Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging: Thomas Campion

What to say when some barely literate freak declares to you that he is extremely seductive, and you just haven't figured that out yet.

Think'st thou to seduce me then
by Thomas Campion

Think'st thou to seduce me then with words that haue no meaning?
Parats so can learne to prate, our speech by pieces gleaning :
Nurses teach their children so about the time of weaning.

Learne to speake first, then to wooe : to wooing, much pertayneth :
Hee that courts vs, wanting Arte, soon falters when he fayneth,
Lookes a-squint on his discourse, and smiles, when hee complaineth.

Skilfull Anglers hide their hookes, fit baytes for euery season ;
But with crooked pins fish thou, as babes doe that want reason ;
Gogions onely can be caught with such poore trickes of treason.

Ruth forgiue me, if I err'd, from humane hearts compassion,
When I laught sometimes too much to see thy foolish fashion :
But, alas, who lesse could doe that found so good occasion !

Monday, March 27, 2006

!@#$%&*! Team Work

Tell me something, oh Oracle of the Internets. How the *&^%$@! is it possible that a grown person, in graduate school, working on a paper worth a really bloody significant portion of THE TEAM GRADES can notify the team, i.e., ME, on 7 pm Sunday evening, FOUR DAYS before the final draft of said paper is due, and ask what the thesis is, and which portion aforementioned person is responsible for writing? Now, let me be clear that this is a FINAL revision. This paper has been kicked around a bunch.

The Rage, she grows.

[Update: Rage-reducing Mantra of the week: "No. That's a felony. They will prosecute.]

[ Updated Update: And she completes the editing, partial rewrite, and full integration of second half of her "team paper" (received in draft form a mere 7 hours ago, Jim) with two hours to spare! The grade is saved (probably), her good name lives for another day. The crowd goes wild! ]

[Updated Updated Update: A beot: The blogging medievalists have full permission to beat me with a stick should I EVER make a student's grades 75% dependent upon team projects. That is all.]

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging: Because Everyone Else is Doing It.

And I needed an excuse to put this delightful little poem up in a post.

The Naughty Preposition - Morris Bishop

I lately lost a preposition:
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.
And angrily I cried: 'Perdition!
Up from out of in under there!'

Correctness is my vade mecum,
And straggling phrases I abhor;
And yet I wondered: 'What should he come
Up from out of in under for?'

Friday, March 24, 2006

Meanwhile, Back in the Modern Era ...

Chris over at Mixing Memory, a modern man whom I adore, corrects the latest media reports on a study regarding "Motivated Reasoning" (a.k.a. resistance to ideas and even facts that conflict with our strongly-held beliefs) in a two-part series. These posts are a nice introduction to this one aspect of cognitive science, and it's never a bad idea for those of us who study and teach to be aware of how and why our own prejudices -- and those of our students -- work. Someday I'll tell you all about some crazy and embarrassing stuff I thought to make facts fit with my beliefs. We've all done it, and now thanks to better living through the blogosphere, we can know why. He's also done a little work on the Do Whiny Kids Become Conservatives? study. Good stuff there, kids, and even pretty colored brain pictures in the first two posts.

Aeonsomnia at Evil Li-Brul Overlord has published the contact information for people to donate to Help Out The Oglala Sioux Tribe, whose president has announced that she will open a Planned Parenthood clinic on tribal lands,i.e., lands not subject to South Dakota's new compulsory pregnancy laws.

Via Dr. Virago at Quod She, the Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog blog is now selling T-shirts. They're too funny and I want one!

And now for something completely different: Ill-advised Giant-blog baiting.
After months and months of jumping up and down in the comments section of Michael Berube's blog like the big geek on the side, I finally got the blogger himself to respond to one of my comments. Now, I think this is because I told Dr. V on him, and he got a-skeered she would go all medieval on his butt -- like she might be compelled to spank him with a Riverside Chaucer or something.* Dr. V disagrees, averring that Berube isn't a-skeered of anybody, and says it was my persistence and the fact that I said something funny. (Finally. After multiple efforts. *sigh*) Since I'm really not that funny, I'm sticking with the a-skeered story. Whatever the cause, I've stopped being a side-order of easily-ignored geek for a minute, and that's always good. Of course now I can't comment over there until this post is off the main page. Ah, well, nobody ever said the mix of cowardice and brazenness would make life easy.

*Image of medievalist going medieval through text spankery shamelessly appropriated from Chris, again of Mixing Memory fame.

Medieval Women I Adore - Installment 4: Hrotswitha von Gandersheim

"The Strong Voice"

Hrotswitha von Gandersheim lived from c. 935 CE to c. 1000 CE, and was a canoness at the Benedictine abbey in Gandersheim (Saxony). As a canoness, Hrotswitha didn't take a vow of poverty, and had freedom of movement not allowed to nuns. This freedom of movement, and freedom from poverty, allowed Hrotswitha to access the best of both secular and religious life in the city. Hrotswitha was fully educated in the 7 liberal arts at the abbey, and it is very clear from her writing that she had access to all the standards of classical learning available at the time. She credits her education to the nun Rikkardis, and credits her abbess, Gerberga II (Otto II's niece), with encouraging and even commissioning her writing. We're not sure of Hrotswitha's age when she entered the convent at Gandersheim, but we do know that she came from a noble family; Gandersheim accepted only noblewomen. We also know that Hrotswitha enjoyed a friendship with the emperor Otto II and his Byzantine wife Theophano, and that the princess Sophia was sent to Gandersheim to be educated.

