Thursday, May 14, 2009

More beauty in iron

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Effigies and the development of English armor


Will McLean connects us to a webpage where Doug Strong analyzes funeral effigies of armored men in 14th- and 15th-century English churches. Having examined a lot of them in person back in 1972, I am quite convinced that people who commissioned these monuments were paying for the very best they could afford, and were very fashion conscious.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Viking shield discovered in Denmark


Reenactors and re-creationists of all sorts will be happy to hear this news: a Viking era shield found in Denmark, reported here from Yahoo news.

It will be some time before such data as original weight and construction will be available. The reason the shield is still around, long after all the others have been beaten to flinders, is that it was found waterlogged in wet soil. Much effort will have to be put into removing and preserving it.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pay and equipment for French "mail-shirts," ordinance of 1351

A reader of this post on the "mail-shirts" asked how much vallets (the group I think were also called "mail-shirts") were paid and what equipment they were expected to have. That reader has answered his own question, but I thought others might be interested. I've used the translation of equipment terminology from the 1973 source collection Society at War, edited by C.T. Allmand:

Banneret 40 sols Tournois a day.

Chevalier 20 sols Tournois a day.

Escuyer "bearing his own arms," 10 sols Turnois.

Vallet "accompanying him and armed with a [short] coat of mail [haubergeon (SM)], bascinet with mail [camail (SM)] gorget, gauntlet, and a tunic above the coat of mail," 5 sols Tournois.

And as a bonus, here's what crossbowmen were supposed to have in the way of armor (from the ordinance, no translation):

armé de plates, de crevelliere, de gorgerette, d'espée, de coustel & de harnais de bras de fer & de cuir [wages of 3 sols]
And an extra special bonus, the gear and wages of a shieldman (pavisier):

armé de plates ou de haubergeon, de bascinet a camial, de gorgerette, de harnais, de bras, de gantellez, d'espée, de coustel, de lance; de pavais ou d'autre armeure, de quoi il se porra ou saura miex aidier [wages of 2 1/2 sols].

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Beowulf: A new verse translation, by Seamus Heaney

I've been taking my own advice and polishing up my knowledge of Beowulf the poem in anticipation of Beowulf the movie. And as I began to read it I realized I probably have read no more than excerpts since I was an undergraduate taking a course in "Medieval Epic" (B and Roland in 10 weeks.)

This time I read Seamus Heaney's much-ballyhooed verse translation from 1999. And I find it no wonder that it was ballyhooed, it is wonderful.

One example to lure you to pick it up (NU's library has it, or will once I return it): Heaney, a Nobel Prize-winning poet, explains that he needed a way to "tune" his translation, and turned to "a familiar local voice," one which belonged to relatives he once called "big voiced Scullions," Irishmen who had weighty way of speaking that gave dignity to the simplest statements. Heaney used their speech as a model, beginning at the beginning, with the Old English word Hwaet!

Conventional renderings of hwaet, the first word of the poem, tend towards the archaic literary, with "lo" and "hark" and "behold" and "attend" and -- more colloquially -- "listen" being some of the solutions offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullionspeak, the particle "so" came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom "so" operates as an expression which obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention.
I've heard that usage, too. With that insight, Heaney produced this:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes ,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.


Wow! "That was one good king." I can almost hear one of my country neighbors saying that!

Here's Heaney's version of lines 2177-2189:

Thus Beowulf bore himself with valour;
he was formidable in battle yet behaved with honour
and took no advantage; never cut down
a comrade who was drunk, kept his temper
and warrior that he was, watched and controlled
his God-sent strength and his outstanding
natural powers. He had been poorly regarded
for a long time, was taken by the Geats
for less than he was worth: and their lord too
had never much esteemed him in the mead-hall.
They firmly believed that he lacked force,
that the prince was a weakling; but presently
every affront to his deserving was reversed.
Fresh yet redolent of legendary antiquity. Fabulous, fabulous mastery of the English language. Out of Ireland -- again -- of course.

Image: A plate from a Swedish helmet showing warriors wearing boar-helmets, often mentioned in Beowulf. Look closely and you can see the last visible dog... From Beowulf in Cyberspace.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The new black

The site ThinkGeek is advertising costume chain mail shirts, made of butted aluminum mail (thus my calling it "costume" chain mail), for wearing around the office.

According to the site, "chain mail is the new black." Thank heavens something is the new black. I was awfully tired of the old black.

There are innumerable sites selling mail or offering to teach you how to make it yourself. Remember the real stuff was made by riveting each link closed with a tiny rivet. This takes real skill, not to mention patience. If you only want butted links, you can do it while watching bad TV programs. Then, it still takes patience.

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