Posts Tagged ‘History’

30 years!
So much promise and expectation… squandered?

The Collapse – The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall. By Mary Elise Sarotte.
Basic Books, 2014. ISBN 9780465064948

Coll2

I want to recommend a great recent book on the story behind the fall of the Berlin Wall. (This piccie of the cover does not catch the eye and face of a border guard peering through the gap in the Wall at the photographer.)  It’s a history book – but don’t let that put you off.

The author, Mary Elise Sarotte, is Visiting Professor of Government and History at Harvard, and Dean’s Professor of History at University of Southern California.

Another link worth following:http://www.katrin-hattenhauer.de/

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I’d like you to meet Harald Jager. He was born in 1943, the son of a Border policeman in what was soon to become East Germany. By 1964 he had entered the Border patrol himself.

What is special, in this story, about Harald Jager?

He was the senior Stasi employee on Bornholmer strasse Border Crossing Point, on the night of 9th November 1989. ‘He was essentially a record-keeper, one of the deputies to the senior figure…’ Mary Elise Sarotte writes.

He had begun work at eight that morning for a twenty-four hours’ stint at Bornolmer. He was the senior figure on duty. He was also very worried, to begin with: he had just had a test for possible cancer. He was nervously waiting for the results.

Gunter Schabowski, the Politburo member for the Media, had made a hasty announcement at the end of a tedious TV broadcast that evening. This end announcement was itself a hastily patched-together script; it couldn’t be examined by top Politburo people because they were tied up in internal wrangling. Nor could it be given assent by the Soviets because they were on extended leave celebrating the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

They all presumed it was bona fide, and gave it the nod.

What was it about, this script? The relentlessly growing pressure inside East Germany had forced the authorities into giving some kind of placatory announcement. But there were those, the hard-liners, favoured the China Approach: the Tiananmen Square resolution to trouble-causers. And there were the ones who called for more diplomatic solutions. The two were destabilising the already atrophied regime from the inside.

This script announced that East Germans would be able to travel outside, legitimately. But it was an emigration only exit. They must apply for permits of course. And here the regime thought they were being crafty: such permits would be difficult.

When would this come into effect?

Right away.

The gabbled announcement on TV – he had not read it through beforehand – seemingly handed to East Germans an exit visa. Not only that but the announcement named West Berlin, a rare occurrence in connection with travel. Especially during this period of great unrest: the Hungarian border-leak had been plugged; the Czech leak was causing great upset and putting even more pressure on the East German regime,

 

Harald Jager was senior man on duty that night. He had twenty-five year’s loyal service behind him.
Then people started turning up at the check point, demanding to be let through. They had heard the broadcast, and very few regime members had bothered to listen. Harald Jager had heard it – he was astounded.

People began to turn up in their hundreds. This was happening at every check point. The numbers grew all night long. They were peaceful, but insistent. Thousands came, and they were growing.
This was on the back of the huge demonstrations in Leipzig and Dresden

In a centralised system like East Germany, all permissions had to come from above. Harald put through about thirty calls to his superiors that night: How do we deal with this?

And they had no idea. They tried all sorts of tactics, but outright denial of exit would most certainly make matters worse, turn a peaceful gathering of people into a potential danger.
All guards had received instructions months before not to fire unless attacked themselves.

One tactic the superiors suggested was take in the ring-leaders, the trouble-makers, as though processing for exit, then let them out – but do not allow them to return. They did this.

The trouble was people saw others getting through.

The regime had misread the people so badly: there were no ring-leaders; trouble-makers were just people who were more insistent, made more noise.

This made the pressure worse.

He rang his superiors again: What do we do? Harald’s superior patched him into a conference call: Don’t speak, just listen.

And what he heard was his superiors, out of touch, out of the loop of what was actually happening on the ground, questioning his abilities, calling him a coward. The connection was cut. Harald was left to himself, fuming, betrayed, abandoned.

We all know what happened, but it is the How that is most important. Read and find out.

Harald Jager in later life, at Bornholmer strasse:coll1

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This is just one of the fascinating, heartbreaking REAL stories contained in this book.
All are meticulously researched: many, like this one, are pulled together from  interviews cross-checked with Stasi phone transcripts.

What happened to Harald? In unified Germany he had no job. He managed odd work here and there. Then he retired, on a meager pension.

Oh, and his cancer tests proved negative.

Many East German dissidents felt let down by the unification. Some felt that a greater democratisation was already on its way. Think of Gorbachev and his modernisations, his Glasnost etc. But the Czech and East German regimes opposed them. This disunity played its part in the communications failure of 9th November 1989.

Some dissidents hoped for – and I have read this recently as well – that the new Germany would combine the best of both East and West. In the event they felt, rightly, they had been steam-rollered by the Western powers. I had hoped this would happen too: creating a new European model – ah, the old dialectical synthesis idea, how it lingered.

One of the many commendable aspects of this book is how Mary Elise Sarotte has kept Western (USA, Britain, France) politicking out of the story. Hers is a story told by the participants, and they were the people on the ground, the streets.

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Many talk of ‘tipping points’ in history. This seems a bit of a lazy idea: maybe it is that concepts of such a thing as ‘history’ gives birth to these things. History is the story the historian tells from the information of all sorts, in all forms, its nuances and contexts: history is in reality a scatter of information around several centres within an event time-frame. This posits a psychological angle on the presentation of history as history: the historian’s predilections. It is inevitable. How they get around this, I suspect, is why many seized on Derrida’s ideas so readily: history as the text of texts of texts: objective, measurable to some extent.

An identifiable tipping point is the construct of the historian.

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Wikipedia gives us the following; let’s use it as a footnote:

His claim to be the first to breach the Wall was questioned in 2009 when Heinz Schäfer, a former colonel in the East German army, claimed that he had opened his crossing at Waltersdorf in the south of the city a few hours earlier, which would explain the supposed presence of East Berliners in the area before Jäger opened his gate.

Later life

Following the fall of the Wall, he was unemployed. In 1997, he was able to save up enough to open a newspaper shop in Berlin with his wife. He has since written a book about his experience called The Man Who Opened the Berlin Wall.

