Cats

Mummified cats, British Museum. Wikipedia.

An excerpt from The Histories of Herodotus, illustrating the ancient Egyptian affinity for cats:

What happens when a house catches fire is most extraordinary – nobody takes the least trouble to put it out, for it is only the cats that matter: everyone stands in a row, and a little distance from his neighbour, trying to protect the cats, who nevertheless slip through the line, or jump over it, and hurl themselves into the flames. This causes the Egyptians deep distress. All the inmates of a house where a cat has died a natural death shave their eyebrows… Cats which have died are taken to Bubastis, where they are embalmed and buried in sacred receptacles. (Book 2:66-67, trans. Aubrey de Sélincourt).

Every now and then they uncover a cache of cat mummies, including at Bubastis, which by the time of the New Kingdom was indeed sacred to the cat-headed deity Bastet.

Wikipedia.

We saw a great exhibit about Egyptian cats at the Carlos Museum last fall. Here is the cover of the exhibit catalogue. Unfortunately there were no cat mummies on display.

Code of Behavior

The Medieval Academy of America, following a survey of the membership taken last year, released a Professional Conduct Policy on January 2. I quite liked this coverage of it, on the College Fix. Excerpt:

According to the document, it is meant primarily for the protection of “those in vulnerable positions” from other medievalist members, who could potentially “assert a relationship of power” over them.

What actions does the policy define as troublesome? While it is highly specific as to what constitutes sexual harassment, all of the other potential violations in the categories of “harassment,” “microaggressions,” “bullying” and “social media” are very general.

“Harassment includes demeaning, humiliating, and threatening actions, comments, jokes, other forms of verbal and/or written communication, body language, and physical contact,” the policy states.

This generality has been taken by some to be problematic; despite the academy saying it “will not take breaches of professional or ethical behavior lightly,” what exactly constitutes a breach in its judgement appears to be lightly outlined, if at all.

Much of what is written about is based upon an individual’s personal judgement or feelings. For example, the academy strictly prohibits harassment in the form of “demeaning” or “humiliating … body language,” but does not state what types of online actions are considered violations of either. It also says that bullying “may include refusal to recognize … personal constructions of work,” which, as the word “personal” implies, differs from one professional to another.

Under the category of “microaggressions,” instead of detailing in the policy what types of behavior are restricted, it links to a Tumblr blog titled “Microaggressions.” The blog’s last post was from over a year ago, and in the FAQ section in response to the question “What makes you an authority on microaggressions,” its authors admit that they “aren’t.” They do, however, define the term as “the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities.”

Rachel Fulton Brown comments that:

If feelings are going to be the way in which we determine whether or not people belong in the conversation, then… it’s a change in the character of the professional body, from one of mutual interest to social belonging, and that will change its effectiveness.

For my part, I was amused by this nugget from the policy:

Harassment is a form of discrimination and misconduct by which the harasser asserts a relationship of power over the harassed through behavior that causes feelings of fear or distress.

Apparently every single meeting with one of my grad-school professors was “harassment.” 🙂

Facial Reconstruction

Apparently we can reconstruct a person’s face from his or her skull, but I suspect that this is more of an art than a science. Especially with that model of Richard III’s face – it looks remarkably like fifteenth-century portraits of Richard III, which would suggest that either fifteenth-century artists were quite good, or the facial reconstructors are practicing a form of circular logic. Thus do I have an idea for a History Channel show. Three teams of facial reconstructors are given a copy of the skull of a recently deceased person, for whom we have plenty of photographs but who is otherwise unknown to them. They are given the skull, and a week to see what they can come up with – and there would be plenty of interviews and other reality TV effects as they go about this assignment. A week later they come back and unveil what they’ve done – then a photograph is revealed of what the person actually looked like. A panel of judges and/or a clap-o-meter would choose the winning team, which would win an all-expense-paid week at Sandals™ resorts (the other teams would receive a selection of valuable parting gifts).

Xenophon

Interesting article on Aeon (hat tip: Donald Leech):

The Anabasis is the first military memoir in the history of Western literature, and it recounts Xenophon’s experiences in the Persian campaign of Cyrus against his brother King Artaxerxes, and the long march ‘up country’. Since Xenophon waited several decades to commit these memories to writing, some have argued that they cannot be accurate. But as anyone who has listened to combat veterans will know, there’s a lot about the remembrance of past tours of duty that time cannot soften nor the years wear away.

