Monday, December 28, 2009

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

Cornelis van Haarlam, Massacre of the Holy Innocents, 1590.

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, commemorating Herod's massacre of infants as described in Matthew 2:16-18. I just wanted to share a few artworks on the subject.

The theme seemed to appeal to late Renaissance and Baroque artists because of the treatment of violence against the innocent and the drama inherent in the tortured faces of the mothers who try to defend or mourn their slaughtered children. I remember being mesmerized by a set of polychrome figures on the theme by José Ginés in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. The series, given the graphically Spanish title Degollación de los Inocentes ("the throat-cutting of the innocents"), got its power from the naked brutality of the slaughter and the crazed, twisted faces of the women as they tried in vain to either hide their children or fight off the soldiers -- a moment described also by Shakespeare in Henry V:

Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen.

After extensive googling that resulted not only in the frustration of failure to obtain results but also repeated Mozilla-crashing, I was able to to find only one figure from the series, but it should give you a feel for it:

And here are some other versions:

Guido Reni, 1611.

Peter Paul Rubens, also 1611.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Friday, December 04, 2009

random cool picture

From fons veritatis, Pope Sixtus IV appoints Bartolomeo Platina prefect of the Vatican Library, fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, c. 1477 (Vatican Museums).

Teaching has rendered me with no time to blog -- perhaps I'll sharpen the cyberquill during the holidays. Meanwhile, this is a pretty picture (I love the background -- I have mentioned before how much I love architecture in paintings). I found it on the fons veritatis page on Bartolomeo Platina, Renaissance humanist and author of the first printed cookbook, De honestate voluptate et valetudine. The cookbook was what I was checking on, as some of the recipes have been adapted in the Historical Cookery webpage (h/t Jeffrey Smith). So here it is, it's very nice.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

it's official

Sorry blog activity has been nil... I have been very busy with classes. But! I have an announcement:

October degrees were conferred by Columbia today. I am officially a PhD.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

amusing if it weren't terrifying

Qaddafi would be hilarious if he didn't actually hold power over an entire country:

"We want to know who killed [JFK]. Somebody by the name of Lee Harvey and then...another, Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey. Why did this Israeli kill the killer of Jack Kennedy?... The whole world should know that Kennedy wanted to investigate the nuclear reactor of the Israeli demon."
-- Muammar Qaddafi, addressing the UN for the first time. His personal translator collapsed 75 minutes into the 96-minute speech, reportedly shouting, "I just can't take it anymore."

(h/t Doonesbury)

Friday, September 18, 2009

felix triumphator et semper groovius

I realize that although I did comment on twitter, I didn't make it clear on the blog -- I did pass my dissertation defense. It went very well. Some important points and difficult questions came up, but more in the spirit of what I should do when I turn the study into a book rather than as commentaries on deficiencies of the thesis itself.

I was given a "Pass with Minor Revisions" (for the most part typos) and then my colleagues welcomed me into the circle of PhDs by banging on the table and chanting, "We accept him, we accept him! One of us, one of us! Gooble gobble."

Friday, September 11, 2009


Well, today, Sept. 11 (!) at 4:30 PM EST, I will be defending my dissertation before a committee of five professors. Please say a prayer for me.

Today is the feast of St Cyprian, who actually shows up and hangs around in my second chapter as patron of the cathedral of Leon, the bishop of which at one point was also named Cyprian. The chapter section is called "The Two Cyprians." So maybe that's a good sign.

On the other hand, I could swear I saw vultures circling over me on Staten Island yesterday.

So, prayers, please.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

rachid taha

I love this song by the French-Algerian singer Rachid Taha. The video is pretty funny as well. The lyrics can be found here.

He also does a version of "Rock the Casbah" in Arabic!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

viva barney

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

belgian pulpits

O lazy August! When I should be preparing for my fall classes, or comparing microfilms of manuscripts for my research job, or even blogging out my bile towards the politics of the day, I find myself drooping in the heat and hearing the sweet siren call of the sofa, cat & nap. Yet there are things that I have yet to confess to blogdom - such as the fact that I had a surprise trip to Belgium two weeks ago. The reason why I shall leave to another day: I will just say that it involved a cat, a crisis, and a happy resolution. I took a number of photos when I was there, but today I want to share just one category -- beautiful wood and marble Baroque pulpits that seem to have been installed in every church that was around in the seventeenth century. I have no idea why there was a fancy-pulpit-carving craze in the Low Countries in this period, but I suspect it has something to do with preaching, the Counter-reformation and the fact that Belgium was right on the frontier between Protestant and Catholic Europe. Anyway, beautiful stuff and here are my photos.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

oh no!

He wasn't really born in the United States! He isn't a legitimate medievalist! Where's the long form, Liam?

Kenyan Birth Certificate Generator (h/t TPM).

