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How a Study of Processional Theatre Grew into a Book about Donkeys, Dissonance, and Blasphemous Pageants

What began for me as a fairly simple history of the processional theatre of Palm Sunday soon ran up against some puzzling questions:

  • Why is there no verifiable record of a live donkey taking part in a Palm Sunday procession before 1424? (A few retrospective “records” are demonstrably false.)
  • Why is Christ’s entry into Jerusalem still widely celebrated on Palm Sunday as a “triumphal” entry when biblical scholars of liberal and conservative persuasion alike agree that it was “nontriumphal,” “atriumphal,” or even “antitriumphal”?
  • If early Church authorities also agreed that Christ’s entry was a deliberate rejection of the pomp of imperial and other military entries, when (and why) did Palm Sunday processions start to resemble triumphal entries and when (and why) did military triumphs start to appropriate the language and iconography of Palm Sunday?
  • Why were life-size, wheeled, wooden images of Christ on a donkey, generally known as Palmesels (palm donkeys), introduced to Palm Sunday processions in the mid-tenth century?

  • Why were children allowed to ride behind Christ on the wooden donkey? Why were Protestant reformers and “enlightened” Roman Catholic prelates so hostile toward Palmesels? And, if all other processional images were (and are) carried at head height or above, why has the Palmesel alone been pulled at ground level?

Digging into these and other general questions soon unearthed a number of even more specific historical questions:

  • Why do scholars insist that the Quaker James Nayler’s ride into Bristol on October 24, 1656, was a deliberate reenactment of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? Nayler rode a horse, not a donkey. He did so six months after (or before) Palm Sunday. His followers neither waved palms or other foliage nor shouted “Hosanna.” At his trial before the Puritan parliament, Nayler was accused both of “horrid blasphemy” and of being a “traitor,” but not of imitating Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The coronation of Oliver Cromwell as king was thought to be imminent. Is it possible that Nayler’s series of muddy entries into Wells, Glastonbury, and Bristol, for which he was cruelly punished and imprisoned, was a parody of a triumphal royal progress?

  • In the annual Moscow Palm Sunday procession, why did the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia ride a white “horse, covered with white linen down to the ground, his ears being made long with the same cloth, like to an ass’s ears”? And why did the ruling tsar lead the horse?
  • Why do villages in lowland Bolivia still pull a wheeled image of Christ on a donkey in procession on Palm Sunday? How did the Palmesel, which flourished in German-speaking lands north of the Alps, reach Bolivia?

  • Why was the first person recorded as having ridden a donkey in a Palm Sunday procession of sorts in Rome not a member of the clergy but a startlingly eccentric, fifteenth-century, apocalyptic lay preacher?

Answering these and a host of other questions gradually transformed my book-in-progress from a simple work of theatrical and liturgical history into a much more complex exploration of the radical dissonance between Palm Sunday processions and other public enactments of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and the biblical story to which they all claimed allegiance. A curious theme emerged: those embodied representations of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem that were, at one time or another, labeled blasphemous, idolatrous, or superstitious by those in power were arguably most faithful to the biblical narrative of Palm Sunday, while those staged with the purpose of exalting those in power and celebrating military triumph were arguably blasphemous pageants.

By Max Harris

On writing Eastern Europe in Icelandic Sagas

My studies are in two senses “beyond medieval Europe,” as both Old Rus’ (a territory in Eastern Europe that interests me mostly) and Iceland (a place where practically all my sources had originated) are medieval regions lying beyond medieval Europe in the traditional sense of the term. This research aims at investigating the Old Norse-Icelandic sagas, chronicles, and other texts from the point of view of their validity as a historical source for scholars of the history of Eastern Europe, and Old Rus’ in particular. In this vein this issue has not been raised in the framework of Old Norse studies outside Russia. Only certain questions of East European and Russian history reflected in the sagas are discussed in scattered scholarly works, and the studies that I have been carrying out in this field for four decades are being translated into English for the first time.

The book falls into two completely different parts.

The image of Eastern Europe in toto, and of Old Rus’ in particular, which is discussed in part 1, can be called both historical and geographical. Here, an attempt is made through reading Old Norse texts—skaldic poetry, runic inscriptions, sagas, chronicles, and geographical treatises—to formulate the idea of the Scandinavian oecumene, to reconstruct a “mental map” of medieval Scandinavians, and to imagine the place of Eastern Europe on this “mental map”, that is to see Old Rus’—with its ways, rivers and towns—through the eyes of medieval Scandinavians. It should be noted that the quantity of ethnic names and different place-names of the Eastern Baltic region, Old Rus’, and European North was considerably larger in the Scandinavian tradition than the information this tradition possessed about the countries of Western Europe, including England and France. Scandinavian Vikings became acquainted with the geography of Eastern Europe as a result of their first trips to the east, although it is hardly possible to date this process with any precision. The knowledge of rivers with their currents, location of settlements, customs, and traditions of the peoples inhabiting different parts of the waterways, and so on, was vitally important for the success of expeditions. This information was passed by word of mouth. Numerous expeditions to and continuous stays in the Old Rus’ of merchants and warriors, who participated in the military enterprises of the Russian princes, accumulated and enriched geographical information. This information started to serve as a background for stories of Viking activities in Eastern Europe and was even organized into more systematic descriptions, such as lists of rivers, towns and so on, which occur in later geographical treatises and sometimes in the sagas. This knowledge could not be acquired from books, so it definitely was the result of a living oral tradition. It is evident that ancient Scandinavian society had a fairly stable collection of ideas about Eastern Europe. To some extent, this was a picture of the world of the time when the sources under consideration were being recorded, but there is no doubt that some background knowledge and general geographical ideas of the Viking Age have been preserved in it.

