Thursday, October 26, 2006

No time for love, Doctor Jones!

Busy at the moment, but a mini-post to help pass the time. You think of the Classical period -- you know, Greece and Rome, shit like that -- as being a period we actually know a lot about. But what you never hear about is where that information comes from. One of the things that we know about the period is that they had lots of horses, and they gave them names. But where do you think we got that list of horses' names? Baby's First Book of Greco-Roman Equestrian Names? My ass.

Where we got them from is curse tablets. These are little tablets of lead that people scratched magic spells onto and dropped down wells or buried in graveyards or whatever. Their texts are rad. And our largest source of horse-names are these tablets, where desperate gamblers or ardent racing fans have placed a curse on the horse they want to nobble in the chariot races.
It's a wonderful world. Also, cool pictures here.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

England demands more women's names

So when Emma, daughter of Count Richard I of Rouen, married King Æthelred II ("the Unready") of England in 1002, she found that the English had trouble with her name. Instead, they called her Ælfgifu. She certainly enjoyed more status at court than the king's previous wife, Ælfgifu. But when Æthelred died in 1016, she married the conquerer, Cnut "the Great," King of Denmark, Norway, England, and "part of Sweden." She had to compete for his affections, however, with his previous concubine/wife, Ælfgifu.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I know, I know...

It's been a long time since the last update, and I never wrote that stuff about Snorri I said I was going to. On the one hand, I've been very busy, and on the other hand, until you start paying me to write this stuff, you can basically suck my nuts.

But since I'm here anyway, I might as well hit you with a brief episode of Inappropriate Reaction Theater, in which historians, antiquarians and archaeologists, on encountering the past, behave like a pack of goddamn lunatics.

Case #1: Thomas Browne (1605-1682), English scholar, antiquarian and so on. In those days if you spoke some Latin and had an appropriately fruity-looking Van Dyke, you could basically set up as an authority on whatever the hell you liked. I'm particularly enamored of his heavy-lidded gaze. That is the gaze of a man who's just emerged from a session of debauchery to sit for the title-page engraving of some book he's written where he's going to talk about how historical and philosophical topics allow even the most jaded of 17th-century courtiers to get his jollies. Case in point: Browne's Hydriotaphia, or Urne Buriall, in which the great man looks at some cremation burials from Norfolk, misidentifies them as Roman, and has some odd thoughts about them. To wit:
When the bones of King Arthur were digged up, the old Race might think, they beheld therein some Originals of themselves; Unto these of our Urnes none here can pretend relation, and can only behold the Reliquesof those persons, who in their life giving the Law unto their predecessors, after long obscurity, now lye at their mercies. But remembering the early civility they brought upon these Countreys, and forgetting long pased mischiefs; We mercifully preserve their bones, and pisse not upon their ashes.
"Pisse not upon their ashes?" I mean, as a mission statement it's not bad -- when I'm dead and gone I certainly don't want anyone to pisse on my ashes. But it's the mere fact that he even thought it was worth mentioning that's weird. I mean, let's say you're standing next to a dude at a bus stop, and he just turns around to you and says "don't worry, buddy; I'm not gonna poke the eyes out yer head." Now, you'd think that would be reassuring -- I mean, to hear that your eyes are safe. But instead, you just kind of wonder why he thought it was important to mention it at all. Seriously, did Thomas Browne look at clay jars full of cremated human remains and the first thing that popped into his head was "you know, I bet a clever fella could pisse on those?"

Because, if so, that's pretty cold.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Why gonzo?

OK, I swear one of these days I'm going to talk about Snorri again. But today I want to briefly address why this is called the Gonzo History Project. I'm not going to go into the background of gonzo journalism, as advocated and, more to the point, embodied by Hunter S. Thompson. If you don't know what that is, you're unlikely to care that there are some obvious dissimilarities between the two.

The fact of the matter is that the GHP was originally intended to be far more explicitly gonzo: I still think it captures the exaggeration and whatnot, and I've done plenty of pieces about historians and the way they were involved with the histories they write, which is kind of related to Thompson's rejection of the practice -- hell, even of the idea -- of journalistic objectivity. And it's definitely written in an unedited, off-the-cuff way, with me just sitting down and mashing the keyboard until I think it's a good length. On the other hand, in that sense all blogs are gonzo.

But the fact of the matter is that up here on the soapbox, I find that I just can't stop talking. So while the very first GHP -- a history of the First Crusade written only from first-person accounts -- is pretty in-keeping with that mission statement, the blog just tends to fill up with shit that I find funny. And thus the dilution of purpose. But I'm only human.

More comedy tomorrow, anyway.