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Elves – can we really trust them?

Nowadays everyone has a positive association with elves…  That sounds weird, but what I mean to say is that people like elves.

They think of them as handsome Orlando Bloom types with pointy ears, long flowing hair, and of course they are pretty good with a bow and arrow.

Or, more significantly at this time of year, we think of elves as the nice slave helpers of Santa Claus who happily and without complaint manufacture toys around the clock all year in his dark frozen wasteland lair.


But the above-linked article points out that the old medieval ideas of elves were much more nuanced.  Elves could do nice things like make shoes for old cobblers while they were sleeping.

They could also kidnap babies and replace them with changelings – basically defective elf babies that kind of looked like your own kid but were mute and incapable of doing any useful farm work.  On the other hand, if you dropped a box of matches in front of one of these elf kids, they were remarkably good at telling exactly how many matches had fallen to the floor.  They were also good at memorizing train time tables and such, so there were a lot of perks to getting one of these changelings.

Elves did other horrible things though, like causing your children to go crazy.  They caused livestock diseases too.  So basically, elves were toxoplasma gondii or trichnosis, found in cat poop and uncooked pork, which nobody today would say are good things!

So when you are opening your toys made by Legolas and other elves this Christmas, just remember – those guys weren’t always perceived as being so nice.  They were naughty as H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS in the past.devil-stealing


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Statues of wild men: the medieval equivalent of some popular figurine of modern times?

Recently a medieval treasure was unearthed in England.  It’s a figurine of a wild man, brandishing a club and a set of powerful beard hairs.

Check the link:  http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-suffolk-35050026

What is strange is that such figurines were common in the Middle Ages if the art historians and archaeologists can be believed.   A very common motiff indeed, so that it was almost an obsession._87112586_2014t413_spoon_knop-2

In a world of increasing law and order, and establishment, and all those things that hippy, long-hair singers periodically rail against…   these wild men images hearkened to some longing in medieval people’s hearts to have an even lower life expectancy and to be crippled even more easily by chronic ailments.

The wild man as an artistic image in the Middle Ages was, in fact, the medieval artist’s way of saying, “I know we’ve got these church bells telling the time now, and tithe barns, and Cistercian pottery factories, and widespread literacy….  but just out there, beyond the tilled fields there is a forest where no law and order prevails.  Moot and lawless are its residents, all dressed up like Hercules-wannabes.  And if this established order ever collapses, we’ll be going that way too.”


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Medieval Writers “Bad sex in fiction” awards

My dear fellow defrocked priests and banished nuns,

Know this!

2015 is almost over and the winner for the “Bad Sex in Fiction” award took place on December 1st.

Apparently 2015, had no shortage of fiction which depicted some of this “funny business” as we at CEU Medieval Radio call it.  So it was very hard to pick a winner….  Ugh…

So anyway, it got David Clark at the Independent thinking about what piece of recorded writing would win such a contest if all the great, gleaming corpus of medieval literature was rifled through until we could finally, triumphantly finger one example of some truly awful “Bad Sex in Medieval Fiction.”

Check the link to his article: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/who-would-have-won-the-medieval-bad-sex-in-fiction-award-a6755461.html


He found some pretty funny examples of medieval writings referring to “the deed.”

First, you should know that the church’s recorded recommended penance for having sex with a pig in the Middle Ages was 7 years of fasting!  Seven years???  That’s a little harsh!  We at CEU Medieval Radio would be going hungry if we lived in the Middle Ages, I can tell you that much!

Secondly he found this little gem of a 10th century Anglo-Saxon poem:

Question: What am I?

I am wonderful help to women,
The hope of something to come. I harm
No citizen except my slayer.
Rooted I stand on a high bed.
I am shaggy below. Sometimes the beautiful
Peasant’s daughter, an eager-armed,
Proud woman grabs my body,
Rushes my red skin, holds me hard,
Claims my head. The curly-haired
Woman who catches me fast will feel
Our meeting. Her eye will be wet.

Answer: an onion, of course!

10th century people had their minds in the gutter obviously.  That’s why I don’t read anything to do with the 10th century, and I recommend you, and all your household, do the same.

So you see, whether it is filthy poems, or church recommendations on sexual matters, there is no shortage of bone-chilling, sultry, spine-tinglingly horrible smut to feast your insatiable eyes upon in the body of medieval literature.  If you can find any such thing in your own medieval literature collection, don’t hesitate to post it here on our website, or just on youtube.  Post it somewhere, is the point!

And, uh…  Merry Christmas and happy holidays too.

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Thanks to our fans for supporting CEU Medieval Radio!

This is a special message to just say thanks for all the support from all the medieval music lovers out there.

We’ve seen our Facebook page get over 2000 likes in recent months, and we’ve got a lot of positive comments from the fans out there.  We continue to get visitors to our website and station from all around this big world.  It’s good to feel appreciated, ya know.

In fact, we just want to give a special shout out to one of our fans, Brian Page who visited Budapest last summer.  He and his wife were doing a tour of Budapest, seeing the sights, but they actually took the time out to visit our radio team at Central European University and DONATE SOME MEDIEVAL MUSIC CDs!  We really appreciated the donation, which has done much to enrich our collection, and we in turn provided a few humble gifts.  These photos above testify to this exchange of gifts and witty conversation that occurred that sultry day in the month of June!  I was there!  I’m the guy with the unshaven neck beard and the church smile!  Those are the clues.  See if you can find me!

We at CEU Medieval Radio always appreciate the support of our fans, whether it be in the form of helpful feedback, Facebook likes, word of mouth, or donations like Brian offered.  If you are interested in helping us out, and helping our station to grow and offer an even better program, don’t hesitate to drop us a line and let us know.

