Posts Tagged ‘cultural studies’

There is a 13th century German poem, Der Rosendorn, that tells of an overheard dialogue between a young woman and her vagina.
O-k.
But then an excerpt of this poem was found used as the binding of another book. Only this binding excerpt dated at two hundred years’ previous to the complete copy.

The woman and her vagina part company, and each goes off to prove which of them men do really want/love/value.
But we know it will not end well.
Neither comes back with a good tale to tell.
And to to get the two back together again?
With the aid of … some kind of… nail….

This is not about personal emotion or response, but public art/poetry.
It is about bragging, posturing, attitude.
It is essential we do not confuse the two.

The relationship between them, though, is very complexly reciprocal, and constantly shifting, one copying the other which then copies the copy etc.

Wiki tells us:
Poems of this vintage were not uncommon in medieval literature, with other examples known from France, and in England, sexual vulgarity was a frequent theme of Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Rosendorn

We see examples in Rufinus from the Greek Anthology parodying the Three Graces. I only have to mention Catullus and Lesbia, and in Medieval Latin: The Virgin and the Nightingale: 1983: Fleur Adcock, Translator, The Virgin and the Nightingale: Medieval Latin poems, Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books,[9] ISBN 978-0-906427-55-2

The poem is a piece of purposeful ribaldry.
Take, for instance, the first encounter – that of an enclosed garden.
This is a deliberate parody on the symbolic virginity of maidenhood, through the imagery of the Virgin Mary.

The woman is the inverse of the courtly tradition’s paragon of the female, just as the whole purpose of the piece is that of light/ribald entertainment, and using tradition forms, not heroic stanzas in parody.
Amour courtois comes in for a drubbing.

So, what was the purpose of poems like these? Their use of plain language for body parts adds a frisson – Wiki tells us:
The Germanist Coxon suggests that their closest relative in ribaldry would have been the Fastnachtsspiele of carnival and shrovetide.[8]
There were times, then, like the time of the ‘lord of misrule’ over the Christmas period, like May morning, when laws were relaxed, and revelery allowed.

If you do visit the Wiki page, above, you will see a 14th century metal brooch from Bruges, of a vagina being paraded by three penises.
Apparently metal brooches like this were popular.

What is you lock-down passion/vice/activity that keeps you sane?
We bought-in beaucoup des plantes de maison. It was around Christmas time (ok, a little before, but who’s counting?)
And so we live in a jungle, now. Well, no. But we bought:

Norfolk Pine

Araucaria heterophylla

Currently 10 weeks old.
Their place of origin – sole place of origin, now – we are informed, is a tiny island between New Zealand and Fiji: Norfolk Island. We were also informed that it is a species that predate the dinosaurs. Whatever you say.

I actually looked up Norfolk Island, and, yes, Google Maps have photos. I found them a little dismaying. How populated the place is now, with roads, even a cathedral, and all those people!

We were also informed this little fellas can grow up to 200 foot, in their normal outdoor, southern-hemisphere climates. Continually misted by sea spray – they never like the sea-bit of that, but do need daily misting…
with tepid, filtered, water.

That’s when you begin to wonder what you’ve taken on.

Among our goody-bag of house plants we also bought some Areca Palms:

Not a particularly good snap shot, but… you get the ‘picture’. Oo.

Prayer Plant

Now this is an odd one – lovely plant. At night its leaves all cluster together, almost palm to palm, as in prayer.
Except for the very top leaf.
The very top leaf: as we turn around each night – the plant stands to our backs, near the window – has always turned around 180 degrees, and is facing us! Keeping an eye on, taking notes, ‘observing our species at work and play, for use later.’

But most probably because nightly we face a source of light, the TV.

One of our favourite buys were several successive collections of Hyacinth bulbs. The blue variety scented the room every evening. And it was glorious to come down in the morning to their perfume.

Our other buys were a Yucca, many Parlour Palms, an Aloe Vera, and several other mysterious ones I have not come across before.
Quite a few of these need moist environments, and we have taken great trouble to banish moist from our rooms. So they now dry out quickly; no big deal, just a bit more watering.
Many of these plants were common in Victorian homes – even Queen Victoria was particularly fond of Parlour Palms. This is some indication of just how continually damp their houses – even palaces – must have been. And the chill that’d go with the damp. Hence the need for big roaring fires.

The coal fires I remember from childhood – forget all the cleaning of grates, of spilling ash, and the continual ash-scatter over everything – was how they warmed to too hot our fire-facing parts, while our backs kept almost cold.
Ah, but the smogs, fogs, the bronchitis, childhood asthma, and chest problems.

