The Knight of the Cart

I read my first medieval Arthurian romance. This one is by Chrétien de Troyes called The Knight of the Cart. It’s a poem (although, the translation I read is prose) about Lancelot, and his quest to regain Queen Guenièvre, kidnapped by the despicable Meleagant.

I listened to a lecture series on the High Middle Ages (roughly 1000 AD to 1300 AD). Apparently, the nobles were a mean bunch of amoral ruffians. They fought, quarreled, and treated the peasants badly. The lecturer suggested that the courtly romances of the period were an attempt by the authors to instill some morality and a code of ethics into the nobles.

Thoughts on the Story

I rather enjoyed it. It’s not exactly sophisticated by modern literary standards, but that’s kinda what makes it fun.

Some of the examples of courtly love are a bit ridiculous. The aforementioned lecturer suggested that Chrétien may, in fact, have been writing for satirical effect. As an example, here Lancelot stumbles upon Guenièvre’s comb in the woods. There are some of Guenièvre’s hairs on the comb. Lancelot reacts in this way:

Never will the eye of man see anything receive such honour as when he begins to adore these tresses. A hundred thousand times he raises them to his eyes and mouth, to his forehead and face: he manifests his joy in every way, considering himself rich and happy now. He lays them in his bosom near his heart, between the shirt and the flesh. He would not exchange them for a cartload of emeralds and carbuncles, nor does he think that any sore or illness can afflict him now; he holds in contempt essence of pearl, treacle, and the cure for pleurisy; even for St. Martin and St. James he has no need; for he has such confidence in this hair that he requires no other aid. But what was this hair like? If I tell the truth about it, you will think I am a mad teller of lies. When the mart is full at the yearly fair of St. Denis, and when the goods are most abundantly displayed, even then the knight would not take all this wealth, unless he had found these tresses too. And if you wish to know the truth, gold a hundred thousand times refined, and melted down as many times, would be darker than is night compared with the brightest summer day we have had this year, if one were to see the gold and set it beside this hair.

Another quote from the text near the end I thought was compelling:

The rustic, who seldom errs, pertinently remarks that it is too late to close the stable when the horse is out.

There’s some food for thought in that!

Finally, I wonder if the final battle between Lancelot and Meleagant was the inspiration for the Black Knight bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the book, Lancelot severs Meleagant’s arm during the battle, and then:

And when he [Meleagant] felt the loss of his right arm, he said that it should be dearly sold. If it is at all possible, he will not fail to exact the price; he is in such pain and wrath and rage that he is well-nigh beside himself, and he has a poor opinion of himself, if he cannot score on his rival now. He rushes at him with the intent to seize him, but Lancelot forestalls his plan, for with his trenchant sword he deals his body such a cut as he will not recover from until April and May be passed.

After which Lancelot cuts off his head.

And Meleagant’s rage is such that he cannot speak or say a word; nor does he deign to cry for mercy, for his foolish heart holds tight in such constraint that even now it deludes him still. Lancelot approaches and, unlacing his helmet, cuts off his head. Never more will this man trouble him; it is all over with him as he falls dead.

The Two Parts of Wisdom

Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.
John Calvin
Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559)

I’m reading a book on the Renaissance and Reformation called In Search of God and Self, and this quote is on its first page.

Upon some reflection, I considered that neither precedes from the other. Rather, the search for Truth and self-knowledge are two sides of one coin. Both precede from a single source.

The Three Reichs

All of us know that Hitler’s Nazi Germany was called the Third Reich.
But what were the first two Reichs? I was unclear about this, so I looked it up:

The First Reich
I’m still somewhat unclear about this. Wikipedia has it starting in 962 AD with the coronation of Otto I and the creation of the Holy Roman Empire. However, Encyclopedia Britannica suggests it started earlier with the seemingly impromptu crowning of Charlemagne on Christmas Day in 800 AD. It ends with the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 after the Napoleonic Wars.

The Second Reich
The Second Reich begins with Bismarck’s unification of Germany in 1871 under the Kaiser and ends with its defeat in World War I.

The Third Reich
Well, that needs little introduction …

Word of the Day: Nimbus

The Word of the day this year is Nimbus.

According to Merriam-Websters, the indisputable crown of English language reference, the word nimbus means the following:

a: a luminous vapor, cloud, or atmosphere about a god or goddess when on earth
b : a cloud or atmosphere (as of romance) about a person or thing
2: an indication (as a circle) of radiant light or glory about the head of a drawn or sculptured divinity, saint, or sovereign
3: a rain cloud

Fun fact: a nimbus cloud is simply a cloud from which rain is falling. Astound your friends with this amazing bit of trivia.

Here are some examples of the word nimbus in sentences:

From the depth of the dreamy decline of the dawn through a notable
nimbus of nebulous noonshine …
~ A.C. Swinburne

The nimbus about my head cannot denote divinity; a much more plausible explanation is that my hair is on fire.
~ Me, on a rainy Sunday afternoon at The White Peacock

Snowden, Not Edward

The first time I heard the last name Snowden is not on the news, concerning the plight of Traitor/American Hero Edward Snowden. It may have not been the first you heard it either.

I recently read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. However, you may have read it in high school or college.

It is revealed in fragments throughout the course of the novel that Snowden was a gunner that died in Yossarian’s arms, his guts pouring out of his carcass, having been shredded by flak. It is revealed that this experience was the motivation behind Yossarian losing his courage to continue fighting the war.

At any rate, this quote seemed apropos:

“Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window, and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.”

– Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Diocletian: Dude That Saved the Empire

I have a rather long commute to work.  Forty-five minutes to work, and forty-five minutes back home.  An hour and a half in sum.  That’s a lot of time to idle away thinking about nothing.

In comes The Great Courses to save the day!

I’m not sure I’d survive the commute without being able to listen to these lectures.  As I’m a bit of a history buff, I’ve been using my commute time to enrich my admittedly pedestrian knowledge of bygone ages.

At any rate, currently I’m listening to “Early Middles Ages” by Professor Philip Daileader.  It covers the vicissitudes of western civilization from about 300 AD to 1000 AD, or as it used to be called, The Dark Ages.

For various reasons, scholars no longer use this pejorative term, and refer to it as the Early Middle Ages, or Late Antiquity.

So, many of my upcoming blog posts will be about interesting things I’ve learned in this course.

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Obey your Parents!

[post_intro]“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”[/post_intro]

Saint Paul
Saint Paul

A lonely Sunday evening in McPherson, KS.

I didn’t feel much like preparing dinner, so I drove to Hunan, the local Chinese food dive, and ordered the Vegetable Delight with steamed rice.  I took it to go and ate it in my car in Hunan’s parking lot.

There was nothing on the radio, so I settled for a Christian radio station … just for the hell of it.  I listened to a Christianized news break.  Each story ended with a, “Won’t you pray for such-and-such?”  For example, “Edward Snowden fled Hong Kong and is believed to be on an airplane headed to Russia.  Won’t you pray for his eventual capture and inglorious return to the United States?”

At any rate, after the news break, a pastor began a sermon about family relationships, particularly the relationship between children and their parents.

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