mediaevalist: (crossdressing)
Fanfiction is even older than the examples here.

Around 4000-ish years ago, some Akkadian combined a bunch of Sumerian poems about an ancient king into a RPF slashfic.We know it today as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

That's right folks: our oldest piece of literature is a fanfic. And an RPF slashfic, at that.
mediaevalist: (Hatshepsut)
Medievalists.net has an article which, to me, is a bit old-hat: Niccolo Machiavelli – the Cunning Critic of Political Reason.

The article is a good one, but it's not exactly what I'd call new, even though it presents a more recent interpretation that isn't widely known:

Now that some of Machiavelli’s most infamous ideas have been presented, various interpretations of them and their underlying motivation can be considered. One unusual interpretation comes from the eighteenth-century historian of philosophy William Enfield, who suggested that The Prince was a satire on the unruly and selfish behaviour of political leaders. Enfield declared that, since Machiavelli was an enemy of despotism in his actual conduct, The Prince was intended to ‘pull off the mask from the face of tyranny’. If it really was meant by Machiavelli as a satire, then it has to be the driest, most bitter and most convincing satire ever written, one that has fooled many commentators and leaders alike for centuries.


But even this article from Cracked (authored by Peter Davis and David A. Vindiola ) acknowledges that "[a]ctually, Machiavelli was totally just trolling." Like the bimbo in one of my English classes who was horrified by Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal for advocating eating children in an obviously sarcastic manner, (as anyone with comprehension skills beyond Kindergarten level can attest) most folks completely missed Machiavelli's bitter, cynical, and even sarcastic tone. Or, as Davis and Vindiola put it:

The context in this case is that the Medici family to whom he dedicated his love letter is the same group who personally broke Machiavelli's arms for being such a staunch advocate for free government. He worked for the Florentine Republic before the Medicis marched in, mowed down the government and mercilessly tortured him, and then he sat down and wrote The Prince from his shack in exile, assumedly with some really bendy handwriting (on account of the arms). When you learn about that, it kind of adds a new layer of meaning to the text -- it suddenly sounds like it's dripping with sarcasm.


The article further explores another interpretation of the circumstances:

Another possibility is that, in writing The Prince, Machiavelli was articulating only what he believed that the then-current rulers wanted to hear, so that he could win back their favour. On this view Machiavelli himself might not have believed everything he wrote in The Prince, but he thought that a cold amoral attitude to politics might impress his superiors, thus leading to his reinstatement in government. If this interpretation is true, then he was being doubly cynical by cynically advocating scheming distrust as a method of government, while not fully believing in it himself. The actual circumstances of the composition of The Prince add weight to this interpretation, in that Machiavelli dedicated it specifically to Lorenzo de Medici. It has also been suggested that he composed it quickly, on deciding to take a break from working on the longer Discourses, this apparently coinciding with a period when a new Pope had recently been installed in Rome and a new leader found for Italy. Did Machiavelli hope through The Prince to influence this new ruler? If so this aim was never actually realised, and Machiavelli died without ever regaining his political position.


However, Davis and Vindiola point out that

For centuries, the consensus on Machiavelli's best-known work has been that he was just trying to brown-nose his way back into the government. But a deeper study of his full body of work reveals that this is a pretty absurd ambition, considering not only did Machiavelli repeatedly say that "popular rule is always better than the rule of princes," but after he wrote The Prince, he went right on back to writing treatises about the awesomeness of republics. Considering also that he was no stranger to the literary art of satire, scholars these days are turning to a more likely scenario -- Machiavelli was the Stephen Colbert of the Renaissance.


Admittedly, there's no real way to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what Machiavelli's true intentions were. But comparing The Prince to all his other work, I have to say I'm not especially convinced he was sucking up. On the other hand, the evidence for The Prince being a scathing satire is pretty convincing.
mediaevalist: (Gryff)
Like or dislike the Bard, you have to admit we as a civilisation would be poorer without him.  Some proof?

10 Words and Phrases You Won't Believe Shakespeare Invented
mediaevalist: (King Arthur as a girl)
I was sucked back into a fandom that I was involved in (somewhat) about a year and a half ago though -- you guessed it -- an RPG (What a surprise). In consideration of a particular character in said fandom and how the person who plays said character in our RP might be amused to read this, in my infinite mediaeval geekery I hunted down one of the articles from an independent Scottish news/history/culture website I used to frequent daily. 

First Foot - Scotch Mythed: King Arthur

Maybe we do know the 'secret history of Arthur', now that I think about it.
mediaevalist: (Default)
In an earlier post I mentioned that I don't care for the poetry of Robert Burns, so I'll explain why.

Burns was writing specifically with the Scots dialect in mind, deliberately evoking his imagery through the elevation of language itself. This is one of the things that earned him his poet laureate status in Scotland: his use of Scots in his poetry. But it almost feels as if he was writing poetry for the sake of being poetic and glorifying the Lowlander accent rather than painting a picture with words.

To wit, one of Burns's most famous of poems (by way of Poetry Archive):

I

O, my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June.
O, my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

II

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I,
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

III

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun!
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

IV

And fare thee weel, my only luve,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile![1]

I can mentally "hear" the way the poem would be spoken by a Scots speaker, but if it were stripped of the accent and written in plain English, all its charm would be lost. By itself, I have to say that it's an unremarkable poem with a simile that isn't the most favourable of comparisons. Roses have thorns, after all.

By contrast, W. B. Yeats was working with imagery, be it real world, mythological, or spiritual. While Burns was all wool, peat smoke, and whiskey, Yeats spun his words from spider silk and morning mist. His words have an otherworldly and ethereal quality, (especially in his poetry regarding the faeries) but his prose serves the mental image he tried to evoke. Like so:

I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.

A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!

I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea![2]

Perhaps it can be said that Yeats was romanticising Ireland's mythical past, (Yeats was present for the first wave of 'Celtomania' that swept Europe) but even if that is the case, he did at the very least touch upon the heart of Celtic spirituality.

This is why, as far as Scottish poetry goes, I much prefer the hymns and prayers Alexander Carmichael collected and published as the Carmina Gadelica or Ortha nan Gaidheal:

Behold the Lightener of the stars
On the crests of the clouds,
And the choralists of the sky
Lauding Him.

Coming down with acclaim
From the Father above,
Harp and lyre of song
Sounding to Him.

Christ, Thou refuge of my love,
Why should not I raise Thy fame!
Angels and saints melodious
Singing to Thee.

Thou Son of the Mary of graces,
Of exceeding white purity of beauty,
Joy were it to me to be in the fields
Of Thy riches.

O Christ my beloved,
O Christ of the Holy Blood,
By day and by night
I praise Thee.

There is something about the Carmina Gadelica (and Yeats's poetry) that, while celebrating the earthly, also transcends it into the spiritual. That may be why Burns's poetry leaves me cold above all else. It simply does not engage me on the spiritual level. That, and I just don't like poetry that's written for poetry's sake.

[1] 'O, My Luve's Like a Red, Red Rose', English Poems. Ed. Edward Chauncey Baldwin & Harry G. Paul. New York: American Book Company, 1908.

[2] 'The White Birds', An Anthology of Modern Verse. Ed. A. Methuen. London: Methuen & Co., 1921.

June 2015

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