Where is the best place for old statues of the famous?

First of all, what does ‘best’ mean?
Secondly, what does ‘old statues’ imply?

1
One of the first casualties of commemorative statuary is its significance. Its meaning, if you will. And this is usually lost in a matter of a few years, not decades.
No one questions the right of a siting, once placed. And no one questions the statue’s right to be, once the first newsworthiness has been dampened down.
Is this so?
It is all about suitable platforms for concerns: there are ways of stifling ‘voices off,’ for ‘the greater good’.
What was the mind-set in erecting them in the first place? To celebrate benevolence? In a few, mostly much later, cases.
What is greatness? How celebrations of it override all other considerations, the horrors of its means, its chequered achievements.

What then follows a long period of comparative amnesia. In this period all significance, meaning, becomes lost, and what takes over is familiarity. Its good friend contempt tags along, but is usually on the whole well behaved.

It is only a great many years later, several generations, that a new generation of fresh-eyed people are prompted, or are very, very rarely home-grown, to question the validity and probity of these commemorative items.

The only way to keep the more questionable statues ‘active’ is within context, as in a museum. The Colston statue in Bristol https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-56250697 is one currently in question.
A way towards resolution has been suggested by exhibiting the slave-trader ‘s statue in a museum along with Black Lives Matter banners.
It is still within the city his questionable wealth did so much for, but it is kept within contemporary concerns.

The take this:
Canterbury Cathedral has decided not to remove its troubling statues, but has enclosed them within contextual displays:

I have often wondered about statues of Oliver Cromwell.
The one near me is now was taken away from the city centre, and is now tucked away in a suburban park. His name is still a curse-word in Ireland. I should not think Scotland views him well either.:

This graffiti targets his Irish campaigns.
Amongst his horrors, though, he did invite Jewish people to return to England, after a shameful 400 years.
The commission and erection of these statues is an odd case, a regicide commemorated in the midst of Queen Victoria’s imperialist and expansionist reign, at the same time as the burgeoning of the Irish Home Rule political movement.
Cromwell himself oversaw the first wave of colonial transportation to the Caribbean. Writing to parliament after leading the slaughter at Drogheda in September 1649, the general reported that the ‘officers were knocked on the head, and every tenth man of the soldiers killed, and the rest shipped for the Barbadoes’: https://www.historyireland.com/volume-25/issue-4-julyaugust-2017/features-issue-4-julyaugust-2017/curse-cromwell-revisiting-irish-slavery-debate/

2

There is always a backlash to the backlash.
Will the media smother that? Keep it out of the public eye and mind? That is one way to ‘control’ these things, to use the methods used against you against your detractors. The ‘oxygen of publicity’ (- is that to feed a fire, or to enliven the blood? Language has its own codes).
But is it legit to do this? Or are you tying yourself down/in with dubious systems?

You can also take something as everyday as language.
What often started as a metaphor, either a clever coining, or even a euphuism skirting around some iniquitous doing, in no time at all loses its double nature, and the image used becomes the unquestioned, acceptable, tool of communication.
Terms either lose their meanings, or are used for skewed rather than straight meaning. It is the way time, usage, in other words, people, affect and are affected.

Correction can only be advantageous when done within contemporary parameters, that is, with the understandings and acceptances of current methods.
To revert solely to original meanings would make them redundant for contemporary concerns.
Original meanings coupled with contemporary meanings are essential for the fuller understanding.

Dracula TV Series

Posted: January 11, 2020 in Chat
Tags: , , , ,

The new 3 episode TV series has recently finished.
So now you start to wonder, remember and laugh, and remember and look puzzled, and all the other responses it calls from you.

Was it as good as you hoped?
I’m undead; I’m not unreasonable.‘ was a good start: sharp, snappy, and yet… and yet, in that part of the action he was, yes, very unreasonable, as he sat back allowing his wolves to slaughter all of the nuns. Not for his ‘hunger’, note, but for the wolves.

‘The Dracula effect’ gets its impact, its punch, from transgression. That is its dynamic: something, an evil from long, long ago, bowling into the modern, sophisticated world, and wreaking havoc.
There were moments in this series: released from his Hannibal Lector/Skyfall cell, by his lawyer, and all London open to him…. But no, he did not go on the rampage.
It was as though the writers were ticking boxes on the required-modern-attitudes scale, as well as layering with cultural references. There was even a Dark Lord in there i.e. Voldemort.