In part 2 the reader will find some information on the history of Russian-Norwegian political relations of the last third of the tenth and the first half of the eleventh century from saga stories about the stay in Rus’ of several Norwegian kings. Sagas and skaldic poems have preserved information on the visits of the four Norwegian kings to Rus’, namely Óláfr Tryggvason in 977–986, Óláfr Haraldsson in 1029–1030, his son Magnús from 1029 till 1035, and Haraldr Sigurðarson in the early 1030s and in about 1043–1045. All the four kings are seeking a short-term refuge in Rus’ and obtain it. They are welcomed by the Russian prince and his wife and are highly honoured and respected here. Óláfr Tryggvason and Magnús Óláfsson are brought up by the Russian prince (Vladimir and Yaroslav, respectfully). Óláfr Tryggvason, Óláfr Haraldsson, and Haraldr Sigurðarson occupy a high position in the Russian military service. All of them leave Rus’ for their own country in an attempt to gain (or regain) power in Norway. Old Norse sources have recounted the activity of Yaroslav the Wise in the field of foreign affairs: the Russian prince is said to have used not only diplomatic means and military support of the Norwegian kings, but also espionage and bribery of the leading chieftains in Norway. The life of the Norwegian kings in Rus’ is described in the sagas with great laconicism, and with the help of a set of stock phrases. On the one hand, this demonstrates a lack of concrete information. On the other hand, it reflects the saga authors’ tendency to exaggerate the role of a noble Scandinavian outside his own country. Still, the very fact that these four kings had been to Rus’ (in spite of the absolute ignorance of the Old Russian sources on this matter) cannot be denied, since Icelandic skalds, contemporaries of those kings, quoted by saga authors, confirm the saga information.

by Tatjana N. Jackson

The Manifesto, Received

Contents

1. Who read the Manifesto?
2. Who reviewed the Manifesto?
3. Would I write a different Manifesto if I wrote it now?
4. Down with the drawbridges!
5. Up with public-facing scholarship!

It’s been a little over one year that Medievalism: A Manifesto was published as the inaugural volume in the ARC Humanities Press series PastImperfect, and it’s been a fascinating ride. My own horizon of expectations had been one of optimistic curiosity. I knew the time was right for me to publish an essailike the Manifesto, but I was (in aenigmate) aware that, when sending the manuscript off to Simon Forde, my own life and career clock was probably not entirely in sync with all the rapid developments in medieval studies and medievalism studies. That turned out to be correct. The reviewer for Medievally Speaking, for example, rightly reminded readers and me that I seemed “in some ways to be late to [my] own party. This is not unexpected—as a driving force in the study of medievalism, [Utz] has been vocal about these issues for some time, and the ideas themselves have evolved in a relatively public manner.”

Who read the Manifesto?

Thus, while I was writing from the vantage point of someone who had been engaged with the study of medieval culture over the last three decades, some of my readers, especially those whose careers began later, naturally viewed some of my recommendations as a status quo they had already reached or perhaps even left behind. While some ‘seasoned’ medievalists told me that my choice of weaving my own biography into the fabric of my sketch was a bold (“I can’t believe you put your own parents on the cover of your book!”) and epistemologically productive move, some from among the generations of younger medievalists commented on it as a nice touch, a turn they were already performing in much of their own work without the need for further encouragement. Another reason for “being late at my own game” was, of course, that I had presented some of the foundational ideas for the Manifesto as the plenary, “The Notion of the Middle Ages: Our Middle Ages, Ourselves,” at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in 2015, and summarized them for the Chronicle of Higher Education in “Don’t Be Snobs, Medievalists.”

Who reviewed the Manifesto?

As I reflected on these matters for this blog entry, I noticed that most of the published responses to the Manifesto so far have come from online or relatively ‘young’ journals and blogs, that except for the reviews published in Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen and Literaturen (I do hail from Germany) and Arthuriana (I am on their advisory board), most established journals (think: ClioJEGP, Medievalia et Humanistica, Parergon, The Medieval Review, Speculum) or outlets of what some consider the current medievalist avant garde (postmedieval; In the [Medieval] Middle) did not engage with my essai. Perhaps some residual resistance against that which reeks of the extra-academic and popular; or against that which references Arendt and Dinshaw instead of Adorno and Žižek? Hard to say.

