marine Parade, Portsmouth’? oh God! Ah, well, who cares about a dead cat now that I’m a fat cat.

M: Oooh, you’re full of yourself today, Mr. B!

E: …which is more than can be said for Mr. Frisky.

23/ James Joyce, The Cat and the Devil

The book is actually a letter from Joyce to his grandson, not his nephew. I regret this error. Also, despite Amazon claiming copies of this are going for $300+, I routinely find copies on AbeBooks for under $25. So if you want a copy, look around. The version illustrated by Blachon is the best. I don’t know if Ellmann had anything to say about Joyce and cats, but in addition to The Cat and the Devil, Leopold Bloom (the main character of Ulysses) has a cat, so I assume Joyce liked them.

Episode 29: D’You Like Dags?


Dogs have long been reputed to be man’s best friend. But how long is “long”? The answer is close to 10,000 years (at least). Join Em and Jesse as they look back at the intertwined history of humanity and canine-ity, from Odysseus’s dog Argos to Hachiko, who waited ten years for his owner to come home from work. With some interesting discussions of famous medieval animals, including Alfonso the Wise’s pet weasel and Chanticleer the rooster.

A lady with dogs from the Alphonso Psalter
A lady with dogs from the Alphonso Psalter, c. 1284-1316 (Add MS 24686, British Library).

Annotations and Corrections

1/ 1:33 I sound confused about llamas . . . I think I am poorly remembering an argument from Guns, Germs, and Steel. [Some interesting context for Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2005/08/03/guns-germs-and-steel-reconsidered –Jesse]

2/ 2:08 Talking smack about André [Awwwwwwww.-Jesse]

Andre in my old office
He can be kind of a jerk, but he’s also very nice when he wants to be.


3/ Our alcohol episode was episode 27.

4/ 7:08 Here is the Wikipedia article about the famous silver fox domestication experiment:

5/ If you’re interested in hunting, check out the famous medieval hunting manuscript Le Livre de chasse written by Gaston Phoebus (Gaston III, Count of Foix) between 1387 and 1389. This text was translated and adapted into English as The Master of Game by Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York between 1406 and 1413.

6/ 10:11 Turnspit dogs! In England, they’re mentioned at least as early as John Caius’s 1570 De canibus Britannicis (On English Dogs)

7/ There are many references to cats and dogs in the Talmud! Here is the one Em is discussing, and in true Jewish scholarly fashion, there are two possible sayings: 1) don’t go barefoot in a house with a cat because you’ll puncture your foot with the small bones of the snakes it has killed, and 2) don’t go go into a house without a cat in the dark because there might be snakes that will get you.

“Rav Pappa said: With regard to a house in which there is a cat, a person should not enter there barefoot. What is the reason? Because the cat might kill a snake and eat it, and the snake has small bones, and if a small bone gets into one’s foot it cannot be removed, and he will be in danger. Some say that Rav Pappa said: With regard to a house in which there is no cat, a person should not enter there in the dark. What is the reason? Since there is no cat to hunt snakes, perhaps a snake will wrap itself around him without him knowing and he will be in danger.” (Pesachim 112b:10)

Here is a general romp through Talmudic references to cats: https://www.sefaria.org/topics/cats?tab=sources

8/ 12:03 Anchoresses could have cats: see episode 5 (especially note 3).

Domestication of dogs! https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-wolves-really-became-dogs-180970014/

9/ 14:58 Pompeii “Beware the Dog” mosaic!

Roman doggo statue (copy of a lost Greek statue): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molossus_(dog)#/media/File:Molossian_Hound,_British_Museum.jpg
Another Roman doggo: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/255121

Greek or Roman girl with puppy: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/248754

Greek doggo guarding owner’s tomb (in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens–Jesse can personally attest to this good doggo’s awesomeness). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Funerary_statue_of_a_dog_at_the_National_Archaeological_Museum_of_Athens_on_7_May_2018.jpg

Good Chinese doggos: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/42361

Pre-Columbian American doggos:
https://ncartmuseum.org/art/detail/dog_effigy https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pot-bellied_Dog_Figure,_Mexico,_State_of_Colima,_200_BC_-_500_AD,_ceramic,_Pre-Columbian_collection,_Worcester_Art_Museum_-_IMG_7646.JPG

Neo-Assyrian doggos: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/W_1856-0903-1509

Some of the oldest depictions of dogs, from Iran: https://www.persee.fr/doc/paleo_0153-9345_2007_num_33_1_5213

Possibly even older depictions of dogs from Saudi Arabia: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/8000-year-old-rock-carvings-may-be-earliest-depiction-domesticated-dogs-180967266/

More dogs! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_depictions_of_dogs

10/ 17:28 Historic dogs vs modern–you’ll notice that lots of the breeds in note 9 are referenced as “extinct” while still looking very recognizable! You can see a bunch of comparison photos from the early 20th century here.

11/ 19:08 Sorry about the eye thing!

HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel did a great story on dog breed (“Unnatural Selection”) in season 20 episode 4 (April 2014), but it doesn’t seem to be available for viewing anywhere. So, trigger warning on this article about the problem: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/evolution-petface-180967987/
And a more hopeful article https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/although-purebred-dogs-can-be-best-in-show-are-they-worst-in-health/

12/ 19:52 Shout out to Thong Daeng, the most famous basenji of all time, possibly.

13/ Dr. Moudhy Al-Rashid is an Assyriologist who sometimes posts about good Mesopotamian doggos on twitter.

14/ If you’re interested in sirens as funeral monuments, here are some pictures!

15/ The train station dog was an Akita named Hachiko. Don’t read that story unless you feel like crying.

16/ Book of Tobit: The dog is not integral to the story but loyally accompanies Tobit’s son Tobias on his travels (notice the brief mentions in the Wikipedia summary). The dog was interpreted as a symbol of loyalty and was a favorite feature of medieval portrayals of The Book of Tobit.
Doggo sleeping on the bed when Tobias gets married (stained glass, 1520): https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O64856/tobias-and-sara-on-their-panel-unknown/
Doggo just chilling (1415) http://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/page/194/112314
And from 1332: https://manuscripts.kb.nl/zoom/BYVANCKB%3Amimi_mmw_10b21%3A088r_min

17/ Le Menagier de Paris (1393) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Ménagier_de_Paris
Here is the translation Goodman of Paris. Scroll down to pp. 107–108 for the stories in the podcast.

18/ Dogs protecting lost children: example 1, example 2. There are many more.

19/ St. Guinefort: I swear we discussed him, but I can’t find him in the previous episodes.

20/ The blessing of animals is held on or near St. Francis’s feast day (Oct 4th).

For more on St. Francis of Assisi, see episode 4 notes 14–17 and episode 23 note 7.

21/ The race in Siena is called the PALIO. The “pallagio” is, I assume, an off-brand Vegas hotel. It’s the only race in the world, as far as I know, where a horse that has lost its rider can still win if it finishes first.

22/ Alfonso the Wise’s Cantigas de Santa Maria.
Here is the song in question: http://csm.mml.ox.ac.uk/index.php?p=poemdata_view&rec=354

23/ Riki-tikki-tavi.

24/ The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Musée de Cluny.

Maltese dogs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maltese_dog

25/ Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: the Prioress’s introduction in the General Prologue begins at line 118, and the discussion of her love of animals is lines 142–150.

Jesse: My claim here might not be true! Obviously far, far more money overall goes to charities that help humans. The discussion here is about a very specific, focused scenario (which still might not be true–the study might have skewed its data to make a point about discrimination). However, there is still a huge debate on whether it’s “immoral” to give to an animal charity “instead of” a human charity. If you want to go down this rabbit hole, feel free to Google!

Em: One thing that I believe is true is that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals predates the establishment of similar charities for the prevention of cruelty to children. (RSPCA was established in 1824, the ASPCA was established in 1866, and the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the first child protective agency in the world, was founded in 1874.

26/ For more on Marie de France (flourished 1160–1215), see episode 19 note 13.
Here is Marie’s fable “The Cock and the Fox.”

Here is Chaucer’s adaptation of Marie’s fable, the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, starring the rooster Chanticleer.

27/ For more on Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) see episode 6 beginning around 34:00 and notes 17 and 23. This text is from Book 7 (“Animals”) of the Physica. Dogs are section 20 of this chapter in Priscilla Throop’s translation.

28/ A shout out to Walker-Meikle’s book Medieval Pets.

Also, see Mythbusters episode “Hair of the Dog” (season 8, episode 12) on how hard it is to trick tracking dogs.

This episode is dedicated to Edgar, Maya, and Wrigley! Shout out to Snatch for the title.

Edgar and Maya
Edgar and Maya in the back seat of a car.
Wrigley in a sweater

Episode 28: Food


Hungry? Grab a snack and join Em and Jesse for a discussion of food in the Middle Ages–what did a well-equipped kitchen contain? What kind of dishes were cooked, with what ingredients? And who did the cooking and baking? With some digressions on international variations of hand pies and sandwiches, Wisconsin fish fries, and some modern recreations of Medieval recipes.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ [0:56] For more on the eucharist, check out episode 3 (on Passover and Easter) and episode 6 (especially the long section on the feast of Corpus Christi).