Hrotswitha is the first European woman that we know of to have written literary works. She's also the first European person since the "Fall of Rome" (scare quotes courtesy of my unwillingness to say that the Roman empire ever really fell) to have united Christian subject matter with pagan dramatic structures to create Christian drama that didn't totally suck. She was a one-woman Renaissance, you might say. Hrotswitha tells us in her prefaces to her works that she was appalled by the study and performance of pagan drama and comedy for a few reasons, not the least of which was the lascivious and fundamentally misogynist depiction of women in these dramas. So, in creating her own literary works, she centered on the power and value of women with regard to a Christian society. She was also -- I'm sure-- responding to misogyny in the Church itself, as the tenth century was a time when the newly solidified Roman Church was trying particularly hard to discredit and silence women through depictions of women as naturally wicked and hypersexual.

The first few works Hrotswitha wrote were not plays, but Christian legends that drew heavily from Byzantine hagiographical models. Her Maria and De Ascensio Domini portray Mary as the prototype for Christian feminine strength as Hrotswitha sees it. Mary is a strong and virtuous woman who will not yield to improperly invoked masculine authority. In Gongolfus, the holy man's wife is just as lewd and prideful as any other church figure would draw her, and God punishes her for her pride by having her fart every time she attempts to speak. Not exactly pro-woman, but it does give the power of silencing the wicked to God, rather than man. Pelagius (not the heretic, he was earlier) is the depiction of a contemporary Galician martyr who died in Spain under the rule of Abd ar-Rahman III. What interests me in this Life is the sexual nature of Pelagius' persecution (she writes ar-Rahman as a pederast), and the fact that the strength she credits Pelagius with changes from masculine strength in volunteering to be a hostage for his defeated father (she got that wrong, it was his uncle) to a stereotypically feminine and virginal refusal to comply with male authority and over-reaching male sexuality. Theophilis is a very early Faust myth, in which the protagonist pledges his soul to the devil for assistance in righting a wrong done to him, but is saved by the Virgin Mary after purifying himself.

In the six plays she wrote to replace the six plays of Terence, entitled Gallicanus, Dulcitus, Calimachus, Abraham, Pafnutius, and Sapientia, she centers on the virtue of chastity, but defines virginity as a lack of intent and desire. So, although God does intervene on behalf of women who are about to be raped, women who have been raped and forced prostitutes may still consider themselves virgins because they never willingly engaged in sinful acts. It is male hypersexuality against which women must defend themselves in these plays, and God's intervention makes good fun of the lascivious men who would harm virgins. (Dulcitius, for example, becomes confused through God's intervention and "rapes" the pots and pans in his kitchen.) Yes, this is a short paragraph, but I know more about hagiography than Christian plays.

For you history types (Hi!), she wrote two histories as well, one Gesta Ottonis I, imperatoris, in which she describes the life of Otto I, but also sort of flips historiographical interests in her writing of his life. She largely disregards battles (always so interesting to history-writers of her time) and writes at length about the queens who were generally disregarded by medieval historiographers. Her second history is a chronicle of her abbey at Gandersheim, Primordia coenobii Gandesheimensis, in which she depicts the work of the women involved in the founding and development of the abbey as central, and the men's work as secondary. This is probably a natural development of the place being a women's house, but most medieval history would have fussed on and on about the local bishop, and ignored the women.

My love for this woman comes not only from her desire to defend the role of women in Christianity at such an early stage, but from her absolute refusal to feign idiocy. In fact, she considers her intellect a gift from God that she is required to use. Doesn't get better than that in the tenth century, folks. "He has given me the ability to learn -- I am a teachable creature -- yet of myself I should know nothing. He has given me a perspicacious mind, but one that lies fallow and idle when it is not cultivated. That my natural gifts may not be made void by negligence I have been at pains, whenever I have been able to pick up some threads and scraps torn from the old mantle of philosophy, to weave them into the stuff of my own book."

Fact-checking and assorted date thievery:
Prodigal Daughter Project & Literary Encyclopedia
Image thievery: Ann Marie Olson

Opinions, however, are mine. Unless they're silly, then it's somebody else's fault entirely.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Blogging Medievalists Planning the Seige of K'zoo

Ancrene Wiseass and Dr. Virago are planning The First Annual Kalamazoo Bloggers' Guild Meeting at "the Zoo" Conference this year. If you're interested in joining the fun, please stop by one of their sites and leave a comment. Even if you can't attend, but know Kalamazoo well, and have a suggestion for a good Guild-hall location, I'm sure they'd be happy to know about it.

I'm still uncommitted for this years' Conference because I'm mid-scramble for Latin study funds, and surprisingly few people are willing to fund the study of dead languages. Imagine that!
However, if I can possibly pull it off financially, I will be attending (if only to face the music for busting people's chops this week).

Update: I told Prof. Nokes over at Unlocked Wordhoard that I would display my TTLB status as soon as it changed into something less disgusting. Well, now that I'm a creature with feet, I've done just that.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Heo Explains it All - 1

There are a number of questions that have come up in response to my recent -- and not so recent -- posts. I will attempt to answer as many of those questions as I can in this post.

Recent Posts:

1) Are you interested in the literary or historical value to be found in texts?
Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: I consider literature part of a cultural conversation that also includes history, philosophy, language, science and art. I have yet to find a piece of literature that doesn't respond to its cultural surroundings while simultaneously trying to influence the direction the larger conversation will take in the future. What the work says, and how it goes about saying it can be interesting, but it is generally much more interesting if the surrounding conditions are taken into account.

2) Do you think the value of a literary work inheres in the author or his/her product?
Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: Again, I see literature as part of a conversation. One group incessantly flapping their jowls at all the other groups makes for one hell of a boring conversation, even if the jowl-flapping is fairly melodious. The artificial divisions in culture over the years have assigned all people to certain 'spheres.' We have then decided that the ways in which those assigned to the top of this pyramid scheme expressed their thoughts and beliefs were superior to the expressions of those in lower strata. That's just silly.