Three cheers for the fans of Medieval Radio.  Huzzah!  Huzzah!  Huzzah!

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CEU Medieval Studies Faculty Research Seminar: Knowledge Unlimited: Intellectual Curiosity and Innovation in Byzantium

Faculty Research Seminar: Knowledge Unlimited: Intellectual Curiosity and Innovation in Byzantium 

Date:  Monday, November 23, 2015 – 5:30pm

Byzantine epistemic discourse inherited the Peripatetic premise according to which the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake was in accordance with human nature. It also appropriated, however, the Stoic, and later Christian, concern with the intensification and excessiveness of knowledge acquisition and their respective ethical implications. As a result, the philosophical education in Byzantium embraced a polymathic ideal, namely, it included all disciplines of the trivium and quadrivium and culminated in the study of metaphysics and theology. At the same
time, learned discourses of knowledge associated the latter with the pursuit of virtue and, thus, designated legitimate and illegitimate fields of study (notably, magic, astrology, and divination fall in the latter category). Thus, intellectual curiosity could be construed as the philosophers’ vice, exhibited in the strife after questionable, foreign and/or excessive knowledge. At the same  time, however, inquisitiveness was also posited as a fundamental characteristic of the philosopher’s mind and, together with the love for learning, regarded as a prerequisite for achieving the polymathic ideal. The present talk discusses Byzantine learned attitudes to the acquisition of knowledge, from the eleventh century onwards, and focuses, in particular, on the
employment of the notions of curiosity (polypragmosynē), love for learning (philomatheia), and polymathy (polymatheia) in literary, scientific, and philosophical texts. The inquiry explores how Byzantine philosophers constructed their social personae while employing concepts of polymathy and curiosity and, in addition, examines their claims, or disclaimers, with respect to innovation.

Divna Manolova (PhD in Medieval Studies, Central European University), visiting professor of the Medieval Studies Department, is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at University of Bucharest where she is working on her dissertation monograph, provisionally entitled Polymathy and Intellectual Curiosity in Byzantine Discourses of Science and Philosophy (13th–15th Centuries). In her research Manolova studies the history of Byzantine science and philosophy, as well as medieval theories of friendship and letter-writing as friendship literature. Manolova carried out her research at Central European University, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations, Brown University’s Department of Classics, New
Europe College and the Vatican Apostolic Library.



Bran Castle, historic castle of Transylvania and popular tourist destination, is for sale

Deep in the hills of Transylvania, not far from the cave of the bats and wolves, sits Bran Castle.  For centuries it has sat perched there amid the stereotypical howling of wolves and slithering of bat-snakes.  These days it is often called Dracula Castle by tourists even though, as this article points out, the castle’s connection to Dracula has long been recognized as tenuous at best.

Creepy, mysterious and pale skinned nobles who descend from a long line of ghoulish counts still own Bran Castle.  After the end of communism in Romania they got to take the property back.  For the last year or two they have been trying to sell it to the Romanian government for 80 million dollars!

Apparently the Romanian government is not buying it, and nobody else is either.  Even though it is a very popular place with the vampire hunters and tourists from far and wide.  Could it be that the castle is haunted by ghouls?  We at CEU Medieval Radio believe it to be, indeed, haunted by ghouls.

Check the link:


Photo: dailymail.co.uk

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Long live the Middle Ages – on TV, medieval themed shows hold sway.

This won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but the attached article points out that medieval themed shows are lately dominating the airwaves.  Whether it is the show “Vikings” which uses real ships instead of CGI, or the Borgias which came out a few years back, or the Game of Thrones which is probably the most “talked-about” show out there these days.  Part of medieval shows’ popularity is undoubtedly their accompanying disgusting scenes of barbarity, but whatever the exact reasons, we have to admit:  It seems everyone and their dog can’t get enough of all things medieval.

Check the article:  http://www.columbian.com/news/2015/nov/01/middle-ages-reign-on-tv/

As a bit of background on how this surprising trend emerged out of the blue in the last decade: anyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention knows that when the series “Baywatch” ended, humanity suffered a “Great Identity Crisis” that affected even television, and which saw David Hasselhoff’s descent into shirtless, hamburger-eating despair – perhaps the iconic image of the last two decades.  In the ensuing years, no TV-show genre prevailed and television decreased in popularity, as audiences increasingly turned to the internet shopping and real life illegal kangaroo boxing matches for entertainment.

But at least a few years ago, the Game of Thrones came out and it seems to have captured imaginations far and wide.  Though not exactly historical, the author of the original series of books, Jason Woo, admits that he based it heavily on the English War of the Roses in the 15th century.  Any medievalist has no trouble picking out scenes and characters that seem to be based on well-known events of the Middle Ages.  Since then, an array of much more historically based shows have emerged.  They seem to be characterized by a sort of gritty realism that was unfortunately missing from the original Batman series starring Adam West.  Some have suggested that this realism – some would say pessimism – that is so prevalent in recent medieval series reflects a larger societal discontent or disillusionment with the Kardashians.  If this is true, undoubtedly Lamar Odom’s recent setbacks will lead to darker and darker scenarios being depicted in coming seasons of these programs.

The author of the article also argues that perhaps medieval themed programs are so popular these days because medieval people didn’t have the technologies that the modern person has to so easily overcome problems.  Also technology causes imbalances of power that might not have been quite the same in a world of swords and shields.  Perhaps, then, these shows reflect a sort of repressed desire in modern man to be free of the technologies that enable him to watch medieval themed shows on his smart phone while taking the subway to work.

Photo: columbian.com