Caroline Bynum’s Holy Feast, Holy Fast. Amazon link.

2/ [5:45] We recorded this on a different day than usual, and for some reason three or four trains went by Dr. Jesse’s house in less than an hour and a half. [I love trains! We’ve got both freight and Amtrak. Invest in train travel!–JN]

3/ [8:30] Actually, my research suggests that the German immigrants who came to Wisconsin were Catholics, so that is where the fish fry tradition came from.–Em

4/ [9:45] Dr. Jesse alludes to the fact that in the laws of Kashrut, fish is considered pareve, meaning it can be eaten with both meat dishes or dairy dishes. (This means specifically fish–not seafood like shrimp or clams.)

5/ [11:00] The Seal of New York City: BEWARE stereotypical/racist Native American imagery! We are linking to the image for the beavers. And the Wikipedia article is here. As of July 2020, Bill de Blasio was in favor of a commission to rethink the seal.

6/ [15:00] The Chester Harrowing is discussed in episode 8 note 26 and episode 27 note 18 [1:02:03].

7/ [16:40] Hrotsvit has come up several times, but the best place to look for more on her is in her own episode, which was number 22.

8/ Chaucer’s Cook: Here’s the description of the Cook in the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales (lines 379–387). You can also link to the Cook’s Tale from here (sidebar on the left).

9/ [24:20] An Aga is basically a cast iron box that gets hot slowly and then stays hot for a long time. They seem to use a lot of fuel, and (consequently?) they are very posh in Britain.

Here’s a nice blog on hearths and ovens.

10/ [24:30] Maggie Walker came up in episode 10 (note 2), Icons and Iconography. I don’t know who’s blog this is, but if you scroll down you’ll see a picture of the kitchen with the stove (and the kitchen table with an awesome yellow checkered tablecloth).

11/ [30:10] For the frequency (or lack thereof) of communion, see Miri Rubin’s Corpus Christi esp. pp. 147–148. Amazon link.

12/ [31:20] Writing and Rebellion: England in 1381, by Steven Justice. Amazon link.

13/ [32:30] For a lot of the specific information in this episode from utensils to foodstuffs, I recommend Melitta Weiss Adamson’s Food in Medieval Times. For the possibility of roasting a whole ox on a spit, see Adamson, bottom of page 60.

14/ [34:51] Spoons: we don’t talk about it a lot, but I think it’s interesting to mention that spoons and knives existed for quite a while before the idea of having your own personal flatware for eating with at a meal became a thing.–Em

15/ [35:40] Making cheese is pretty easy–bring a gallon of, for example, goat’s milk to a simmer, add some salt and lemon juice, strain out the curds and squeeze out the liquid. Boom, you have chevre. (If you do this with cow’s milk and don’t squeeze out too much liquid, you have ricotta.) However, making really good cheese is much more complicated and can involve different types of rennet, starters, kneading, aging, etc. [Cheese is one of humanity’s greatest discoveries!–JN]

16/ [36:45] Weird Al’s Amish Paradise. (Also note the call out to Buster Keaton with the wall falling over Weird Al. We discussed Buster Keaton in episode 22 note 2–including the falling house façade–and in episode 21, note 3.)

17/ [38:00] Soap tho? [The Middle Ages had soap! It was made using tallow and lots of lye, generally speaking.–JN]

18/ [41:00] Somehow, suggesting that a pastie and a taco are essentially the same thing is like suggesting that a Pop Tart is a kind of ravioli–technically correct, but likely to start a fight. [Food fight!!–JN]

19/ [42:15] Banh mi: apparently, “banh” as a corruption of “pain” or “banh mi” as a version of “pain de mie” is a folk etymology, and the use of “banh” to mean a type of rice cake (like banh Tet) dates to the 13th century. It is written in Nom (Vietnamese Chinese characters) with 餅, pronounced “bing” in Mandarin! “Mi” means “wheat.” “Pho mai” DOES actually come from “fromage,” and inevitably meant Vache Qui Rie (Laughing Cow) brand cheese. The term “banh mi” is used to mean a sandwich, I believe, in the US and other places that aren’t VN. This is an example of synecdoche. In VN you’d say the filling, like “banh mi pho mai” (cheese sandwich). Are they like a taco? This assertion makes me uncomfortable. [I mean no, except in as much as a taco is like a sandwich… 🙂 –JN]

20/ [46:00] Le Viandier. Some fun translations of these recipes can be found here.

21/ [55:00] Liber de Coquina.

22/ The Forme of Cury. For the recipes, see here, and also here.

23/ Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook: Part 1, part 2, part 3. Part two begins with a reading of the recipe for stuffed goose Dr. Jesse recited.

24/ [1:00:40] Again, a shout out to Melitta Weiss Adamson’s Food in Medieval Times. Amazon link. This quote is from pages 63–64.

25/ [1:05:15] Pater Noster = Our Father = Lord’s Prayer. A “Miserere” is Psalm 51 (or 50 in the Vulgate): “Have mercy upon me, O God” (miserere = mercy).

26/ [1:08:25] Meryl Streep savages an onion. [Love this moment!–JN]

27/ [1:11:05] “We haven’t started cooking chicken with sound waves or anything.” Technically we have started cooking chicken with microwaves though, which is a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. Although, thermal radiation (heat) is also a type of electromagnetic radiation, so… I’m actually torn on whether this counts as an improvement in existing technology or something fundamentally different.

28/ Other cooking shows:
The always awesome Sohla El-Wayly has just started a historic food cooking project with the history channel.

I think the Alton Brown episode of relevance here is season 14, episode 16: A Bird in the Pie Is Worth Two in the Bush. Sadly not freely available, but you can probably stream it on YouTube or something.

This guy does historical baking.

Ann Reardon also cooks historical dishes…here, she’s also cooking from The Forme of Cury.

29/ [1:14:15] St. Apollonia was mentioned in episode 10, note 37.

Medieval Fur Preservation

We mention at the end of every podcast that we’ll take your questions. But we have been regrettably slow in answering the ones we haven’t incorporated into the actual episodes. There have been a lot of reasons for this–plague inertia, Dr. Jesse’s class schedule/general academicness, Em having some health issues (and, uh, a baby). But now, for 2021, we’re cleaning up our act, and we’re going to post the questions we answer here! So keep on sending them in!

From A.:

How did people preserve furs in medieval times? Would any peasant do it, or did it require special tradesperson materials?

As with many things in the Middle Ages, some techniques to preserve furs were open to anyone and others required specialized craftspeople. Sumptuary laws also governed the furs that people of different classes and professions could wear. Moreover, if peasants killed (or poached) rabbits or squirrels, etc., for fur, the quality of the end product was likely to be lower than that of imported fur (unless you were a skilled peasant who lived in an area with highly prized animals).

Fur and leather production were related crafts. There were a number of specialty tanners (depending on the type/quality of leather being created) as well as taw(y)ers or whittawers who tawed skin (rather than tanning it) by using alum and salts (for example) to create a white leather. Grömer, Russ-Popa, and Saliari discuss this process at length on page 72.

Grömer, Russ-Popa, and Saliari on fur: “When manufacturing furs, special attention is given to ensure that the hair retains its firm hold on the skin. The pre-tanning operations are similar to those of leather manufacturing. Traditionally, skins can be processed without tanning. They only receive preservative treatments that soften the skin and protect them from bacterial attack. For fur, tanning, tawing or treatment with oils is also possible (Thomson 2006: 73); treatment with smoke [one of the most original processing methods, which is still practiced today (Trommer 2008: 15)] is also an option” (73). Smoke preservation would be possible for most people, but the chemicals and knowledge needed for tanning or tawing were generally reserved for craftspeople.

Here is a portion of Grömer, Russ-Popa, and Saliari’s discussion of tawing: “Another method to produce leather is to treat the hides with alum. Here, a paste of alum is kneaded into the pelt. Besides alum, the paste can obtain other ingredients such as salt, egg yolks, butter or flour (Thomson 2006: 72). This process is repeated until the leather is tawed. The advantages of tawing versus vegetable tanning are: faster production, softer leather and lighter weight. These help explain why it was favoured amongst the craft conditions in Antiquity and the Medieval Period. The produced leather is white and therefore readily dyed (Trommer 2008: 26). The disadvantage of this method is the washability of the alum. If the alum is removed by water, the leather again behaves like a raw skin and, for example, is prone to putrefaction. Due to the washability of alum, this method is considered to be a semi-tanning method. The origin of this method is assumed to be Asia Minor, with some evidence also from ancient Egypt. The Romans and Arabs therefore contributed significantly to its spread (Trommer 2008: 24)” (72).