The day after: 10th November, 1989, Bornholmer strasse Crossing Point:

Berlin, Grenzübergang Bornholmer Straße

ADN-ZB-Roeske-10.11.89-Berlin: Rund eine Million DDR-Bürger besuchten am Sonnabend Berlin (West). An den Grenzübergangsstellen, wie hier an der Bornholmer Straße wurde zügig abgefertig. Vom Ministerium des Innern wurden seit dem 9. November weit über 10 Millionen Visa für Privatreisen und über 17 500 Genehmigungen für ständige Ausreise aus der DDR erteilt.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1118-017 / Roeske, Robert / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5424866

johan-huizinga

I’d been email-chatting with an historian, one of a new group, with their own angle, agenda, their own name. I signed off saying I was just going to re-read some Huizinga.
And that was it. I did not hear from him again.
I had gone beyond the Pale.

That is the problem with Academies, they become so culty, hemmed-in with codes and etiquettes. I had obviously mentioned an historian who was not ‘in’ with their group.
I was going to re-read him because I found so much of value there. But it wasn’t what they valued.
He did it differently.
Heaven forbid.

Johan Huizinga is mostly known in the English-speaking world for his magisterial The Waning of the Middle Ages – the more correct title, apparently, is The Autumn of the Middle Ages – published in 1924. It is this book made the man’s name. He became a leading Dutch, indeed European, historian.

His dates are 1872 to 1945.
That last date in particular I want you to note: died February, 1945. He had been interned in 1942 after criticism of the invasion forces. Eventually, after much clamour and agitation by the international history community, he was released. He was released in that terrible winter of 1944/5.
It is now estimated that 10,000 Dutch people died that winter, after the Nazi’s cut off food and energy supply lines, in retaliation. As the Allied forces moved through France, the Belgian and Dutch citizens could see liberation so near, so inevitable. They cheered them on. When the advance was stalled in the Ardennes, the Nazi’s took their revenge.

He began his academic career as a student of Indo-Germanic languages; he then studied comparative linguistics. He taught Oriental Studies for many years. It was not until his 30s he turned to medieval studies. Here he excelled.

His book on the later middle ages gives us the clamour and spectacle of the period, the life-lived-in-public aspect.
He also fills in with some of the gaps in current information on, for instance, such figures as Georges Chastellain, and others grouped as the grands rhetoriqueurs:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grands_Retoriqueurs.
This gives us, in turn, the real nature of the much acclaimed period. In this book he sets the increasing brutality and violence of the time against its constructed images of courtois and chivalry.
The book investigates the Burgundian Court in its positioning as potential alternate power-base to the royal court.
Professor Ralph Strom-Olsen of Madrid University, put up a very interesting paper on this: Georges Chastellain and the Language of Burgundian Historiography, that is available on Academia.edu from http://fs.oxfordjournals.org/

He has other books, influential in modern fields. Take Gaming – for this the ‘go to’ book is his Homo Ludens, published 1938.
Homo Ludens puts forward, and illustrates, the theory that our main and enduring activities as civilized people, is a form of play, serious play; that is, play with rules.
He traces word games as the origins of rhetoric, to Cicero’s monumental legal disputes; he sees here also the dress-up aspect in legal and royal court costume.

Playing and Knowing is an intriguing chapter, challenging us to consider acquisition of knowledge, experimentation, indeed logic, as forms of play-activity.
How can we know anything until we put aside certainty, the known, and step out into maybe-land? But this play is deadly serious: riddle-solving, the penalty of death, are part and parcel of the game.

The point is, he stimulates thought, he makes us look at our institutions differently.
The range of this subject can be seen to refer us back to to the subject of Professor Huizinga’s first PhD: The Role of the Jester in Indian Drama.
https://gamingconceptz.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/huizingas-magic-circle.html

You can go to the crazy end and cite the late 1960’s Playpower ideals here. Oz Magazine founder, Richard Neville’s book, Playpower, was the bible for attempts at neutralizing governments and their powers through play, through the skewing of seriousness and power politics, by returning to origins, and seeing what all its accumulated kudos really was.

Another book of his well worth searching out is Men and Ideas, first published in translation in 1959.
This collection of essays is concerned with ‘the task of cultural history.’
The books have dated, that is, their range of subject matter and methods of treatment, have been left behind by modern tastes.
But the general reader will not find a more stimulating essay on Peter Abelard, than this.

His essay on John of Salisbury is also outstanding.
Who was he? He was a 12th Century English cleric, who became apologist for Thomas a Beckett. From modest beginnings he worked his way up, studying under Peter Abelard, was secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Theobald; he even met who was to become known as St Bernard of Clairvaux.
John’s main legacy to us, however, is his Policraticus; the study is a slice of his time.
http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/salisbury-poli4.html
Chaucer valued it highly for its political relevance, its clear thinking, its civil conscience.

His essay on Erasmus, which was the heart of the collection… is it the translation? No; I think Johan Huizinga became exasperated with his subject. The reader comes away with the impression he blamed him for wasting his opportunities, for not being as good as he should have been.

I would dearly love to give as much information on his wife, Mary Schorer.

maryshuiz
Her story must be as fascinating, and as eventful.

Their son, Leonard Huizinga, became a prolific and popular Dutch novelist, with his comedic Adriaan and Olivier series.
There is also another son, of whom I can find nothing.

See also:
http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/history/historian/johan_huizinga.html

 

One of the pleasures of library-exploring is turning up the odd document like this.

In a history of the local region (I am not from the area, and so it still had its strangeness) I came across a first-hand account of the entry of the Jacobite Rebels of 1745, into a small town in East Cheshire (Macclesfield).
I have excerpted as follows, keeping to the printed orthography the best that I can with a modern keyboard:

… the next morning [Sunday], the 1st instant [December, 1745], about 10 o’clock, we had notice from the country people that the Rebells were within a quarter of a mile of the town.

