Category Archives: Not Really Medieval

A Post About Guilt

I’ve been making a lot of posts about Early Christianity lately so based on the title you can be forgiven for thinking that this post is about that.

It isn’t. I’m currently sitting at home waiting on some deliveries and feeling bad because I’ve neglected this blog for so long. Interestingly, my traffic has stayed fairly high, though for some strange (and slightly disturbing) reasons – you would be amazed how often people have come across this blog using a search term which includes some variant on how to self-castrate. I mean, I want this blog to be helpful but that isn’t a direction I really thought I’d be taking it with this post.

I have a bucketfull of draft posts where I’ve written the framework but haven’t done the detailed reference/citation checking. I also have a review copy of a book where the publisher’s likely beginning to believe they wasted an effort (you haven’t – I’ve read it, it’s good, and I’ll get there). However based on my recent output, you could be forgiven for believing that this blog is dead, or at least terminally ill.

So here’s my excuse. I touched on it a few months ago and since I’m finally seeing the finish line, I thought I’d provide a couple of details.

In short, for the past 20 years I’ve been living here:

By the start of next week (I’m also currently waiting on the builder to stop by so I can sign the paperwork) I’ll be living here:

This may not look like much but I’m pretty much quadrupling my living space (the old house was about 900 square feet, the new is over 1800 with a full basement) Since I’ve never built a house before this has been a new experience. Now there’s a fair amount of work yet to do and I’ll be moving belongings (other than books I really don’t have many belongings) this weekend but in a little while – say a month or so – I should be able to give this blog a bit more attention. If nothing else, I suspect I’ll be very ready for something to give me a break from house-related issues.

So happy medievaling everyone. I’ll be with you shortly.


Posted by on July 2, 2014 in Blogology, Not Really Medieval


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Why This Blog May be Quiet and Why I’ll Likely Miss Kalamazoo

I have quite a bit to post about but am having real trouble finding the time, at least to make the kind of posts I want to make. I have a fair amount to write on Origen, though this will not approach the time I spent on Tertullian. I’ve had a draft post on Irenaeus sitting around since last August and I think I may be ready to offer a few thoughts on some of the ways in which ancient philosophy impacted the evolution of Christianity.

There’s a reason for this. I was going to wait until the project was finished and then apologize after the fact but I’ve had a couple of e-mails this week asking me if I would be at Kalamazoo. I’ve been debating my attendance and finally have decided this would be foolish. The reason can be summed up by the following image.


Eventually things will be placed on top of what you see here – wood and shingles and bricks and wires and other stuff. The problem, related to Kalamazoo, is that the house is due to be finished in late May. That means that when Kalamazoo is going on is about the time when I’ll be talking to the builder to finalize things like fixtures in the kitchen and baths, the placement of lights and outlets throughout the house; all of the detail sort of things which I might actually have something to contribute to. If they’d be in the middle of framing or placing trusses it would be a different story but for this I need to be on site.

The problem’s not money, though a Kalamazoo book bill in the thousands probably wouldn’t be the wisest move (considering I just splurged on Oxford’s annual spring sale I wouldn’t let this stop me though) but I need to be here.

When it comes to impacting this blog, as an example, I spent most of yesterday walking through various shops looking at furniture, art, and antiques. I’m not normally an antique-er but I’d like the place to have a bit of character. On finishing this post I’m heading to Indianapolis to visit a home show (technically a flower and patio show but there are plenty of interior booths there too) to look at kitchen and bath items. I’ve sort of decided where I’m going in those areas but nothing’s final until it’s final so I’ll take my plans with me and talk to some folks.

So I apologize both for missing Kalamazoo which really disappoints me, as well as for my expectation that this blog will be relatively quiet for a while. The one consolation I have is that if this is finished by the end of May, I might be able to head to Saint Louis University for their conference in June. We’ll see. There is a possibility of a significant delay (no reason to expect it, but there is always a chance something may come up) which might change my Kalamazoo plans but this is where I’m at right now.


Posted by on March 9, 2014 in Not Really Medieval


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A Different Sort of Christmas Present

I’ve mentioned before how, after not receiving something I really want for Christmas I typically go splurge on something for myself.

This year’s “present for me” takes this to a whole new level and is something I think I can only really capture through song.

With apologies to Don Gardner.

Every body pauses and stares at me
My walk is a lurch as you can see
I don’t know just who to blame for this catastrophe!
But my one wish on Christmas Eve is as plain as it can be!

All I want for Christmas
is my new left hip,
my new left hip,
see my new left hip!

Gee, if I could only
have my new left hip,
then I could wish you
“Merry Christmas.”

It seems so long since I could climb,
Teotihuacan pyramids!
Gosh oh gee, how happy I’d be,
if I could only saunter

All I want for Christmas
is my new left hip,
my new left hip,
see my new left hip.