I did receive fascinating in person responses from the participants in Daniel Kline’s ICMS session in 2017. And I also received detailed and thoughtful responses from readers writing for less established and ‘popular’ outlets like The Public Medievalist, literaturkritik.de, The (Pop)Culture Medievalist, and medievalists.net. Personal appreciative e-mails came mostly from independent scholars and colleagues working at small liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities, not major research institutions. And two thirds of the published reviews and responses originated from scholars and journals outside the United States (Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Spain, Venezuela). This could mean that the Manifesto’s objectives had more relevance for colleagues outside the U.S., and for independent scholars and colleagues at small liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities. ARC Humanities Press informs me that the volume exceeded their sales expectations; I know of at least a dozen teacher-scholars who have been using the text in their classrooms; and three colleagues told me they made reference to the Manifesto in an effort to entice their administrators and tenure and promotion committees to value their efforts at public scholarship. I couldn’t be happier with these outcomes, which are also reflected in the following published responses:

Medievalism: A Manifesto aims to do nothing less than to reform the ways in which we think about academic engagement with the Middle Ages, and with medievalism as a whole. […] [Utz presents] a fundamental, challenging, and difficult intervention aimed squarely at those who may not want to listen, and who, for that precise reason, most urgently need to do so.” – Andrew B. R. Elliott, Arthuriana

“This book—especially its final chapter, which comprises the real ‘manifesto’ of the volume—should be required reading for every medieval studies Ph.D., and taped to the door of many a public history professor.” – Paul B. Sturtevant, The Public Medievalist

“Utz is the scholar/teacher as rabble rouser, in the very best sense of the term—though some of the rabble are his own colleagues in the academy. He argues for a fresh approach to a new topic in a way that embraces not just the academy but also larger audiences with their own distinctive views of and responses to what we call the medieval.” – Kevin J. Harty, La Salle University

“Richard Utz publicó en 2017 el manifiesto del medievalismo, donde busca repensar la manera en que conectamos, desde el mundo académico, con la cultura medieval. Su objetivo último es que desde los intramuros de la academia procuremos dialogar con aquel público general que, afuera, también se interesa por el mundo medieval, aunque no primordial (o exclusivamente) desde la teoría, sino a partir de la observancia y disfrute de las manifestaciones postmedievales que recrean ese periodo histórico-cultural, como pueden ser la literatura, el cine, las series de televisión, la música…La vocación comparatista de este manifiesto no se observa solo en esta finalidad interartística e interdiscursiva que subyace a su escritura, sino también en los procesos iniciales que guiaron su inspiración.” – Laura Camino Plaza, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela

“Im vorliegenden Manifest … erscheint dieses Plädoyer aber ungewohnt intensiv, und das liegt vor allem daran, dass Utz sich nicht zum vermeintlich objektiv-neutralen Kommentator emporschwingt, sondern seinen Werdegang als medievalistund medievalism-isteng mit seiner privaten Biographie verknüpft. Dabei gereicht ihm zum Vorteil, dass er auf lange Erfahrung einerseits im deutschen, andererseits im US-amerikanischen Universitätssystem und auf entsprechende Einsicht auch in beide Gesellschaften blicken kann.” – Jan Alexander von Nahl, literaturkritik.de

Medievalism: A Manifestois well-argued, inspiring, and also timely, as its immediately sold-out first print run indicates. This book is for the scholars who need to shed their guilt over ‘cheating’ on their scholarship by indulging in fun medievalism; it’s for the grad students who need to be reminded of what inspired them to first set foot in our field; it’s for the department chairs who are wondering how to make their departments ‘more relevant’. In other words, Medievalism: A Manifesto is a must-read for anyone in our field, and a rallying cry for scholars in general to harness the power of public platforms to better society. If you need a quick read to relight your fire, this is it.” – Danièle Cybulskie, medievalists.net

Would I write a different Manifesto if I wrote it now?

All things considered, somewhat “late to my own game” I may very well have been. However, the overall reception indicates the Manifesto has been making a difference for a good number of its readers, and perhaps beyond. Would I have written it differently if I had finished it in early 2019? Absolutely! Since I submitted the manuscript in late 2016, the dramatic changes in U.S. and global politics and academe have revealed, more quickly and more powerfully than 100 years of scholarship, how deeply the practices and traditions of academic medieval studies are imbricated in the nationalism, sexism, and racism that helped anchor the study of the Middle Ages at the modern university in the second half of the nineteenth century; how the violent and discriminatory origins of these practices can come to the fore if one scratches the medievalist ‘veneer’ of Confederate statues and stained glass windows, in the U.S. as well as in other countries; and how these practices continue to prevent a comprehensive understanding of medieval culture, one broadly inclusive of non-white and non-European or minority peoples, artifacts, languages, and scholars.

