Vikings, Baking Powder And Poets: Boston’s Long And Confusing History With Leif Erikson
If you were to believe a small plaque on the grounds of Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, you’d think there was a time when the Vikings sailed the Charles River.
But there’s a reason you didn’t read that story in your American history books.
The plaque, which can be found if you walk along Fresh Pond Parkway with Gerry’s Landing Road to the left, reads, “On this spot in the year 1000 Leif Erikson built his house in Vineland.” One of our readers asked why the marker is there, and it turns out the plaque is not the only nod to the renowned Viking explorer that Greater Bostonians could spot across the region.
So we set off to break down the long timeline of Massachusetts’ complicated, largely unproven and definitely unorthodox infatuation with Erikson and Viking heritage.
Kevin Harty, at Medievally Speaking, reviews the film Robin Hood (dir. Otto Bathurst, 2018):
The legend of Robin Hood celebrates transgressive behavior. King Arthur is authoritarian—the focus of a structured legend rooted in long foundational medieval texts by the likes of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chrétien de Troyes, and Sir Thomas Malory. Robin Hood is anti-authoritarian—the focus of an unstructured legend rooted in popular culture and shorter anonymous texts. In literature, the Hoodian legend begins as what Roman Catholics used to call an occasion of sin. In the B-text of Piers Plowman, William Langland in the late fourteenth century presents an idle priest, a figure of sloth, who has failed to learn his prayers but who knows instead the “rymes of Robin Hood.” Those “rymes” mark the literary beginning of a legend that would grow by bits and bobs and cross genres for centuries, adding along the way characters and incidents with which we have become more than familiar, and, at one point, resituating itself in the time of King Richard I, some two hundred or so years earlier than when it sprang up.
Film began its fascination with Robin Hood at least as early as 1908; television, in 1950 in the United States, and three years later in England. Rarely, it is safe to say, no matter what genre or media is employed, does someone retell the story of Robin Hood without nodding to earlier versions of the tale and to contemporary politics. In the case of cinema, arguably the three best Robin Hood films react to world conflicts past (the 1922 Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.), present (Richard Lester’s 1976 Robin and Marian starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn), and future (the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn). The Robin Hoods of television have similarly been used for political purposes: opposing the Hollywood Blacklist (the 1950s’ The Adventures of Robin Hood), opposing pollution and attacks on the environment (the 1980s’ Robin of Sherwood), and opposing the policies of Mrs. Thatcher (the 1990s’ Maid Marian and Her Merry Men).
More at the link.
Was pleased to receive a Christmas treat from a college friend of mine: a box of Godiva chocolates. The company’s well-known logo features Lady Godiva riding naked on a horse.
The Godiva episode is one of the more popular medieval legends, even outside of England, where it is alleged to have taken place (the company was founded in Belgium in 1926). The idea is that Leofric, earl of Mercia (d. 1057), oppressed his subjects with heavy taxation. His wife Godgifu (Godiva) repeatedly besought Leofric to change his mind, to no avail. Finally, an exasperated Leofric said that he would grant relief, if Godgifu rode naked through the streets of Coventry. His request was seemingly impossible by the standards of aristocratic feminine behavior, but Godgifu took him up on it and rode through the town clothed in nothing but her long hair (although she ordered everyone to stay indoors first; only a certain “Peeping Tom” violated the edict).
Leofric and Godgifu were real people. Godgifu died between 1066 and 1086, i.e. some time after the Norman Conquest; unlike most Anglo-Saxons, she retained her lands and position in the face of the regime change. The legend of her naked ride started to be told in the thirteenth century, so this is an interesting example of medieval medievalism. A good book on the phenomenon is Daniel Donahue, Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend (2002), which details the erotic, aristocratic, and decadent strands of the legend that made it so appealing as the name of maker of fine chocolates.
• Noble Ingram on Christian Science Monitor: “History lesson: Scholars take aim at racist views of Middle Ages”
• Fiamenco File: “OMG, She Cheered for White Men!” (16 minute YouTube video)
• Peter Wood on Inside Higher Ed.: “Anatomy of a Smear: Scholars should speak out against those who have weaponized the language of “safety,” “security,” “acknowledgment” and “inclusion” to silence anyone who disagrees with them”
The latest issue of Medieval Warfare features a piece by Reinhardt’s Dr. Jonathan Good, in which he popularizes his scholarship on St. George and explains the importance of warrior saints to soldiers and the broader population. Soldiers frequently offered prayers of thanks or supplication to warrior saints. Sometimes warrior saints appeared to soldiers on the battlefield, raising morale or even helping to defeat the enemy.
To read more, subscribe to Medieval Warfare or read Good’s book, The Cult of St George in Medieval England, published by Boydell, for a more in-depth treatment.