Each work sets out the parameters it is constructed, and is to work, within. The older versions of the tale have very clearly demarcated moral and ethical borders and boundaries. Transgression was guaranteed.
In this new series the parameters were open, its was a broad field of equality and diversity. Where were the borders? Where could the energy come from?
Even his cold-bloodedness: the baby to feed on, the killing of the nuns, the apparently conscienceless killing of ship companions, blatant betrayals, and gratuitous self-serving, are all too well known from our recent wars and their attendant war-crimes, recent political regimes, experiences of survivors still very much alive. And in the case of refugee camps, still being perpetrated as we speak/write
It says much in Claes Bang’s favour that he could smoulder and threaten with more than enough contained violence to carry off the larger-than-life character he was portraying.
And yet also a worthiness kept creeping in. And clunkiness: instantly picking up on modern technologies, as well as displaying an expertise? I still have trouble working Skype, but he did it first try – from someone else’s blood-memories, was it? Everyone knows the hand book approach, but the fiddly bits around the functions are something else.
And constant, dependable, broadband?

Which brings us to the most important question: what is the present-day sensibility? What, of what we are doing, will be found to be worthwhile in years to come?
What will survive of us – and not in some comedy channel’s You Will Not Believe This! type formula.

Because these are the questions the series deals with, ultimately.
Here was someone from 15thCentury Central Europe: what did he find, here? And what else did he bring through time with him?
Something that we could recognise, use, applaud?

His vampire parameters: sunlight, silver, crosses… all acquired dependencies? Believing his own, created, myths? Very contemporary.

Reblog: Magic

Posted: October 25, 2019 in Chat
Tags: , ,

With it being Halloweeny time, I thought, Why no reblog that Magic piece again? And so, here it is:

A book I’ve had hanging around for ages: there it was again, so this time I read it:
Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic – Empedocles and the Pythagorean Tradition, by Peter Kingsley.
It was published by Clarendon Press/ Oxford University Press, 1995.

Then there was a free FutureLearn course: Magic in the Middle Ages, run by Barcelona University. Lovely people, by the way.

But, back to that book, first.
Empedocles is the one who coined the four basic elements, building blocks of all things: earth, air, fire and water. Each was also connected with a god/goddess.
The hierarchy was:
Air – Zeus. It was aether intitially, a rarefied form of air.
Earth – Hera
Water – Nestis. She was a localised goddess, native to Sicily.
Fire – Hades.

Empedocles was a native of Sicily. It was to Sicily that Pythagoras came from Samos, Greece. This was all in the 4th centuryBCE.
Sicily, of course, has always been volcanic. Not just the presence of Etna, but Empedocles’ birth town was based on hot springs: the island is full of volcanic-related geography. Then there are the Liparan Islands off the north coast, connecting to Vesuvius.
Is it any wonder the Pythagorians had Fire as the centre of the universe? This was not just ordinary fire but the fire of Tartarus, where the Titans and rebellious gods were confined.
The Underworld, next, ‘as far above Hades as the Earth was above the Underworld’; it was envisioned as a place of rivers of water, and of fire. Nestis was a localised name for Persephone, and she was partnered with Hades, as Hera was with Zeus. We see differences in nature and purpose of each couple in this.
Some initiates took all this later to Egypt. It found a home there, met eastern cults, and became interested in Alchemy (another fire-based ideology).
This was all big-concept stuff – compare it with the Eleusian Mysteries, with closely related Orphism, the mystery cults. They are all surrounded by ritual, initiation, even rebirth scenarios.

The online course was based on documented sources: Papal edicts, religious records, even Inquisition records.
Magic was either earth magic: herbology, charms and amulets, even star reading – and the other: necromancy, prophecy etc. The first were accepted; the latter were considered to be due to demonic agencies.Then they all became classed as the latter kind: who gave you knowledge of these things? Why, demons, of course.
We touched on the Kabbalah: the course leader ruefully commented that this was only intended for those who had studied the Torah and The Old Testament, for at least 40 years. No one went straight into it, that would be seen as utterly stupid, pointless.

So, magic was either big-concept theory with rituals, orgies and bachanalian revels, or it was table-rapping, charms, astrology, and what we now know as spiritualism, automatic writing, dream visions etc.
That was about it.

There are no records outside of the Bible of the dead actually being raised, reinvigorated. Within the book, we have the Witch of Endor who cured Saul/St Paul’s heaven-caused blindness. But there are no extant records anywhere of witches, say, throwing fire balls, of actually being seen riding broomsticks; or of spells compelling living people to do things supernatural. No great wizards with staffs; no actual records of demons raised, djinns released, or even angels on earth.
Simon Magus? You tell me.
The Three Wise Men? Reputation and mystique. Persia was a whole other matter, though.