3) Don't you think that assessing an author's value based on his or her gender is 'identity politics?'
Short answer: Yes, and I love that phrase.

For my longer answer, I will now provide you with the Sparknotes version of identity politics as it has played out in literature over the centuries:

Tradition: Anybody who is not one of "us" can't speak because they have nothing worthwhile to say!
Resistance: We do so have worthwhile stuff to say, and we've brought proof.
Tradition: (peruses proof) Well, you don't express yourself like we do, so nobody should worry about your stuff.
Resistance: Fine, then we'll say this stuff your way. (leaves to alter text, returns)Here! We've now adopted your silly rules in saying what we think. We've even quoted various authors you like to support our thoughts.
Tradition: (peruses altered texts, gets angry) It's wrong for you to pretend to be like your betters. Ergo, we will now legislate against your speech in the laws of religion and the state, and we'll at least shame you in public for speaking.
Resistance: We're going to use your authors and your logic to prove that you're a batch of nincompoops for trying that.
Tradition: That's subversion! We can kill you for that.
Resistance: There's no way you'd kill over something like that, you value reason too much.

(Massacres ensue, inconvenient knowledge is destroyed or hidden)

Tradition: Anybody who's not one of "us" can't speak because we have no evidence that they have ever said anything worthwhile!
Resistance: You know what? Bite me! You've been cooking the books, and we can prove it. We have strong evidence that people from our groups have had interesting, insightful, and important things to say all along, and we demand that their voices be heard.
Tradition: You know, assigning value to speech based on gender, color, or class is 'identity politics.' It's just bad policy to decide whether you'll study the speech of others based on their gender, color or class.
Resistance: You don't say? Unfortunately, we now have to attempt to repair as much of the damage you've done in DOING JUST THAT as is humanly possible.
Tradition: It's only 80% about us! We feel wronged, cheated, oppressed!
Resistance: I'm sure you do, but it's not all about you anymore.

Not-so-recent posts:

Question: Why are you mean to anti-feminists? Answer: They totally started it.

Question: If you want to be equal to men, why don't you just go out and do the work necessary to be equal to men? Answer: First of all, which men are you talking about? For me to be equal to some men, I'd have to shrink an inch, give back a couple of degrees, and erase the memory of several hundred books I've read. That's a lot of work, and I have no intention of doing it. If we're talking about men I'd like to share equal status with, I am doing that work.

Question: Don't you think it's unfair and self-defeating to blame an amorphous patriarchy for oppression? Answer: When oppression is systematized, I think it's very reasonable to blame the system for that oppression. I don't think it's self-defeating in any way to notice that a system of oppression exists, and fight to end it.

Question: Don't you think feminism deepens the divide between men and women? Answer: Nope. Unless, of course, we're talking about men who can only feel manly if the women around them pretend to be morons. I don't mind being divided from those guys, they suck!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Medieval Women I Adore - Installment 3: Hilda of Whitby

Back in the Merry Old England of the 7th century, we find Hilda, abbess of Whitby (c.614-c.680 CE). Hilda was the daughter of Hereric of Deira(here-foreign army & ric - leader), the nephew of King Edwin of Northumbria. Hilda's father died (with a little help from his friends) when she was a child, and she went to live with Edwin. She was probably converted by Paulinus along with Edwin, c.627 CE. Edwin's conversion is documented in Bede's Ecclesiastical History, as is much of Hilda's later success as an abbess.

Hilda's sister, Hereswith, became a nun at the abbey of Chelles in Gaul some time after marrying Ethelhere of East Anglia. I don't know why Hereswith left her husband, or how he felt about it, but many married folks at this time did enter convents.[Updated info: Hereswith was a new widow, and I'm a dork for not checking on that more carefully.] In 647, Hilda wanted to follow her sister to Gaul, but was recalled to Northumbria by Bishop Aidan (now St. Aidan) of Lindesfarne. Aidan gave Hilda land to start her own monastery at Wear, and later appointed her abbess of the convent at Hartlepool.

Edwin was slain in battle with Penda of Mercia and Cadwallan of Gwynedd in 633 CE, and there continued to be much wrangling for power over Northumbria for several decades. Eventually, Oswiu managed to become king of a united Northumbria, and in his gratitude to God for this victory dedicated his daughter Aelfflaed to the church under the supervision of Hilda, her second cousin. Oswiu had been a rather naughty boy during the fight for power, and granted land to the church to clear his conscience. On some of this land, Hilda built the most famous of her monasteries, a double-house at Whitby (then Streoneshall) in 657 CE.

Hilda's Monastery at Whitby quickly became very famous as a seat of learning, producing five bishops during Hilda's reign. Royals and holy men would often travel to Whitby, sometimes from great distances, to seek Hilda's advice. The famous poet Caedmon was presented to Hilda when his gift became clear, and she convinced him to enter the monastery (Bede again).

At this abbey, under Hilda's supervision, Oswiu called a synod in 664 to decide whether the churches in England would follow Roman or Irish rites. (The dating of easter and tonsure were at issue.) Hilda, raised in the Irish tradition brought to northern England by Aidan, her first patron, disagreed with the decision in favor of Roman rites. However, to promote peace in her country, and among her fellow Christians, decided to observe and promote the Roman rites. Her respected position in the church did much to convince other Irish-Catholic abbeys to adopt Roman Easter dates, and roman-style monastic tonsure and dress.

Hilda's Prayer:

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that, following the example of thy servant Hilda, we may serve thee with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
O God of peace, by whose grace the abbess Hilda was endowed with gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church: Give us the grace to respect and love our fellow Christians with whom we disagree, that our common life may be enriched and thy gracious will be done, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Why Medieval Women Writers Belong in the Canon

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes over at Unlocked Wordhoard was kind enough to send his readers over here to read my post on Aethelflaed. I am thankful to him for that, and for linking to me quite early in my blogging experience.