………………………………………………………………………

   When the first emotion of my own fright was a little abated, I ventured to peep out of a Garret window, but seeing my wife and her two sisters below at the Gates shame roused my courage, and I ventured to stand by ‘em, and saw the whole army pass by my own door, except a regiment of Horse commanded by Lord Elcho,
(https://www.electricscotland.com/books/david_lord_elcho.htm)

and some forces which came in late. But those I saw the next day. The quarter-masters first came into town, who, with their guard, were about 20 in number. They rode to the Cross and enquired for the constables.
…………………………………………………….. They enquir’d for Sir P Davenport’s house…
( he was away) …. and soon afterwards rode to his house, and after viewing it inside and out, marked the door with the word ‘Prince.’ I had now so much valour that I ventured to speak to one of ‘em, and enquir’d wt number of forces wo’d be in Town that day. He answ’d 10,000, upon wch I returned home much dismayed.
Immediately afterwds came in a regiment of Horse by way of advance guard, said to be commanded by the Duke of Perth ……………………………………
This regiment seem’d to be very poorly mounted. I believe for the most part were on such horses as they pickt up… but many of the men were lusty clever fellows. Not long after this, came foot in very regular order, with Bagpipes playing instead of drums, the colonels marching at the head of each respective regiment. And all the forces, as well as Horse and Foot, were in Highland dress, except the Bodyguards, which wore blue trimmed with red.
After about 4 or 5 Regiments had passed us by it was said the Prince was coming up…. and it happen’d that a halt was made just opposite my door for a minute or two, which gave us full opportunity of having a full view of him. He was in Highland Dress with a blue waistcote trim’d with silver, and had a blue Highland cap on, and was surrounded by almost 40 who appeared as his Guard.  He is a very handsome person of a man, rather tall, exactly proportioned, and walks very well …
He walked on foot from Manchester, as he had done, ‘tis said, all the way from Carlisle; and I believe they made their very best appearance into the Town, expecting to be received as at Manchester; but there was a profound silence, and nothing to be seen on the countenances on the Inhabitants but horror and amazement…..

… an order came to the Mayor to proclaim the Pretender… Poor Mr Mayor was obliged to be at it…They made the Town Clerk repeat the Proclamation after ‘em….

   Soon after the advanced guard came into town there was a young Lowlander (but in Highland Dress) quartered himself and horse upon us… His dress was very unpromising, but his manner shewed he had had a genteel education and was a person of some account. As he was exceeding civil, the women took courage and soon fell into discourse with him. He stood at the gate during the greater part of the procession, by which means we had an opportunity of learning the names of the Chiefs as they passed by … Many of the officers appeared very well – some few indeed were very old – in particular Glenbuckett who seemed to be 80 at the least, and bended almost double on horseback… he had been bedridden three years before the Prince’s son arrived in Scotland…
Glenbuchat:
http://glenbuchatheritage.com/picture/number2205.asp
58 John Gordon 'Old Genbucket'


Many of the common men, tho’ dirty and shabby, were lusty fellows. There were many old men amongst the common soldiers… It was dark before the artillery came in, and as it grew duskish orders were given that the inhabitants should illuminate their houses upon pain of military execution…
The young Lowlander… whilst at dinner talked pretty freely, and said Manchester was a glorious town… he said it was strange the English could not see their own interest (by not joining the Scots): We had not been joined by 5 English men since we came from Scotland, but thought if they co’d get into Wales they should be joined by many there.

……………………………………………………………………….

… My sister Molly observed that he had said nothing of his… Religion. … ‘I can assure you (his response) ‘he’s no more a Bigot in matters of religion than myself, who am a Protestant.’ My wife amongst other discourse mentioned Religion and the confusion the people were in at Church that morning when they came in. Upon which he asked her – ‘ Well Madam, and who did you pray for?’ – Says she, ‘for his Majesty King George.’ Upon which he said, ‘You did very right’; but, says she,, ‘supposing you had come here last night, should we have been interrupted in our prayers by any particular directions?’ ‘No, the Minister would have been ordered to pray for the King without naming any names, as had been done at Kendal Church the last Sunday.’

……………………………………………………………………

As to their number, there was no judging of it from their March into the town, and they seemed to be very artful in concealing their numbers. They bespoke billets for 10,000; and said 5,000 would come in next day, but for my own part I don’t think they exceed 6,000 in the whole.

 

My document breaks off here.
The distances they covered, and times given for travelling, are very interesting.

From Kendal to Macclesfield in one week.
The route is at times relatively level, but it is by no means straight, and interrupted by hilly ground: the Trough of Bowland for one, and south of Manchester rambles around the foothills of the Peak District.
The modern road system gives the distance as 92 miles.

They entered the Manchester environs on November 23rd. Here they were joined by 300 volunteers. If we compare this with the statement, We had not been joined by 5 English men since we came from Scotland, then we can only assume the volunteers were fellow Scots, or Irish workers based in Manchester.

From Macclesfield to Derby is a relatively shorter distance: 44 miles.
They arrived there on December 4 to 6th.
It was in Derby, with the absence of reinforcements, and the fabled Welsh meet-up having fallen through, that the march on London was abandoned.
Cities were hubs of a wide range of nationalities seeking work. Even so, it must have been estimated that to reach Birmingham, the next major centre on their route, would not have proved worthwhile.
By this time the English government had revived from their shock, and coordinated a counter-response.

The Prince returned to Scotland, arriving in Glasgow on 26th December.

If you follow this link it gives the route of the march from Ashbourne in Derbyshire, to Derby.

www.gps-routes.co.uk/routes/home.nsf/openmap?openform&route=bonnie-prince-charlie-walk-walking-route

As you can see it was by no means an easy or straightforward route.
I can only marvel at the stamina of those ‘lusty men.’

For the outcome, follow this link:

http://www.northumbrianjacobites.org.uk/pages/detail_page.php?id=57&section=25

It is revealing what the young Lowlander says about religion: the fear of another series of bloody Catholic-Protestant reprisals was one of the major concerns that kept English people from joining the rebellion. It was only four generations after the Civil War, and the horror of that period must have been still working its way through their collective psyches.
How reliable were his comments? Would the situation have remained so?

Pause for Thought

Posted: December 5, 2018 in Chat
Tags: , , , , ,

My father-in-law died fairly recently – aged 96, not a bad span.

We are having to sort his house for sale: that is going through slowly. He had saved everything pertaining to his life, from early school reports in the 1930s, to bills, receipts, up to the time he died. We are slowly having to burn the personal papers. There are also tangential papers, news clippings, usually related to the war – he’d kept a very active interest in those issues throughout his life.They were all neatly and methodically filed, except for the last few years where his stamina must have been on the wane.

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The other day I came across saved newspaper articles covering a Japanese Prisoner of War testimony. With a lot of trepidation I opened this cache, and read through.

The man had been one of a group in forced labour, working a coal mine for twenty hours out of every twenty-four. In effect, they were being worked to death. As prisoners of war who had chosen to submit, rather than the nobler death, they were subject to the harshest regimes because they were seen as oath-breakers – in Japanese military terms, that is.