Curses and charms depend so much on coincidence and interpretation: you need narrow horizons and desperate lives to see the patterns, so to speak.

Everything else had been recorded; you can bet such weirdy stuff would certainly have been recorded too.

*

I have been wondering for some time about, you know, Satan.
Surely he must have begun as a kind of god of the Underworld, like Hades, Pluto.
His penchant for evil. sin, and corruption, are they his because of his role in the cosmos, to rule over all that is antithetical to life?
A fallen angel? You can see the problematical shiftings of old myths in this description: how to accommodate new influences, new characters, from maybe further east, tinges of half-known/remembered Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian cultures.
Evil, sin etc, are so human in nature. It is near impossible to find anything there that goes beyond human capability. Unfortunately.
So, there are no excuses, kids.

*

This bit you didn’t hear from me. OK?
Visions and vision quests.

In each case the person has to put their self in mortal danger.
This is always played down, and tactfully forgotten.
– The quester fasts and purges to the physical limit;
– the hallucinogenic user purposely imbibes toxic material.
– The sun-dancer puts his body through life-threatening torments.

The aim in all cases is to get the body to react to the ultimate threat.
That is not to react consciously, but on a purely physiological level, way below awareness: the body pumps in its danger and panic chemicals, its point-of-death chemicals, that enhance the hallucinations, the visions.
– It has been noted by some clinicians that the brain experiences a burst of activity immediately before death.

The whole vision procedure is a literal life-and-death one.
The result is a glimpse of the death-life relationship, and where, if anywhere, the self fits in.
The problem is, you have to survive, and you have to come back intact (or more or less: even Odin lost an eye!).

Don Not Try This At Home!

Image result for tanabata festival

On the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, is the Tanabata Festival in Japan.
Why only then?
It is all based a story from early Japan.

This is the story, one of the many, connected with the Milky Way in the night sky. In Japan it is known as the River of the Sky.

It is the story of two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who represent the stars Vega, and Altair. They are only allowed to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, at the River of the Sky.
It is a based on poems in the Manyoshu volume, ‘Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves’.  It can be traced back, in turn, to an old Chinese tale, The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd. The corresponding Chinese festival is the Qixi Festival, of the 7th of the 7th.

The Weaver Girl,  was, of course, a princess, and… was she weaving the pattern of the stars and constellations? Her father grew concerned that in her lonely profession she was not able to meet any young men. He invited the cowherd (who herded the cows of heaven?), to meet her.

The meeting went very well, and in time they fell in love. They were able to marry.
On marriage, however, they neglected their duties.
It was thought best for all if they were separated, and only allowed to meet once a year. On meeting, though, they found themselves on opposite sides of the Sky River. Orihime wept so much and so hard that a flock of magpies took pity, flew down and made her a bridge with their wings.

If it rains on the seventh day of the seventh month, though, the magpies may not be able to come.

 

Tonight he takes his one journey of the year
             Over the Heavenly River, passing Yasu Beach –
He, the love-lorn Oxherd longing for his maid,
Whom he can never see but once a year,
Though from the beginning of heaven and earth
They have have stood face to face across the Heavenly River

……………………………………………………………………………………….
 Tonight, this seventh night of the seventh moon – 
Strangely it thrills my heart.

(excerpted from: Japanese Love Poems, Selections from the Manyoshu. Edited by Evan Bates, Dover Publications Inc., 2005)

People write messages, poems, prayers, and hang them from trees on this day.

Image result for tanabata festival

Astronomically, on this date, the distance between Vega, part of the Harp constellation, and Altair, The Eagle constellation, is bridged by a group of stars called The Coathanger, more properly Brocchi’s cluster.
This arrangement forms a straight line with a few dotted stars above this in the centre.
hImage result for brocchi cluster

Image result for brocchi cluster

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brocchi%27s_Cluster

 

 

Is this the magpie bridge?

The following blog many will find distressing. Be Warned.

The Liverpool Care Pathway was a palliative care package for the dying.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_Care_Pathway_for_the_Dying_Patient

It could be said that each procedure has its own identifying image.
For the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), it would be the butterfly syringe.

The ‘body’ of the syringe is one main inlet to the patient, while each ‘wing’ has portals for other drips etc to be attached simultaneously. This allows many drugs to be administered at the same time, and continuously.