Karina Grömer, Gabriela Russ-Popa and Konstantina Saliari, “Products of animal skin from Antiquity to the Medieval Period” in Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien. Serie A für Mineralogie und Petrographie, Geologie und Paläontologie, Anthropologie und Prähistorie, 119. Bd. (15 Feb. 2017): 69–93. [Available on JSTOR.]

The sources they cite in the paragraph I’ve quoted above are:
Thomson, R. (2006): Testing leathers and related materials. − In: Kite, M. & Thomson, R. (Hrsg.): Conservation of leather and related materials – pp. 58–65, Oxford (Taylor and Francis Ltd).

Trommer, B. (2008): Archäologisches Leder. Herkunft, Gerbstoffe, Technologien, Alterungs- und Abbauverhalten. – 244 pp., Saarbrücken (Verlag Dr. Müller).


Episode 27: Drinks


Welcome to season 2! Grab your favorite potation and join Em and Jesse for a tour of the history of alcohol, from monkeys getting drunk on fermented apples, to the earliest written recipe for beer, to rules surrounding the making and serving of drinks in the Middle Ages. With some fun digressions on the domestication of watermelons and the importance of grain/flour in Gilgamesh.


1/ Narrator:
By ‘drink,’ Ford Prefect meant alcohol. . .

To be clear, the cans of old fashioned the Dane is offering have like four servings in them (obligatory “or one serving if you try hard enough”). Having been pregnant for most of 2020, I have not yet tried them. Anyway, per Wisconsin rules a brandy old fashioned consists of: a cherry + orange slice muddled in the bottom of the glass with sugar and bitters, a shot of brandy (probably usually Korbel), ice, and top it off with some type of lemon-lime soda (Em uses ginger beer). Garnish with additional cherries and an orange slice. I’ve had bartenders in not-Wisconsin give it to me without the soda, which is–not good. I’ve heard that Wisconsin consumes the most brandy per capita in the US. Actually, in 2019, Wisconsinites consumed over half of the Korbel brandy sold worldwide. So. That’s a claim to fame for sure.

Our recommended nonalcoholic drink to go with this episode is ginger beer and lime.

2/ In contrast to the aquatic ape theory, I’m calling Dr. Jesse’s theory about the fermented apple-eating monkeys the drunken monkey theory, and no one can stop me. [Awesome!–JN]

Jesse: Here is a a great beginning article on the history of alcohol from National Geographic, “A 9,000-Year Love Affair,” by Andrew Curry, Feb 2017, vol. 231, no. 2: link. Many of the specific dates, recipes, and general info discussed in this episode are at least briefly mentioned in this article. (May require a subscription.) Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the history of alcoholic drinks.

3/ [8:32] “I know enough that if you want to have a city, which means that…people have specializations in things…” This insight and many others brought to you by Ryan North’s How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler.

I am having a hard time finding anything on Google that isn’t about c-rations eaten by soldiers during the Vietnam War–most of what I know about post-war rationing I learned from museums I visited in the country. I remember one exhibit that talked about how people had coupon books for rice, meat, vegetables, and tofu, and how people who traveled abroad often brought back items like electric fans, and I think sneakers and radios. I feel like one guy mentioned trading a pair of sneakers for a plane ticket.

4/ [15:27] The Harappan or Indus script. I’m guessing they’d have to find a longer text using the script to really decipher it, but you can read about all the arguments on that page. And here’s more on cuneiform, including a nice view of the evolution from pictograms (which I believe count as proto-writing) to the actual script.

5/ [18:05] Bai jiu (白酒) is actually usually made from sorghum, although some regions do use rice or other grains. It’s a pretty ubiquitous spirit in China. Wikipedia has a pretty good rundown of all the varieties beyond the cheap to extremely cheap stuff you can buy in the supermarket in China.

6/ [22:50] The domestication of the watermelon in ancient Egypt. And here is the recent discovery via DNA that Egyptians had domesticated a sweet (probably red) watermelon.

7/ [24:45] Gobekli Tepe in Turkey.

8/ [29:30] Sumerian beer: the recipe is here if you want to try it yourself. Google turns up a number of people/groups that have done it. Here is more on the goddess Ninkasi.

9/ [33:35] Gilgamesh is my favorite epic–we’ve talked about it in several previous episodes, notably 3 (note 27) and 23 (note 5). Not only does bread figure into a major plot point, but flour is used in conjuring when Gilgamesh has a series of prophetic dreams when Gilgamesh and Enkidu walk to the cedar forest in tablet 4.

A song about the Mesopotamians. Possibly not very explanatory.

Nineveh, for those not raised in the Jewish tradition (Abrahamic tradition?), is the city the prophet Jonah is sent to with orders to tell them to repent.

Ashurbanipal and his library.

10/ [38:35] Unfortunately, the Wikipedia entry for Tall Bazi, Syria is in German. Here is a beer recipe based on the archeological evidence from Tall Bazi.

11/ [41:45] We talked about the building of the pyramids in our episodes on Passover and Easter (see episode 3 notes 3 and 5). Here is a website about the village, and here is the site’s article on feeding the workers (with a particular emphasis on the bakeries). For more on the history of beer, see Richard Unger Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Chapter 2 opens with a section called “Beer before the Middle Ages: Mesopotamia and Egypt.”

12/ [46:43] The copper ingot complaint is called the complaint tablet to Ea-nasir. The British Museum has a much more high-res photo here (because of course it does). And you can read a translation here.

13/ Cacao wine: technically cacao is the fruit of the cocoa plant, so I guess making wine with it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise (we did start the episode talking about fermenting apples). My understanding is that a lot of the chocolate flavor we think of develops during the roasting stage, so I’m not sure how much the wine would taste like chocolate as we think of it. Here’s a recipe I found that uses cacao nibs, but I’m not sure how authentic it is. Honestly, I’ve never been sure of what a cacao nib is except a form of chocolate for people who think they’re too sophisticated for normal chocolate.

14/ [49:35] Mayan drink–balché.

15/ [50:20] Sorghum beer is still very popular (like every other type of beer!).

Palm wine.

16/ [55:15] Here’s Wikipedia’s rundown of the Judean Date Palm, and here’s a 2020 article from The Atlantic about the effort to bring it back.

17/ [57:00] Here you can hear the Clancy Brothers’ discussion of uisce beatha (and also sing “Finnegan’s Wake”).

18/ [1:02:03] The Chester harrowing was discussed in episode 8–see note 26.

For more on the additives and mixings, see Richard Unger, Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

19/ [1:07:20] Ibn Daniyel has been in episode 1 (note 16) and episode 16 (note 8).

20/ [1:10:50] Sacramental wine is a big part of a lot of Jewish holidays, including Purim (which happens to be happening as this is posted).

Episode #26: Valentine’s Day


Wuv… twue wuv…will follow you fowever…

Interested in a brief history of Valentine’s Day? You’re in luck. From the question of who was the historical saint to when the day became associated with romance, Em and Jesse start with ancient Roman fertility festivals like Lupercalia and trace the rituals forward through to references in Chaucer and Shakespeare. From cis to trans, straight to gay and everything in between, we have the info you’re interested in.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Correction: you actually can use the frozen ganache in the center trick for chocolate-based chocolate lava cakes too. See this video and also this one that has both versions.

2/ St. Valentine, the 3rd century bishop. Interestingly, he is also the patron saint of the plague. And the island of Lesbos. [Lots of saints are patrons of plague (plague sufferers, that is). I think we’ve spent the past year learning why so many saints were needed in this specialty. St. Sebastian is among the most well known–his near death from arrows is probably the reason why he’s connected to plague. Apollo was the god of healing and plague, and he shot arrows at people/places to send plague. The connection between arrows and plague stuck around in early Christianity, and Sebastian is shot full of arrows. (Although this isn’t how he actually dies; he’s ultimately beaten to death). We talked about St. Sebastian in our plague episode–see episode 2, note 36.–Jesse]

This site has some information on the meanings of gemstones in the Medieval period, and so does this blog post from the British Museum. Also here.

Jesse: Medieval lapidaries (a lapidary is a book about the properties of stones and gems) were very common. If you’re looking for scholarly sources that will take you far more in-depth than the above websites, I recommend Katelyn Mesler’s article “The Medieval Lapidary of Techel/Azareus on Engraved Stones and Its Jewish Appropriations,” in Aleph 14.2. (2014): 75–143. The article is about the Jewish influence on a popular Christian lapidary, and it also has numerous great sources in the notes and citations.

3/ [11:30] “No one had come up with the idea of being tolerant of other religions…” Genghis Khan was apparently very tolerant of religious differences as long as you gave over enough loot. But he wouldn’t be around for almost another thousand years.

4/ Lupercalia (see the section “Name” for more on Februa.)

Monty Python: putting things on top of other things


The redemption of the firstborn is kind of discussed in a couple of places in the Torah and also in Jewish law–basically, if you have a son and you don’t want him to be a priest, you give five silver shekels to a kohen (priestly class–we’ve discussed this a little bit before). Interestingly (for my children at least), if the son is born by c-section, you don’t have to redeem them. I don’t know why. [Weird! –Jesse]

5/ Parlement of Foules, by Geoffrey Chaucer. (This website also references the Paston letters, as does the site referenced here: The Paston Letters.)