Xenophon also wrote histories, portraits of leaders, practical treatises on horse training, hunting and running a household, among other things. An enduring theme that runs through much of his writing, and which has received scholarly attention in recent years, is that of leadership. What makes a good leader? What kind of leader can induce humans to endure hardships and expend effort toward a common goal? What exemplary traits mark out a leader and allow him or her to execute the requisite tasks with skill, induce a harmonious fellowship among those for whom he is responsible, maintain loyalty and mission clarity among the ‘troops’, whomever they might be? It is not difficult to see the formative roots of these questions, and of Xenophon’s answers to them, in that literally death-defying, embattled 2,000-mile march up-country to the sea.

Xenophon also wrote down his remembrances of a local philosopher named Socrates. Those who know Socrates mainly through the writings of Plato – Xenophon’s near-exact contemporary – will find Xenophon’s Socrates something of a surprise. Plato’s Socrates claims to know nothing, and flamboyantly refutes the knowledge claims of others. In the pages of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, however, Socrates actually answers philosophical questions, dispenses practical life advice, provides arguments proving the existence of benevolent gods, converses as if peer-to-peer with a courtesan, and even proposes a domestic economy scheme whereby indigent female relatives can become productive through the establishment of a textile business at home.

Read the whole thing.

Vegetation

A couple of interesting BBC links:

1. Alastair Sooke investigates the so-called “Green Man”:

A mask-like face engulfed in undergrowth, leaves sprouting eerily from his wretched mouth. Sometimes beautiful, often sinister, this mysterious figure – so common in medieval sculpture – is known as ‘the Green Man’.

In his heyday, the Green Man could be found glaring in churches across Europe. Since then, he has permeated folklore, popular culture and literature.

But who is he? And where did he come from? Is he a positive symbol of springtime renewal? Or an image of dereliction and decay – a dark reminder of man’s mortality?

Find out more at the link. The video references a 1978 book on the topic by Kathleen Basford, which is still in print.

2. News from Somerset:

Bath’s Sydney Gardens to be restored

Georgian pleasure gardens which were loved by Jane Austen are among six parks to have been awarded a total of £13.8m in lottery cash.

Sydney Gardens in Bath, which have fallen into decline, have been given £2.74m to help with restoration.

The novelist lived near the park when she moved to the city in 1801.

Other parks to get cash include South Cliff Gardens in Scarborough, Castle Park in Bishop’s Stortford and Ellington Park in Ramsgate.

Fairhaven Lake and Gardens on the Fylde coast and Stevens Park in Quarry Bank, Dudley, have also received Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money.

The Grade II registered Sydney Gardens were designed in the late 18th Century, and became Austen’s local park when she moved to the city.

More at the link.

Dartmouth Seal

Dartmouth is gearing up for what it calls its sestercentennial, that is, a celebration of the granting of its charter on December 13, 1769, 250 years ago. An elaborate, double-issue of the alumni magazine just arrived, which included this item:

My scholarship lives! (Although it would have been nice of them to actually state who the author is.) 🙂

In honor of the sestercentennial, allow me to post a graphic that adorns the title page of a book entitled simply The Dartmouth, by “Students of Dartmouth College,” which was given to me this Christmas by my classmate Ken Bower. The Dartmouth claims to be “America’s oldest college newspaper, founded 1799”; this is bogus, but it was going by 1840, when this book was published (at the time The Dartmouth was a literary magazine, and the book comprises all the numbers of volume 2). The illustration is of the four buildings lining the east side of the Green, with the three on the left comprising so-called Dartmouth Row, and the fourth being Reed Hall. (You can remember their names by the mnemonic “When Green Turns Red,” that is, Wentworth, Dartmouth, Thornton, and Reed.) Nowadays they are all in brick, painted white, with dark green shutters, but this wasn’t always the case, as the graphic illustrates.

Here’s a view of Dartmouth Row as it appeared in March of 2011, the last time I was on campus.

An Offensive Post

From Yana Weinstein-Jones (via Andrew Reeves): “This blog post will offend everyone in academia“:

Adjunct
Ghost, or object to be discarded when no longer necessary. Hired begrudgingly to fill gaps due to tenured faculty not wanting to teach dispreferred classes. Referred to with disdain because “some don’t even have PhDs”. Discussed as a problem that calls for pest control even though they teach more than half of the classes. Too beaten down to be scared.