Once the butterfly syringe has been applied, however, then the person is ushered into the ‘ways of dying’. No food or water is given, a coma induced, and the patient monitored, usually visually, for signs of pain, and then the necessary drug given.
The whole aim is to create the conditions for an assisted but relatively less distressing slide into death.
Once inserted there is no going back, and no stopping: the procedure is taken through to the end, the person’s death.

The main decisions to do with the Pathway are the decisions of usually experienced nursing staff etc.
Mistakes can be, and have been, made. Where  visual assessment of someone’s condition is crucial, it is relatively open to misjudgement: how do you distinguish ‘agitation’, from ‘pain,’ or even distress? For the former the patient is merely monitored, for the latter,   measures are taken.
It has been found that in some cases that people haven continued living ten to twelve days after the pathway was initiated.
To go without food or water for this period, even though the person was comatose, would have produced agonising pains as the basic levels of the body fought.

And so the Liverpool Care Pathway was discontinued.

What has taken its place, however, is a procedure so similar it is easy to confuse the two: is it just the name has changed?

To sit with the dying under normal conditions is terrible enough (a doctor said, ‘Do not die in hospital!’ The noise and lack of privacy take away all dignity.)
But to sit with the dying, knowing that you have agreed to the intrusive procedure being administered… that is on another level.

And so we see a surge in applicants to Dignitas. Dignitas may seem a very antiseptic, clinical, mess-free alternative, but it does allow a person a measure of choice.
The heartbreak, naturally, comes with it.

Religion, it will be noticed, plays no part whatsoever in these procedures.
The Last Rites are administered, as normal, and prayers said, but afterlife considerations play no part in the decision-making.

Let’s face it, folks, our hearts are going to get broken, no matter which way is taken/chosen.

 

Oh, and never agree to have one’s loved one embalmed.

from GIFTS OF RINGS AND GOLD, by Michael Murray
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gifts-Rings-Gold-Introduction-Ring-composition-ebook/dp/B01IRPODPW

 

The Monk’s Tale contains seventeen out of, we are told, a hundred possible tales, of fall from fortune. All were falls from high estate, and the fall was cataclysmic for all: humiliation, death, and punishment by God. The tales range from Old Testament Lucifer and Adam, through classical, to historical figures; we find figures from Dante in (H)Ugolina. It has been speculated that the Monk’s tale was in part a satire on a similar work by Boccaccio.

Some of the tales: Adam, Samson, Hercules, Zenobia and Holofernes, reflected the Canterbury Tales’ seventh fragment’s concern with the role of women in society, and of the danger of acquiescence to their rule. Pride, ambition, disobedience, treachery and committing one’s secrets into unsafe hands (ie those of women) all figure here. All these themes were reflected in the other Tales of the Seventh Fragment. But they are on such general and widely known subjects, as the Christian lists of sins and vices, that they are bound to figure prominently.

Is there a structure to the Tale?
We need to think as an audience.

The seventeen tales fall into three distinct groups, with four variations.
The first are biblical figures, then we have a central four historical figures, and lastly classical figures.
This is a clear and intended arrangement. We need to know if it is a purely rhetorical arrangement, or whether it has some other function.
The four exceptions are the classical tale of Hercules (tale four) amongst the biblical, and of Zenobia, tale seven, also a classical tale amongst the biblical; and the tale of Holofernes, a biblical amongst the classical, tale thirteen, and Antiochus Epiphanes, tale fourteen, another biblical figure amongst the classical.
Do the positions of these four tell us anything about structural concerns of the Tale?
The Hercules tale follows immediately the Samson tale, and reiterates the untrustworthiness of women. The tale of Zenobia on the other hand is the tale of a strong woman of noble birth, one who chose when to bear children, and what the relationship with the father should be. Her fate for not following the traditional ‘office of wommen’ was one of utter humiliation, by Roman Emperor Aurelian.

Then we see the tales of Holofernes and Antiochus together. Holofernes follows the storyline of Nebuchadnezzar and Balthasar from the biblical half of the Tale; it is pertinent to the structure that he was killed by a woman, Judith. Antiochus in the latter half was a warrior general whose abuse of the Jewish people was punished by a series of increasingly terrible illnesses that corrupted him bodily.
The tales are generally lengthy, and the latter especially very colourful.

The four central historical tales provide the transit from predominantly biblical characters, to classical. This is illustrated in the sources of fall they record: we see the brother of King Pedro turn against him; the vassal lords of King Petro of Cyprus turn on him; the son-in-law of Barnardo de Lumbardie throw him into prison; the terrible turn-around of fortunes of imprisoned (H)Ugolino and sons, whose sons offer themselves up to him as sustenance.

