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  • The Earliest Broomstick Witch? May 27, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Earliest Broomstick Witch?

    Witches fly in many different cultures: the British anthropologist Needham argued that it was a way of expressing their power, their ability to bring maleficum to all who get in their way or on their nerves. But in the European tradition witches have been associated, above all, with broomsticks: though note that witches were also […]

    What Language is Closest to English? May 17, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval
    What Language is Closest to English?

    English is a Germanic language and its closest living relation should be one of the Continental Germanic tongues, German, Dutch and the like. However, try speaking English to a German who knows no English, or try understanding German (with just English) and you will find that they are very distant relations. An Italian listening to Spanish: or […]

    Silly Crests May 7, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Silly Crests

    Beach has recently been looking lovingly through the various volumes of medieval armour and arms, particularly those of Guy Francis Laking (all online and all free if you have time and inclination). Particularly fascinating is the high silliness of the crests that were put on the top of the helmets. Above is perhaps the only […]

    Painting on Water May 6, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Painting on Water

    The strangest painting technique ever employed? The Mountain Man of Fan-Yang, an artist from T’ang China perhaps holds the prize in what for Europe would have been the early Middle Ages. The Mountain Man’s preferred method was as follows: as you remember this think about a French or Irish monk inking a manuscript. Mountain man […]

    Review: Physical Evidence, A Feeling for Magic May 2, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Review: Physical Evidence, A Feeling for Magic

    Ronald Hutton (ed), Physical Evidence for Ritual Acts, Sorcery and Witchcraft in Christian Britain: A Feeling for Magic (Palgrave Macmillan 2016) Academic essay collections fall into different categories including such old and tried favourites as: ‘new directions’; ‘pot pouri’; ‘the EU gave us some money so we had a conference’; and ‘x is wrong and […]

    Hashish and Assassination April 24, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Hashish and Assassination

    The Assassins were a well known medieval Shiite sect who delighted in sending out their fida’is (assassins) to kill enemies with daggers. Our word ‘assassinate’ (already used routinely by Dante), of course, comes from these charming individuals. The etymology of Assassin in Arabic has long been supposed to come from the word for hashish (Hashshashin […]

    Is St Francis’ Horn Egyptian? April 20, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Is St Francis' Horn Egyptian?

    A medieval ivory horn is pictured with two mysterious wooden rods, which look like nunchaku, but were actually ‘silence sticks’, banged together before a sermon. The horn is kept at Assisi among the most precious relics of St Francis (obit 1226), because this horn, says tradition, was brought back by Francis from Egypt as a […]

    Weird Chinese Painters April 17, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Weird Chinese Painters

    Modern painters have used blood and vomit as paints and penis, breasts and even eyes as brushes. However, the medieval Chinese sometimes gave the modern paper-tearers a run for their money. Wang Hsia (obit 805), for example, was known as ‘ink-flinger Wang’. He would, first, get drunk, second, hurl ink at his surfaces, third, smear […]

    St Thomas and the Meretrix April 12, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    St Thomas and the Meretrix

    This is one of the great scenes from Catholic hagiography. St Thomas of Aquinas has just been kidnapped by his own family and locked up in a room with a naked woman. OK, yes, yes, we can backpedal a moment…. Thomas was born to a noble Campanian clan and as a younger son, the youngest […]

    The Lie of the Second Sons April 11, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Lie of the Second Sons

    When Beach wrote his university entrance exams, many decades ago, he waxed unlyrical about Europe’s second sons who went on crusade because there was nothing for them at home. There might have been some genuine pent up passion about killing Moors or walking where He walked, but it was really all about filthy lucre. The […]

    Immortal Meals #27: Freedom and Chicken March 29, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Immortal Meals #27: Freedom and Chicken

    The date, sometime in the 1440s; the place, the English village of Long Newnton in what is today Gloucestershire; the meal, a table of chicken; the host, Thomas Carter; the occasion, Thomas’s freedom. Thomas Carter had been born a bondsman sometime in the 1370s  around the time Richard II was crowned king and the first […]

    Richard and Saladin’s Swords March 28, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Richard and Saladin's Swords

    One of the pleasures of writing a history blog is revisiting certainties, some picked up in infancy, and exposing them for the callow lies that they are. Many moons ago when Beach was learning to read he had a ladybird book on Richard the Lionheart. In those revered pages there was an image of a […]

    For the Birds? Francis and the Feathered Tribe March 23, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    For the Birds? Francis and the Feathered Tribe

    This brilliant illustration is from Hark The curious episode when St Francis preaches to the birds is one of those famous (everyone knows it) but little read (well have you?) experiences in western hagiography. Today Beach tracked down an English translation from this site and more importantly the Latin from Thomas of Celano, Francis’ first […]

    Penis Nests March 19, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Penis Nests

    We have previously visited a remarkable passage in Malleus Maleficarum (1485) where that work’s author, Heinrich Kramer, describes a penis theft: or rather a penis illusion, because Kramer claims the penis is still ‘there’ but hidden. That account was apparently based on a witness: this account sounds like folklore. Finally, what shall we think about […]

    Review Theory of Irony: How Jesus Led to Moon Golf March 18, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Review Theory of Irony: How Jesus Led to Moon Golf

    A subtitle like How Jesus Led to Moon Golf promises a swish historical read. Beach immediately, in fact, thought of some of Graeme Donald’s history writing and books like Mussolini’s Barber and other stories of the unknown players who made history happen. This proved naïve. Mussolini’s Barber offers some cute episodes from recent history and Graeme […]

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