The man said that they had just come off shift; it was morning. He collapsed, and his comrade was bending to pick him up because a guard was just about to rifle-club them. They were distracted by a plane high overhead. That was not unusual; what was unusual was the small parachute floating down from it. They watched in fascination.

Then it happened.

That was Hiroshima, 6th August 1945.

When he came round, badly burned, deafened, half-blinded, his comrade was no more than a shadow on the wall, and the guard left only his rifle.
He was collected much later after having been left for dead, with a burst stomach. But he survived, and was later well enough to return home to England.

And this is what most troubles me:
He said, up to that point in the Pacific War, the Japanese military considered themselves invincible.
It was only the H bombs, he said, convinced them otherwise. Without them, those horrors would have carried on relentlessly, endlessly.

The man suffered from radiation sickness, and other connected ailments for the rest of his life, but said he never once doubted the use of those bombs.

I have supported CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) most of my life. I do admit to doubt and dubiousness over unilateralism, nevertheless.
Here was testimony, though, not just conviction, or ideals.
This certainly gives me pause for thought.

Conditions in the world, and between states, now, is very different from those days, the 1940s. Nuclear arms are much more powerful, more strategically aimed, portable, with ranges greater.
It is very doubtful now that the man’s argument would apply in any current or future situation.
The unilateral argument has gained in strength, but I retain doubts.

The newspaper story does knock one of the founding blocks of the nuclear disarmament question, though.
But as I suggest, the modern scaffolding is tough and well-grounded enough to keep the question to the forefront of world concerns.

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There is another narrative – there are many narratives, but take this one.
Most narratives are based on the role of the two H bombs. Japan did in fact surrender the day after the 9th of August second bomb, on Nagasaki: 10th of August.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/05/30/the-bomb-didnt-beat-japan-stalin-did/

The Japanese Supreme Council were meeting the day of the second bomb; they were discussing the unprecedented move of surrender.
Was the second bomb’s ‘impact’ superfluous, then?
The above article cites the kilotons of bombs dropped previously on Japanese cities, that they were equivalent to a H bomb in destructive power. That had not swayed the Japanese Supreme Council.
What was the cause of this crisis meeting?
The article puts it down to the levels of Soviet aggression on their doorstep.

There are many narratives.

They should all give us pause for thought.

 

In Woollaton hall, Nottingham, UK, was a crate labelled ‘Unimportant Documents.’
It was only rediscovered in 1911. Among these documents was a letter by King Henry VIII. Also there, was the only surviving copy of an old French roman, dating from the latter half of the Thirteenth Century. That was La Romance de Silence, written in octosyllabic verse, and coming in at around 365 pages.
A translation was published for the first time in 1927, and another edition in 1972.

See, also, Sarah Roche-Mahdi’s book on the work from 1992, with facing-page translation:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Silence-Thirteenth-century-Romance-Medieval-Studies/dp/0870135430

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Le Roman de Silence is unique, so far, in romance literature.

Silence is a girl who is brought up as a boy, and sworn to silence lest she betray her real gender, and lose all inheritance rights.
It is a tale of cross-dressing and gender-transformation, as modern parlance would cast it. These descriptions do not do justice to the tale, though.

Silence was the daughter of Cador, Earl of Cornwall, and his wife, King Evan’s daughter, Eufemie.
The English king of the time, Evan, did not recognise female inheritance of titles or estates.
In order for the line of Cador to continue, their daughter, who had no name up to that point, had to therefore assume male roles, and take on a male heir’s character and duties. These included a knight’s training.
Nature had stepped in early on and made Silence of most beautiful appearance. One characteristic he/she was also known for was the ability to sing and play the harp with great sweetness. This was the accomplishment of the aristocratic knight, of course, but in this as in courage and fighting ability, Silence proved  more than capable.

It would become necessary, in time, to marry; the complications of the role built up as time went on and social and familial duties and demands become more urgent.
And always, in the sidelines, Nature personified, was reaching out an imperious hand in order to right the order of things.

What was the right order of things? Was it right for King Evan to disinherit women? The ‘order’ of the time of composition was already being questioned in such works as this. Earlier, Marie de France had set her own period against the reflection of an older more noble, chivalrous time: the Arthurian template. No doubt Arthurian times, had they existed, would have been found wanting against another, older period.

The narrative goes on: Silence absconded with a group of Jongleurs her mother and father had invited to their court. In grief all Jongleurs were banished from the land. For four years under the name of Malduit, Silence learned their trade, but outshone them. Jealousy crept in, and to avoid being killed by them once again he/she had to run. She re-entered her father’s court unrecognised. Her mother took a fancy, however, and tried to seduce him/her. Silence once again had to leave – this time to the French court. His/her mother had sent a letter requesting the French king behead Malduit/Silence.
War had broken out in England, and Silence the knight was summoned home. The story was then discovered.

Somewhere undisclosed along the line of the narrative Cador and Eufemie, Count and Countess of Cornwall, had become the English King and Queen.
Why this new king did not revoke the inheritance ruling is not questioned. The order of things must be kept, perhaps, and such as a revocation was seen as a contrary measure. War, fighting, and beheading of suitors who reject advances was normal.
Normality, it is indicated, was violated early-on when Cador was struck low by dragon venom before he and Eufemie were married, and Silence conceived. Here is the source of the tragedy, the supernatural agency of a dragon.

To get back to Silence: the Queen once again, even knowing his/her identity, made a pass at Silence in his/her role as a hugely successful knight. It had to be rejected. Thereby began the undoing: she cajoled the King to send Silence on a mission to capture Merlin. Which she also accomplished – however, it was part of Merlin’s magic that he could only be captured by a woman.
In turn, though, Merlin revealed that the Queen was having an affair, and that her lover was a man who was able to meet her because he dressed as a nun.

Silentius, the man, was revealed publicly to be Silentia, a woman.

2

There are a number of literary instances of women taking on men’s guises – often in pirating, to enter that most hyper-male of male roles: Anne Bonny; the ballad Sweet Polly Oliver…. Shakespeare makes heavy use of instances of ambivalence. But men taking on women’s guise? That is portrayed as a great deal more unsettling.

To assume a male role is to step up; to assume a female’s role, to step down. Status. Female impersonatators are a source of fun, ridicule, mockery, and beyond ‘normal’. They are funny because they mock further the ‘weak’ who cannot protect themselves. Women’s only armour is their tongue: a woman’s tongue. Here we hear echoes of the split tongue of the snake, of That snake. But the woman of the Roman is silenced; this is a further subversion of roles. Without the power of position, as Queen, Silence must take on the strength and skill of a man. And that can be learned, by either gender.
This is what G R R Martin fudged, with Arya Stark in Song of Ice and Fire: she never quite achieved the bodily strength to be a knight. An assassin’s role was very different.