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make
Of euery kynde that men thinke may
And that so heuge a noyse gan they make
That erthe & eyr & tre & euery lake
So ful was that onethe was there space
For me to stonde, so ful was al the place.”

In modern English:

For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day
When every bird comes there to choose his match
(Of every kind that men may think of!),
And that so huge a noise they began to make
That earth and air and tree and every lake
Was so full, that not easily was there space
For me to stand—so full was all the place.

6/ Charles, Duke of Orleans wrote the poem “A Farewell to Love” to his wife from his prison after being captured in the Battle of Agincourt. Charles was kept in England for about 25 years. The poem above was written to his second wife, who died before his return to France (his first wife had died in childbirth).

7/ From Hamlet, act IV, scene 5:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, act IV, scene 1:

Good morrow, friends. Saint Valentine is past:
Begin these wood-birds but to couple now?

7/ [27:30] What can I say? Dr. Jesse really likes penguins. [I do!!!!–Jesse]

Wisconsin is literally knee-deep in snow right now.

The book about the gay penguin couple is And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, with illustrations by Henry Cole. Also this: https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/gay-penguin-power-couple-fostering-second-egg-sydney-aquarium-n1077411

8/ [30:30] This is the article Dr. Jesse is referencing: “How Pandemics Wreak Havoc–and Open Minds,” by Lawrence Wright, from the July 13, 2020 issue of the New Yorker. Key quote:

Reading Cicero’s letters—or other abandoned works, like Livy’s history of Rome—revealed to Petrarch how degraded civilization had become. He christened the period after the fall of Rome the Dark Ages.

9/ [34:30] The Symposium. Em is wrong, Sappho does not appear in this dialog. [Socrates gives Diotima the credit for what he learned about love.–Jesse]

Sappho (c. 630-c. 570 BCE).

For more on Hedwig, Symposium, and Phaedrus see episode 7, note 10.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch / “The Origin of Love” Spotify link.

Platonic Dialogue Phaedrus. There is a mention of Sappho here!

Pastoral. Good Wikipedia article, but it doesn’t discuss why pastoral poetry was so frequently coded as queer from the early modern period on.

[41:40] Full quote:

When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a
man’s good wit seconded with the forward child
Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a
great reckoning in a little room.
Truly, I would
the gods had made thee poetical.

As You Like It, act III, scene 3 (emphasis added)

Huge tracts of land.

10/ Brunetto Latini, episode 9, note 17 (really good, informative, long note!!).

11/ John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Villard Books, 1994, Amazon link, Wikipedia link.

John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, University of Chicago Press, 1980, Amazon link, Wikipedia link.

Boswell had a disagreement with Michel Foucault about homosexuality, in that Foucault basically saw identities (not behaviors) like “homosexual” and “heterosexual” as being socially constructed whereas Boswell saw them as basically a fact of human nature. They were apparently on good terms despite this disagreement. And then they both died of AIDS tragically young, Foucault in 1984 at age 57 and Boswell in 1994 at age 47. (Let’s all just take a moment and remember what a terrible person Ronald Regan was for his handling of that plague. Okay.)

12/ Jacqueline Murray, “Twice Marginal and Twice Invisible: Lesbians in the Middle Ages,” Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, ed. Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage. New York: Garland, 1996, 191–222. Link to full text.

13/ Hildegard: see episode 6 beginning around 34:00 and notes 17 and 23; episode 7, note 7.

Hadewijch: episode 7, notes 2 and 8.

Bieiris de Roman(s), first half of 13th century.

The last stanza of her canso reads as follows:

Bella doman, cui pretz e joi enansa
e gen parlar, a vos mas coblas man,
car en vos es gajess’ e alegranssa,
e tot lo ben qu’om en domna deman.

Lovely woman, whom joy and noble speech uplift,
and merit, to you my stanzas go,
for in you are gaiety and happiness,
and all good things one could ask of a woman.

(See Wikipedia article for sources.)

14/ Jesse: Tiresias! In the Wikipedia article under the section “Blindness and Gift of Prophecy,” you can see the story of Tiresias being transformed into a woman after striking two snakes “coupling” (and after living 7 years as a woman striking 2 coupling snakes again–or maybe leaving them alone–and being transformed into a man). However, I’m not linking to this article because it states that Hera “punished” Tiresias for striking the snakes. 1) It’s not certain that Hera transformed him; the cause of the transformation is usually not only unclear but opaque. Hera may not show up in this story until the argument with Zeus over sexual pleasure. 2) ***Much more importantly,*** it’s not clear that it’s a punishment! There’s no judgement at all in most versions, although it sometimes seems implied that Tiresias had a sense that he would be transformed (at least in some way) and wanted to see what would happen. It could even be a form of reward. The article goes on to state that after 7 years Tiresias was “released from his sentence and permitted to regain his masculinity.” I don’t know who edited the article, but somebody needs to fix that sh*t. For all the frequent sexism of the ancient world, that is NOT what most versions say–the transformation is again usually described without judgement.


Brother Marinos: see episode 5, note 23.

Eleno / Elena de Céspedes. See also Israel Burshatin, “Written on the body: slave or Hermaphrodite in sixteenth-century Spain” in Queer Iberia: Sexualities, Cultures, and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999): 420–456.

Herculine Barbin

Pope Joan (and also this Straight Dope article)–a MYTH! Everything about this is a misogynist myth! However, for more on a woman (NOT Joan) being portrayed as a pope (or more specifically as a tarot card “La Papessa”) see Barbara Newman, “The Heretic Saint: Guglielma of Bohemia, Milan, and Brunate,” in Church History 74.1 (March 2005): 1–38 (especially pages 28–30).

Episode 25: Jews on Stage


Jews in space? No, Jews on stage. What was the world like for Jewish actors during the Middle Ages? Well, it was a bit of a mixed bag, honestly. Yes, there were times and places where Jewish life was severely proscribed, but there were also places where Jewish actors and playwrights were celebrated for their skills and performed at the highest echelons. Join Em and Jesse as they discuss the world of Jewish theater from the Middle Ages up to the mid-twentieth century. Also we talk about The Merchant of Venice some more, because of course we do.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Outside of Israel, a number of holidays are celebrated for two nights so that people can be sure of celebrating them during the time when they’re celebrated in Israel.

2/ Re the revolution: I think we won?

Hopefully, you still have power and an RSS feed to be able to listen to this podcast.

3/ If you’re interested in Yiddish theater, check this out.

4/ Yiddish is mostly spoken by Haredi and Hasidic Jews. I don’t have a great source for how many Yiddish speakers there are worldwide right now. One source says at least 150,000 in the US and Canada. I assume 90% of them live in Brooklyn and the rest in Montreal.

5/ Indecent on PBS.

Indecent by Paula Vogel: https://www.amazon.com/Indecent-TCG-Paula-Vogel/dp/1559365471

Indecent is available on broadwayhd.com:
https://www.broadwayhd.com/categories/plays and sometime available via PBS https://www.pbs.org/video/indecent-zvm9ct/

Info on Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance here: https://web.uwm.edu/yiddish-stage/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-god-of-vengeance and here (includes an image of the entire cast after their arrest for obscenity): https://www.jewishboston.com/read/sholem-aschs-god-of-vengeance-challenges-modern-theater-audiences/

Info on the obscenity trial here (includes images of the complete pamphlet published in defense of God of Vengeance): https://web.uwm.edu/yiddish-stage/an-open-letter-by-sholom-asch-author-of-got-fun-nekome
and here: https://news.yale.edu/2015/10/15/defending-indecent-play-god-vengeance-yale-university-library-archives-0

5/ Jewish wizards in Harry Potter = Anthony Goldstein (Ravenclaw) https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/17/jk-rowling-confirms-that-there-were-jewish-wizards-harry-potter

6/ Erith Jaffe-Berg, “Performance as exchange: Taxation and Jewish Theater in Early Modern Italy” in Theatre Survey 54.3 (Sept 2013): 389–417.

7/ Leone de Sommi (c.1527–c.1592) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leone_de%27_Sommi

8/ At least one high profile case of a Jewish child secretly baptized was the Mortara case, which actually happened later on, in the 1850s. The Church held that it had the authority to remove the child based on the papal bull Postremo mense, which was written by Pope Benedict XIV in 1747 and lays out the guidelines under which it is allowable to baptize a Jewish child without its parents’ consent. The Church was still doing this as of WWII.