My thanks to Kevin Harty for a new St. George. This is a postcard of the right hand side of a triptych entitled The Angel of Victory, which was painted in 1941 by one Violet Oakley. The Angel himself occupies the central panel, and St. Michael is displayed on the left. You can see the whole thing at the website of the Delaware Museum of Art. It represents “the first of her 25 wartime altarpieces, completed just two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.”
As chance would have it, Kevin has also just reviewed the latest (and apparently last) installment in the Sharknado franchise. From Richard Utz’s Medievally Speaking:
In Travels in Hyperreality, Umberto Eco notes that we are always “messing up” the Middle Ages to meet a variety of agendas. The Camelot segment in The Last Sharknado is a brilliant example of just that kind of “messing up.” To a popular culture enthusiast, it is an authentic example of “the medieval.” It has a castle, a dragon, a group of peasants, an evil Morgana, a wise Merlin, and a brave knight who wields a special, magical sword to save the day. It even furthers its authenticity by referencing such other authentic examples of “the medieval” as A Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, with a nod to The Wizard of Oz thrown in for good measure. And it casts as its Merlin and Morgana two “real” television celebrities, from admittedly opposite ends of the celebrity spectrum: the well-known physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is a ubiquitous television and radio talking head on any number of scientific topics, and the truly outrageous Alaska Thunderf*ck, from a reality competition television show that has, for ten seasons, turned the outrageous into Emmy award winning high camp.
Read the whole thing.
Some followup to an issue referenced in Milo’s article.
1. Rachel Fulton Brown summarizes Eileen Joy’s problems with the International Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University, and the subsequent resignation of Larry Swain, administrator of a Facebook group devoted to the Congress, over the appearance of the expression “growed like Topsy” in the description of this group.
2. Richard Utz of Georgia Tech refuses to sign a letter of support of Joy’s BABEL working group.
The organizers of the world’s largest annual meeting of medievalists, the International Congress on Medieval Studies, or ICMS, at Western Michigan University, stand accused of “a bias against” or “lack of interest in” sessions dealing with “decoloniality, globalization and anti-racism”– allegations that made their way into Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Forbes and CampusReform and were summarized in a “letter of concern” medievalists were asked to support. Members of the steering committee of the BABEL Working Group, an innovative scholarly (para-institutional) collective of colleagues in premodern studies, are the authors of the letter. This letter was preceded by a Facebook post too undignified to be quoted here.
Normally, I would sign such a letter without hesitation. It promotes goals such as diversity, inclusion and metacritical scholarship for which I have advocated throughout my academic career, as an individual and together with the adherents of the International Society for the Study of Medievalism. But I did not sign because I know more than most observers about this specific congress: I attended for the first time as a student in 1986 and, with few interruptions, as a participant since 1990; I also served as chair of the English department at Western Michigan and was an affiliate faculty of the Medieval Institute between 2007 and 2012.
I know the Western Michigan medievalists and reject the dotted line the letter of concern insinuates between the faculty of the Medieval Institute, on the one hand, and the racist neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Va., on the other. That line was even more than dotted in some of the simultaneous social media posts about the issue.
3. Josh Eyler, new administrator of the Facebook group, responds at his blog.
First, [Utz’s article] positions the debate as the BABEL Group versus the world, and this is simply untrue. Yes, it was the BABEL steering committee that authored the letter, but the hundreds of additional signatures indicate that the concerns raised in the letter are shared by many. Second, the article suggests that the issue of inclusivity is limited to an inclusion of areas of study and/or viewpoints on the field. This is certainly one dynamic, and I want to address it before moving on.
To demonstrate that the ICMS really is inclusive of different fields, Utz first cites the many (and diverse) types of traditional sessions that the ICMS has offered in the past, which have been sponsored by groups like the Pearl Poet Society and Cistercian Studies. He then suggests that the ICMS has embraced more recent areas of study by saying, “The 2018 program, for example, features the term ‘race’ nine times, ‘disability’ nine times and ‘gender’ and ‘feminism’ 48 times.”…
The bigger issue, though, with respect to inclusion is one that the article barely even addresses, which is the degree to which scholars from traditionally underrepresented groups have felt included in both the ICMS and Medieval Studies. The call for ICMS to include more sessions about the state of the field is directly related to this larger point about inclusivity. It isn’t just a push for “progressivism” for its own sake but is a response to structures that have pushed people to the margins.