Over the last two years, medievalists have been negotiating how to combat the increasingly widespread misinformation about what is and what isn’t “medieval”. Some, like Andrew Elliot (Medievalism, Politics, and Mass Media) and Paul Sturtevant (The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination) have provided sorely needed sociological and media studies approaches to our discussions; others, like Geraldine Heng (The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages), the Medievalists of Color, and numerous other individuals are doing the foundational work to fill in the scholarly lacunae left by predominantly Eurocentric approaches; and again others, and here I am thinking of the hundreds of colleagues contributing to The Public Medievalist (series on race and gender), medievalists.net, and widely read news services, magazines, and blogs, have lowered the artificial drawbridge between the academic and the so-called dilettante world and critically discuss local all forms of medievalism.

Down with the drawbridges!

This general movement toward an inclusive study of medieval culture and its afterlife is what I see growing every day. What distracts from and even discredits such inclusive and generous research are spurious accusations against some of the public forums that have historically been the most open for academic and non-academic lovers of medievalia: for Anglophone and non-Anglophone scholars; for faculty and students of all ranks and from research universities through community colleges and schools; for multiple approaches, methodologies, and theories; for traditional and new geographical, temporal, and intellectual notions; and for readings focused on class, gender, and race. These large and open forums, including especially the Kalamazoo and Leeds congresses, with their intentional efforts at keeping registration cost low and including local and regional communities, continue the promise of a true public exchange about the Middle Ages. Those who only want to congregate with colleagues who already share their own convictions, who find the ‘popular’ interest in medieval culture too uncomfortable and time-consuming, who denigrate other colleagues’ work to puff up their own, and who, if in charge, would deny non-conforming colleagues access to conferences, Facebook pages, and journals, will not make the study and engagement with medieval culture more truly democratic and diverse. I am afraid too many of them only want to replace ye olde drawbridge with a newe one, of their own making.

Up with public-facing scholarship!

Ironically, conservative (old) philologists and quasi-Rankean historians, who may not really mind for medieval studies to remain stuck within its nineteenth-century nationalist, racist, and sexist roots just as long as they don’t have to change, seem to agree with many of the most avant-garde and woke medievalists on one thing: the need to keep the academic study of the Middle Ages unsullied by the efforts of so-called dilettantes. Both of these groups feel foundationally threatened by the work of non-academic medievalists in castellology, reenactment, role-playing, digital gaming, and other presentist and/or praxis-oriented endeavors of reception. My hope is to convince the vast majority of medievalists, who have their epistemological habitat in the vast space between these two extreme positions, to bring to bear their specialist education to explain various local, regional, national, and global medievalisms to their fellow citizens and to collaborate with all those who share their own (albeit professionally sublimated) LOVE for the ‘medieval’. Such publicly engaged scholarship, as I wrote in the Manifesto, “is hard work and demands a more adventurous and entrepreneurial kind of academic than the one we have too often attracted and rewarded over the last 130 years.” The Past Imperfect book series has been instrumental at making such scholarship happen.

By Richard Utz

Kriston Rennie on Writing Medieval Canon Law

  1. What is your book about?

My book is about the early medieval origins and development of canon law. What differs is my approach. I apply a slightly different interpretive lens, tackling the subject through a social-history framework. What this means in practice is a big part of the story. Concentrating on the law’s formative centuries (ca. 400-1140) presents the opportunity to understand the ancient traditions, norms, customs, and rationale of the Roman Church in shaping legislative procedure. It also provides a chance for treating the canon law as a living and breathing organism; as an integrated and pervasive aspect of medieval life and society, before the emergence of professional lawyers, law schools, courtrooms, and universities.

  1. Why write another book on this subject?

It took some convincing at first. The field of medieval canon law is steeped in tradition. There are so many great and influential works, whose eloquent and comprehensive analyses fuel a rich historiographical legacy. That was one initial reservation. I also wondered about the genuine need for another book on this subject, its potential audience, what my contribution might be, and whether I was the right person for the job. I’ve always felt like an interloper into the world of canon law, an imposter coming to the field from a different background, with different historical interests and questions.

Ultimately, I decided to turn this experience to my advantage. The Past Imperfect book series provided a creative space for another perspective – something accessible, dynamic, and provocative. There’s an obvious attraction to a book of this nature, whose framework, conception, and production are refreshingly different from the traditional academic monograph. The chance to write something succinct, punchy, and colloquial was extremely appealing. So, too, was the opportunity to shed some of the stricter conventions, which can often weigh down a History book. There is something to be said for this approach to research and writing, which I found extremely rewarding.

I suppose that answers the personal aspect of the question. The intellectual justification for writing another book on this subject is slightly different, though it relates in part to the series’ objectives. I wanted to produce a short book that: made sense of an important subject, highlighted contemporary advances and methodologies, and fostered an appreciation for the field among specialist and non-specialists alike. It took me a long time to realise that canon law is not separate from the political, social, religious, theological, or intellectual traditions of the Middle Ages. As I argue in my book, it both informs and shapes this world. It’s a core and unavoidable component, which demands a better understanding. So, for these reasons, I had to write this book!