In Australia: The Stolen Generation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generations

In the US: https://www.vox.com/2019/10/14/20913408/us-stole-thousands-of-native-american-children

In Canada: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/06/decades-after-government-seizure-of-children-indigenous-canadians-will-receive-compensation

In Canada, there used to be laws specifying that once a person had less than a certain percentage of tribal blood (possibly 25%), they could no longer register as part of a tribe. Since a fair number of people marry outside of the tribe, this would have the effect of shrinking the tribal membership relatively quickly. [These are known as “Blood Quantum” laws, and the USA has them as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_quantum_laws Here’s an interesting discussion of Canada: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/josiah-wilson-indian-act-hereditary-governance-1.3668636 –Jesse] [I think the Canadian laws are also discussed in Thomas King’s excellent The Truth About Stories.–Em]

9/ Jesse: This specific discussion of sumptuary laws is taken from Jaffe-Ber’s article (especially p. 392). We’ve previously mentioned Sara Lipton’s Dark Mirror, which is a great resource.

10/ It’s good to be the king (NSFW).

11/ Recommending Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages https://www.amazon.com/Invention-Race-European-Middle-Ages/dp/1108435092/

12/ Em: When I say my skin is clear, I don’t mean “unblemished,” I mean it’s see-through.

13/ Jesse: Our discussion is based largely on Ötzi, who was discovered in 2012 to be most closely related to modern-day Sardinians but also closely related to prehistoric remains from Bulgaria and Sweden. https://www.livescience.com/24667-iceman-mummy-otzi-closest-relatives.html However in 2013, it was discovered that Ötzi has at least 19 close genetic relatives *still living* in the Austrian Tyrol region (where he might have originated himself). https://www.nbcnews.com/sciencemain/scientists-say-otzi-iceman-has-living-relatives-5-300-years-8C11392771

14/ We talked about the hats in episode 10 note 39.

15/ Sara Lipton “Where Are the Gothic Jewish Women? On the Non-Iconography of the Jewess in the Cantigas de Santa Maria” Jewish History, vol. 22, no. 1/2, The Elka Klein Memorial Volume (2008), pp. 139–177 (quote from p. 142).

16/ The Bechdel (or Bechdel Wallace) test: a test named for but not invented by Alison Bechdel (who popularized it), which states that in order to pass a film must contain 1) two female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) and their discussion can’t be about a man. Here’s the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test And here is Bechdel’s comic where she describes it (and shows her friend Liz Wallace inventing it): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test#/media/File:Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin).jpg

The last film I (Em) watched was Inception, and I don’t think it passed the test.

17/ Plessy v Ferguson (1896) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_v._Ferguson

18/ Caster Semenya https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/sports/olympics/caster-semenya-court-ruling.html

David Roche writes about trans* athlete rights: https://trailrunnermag.com/people/transgender-athlete-rights-are-human-rights.html

Jesse asks, somewhat rhetorically, why women can’t play baseball. As far as I can tell, the answer is probably Kennesaw Mountain Landis. [Probably! He was evil.–Jesse]

19/ Lucerne Easter play: http://theaterhistoryonline.blogspot.com/2014/08/lucerne-passion-play.html (some good images of the staging diagrams by Renward Cysat.)

20/ English play–the Croxton Play of the Sacrament https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croxton_Play_of_the_Sacrament (no one is killed!)

French play: Mistere de la Sainte Hostie See Jody Enders “Theater Makes History: Ritual Murder by Proxy in the ‘Mistere de la Sainte Hostie'” in Speculum Vol. 79, No. 4 (Oct., 2004), pp. 991–1016.

Judenfrage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Question
(Na ja, wir haben die Judenfrage, aber was ist die Judenantwort?)

Episode 24: Stages in the Middle Ages


Em and Jesse discuss physical performance spaces, from Greek amphitheaters to pageant carts to prosceniums, and the changes theaters have seen over time. There’s a lot of Renaissance stuff in here, including an interesting discussion of the various theaters Shakespeare would have premiered plays–the Globe and the Rose–with some interesting digressions about the Blues Brothers, American Realism, and also the Bishop of Winchester and the area of Southwark known as the Liberty of the Clink.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Hrotsvit was indeed episode 22.

2/ They shout at each other on someone’s lawn because doing the histories is less risky than doing the comedies, as I understand it (of which everyone has their specific favorite). The histories generally involve a lot of shouting.

3/ Bob’s Country Roadhouse: we got both types of music–country AND western. I assume the bottles thrown after they start singing “Rawhide” are appreciative bottles.

Jesse: We forgot to mention that animals can also show up at outdoor theatres (Bats! Racoons!). This definitely adds to the participatory “all-in-this-together” feeling and serves as a nice reminder that the environment can’t be controlled.

Also, the most famous medieval theatre fire is probably this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bal_des_Ardents

4/ A surprising number of early indoor theatres still exist. The earliest extant indoor theatres of modern Western Europe are in Italy. (“Modern” in this instance means after the fall of Rome, and “indoor theatre” specifies a space built specifically for performance.)

1580–85: Teatro Olimpico, Vicienza
1588–90: Teatro all’Antica, Sabbioneta
1617–18: Theatre Farnese, Parma

Proscenium style: from the Greek “pro skene,” in front of the scenery.

The oldest theatre, Teatro Olimpico, has a permanent skene with perspective scenery visible through the arches: it can be seen here.

Here’s the floor plan, where you can see the paths for the Teatro Olimpico’s perspective scenery. The entire back half of the stage is for the scenery and the skene.

5/ Later Baroque theatres such as Sweden’s Drottningholm Palace Theatre (opened 1754, rebuilt 1764-66) allowed actors to go a little upstage into the scenery without ruining the perspective. Nonetheless, actors tended to remain downstage, particularly on what we would now consider the apron (the small part of the stage that thrusts out in front of the proscenium arch). Here are some floor plans.

Here’s a GREAT video of the scenery changing at the Drottningholm Palace Theatre! You even see how they change it backstage (no computers or mechanization!).

Český Krumlov Castle Theatre (1767) in the Czech Republic is also an excellent example of a Baroque theatre. The video on this page has a lot of fun stills, including some of waves like those promoted by Nicola Sabbatini (1574–1654). See also this page (Sabbatini also used periaktoi, or triangular set pieces that could change scenery quickly. Very brief video here.

This video shows the Český Krumlov Castle Theatre scenery changing at 3:16. If you watch the complete video, you’ll notice that the dancer never goes very far upstage.

Here’s another video from the Český Krumlov Castle Theatre–the scenery changes at 10:45. You’ll notice that the scenery isn’t used to create a perspective, and the actors do make use of the upstage space. A cloud descends at 13:49.

6/ Bertolt Brecht, 1898–1956.

7/ The Theatre, built by James Burbage. Built in 1576, it’s not technically the very first purpose built theatre in England, but it’s the one that lasts. Burbage’s brother-in-law, John Brayne, built the actual first purpose-built theatre (the Red Lion) in 1567, but it was not successful.

8/ A Hark, a Vagrant! Comic about Richard III.

An article about the identification of his body from 2013. His bones were discovered in 2012 and reinterred in 2015. (Richard III was buried in Greyfriars, which was Franciscan and was dissolved in 1538 by Henry VIII.–Jesse)

The Rose.

In Shakespeare in Love, we meet Richard Burbage (played by Martin Clunes) and, as Jesse mentions, Philip Henslowe (played by Geoffrey Rush). We don’t meet Cuthbert Burbage.

9/ I think I thought the stage was taller because whenever a tv show (Good Omens comes to mind) shoots in there, they shoot the actors on stage at an angle that makes them seem very tall.

10/ Bishop of Winchester / Southwark.

The bishopric goes back to the year 634 CE, in case you were curious. Also, the bishop of Winchester gets to sit in the House of Lords and was typically the royal chancellor or treasurer. More on the Liberty of the Clink here. The bishop who got the license for permitting prostitution and brothels was the younger brother of King Stephen (the license, however, was granted by King Henry II, who was his first cousin once removed).

11/ For more on American dance dramas, see episode 12 (note 30) and episode 17 (notes 4 and 6).

For more on maps, see episode 14 (notes 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22), episode 11 (note 21), and episode 19 (note 8).

12/ La bohème: An opera by Puccini. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl dies of tuberculosis. Basically the same as the plot of the film Moulin Rouge. [Also the same story as Rent, famously! Because Rent is an adaptation of Bohème.–Jesse]

For more on Figaro, see episode 21 (note 5).

13/ Em: I just rewatched part of Deadpool while hanging out in L&D Triage two weeks ago (and texted Jesse about it while I was there). He breaks the fourth wall very effectively. [My love of Deadpool cannot be overstated.–Jesse]

Episode 23: Christmas Time Is Here, By Golly


Let’s talk about possible pagan origins for everyone’s favorite late-December excuse to eat a lot of pie. In addition, Em and Jesse discuss the surprisingly capitalist early traditions associated with St. Nicholas and the various strange beings who accompany Santa in different countries, from Pere Fouettard (who whips bad children in France) to the Krampus.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ At the time we recorded this episode, it sounded as though the Big 10 were not going to have a season, but the Big 10 later announced an eight-game season (by the time this comes out, the Badgers will have played six with two cancellations because of the plague). The Wisconsin state legislature is still extremely useless.

Gimme that Old Time Religion as performed by the inimitable Pete Seeger.

