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  • Frederick to Saladin: Roman Fantasies March 16, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Frederick to Saladin: Roman Fantasies

      Politics is supposedly the art of the possible, but, in medieval times,  politics was more often the art of the barely believable. Beachcombing has long loved the particularly incredible tones that the Middle Ages throw up and had a particularly pleasant memory – recently refreshed by Ostrich – of a letter exchange between Frederick I and Saladin  around […]

    The Last Foodtaster in History? March 11, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval
    The Last Foodtaster in History?

      Beachcombing has long thought that food tasting must have been among the very cushiest jobs to have had in the Middle Ages. Why? (i) No one is going to be stupid enough to kill a monarch or a duke by poisoning their food if they know there’s a taster around. You are safe. Beachcombing doubts there’s […]

    Floating Yogis in the Fourteenth Century March 9, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Floating Yogis in the Fourteenth Century

    Here is a text that has long got on Beachcombing’s nerves. A fourteenth-century Arab traveller finds himself invited to the court of an Indian sultan and there has an encounter with some local yogis. *The Sultan sent for me once when I was with him at Delhi, and on entering I found him in a […]

    Transvestite Knights in the Thirteenth Century March 7, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Transvestite Knights in the Thirteenth Century

    Ulrich von Liechtenstein (obit 1278) was a standard thirteenth-century knight. He had castles (three of them). He fought – above all, in Eastern Germany. And he also dressed up as a woman and rode from Maestre (Venice) up to Vienna. Yes, yes, Beachcombing stopped too when he first read this many years ago. But now […]

    The Problem of Pygmy Fairies March 5, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern, Prehistoric
    The Problem of Pygmy Fairies

    Beachcombing has been having a bit of a fairy phase recently, played out in his evening readings after he’s put little Miss B to bed. And he has particularly been interested at the different explanations that our ancestors – distant and recent – offered to explain the fact that ‘little folk’ lived in the cairn […]

    Cobblers: a UFO in Palazzo Vecchio? March 4, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Cobblers: a UFO in Palazzo Vecchio?

    The Madonna col bambino e san Giovannino was painted in a hazy month sometime at the end of the fifteenth century. It hangs today in a corner room on the highest story of Palazzo Vecchio. Its artist – the work is ascribed to Sebastiano Mainardi, Jacopo del Sellaio or one of half a dozen other […]

    Walter’s Ancient Book in the British Tongue February 25, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Walter's Ancient Book in the British Tongue

    Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain was not only one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages. It was also one of the most mysterious and controversial. In c.1136 Geoffrey offered to the world and to his patron Robert of Gloucester this epic relating to the ancient and early medieval history of […]

    Review: Lost Worlds February 23, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Review: Lost Worlds

      Beachcombing has, on several occasions, had the experience of justifying (or trying to justify) to a television or publishing company an idea. Essentially you the ‘artist’ are beholden to write on one side of A4, preferably in Times New Roman, a succinct pitch, explaining why the public will go into ecstasy on purchase or […]

    Viking Decapitations and the Knife Experiment February 21, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Viking Decapitations and the Knife Experiment

    *Post dedicated to Mathias B who inspired it with his readings in Jómsvikinga saga* Beachcombing is down in the flu doldrums and so apologies for any emails to which he’s not yet replied. Several of you though (Ostrich, Swedish Anna, SY) pointed out that yesterday’s request about the letter from a Frederick to Ethiopia was a letter […]

    Thirteenth-Century French Envoys in Mongolia February 19, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Thirteenth-Century French Envoys in Mongolia

    As Beachcombing plunges into his spring flu a short but sweet post on an extraordinary diplomatic mission that Louis IX (obit 1270) sent to the King of the Mongols in the thirteenth century. There is something necessarily surreal about any contacts between such distant realms, though this did not stop the two monarchs plotting. Indeed, there had already […]

    The Last Unicorn in Medicine February 16, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    The Last Unicorn in Medicine

    One of the most important things about mythical animals is that they are ‘rare’. Being rare means that anything to do with them is valuable and in previous ages that meant that their body parts were (a) good for showing off and (b) dragged into the world of medicine. Unicorns were particularly appreciated in medicinal […]

    America Come Lately: Why? February 11, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    America Come Lately: Why?

    Forget Moses praying in the Desert, Luther getting temperamental at Wittenberg, the sword of Islam lifting above Medina, the signing of the Bill of Rights, the opening of the Bridgewater Canal and the explosion of Little Boy at Hiroshima. In the last three thousand years by far the most important historical event was the discovery of America […]

    Review: Myth or Legend? February 9, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Review: Myth or Legend?

    C.E. Daniel et alii, Myth or Legend? (New York/London 1956) What is the difference between myth and a legend? Well, according to this little BBC miscellany from the 1950s a myth is ‘invention and fancy’, while legend is ‘some kind of history’. This distinction gets right at our main concerns with so many of those […]

    Sex Life of Unicorns February 5, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Sex Life of Unicorns

    Unicorns have a claim, in Beachcombing’s mind, to be the most interesting of all mythical creatures. There is, after all, a fascinating combination of the mundane – the unicorn is surely based on the rhinoceros? – and the fantastic: think of all that nonsense about a dilating horn and floating hooves. Then there is the […]

    Obscene Riddles from the Book of Exeter February 3, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Obscene Riddles from the Book of Exeter

    Beachcombing has been driven to the edge of sanity by term papers and 90 plus students this semester. So he tried to relax earlier today with a collection of Anglo-Saxon riddles from the Book of Exeter – a ‘treasure’ that was used as a beer coaster for much of its history (another day, another post). How long it […]

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