  1. What is your particular approach?

My particular approach began with a question I’ve been asking myself all along: why does canon law matter? Or, as Jason Taliadoros and I once enquired: ‘Why study medieval canon law?’

My approach was framed by a desire to explain the law’s formulation in the simplest and clearest way possible. That is, its fundamental purpose, its reason for existence and proliferation, even the methods for its creation and collection. I introduce the subject of medieval canon law as an invention: ‘an evolutionary story of human industry, ingenuity, and change.’ From this vantage, my ultimate aim was to explain how the medieval Church and society were influenced and controlled, how the law actually functioned. I wanted to make the subject tangible in some way. On one level, this meant cutting through the rich historiography and textual tradition, which is exactly what the Past Imperfect series allowed me to do. I don’t mean ignoring this foundational work, but rather harnessing it into a more digestible package.

  1. What do you hope that readers will gain from your book?

Medieval canon law is too often treated in isolation, as an esoteric and highly specialised sub-field of History. There is some truth to this view, as I suggest in my book. But the reality is far more engrossing. While I spend some time explaining the master narrative of canon law, its structure, collections, and rationale, the crux of my book arrives with a chapter on ‘Practice (Reality)’. I wanted to find a way to write about the law as more than a product of textual criticism, but rather as something that was made and enacted; something that influenced everyday lives; as an instrument of authority, clarification, and defense.

By adopting this unique vision and interpretive framework, I hope that my readers will develop a richer appreciation of the canon law’s influence on medieval European society. I’ve positioned the subject as a bountiful source and object of historical study, the engine of a rich cultural, intellectual, political, social, and religious tradition. I hope that my book serves as a ‘call-to-arms’ of sorts, inviting and challenging a budding generation of historians to dip their toes in the canonical waters.

by Kriston Rennie

On Writing Property, Power, and Authority

Property, Power, and Authority in Rus and Latin Europe, ca. 1000–1236 offers a new approach to the debate on feudalism triggered by Susan Reynolds’s famous Fiefs and Vassals. Charles West, writing in 2013, remarked that “only recently has the process of direct engagement with the kernel of Reynolds’s work begun.” Power, Property, and Authority participates in this process by broadening the geographical and linguistic scope of the debate and comparing texts written in “learned” and “vulgar” Latin, in Church Slavonic, in Anglo-Norman, and in East Slavonic.

Indeed, language is a core issue in much of the feudalism debate. In what is probably her most well-known passage, Reynolds criticizes the “confusion of words, concepts, and phenomena” present “in most discussions of the medieval forms of property and political relations.” Arguably, one way to disentangle words, concepts, and phenomena is to compare texts written in different languages.

A close reading of Latin chronicles and histories reveals parallels with texts from Rus, especially with those written in Church Slavonic, a “learned” language created for the purpose of translating from Greek. However, much more pronounced parallels exist between East Slavonic chronicles and Western vernacular and “vulgar” sources. Arguably, these parallels stem from similarities between the social and political organization of Latin Europe and Rus, similarities that may be difficult to discern from  the works of learned Latin authors who strove to fit their accounts of medieval politics into patterns provided by classical historiography. In this sense, “theoretical constructs,” alien to the reality that they tried to describe, may be already present in the medieval texts, only these constructs would be “pre-” rather than “post-medieval.”

From a comparison of Rus and Latin Europe based primarily on “vulgar” and vernacular sources, the former emerges as a regional variation of a European society, contrary to the common perception of Rus as a polity following a “special path” of social and political development, profoundly different from that of the West.

Introduction. 1-12
Chapter One. Rus and Latin Europe: Words, Concepts, and Phenomena  13-70

  • “Kings,” “Princes,” and “Disintegration”
  • Alternative Interpretations of “Disintegration” and the Question of Kingship
  • Kingship: A Problem of Definition
  • State, Kingship, and Lordship
  • “Kingdom” or “Aristocratic State”? A Source Problem
  • Princely Volost: Family Property or Rule by Assent?
  • County of Maine, Aquitanian Castra: Family Property or Rule by Assent?
  • The Kievan Prince and Royal Power: A Hypothesis
  • “Real” Power of the Kievan Prince: A Brief Assessment
  • Vsevolod of Kiev and the Community of Novgorod: Two Sources, Two Perspectives

Chapter Two: Medieval Texts and Professional Belief Systems: 71-112

  • Latin, Church Slavonic, and Vernacular Political Narratives
  • Rusian Chronicles: Elusive Realm, Ubiquitous Volost
  • Rusian Chronicles: Conflict and Legitimacy
  • William of Newburgh, Robert of Torigni, Jordan Fantosme: The Realm of England, Honur, and Seigniorie
  • William of Newburgh, Robert of Torigni, Jordan Fantosme: Conflict and Legitimacy
  • Monarchical Ideal versus Aristocratic Egalitarianism: Language and Audience
  • Rusian Chronicles and the Conventum Hugonis

