Word Wednesday.

Crepuscular

Adjective.

1: of, relating to, or resembling twilight: Dim.

2: occurring or active during twilight: Crepuscular insects.

[Origin: Latin crepusculum, from creper dusky.]

(1668)

“The Arcadian hated this time of day. That crepuscular transition between the dying day and the not-yet-born night. It was the heavy trudge home, the missed opportunities of the day, the optimism that had arrived with morning now transformed into failure and sadness. Or maybe it was just him. Maybe everyone else liked it. Thought it contained the possibility of fun, adventure. Looked forward to seeing what the night brought.

Maybe.” – The Doll’s House, Tania Carver.

Word Wednesday.

Synonymous

 
Adjective.

1: having the character of a synonym; also: alike in meaning or significance.

2: having the same connotations, implications, or reference.

-synonymously, adverb.

(1610)

“I had decided that if there was a God, he was a cruel sonofabitch to allow the things he allowed. Especially since he claimed his name was synonymous with love. It seemed to me that he was little more than a celestial Jack the Ripper, offering us, his whores, rewards with one hand, smiling and telling us he loved us, while with the other hand he held a shiny, sharp knife, the better with which to disembowel us.” – The Complete Drive-In, Joe R. Lansdale.

Word Wednesday.

Mordant

 
Adjective.

1: biting and caustic in thought, manner, or style: incisive.

2: acting as a mordant.

3: burning, pungent.

-mordantly, adverb.

[Origin: Middle French, present participle of mordre to bite, from Latin mordēre; perhaps akin to Sanskrit m dnāti he presses, rubs.]

(15th Century)

Mordant, noun:

1: a chemical that fixes a dye in or on a substance by combining with the dye to form an insoluble compound.

2: a corroding substance used in etching.

(1791)

Mordant, transitive verb: to treat with a mordant.

(1836)

“Neither of us was pleased to leave Bancroft behind. There was always a chance that he might decide he’d recovered sufficiently to be interviewed while our backs were turned. Maitland, of course, didn’t have an evening with Maeve as consolation, and he was mordant company all the way back to the nick.” – The Reckoning, Jane Casey.

Seductive Sins: 100 Years of Ads.

In this catalog of twentieth-century advertisements, Taschen has drawn together examples of advertorial seduction that were employed by liquor and tobacco companies over the past 100 years.

This colorful tome showcases an undeniably vibrant chapter of advertising history: highlighting trends — from the kitsch to the cliché and the classy — in drinking and smoking in America. 20th Century Alcohol and Tobacco Ads is as much a lesson in popular culture and pseudo-science as it is in advertising: see the pages dedicated to doctors testifying that smoking soothes the throat and liquor bring social success! With contemporary legislation in many countries moving cigarettes to plain packaging and alcohol advertisements to after hours on TV, the images in this publication seem almost closer to caricature than they do to real life.

You can see several more ads at iGNANT, and buy the book here.

The Medieval Method of Cooking Octopus.

Grilled octopus – photo by Alpha / Flickr.

Grilled octopus – photo by Alpha / Flickr.

“This is a vile fish of no value; therefore cook it the way you want.” ~ Liber de Coquina, a 14th century cookbook.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m a fan of octopuses, when they are alive. I don’t care for them in the least when dead, regardless of the cooking method.

Platina’s Right Pleasure and Good Health, a 15th-century work from Italy, offers these thoughts:

On octopus – The polypus has been named because it has many feet. It uses its gills as feet and hands, and its tail, which is two-pronged and is pointed, while mating. They are very pleased with smell, and they eat the flesh of shellfish. They carry everything into their house and then separate the shells from the red meat. It hunts the small fish which are swimming near the shells. You season a cooked octopus with pepper and asafetida.

Platina also has this to add: Whatever way you cook it, you will say it is bad. Doesn’t seem to much point with such a conclusion.

Meanwhile, The Book of Sent Sovi, a 14th-century Catalan text, gives this recipe:

To Stuff Octopus – If you want to stuff octopus or squid, take the octopus and wash it well, boil it, cut off the arms, and take out what is inside. Chop the arms all together with parsley, mint, marjoram and other good herbs. You can chop another kind of fish if the tentacles are not enough. Put in the best spices that you can find. Make sure that the octopus is cleaned well. Put in the stuffing, and put in raisins and scalded garlic and fried onion. Then make almond milk with the broth that has boiled the fish, and put it in a bowl or a casserole together with the octopus; in the milk you can put a little verjuice and good spices, the best you might have, and oil. You can cook it in the oven or on iron trivet with live coals beneath.