Sadly, this wound up being the twenty-third episode posted. But it was the twenty-fifth one recorded.

Jesse: Here’s an article in the Chicago Tribune and a picture of the Atheist/Agnostic “A” (with a sigh wishing everyone “Happy Winter Solstice”) in Daley Plaza. (I guess it went up in 2013 for the first time.) https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2013-12-04-chi-atheists-agnostics-have-their-own-display-at-daley-plaza-20131204-story.html Here’s a picture of the “A” lit up at night. https://wgnradio.com/wgn-radio/a-christmas-tree-a-menorah-and-a-giant-a/ The Christmas tree moved to Millenium Park in 2015, Leaving the Menorah, Nativity scene, and “A” in Daley Plaza. I have seen the Kinara there as well for Kawanza, but for some reason I can’t find pictures of it on the interwebs.

2/ The Feast of the Circumcision: in Jewish tradition, baby boys are circumcised eight days after birth in a ceremony called a bris (in Yiddish) or brit milah (Hebrew). So counting the 25th as day 1, Jesus’ bris was on Jan 1st. If you want to know just waaay too much about ritual circumcision, here is that wikipedia page, and if you want to live a happy life don’t ever get involved in a discussion of circumcision on the internet.

3/ Jesse mentions that St. Nicholas’s day is Dec 6th. This year, for the first time ever, I saw a sign in our supermarket saying, “Don’t forget St. Nicholas’s Day!” (I guess reminding people to buy gifts or something for their kids?) [Oh, wow! I’ve definitely heard the occasional reference from people I know who celebrate it, but I’ve never seen a USA business reference it.–Jesse]

4/ The comic about the Xmas tree, and here’s one about Mithras, too. (You can click on the panels to view them at a larger size.)

Jesse: When I say the importance of the SUN to Christianity I do not mean the son/sun pun (which doesn’t work in Latin); I mean the metaphor of God as the Sun (frequently portrayed as beams of light in medieval paintings).

5/ [26:10] The cattle of the sun are from The Odyssey.

Jesse: In The Odyssey the cattle of the sun belong to Helios (a Titan), but in the Homeric “Hymn to Hermes,” the baby Hermes steals the cattle of the sun (brilliantly) from Apollo (the Olympian sun god). This is why it’s so hard to be definitive about anything. Here’s the “Hymn to Hermes:” https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D4

Apis bull: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apis_(deity)

You can read the bull of heaven story here starting at p. 14. The main moral is, as a corollary to “When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES,” consider the rule, “If a goddess asks you out, try to let her down gently.” Basically, when Ishtar/Inanna proposes to Gilgamesh, he says, “Hey…haven’t you had a bunch of lovers that you got tired of and left?” and then he lists them off. Ishtar/Inanna is…not charmed by this behavior, as you might expect.

6/ We discussed the Christ child and the women who associated themselves with Mary and so on in episode 6 (Mysticism and Motherhood).

7/ Jesse: For more on the African wise man, see The Image of the Black in Western Art Vol 2: From the Early Christian Era to the “Age of Discovery” Pt 1: From the Demonic Threat to the Incarnation of Sainthood pp 21-25. African men first appear in imagery as attendants: an attendant of Herod, in a scene of the Magi before Herod painted near Rouen in the late 1100s, and as attendants of the Magi by the 1260s (for example, Nicola Pisano’s pulpit in Siena https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/italy-tuscany-region-siena-baptistry-nicola-pisano-pulpit-news-photo/122216191). By the second half of the 1300s, the image of an African magus/king seems to have appeared, and it’s well established by the 1400s. https://www.amazon.com/Image-Black-Western-Art-Incarnation/dp/0674052560

Em: [36:40] I feel like St. Francis trying to make this point about how you don’t really need a church (building), etc. is an interesting lesson in how some people wind up as heretics and some don’t. Because let’s be clear–there were definitely monks who got declared heretics because they claimed that Christ and his disciples owned no property and therefore they (the monks) should be allowed to not own any property singly or jointly. [Yeah, it helps to have a pope on your side! Pope Gregory IX, to be exact (starting when he was a cardinal)–see Episode 4 nt 15.–Jesse]

Jesse: For more on Francis as Mary Magdalene, see episode 11 (in the vicinity of note 35). Here we’re discussing Francis imitating the Virgin Mary (for more on this see Catherine M. Mooney, “Imitiatio Christi or Imitatio Mariae?: Clare of Assisi and Her Interpreters,” in Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their Interpreters, ed. Catherine M. Mooney (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 52-77).

The First and Second Lives of St. Francis were written by Thomas of Celano, while Bonaventure’s (slightly later) Life of Francis became the official version. I’m quoting my own translations of the Latin here.

8/ The Slaughter (or Massacre) of the Innocents was the subject of many important and affecting paintings, including by Guido Reni and Peter Paul Reubens. I cannot think what it must be like acted out. (Also, Caravaggio did a lot of great paintings with religious themes, but as far as I can tell he didn’t do one of the slaughter of innocents. Oops.)

9/ Caganer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caganer See also the poop log Tió de Nadal or Caga tió: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tió_de_Nadal

Apologies that this is coming out too late for you all to order one for your nativity scenes this year.

10/ Père Fouettard. I (Em) am just now realizing as I write this out that “fouette” is the French word for whipping (i.e., crème fouetté = whipped cream), so Père Fouettard is like Father Whips-a-Lot. There’s your etymology lesson for the day.

11/ Myroblyte saints: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myroblyte_saint

Jesse: The symbolism that has arisen around the gifts assumes that the gold=king; frankincense=God (incense is burned during mass, for example); myrrh=mortal/death (it foretells Christ’s death as the unction that would be used for Last Rites). Of course Christ was Jewish, and Jews didn’t perform Last Rites. Nonetheless, all the gifts are symbolic of kingship.

I think this is what Jesse means by the traditional pawn broker’s insignia: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Pawnbroker%27s_sign%2C_Camden_High_Street%2C_London.JPG [Yes!!–Jesse]

This is the Medici coat of arms. More variations here.

12/ Black Pete / Zwarte Piet. For reference, the Reconquista started in the 700s and ended in 1492. [The Reconquista refers to Christian attmepts to take back the Iberian penensul from Muslim rule after the Umayyad conquest. It took a while..–Jesse]

13/ Krampus.

14/ Jean Bodel (c.1165-c.1210), author of Le Jeu de saint Nicholas, the first non-liturgical play written in French. Bodel later died of leprosy. [Everyone should check out the chapter on him in Carol Symes A Common Stage https://www.amazon.com/Common-Stage-Medieval-Conjunctions-Religion/dp/0801445817 –Jesse]

If somehow you haven’t seen one, this is a bishop’s mitre.

Jesse: The King from Beyond the Withered Tree has a name that’s supposed to suggest that he’s from waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out in the nowhere lands. However, the Middle Ages also had a legend about an ancient tree (possibly near Hebron) that dried up when Christ died. (Since early modern times it’s been associated with the Oak of Mamre.) The concept of a “dry tree” marking a significant spot/event is not specific to Christianity. Anyhow, the point is that he’s from beyond the boundaries of…all the known religions? Very far away. For more on the dry tree, see Gasse, Rosanne. “The Dry Tree Legend in Medieval Literature.” Fifteenth-Century Studies 38, edited by Rosanne Gasse and Barbara I. Gusick, by Edelgard E. DuBruck, vol. 38, Boydell & Brewer, Rochester, New York, 2013, pp. 65–96; 91 nt 26.

15/ Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was Queen Victoria’s cousin by virtue of her mother having been the sister of his father. They had nine children together, all of whom lived to adulthood. Their son became Edward VII, the first monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. They changed the name to Windsor during WWI because of anti-German sentiment. Also, they were related to basically half of the people who were monarchs in Europe, including the Russian czar and King Leopold I.

16/ Jesse: Here is Christ hanging in the branches of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as the serpent tempts Adam and Eve, foreshadowing the fact that the Fall of Adam and Eve will give rise to Christ, the new Adam who will open the door (to eternal life/salvation/heaven) that Adam and Eve closed. (Mary is the new Eve, a virgin who not only resists temptation but bears God’s child/fruit.) In essence, Adam and Eve gain Knowledge but lose Eternal Life (they’re banned from the Garden so they won’t eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and gain immortality alongside their knowledge, thus becoming like gods). However, the Cross is the new Tree of Life, and Christ is its fruit. The depiction of the serpent with a woman’s face seducing Eve is a conversation for another time. https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/3672/willem-vrelant-adam-and-eve-eating-the-forbidden-fruit-flemish-early-1460s/

Here is one of many, many images of the cross planted in Adam’s skull: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Francesco_di_Vannuccio._Crucifixion_with_the_Virgin_and_Saint_John_the_Evangelistc._1387-88_Philadelphia_Museum_of_Art_(CAT94).jpg Fra Angelico took a more subtle approach: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437007

Here is the beginning of 8 miniatures in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves on the Legend of the True Cross. (Seth is dispatched for a branch from the Tree of Mercy.) https://www.themorgan.org/collection/hours-of-catherine-of-cleves/191 (The miniature are every few pages, so hit next a few times.) Here is the tress growing from Adam’s skull: https://www.themorgan.org/collection/hours-of-catherine-of-cleves/202

Here’s a random image of Eve on one side of the Tree of Knowledge and Mary and the Christ child on the other. https://www.themorgan.org/collection/hours-of-catherine-of-cleves/222

17/ I cannot find a clip of the scene in The Lion in Winter that I am describing, but you can see the tree in this clip. Also, the clip contains Katherine Hepburn being amazing.

