Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Good morning, friends.

Anyone else like books? I like books. They are so easy to get your hands on today, but we Medieval nerds know that this wasn't always the case. Can you imagine having to build (yes, build) a book? Out of some poor, unsuspecting calf, too.
Skin pages, called vellum, last a lot longer than paper, but they also take a long time to prepare [Check out this video if you'd like to know more about the actual construction process of medieval books]. If you were super rich, you could afford the greatest vellum ever: uterine calf skin. Yeah, that's right: stillborn cows. But don't worry, if you'd like to make a nice scroll out of "vellum" nowadays, you can just use a cotton-based substitute. Phew.

If anyone would like join us on Thursday, the Medieval Languages Study Group will be meeting in library study room A107. I'm there for the Latin and Old Norse, but we are also looking at Norman French and ye olde English among others. So come on down!

Take some time out of your busy academic calendar and come to our fantastic pumpkin carving bonanza on October 26th, 4:30pm, CLE D132.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


What’s up Medievalists? Bestiary time!

I have a great prof for my Medieval Europe class this semester: he links us to pictures and interactive websites and asks us to write about them, which is fantastic homework. Anyway, I tell you this because I found a bunch of stuff on one of the websites.

This little cutie pie is a ram. He’s from the late thirteenth, early fourteenth century (“confirmed by thermoluminescence analysis,” which is can only be some kind of glow-in-the-dark magic). I am disappointed to read that he’s a ram because I thought he was a cow. Mainly because his mouth is making a “moo” shape. Apparently he used to have horns, though, so he probably
looked more ram-like before he ended up underground. It’s pretty incredible, I guess, that this piece of pottery survived all this time, still glazed, in part. But I think we should reserve judgement on the species. Mouth shape is a good identifier, yeah.
I wonder what people put in it? What does it look like to you guys?

Rams are sacrificial animals, they're always popping up in religious texts and dying. Is that all there is to it? They die, like Baldr? NO, they also get drilled. I’m going to drop a knowledge bomb here... Pliny the Elder said: “the wildness of rams can be curbed by drilling a hole in the horn near the ear”. Wait. What? I think a lot of behaviours can be cured by drilling a hole in something’s head. Who worked this out? Maybe it was an accident the first time and the ram "fell" on a branch or very sharp rock and insta-lobotomized himself. And some shepherd just happened to be there. Or maybe humpty dumpty was pushed.

The rambunctious nature of rams means that they are associated with toughness and virility. Sheep, on the other hand, are obedient and meek. And stupid. [Apparently not, click here] Interesting gender divide there, with sheep/ram as symbols or behaviour guides. And by interesting I mean it totally fits in with almost everything we've ever read about gender dichotomy in Europe past and present.

Medieval bestiaries are good sources of fun, nerd style. This image is from "Book of the Properties of Things" by Bartholomew. What kind of a title is that? It's the title of a damned encyclopedia, that's what! Thanks to Arabic knowledge and their awesome preservation of ancient texts, Europe was down with science by 1416, when this manuscript was completed.

Zoology! A bunch of animals with four legs. It's a pretty picture and it's dense with symbolism. Animal allegory, if you will. Each animal embodying a moral code or personality type. If you take a gander at it, you'll see a greyhound in the middle, (our friend) the ram, an elephant, a lion ... and a unicorn! To be fair, an elephant was no different than a unicorn as far as Bartholomew was concerned: he'd never seen either of them. And a bunch of travel accounts made sure that it became common knowledge that unicorns were for real. Dude I don't know why there is a mermaid at the bottom, don't even ask. THAT'S FOR ANOTHER POST.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I am Sadie, the new blog queen for the Medieval Studies Course Union. Contain your excitement!