If you’re just dying for medieval cooked octopus, that sounds like an interesting recipe to work out.

Via Medievalists.

In exciting news, the Newberry has opened up access to 1.7 million historical images!

The Newberry has announced a major revision to its policy regarding the re-use of collection images: images derived from collection items are now available to anyone for any lawful purpose, whether commercial or non-commercial, without licensing or permission fees to the library.

You can read much more here.

Medieval Courses Online.

There is now a unique range of medieval and Tudor courses which can be downloaded or followed online, complete with the full text from www.medievalcourses.com – once registered students have unlimited access to study at their own pace, and can complete online quizzes at the end of each module. The courses are professionally produced in thirty minute lessons and include up to 11 hours of teaching, plus bonus materials, reading lists and links to other resources. The tutors are all established experts in their field.

The courses are all very reasonably priced. You can read much more, including a summary of the offered courses here.

Word Wednesday.

Penumbra / Brio / Multifarious / Inexorable

 
Penumbra, noun. Plural -brae.

1 a: a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light. b: a shaded region surrounding the dark central portion of a sunspot.

2: a surrounding or adjoining region in which something exists in a lesser degree: fringe.

3: a body of rights held to be guaranteed by implication in a civil constitution.

4: something that covers, surrounds, or obscures: shroud.

-Penumbral, adjective.

[Origin: New Latin, from Latin paene almost + umbra shadow.]

(1666)

The allure and glamour of radical surgery overshadowed crucial developments in less radical surgical procedures for cancer that were evolving in its penumbra.

Brio, noun.

1: enthusiastic vigor: vivacity, verve.

[Origin: Italian.]

(1734)

Yet, even lacking such targets, Frei and Freireich had cured leukemia in some children. Even generic cellular poisons, dosed with adequate brio, could thus eventually obliterate cancer.

Multifarious, adjective.

1: having or occurring in great variety: diverse.

-multifariousness, noun.

[Origin: Medieval Latin multifarius, from Latin multifariam in many places.]

(1593)

The biological characteristics of tumors were described as so multifarious as to defy any credible organization. There seemed to be no organizing rules.

Inexorable, adjective.

1: not to be persuaded, moved, or stopped: relentless.

-inexorability, noun.

-inexorableness, noun.

-inexorably, adverb.

[Origin: Latin inexorabilis, from in– + exorabilis pliant, from exorare to prevail upon, from ex– + orare to speak.]

(1542)

For an oncologist in training, too, leukemia represents a special incarnation of cancer. Its pace, its acuity, its breathtaking, inexorable arc of growth forces rapid, often drastic decisions; it is terrifying to experience, terrifying to observe, and terrifying to treat.

All quotations from The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Books.

The Hazel Wood is the debut novel of Melissa Albert, and it is a fine story. This is the story of Alice, and Alice-Three-Times. Alice is a young woman who is very angry, she is prickly all over, and with more reason than she knows. It’s a very nice change from goody two shoe and syrupy sweet protagonists. This is a fairy tale about fairy tales, and if you prefer your fairy tales on the moderately twisted side, this one is for you. It’s not full dark and twisted, but there are seriously dark moments, and a couple sprayed in gore. There’s a pleasant mystery twining through, which isn’t a terribly tough puzzle for those who enjoy the challenge of unraveling ahead of time, and it’s a story full of doors. All in all, a delightful tale, well told.

Sylloge Tacticorum.

A scene of Byzantine warfare from the Madrid Skylitzes.

A scene of Byzantine warfare from the Madrid Skylitzes.

Medievalists has some interesting excerpts from the Sylloge Tacticorum, a Byzantine handbook on military tactics.

Besides noting the standard ways of attacking and defending, the author of this manual also includes several methods to cunningly strike at an enemy, although he does not personally approve of them. He writes:

We compiled this book judging that these stratagems and others of the kind should be recorded not in order to be used by us against the enemy (for I believe that they are unworthy even to be mentioned in a Christian context), but so that our generals may be able to guard against them by knowing exactly the cunning plans of the enemy concerning food and drink, especially when they encamp in enemy territory.

However, it should also be noted that the author usually does not give any defence against these schemes, which might indicate that he added them in so they could be used by the Byzantine generals – and that his moral concerns might have been exaggerated. Readers will note that these methods can be considered a form of chemical warfare, which would be targeted at the enemy when they were not expecting it.

Having read the article, I will agree that all the tactics listed are extraordinarily nasty, some with a propensity to bite the hand of those using them. The seven tactics are:

1) Putting the plague into bread loaves.

2) Poisoning the wine.

3) Sabotaging the water supply.