He also voiced an opinion in that post that I've heard quite often, and almost always from male medievalists. That opinion being that he gets angry about some medieval women writers whose works are in the canon merely because they're women(he feels), and not based on quality of the writing itself. He offered the name of one medieval woman writer he despises, and one he admires as examples. To be clear: I'm certain he doesn't wish to expunge women from the medieval canon, but gets frustrated with writing he considers unworthy of canon status. (I've already said that I wish the Austrians could have taken care of our little Papa problem, so I do comprehend annoyance with "bad writers" one must read.)

I was, at first, a little astonished that any mention of medieval women writers (pro or con) would come up in a post about a medieval woman warrior. There were warrior poets in the medieval period, but Aethelflaed doesn't qualify. So, that was weird. I have a feeling my "Medieval Women I Adore" series title triggered a pet peeve of his, which then caused him to comment in a way that triggered a pet peeve of mine. As I always say, "Þæs ofereode, þisses swa maeg." People look at me funny when I say that, but I still say it at least a few times a week. (Got it from Deor. It means "That has gone by, so may this.")

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Professor Nokes and I probably have different definitions of what should qualify for canonical writing. He likely considers "beautiful writing" the qualification that should matter most when making these choices. He's probably expressing the frustration of trying to know about, and teach about, a full millenium's worth of literature from at least the whole of one continent (but maybe two or three). Tough, sometimes painful, choices must be made in creating a syllabus when that much time and space have to be covered. I understand that, and I sympathize, but I don't agree that the way to make more room for medieval writing in the hearts of our students is to further narrow their view of what medieval writing was. As frustrating as it is trying to wrangle the highlights of a millenium into 14 or 15 weeks, we really have very limited corpera to work from.

But I promised an argument in defense of medieval women writers with this post title, and I should get down to it. There are a number of reasons I consider women writers of the medieval period necessary to any study of the literature, regardless of their ability to write "beautifully."
The most important is my desire for as much information as I can get from the age, and differing voices may give me that information. Just as I want to know if somebody digs up an Arabian coin in Liecestershire, I want to know what the nuns/princesses/queens thought about politics, and religion, and their lives. I want to know how they expressed themselves. I lament the loss of lower-class and pagan writing from the period because that lack leaves hated blind spots in my information. I'm happy to know that Hlewagastir Holtingar made that golden drinking horn, and used alliteration in marking it. I would be thrilled to have evidence of a peasant farmer writing a song to sing to his children at night. Even if the song were pure crap, it would contain some evidence of what a peasant farmer thought about -- or wanted his children to think about -- and how he expressed himself. I think we would all benefit from knowing a little something about the context of the medieval citizens' lives, and the more of their words we can come by, the better our understanding will be.

We also need to realize that we come to texts as readers with our own social contexts in place, and our own expectations about what's "good" or "interesting" writing. I don't mind revealing that I read Homer for the first time thinking "If this idiot describes one more fighter as 'like a wolf,' or a 'lion, or a 'bear,' I'm pitching this damned book into the fireplace." As a (then)twentieth-century young woman, I didn't appreciate repetitive imagery. Does Homer not deserve a place in the canon? I'm not a great fan of euphuistic writing either. Must Lyly go? I find the 'midwife' comment at the end of Donne's "To his Mistress Going to Bed" takes a poem that was getting very sexy and makes it just plain gross. Should that work be stricken? Obviously I'm not arguing for the removal of these works, but I am saying that we cannot be so quick to say what we find "good" is the marker for what we should study.

For the past several centuries, we have been trained as readers to accept certain aspects of literature as "good," and "interesting," precisely because of what has been let in the canon before we ever got here. And, before we got here, what was let in the canon was almost always literature of the men, by the men, and for the men. So, when we read the mystical writing of Julian of Norwich or Hildegard von Bingen, we think "This is different, it doesn't follow the rules of good writing as I've been taught them. It must be poorly written." I suppose this experience is heightened when women writers write only about women's experiences. We don't want the view from the wall(Mauerschau), we want the "action." Who cares what happens at home, at the village market, or in one's mind? The important stuff happens on the battlefield, at the place of business, or in the church. We've been taught to believe that, just as we've been taught to believe that iambic pentameter is superior to ballad verses. The Greeks and Romans considered comedy far inferior to tragedy, but Aristophanes holds a dearer place in my heart than Aeschylus, and I enjoy Apuleius much more than Tacitus. That doesn't mean that the men I enjoy should be privileged in the canon. I'm a smart-ass, and I like reading fellow smart-asses. I also like reading fellow women. Find me a woman who wrote smart-assed alliterative verse, and I'll carry her work with me until I die. I don't expect everyone to do the same. Our canon of "great literature" has to include comedy and tragedy, prose and poetry, and men and women, but not everybody has to love everything equally. Unfortunately, as teachers, we all have to teach some stuff we hate sometimes. I have even taught !#$%^&* Hemingway and !#$% Salinger. Do you think I enjoyed that? I say thee, nay!

I grant that this attitude of mine doesn't help narrow stuff down so that it fits neatly into a syllabus, but literature across a millenium won't ever fit neatly. As long as we're dealing with students who will only take one or two courses in medieval literature, we have to make choices. We also have to know why we're making those choices, and what inclusion or exclusion really means. I may hate/revile/loathe certain works, but I'm neither a man nor a prince, nor was meant to be. The work doesn't speak to me, but it does speak to some of my students and it does tell one tiny bit of the greater story. I owe my students that piece of the story, even if I do drink a little more heavily for a week or two as I teach it.