Male impersonators carry a different charge, also unsettling but to a different degree, and more dangerous because more hidden. It is as though the sacrosanct has been sacked, secrets raided. Tiresias is a classic example; here we have all the indications of the deepest secrets that hold order in place being revealed. Tiresias is the Prometheus of the social rather than cosmic order.

The classic Scottish ballad, The Wife of Auctermuchty, is a case of role reversal. As usual with ballads of this type the wife in the male role outdoes him in strength, skill and endurance.
It could be said that these ballads help stabilise order by preventing male engrandisement from tipping the keen and even balance between the sexes. The male has to learn to laugh at his pretensions, that way the tension is eased, and relations find a more sure, I would like to say equal, footing.

A work like La Roman de Silence uses the basic structure of these ballads, but develops it, complicates the issues, introduces wider references and ramifications.

So what of our own call for greater acceptance of diversity? Trans and gender ambivalence have always been part of humanity: degrees of gender identity are all that exist. And even those degrees fluctuate constantly; all is in motion. Do we conceive of the universe in our image, or our image in what we discover of the universe?
Ambivalence, surely, is the real natural order.

3

Arthurian names and scenes permeate the romance. It is probably a later off-shoot of the French Arthurian vulgate of material.
The author of the Romance is credited to be Heldris of Cornwall, and the Cornish setting and connections tie-in with the Arthurian settings, as well as the great work, Tristan and Iseault.
I think we need not trouble ourselves over the character of G R R Martin’s Brienne of Tark, from his Songs of Ice and Fire marathon. Brienne’s gender identity was never in question, whereas Silence has none of the recognised woman-identifiers such as sewing, which was so essential a craft-necessity of the period.

Henrietta Leyser, in Medieval Women, A Social History of Women in England 450-1500 (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1995), writes:
… the triumph of Nurture over Nature, in the form of Silence’s successes as a hero, serves to demonstrate that, however different the parameters, medieval interest in debates about the roles which women and men were brought up to play could be every bit as keen as our own.‘ (P 141)

For further resources, see:
http://medievalsourcesbibliography.org/sources.php?id=2146115303

For stylistic analyses promising to resolve some of the inherent ambivalences of the character role of Silence, see:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/27870893?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Here are many stimulating essays on the work:
https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/22811

Wiki, as always, has much valuable material, as well as links, on the work:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Roman_de_Silence

Harald Harada – they don’t make them like that any more.
Born 1015, died 1066.
His real name was Harald Sigurdsson, son of a king of Norway. He ascended the throne himself in 1047.

1
In 1030 he fought on the battle of Stiklestad, aged 15. It didn’t go well for him, and the contending forces of Danish king Cnut the Great drove him and his retinue into exile. He didn’t take this easily, and later in life made darned sure he got back at them, claiming kingship of Denmark, as well as Norway.
It must have been that period he earned that epithet Harada, that is, hard ruler.

Before this though, is when he really had the time of his life.

Exile meant travelling through Russia – in those days consisting of principalities ruled over by separate princes, kings. The heart of old Russia in those days was Kiev. And that’s where he headed.

He was a king’s son, he was used to privilege and the companionship of princes and the relatively affluent.

Travelling as an exile was not exactly comfortable, or was his company always what he was used to. So, he headed for the princes and kings. And they welcomed him!

If he followed the Viking paths down the rivers, most importantly the Volga, the Don, then there was the place. Why do I say this? Well, Yaroslav’s wife Ingegerd was a distant relative of Harald. She was a Swedish princess married to a Kiev King.

In Kiev he spend some time as captain of the warriors of Yaroslav the Wise. He rode many campaigns with them. Most probably against the Polovetsians, a nomadic people from Siberia, who had settled in what we now know as the Ukraine. For more on the Polovetsians, see The Song of the Campaign of Igor.

By 1034 he was in Byzantium, once again pestering the kings and princes. He became a Commander of the famous Varangian Guard, until 1042.

The story was, he had developed a habit of dipping his hand into the treasury; at one point he was imprisoned because of this. He had to leave Byzantium under cover of night: he had requested permission to leave, but was refused. So he ended up back in Kiev. It was here he married Elisabeth, Yaroslav’s daughter. His poem to Elisabeth has been suggested as the origin of The Lament of Yaroslavna, in the Song of Igor’s Campaign.
His campaigns were reputedly wide ranging, taking him into the Middle-East, even as far as Iraq in some chronicles.

They returned to Norway, where he promptly set about claiming for himself the throne. There followed a period of fierce settlements amongst old enemies and detractors.

By 1066 we find him leading a force against Harold of England. They engaged forces at Stamford Bridge. From what we know of this battle, he was killed – an arrow in the throat? And then English Harold had to tramp down with his forces to Hastings, way down in Kent, for himself, an arrow in the eye. And the rest, they say, is history.

2
It is interesting to note the dates here; I know, dates are the bane of history.

It’s just somewhere to hang the structure to see it better. When you’re talking about a life it’s just not chronological – we have lapses, go back a step or two, sometimes (if we’re lucky) race ahead, or more often than not have long periods of fallow: all over the place; any idea of chronology is crazy.

It’s just a device for ordering stuff in retrospect.

In this case they reveal to us a bit more of the man, and of the expectations, and mindset of the time he lived in.

Born 1015, in Norway – we don’t know where as such – but he was a part of the Norwegian ruling elite. His father Sigurd Syr was second husband to Asta Gundbrandsdattar. Why is this important – the form of his mother’s name became synonymous with Icelandic formations after the Settlement. Her first marriage resulted in the birth of Olaf, later St Olaf, king from 1025 to 1028.

It was after this the Norwegian throne was claimed by the Danish king, Cnut the Great. Yes, that’s right, That King Cnut, the one who also claimed the English throne.

The next date is 1030, the battle of Stiklestad, one of the most famous battles in Norway. It happened around Trondheim. Harald sided with his half brother Olaf against local claimants for the throne.

Oh, by the way – he was 15 at the time. Accounts say he acquitted himself well. He came from the battle honoured, but injured. It was thought best, safest, ‘to live in exile’.
His exile also entailed his retinue as a regal claimant.