Well, since I'm new here, I figured I'd post a horrific article from a less than reputable source. Exciting! Trustworthy(?)! Archaeologists in Italy have found a "witches graveyard" on consecrated, Churchly land. The women were buried without a coffin or shroud. Grave goods included dice and nails - in one woman's jaw. Ouch. They are yet to determine the cause of death, so let's just hope that the ... piercings ... were post-mortem. There were other nails and seventeen (unlucky for some) dice littered around her corpse.
Check it out:

The Medieval Studies Course Union will be hosting various activities over the school year, including PUMPKIN CARVINGS and movie nights. Furthermore, we will soon have t-shirts for you to wear with jubilant pride. Come out on October 4th at 7pm in ECS 125. We will be watching "How to Train Your Dragon" and pizza and beverages will be provided!

Check out our Facebook page for events! If you know of something that's going on around town that is relevant to our interests, let me know. I will also attempt to keep you up to date on any new courses offered by the Medieval Studies department and all that academic stuff.
Let's get to it! This week:

The Medieval Club here on campus is having a FREE Coptic Book Binding bonanza tomorrow (Wednesday 28th) at 6pm; Cornett B107.
You are asked to provide your own materials, if you can:
-ten or so sheets of blank paper
-pair of scissors
-embroidery floss or similar string you want to use as binding
-yarn or embroidery needle
-old binder with cardboard covers that you don't want any more
-x-acto knife
-pretty paper or fabric to make covers out of. 6" x 16" would be about the right amount.
-glue stick


Monday, March 14, 2011

Movie Night: The Secret of Kells

The MSCU will be having a movie night this week to watch the animated film "The Secret of Kells."

Join us Wednesday, March 16th!
6:00 PM
Clearihue A311

Pizza and beverages will be provided.

In honour of that, here are some brief facts about the real Book of Kells. It is an illuminated manuscript in Latin and contains the four Gospels of the New Testament with other various religious texts included. It was created circa 800 CE or earlier by Celtic monks and resided at the Abbey of Kells in Ireland which is where it got its name from. It is highly decorated and ornate with Christian symbols and images mixed with Celtic knots and interlace which displays the merging of the two cultures.

This image opens the Book of John:

We hope to see you all on Wednesday evening!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The MSCU Blog has returned!

Dear MSCU members and blog readers,

The Medieval Studies Course Union Executive for 2011 will be taking turns posting on our lovely blog. Today, I wish to share with you a couple pictures of the Medieval castles I visited while in Denmark in the fall of 2010.

Also, it is my duty to inform you of the MSCU's first Discussion/Games night of the year, which will take place this Wednesday, February 9th at 6pm in CLE A311. The topic of discussion will be Medieval Pilgrimages, but we will expand on this topic as we see fit and according to how the discussion flows etc. After our discussion we will play games, yay! If you have a chess set or backgammon, please do bring them, or any other board game you would fancy to play. There will be lots of snacks and friendly people to converse with, so come on out on Wednesday!
The picture above is of Fredericksborg Slot in Hillerød, a lovely area just outside of Copenhagen in Denmark. Technically this is a Renaissance castle, as it was built in the early seventeenth century; however, this castle was originally a hunting-lodge (which is situated right on the lake in Hillerød) which was bought by King Frederick II in the sixteenth century. His son, Christian IV, the most well-known king of Denmark, decided to re-build the lodge and make what you see now- a magnificent royal residence. Although used as a summer residence, I found that it was quite enjoyable in the winter, with skating and tobogganing around the lake. (Yes, despite having an extremely flat landscape, the Danish do toboggan!)

Ever wanted to see the castle where Shakespeare's Hamlet took place? Look, now you have! Shakespeare's Hamlet was allegedly partly-based upon Amleth, a figure from Danish folklore. Shakespeare, hearing of Kronborg Castle from abroad, which yes, often is covered in misty fog from the ocean, decided to use this castle as his inspiration. Kronborg Slot was used as a defensive fortress, as it is located directly on the Sound between Denmark and Sweden. Sweden is so close that you can see quite clearly the downtown buildings of Helsingborg, which is directly across from the castle.

Til next post