Immediately following these is the Tale of Nero, and how the people of Rome turned against him and hunted him down. Whilst, before this central four is the Tale of Zenobia, fearless and triumphant warrior hunted down then humbled and paraded through Rome by Emperor Aurelian.

The opposing parallels of this Tale are pertinent: we see
Zenobia paralleled with Nero;
Balshasar with Holofernes;
Nebuchadnezzar with Antiochus;
Hercules with Alexander;
Samson with Julius Caesar, and
Adam with Croesus.

As has been noticed the Holofernes tale refers to both the Nebuchadnezzar and Balthasar tales: it is appropriate it finds its parallels there. Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian king we are told twice defeated Jerusalem; here we see the link between the two: defeat of the Jewish people and nation. Both were punished severely.
For the Monk it seems the Jewish people were still sacrosanct.

Do they form a chiasmus? I would argue that yes, they do, based on paralleling and antithetical structuring.
They have no ring, though, with beginning, middle and end devices. It can be seen that there is no central tale, nor interruption by the Host or other listeners. We have the introduction to the tale, and the rush to cut off further doom-laden tales at the end, but no essential middle turn.

 

Scotland’s Merlin, A Medieval Legend and Its Dark Age Origins, by Tim Clarkson. Published by John Donald, of the Birlinn Limited imprint, 2016.
ISBN 97819065669991

This is a meticulously researched and even-handed investigation of the Merlin phenomenon.

Our story comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s book, Historia Regius Brittania, AD 1139. The Merlin and also Arthurian topics were based on early Welsh sources.Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Arthurian characters were then transformed through the French chanson de geste. Their Vulgate Cycle became a magnificent and expanding series of tales around King Arthur, his court, and chivalry, and all in a British (southern) setting.
Geoffrey of Monmouth first published a collection, Phophetiae Merlini, in AD 1130.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s main book mentioned Merlin only marginally. He later dedicated a whole tale to his story, Vita Merlini. This tale was not as popular as the earlier book; the tale was set in southern Scotland.
Sources used the name Myrddin Wyllt, for this figure. It was this Welsh form, Myrddin, that supposedly gave the name to Carmarthen, in south Wales: Caer Myrrddin ie the castle of Myrddin.
The Merlin story also occured in earlier Irish sources.

The Scottish Merlin story dates from the 6th century AD, where the Merlin character, known as Lailoken,  runs maddened from the carnage of the battle of Arfderdd (AD 573). He lived in the forests and woods of Celibon in southern Scotland as a madman, spouting prophecies. His sister persuaded the king to help her find him and bring him back. His prophecies became famous. He later returned to the woods.

The source this Scottish tale drew upon was the St Kentigern tale of Lailoken, the madman in the woods. Connected with this tale is the 9/10 century Irish King Sweeney/Suibhne tale. Once again there is the warrior running maddened from the battle, but this time through being cursed by St Ronan. He was a prince/chieftain. There are two very moving episodes where his wife contacted him, to bring him back into the world of people. The first one Sweeney turned away from her; the second time he turned to her, but she had turned from him thinking him beyond help.
Sweeney met Lailoken, who was called Alladhan in the tale, on his sojourn in Britain. The region is identified as the south Strathclyde region.

The prophecies, Tim Clarkson, notes, were back-referenced: writers gave historical accounts of the figure, then fitted prophecies to past events (mostly AD 12th century local events).
The supernatural element to the story is an essential part, however.
The later Thomas the Rhymer legend took over a lot of the Lailoken characteristics.

The major researcher of the Merlin story was the Victorian scholar, William Forbes Skene. He went so far as to identify the site of Lailoken’s immediate locale, and supposed grave. He visited the most likely place for the tumultuous battle of Arfderydd, and identified from scattered sources the major figures of the battle.

The name can be traced back:
Merlin
Myrddin Wyllt (Myrddin the mad)
(Alladhan – Irish through the Dal Riata cultural and settlement connection)
Lailoken
Llallogan (Cumbric language)

2
What we now know of the Merlin story seems to be the remnants of a much older and more complex one.
Merlin, the wizard and prophet, was confidante of King Arthur. In old age he was lured away into the woods by Morgana La Fay/Vivian and imprisoned within a tree/cave.

It is always these three, though: the man who runs mad in the woods, the king/chief who he was close to, and the woman who is wife, sister, or lover.

