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.


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