Gee, if I could only
have my new left hip,
then I could wish you
“Merry Christmas!”

My office chair is not yet terribly comfortable so posts will have to wait for a bit. I suppose I could move my laptop elsewhere and type something up but at the moment the process of unhooking and hooking up the cables, crawling under the desk to unplug stuff, etc., seems a bit daunting.


Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Not Really Medieval


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This is Not at All Medieval

I have previously said this website would be reserved for Medieval History, or at least stuff related to it. I’m going to break that today for one post.

My home community of Schoharie County, New York, was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene last Sunday. The Schoharie Valley was completely flooded by several feet of water as over 10 inches of rain fell in a few hours in that area and in the Northern Catskills, which is drained by the Schoharie Creek. 1

This area is prone to flooding, folks there have dealt with those in the past and when the first reports came in last weekend with items such as, “This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” I initially passed those off as media hype.

They weren’t.

The Schoharie Valley before and after Irene

It was obvious from the pictures coming in on Sunday that the water was higher than it had ever been before – the homes and farms in the lower right of the pictures have not flooded in the past, as far as I know. What wasn’t obvious until I saw pictures and video the following day was the force of this flood. My memory of floods in the Schoharie valley is that while the water in the creek moves swiftly, that in the flood plain does not. It generally starts rising, moving fairly gently downstream. This time floodwaters a half mile or more from the creek were moving at 50-60 miles an hour. I’ve seen images of buildings, beyond where floodwaters usually reach, which look like someone had hit them with rockets – one side of the building is blown in, while the downstream side is blown out.

It’s hard for me to quantify the damage; I’m sure assessments are ongoing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the two largest towns in the valley, Middleburgh and Schoharie, historical towns settled in the early 1700’s, were devastated.

The main road into Middleburgh, above, and Bridge Street, a back way into Schoharie, below

In the valley I’ve been told that 75% of the homes are unlivable – I’ve been hearing that they expect them to be condemned but I hope this means you can’t live in them now but they can be repaired.

Schoharie county has an interesting geography. A good chunk of it is valley, with a low point of 520 feet (158 m) elevation. The Southern portion of the county is in the Catskills which consists of an escarpment, generally over 2000 feet (600 m) and elevations as high as over 3200 feet (980 m). All of this drains into the Schoharie Creek. Along the side roads running down from the mountains, small drainage ditches along minimally improved roads became torrents, eating away at the roads and destroying homes.

A home, or what’s left of it, along a side road

You can find additional pictures here.

This is not a wealthy place and it’s in trouble. Donations of supplies have flooded into the community, which is great, and I think everyone’s being fed. The problem is, as of yesterday (September 2) over 7,000 people out of a county of about 30,000, remained without power. I would guess that this is roughly equal to the number of people who are homeless and housed in various shelters, schools, etc. I have no doubt there will be federal assistance but federal assistance isn’t designed to return things to how they were – it’s designed to get people to where they can help themselves recover. This recovery will be slow.

USGS Water flow data for Breakabeen, located just upstream from Middleburgh. The previous record flow rate for this site was 4420 cubic feet/second in 2003. The gauge height in the same period jumped from under 5 feet to over 20.

Everyone has problems and we all have groups and causes we donate to. However if anyone would like to make a donation, the Schoharie County Community Action Program has established a flood relief fund. Include “flood fund” in the memo portion of your check made out to “SCCAP” and send to:

Schoharie County Community Action Program
795 East Main Street,Suite 5
Cobleskill, NY 12043

If you live closer to the area, this page has other ways to help. As a caution, quite often sending “stuff” is less helpful because not everyone needs everything. I believe, for example, many donation sites have stopped taking used clothing. Perishable “stuff” like soap, shampoo, hygiene items, toilet paper, etc. are usually more in need.

I was hoping to get back there this weekend and stay through next week to help but that will have to wait for a few weeks from now. Schoharie County is certainly not the only rural area impacted. Several neighboring counties were also hit pretty hard and Vermont has also suffered, badly.

There is a very significant, almost miraculous bright spot in all this. When the water began to arrive, there was an evacuation of the valley for fear of a dam upstream failing. This involved evacuation sirens and local law enforcement going door-to-door. No lives were lost in Schoharie County, though much else was.

This isn’t medieval but I felt compelled to post it. Things are not good back home. I’ll return to medieval topics before long.

1 My family lives in another area of the county and is fine – a lot of water ran down the hill but their road didn’t wash out and their power was restored relatively quickly.


Posted by on September 3, 2011 in Not Really Medieval




I know Mesoamerican isn’t technically medieval but I enjoyed the visit to Teotihuacan and it isn’t so off base that anyone will hurt me for posting about it, I hope. I took a lot of pictures while in Mexico. If anyone wants to see more of them, I put about a third of them up on Facebook.

