Friday, February 26, 2016

When they sound the battle cry, God protect him carefully

I will sing my heart a song, comforting myself alone
So though loss is deep and strong, I won't die here on my own

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Who told the gorilla that he couldn't go to the ballet?"

Modern American society has lost the art of the riddle.

We have riddles, to be sure. They're all jokes, which isn't a problem with the form in the least - humor takes a great deal of talent to devise and deliver, and any form that can't be used comically is an underdeveloped one. The trouble is that they are for children, and children are lousy at comedy. Awful, really.

Food for Fasting in Early Modern Catalunya

"...and then take clean blanched almonds and extract milk from them, but goat milk would be better..."

So specifies a recipe from Ruperto de Nola's "Book of Cooking" (Llibre de Coch / Libro de Cozina), a text published in the Catalan and Castillian languages in 1529. (This quote, and all others in this post, are taken from the translation by Robin Carroll-Mann, available in full at If goat milk would be better, why, then, does de Nola specify almond milk?

It is because the dish is for Lent, and this imposes precise requirements on the food.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Loathly Ladies

A heroic man accepts an ugly woman despite her appearance, and then she transforms to become beautiful, for his actions broke a curse.

It's a common motif in medieval storytelling - and often, the choice of what the hero has to do sheds some light on the society's concept of gender.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Game of Ombre

Ombre (from the Spanish, meaning "man") was a game invented at the close of the 16th century which, by the late seventeenth, had spread across Europe and easily become the most popular card game.

What follows is a description of how the game was played in the seventeenth century, using English terminology (which is derived in some cases from the Spanish and in some from French adaptations thereof), along with notes on the ways the game may be simplified without serious impact on its mechanics. The name "Ombre," in seventeenth-century English, should be pronounced "umber."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cards and Card Games in Europe

Playing cards appear to have originated in China and migrated west via the Near East, but much of their noteworthy history is in Europe. (Cards in China have mostly developed into gaming tiles, the history of which will be the subject of another post sometime.) Beginning in the late 14th century, printed cards have been mass-produced cheaply and used in a large number of games, especially of the trick-taking type. (The form of a standard European deck of cards closely follows this particular function.)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

We come a cob-coaling for Bonfire time

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!