4) Destroying the land.

5) Withering the trees.

6) Attacking the horses with chemicals.

7) Burning weapons without fire.

For all the details of the text, you’ll need to head over to Medievalists.

Other interesting things at Medievalists:

New Game!

Released on 13 February, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an action role-playing game set in the early fifteenth-century Holy Roman Empire that has striven for historically accurate and highly detailed content.

[…]

This fairly unusual method of gameplay has attracted a lot of attention. As another reviewer said: ‘There’s no heroic swordplay here, no wizards casting fireballs, no clerics raising the dead, no orcs or dragons. This is the story of an actual civil war that raged across Bohemia in the first decade of the 15th century. Your part in it is that of a nobody struggling to survive in a land full of noblemen who couldn’t care less if you lived or died, and fellow peasants who would stab you in the back for a crust of bread.’

You can read about the game in detail, with multiple reviews here.

Collection of 3,000 medieval manuscripts now online.

Valhalla Rising: The Construction of Cultural Identity through Norse Myth in Scandinavian and German Pagan Metal.

Word Wednesday.

Miscreant / Concatenation / Onomastic

 
Miscreant, adjective:

1: Unbelieving, heretical.

2: Depraved, villainous.

²Miscreant, noun:

1: Infidel, Heretic.

2: One who behaves criminally or viciously.

[Origin: Middle English miscreaunt, from Anglo-French mescreant, present participle of mescreire to disbelieve, from mes + creire to believe, from Latin credere.]

(14th Century)

Concatenate, adjective: linked together.

Transitive verb -nated; -nating: to link together in a series or chain.

-Concatenation, noun.

[Origin: Middle English, from Late Latin concatenatus, past participle of concatenare to link together, from Latin con- + catena chain.]

(15th Century)

Onomastic, adjective: of, relating to, or consisting of a name or names.

-onomastically, adverb.

[Origin: Greek onomastikos, from onomazein to name, from onoma name.]

(1716)

Miscreant & Concatenation:

“It hadn’t surprised him one bit. Joss had always known that objects large and small have secret, vicious lives of their own. He could perhaps make an exception for pieces of fishing tackle that had never taken him on in the living memory of the Brittany fleet; but otherwise the world of things was manifestly focused on making man’s life sheer misery. The merest slip of a hand can give a supposedly inanimate object enough freedom of movement to set off a chain of catastrophes which may peak at any point on the Murphy Scale, from “Damn Nuisance” to “Bloody Tragedy.” Corks provide a simple illustration of the basic pattern, viz. a wine cork dropped from the table never rolls back to nestle at the boot of whoever let it slip. Oh no, its evil mind always elects to reside behind the stove, like a spider looking for inaccessible sanctuary. The errant cork thus plunges its hereditary hunter, Humankind, into a trial of strength. He has to move the stove and the gas connection out of the wall; he bends down to seize the miscreant bung and a pot falls off the hob and scalds his head. But this morning’s case arose from a more complex concatenation. It had begun with the tiniest error in Joss’s calculation of the trajectory required to toss a used coffee filter paper into the trash. It landed just off target; the flip-top lurched sideways then swung back and scattered wet coffee grounds all around the kitchen floor. Thus do Things transform justified resentment of their human slavemasters into outright revolt; thus do they force men, women and children, in brief but acutely significant bursts, to squirm and scamper like dogs.” – Have Mercy On Us All, Fred Vargas.

[I have suffered the morning wet coffee grounds splat. It’s a bad day.]

Onomastic:

“The call to lunch took the form of Bertin’s fist hitting a large brass plate hanging over the counter. Bertin banged his gong twice a day, for lunch and for dinner, and the effect of the thunder-roll was to make all the pigeons in the square flap their wings and take off all at once, while the hungry, in a parallel but inverse movement, flocked into the Viking. Bertin’s gesture effectively reminded people that it was time to eat, but it was also an allusion to his own fearful ascendancy, which was supposed to be common knowledge. For Bertin’s mother’s maiden name was Toutin, which made the barman, by onomastic filiation, a direct descendant of Thor.” – Have Mercy On Us All, Fred Vargas.

Word Wednesday.

Subfusc

Adjective, chiefly British.

Drab, Dusky.

[Origin: Latin subfuscus brownish, dusky, from sub– + fuscus dark brown.]

(1710)

“Phelan straightened in the pew, then relaxed his spine against the seat’s backrest. He noticed that the church was growing darker around him, the shadows more subfusc. – The Ghosts of Sleath, James Herbert.

Books.