This was a multi-state cultural immersion program with representatives of 12 US Universities. This was pretty structured with visits to various points of interest at several locations in Central Mexico, ranging from a holistic health clinic to the US Embassy. This day was our last full one in Mexico before returning and while the Teotihuacan visit was part of the cultural experience I think it was also scheduled as something of an “unwind” where we could relax a little (mentally) before coming back to the US.

The first thing I need to say is that my knowledge of this site is no greater than what you can find elsewhere on the web. We had a tour guide but a bunch of us skipped out on that because we only had three hours and wanted to climb pyramids. One of the most interesting items is that even though it is a very significant site and well preserved, little is known of its origin or its founders. The site is much larger than the pyramid area which was a religious center for a city with an estimated population of as much as 200,000.

Diorama of Teotihuacan at the Museum of Archaeology in Mexico City. The Serpent Temple of Quetzalcoatl is front right, the Temple of the Sun further back and to the right and the Temple of the Moon at the far end. What looks like a broad street is known as “The Avenue of the Dead.”

Teotihuacan construction began during the second century BC and continued for the next several centuries, until the 3rd century AD. The city was occupied until the 7th or 8th century when it was mysteriously abandoned. It was the center of a large culture, with influences found throughout Mesoamerica, particularly among the Mayans. The reasons for the abandonment of the site are not completely clear but it appears to fit under the broad category of “massive social unrest/uprising following an extended period of population decline.” Skeletons dating from the 6th century show evidence of malnutrition and by the time the site was abandoned the population level had dropped by as much as 50%.

The residents practiced Human sacrifice. Excavations around the pyramids, particularly near and under the Serpent Temple, have found quite a few remains of folks who were killed by decapitation, had their hearts cut out, etc. They believe those executed were mainly enemies captured during warfare or on raids but when things were tight they likely used members of their own population – it’s unknown if these were volunteers.

The Feathered Serpent Temple of Quetzalcoatl. This appears to have been a major point for ritual sacrifice. After climbing it, I thought the others wouldn’t be too tough which I later found to be untrue.

Facade from the Temple of Quetzalcoatl on display in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. I neglected to write down whether this is a reproduction or something transported from the site. My apologies for the image quality. I bought a new camera for this trip and evidently hadn’t figured out the settings for use without the flash. I have pics from the site but this is much better, despite the fuzziness.

The Aztecs took over the site and used it for religious rituals. They also built several temples on top of the original structures. For the most part these did not survive as well as the original structures but often helped to protect the underlying remains.

Temple of the Sun

The Temple of the Sun is the largest structure at Teotihuacan and the third largest ancient pyramid in the world, slightly smaller than the Great Pyramid of Giza and significantly smaller (though taller) than the Mesoamerican Great Pyramid of Cholula, also located in Mexico. It’s 75 meters (246 feet) tall.

Me, standing before the Temple of the Sun. This is the only picture of me I’ll show since in the rest I’m mainly standing with my mouth open and eyes closed waiting for my heart rate and breathing to return to normal.

The function of the Temple hasn’t been pinpointed. An altar was built on top of the pyramid but hasn’t survived and few artifacts have been recovered from within. A royal tomb appears to be the most popular hypothesis but the interior chambers have been looted and not much has been found. It does not appear to have been a place of Human sacrifice however, or if it was, the bodies were interred elsewhere.

As for the climb, it was tough. I took it in sections, pausing at each level to wait for my heart rate and breathing to return to normal before going on to the next. About 3/4 of the way up you may notice a section where the pyramid juts out a bit. That stretch of steps was murder – steep and each step was extremely tall with narrow places to put your feet. Someone told me that was put there because the priests used to run the whole way up and that slowed them down. I have a feeling this is a myth but if it was true those priests were some tough dudes. I had enough trouble just walking.

Temple of the Moon

Temple of the Moon, picture taken from on top of the Temple of the Sun.

The Temple of the Moon, located at the North end of the site, appears to have been used for a combination of purposes. Rituals to the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan were conducted there; she was the Goddess of fertility and earth. Sacrifices were carried out there and tombs have been found within it.

I have to mention two things. First, I wasn’t climbing this. Hauling my old, fat carcass up and down the Temple of the Sun had finished me. I was going to go to the base, snap some pictures, then wait for the vendors roaming around the site to swarm me. Those folks were all over but you could get away from them by climbing a pyramid. When I reached the base of the Temple of the Moon I saw this older gentleman, 75 years old at least, on his way back down, helping a 2-3 year old down. My first thought was, “That toddler climbed that?” Well, I don’t care if he was Super-Toddler – he didn’t climb it. That old man had carried that kid up the steps. After that, I had to climb it. That or turn in my man card.

The second thing I learned is how I will die. At some future point I’ll look at something which I could have done fairly easily 20 years and 50 lbs ago, give it a try and fail in a spectacular, fatal way. I survived this one, but eventually I won’t. That’s OK – there are far, far worse ways to go.