1031 he had made it to Kiev: aged 16.
His reputation as a fighter travelled with him; so much so that he was taken by Yaroslav the Wise. His wife, as mentioned, was a relation of Harald’s from Sweden.
He was involved in many campaigns here – against Poland, Estonians… there were many factional squabbles. He learned his trade, improved his craft.

1034 and he appeared in Byzantium, where was eventually appointed commander of the Varangian Guard. They were an elite force, and bodyguards to the Emperor. They were and remained a predominantly Scandinavian group amongst the Byzantines. The Guard began as a group of mercenaries paid to protect Byzantine interests.
the Byzantine Empress Theodora valued their valour, if not their table manners.

It is possible his campaigns took him as far as the Euphrates (Iraq), and even Jerusalem.
A Greek book of 1070s, Kekaumenos’ Strategikon recorded him winning favours from the Emperor.
It was some time after this he was imprisoned by the new Emperor, and his powerful wife Zoe. There is some suggestion he dipped into the treasury coffers.

William of Malmesbury, as well as Saxo Grammaticus, all have their pennyworth to add – but it was all hearsay.

The new Emperor was not popular, and insurrections broke out – whether Harald was released to lead the fight back, is not clear.
What is clear is that, when in 1042 he requested permission to leave Byzantium he was refused.
And so he had to sneak away at night, with his loyal companions And back to Kiev.

By 1047 he was married, back in Norway, and ascended the throne.
Payback time for Denmark. Only, it didn’t quite end up like that. It did end up in a lifelong truce.

So, if he could not claim Cnut’s Denmark, he looked to England, Cnut’s other realm.

 

Let’s take the instance of the great town of Hedeby near Schleswig. Quite a lot has been unearthed about the town, but one significant period stands out. The period of the 1050s. Why? One source has it: ‘A thick layer of ash and charcoal in the central area represents the final destruction of the town just before 1050. Whether this fire was accidental or… by… Harald Hard-ruler… is unclear. This was the end of Hedeby…’

Submit, or be smashed.

Tostig Godwinson, who was the brother of Harold Godwinson, king of England, persuaded our Harald that he had a decent claim to the English throne. Brothers, eh! Can’t live with them, can’t trust them out of your sight!

September 1066, and the Harolds (well, HarAld, and HarOld) met outside York. The first battle at Fulford went well for HarAld, but it seems it made him complaisant. The later one at Stamford Bridge finished him.

And HarAld was killed. He was 51.
According to Snorri Sturlson he was buried at Mary Church, Trondheim. A huge stone now commemorates his burial place.

Even that age is a little old and grizzled, for some. Still, that was one life lived to the full.

A little like the old curse: May you live in interesting times. It’s usually a disaster for the people trying to get by; always someone trying to make them part of his big scheme for power. And he was one of those.

3

Within all this busy life, the to-ing and fro-ing, the slicing, riding, chopping and disemboweling, our Harald could also turn a well-crafted verse when he had to.

This was, of course, one of the expected skills of the courtier; and it seems Harald had it in bucketfuls.

One source has it that the verse of this region and period was considered inferior to the Eddic, skaldic, verse, because it is thought ‘artificial’, even, ‘convoluted’.

See:
https://wordpress.com/post/michael9murray.wordpress.com/8201

 

 

 

from Parameters, ebooks, Amazon kindle:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Parameters-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp/B07893LB8Z/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1529693778&sr=1-8&keywords=Parameters

 The Tango is a passion, a way of life.

Tango was born on the Rio De La Plata delta, when Buenos Aires was a child: holes in pockets, scuffed shoes, a tattered bandanna called Monserrat.

The dance tales a story: In the long struggle between the power of the Rancheros and the centralised State, the Pampas felt the hand of man.

The economy is a snake, it twists and turns, at times it devours its own children. In the 1850s it twisted again. Rural workers made their way to the city, they fetched up in Monserrat.

With them came the old dances, music; the milonga was danced on the street of Corrientes. The music of European immigrants trickled through alleyways; the German religious accordion, the Bandaneon, was prominent. Lutheran austerity met Catholic poverty. Pride was in the mastery of its 71 buttons, in elaboration upon a frugal base. The withheld gesture, syncopation: all the arts of drawing from a 4:4 structure the utmost gestures.

The Tango, the Condorelle, the Fandango grew up in the barrio, fostered by uncertainty, fed by hunger, and the bitter herbal tea, Mate, a substitute for coffee. For all the coffee was exported.

As the snake lay glutted in the country’s Golden Age, the Tango grew into its youth: everyone was young again, the future possible. Everyone danced to ‘La Cumparista’s marching tune, tweaked and as polished as patent leather shoes.

Songs added an extra sound. So when a world at war no longer found safe footing, they listened to songs of loss: of pride and confidence, and loss.

The singers held them with a sob in the voice, as the world reeled.

Nothing was the same; the snake turned, and columns shook and crumbled. Argentina became a backward look, a lost glory, the plaster falling from the cornice of the fashionable street, never to be replaced.

The long, troubled look into the dark of La Plata at night; only warships churned, some never to return. Later, the Belgrano, sunk like the fortunes of Presidents, before and after.

To remember the songs. Tango is a passion. At times it shows a light across the delta, a boat perhaps, where fishermen can still make a living.

Tango lives on in the wilderness, far from home. It establishes cult centres: Paris, New Orleans, even Helsinki, Tokyo.

Lately the Paris based performers, dancers, musicians, singers joined in a dance-based beat and rhythm to become ‘The Gotan Project.’

But it always returns home: Buenos Aires, its’ columns and chipped marble, the peeling paint. The passion as strong as ever.  Whenever the blood is taxed in its artery, the economy lays its stifling torpid weight on all, bodies can still transport the soul, dance it out into the brag, and the ultimate sacrifice of self, that Tango enacts.

Out of the head of the snake a bird flies, from its body the blood beat and rhythm; its poised draw-back places precisely the footstep of new rhythms.

 

From SUR (South) 1948, lyrics Homero Manzi:

Ancient San Juan and Boeda street corner, the whole sky,

                                             Pompeya and farther down, the floods

                                             Your loose hair of a bride in my memory

                                             And your name floating in the farewell.

                                             The blacksmith’s corner, mud and pampa,

                                             Our house, our sidewalk, and the ditch

                                             And a scent of weeds and alfalfa

                                             That fills the heart all over again.