I often get a book based on cover art. That’s not all of course, but if the art attracts me immediately, there’s a good chance it will go home with me. I’ve often found that writers who really care about the cover art portraying the essence of their art tend to be good ones. I haven’t read anything else by Jeff Vandermeer. After the cover art, I was intrigued by the premise. I haven’t gotten to this one yet, still on The Emperor of All Maladies.

“Once upon a time there was a piece of biotech that grew and grew until it had its own apartment”: an odd, atmospheric, and decidedly dark fable for our time.

[…]

Superb: a protagonist and a tale sure to please fans of smart, literate fantasy and science fiction.

You can read the full Kirkus Review here.

Colour In The Middle Ages.

The month of May from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry – three young women are dressed in green.

The month of May from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry – three young women are dressed in green.

Medievalists has a fun article up about colour. Me, I’m all about the red first. Black second. I was rather delighted to find out I’d be an evil knight. :D Some interestin’ bits:

Medieval scholars inherited the idea from ancient times that there were seven colors: white, yellow, red, green, blue, purple and black. Green was the middle color, which meant that it sat balanced between the extremes of white and black. It was also considered a soothing color, so much so that scribes often kept emeralds and other green objects beside them to look at when they needed to rest their eyes, while the poet Baudri de Bourgueil suggested writing on green tablets instead of white or black ones.

I wouldn’t mind keeping a few emeralds around…

Arthurian romances, one of the most popular forms of literature in the High Middle Ages, often made symbolic use of color, especially in the depiction of knights. Pastoureau writes:

The color code was recurrent and meaningful. A black knight was almost a character of primary importance (Tristan, Lancelot, Gawain) who wanted to hide his identity; he was generally motivated by good intentions and prepared to demonstrate his valor, especially by jousting or tournament. A red knight, on the other hand, was often hostile to the hero; this was a perfidious or evil knight, sometimes the devil’s envoy or a mysterious being from the Other World. Less prominent, a white knight was generally viewed as good; this was an older figure, a friend of protector or the hero, to who he gave wise council. Conversely, a green knight was a young knight, recently dubbed, whose audacious or insolent behavior was going to cause great disorder; he could be good or bad. Finally, yellow or gold knights were rare and blue knights nonexistent.

There’s also the mystery of why the colour blue took so very long to show up, and much more.

Michel Pastoureau has written extensively about symbolism and colors in the Middle Ages. His series A History of a Color, has four books that have been translated into English – Black, Blue, Green and Red.

I’ve already tracked these down at B&N and put my order in! :D Not only a lovely little history, but a nice read, and fun resource for artists. You can read everything at Medievalists.net.

Books.

Marcus was thoughtful enough to send me The Emperor of All Maladies, which I had meant to get months ago, but with everything going on, it slipped the brain. I was barely into the book, tears in my eyes, thinking “yep, yep, yep” and identifying with so much. It’s a truly riveting narrative, and it’s what the very best books always are – an opportunity to learn.

One thing which really struck deeply home was when the author talked about how it’s difficult to think of cancer as a thing, it’s more on the person side, and that’s so true. I don’t think of my cancer as random cells happily cloning and evolving at the expense of the rest of me; I don’t think of it as a nebulous disease; I don’t think of it as a thing. It’s more like you separate, and there’s a shadowy self staring you down, a dark charcoal swipe of a doppelgänger, challenging you to wage war for your life, and cancer cells are much better at the whole evolution business than we are, which is why you get poisoned and radiated to what feels like an inch from death. All that said, and given the recent nightmare of treatment, I found myself profoundly grateful for the current stage of medical and technological advance when I read this:

The sixteenth-century surgeon Ambroise Paré described charring tumors with a soldering iron heated on coals, or chemically searing them with a paste of sulfuric acid. Even a small nick in the skin, treated thus, could quickly suppurate into a lethal infection. The tumors would often profusely bleed at the slightest provocation.

Lorenz Heister, and eighteenth-century German physician, once described a mastectomy in his clinic as if it were a sacrificial ritual: “Many females can stand the operation with the greatest courage and without hardly moaning at all. Others, however, make such a clamor that they may dishearten even the most undaunted surgeon and hinder the operation. To perform the operation, the surgeon should be steadfast and not allow himself to become discomforted by the cries of the patient.”

I’d dearly like to be able to go back in time and smack the fuck out of Heister, and a host of others. Misogyny seriously sucks, and boy, is it ever present in cancer treatment. It’s certainly lessened a great deal, but it’s still more than present. Sigh.

Anyroad, highly recommended, for everyone.

ETA: Feeling better, got my anger and FUCK ITs back. Yeah.