And, finally, an anecdote I can't resist sharing:
One day at my undergraduate institution, a professor argued to me that certain women writers shouldn't be studied because really good literature speaks to the human experience in it's entirety, not just to one gender. He even offered examples of women who had written "well," and should be studied more. I'll never forget the expression on his face when I feigned epic upset at having to eliminate all those volumes of battle poetry produced at a time when only men wrote and fought from my reading list. All the political writing that centered on the upper classes had to go, too. My God, I said, even The Sorrows of Young Werther is no good because it is all about a man in love, women will never be men in love. The argument ended there.

[Update: In response to Professor Nokes' take on this post, I've added a bolded phrase in front of my (already present) assertion that PROFESSOR NOKES DOES NOT FEEL ALL WOMEN WRITERS SHOULD BE HELD OUT OF THE CANON. This post is a defense of those women whose works he WOULD, if he had his druthers, eliminate. It is also a call for us all to think about why we make certain value judgements about literature. ]

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Despite my Anglo-Saxon pseudonym and research interests, I am an American of partly Irish descent. (Sie müssen alle schätzen, wo mein anderes Erbe liegt.) I'm pretty committed to that heritage, too. I have even dangled upside down to kiss the battlements of this very tall castle, while being "secured" from falling to certain death by a local pensioner with his hand on my waist. So, today this blog will take a break from its Anglo-Saxon yet anti-patriarchal leanings to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
I leave you with two bits of literature to contemplate.

The Irish Dancer (14th century English)

ICH am of Irlaunde,
Ant of the holy londe
Of Irlande.
Gode sire, pray ich the,
For of saynte charité,
Come ant daunce wyth me
In Irlaunde.

My Favorite Irish Blessing ( I have no idea about times for this one)

May those who love us love us.
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we can know them by their limping.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Medieval Women I Adore - Installment 2: Chrodield and Basina

We move back in time to the late sixth century, and over to Gaul, to find these two rebel nuns of royal lineage. (I'm not an elitist, almost everybody we know about from the early Middle Ages was well-connected. Blame the history books.) They may not be pious, nor are they exceptionally bright, but their story sure is funny.

Background Information (If you need it):
- The land and money to build monasteries (male, female, and double-houses) on the continent in the early medieval period was donated by noble familes. Very often these gifts had contingencies: the inmates would pray for the donating family a certain number of times per week, the abbot or abbess would always be drawn from that family, occasionally there would even be duties of fealty from the monastery to the donating family (providing food, trained and armed knights, etc). Monastic houses added substantially to the wealth and power of a family, and were considered family property. Monasteries throughout the Middle Ages also proved an excellent place to "store" excess children, siblings, or dowagers. (A little later, the Pippinids proved brilliant at this. It's amazing how many of Charlemagne's troublesome relatives discovered religious vocations at politically opportune times.)

- The Convent of the Holy Cross at Poitiers was established by St. Radegund, a captured and enslaved Thuringian princess who became the wife of Clotaire I, King of Neustria and Austrasia (Belgium, Northern parts of France and Germany). She left her husband and entered religious life, with full ecclesiatic approval. More on her later. For now, know that she was childless, her house was a known seat of learning, her nuns followed the Rule of Cæsarius of Arles (first Rule for women's houses), and there were many noble women among the nuns of her house.

The Nuns:
Chrodield was the daughter of King Charibert I of Austrasia, and so was Clothaire's granddaughter and Radegund's step-granddaughter. She seems to have entered the convent willingly, and was the leader of the rebellion.
Basina was the daughter of King Chilperic I of Neustria, and was Chrodield's cousin, with the exact same relationship to the convent's founders. She was placed in the convent as a very young child (younger than 7), to escape the machinations of her father's third wife, Fredegunda. People in the royal family had a nasty habit of dying around Fredegunda; all three of her step-sons, her husband's second wife, her brother-in-law, and eventually Chilperic himself. Actually, the murder of near relatives was a "traditional family value" among the Merovingians. Fredegunda was nothing special in that regard, but Basina was still in real danger.

The Revolt:
Radegund died in 587 CE, but named a woman called Agnes abbess of Holy Cross prior to her death. Agnes died in 589 CE, and the nuns elected "a certain Leubover" as abbess. And then all hell broke loose. Leubover was strict, Chrodield and Basina would say cruel, and the "a certain" bit probably indicates that she wasn't related to anybody very powerful. So, here are two royal princesses feeling that their power has been usurped by a base-born woman, and now they are meant to obey the usurper. Sure.

Chrodield persuaded 40 of the nuns to vow to help her unseat Leudover, and elect her as abbess. The whole group of 42 women left the convent (this was forbidden), and marched over to Tours to get help from Bishop Gregory. (The guy who wrote the history of this revolt, was very interested in expanding his own family's religious empire, and was uncle to the new Prioress under Leubover.) Chrodield felt that, as progeny of queens, they were being treated exceptionally poorly, and would not promise to abide by the bishops decisions. She left Basina in charge of the rebel nuns and travelled on to meet with the King of Orleans. When she returned some of the women had disbanded -- or married -- in her absence. She brought the remaining nuns back to Poitiers, and took over the basilica at St. Hilary, where she picked up some (male) followers. A whole passel of bishops arrived at St. Hilary's to demand that the women return to their convent, the women refused. The bisops then pushed themselves into the basilica and urged obedience. When that was not forthcoming, they excommunicated all the nuns. The women and their followers then physically assaulted the bishops, who ran in all directions in fear of the assault. One bishop even dove into the river.

Chrodield ordered her men to abduct the abbess from the convent, but they abducted the Prioress first (Gregory's niece), and had to let her go on the road and return to get the abbess. On the second try, the guys got it right, and Leubover was abducted. The next night, the guys and some of the nuns returned to the convent, and removed everything they could carry, including furnishings and relics. The Bishop appealed for Leudover's release, threatening not to say Easter Mass that year if the abbess was still imprisoned, and to get the locals to attack the basilica. Chrodield set up guards to defend the basilica, with orders to kill anyone who tried to free Leubover. The bishops refused to intercede, afraid of being run off again, until the military came in and handled the rebellion.