Chapter Three. Elite Domination in Rus and Latin Europe: 113-152

  • Princely Power and Banal Lordship
  • Dan– Tribute, Taxation, or Neither?
  • A Special Kind of Property
  • Judicial Rights, Banal Lordship and “Feudal Revolution”
  • Rusian princes: Justice and Dan
  • “Castles” and “Towns”: The Power of Language
  • Gorod and the Dawn of Princely Power in Rus
  • “Banal Lordship” Hypothesis: Limitations of Rusian Sources
  • Volost, Honor, and Poesté

Chapter Four. Interprincely Agreements and a Question of Feudo-Vassalic Relations153-194

  • Oaths in Rus: Terminology and Sources
  • “Love” and “Friendship”
  • Feudo-vassalic Relations in Current Scholarship
  • Senior, Father, and Lord: Terminology of Hierarchical Relations in Rus
  • “Fathers” and “Sons” in a Comparative Perspective
  • “Bowing Down”: A Rusian Ritual for Creating a Hierarchical Relationship
  • Vsevolod the Big-Nest and the Glebovichi: Lord and Vassals?
  • Vsevolod, Rurik, and Roman: Mutuality of Obligations and Layered Tenure

Conclusions 195-200

by Yulia Mikhailova

On Writing The Jews in Late Antiquity

When you want to learn about a certain historic period or specific topic, the first question is “what should I read”? Nowadays we have the internet and the ability to obtain the firsts hints concerning an issue we want to learn about, but sometimes this does not even help. We have the same problem and same solutions in historic research. In certain cases, we can consult the key experts of each field (personally or by mail), but occasionally we have to search information without a guide. 

My first reaction, when I received the e-mail of Arc Humanities Press (an imprint of Amsterdam University Press) regarding the writing of a short book on the Jews in late antiquity, was ambiguous. On the one hand, writing the history of the Jews between ca. third and seventh centuries CE seemed impossible to me for many reasons. Firstly, there is no one history but rather a lot of histories about the Jews in the period. Not only were the Jews from Babylonia different from Jews of Gaul, but also there were differences between Jews from different cities within one region, even neighbor cities. Moreover, sources about Jews are different in each region, and so different methodologies are necessary. Most importantly, late antiquity is a central period in Jewish history because of the birth and (gradual) imposition of rabbinic Judaism and also on account of the explosion of a kind of Jewish art not seen before, among other reasons. Crucially, I was charged to accomplish everything in few (very few!) pages.

On the other hand, the idea of The Jews in Late Antiquity seemed to me to be a challenge but a useful endeavor because – as I said before – I conceived the book as the first door to enter into the history of the Jews in the period. In fact, I wish I had had a book like this when I began my research more than 12 years ago. Not because the book is perfect, but for the reason that in more or less 100 pages condenses the main sources, facts and historiographical debates of the story of late ancient Jews of Spain, Gaul, Italy, Africa Proconsularis, Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia.  

Thus, I decided to face the challenge and try to highlight the central aspects of the Jewish late ancient history. I had to make certain unhappy decisions. For example, due to the stipulated length of the book, I had to leave out very important regions, such as the Balkans, Asia Minor and Syria. I really would have loved to have included these areas, but space concern within the book was an invincible enemy. The selection was arbitrary, as most selections are: I prioritized the areas that I had previously researched heavily (Italy, Spain, the Land of Israel, Babylonia) and other regions on which I had approached before, although tangentially (Gaul, Africa Proconsularis and Egypt).  

Other decisions regarded the chapter division on regions. As I said before, even though there are certain common patterns, the history of the Jews in the period need to be studied separately. This is not only because the (slowly) rabbinized Jews of Palestine were different to the non-rabbinized Jews of Spain, but also because the society in Palestine was very different to the Hispanian one. Jews did not live isolated; they were (more or less, depending on the region) integrated with their surrounding society. They were, in fact, part of the society. Thus, Jewish history cannot be studied without seeing the broader (micro and macro) context.

Although I had little space, I also decided to write an introduction in order to explain that differences are not only associated with facts, but also to the sources that survived. So, if we want to study the story of the Jews in Italy in late antiquity, we should analyze a great Jewish epigraphic record, the remains of two synagogues and references written by Christians, but we do not have texts (beyond the epigraphic ones) written by Jews.  On the contrary, several texts produced by Babylonian Jews survived, while no archaeological and epigraphical evidence (except seals and magic bowls) survived to present day. I explained this in the introduction and I also showed the nuances of the different kind of records that we have to deal with. 

I must confess that after finishing the book (and read it again and again) I like it. I really think that every chapter shows the reader not only the most important facts of late ancient Jewish history of each region, but also the key authors that he/she should read in order to deepen his/her knowledge. 

When I received the cover and the back cover and I read the endorsement, where Paula Fredriksen stated that I “accomplishes an astounding amount in very few pages”, I must confess that I became extremely happy because I always have admired her and I trust in her judgement. I hope the readers will also enjoy The Jews in Late Antiquity and that it becomes an entrance for one of the most exciting periods of Jewish history. 

by Rodrigo Laham Cohen

Writing Shakespeare and Superheroes

In the following, author Jeffrey Kahan explains the logic behind his recent Arc book, Shakespeare and Superheroes.

