Eclipses and comets and portents (oh my)

Contrary to popular opinion medieval people did not think that the world was flat. Educated people worked on an Aristotelean idea that the world was round and that it had different zones (including places that were either too hot or too cold to live in). However, medieval people, just in Antiquity, did not know that …

A chilly spring?

Ane doolie sessoun to ane cairfull dyte            doolie: doleful; dyte: story Suld correspond and be equiualent.                  Suld: should. So begins Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid, a story of what happened to Cresseid (or Criseyde or Cressida, depending on your preferred version) after she left Troy. Henryson’s …

Literatures of Older Scots and Middle English

If there are challenges in establishing Older Scots and Middle English as different languages (see previous blog) those are matched equally in attempting to define an Older Scots literary tradition. The Middle English literary tradition is so multifarious that to insist on separateness for Scotland seems doomed to failure. We can see, for instance, that …

Older Scots and Middle English: mutually comprehensible dialects?

The witticism that Britain and the US are countries divided by a common language might equally apply to Scotland and England. To avoid too much controversy, I am neither going to attribute the thought, nor am I going to discuss contemporary linguistic matters, but instead limit my discussion here to the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth …

Love: not for the faint-hearted?

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne, Th’assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge The dredful joy, that alwey slyd so yerne Al this meene I be love, that my felynge Astonyeth with his wonderful worchyng So soore ywys, that whan I on hym thynke, Nat wote I wel wher that I …

Undying Love

I met my love in the first year: it was one of those strange encounters with a new culture which I had not heard of before. I am talking about my love for all things medieval here – a love that has outlasted almost everything else. I fell for it deeply: ‘the Discreet Charm of …

Past identities: medieval differences between Scotland and England

The photo attached to this blog can be replicated in many family albums. The girls here happen to be my goddaughter and her sister, on their way to visit friends and family in Scotland, but they might equally be my children on the same mission north. There remains a slight sense of travelling to a …

Feasting the Dead: Hallowe’en

Today is Hallowe’en which according to many sources is based on ‘Celtic’ traditions, because the Celtic year begun on the first of November. While Hallowe’en is not necessarily about the dead (more about the undead) it falls on the night before All Saints’ Day. The Hallow part of the word is derived from Old English …

What is Robin Hood?

I’d never really thought of Robin Hood as jousting. A mean sword fighter, yes; good with the quarter staff, if not as good as Little John; and of course superlative with a long bow. Just not the lance. So it took me a few moments to re-orientate myself at the Robin Hood Pageant at Nottingham …

Prophecies and politics (or: anarchy in ASE)

Bob Geldof has joined the ranks of doom mongers when he predicted that the world only has a good 17 years left to go. While there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, given all the current wars and human tragedy, the idea that the end is nigh has been around for a long time. …