After two years a large enough force was gathered together to fight the rebel nuns, and Chrodield was defeated. But she still didn't go down without a fight. As the men were charging her basilica, Chrodield gathered up the relic of the true cross, held it out in front of her, and declared "Do no violence to me, I beg of you, for I am a queen, daughter of one king and cousin of another; don't do it, lest a time may come for me to take vengeance on you." That threat didn't work, and the women were overcome. The captured rebels were beaten, some were burned at the stake, and some had body parts cut off as punishment.

Basina caved, apologized to the abbess, said her cousin had grown too prideful, and was eventually released from excommunication and allowed back to the convent. Chrodield accused Leubover of having a man living in the convent dressed as a woman, and a number of other charges which were refuted to the bishops' satisfaction. (There was, however, a cross-dressing eunuch in the crowd at the trial. He was explained away.) Chrodield would never repent, and never concede to go back to the convent while Leubover was abbess. She was given a villa in the country, and no more is written about her.

I love a rebel, it's true. However, the keystone cops aspects of this story -- on all sides -- just have me enthralled.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Medieval Women I Adore - Installment 1: Aethelflaed

Full Disclosure: This new series is out-and-out idea thievery. Natalie Bennett at Philobiblion has been blogging about women's history for quite some time. Every time I read one of her wonderfully informative entries about a woman in history, I think to myself, "Self," I think, "somebody really oughta blog about the medieval women who don't get much recognition in the modern world." Then I generally "tsk" and go back to reading, because I don't want to be a big cheater. Well, I've decided these women deserve whatever attention anybody can give them, cries of "cheater!" be damned. And so here begins the Heo Cwaethian series of medieval women whose history should be known.

We'll start with the As, or ascs if you want to be technical about it.

Æðelflæd (Aethelflaed) - "The Lady of the Mercians" - The eldest child of the famous King Alfred of Wessex and Ealhswyth, his noble Mercian wife, Aethelflaed was born about 869 CE, two years before her father ascended to the throne of Wessex - then the most powerful of the English kingdoms. Like her younger siblings, Aethelflaed learned to read and write in English and Latin, memorized the Psalms, and learned the seven liberal arts. She was considered intellectually gifted in her schooling, and beyond.

She married King Aethelred II of Mercia (not Unraed, he was later) in 884, as part of a political deal. Aethelred accepted the overlordship of Alfred and demoted himself from cyning (king) to ealdorman ( earl), but in return had the security of connection to the Wessex royal family. In this marriage, at least, it seems as if Aethelflaed was acting in the stereotypically feminine capacity of peace-weaver. Aethelflaed was not a subservient wife, however, nor was she demonstrably peaceful. She immediately began working with Aethelred in developing military strategies, and joined with him in the fights against Viking invaders.

From 888 CE -- the year Aethelred was struck with a debilitating illness-- until his death in 911 CE , Aethelflaed wielded the royal power in her marriage. Unlike her mother, Ealhswyth, Aethelflaed did not retire to a monastery at the death of her husband, but continued the control she had wielded over her kingdom until her own death in 918 CE. It was she who invaded and conquered part of Wales, built defensive burhs in Mercia, refortified several fortresses, and fended off the Vikings. In her refortification efforts, Aethelflaed rebuilt the Roman walls at Gloucester, and developed a city plan. Gloucester still bears the mark of Aethelflaed's plan today; the roads that are in the city are where they are because Aethelflaed put them there. When Aethelred died in 911 CE, Aethelflaed continued to rule, joining with her younger brother Edward to put down rebellions to the north, create political alliances with other kings, and (surprise!) fight off Viking invaders. She defeated the Danes of York, who then submitted to her overlordship in 918 CE in return for defense from the Norse in Ireland.

When Aethelflaed died in the same year (918 CE), her kingdom of Mercia was nominally left in control of her 20 year-old daughter Aelfwynn. However, Aelfwynn was almost immediately brought to the court of Edward, her maternal uncle, by reason of her "minority" and Wessex annexed Mercia.

Not quite a damsel in distress, was she? Whenever some dipstick decides to inform me of the "natural incapacity of women to rule," I remind myself of women like Aethelflaed. A fierce fighter, skilled politician, gifted intellectual, and capable ruler, she was able to defend not only her own kingdom of Mercia, but also her brother's kingdom of Wessex from invasion, all while expanding and fortifying her own power. For me, the willingness of the Danes of York to submit to her rule in return for defense when they had the choice to seek Edward's protection suggests that she was recognized as a better general than her brother. That Edward waited until after her death to annex Mercia, and did so with the public purpose of protecting Aethelflaed's daughter confirms it for me.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Attending to Emotion

I fully intended to blog against sexism this past Tuesday, on International Women's Day. However, the situation in South Dakota and the ability of a jury of twelve to acquit video-taped rapists resonated in me more deeply than could be addressed in a blog post. Frankly, I have been the very embodiment of rage for the past couple of weeks, and I've been using most of my energy trying to prevent myself from releasing that rage indiscriminately. So far, so good. This is not to say that I "reasoned" myself out of this rage entirely. I did not -- nor do I wish to -- pretend I'm not enraged that my country is declaring war on its women citizens every day. I don't want to ignore the fact that the rampant misogyny in my government has spread out to other nations and is negatively affecting women all over the world. I won't pretend that the political party that promises to legislate for civil rights hasn't named an anti-choice Senator as its leader, and attempted to "soften its language" regarding women's rights. I can't not see the malevolent glee in the eyes of women-haters in my government and on the streets of our cities at the imminent prospect of enslaving women's bodies through the coercive power of the state. And let's be clear about this, folks, this is what's happening.