Monday, August 03, 2009

new post on frammenti e rovine

Dies Irae at the Elmore Ranch.

Friday, July 31, 2009

jazz mass

At America Magazine, a video about the Jazz Mass at my parish:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

new (old) story...

at frammenti e rovine.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

feast of st benedict

Happy Feast of St Benedict!

In his honor, I am embedding a 1965 video of The Monks -- like Benedict himself, ahead of their time.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

new post on frammenti e rovine

The Lion in the Machine.

Monday, June 22, 2009

new blog for old stories

Many of my regular visitors have given a glance at my old ugly geocities site which features fragments of my creative writing. It seems that Yahoo is closing down geocities later this year, so to save my imaginative progeny, as well as to present them anew and more attractively, I have created an ancillary blog, frammenti e rovine. I will add one story/fragment to the blog at a time, starting with The Fog. My plan is to canibalize the old site, but who knows? New creations may appear. Enjoy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

big things going down in Iran

Medieval Persian miniature.

Big things going down in Iran. As I write this, thousands have gathered in Tehran to an officially banned protest at which Mousavi and Khatami have called for new elections. There are reports of violence and apparently plainclothes police and Ahmadinejad supporters (there are a lot of them and they are thugs) have brutally beaten Mousavi supporters in the streets. Meanwhile, at 9:00 pm last night, Mousavi supporters registered their protest by shouting Allahu Akbar from the rooftops -- apparently something that was done in the 1979 revolution.

The supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, apparently the person ultimately behind the election fraud (though some suggest it was orchestrated by more secular elements in the army and the police) initially declared Ahmadinejad the winner, but today he has agreed to look into allegations of voter fraud. This could either be a trick to lessen the intensity of the protests, or it could be evidence of disagreement within the clerical hierarchy.

People across the world have been asked to wear green today in support of the protesters.

The government successfully shut down Facebook and text-messaging, which have been powerful tools in organizing popular protests, so this time the revolution is on Twitter. There is an English language twitter feed you can check out (#iranelection). Andrew Sullivan is also following things closely, as are the Huffington Post and The Lede Blog at the NY Times.

Pray for the Iranian people.

Friday, June 05, 2009

our lady of firearms

Let's see... no, no guns

So, a Kentucky pastor is inviting his flock to bring their guns to church (H/T Andrew Sullivan). Says our pistol-packin' man of God, Ken Pagano,
As a Christian pastor I believe that without a deep-seeded belief in God and firearms that this country would not be here.
Well. This is the type of story in which reality outpaces parody. The jokes write themselves and it is impossible to tell whether we're reading the Times or the Onion.

The obvious question to pose here, of course, is whether or not it is really appropriate to celebrate instruments of death in a church whose founder preached love and nonviolence (how many people die from gun violence in this country every year? 30,000?). Going more deeply into the story reveals how strange the extreme religious right in this country is in their approach to reality, and how much issues that have at first sight very little to do with religion become sacralized for these people. I disagree with the right-wing's approach to abortion laws and gay marriage, but I see where it comes from. People like Pastor Pagano, however, speak about issues like gun ownership and (I suppose) tax relief as if they were as deeply rooted in Christian scripture as questions more obviously concerned with morality. Fundamentalist religious ideas have had great impact on the GOP platform, and it seems that the GOP platform has become enshrined in toto in church.

The distrubing gun fetishism that makes the NRA so powerful has become part of what passes for liturgy in Pastor Pagano's church. This man, the pastor of a Christian church, seems to put belief in God on the same plane as gun ownership (so much for sola fide) and tie both inimately to one particular country when considering how worship is to be carried out for his congregation. "Without a deep-seeded belief in God and firearms..." A deep-seeded belief in firearms?

Strange. And very, very disturbing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

the dissertation has been distributed...

All 478 pages of it.

So... I'm pretty much done. The defense will be in September and the PhD will be awarded in October.

Very tired now. Happy, but tired.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

el hechizado (she's my daughter... she's my sister...)

We sort of knew this, didn't we? I mean, look at the dude

An article in the Independent completes the following exchange:

"Carlos II, el Hechizado (1661-1700) was so inbred..."

"How inbred was he?"

The answer to that question, according to the article, is that he "was the offspring of a marriage that was almost as genetically inbred as an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister or parent and child."

That can lead to something really nasty such as, say, the War of Spanish Succession. Those wacky Hapsburgs -- keeping it all in the family.

Of course, there were hints of problems with our poor "bewitched" chin-rich monarch:

Charles II not only suffered an extreme version of the Hapsburg lip, his tongue was said to be so big for his mouth that he had difficulty speaking and drooled. He also suffered from an oversized head, intestinal upsets, convulsions and, according to his first wife, premature ejaculation.