 Or the accumulation of urban details: witnesses: A MEDIA LUZ (In Half Light), 1925. Lyrics: Carlos Cesar Lenzi

Corrientes three-four-eight

                                            Second floor, elevator.

                                            There are no doorman, nor neighbours.

                                            Inside, cocktail and love.

                                            Loft furnished by Maple:

                                            Piano, rug and nightlamp,

                                            A telephone that answers,

                                            A phonograph that cries

                                            Old tangos of my flower,

                                            And a porcelain cat.

 

 

The mystery of: CHARLMOS (Let’s Chat) 1942. Lyrics: Luis Rubinstein

                                            Belgrano 6-0-1-1?

                                           I would like to speak to Renee…

                                           She doesn’t live there?… No, don’t hang up…

                                           Could I talk with you?

 

                                           Don’t hang up…the afternoon is gloomy.

                                           I feel sentimental.

                                           I know Renee does not exist…

                                           Let’s chat…

                                           …life is so short…

                                           let’s dream, in the grey

                                           rainy afternoon…

 

From the same period the highly impressionistic, almost surreal: TINTA ROJA (Red Ink) 1942. Lyrics: Catulo Castillo

                                         Thick wall,

                                                               Red ink in the

                                         Gray of yesterday…

                                         Your emotion

                                         Of brick, happy

                                         Over my alley.

                                         And a blotch

                                         Painted the corner,

                                         And the cop

                                         That in the wide of the night

                                         Placed to the end of the beat

                                         As a clasp…

 And then suddenly, possibly a future: PRELUDIO PARA EL ANO 3001. (Prelude for the year 3001) Lyrics: Horacio Ferrer, and music by the modern master Astor Piazollo.

                                            I’ll be reborn in Buenos Aires in another June afternoon

                                            With a tremendous desire to love and to live.

                                            I’ll be reborn fatally, it will be the year 3001

                                            And there will be an Autumn Sunday at san Martin square

                                            Little stray dogs will bark at my shadow

                                            With my modest baggage I’ll arrive from the beyond

                                           And kneeling down on my dirty and pretty River Plate

                                            I’ll knead me another tireless heart of mud and salt

                                            And three shoe shiners, three clowns and three

                                           Sorcerers will come, my immortal accomplices…..

 

We had time to spare, and it was freezing out.
Early for our drawing class, we called in at the nearest welcoming door, our town church (it had heating).

This was a revelation. The church goes way back; there was even an anchoress, Joan,  in residence at one point.
https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/424534702347012134/
http://www.stmichaels-macclesfield.org.uk/

St Michael’s Church:

100_1153

The siting of the church goes back to 1220, and later, Queen Eleanor, wife of the hated Edward 1, extended the grounds. A previous post links the area (site of a Royal Forest) with The Black Prince, brother of John of Gaunt.
https://michael9murray.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/the-black-prince/

There are a number of ‘incumbents’ from that late medieval period still resident. They are in the form of funerary busts and tombs: knights, complete with faithful dog at their feet (you can strain the possibilities here, and wonder whether this was the vestigial remains of the practice of sacrificing loyal servants, to serve in the afterlife. What a chilling prospect that must have been.)

The church has on display a rare survival from pre-Reformation times. It is a Pardon Brass, dating from 1506. This was granted by the Pope, and allowed the named person in this case exemption for the price of  five Paternosters, five Aves and one Creed. Exemption? The person’s soul could be allowed 26,000 years and 26 days in Purgatory instead having to burn off their sins in the ‘down below’.
This, of course, was one of the indulgences that Martin Luther railed against.
I remember a Graham Greene short story about a modern version of this.

What caught my eye, maybe in a slightly frivolous mood among all this gloom and death, were the hairstyles of the knights on display. The period the tombs cover is 1475 to 1550.

See the always entertaining Lucy Worsley on hair:

https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/the-politics-of-hair/

Apparently one of the most used styles of the early period was the ‘Bowl-Cut’: a (largish) bowl was placed on the head, bottom of bowl to one’s crown, and all extraneous parts chopped off.
The middle double photo here shows something similar in style to that.
The first photo shows a definite Page-Boy cut, apparently a Tudor-period style. This is the  effigy of a school teacher ie a higher ranked, not a noble, man.
The next photo has an extravagant frill of hair and high forehead. Perhaps this was a later version of the Bowl-Cut, an interim style moving towards the longer Page-Boy.

 

100_1154               100_1156

The middle double tomb has a woman’s style that seems now a little strange. You could almost speculate a head-binding practice at work here. But no. Women’s hair could not be shown in public – ah, the temptations of hair. The scraping back is very severe. This was, of course, for the nobles only: dignity and honour were only allowed the knighted. And why were they knighted? Anything to do with killing people, with sacking towns for plunder whilst on Crusade? Many family fortunes were made that way.

We, others, could get away with more  display, hair-style wise. The women at any rate were allowed loose displays of natural hair.
Then there was the Royal ruling on the all having to wear woollen caps. And so it went on, the stratification, coding of status, the badges of deserving and undeserving.

100_1158

Yep, he has lain his head on his helmet. And no, I don’t know what the paper under his hands says.
This double tomb is covered with graffiti, small carvings of initials and names, the latest 1992. But at the least these two have kept their noses – that is usually the first to go to the vicissitudes of time

You cannot go away without an example of the most extreme hair style for men: the 16th century flamboyant Restoration festoons of curls. All false, of course; what lay underneath was probably an itching short cut.

100_1157

 

Christ Church windows, and so to our drawing-class:

 

100_1160

And now I know I will never be an artist.

PS

THE HARRY STYLES EFFECT
apologies to HS

I was at that stage where my hair style staled
so let it go, and nor too fussed about the next: ‘The mussed-
bed-look! It will be back. Bound to. For good – or ill,’
I’d say. Then it reaches another ok stage, and so say:
‘Me. Yo.’ But that goes too, and the in-between bits, o,
they’re worst; there’s more of those, last longer, and they’re cursed.

I was thinking, ‘It’s all like this; it’s how the good bits call
the tune that make the less good just plain bad. And if I should
for instance, open the window, I’d watch the greasy city slide
over its shelf-life collar in its journey to its next fifteen minutes.
The slide’s continual. But what a view I got!’ Then not.
And it was time to get back to work.