As a child, I read comic books incessantly. Every Monday, my local corner store would rack the new Marvel and DC Comics for the week. I’d go in, pick out those I liked best, Captain America, Thor, BatmanX-Men, and stash them on a bottom rung, behind the unenticing Richie RichDisney, and Archie comics (though still a kid, I felt that I was already too big, too advancedfor those titles). Then I would wait until Friday; my mom would give me a dollar, and I would ride my bike back to the shop and retrieve my buried treasure. I would read each issue cover to cover, then bag and board them. It wasn’t the financial value that I was sealing up. I just wanted to keep and catalogue those issues, so that I could revisit them whenever I liked. Indeed, even as a kid, I understood that Marvel and DC were creating literary universes, and that any one story had an impact on the whole; storing back issues was just part and parcel of comic book reading.

While I lacked the formal language of literary criticism, comic books taught me the Aristotelian basics: I learned about character flaw (hamartia); I became expert in anticipating a reversal of fortune (peripeteia), in sharing with the hero a moment of tragic recognition (anagnorisis), and, in the price paid to vanquish evil, a spiritual cleansing (catharsis). Initially, connecting boyhood interests with my present, formal studies may seem pointlessly introspective; however, anecdotal conversations with students and fellow scholars have convinced me that what I am doing here is more than just engaging in Looney Tunes-like flights of fancy. It is entirely normal to catalogue literary experiences, to align certain texts and characters with each other.

For this writer, the process begins with a recognition of superficial plot points. In the case of Arrow (we’re talking about the TV show version) and Hamlet, my argument is that both are errand boys with “things to do,” but their seemingly straightforward tasks are complicated by their diseased wits and unreliable moral compasses. Memories, both heroes come to understand, don’t always conform to reality. This insight leads to a series of philosophical inquiries concerning the nature of the self. If a person is changed by events, then it follows that the person who commits an act, whether heroic or heinous, no longer exists in the same state afterwards. Arrow and Hamlet, thus, find themselves continuously missing the mark, perpetually chasing down ghosts of the actual. In the case of Wonder Woman and Fidele, I argue that both have a fluid understanding of gender. If biology is not a marker that defines sexual preference, to what extent are we living our own lives; to what extent are we merely playing out our socially appointed roles, and can we, and should we, self-liberate from the inherited habits and habiliments of our society? In the case of Iago and Deadpool, we see a similar, albeit darker, philosophical impulse: that core beliefs filter life experience. As Iago and Deadpool have no core beliefs, they have no meaningful experiences, and no way to connect with the community. We often get a sense that these characters can step out of their worlds and into ours. Not that setting makes much of a difference; while seeking the spotlight, their staged personas suggest the emptiness of nonbeing. As a consequence, their lives are a series of existential farces, played out in cruel gags, puns, and put-ons.

Am I reading too much into comic books? A recent Chronicle of Higher Educationop-ed on the dangers of teaching Harry Potterto college kids suggests that I may be doing the profession (and my students) a disservice:

The story of Satan’s rebellion in Paradise Lostis a complex meditation on freedom, monarchal authority, and the emergence of democracy. Moby-Dickis an allegory of national expansion and slavery. The Harry Potter stories, meanwhile, are wonderful reflections on friendship, courage, and the dichotomies of good and evil – which is to say that they’re great children’s literature. Why make them out to be more than that? [1]

I can recognize the logic—and the stuffy self-importance. Literature professors might not change reality with a keystroke, but we are, to give us our due, inheritors of a heritage that stretches back to at least Homer, the Odin-like All-Father of Western Literature. But there is another, more recent Homer, not the olive-eyed poet of Bronze Age Greece, but the donut-addicted modern everyman Homer Simpson of Springfield.

Shakespeare and Superheroes is informed by a lifetime of being, reading, feeling and thinking about two forms of influential literature: Shakespeare, embraced for centuries by academics, theater goers, and ordinary readers; and superhero comic books, now, arguably, the dominant literary expression of our era. In the pages that follow, my hope is that in reflecting on my interconnected interests and absurdities, you will know that you are not alone in yours. Welcome to the family.

Biographical Statement

Jeffrey Kahan is the author of many books, including Reforging Shakespeare (Associated UniversityPresses, 1998), The Cult of Kean (Ashgate, 2006), Caped Crusaders 101: Composition Through Comic Books (McFarland, 2006; 2nd ed., rev. and enl. 2010), Bettymania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture (Lehigh University Press, 2010), Shakespritualism: Shakespeare and the Occult, 1850-1950 (Palgrave, 2013), The Quest for Shakespeare (Palgrave, 2017), and Shakespeare and Superheroes (ARC, 2018). He also writes on Gothic novels, Ray Bradbury, and R.E. Howard. You can follow Jeffrey Kahan on his Superhero FB page, Be Super!, read his fanboy comic book essays, track his formal criticism, or write to him directly at Vortiger@hotmail.com.