18/ Okay, instead of hiding from your family, people are probably more likely to be spending Christmas mostly alone this year. Hope this episode provides a bit of distraction, if not a salve.

Episode 22: The Strong Voice of Gandersheim


Em and Jesse discuss the life and plays of Hrotsvit, the strong voice of Gandersheim and the first named playwright in western Europe. Small content warning, we do discuss rape in this episode, but not explicitly.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ For those too young to remember Benny Hill, this is what Em is talking about.

2/ Buster Keaton falls out a window about 25 seconds into this compilation. There’s also a very late in life Buster Keaton in the film version of A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum–it’s the last film he was in and he is still wonderful. [This montage is so great! Some things worth noticing: the ladder trick is an ACTUAL lazzo from early modern Italy (and let’s be fair, has probably existed since the invention of the ladder). The moment when Keaton misses the building and falls through the awnings–he was supposed to make it to the other building, but when he missed, he created a new lazzo. (Tom Cruise recently did a building-jumping stunt, missed the building, and crushed his ankle.) The house facade falling on Keaton (from Steamboat Bill, Jr., 1928) is absolutely real. It’s probably Keaton’s most famous–and most copied–stunt, but most people do it with a fake façade. Keaton used a real wall and a TINY window. –JN]

For reference, his given name was Joseph Frank Keaton (later he changed his middle name to Francis). The version of his nickname origin story is a version that he told; others sources suggest he was a bit older (18 months vs 6 months) and the nickname was given by another actor named George Pardy.

I’m pretty sure we have linked to Charlie Chaplin dancing with the globe previously, but go ahead and watch it again (actual dance starts around 1:45). And if you haven’t seen it, just go watch Modern Times.

3/ Minstrelsy was a 19th century phenomenon consisting of comic skits, musical acts, and the like, primarily depicting Black people as played by White actors. Here, you can hear the great Tom Lehrer riffing on what he calls the “Southern” song. (And before Jesse can mention it, it’s a little unfair to call the laws of the South “Medieval”–the Middle Ages were a long and complicated time and in many ways better to people of color than the South was. But it rhymed.)

Jesse: Minstrelsy=Blackface=terrible history of US entertainment. Great commentaries on this fact appear in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled and Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles, while great commentaries on the continued use of Blackface can be seen here (from SNL).
For a reminder that voice minstrelsy still exists, or if that’s behind a paywall, try this, and, of course, Hari Kondabolu’s The Problem with Apu.

Em: We previously linked to RZA’s jingle in episode 15, but here it is again.

4/ Want to hear all of Carmina Burana? Click here. Composed by Carl Orff, text by a lot of people.

5/ Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: the first named playwright in Europe. 935–1002 CE. [I said 1001/2 in the podcast, but in fact her death could have been as early as 973, when she may have written her last work. However, it’s possible that she wrote another text later, which would have required her to live until 1002, if all sources are believed. Either way, I tend to lengthen her life rather than shorten it. Just because she wrote her last work c.973 (if, in fact, this was her last work), it does not mean she died immediately. Even if records are wrong, she may have written later works that are no longer extant (or that haven’t been attributed to her). Most people leave her death date open, which seems fair–we could just say she lived in the second half of the 10th century. See Katharina Wilson’s essay in the collection Medieval Women Writers, edited by Wilson, esp. p. 30 and note 5 p. 42–43. Peter Dronke points out that in 1007 Gandersheim was made a dependency of the diocese of Hildesheim, so the “feminist uptopia” discussed here lasted about the length of Hrotsvit’s time in at Gandersheim. At least she presumably didn’t live to see this happen. Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages, p. 295 note 26–JN]

Jesse: This Falstaff moment is in 1 Henry IV, Act IV scene ii.

6/ We have probably linked to this before, but if you want a beginner-friendly overview on the topic of “What exactly is the Vatican?,” here you go.

7/ Jesse: For a description (in Italian) of the “feminist utopia” described here, see: Ferruccio Bertini, Il teatro di Rosvita: con un saggio di traduzione e di interpretazione del Callimaco (Genova: Tilgher, 1979), p. 9.

Peter Dronke, Women Writers… Amazon link.

Autonomous peasant collective. As I’ve gotten older and know more people like Dennis, this has become funnier and funnier.

8/ Christine de Pizan (1364–c.1430): I actually don’t think we’ve mentioned her before.

9/ Terence: I still think we have mentioned him, but I can’t find him in the notes anywhere (as close to an index as we are able to come) and unfortunately I don’t have any memory whatsoever. So–here you go, short summary: lived right around 185–159 BCE (give or take), Roman African playwright who got his start as a slave but was later freed. Wrote six plays, traveled to Greece to gather material and was never heard from again.

10/ Dactylic hexameter: each line has five dactyls (a long-short-short foot) and a final sixth foot that is two syllables (usually a spondee–two long syllables–or a trochee, which is long-short). It isn’t much used in English except by Longfellow in “Evangeline” (e.g., “THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks…”), and by Public Enemy in “Bring the Noise,” when they wrote lines like, “Never badder than bad cause the brother is madder than mad / At the fact that’s corrupt as a senator…”

The double dactyl is a form of light verse that, when done well, is at least marginally more amusing than a limerick. It was invented by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal in 1951 (or possibly by Hecht and John Hollander in 1966). The form is two four-line stanzas, each comprising three lines of dactylic dimeter (that is, two dactyls per line) with a choriamb (long-short-short-long) as the fourth. The first line is always two nonsense words, often “higgeldy piggeldy.” Here are a bunch.

Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is written with dactyls.

Byron’s “the destruction of the anapest”…no…”The Destruction of Sennacherib.” It’s written in anapests (two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable; short-short-long), which are rarely used in English. (It sounds like the galloping hoofbeats of the Assyrian army maybe?)

James Thurber made some fun of this poem in this essay (“Miscellaneous Mentions”), but it doesn’t excerpt very well.

11/ Jesse: The Passion of the Holy Virgins Agape, Chionia, and Hirena
(aka “Dulcitius”). Dronke’s note is in Women Writers, p. 294 note 11. Dronke discusses the source on p. 77: “a strange source, a late Roman Passion of St Anastasia, which troubled its twentieth-century editor, the great Bollandist Delehaye, because of the amount of ‘fantasy’ and ‘audacious fiction’ that had contaminated what was doubtless a ‘good’ original. The very features that disquieted Delehaye were those that attracted Hrotsvitha: in fact, she chose to focus on these and ignore all else, discarding even the figure of St Anastasia, the protagonist in the source. Hrotsvitha selected, and brought to life, especially the three sisters (whom her source introduced only as minor characters, protégées of Anastasia) and villain-buffoons, Dulcitius and Sisinnius, who are mocked and confounded by those girls” (Dronke, Women Writers, 77; see also p. 297 note 56).

Kathnina Wilson’s Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: A Florilegium of her Works (Library of Medieval Women). The Latin is “voluptas parit poenam, necessitas autem coronam.” Here’s the entire play in Latin.

Maleficium (witchcraft/sorcery): Dulcitius and Sissinus refer to the women as witches using witchcraft (“maleficiis” and “maleficam”).

12/ A list of some Renaissance women painters. A lot of women artists specialized in still lifes because it would have been inappropriate for them to learn anatomy (often carried out by painting nude male figures).

13/ 1:10:40 “George Sanders” = George Sand.

14/ For more on the Shellys, see episode 20 note 16.

Here is “You and Me and PB Shelley” by Ogden Nash.

15/ This is an amazing Google document for pre-1945 BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, global plays that the internet is working on.

16/ I can’t link to them all, but Kate Beaton did some of my favorite parodies of Wuthering Heights.

Episode 21: Watch Out for That Banana Peel


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 13: Decolonizing Africa


In the words of the great philosopher Toto, “I bless the RAINS down in AFRICA.” [This song plays every year at the Saturday night dance at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, otherwise known as Kalamazoo. Very medieval. –Jesse]

We explore Africa from a decolonizing viewpoint, including words of wisdom from deceased UW–Madison professor Dr. Harold Scheub, an interesting conversation about the Crusader or Shah ‘Abbas Bible, and the traditions of Ethiopian Christianity, and a few digressions about Mt. Rushmore, trans people and film, the movies Coming to America and The Last Samurai, and some discussion of the spread of religions and Jewish genetics.