"He was unable to speak until the age of four, and could not walk until the age of eight. He was short, weak and quite lean and thin. He was described as a person showing very little interest in his surroundings," Professor Alvarez said. "He looked like an old person when he was 30 years old, suffering edemas [swellings] on his feet, legs, abdomen and face. During the last years of his life he could barely stand up and suffered from hallucinations and convulsive episodes," he said.

Yeah. Sometimes when you marry, you should make the effort to go out of the immediate family.

(h/t: Adrian Murdoch).

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Have a good Holy Week

Last Supper, Ethiopian Orthodox Icon.

I wish everyone a prayerful Triduum and a glorious Easter. I'll be offline for the next couple of days.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

if Cleopatra were on Food Network

From The LATIN QVARTER via rougueclassicism:

Friday, April 03, 2009

if you have nine spare minutes...

...this is a great song. The Decemberists, "The Mariner's Revenge Song":

Thursday, March 26, 2009

why medieval?

Sigh. The New Yorker runs to the obvious with the arrow story. Come on guys, bows and arrows have been around for 20,000 years. What is particularly medieval about them? Why not say "ancient" or "prehistoric"? People have been cutting town trees for awhile as well.

Had it been a crossbow, that would be another question.

One of my teachers, Prof. Joel Kaye, to the rescue:
Joel Kaye, a professor of medieval history at Barnard, said that he had not thought about the week’s news in the context of the Middle Ages, though he did point out that, suddenly, usury is a hot topic again. “I will tell you that I always bristle at the use of ‘medieval’ for ‘primitive,’ ” he said. “Modern people are not only doing the things that are called ‘medieval’ but doing them at times with gusto and greater will than they were ever done then.” Like what? “Murdering each other, starving each other.”

Friday, March 20, 2009

my childhood

h/t Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

Bronze Age torque, Country Clare. From the National Museum of Ireland.

Too busy to write much else -- Happy St Patrick's Day everyone!

St. Patrick is my confirmation patron, and the patron of the archdiocese of New York. I will have Guinness today.

Slán leat!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

bad spanish can be so good..

"Todo es Mal" by The Slow Poisoners (h/t The Clockwork Cabaret).

UPDATE: The subject at hand is the song by the Slow Poisoners.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

what I've been listening to, part three

Beirut (the city).

At times nostalgia can possess you even if it's a nostalgia for a place or time you've never known. When I listen to Beirut I feel an intense yearning for an Eastern Europe of my imagination, painted in the faded colors of an old Polaroid snapshot.

Beirut is basically one guy, Zach Condon, who writes the music, sings, and plays trumpet and ukulele. He's very young, only 23, but has a deep soul capable of making music of great beauty and longing. He reminds me a bit of Goran Bregović, yet he's more wistful and less frantic. He sings the songs of a million past summers. Enjoy:

"Elephant Gun":

"Postcards from Italy":


Saturday, January 31, 2009

ancient sports memorabilia

There's been a fair amount of press about this Roman figurine found by archeologists in Israel. The announcement (h/t Rogueclassicism) says that is was probably used as a weight for a scale and that it originally came from Asia Minor (present-day Turkey):

We can assume that this marble weight belonged to a family of merchants who originally came from somewhere in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Being a precious object the weight was passed down from generation to generation in the family until sometime in the fourth-fifth century CE when an unidentified merchant was so unfortunate as to stay in the public building (a hostel??) which is currently being uncovered in the Givati car park in the City of David. A very severe tremor that struck the building resulted in its complete destruction. While exposing the building the marble image was discovered amongst its ruins which constitute silent testimony of the drama that occurred in this impressive structure prior to its collapse.

One thing that caught my eye was the possibility that this represented a boxer:
The stylistic motifs that are manifested in the image, such as its short hair style, the prominent lobes and curves of the ears, as well as the almond-shaped eyes suggest that the object most likely portrays an athlete, probably a boxer. Boxing was one of the most popular fields of heavy athletics in Roman culture and more than once Roman authors mention the demand by the Roman public in general, and the elite in particular, for boxing matches. Besides the prestige and the substantial amounts of money the victors of boxing competitions won, they were also afforded the support of the emperor himself, as in the famous case of Melancomas who was Titus’ favorite boxer.

So, we are possibly looking at the Mohammed Ali or the Lebron James of the second century. Knowing that, when I look at the figurine it seems oddly familiar...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Texas is a scary place

Nazi zombies in Austin.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Edgar Allen Poe

Last week, our dear Edgar Allen Poe turned 200. I apologize for being one week late, but how better can this be celebrated than by a YouTube of Christopher Walken reading "The Raven":

Friday, January 23, 2009

forever twelve years old

What the hell, it's Friday...

From a Times article on British place names. Some other beauties:
Some are mostly amusing, like Ugley, Essex; East Breast, in western Scotland; North Piddle, in Worcestershire; and Spanker Lane, in Derbyshire.