[1] David Anthony, “Harry Potter and the Chair’s Dilemma,” Chronicle of Higher Education, accessed February 28, 2018.

Destroy All Monsters: An Urgency

Joshua Roberts, “A group of counter-protesters march against members of white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia,” originally published in Priscilla Alvarez, “A State of Emergency in Charlottesville,” The Atlantic(August 12, 2017)

In a large crowd, a young white man holds a homemade sign. Beneath the raised fist of the Black Lives Matter movement, it reads: “DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.” This photograph was taken at the Unite the Right rally, which brought together neo-Nazis, white nationalists, the Klu Klux Klan, and other hate groups in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was purportedly the largest white supremacist rally in the United States in decades.

12 August 2017, the date this photo was taken, seemed like a moment for monsters. The United States convulsed as white supremacist groups marched through the streets bearing torches and shouting Nazi-era slogans of hate (“Blood and soil!” “Jews will not replace us!”). Though monsters have been around as long as humans, since they define us by stalking our borders and mirroring our traits, there are times when monsters seem particularly potent, prevalent, even necessary. The man with the “DESTROY ALL MONSTERS” sign was one of the marchers who came to defy the torch-bearing mob, and his sign said more about this moment than he might have known.

In hipster fashion, he seems to have taken his slogan from Ishirō Honda’s eighth sequel to Godzilla, released in 1968, in which the monsters from previous kaijū films (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and others) attack cities through the world under the command of scientists who are, in turn, under mind control by hostile aliens. This slogan, then, is a fitting response to the sense that American cities are being attacked by an outside force yet this is not an alien invasion. The Unite the Right marchers are American citizens, and, despite the foreign origins of many of their symbols, they are part of a long-standing American history of hate groups.

The fascist marchers in Charlottesville and those who sympathize with them are participating in one of the oldest—and most pernicious—of human impulses, to define themselves through the exclusion of others, to raise their sense of self-worth through the insult of, denunciation of, and outright assault on and murder of other individuals and groups. This role is one of the central functions that monsters serve across time: monster-making is exclusionary, and monsters bear the seeds of that exclusion within themselves. No doubt, monsters are fun—tremendous, city-smashing, fire-breathing, shape-shifting, boundary-pushing, messy, sexy, crazy fun. But if you only see the fun, you miss a great deal of the importance of monsters and the power we grant them to shape our societies. As St. Augustine of Hippo tells us, these monsters demonstrate so much we can learn from; they bear substantial meaning.

The trouble with the counter-protester’s slogan is that we can never destroy all monsters. Anyone familiar with monster narratives, from Grendel to Godzilla, knows that there is always a sequel, always a Return Of, aBride Of, aSon Of…Always a Godzilla Raids Again. Surely, it has seemed that the Nazis were thoroughly and absolutely defeated, yet the Unite the Right marchers wore and waved swastikas, gave the Nazi salute, shouted “heil” this and “heil” that. A poisonous ideology that seemed long dead shambled back to life. Of course, monster movies have long literalized this fear in a seemingly endless series of Nazi zombie movies.

They return because we are all one another’s monsters: inside everymonster lurks a human being. Peel back the mouldering swastika, fur, or slime, and there we are. This is because all monsters are human creations. We therefore owe them our care and attention. That care and attention will be rewarded—because monsters perform important work for us, policing our boundaries, defining our norms through their transgressions. Through their bodies, words, and deeds, monsters show us ourselves.

In assembling this collection, we celebrate monster theorists, monster stories, and the monsters they unleash or attempt to contain. We have organized the readings into two volumes: Classic Readings on Monster Theory and Primary Sources on Monsters. Our first volume introduces the most important modern theorists of the monstrous and some allied theorists whose ideas enrich Monster Theory—from J.R.R. Tolkien to Edward Said. Our second volume collects some of the most influential and indicative monster narratives from the West—from the Epic of Gilgameshto Slender Man. Together, they form a reasonably coherent set of materials, allowing us to witness the consistent, multi-millennium strategies the West has deployed to disempower and dehumanize a range of groups and individuals. The readings in volume two are all primary sources—fictional, religious, scientific, or historical texts. Images play a prominent role as well, unusual in a source reader like this, because many monsters are highly visual or known primarily through their appearance.

Some of the “monsters” we have assembled throughout these two volumes are nightmare creations of unadulterated malice. Others prove to be downright sympathetic. In the end, it is not horns, fangs, or claws that make a being monstrous, but the purpose for which they are used. Ishirō Honda’s Destroy All Monsters [SPOILER ALERT!] has an ironic twist: it is the monsters, led by Godzilla, who ultimately save humanity. They are scorned, feared, and attacked by the world’s powers, but want only to return to their peaceful island of Monsterland. The world needs its monsters—and its monster stories. This is the impetus for our collection. Whether the monsters are deadly enemies or unlikely saviors, their stories are essential to our understanding of the world, and our place within it.

by Asa Simon Mittman and Marcus Hensel