Notes, Annotations, and Corrections

1/ The creation of global trade routes and a global system of economics is a major theme of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, which covers approximately 1649–1715.

2/ The Chinese did “discover” America in 1421. Allegedly. According to a book by a British man who had no particular training in history and, in fact, not even a bachelor’s degree; also the book was allegedly worked on by over 130 ghost writers and no one fact-checked it. SO, uh. Probably not. Incidentally, the explorer given the honor of discovering the US was Zheng He, who I think we mentioned in another episode–he was a Muslim eunuch, explorer, and diplomat who became an important figure at the court of the Yongle Emperor.

3/ Various pipeline projects have been cancelled. Sort of. [Yeah, the US Court of Appeals already set aside the verdict of the lower court and said the Dakota Access Pipeline can keep running while the court battle rages on. –Jesse]

4/ The guy who carved (part of) Mt Rushmore (he died) and (a non-surviving part of) the monument to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy (he was kicked off the project and his work blasted off the mountain; this is the monument we mention carved on Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, GA) was Gutzon Borglum. (The LCotC bas relief DOES feature Traveler, in case you have been keeping track, along with the horses of Jefferson Davis (Blackjack) and Stonewall Jackson (Little Sorrel). Neither of the other two horses is cool enough to have their own Wikipedia page though.) Borglum was an odd duck–he was a child of Mormon polygamist immigrants, Freemason, and if not an actual Klan member then someone who was deeply involved in Klan politics. He also carved a bust of Abraham Lincoln from a six-ton block of marble, won a prize for carving Union General Philip Sheridan (one version stands in Washington DC, one in Chicago), and did another statue of progressive IL governor John Peter Altgeld. His son, who took over Mt Rushmore after his death, was named Lincoln.

5/ Netflix documentary: Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. Apparently 80% of Americans don’t know any trans people. That’s so crazy. Apparently I know a lot more trans people than average. [I’m not giving links to D.W. Grifith, but definitely look him up if you want to. More importantly, look up Susan Stryker. She has great books; check them out at your favorite local library or bookstore.–Jesse]

6/ The Nazi anatomy text was Topographische Anatomie des Menschen by Eduard Pernkopf.

The remark about how white supremacy is the playing field we all stand on was something Fran Lebowitz (a writer who exists primarily to occasionally be interviewed by the New Yorker, as far as I can tell) said (in an interview with Vanity Fair). It was something she said in 1997. Actual quote:

The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, “What would it be like to be black?” but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That’s something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, “We have to level the playing field,” but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word “advantage” at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.

Judith of Bethulia.

I don’t know where the idea I had that Jefferson had many children with enslaved Black women came from–we know that he had six with Sally Hemings (who was actually his deceased wife’s half sister. Four of the children survived to adulthood and were freed; the youngest, Eston Hemings, brought his family here to Madison, WI, where he changed his last name to Jefferson and lived as part of the White community and is buried here). Anyway, you can read The Memoirs of Madison Hemings here, and see the reflections of some of his living descendents here. The Madison Hemings piece suggests that he didn’t have children with other Black women that MH was aware of. [As far as I know, Sally Hemings is the only enslaved woman who people know Jefferson raped. (She was a slave and didn’t have the power of consent, although their “relationship” may have started in France, where she was technically free. Why didn’t she stay in France? No one really knows.) That being said, I agree emphatically with Em here because there’s no reason that I know of to be sure that Jefferson didn’t rape any other enslaved women, even if he didn’t have children with them. Assuming that he didn’t is a way of making his “relationship” with Hemings seem more legitimate.–Jesse]

7/ The story that Jesse tells about our mutual great grandfather is, as far as I know, absolutely true. He entered the US via Rotterdam (having traveled with one suitcase, leaving the rest of his belongings behind) in September of 1904, married the woman from the ship in 1910, and became a naturalized citizen in 1917, according to the notes I have. (Also, he spoke seven languages, which makes me wonder if that’s where Jesse and I get it from.)

8/ Harold Scheub obit. The Angelina Jolie film was probably The Good Shepherd, which was not entirely set in Africa but included some scenes set in the Congo (with, probably, no or few actual Africans in them, or at least none with speaking parts). On the other hand, Blood Diamond is more of a White savior thing.

Weirdly, I (Em) was living in Viet Nam when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt adopted a kid from there (renamed Pax Thien). For whatever reason, the Vietnamese people I spoke to at the time were big fans of hers because of this. Also one time, a businessman on an airplane (flying from HCMC to Laos, I think) asked me what I thought of her and then gave me a lengthy lecture about having kids before  my eggs dried up (I was 24?). Luckily it was in Vietnamese, so I only understood about half of it.

This is the attack in Nairobi, Kenya I mentioned.

This article has a good collection of African book covers.

9/ Eclipsed, by Danai Gurira.

Eddie Murphy: Coming to America. Also he apparently flew to the US on the CONCORD. Because it was 1988 and he was classy AF.

You’ve already seen it, but here’s the trailer for Black Panther. In ten years they will remake this with Michael B. Jordan’s character as the hero. [Well, he kind of already is. The problem is that his desire to pillage and destroy Wakanda to make up for colonialism isn’t the answer either. Luckily, Black Panther learns a lot from Killmonger.–Jesse]

Key and Peele were amazing. For example. (This sketch has nothing to do with anything except it’s amazing. No one even has any lines until 3:30 into a 3:40 sketch.) [This sketch is amazing no matter what, but I think it reaches new heights if you grew up during the 80s. Just sayin.–Jesse]

10/ Hidden Figures. Kevin Costner’s character was named Al Harrison. Also, apparently in real life Katherine Johnson just refused to walk all the way to the other bathroom and used the White one, which is a much less dramatic solution.

11/ Bus Stop, by Gao Xingjian. Its initial run was apparently shut down by a holdover from the Cultural Revolution. Wow.

12/ I don’t really remember the plot of The Last Samurai except that a guy hit Tom Cruise in the head with a stick a bunch. Oh, also it turns out that the old phrase, “He who lives by the sword dies by he who lives by the Gatling gun” is true in many situations. One thing I will say about it as a film is that all the Japanese characters appear to have been played by actual Japanese people, which is…often not the case in Hollywood films (Memoirs of a Geisha, I’m looking at you).

13/ The Crusader or Shah ‘Abbas Bible.

St. Louis, aka King Louis IX of France. He led two crusades and, during the second, died of dysentery. Most interestingly, he exchanged letters and eventually sent an envoy to the Mongols. Sainte Chapelle is an amazing chapel.

Judeo-Persian is a bit similar to Ladino (Jewish Spanish) and Yiddish (Jewish German)–syncretic languages typically spoken by Jewish communities in a given area. In this case, Judeo-Persian is a literary form of New Persian with some Jewish idiosyncrasies, and also it is typically written in Hebrew characters (as it is in the Shah ‘Abbas Bible). (There were many more spoken dialects in this region, often referred to as Judeo-Iranian.)

14/ Christianity was adopted in Ethiopia during the fourth century CE (converted by a missionary name Frumentius). By that time, enough people were practicing Judaism that they rebelled when the king tried to change the kingdom’s religion.

The Kebra Nagast is a 14th century Ge’ez epic written by Is’haq Nebura-Id of Axum.

The Ark of the Covenant is claimed to be held by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (an Episcopal Church–sorry, Dan Brown) in Axum. They don’t really show it to people, sorry.

15/ Okay, this discussion about Judaism in Ethiopia and how it was interesting to come to terms with the idea that Judaism was originally not primarily a White religion, begins with me (Em) mentioning something I saw a former classmate of mine post on FB. Since we taped this episode, I’ve become aware that the quote is weirdly similar to some statements made by some anti-Semitic people (Nick Cannon among them) in the media lately. Obviously, the idea that Black people can’t be anti-Semitic because they’re the “original Hebrews” is problematic, and I believe some of the conspiracy theories go on to suggest much worse things. This makes me pretty uncomfortable; I definitely don’t want anyone to point to our podcast as evidence that Jews subscribe to these destructive beliefs, but I thought the discussion of genetics and race was useful, so I kept that in. For the record, I don’t believe the person I saw posting this actually believes all of this (“this” meaning the anti-Semitic stuff).

Anyway, I just wanted to say that as a disclaimer. And this.

Jesse: I love Dave Chappelle! To be fair though, Nick Cannon apologized and may have meant it (he’s been talking to a rabbi, and apparently his grandfather on his mother’s side was a Sephardic rabbi, which Cannon acknowledged he did not want to use as an excuse). Better yet, here’s the ever-incredible Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s take on recent events.

The anti-Semitic rhetoric in question stems from the Nation of Islam, which is an important and influential African American organization. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Nation of Islam as a hate group due to the “deeply racist, antisemitic and anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders, including top minister Louis Farrakhan.” This is the rhetoric that Cannon and others have recently been popularizing. Be warned: if you click on the SPLC link you will see some truly horrific quotes.

Episode 12: The Americas Before Colonization


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


“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


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”