Lately, I have been closely reading The Golden Legend, William Caxton’s late-fifteenth century English edition of the Legenda aurea, a comprehensive reference work of saint’s legends. While reading the chapter on Saint Swithun, this passage stood out to me:
“And on a time there came a woman over the bridge with her lap full of eggs, and a reckless fellow struggled and wrestled with her, and brake all her eggs. And it happed that this holy bishop came that way the same time, and bade the woman let him see her eggs, and anon he lift up his hand and blessed the eggs, and they were made whole and sound, ever each one, by the merits of this holy bishop, and being then glad she thanked God and this holy man for the miracle that was done to her.”
I find the juxtaposition between the lofty bishop and saint and the mundane woman with her broken eggs to be highly funny. The saint not only makes the time to stop for a woman with some broken eggs, but even uses his divine connection to God to restore them!
Oddly enough, this is not the only medieval account I’ve read in which broken eggs are miraculously restored. In the Life of Margaret of Ypres, by Thomas of Cantimpré (the same hagiographer who wrote the Life of Christina the Astonishing), the willful teenage ascetic is so busy meditating on God that her mother becomes angry with her for neglecting the housework. One day, in order to make it look like she helped out, she dumps out a bowl of what she believes to be broken eggshells into the yard. Of course, the eggs were whole rather than broken, and Margaret’s mother is furious. Margaret, however, prays to God and he deigns to restore them whole.
It just goes to show you–no problem is too small for divine intervention!
My latest research has had me scouring through medieval religious tales, searching for narratives concerning ghosts and resurrection. Most of the tales I’ve found tell of dead who return to life, granted a second chance to confess and do penance so they may escape hell. But I’ve stumbled across several stories that bear remarkable similarities to modern tales of zombies and vampires. William of Newburgh, a twelfth-century English historian, documents a number of these narratives. One story ends with two men digging up the grave of a corpse who’s been terrorizing the town:
Thereupon snatching up a spade of but indifferent sharpness of edge, and hastening to the cemetery, they began to dig; and whilst they were thinking that they would have to dig to a greater depth, they suddenly, before much of the earth had been removed, laid bare the corpse, swollen to an enormous corpulence, with its countenance beyond measure turgid and suffused with blood; while the napkin in which it had been wrapped appeared nearly torn to pieces. The young men, however, spurred on by wrath, feared not, and inflicted a wound upon the senseless carcass, out of which incontinently flowed such a stream of blood, that it might have been taken for a leech filled with the blood of many persons. Then, dragging it beyond the village, they speedily constructed a funeral pile; and upon one of them saying that the pestilential body would not burn unless its heart were torn out, the other laid open its side by repeated blows of the blunted spade, and, thrusting in his hand, dragged out the accursed heart.
William tells several other stories of corpses rising and attacking the living. Perhaps a future research project?
The Fordham Medieval Sourcebook has a translation of some of these tales.
This past week, I did an interview with a writer for NYU Local, a blog that covers news and stories concerning my undergraduate alma mater, New York University. They were, of course, interested in my stint as “Bobst Boy,” when I lived in the university library for nearly an academic year. It’s been a while since I’ve done an interview, although I get requests all the time from all sorts of people all over the country. I usually politely decline interview requests–they are exhausting and I’ve said so much about it already–but since I hadn’t given one in some time and I feel a certain loyalty to current NYU students, I accepted. I was pleased by how well it turned out; I have thought a lot about my experiences throughout the years and I think I’ve developed a certain perspective on them that was simply lacking back then. But I am still amused that current students still talk about me and that my story has become a campus legend of sorts–how appropriate for a story about a folklorist!
You can read the interview at NYU local.
At StarFest last week, one of my students was interviewed by a reporter for the Denver Examiner. The article has just now come out. Relevant quote:
Mackenzie Kircher-Smither, New Albany, Ind., 19, was dressed up as a Star Trek cadet for a college course. She came here to Denver with her classmates on a mission to interview other trekkies and Starfest attendees about the importance of Star Trek. “It is a folklore class and we are doing our own examining of the Star Trek culture.” They interviewed other trekkie fans and writers of fan fiction to see the influences and affects Star Trek had on their lives.
The full article can be found here: Nerds Unite at StarFest.
This past weekend, I took 13 of my “Folklore and Star Trek” students to Denver, CO, to attend StarFest, a mid-sized science-fiction convention. Throughout the semester, we’ve been examining the relationship between popular culture and folk culture, and fan conventions are the perfect place to see this process in action. Fans take the characters and worlds of television shows and use them as a base for their own creative adaptations. We saw numerous such examples: a booth filled with homemade books of fan and slash; the many costumes worn by attendees, some that were truly artistic masterpieces; performances of Klingon folk songs and steampunk martial arts. My favorite was the art room, where fans could sell their own artwork inspired by science fiction and fantasy. Although most of the works were paintings and sketches, there were some sculptures, homemade books bound with leather, and some stunning pottery. Continue reading
Despite some minor travel scares (a student with no ID!), my “Folklore and Star Trek” class has arrived safely to Denver, CO, to attend StarFest. I have never had to organize such a large-event and I lost much sleep worrying whether we would all somehow miss our flight, or that our transportation to the hotel would not show up, or that the hotel had overbooked and canceled our rooms. But everything ran smoothly and we settled in without any issues. My students were giddy with excitement the entire trip and immediately ran off to join the festivities once we checked in. Continue reading
Yesterday, six students from my “Folklore and Star Trek” class joined me for the 2-hour drive to Louisville to see Star Trek: The Exhibition. The exhibit contained props, costumes, and replicas from the show, including a captain’s chair. Although my students enjoyed the exhibit, I was a bit perturbed by certain aspects. The exhibit was sponsored by AT&T and they kept plugging their products throughout, emphasizing that AT&T devices were headed the way to Star Trek technology. And of course, no photos were allowed so that the exhibit could change for a picture in the captain’s chair. The capitalistic aspects went against the ideals of the show, and left me indifferent toward the exhibit.
Today I gave what I considered a great class on science fiction conventions for my “Folklore and Star Trek” course. We have been considering how folklore and popular culture interacts, so today I presented four different kinds of conventions categorized based on where they fell on the folklore-popular culture spectrum. The more a convention is organized by amateur fans without institutional support, the more folkloric the convention is. Continue reading
This week in my “Folklore and Star Trek” course, we’re looking at fan-made productions, including fan and slash fiction, and actual fan episodes. I’ve come across a surprisingly well-produced series called “New Voyages” that picks up where the Original Series ended. Yesterday, we watched two episodes from the show that depicts same-sex relationships–a topic that Roddenberry always wanted to broach but that he never did. It’s interesting to see how in fan production is more progressive and imaginative in some ways than the actual show. Continue reading
A recent research project has me poring through bird entries in medieval bestiaries and encyclopedias. I find the genre fascinating and wish I had more time to study it thoroughly. The entries are a strange mix of actual bird behavior, pseudo-scientific biological explanations, and spiritual moralizations. The funnest bits, of course, describe sexual habits. The partridge entry in Thomas of Cantimpré’s De natura rerum has this to say on the matter:
When the males fight for the females, the victors trample on the vanquished and mate with them, and, as the experimentor says, their lust is so vehement that they forget which sex it is. . . . The hens are said to be so lustful that they conceive merely by smelling the male. For at that time they stick their tongues out from sexual desire. When they mate, they exhale a nasty smell.
That’s one fertile bird!