There are those who will tell you that such language is hyperbolic, *hysterical* perhaps. Some of you reading this may even believe that "war on women" and "slavery of women" are terms I have chosen in a high state of emotion, and are therefore unfair representations of the facts. So, let's look at just a random sampling of the facts, shall we?

- When the United States has a higher rate of rape than any other country that publishes such statistics, yet only 2% of rapists are convicted of their crime, women's bodies are no longer their own.

- When a videotaped gang-rape of an underaged girl who was both too young and too drunk to legally consent to sex is not a punishable crime, women's bodies are no longer their own.

- When the state can demand that women attempt to carry pregnancies to term when they don't want to do so and/or their doctors have advised against it, women's bodies are no longer their own.

- When a 100% effective vaccine against a cancer that affects about 10,000 women per year in America alone is kept from the public because government officials fear that women will have more sex if there's one less way that we may die from being sexually active, women's bodies are not their own.

- When pharmacists choose to override the moral choices of a woman and her doctor because they themselves do not "believe in" birth control, women's bodies are not their own.

This government has bet that, if forced to choose between self-custody and "patriotism," women will choose patriotism every time. Even when a woman's right to say no to sex is demonstrably NOT SUPPORTED by this government; when she is held responsible for her own rape, when she is then demonized for wanting to end the rape at her rapist's ejaculation, rather than allowing it to go on for almost a year or even 20 years. Even when saying yes to sex means saying yes to a motherhood she can't afford, and won't be financially enabled to afford, because she's a dirty slut who had sex. Even when her government values its pharisee ideology over her very life. They have placed a losing bet in my case. My government has declared war on me, my sisters, my nieces, and my friends, and goddammit, it will not stand. I'll still sign petitions, and write representatives, but I trust them about as much as I'd trust the local child-molester to babysit. I am goddamned tired of asking politely for elected representatives to recognize that women are people. They appear to hear that about as well as the average frat boy hears "no."

I am now dedicated to learning how to fight in myriad ways, and you can bet your bottom dollar that any attempted rapist will be short at least one dangling participle at the end of the exchange. I encourage you to do the same. I have volunteered my home in a blue state as a safe haven for my already enslaved sisters in South Dakota, and soon to be enslaved sisters in other red states. I encourage those of you who can to do the same. We have been told for millenia that emotion is bad, only reason is accepted. We have then been presented with "reason" that is merely the systematized emotion of others. Let the pharisees call their hate "reason," it's time for us to act. I ask you, what's more reasonable than responding to the very real threat of physical violence than learning how to inflict injuries of your own? What's more reasonable than opening up your home and your life to runaway slaves?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Napoli, v.

1. To brutalize and rape, sodomize as bad as you can possibly make it, a young, religious virgin woman who was saving herself for marriage.
2. To hella rape somebody.

Etymology: From State Senator Bill Napoli's (R-SD) description of an acceptable rape that would merit an exemption from South Dakota's abortion ban.

*Attention to detail: Please keep in mind that once a young, religious, virgin woman has been raped, she is no longer a virgin, so only one napoliing per gang-bang. Once a woman has been raped, even if the rape happened years ago, even if the rapist did not complete a full-scale napoliing(say he left out the sodomize as bad as you can possibly make it bit), she is no longer a virgin, and therefore doesn't count. Similarly, one cannot napoli a married, religious, young woman. Napoliing requires that the woman be young, therefore aspiring napolists will have to card their victims to be sure they've picked women under thirty.

Join the google-bomb, if you can. This fucker needs to be known for what he is.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The More Things Change II

In researching Drama in the British Renaissance, I came across some interesting complaints about theater being put forth by Puritans. I invite you to read some excerpts from a book written by one Stephen Gosson entitled "The Schoole of Abuse," and published in 1579 by Thomas Woodcocke (behave!)of London. If you consider Mr. Gosson's complaints and the complaints of certain modern groups such as "Focus on the Pharisees" you will find, as I have, that Puritans haven't changed much over the years. I considered abandoning this post idea when I saw that Chris over at Mixing Memory did a very similar post, in which he prints an article written in the nineteenth century by one R.L. Dabney against women's rights, and invites comparison between those ideas and the ones currently expressed by ignoramuses world-wide. (You should read it, it's good.) But I decided that Chris and this Dabney fellow don't get to have all the fun, and I will still let Mr. Gosson speak.

Against Poets and Pipers: from The Schoole of Abuse

The politike Lawes in well gouerned common wealthes, that treade downe the prowde, and vpholde the meeke, the loue of the King and his subiectes, the Father and his childe, the Lord and his Slaue, the Maister and his Man, The Trophees and Triumphes of our auncestours, which pursued vertue at the harde heeles, and shunned vyce as a rocke for feare of shipwracke, are excellent maisters to shewe you that this is right Musicke, this perfecte harmony. Chiron when hee appeased the wrath of Achilles, tolde him the duetie of a good souldier, repeated the vertues of his father Peleus, and sung the famous enterprises of noble men. Terpandrus when he ended the brabbles of Lacedaemon, neyther pyped Rogero nor Turkelony, but reckoning vp the commodities of friendeship, and fruites of debate, putting them in mind of Lycurgus lawes, taught them too treade a better measure.

.....OK, so that's what poetry and music are supposed to do in Early Modern and Ancient Wingnuttia. Support and defend the patriarchy at all costs, ye poets. Alas, what they were actually doing was much, much worse.