Temple of the Moon. At this point there was no way I was climbing it.

The height of this climb was much less than for the Temple of the Sun, surely less than a hundred feet. But the steps were about a meter high and the foot-rests about 6″(15 cm.) wide. Tough haul. Fortunately (for me anyway) you were only allowed to climb to the first level. But it provided some great views of the site.

Looking South from the Temple of the Moon along the Avenue of the Dead. The Sun Pyramid is on the left.

Picture of the Temple of the Sun, taken from the Temple of the Moon. This may be my favorite picture I took at Teotihuacan.

I enjoyed this visit very much. I wish we’d had more than three hours because there was much more to see. There was access to areas beneath the ruins at several points but I only visited one of them. Some excavation has been done of the surrounding city and I didn’t have time for that either. One day I expect to return to fill in those gaps.

I know this isn’t strictly medieval but in this hemisphere this is about the best I can do. You just don’t get the sense of age in many places which I’ve been told you can find in Europe. Again, for more pictures you can check out the ones I posted on Facebook, about a quarter of the total I took over the week.


Posted by on April 16, 2011 in Not Really Medieval


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Time Management I

This will have very little Medieval content and contains much more information about my personal life than I am planning to habitually post but it may interest some people.

My TV blew up yesterday afternoon. I’m not a huge television watcher. I have exactly two network TV shows I try to watch every week with three others I try to catch but am not disappointed when I miss them. I watch the local news at home in the morning – always – and often in the evening. “Watch” may be too strong of a term. Generally I’m on the computer with the TV serving as background noise and if something catches my interest I’ll look into the living room to catch it. And here’s the biggie – I watch football (American) on Sunday afternoons. I’m also a fan of the NCAA basketball tournament each March.

Cable doesn’t run where I live and I haven’t bought a dish. I get exactly two stations – the local NBC and CBS affiliates. Actually those are 5 stations because the CBS affiliate also has a radar site and the NBC has a local weather network and Universal Sports. So my television watching is already minimal. Also, while I have high speed internet this is through a wireless phone company receiver (there’s likely a technical term for this – I call it my, “USB Internet phone thingy”) with a data limit so watching over the Internet is not an option.

Still, not having it leaves a hole. After some consideration, I’ve decided not to replace it, at least for the short term. I’m going to live two weeks television free, with an option on permanence.

This will change my life habits. I like having background noise. TV used to do that even when what was on was garbage. Right now I have NPR on (tried several stations and didn’t like ’em) but this won’t work for a long-term solution. I have CD’s of stuff I like in the car and am not packing that in and out of the house. I think I’m gonna go classical indoors. I’ll leave Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin, etc., in the car. I also have XM radio in the car and am debating a receiver inside but as of this moment I’m staying away from that.

The one negative of no TV is that every now and then, probably every 3-4 weeks, I want to completely veg in mindless non-reflection. You may think football fits that description but I usually have a good history book on the coffee table, start off reading it during commercials and end up reading it and only watching football when an announcer sounds excited/during key moments. My mindless vegetative state is achieved by, almost always on a Friday evening, renting 2-3 DVD’s of dubious quality which I won’t much care about if I fall asleep during. Did that this week and yesterday morning I was completely refreshed. I think this aspect of my life is worth keeping. Some people meditate, I watch bad movies. And very occasionally, I watch one I think might be good.

So this is something I need to deal with – but there is a solution. I have a laptop at home with a 22″ screen. I could buy a larger screen for the living room and, when I want to watch a movie, hook the laptop to it. I don’t think watching movies in my office is an option – this is my total mindless relaxation time and the chair doesn’t cut it; neither does moving the recliner in here – the floor’s already covered with books. Though having a 32″ or larger screen to work on has a sinister appeal.

So this brings me to reading. I already read a lot. Almost everything I read at home is on Medieval History – exceptions are my subscriptions to Discover and National Geographic. When I first started reading history I took breaks from the Middle Ages by reading fiction. Today I take breaks from reading about Late Antiquity, Early Medieval and Classical (usually on early Christianity) by reading something Medieval from out of my period which I don’t feel compelled to take copious notes on.

I expect my reading will increase and that I’ll read more productively. I also anticipate exercising more and being more productive around home; at the very least on Sunday afternoons. Possibly I’ll start working on my languages again – I’m in Mexico for 9 days next April and my Spanish needs to be serviceable by then.

The week after Thanksgiving I’m going to take stock. The hole left by the departure of my television may have closed by then – or it may not. If not, I’ll re-subject my home to low grade (likely harmless) radiation. If it has, I’ll likely throw in a follow-up to this post explaining the (I hope) improvements this has made in my life. For the moment though, it’s on to the books.

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Posted by on November 7, 2010 in Not Really Medieval


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