Assistant Prof
To be taken advantage of because they will do anything to prove their worth. Make the mistake of trying to teach well. Must answer emails all day and all night. Very scared, but also determined. (see also, “Untenured”)

Associate Prof with potential promotion to Full
Firing on all cylinders to strategically select project with biggest payoff in terms of things that count: grant funding, publications in high-profile journals, high-visibility service. Ruthless elimination of anything and everything that does not contribute to promotion, such as mentoring students. More angry than scared.

Associate Prof resigned to endless Associate purgatory
Bitter at how life turned out. Particularly bitter at productive Assistant Professors: how dare they work so hard, making us look bad?

Chair
A person who has given up all of their hopes and dreams of an academic career, at least temporarily, to manage the most self-involved, passive aggressive, competitive, entitled, and needy workforce on an unimaginably low budget. The fact that everyone is highly intelligent and some kind of expert on something or other makes things worse, as each person deeply believes that the thing that they are an expert in is the most important one with the greatest need for resources.

More at the link.

Antebellum Newspapers

From Georgia Public Broadcasting (hat tip: Jeff Bishop), news of something interesting:

Georgia Newspapers From Before The Civil War, Now Online

Georgia newspapers spanning the years from the end of the colonial period to the start of the Civil War have been made publicly available via the internet.

The Digital Library of Georgia and the Georgia Newspaper Project digitized almost 54,000 pages of newspapers published before 1861 with the help of a grant from the R.J. Taylor Foundation. The papers range from the Royal Georgia Gazette, first published in 1779; the full run of the Cherokee Phoenix, the voice of the Cherokee Nation prior to Indian Removal; to some early African American papers.

Not to mention the Cherokee Advance, the Cartersville Express, and the Cassville Standard, other papers from around these parts. Check it out.

George Rigg, 1937-2019

From the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto:

We acknowledge with deep sadness the death of Professor A.G. Rigg on Monday, January 7. George, as he was known universally to friends, colleagues, and generations of admiring and grateful students, died peacefully at home after a period of declining health.

George was born on 17 February 1937 at Wigan, Lancashire, where he received his secondary education at Wigan Grammar School, which was known for its strong reputation in Classics. As an undergraduate he attended Pembroke College, Oxford from 1955 to 1959 leading to a B.A. in the English School. He wrote his D.Phil thesis, under the supervision of Norman Davis, on Trinity College, Cambridge MS O.9.38, leading to his publication of A Glastonbury Miscellany of the Fifteenth Century in 1968. Concurrently with his doctoral work he taught at Merton College, Oxford as well later at Balliol College. From 1966 to 1968 he held a Visiting Assistant Professorship in the Department of English at Stanford University. In 1968 he took of the position of Assistant Professor in the newly formed Centre for Medieval Studies and the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where he taught until his reluctant retirement (still mandated by law at 65) in 2002. As an emeritus, his generous and energetic mentorship of graduate students continued for many years thereafter.

His exacting philological standards secured his international reputation as a scholar of medieval Latin as well as of Middle English. His editions included the poems of Walter of Wimborne (1978), his controversial edition of the Z-Text of Piers Plowman (1983, with Charlotte Brewer) and a glossed epitome of Geoffrey of Monmouth, A Book of British Kings (2000). The latter was published as volume 30 of the Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, a series that George established and for which he served as general editor for its first thirty volumes. His many articles included a signal series of codicological studies of medieval Latin poetic anthologies which appeared in Mediaeval Studies. Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide, co-edited with Frank Mantello, remains an invaluable resource for students of the field, while his magisterial survey, Anglo-Latin Literature, 1066-1422, published in 1992, will remain the definitive reference work for decades to come.

His passionate advocacy for reading competence in medieval Latin as a central feature of serious advanced training in medieval studies led to the creation of the Committee for Medieval Latin Studies, which he chaired from its inception until his retirement, and to the system of examinations that remains a hallmark of a Toronto training in the field. It was his tireless and exacting but endlessly patient encouragement of students in their pursuit of a notoriously rigorous standard that exposed the greatest number of Toronto graduate students to his teaching over the years. Those who took his seminars, and above all those who benefitted from his kindness, enthusiasm, and bonhomie as their doctoral supervisor experienced even more abundantly his rare combination of extraordinary erudition, good humour, genuine humility, and quiet empathy.

We are all of us the poorer for the loss of this kind, good, and brilliant man.

I second this. Prof. Rigg’s Latin course (which I took as a master’s student in 1994-95) was a very valuable experience for me.