Others evoke images that may conflict with residents’ efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs.

These include Crotch Crescent, Oxford; Titty Ho, Northamptonshire; Wetwang, East Yorkshire; Slutshole Lane, Norfolk; and Thong, Kent.

Titty Ho. Awesome.

UPDATE: For extra Friday weirdness, the new hip-hop theme song for the Utah Jazz. (h/t The Cowhide Globe).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

obama action figure

And why not?

From DiD via Wonkette.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

brief comment on yesterday's event

"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

--President Obama's inaugural address.

So much has been written about yesterday's inauguration -- the emotion surrounding it, its historic nature -- and I don't have a great deal to add. I just wanted to mention that less than 42 years ago, in my lifetime, my own wedding would have been illegal in sixteen states. President Obama's achievement, which he would be the first to recognize as our common national achievement, is glorious.

The president has some daunting tasks ahead of him. Also, racism in this country is far from dead and it's time for us to address other injustices in our marriage laws. Still, I am happy to drink in this moment.

"From the dream to history," L'Unita.

PS: There's a great article in the Times about the diversity of Barack and Michelle Obama's family.

Monday, January 19, 2009

manhattan snowfall

Days like these the light becomes muted and the colors only whisper. Tree branches and cornices are outlined in white and you see how harmonious the edges of things are here. Briefly, the city feigns an air of something like serenity and softness and for an hour you forgive it its unforgiving winters.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


The prize.

This blog post is actually an entry for a contest -- Lisa Falzon, a Maltese/Irish (very cool combination) artist whose blog I have been enjoying has a sweepstakes with her "Valentine Joyride" piece as a prize. I recommend stopping by her blog and checking out her work. It's whimsical without being naive, surreal but not clumsily so. She is the most generous of magicians, explaining often how she gets her fascinating effects. Stop by and enjoy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

things go from bad to worse

Seventeenth-century representation of Jerusalem.

Things are not getting any better in Israel and Palestine. Almost a thousand Palestinians have been killed and Israel is expanding their offensive. At the same time, it seems that the Israeli Elections Committee has banned Israeli Arab parties. Josh Marshall gives some context here, but it is still disturbing.

Meanwhile it seems that almost all the discussion and reporting on the issue is one-sided and simplistic. Let me state my position: I am pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, anti-Hamas and against current Israeli policy. I oppose what the Israeli government is doing now in the same way I opposed my own government's war against Iraq: not only is it immoral, heartless, and cynical, but actually increases the long-term security problems for Israel, much like our invasion of Iraq has weakened our own security situation.

I'd like to point out some voices for sanity amidst all the screaming. William posted the reflections of our friend David Kersh, and David also put them up on his own blog. J Street defines itself as "the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement." Richard Silverstein blogs at Tikun Olam, which is "a Mishnaic term meaning 'repair [or mend] the world'.'' Check out these resources. Let's deepen the conversation a bit.

And pray for peace.

UPDATE: Are the Israelis using chemical weapons against the civilian population? From the New York Times:

Palestinians interviewed in Gaza on Monday cited another reason for their flight: Israel soldiers, they said, are firing rounds of a noxious substance that burns skin and makes it hard to breathe.

A resident of southwest Gaza City on Monday showed a reporter a piece of metal casing with the identifying number M825A1, which Marc Garlasco, a military analyst with Human Rights Watch, identified as white phosphorus, typically used for signaling, smoke screens and destroying enemy equipment.

In recent years, experts and rights advocates have argued over whether its use to intentionally harm people violates international conventions.

Major Dallal would not say whether Israel was using white phosphorus, but said, “The munitions we use are consistent with international law.”

Still, white phosphorus can cause injury, and a growing number of Gazans report being hurt by it, including in Beit Lahiya, Khan Yunis, and in eastern and southwestern Gaza City. When exposed to air, it ignites, experts say, and if packed into an artillery shell, it can rain down flaming chemicals that cling to anything they touch.

Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.

The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. “Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “No. I was against it before. Not anymore.”

Monday, January 05, 2009

Pulpy New Year!

My new year's resolution: Read more pulp!

A lovely youtube, featuring hundreds of classic Weird Tales covers (h/t: Weekend Stubble):

Weird Tales is one of those things I've known about, but never really investigated. According to the entry in Fons veritatis, it has quite the history. Not only was it a publisher of H.P. Lovecraft, but it was also the first to publish Tennessee Williams! It apparently still exists in a new incarnation, complete with a web page, and with Ann VanderMeer as fiction editor (I enjoyed the steampunk anthology she edited along with her husband Jeff). Great fun!

UPDATE: The same site has videos. This one is a beauty:

UPDATE 2: Ted at The Late Adopter has sent another great pulpy link. Speaking of pulp, sitemeter tells me my post on The Lustful Turk has been popular with visitors from all over the world.