There set they abroche straunge confortes of melody, to tickle the eare; costly apparel, to flatter the sight; effeminate gesture, to rauish the sence; and wanton speache, to whet desire too inordinate lust. Therefore of both barrelles, I iudge Cookes and Painters the better hearing, for the one extendeth his arte no farther then to the tongue, palate, and nose, the other to the eye; and both are ended in outwarde sense, which is common too vs with bruite beasts. But these by priuie entries of the eare, slip downe into the hart, and with gunshotte of affection gaule the minde, where reason and vertue should rule the roste.

.... Effeminate ravishing....hmmm. But, wait, that's not all. Compare the good old days with the perfidy of today's players:

Consider with thy selfe (gentle Reader) the olde discipline of Englande, mark what we were before, and what we are now: Leaue Rome a while, and cast thine eye backe to thy Predecessors, and tell mee howe wonderfully wee haue beene chaunged, since wee were schooled with these abuses. Dion sayth, that english men could suffer watching and labor, hunger and thirst, and beare of al stormes with hed and shoulders, they vsed slender weapons, went naked, and were good soldiours, they fed vppon rootes and barkes of trees, they would stand vp to the chin many dayes in marishes without victualles: and they had a kind of sustenance in time of neede, of which if they had taken but the quantitie of a beane, or the weight of a pease, they did neyther gape after meate, nor long for the cuppe, a great while after. The men in valure not yeelding to the Scitha, the women in courage, passing the Amazons. The exercise of both was shootyng and darting, running and wrestling, and trying such maisteries, as eyther consisted in swiftnesse of feete, agilitie of body, strength of armes, or Martiall discipline. But the exercise that is nowe among vs, is banqueting, playing, pipyng, and dauncing, and all suche delightes as may win vs to pleasure, or rocke us a sleepe.
Oh what a woonderful chaunge is this? Our wreastling at armes, is turned to wallowyng in Ladies laps, our courage, to cowardice, our running to ryot, our Bowes into Bolles, and our Dartes to Dishes. We have robbed Greece of Gluttonie, Italy of wantonnesse, Spaine of Pride, Fraunce of deceite, and Dutchland of quaffing. Compare London to Rome, and England to Italy, you shall finde the Theaters of the one, the abuses of the other, to be rife among vs. Experto crede, I haue seene somewhat, and therefore I thinke may say the more. In Rome when Plaies or Pageants are showne: Ouid chargeth his Pilgrims, to crepe close to the Saintes, whom they serue, and shew their double diligence to lifte the Gentlewomens roabes from the grounde, for soyling in the duste; to sweepe Moates from the Kittles, to keepe their fingers in vre; to lay their hands at their backes for an easie stay; to look vppon those, whome they beholde; to prayse that, which they commende; to lyke euerye thing, that pleaseth them; to presente them Pomegranates, to picke as they syt; and when all is done, to waite on them mannerly too their houses. In our assemblies at playes in London, you shall see suche heauing, and shooving, suche ytching and shouldring, too sitte by women; Such care for their garments, that they bee not trode on: Such eyes to their lappes, that no chippes light in them: Such pillowes to ther backes, that they take no hurte: Such masking in their eares, I knowe not what: Such giuing them Pippins to passe the time: Suche playing at foote Saunt without Cardes: Such ticking, such toying, such smiling, such winking, and such manning them home, when the sportes are ended, that it is a right Comedie, to marke their behauiour, to watche their conceites, as the Catte for the Mouse, and as good as a course at the game it selfe, to dogge them a little, or followe aloofe by the print of their feete, and so discover by slotte where the Deare taketh soyle. If this were as well noted, as ill seene: or as openly punished, as secretly practised: I haue no doubte but the cause would be feared to dry vp the effect, and these prettie Rabbets very cunningly ferretted from their borrowes.

WOMEN will be seen as sex objects if in public, people!!! And that's STILL not all:

Not that any filthynesse in deede, is committed within the compasse of that grounde, as was doone in Rome but that euery wanton and his Paramour, euery man and his Mistresse, euery John and his Joan, euery knaue and his queane, are there first acquainted and cheapen the Merchandise in that place, which they pay for elsewhere as they can agree. These wormes when they dare not nestle in the Pescod at home, finde refuge abrode and are hidde in the eares of other mens Corne. Euery Vawter in one blinde Tauerne or other, is Tenant at will, to which shee tolleth resorte, and playes the stale to vtter their victuals, and helpe them to emptie their mustie caskes. There is she so intreated with wordes, and receiued with curtesie, that euery back roome in the house is at her commaundement. Some that haue neither land to maintaine them, nor good occupation to get their breade, desires to strowt it with the beste, yet disdayning too liue by the sweate of their browes, haue found out this cast of Ledgerdemayne, to play fast and loose among their neighbours. If any parte of Musick haue suffred shipwrack, and ariued by fortune at their fingers endes, with shewe of gentilitie they take vp faire houses, receive lusty laffes at a price for boorders, and pipe from morning to euening for wood and coale. By the brothers, cosens, vncles, great grand sires and such like acquaintaunce of their ghestes, they drink of the best, they sit rente free, they haue their owne Table spreade to their handes, without wearing the strings of theor pursse, or any thing else, but householde and honestie. When resorte so increaseth that they grow in suspition, and the pottes which are sent so often too the Tauerne, gette such a knock before they come home, that they returne their Mayster a crack to his credite: Though hee bee called in question of his life, hee hath shiftes inoughe to auoyde the blanke.

Lazy dudes will be able to frolick with whores while treating them as ladies! Oh, heaven forfend.

Must Reads on the Internets

The Second Radical Women of Color Carnival is up at Woman of Color Blog, there are many wonderful posts there.

Also, remember that today is the final day to submit posts to the tenth Carnival of Feminists, to be published at indianwriting on March 8th.

h/t Mind the Gap

And, via Evil Librul Overlord, via San Antone Rose on a comment thread at Digby's : The full text of Leslie J. Reagan's monograph, When Abortion Was a Crime, is available on the internet, for free.