4. And Tom MacMaster responds to that (on the new Facebook group, Medieval Studies – State of the Field):
Hmm, I think he’s continuing to deliberately miss the point of much of the pushback to the Babylonians’ demands but accepting the frame that this is largely a dispute between, on one side, “inclusivists” who want to discuss a broader Middle Ages and white supremacists who want to preserve an all white (cisgendered, heterosexual, and male) scholarly community studying a exclusively all white Europe only Middle Ages. Unfortunately, while that might be comforting, I notice instead that the “two camps” seem to be largely made up of:
1) a group that doesn’t study the actual past but, instead, is centered in English Literature departments. And does largely reception studies of what happened in the southern part of one island (basically Beowulf, Chaucer, and friends) and is engaged in performative wokeness (well-off white liberals acting out what they envision as scenes of radical anti-racism to gain approval from other well-off white liberals and feel superior to the hoi polloi). They wish to force their activities on everyone else and demand that everyone else grant them status for being so woke online and in K’zoo sessions
and 2) a group full of people who are heavily from History and related disciplines who actually study actual medieval subjects and have been looking at these sorts of “big picture” issues for… their entire careers. Often, these are the people who read languages beyond English and its immediate forerunners and so, when told to “decolonize medieval studies” “look beyond England!” don’t apologize profusely for not having done so but return to their study of, say, medieval Iraqi texts, Mongolian expansionism, or the trans-Saharan slave trade. When they (we) are then shouted at for being wicked evil racist neo-Nazis for not thinking 100 sessions on “Medievalisms & transgendered POCs in WoW online” are the cat’s meow, a “camp” emerges.
The complaints that academic conferences covering the study of the Middle Ages are not spending enough time and energy on the study of the 20th and 21st century is the key complaint. Yes, many fantasy and historical fictions are set in the Middle Ages but no, they aren’t medieval; they are modern. And yes, some on the far right (as well as in the far left, center and everywhere else) use emblems in the middle ages.
But, among the Anglophone far right (and in these discussions, they are the only ones who count), the medieval is far less interesting than, say, the Second World War, the American Civil War, or the European Age of Imperialism and far less likely to be referenced. There are, of course, medievalist academics and others keenly interested in dressing up in costumes and carrying out violence in the name of early medieval ideals – that group of cosplayers led by an academic specializing in early medieval literature that took over Raqqa and Mosul comes to mind or the medieval references that litter the rhetoric of all sides in conflicts in the Levant (not to mention giant statues of medieval kings under construction by a party that has been accused of genocide); but none of those are of interest to this discourse. And why would they be?
The self-styled “progressives” and “anti-racists” in this discussion are only interested in Anglocentric and insular topics and seem to care little and know less about other fields.
It is all performance and it is frankly insulting to academics and anyone who isn’t an upper class white North American. It insults everyone outside the US by prioritizing the trivial and passing whims of American culture; it insults all non-whites by assuming that they need the patronizing protection of the benevolent and paternalistic (maternalistic?) woke white liberals and must be coddled and told comforting lies; it insults African-Americans by putting upper class Asians forward as the spokespeople of anti-racism and silences black voices; it insults all those concerned with truth, honesty and free and open debate by pushing a narrative devoid of evidence as the only true path.
From Smithsonian.com, courtesy Andrew Reeves, a feature about one of America’s major neo-Templar groups:
Joseph A. Auteri draws his sword and hands it to his Grand Prior, Patrick Carney, who brings it down through a layer of yellow icing, cutting a large birthday cake in half. A couple of hundred people cheer.
The crowd is mostly dressed in business attire, but Auteri is wearing medieval-style armor: a shirt of steel-link mail, a mail coif on his head, plate armor on his shoulders and white linen robes emblazoned with a red cross. The outfit weighs 65 pounds and can cause problems for airline baggage handlers. His sword, modeled on one from the Ridley Scott movie Kingdom of Heaven, is not battle sharp, but it cuts sponge cake easily enough.
By day Joe Auteri, 49, is a partner in a financial planning company based in Pennsylvania. This evening, though, he is Hugh de Payns, a French knight who died in 1136 after establishing a military order known as the Knights Templar.
More at the link, including the information that this group accepts women and even Muslims (although not without some objection on the part of some members).
An interesting discovery by Tim Furnish in a local Starbucks:
The website of Young Templar Ministries gives no indication where it is physically headquartered save for the Atlanta “770” area code in the founder’s phone number, and that they’ll be having a rally at 6835 Victory Lane in Woodstock, Ga. They don’t claim to be associated with any Christian denomination, but their beliefs section (“The Holy Bible is the inspired Word of God… Jesus was the final and complete sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Salvation is Given, not earned. It is freely given through Grace because of faith in Jesus Christ,” etc.) suggests fundamentalism and evangelicalism.
This seems a little odd. Why should a medieval crusading order serve as inspiration for a twenty-first century American youth movement? Christian warfare (the website references “Young Soldiers” and “God’s Army”), even of the metaphorical kind, is not exactly hip these days. The Templars, especially, are supposed to be inspirational to the alt-right and thus even more dodgy. And let’s not forget how they ended, and consequently how inspirational they were to esoteric and/or dissident groups.
Or is that the point – that anyone persecuted by the medieval church can’t be all bad? Or (more ominously) is Christian warfare really coming back into fashion?
The first series in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs has been determined, with the Vegas Golden Knights sweeping the Los Angeles Kings four games to zero.
Knights vs. Kings. Sounds like a successful medieval rebellion…