There was something niggling me about framework of this tale. What did it remind me of?
It was the Gilgamesh story, all the way from 1800BCE, and what is now Iraq. Gilgamesh and his companion the wild man, Enkidu.

Tim Clarkson notes the similarity of basic theme, but not the three-person structure.

Enkidu was lured from his wild life and into Uruk with Gilgamesh, by the temple ‘prostitute’ Shamesh. On Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh himself went wandering in Enkidu’s wilderness. He did not begin to prophesy, but he did go to seek out immortality. Already part god, he sought out the only survivor of the Flood to learn the secret of not-dying. He had to seek admittance from Siduri, the keeper of the tavern at the end of the world, to the domicile of the one survivor.
She allowed him through, but it was refused him.
One version has Gilgamesh later become a king of the Underworld, lord of the dead.

The Gilgamesh tale hinges on the roles of women: Enkidu accented to Shamhat; Gilgamesh refused the advances of love goddess Ishtar. That refusal cost him Enkidu, his state of mind, and his city of Uruk.
Gilgamesh spurned Ishtar’s advances; he sought out Siduri.

Contemporary with this tale is a tale from the Middle Egyptian period, The Tale of Sinuhe.
In this tale Sinuhe was returning from fighting in North Africa with the king’s son and their army. He overheard a messenger to the king’s son telling of the death of the king. The news caused him to lose his mind, and he wandered off. He wandered ‘like a rudderless barge’ and eventually ended up as warrior to a chieftain in what became Syria/Lebanon. Eventually he recontacted the new king, and was welcomed back to Egypt having won new territories for the king.
There is no prophesying, or seeking wisdom or secrets.

There are aspects of the tale, however, that suggest his wanderings as a vision of the realm of the dead, a traverse through the Underworld. He ‘comes forth by day’ back in Egypt of the semi-divine ruler, the new king.

 

How far can we take this?

Think of the Buddha in 5thBCE India: a prince who wanders off with other ascetics into the wilds. An extreme ascetic, he eventually accepted a bowl of food from a woman: In a famous incident, after becoming starved and weakened, he is said to have accepted milk and rice from a village girl named Sujata. Such was his emaciated appearance that she wrongly believed him to be a spirit that had granted her a wish.
He realised from this that extreme fasting was not the way, that there had to be a Middle Way – he went on to develop his Middle Way, and with followers.
Think of Jesus of Nazareth, once again in the wilderness, and preaching, praying. Think of his relationship with both Herod, and indeed, God. And think of the relationship with Mary Magdalen. Think of him spurning Satan in the wilderness.

Did both of these life stories purposely use the older tale of the madman/holy fool/seeker of mysteries in the wildness?

Ok, maybe the Jesus one is stretching it. But Wiki does give us this:

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_man):
The description of Nebuchadnezzar II in the Book of Daniel (2nd century BC) greatly influenced the medieval European concepts. Daniel 4 depicts God humbling the Babylonian king for his boastfulness; stricken mad and ejected from human society, he grows hair on his body and lives like a beast. This image was popular in medieval depictions of Nebuchadnezzar. Similarly, late medieval legends of Saint John Chrysostom (died 407) describe the saint’s asceticism as making him so isolated and feral that hunters who capture him cannot tell if he is man or beast.

And, of course, Esau was an hairy man.

In the Greek world the figure of Heracles seems closest to the wild man in the woods. He does seem to have similarities in some respects to the earlier Enkidu figure.
The Roman world gives us Silvanus – although, as protector of woods, there is an echo here of the role of Humbaba, the cedar wood ogre of the Gilgamesh tale.

There are copious examples of ‘wild man’ tales – some become blended with other tales: Robin Hood, maybe even Hereward the Wake fits here. Think of William Tell. The madman element is essential, though, and these tales seem to omit that.

Where, if at all, does the Green Man figure fit into the story? He is more like the Roman Silvanus. Maybe that was the source of the Green Man legend: left-overs once again of Roman occupation, or even of Romans who stayed on after the dissolution.

What was it about the Lailoken tale that made it so memorable, though? There must have been many driven mad by battle over the centuries.
Was it the St Kentigern connection, hagiographic reverence, and the huge trade in Saint’s stories?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

/8 the tribal chief, and the wife/sister/lover?

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my piece on Henrik Nordbrandt I mentioned the Swedish writer Gunnar Ekelof as one reference point. Pia Tafdrup has also spoken out in favour of Gunnar Ekelof’s work. She comes in from a completely different direction. Much of her poetic sensibility is based on the feminist critiques and theories of Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous; her body-centred explorations of the here and now utilise the rhythms and languages of desire.