Ebook: The Spider and the Spies: The Secret Files of Stasi & Co, by Karen Margolis
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spider-Spies-secret-files-Stasi-ebook/dp/B0758145MD/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1515355645&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Spider+and+the+Spies%3A+The+Secret+Files+of+Stasi+%26+Co%2C+by+Karen+Margolis

Karen Margolis gives here first-hand testimony of her experience of the GDR, and the Stasi State.
Some years ago, after much deliberating, she decided to apply to read her Stasi files. Their filing system was hermetic, to say the least.

It was not an easy decision.

What do you hope to find, and what do you dread?
There are always surprises, unwelcome or not. The husband of a close friend, himself close, had a quiet word: You may well find my name there.
She could not say anything to her friend, his wife.
And so the game of confidences, secrets, continues, just as it did under the system.
The stomach-churning knowledge, that blights relationships, friendships, even marriages.

And what of the ‘outing’ that was endemic for a period? To whose advantage was that? Hardened agents, with years of training and experience in emotional blackmail and manipulation, could still come out of it relatively unstuck. Transferable skills. The old tricks. And they were useful in the new Germany.
Miriam, in Anna Funder’s book, Stasiland,
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stasiland-Stories-Behind-Berlin-Wall/dp/1847083358/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1515355920&sr=1-1&keywords=stasiland
found herself working under an ex-Stasi officer on a radio station, using the same tactics to manipulate people, this time the staff, as he had back then.
Also, see: The Disclosures of Respect: The Public Exposure of Stasi Informers after the German Reunification, by Juan Espindola
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.896.3940&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Anna Funder’s book is based on her research for a radio programme. She advertised for interviews. She focussed particularly on the role of the Secret Police, the Stasi.
One of the names that came up, was a Herr Von Schnitzler. He was popularly known as Herr Von Schni, because that is how far the announcer got before being turned off. He ran a regular TV programme, The Black Channel. His programme followed airing of programmes from the West, and he sat there afterwards onscreen and pulled the programme to pieces. Many named him the most hated man on TV. You can imagine his hectoring, bigoted sneer.
How to deal with such a character in an interview. To Anna Funder’s credit she did it, she got in under his radar:
‘There was a serious attempt to build a socialist state, and we should examine why, at the end, that state no longer exists. It’s important.
He replied:
‘I noticed relatively early… that we would not be able to survive economically.’

This is important. She cites figures in the book, on East German production, and particularly on the biggest employers (‘There is no unemployment… you are seeking work’). The retreating Soviets had dismantled and shipped back what plant machinery they could, at the end of the War.
And it turns out the biggest employer in the whole of East Germany was… The Stasi.

I am not talking about the tens of thousands of informers: their remuneration was pitiful, but the managerial ranks: it was based on military lines, so the Colonels and upper and immediately lower ranks.
The biggest employer.
And their GDP?
0.
They ‘produced’, in turn, nothing.

In fact, a good case can be made for them undermining the survival and productivity of the Sate.
They demoralised, victimised, ruined lives, destroyed families, lied outright, falsified… murdered. But actually produced nothing. Unless you think an atmosphere of paranoia and continual fear a product.

The people separated the Stasi from the State: they supported the State, and hated the Stasi. They were in reality one.
When the end came it was the Stasi took the brunt, and the State officials in wealthy dachas and country houses were un-reproached. That was, after all, ‘normal.’
Peter Schneider, in The Wall Jumper,
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wall-Jumper-Penguin-Modern-Classics/dp/0141187980/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1515355862&sr=1-1&keywords=the+wall+jumper
cites many examples of Easterners supporting the Eastern system, its social security, its low prices.

So when you come to the impact of this on people, it is The Stasi you think of first.
Their presence was everywhere.

Don’t let them through your door! Someone says.
– In the 1970s the response was a grim resentment, an entrenched attitude.
The 1970s were grim everywhere.
– The 1980 generation’s attitude was Ignore them. Have fun. Enjoy.
But if you didn’t let them in, they would summon you. If you didn’t go, they would pick you up at work, school, on the street.

Give them nothing.
They had meticulous details about your personal life, so much so that the notion of a private life would seem a mockery. And they had ways of manipulating you into quiescence, through shaming, robbing you of choice, free will, revealing that what you thought was basic humanity, was a construct, and so, manipulable.

Where did this information about you come from?
Ask yourself: could you bear to know? Would your life be easier, happier, not knowing? To not know is not necessarily to speculate What? and Who? but also perhaps to wonder What if not?
Peter Schneider’s character, Robert, would say that way of thinking was naive, Western. For him the State controlled every time you moved your hand to drink coffee, which coffee you drank, when you drank it, and why.

Where does the truth meet reality?
In testimony, like Karen Margolis gives here.
This is a valuable book. We still need to understand those difficult times.

The Demaundes Joyous
The lightness of these, when measured against the Old English Riddles, makes them seem mere bagatelles. Quite a lot of those Old English Riddles are light and jokey also; it is just the labour of translation makes them seem less. But for ease of reading, and sheer fun, we  have these.
Did I mention translation? Yes, well, these are also translations – but not from the heavy?, stodgy? Anglo-Saxon – no, they are from the Romance of northern French.

The Demaundes Joyous

1 Who was Adam’s moder?

2 What space is from the hyest space of the se to the depest?

3 How many calves tayles behoveth to reche from the erthe to the skye?

4 Which parte of a sergeaunte love ye best toward you?

5 Which is the moost profitable beest, and that men eteth leest of?

6 Which is the broadest water and leest jeopardye to passe over?

7 What beest is it that hath her tayle between her eyen?

8 Wherefore set they upon churche steples more a cocke than a henne?

9  Why doth an ox or a cowe lye?

10 Which was first, the henne or the egge?

11 Which tyme in the yere bereth a gose moost feders?

 

– It is always best to have a ‘flavour’ of the kind of answer expected. So, here is the answer to Question 3:
No more but one if it be long ynough.

If you want to try and answer these… then let’s say you must do so in the curious English of their period.

The source of these Demaundes Joyous is Wynkyn de Worde, 1511.
The collection contains about fifty such riddles – I have skipped the more church-orientated, and so maybe a little obscure now eg Why come dogges so often to the churche? etc.
My source says the collection here is based partly on an early sixteenth-century French collection, Demandes joyeuses en maniere de quolibets.

There are some old crocks here: Which came first, egg or hen? But there is no Why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe that is in the other forty, not included.
Some are a little… indelicate? Some just crazy. All have the flavour of their period.

Enjoy.

Happy Festive Season!