Monday, April 02, 2007

Scotus for Dunces and medievalist humor

The Kalamazoo-based International Congress of Medieval Studies is coming up and I was looking at its thick, information-packed program yesterday and got some good laughs.

Laughs? Even medievalists themselves live in fear that the subjects they study are dry and boring (even though the period is full of blood and vinegar) and as a result the Congress program has numerous attempts to give papers and publications snappy titles. Some of these are laughable (in other words, pathetic) while others are rather clever.

One I sincerely liked was a paper on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight entitled "Two Beheadings and a Funeral."

But the real belly-laugh was reserved for a book on the Franciscan theologian of around 1300, John Duns Scotus. Congratulations to Mary Beth Ingham (and Franciscan Institute Publications) who had the nerve and the marketing savvy to call her book Scotus for Dunces: An Introduction to the Subtle Doctor.

Why is this funny? Ask your nearest medievalist, or look up the origin of the word "dunce."

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