Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The history lesson which follows, our Preciousdent (if George were a reader) could have learned in a cultural history like Life In A Medieval City by Joseph and Frances Geis, pp.209-210. I think it’s interesting that Georgie-boy once used the word “Crusade” to describe his (not my, or America’s) frivolous adventure in Iraq. Read on faire knights and damsels. The parallels are striking. Ah, yes, “to live quietly at home”. . . .

“Two years ago, in 1248, Louis IX, valiant and devout king of France, went on crusade. The king's idealism about the Holy Land was shared by few of his subjects or peers. Some two thousand eight hundred knights and eight thousand foot sergeants were recruited, nearly all on a mercenary basis. Jean de Joinville, seneschal of Champagne, accompanied the king, who was a personal friend, with reluctance. Later he described his departure from home:

“‘I never once let my eyes turn back towards Joinville, for fear my heart might be filled with longing at the thought of my beautiful castle and the two children I had left behind.’ The happiest result of the expedition, in fact, is Joinville's own memoir of it, which adds a leaf to Troyes' [French city] literary laurels. After a rather brilliant beginning, in a successful amphibious assault on Damietta, the expedition bogged down in the swampy upriver country around the fortress city of Mansourah. Famine and scurvy turned the camp into a hospital and charnel house, and the survivors were easily taken prisoner by the Saracens. The queen ransomed the king by trading Damietta, after which Louis ransomed Joinville and the other knights by paying four hundred thousand livres. Originally the sultan demanded five hundred thousand, but when the king unhesitatingly agreed, the equally chivalrous sultan knocked off a hundred thousand livres, commenting, ‘By Allah, this Frank does not haggle!’

“The money was raised on the spot by a bit of pressure on the wealthy Knights Templar, but is now in the process of being paid by the king's subjects, mainly the burghers of his cities, already touched for sizeable aids, and facing still more bills for Louis' new fortifications in Syria. It is hardly surprising that quite a few burghers identify themselves with the wrong side of the debate between Crusaders and non-Crusaders that is a favorite subject of the trouveres [medieval minstrels]. They feel that after all, ‘it is also a good and holy thing to live quietly at home, in friendship with neighbors, taking care of children and goods, going to bed early and sleeping well.’ If the sultan of Egypt should take it into his head to invade France, they will be ready to pay an aid, and take up their pikes and crossbows besides. But they do not see the wisdom of journeying far over the sea to die, and die expensively at that.”

Notice that the trouveres (i.e. the “medieval minstrels”), the Hollywood types of the Middle Ages, recognized nonsense when they saw their rulers off to foolish adventures. So many parallels to our current situation that one can almost choke on them.


Every once in awhile, I get a bug about a word and go look it up. “Cliché” was one such recent word. I thought its origins were so interesting that I’m putting it in here. A Frenchman, named Louis-Etienne Herhan, invented the cliché in 1800. A cliché was a “stereotype plate” used in printing. It was made from special wax molds imprinted by a sheet of type. The “plate could be used for 10,000 copy impressions without resetting or wearing out the printer’s type.” Thus, one can see how sentiments, oft repeated, began to be called clichés.

(The spider and his web live in Port Angeles, WA. I may have gotten a blur for a spider, but the web is certainly well photographed.)

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