For Pia Tafdrup writing the body is very much that of the ‘Écriture feminine’ of Helene Cixous, and of Elaine Showalter who writes, “… the inscription of the feminine body and female difference in language and text.”. Écriture feminine places “experience before language, and privileges non-linear, cyclic writing that evades the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system.”

The book Spring Tide, translated by Ann Born, Tafdrup describes as just one aspect of her writing: Spring Tide and White Fever constitute two parts, while The Bridge of Sounds became a third quantity, which could not have been thought of without the preceding ones. Seen like this the three works are related to one another as thesis-antitheses-synthesis… A continuous, dynamic praxis.’ (Walking Over the Water. 1991).

It has been noted by some that Tafdrup set out from the beginning to be one of the top Danish writers; something like W H Auden’s career plan in English. And yet she has not been so beholden to the Danish canon. Her earlier works have been controversial, foregrounding the body, sensual experience, women’s perspectives. Her travelling companion in this was Marianne Larsen, whose writing, “analyse(s) sexual repression, class struggles and imperialism…”. Pia Tafdrup’s  previous book, The Innermost Zone, 1983 “sets out to explore unknown regions of the body and mind…” that is, unknown in literature. Pia Tafdrup’s assault on the canon has always been from a radical perspective. Her concerns echo Rosemarie Tong’s comment on Helene Cixous: “(Helene – sic) Cixous urged women to… the unthinkable/unthought… in words”.

Pia Tafdrup’s two major volumes are Spring Tide (1985) and Queen’s Gate (2001). There is detectable a move from “short lines… mounting impatient rhythm… ‘(Horace Engdahl) to “a many-voiced, multi-layered…” (Bloodaxe) style. In between we have the Arkpoem (1994); a very different experiment in form, it opens:

I was writing this long and labyrinthine poem in which I opened up

 and at the same time stepped into that openness, stillness, with a white voice

 as word after word drank from its stream, and the further the poem extended

 the more difficult it became, its syntax gradually transforming underway…

 

Her structure here is the cyclic exploration of self and the world as outlined by Elaine Showalter in her writings on feminist theory.

In 1991 she published Walking Over the Water. Outline of a Poetics. (part-translated by David MacDuff), a long series of meditations examining and elaborating upon her working methods. A key part of her strategy for major recognition. At every point it can seen her intent has been to situate the feminist perspective within the Danish canon.

The great appeal of Spring Tide lies in its sensuous, breathless lines: “…to write the syntax of desire…to a great degree demonstrate it…” (The Syntax of Desire, author’s foreword). The book is based around the first recognition, enjoyment, waning, and loss of desire “in all its manifestations…”:

Spring Tide

                 I lie down

                 bare myself

                I’ll be your animal

                  for a moment

                 with senses stretched out

                 between neck and heel

spring tide

           ……………………………………………………..

Spring Tide is a book honed on public performance. The incantatory effect, the feel of transgression, the building rhythmic force of these lines all must have been electrifying.

In the structure of this poem, its paralleling of clauses, we have something of kin with perhaps, a rhapsodic, biblical style.

It is not all pleasure and sunshine, however. As Horace Engdahl comments: “Her poetry has a shadow side… the prevailing season… is actually winter, the harsh, windy Danish winter with its endless wet snow.” And it is. The reader does not notice at first, but predominantly it is very much desire in warm places.

This darker side makes itself more known in the later book of aphoristic four-liners The Thousandborn:

                            Don’t look for poetry’s black box,

                            it hasn’t recorded any answers,

                            ……………………………………………………………….. 

 It is perhaps she is indeed “demonstrating …all its manifestations..”, even the desire for the dark, the cold, that is a part of all our make-ups.

Queens Gate (translated by David MacDuff) at times achieves a great elegance of line and phrase:

                             Clear is the water, blue as in a flame,

                            like a sky that floats,

                          ………………………………………………………

from The Shining River)

and

                            Here an undercurrent gathers,

                            here is a well with water

                            ……………………………………………………….

                            and the creatures still cry.

from The Acacia Valley

There is the kind of almost classical reticence here, and a tone that the Scottish Gaelic writers often achieved.

As can be seen, the two poems are water-based in their imagery; the whole book with its nine sections gestates a mythology of origins:

From water you have come.

                                                          The Shining River

The “white voice” of the ‘Ark’ poem echoes the ‘white ink’ of Écriture feminine.