Sunday, 25 September 2011

I Love Lydgate

Sorry this blog has nothing to do with leprosy. I have officially had enough of the Lydgate haters. I like John Lydgate, but every time I read some Lydgate and like it I fell like I should apologise for it, like it is a dirty habit. I find his writing perhaps lacks the flair of Chaucer, but because of that most medievalists seem happy to dismiss him altogether...should all music from the 60s thats not The Beatles be dismissed, left unlistened to on a shelf? Should all romantic poetry thats not Wordsworth not be bothered with? Don't get me wrong I love Chaucer and shall forever be in his debt as the Book of the Duchess was my first introduction to Medieval poetry. But if people are allowed a love of Shelley or The Kinks why is it so awful that I love Lydgate? I can only assume it is a snobbery about his style of writing, and his habit for very long books. I think the issue here is how people read wouldn't attempt to read the Bible in one go so why would you try to read the Fall of Princes in one go? Also why only read the Fall of Princes...yes its Lydgate's best known work but since when does fame make a work the best? So in conclusion I love Lydgate and I don't care who knows it!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Jacob's Well

Jacob's Well is another religious manual...that currently holds the title for most disgusting story involving leprosy in Middle English.

A bishop meets a leper on a road. The leper asks the bishop to lick the bogey out of his nose as his nose is too tender to be wiped with a cloth. The bishop does lick the nose and as he does so a gem stone falls out of the leper's nose, it is the stone of grace...a gift from God for the bishop's humility...still gross though! Naturally the leper disappears having given the bishop this wonderful gift!

Saturday, 27 August 2011


The Roman Emperor Constantine is held up in the medieval period as an example of charitable behaviour. He was a leper, and was told by his doctors that to cure his leprosy he needed to bathe in the blood of children. Now all commentators stress that Constantine doesn't bathe in infants blood and having converted to Christianity he is cured of his leprosy. Based on this I always thought of Constantine as a good man, who was horrified at the mere thought of killing innocent children just to help himself. So this week I read the version of this story from Gower's Confessio Amantis and Constantine is quite happy to kill all the children, its only when he hears all the mmothers wailing that he reconsiders. He then goes into this quite hypocritical speech about right and wrong and the rights of the poor...but two minutes earlier he was quite happy to murder a load of poor children on order to cure himself! Its quite creepy to read and reminds me of Herod's slaughter of the innocents. So Constantine's great act of charity is simply scaring the hell out a group of kids and their mums and then really generously not murdering them for his own ends! Is that charity? Strange....

Monday, 22 August 2011

Amicus and Amelius

This is a short version of Amis and Amiloun that appears in the Alphabet of Tales. There are two main differences in the plot of this version. The first is that  Amelius recieves no warning that he might be punished for helping his friend by pretending to be him. The second change to the plot is that Amicus does not talk to his wife before slaghtering his children in order to cure Amelius. Luckily for him his children are found miraculously safe in their beds after Amelius has been cured by bathing in their blood. Good job huh? Can you imagine dinner in that household otherwise...AWKWARD! "So dear how was your day?" "Ah yes I meant to talk to you about that...I spent some time with the children today...and then I nap and had a dream where I found out that the way to cure my friend Amelius' remember Amelius, the one who helped us out when we had that problem with your Dad? Anyway in this dream I was told I could cure him by bathing him in a bath of be more specific childrens blood. So I went ahead and killed the kids. Hope you don't mind?" *icy silence* 

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

St Francis of Assisi

When St Francis is on the point of fully converting to a spiritual life he meets a leper on a road. He thinks about the warning God gave him about sinning, and instead of running from the leper he runs to him. Francis embraces the leper, kisses him and then he disappears. This isn't the only disappearing leper in relgious texts. Maybe they have to disappear to reinforce the idea that the leper is from God! So watch out...if you meet a leper on a lonely road and he disappears God was sending you a sign! Feel blessed!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

St Elizabeth of Hungary

Read an interesting vita of St Elizabeth of Hungary. She was famous for her charitable care for lepers. Interestingly though this version of her life (taken from the Middle English Gilte Legende) seems to minimise her connections to that specific disease. Instead it emphasises her charity to the sick in general...I'm wondering if this is because of fashion. It became less fashionable to care personally for lepers during the fourteenth and into the fifteenth century. Perhaps the translator into Middle English wanted to distance Elizabeth from lepers to save her from being an unfashionable saint! I seem to have a This Morning style TV show in my head..."And coming up later on we look at the latest fashion for today's saint on the go!" Oh dear.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Sir Tristrem

This is the version of Tristen and Isolde from the Auchinleck manuscript. It is a typical romance telling the story of perhaps the most famous couple in medieval literature. This version includes an episode where Tristrem disguises himself as a leper in order to get close to Ysonde. Brody sees this use of leprosy as an outward sign of Tristrem's carnal nature, however that does remove the disguise from its context somewhat. Given Ysonde is at the time trying to spurn the advances of Sir Canados and begins to go insane Tristrem's attempt to be near her by adopting the disguise of a leper is more romantic than Brody would have us believe. I think this version is going to need to be compared to other versions to get a more complete idea of the role leprosy plays in the romance.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Margery Kempe

Margery Kempe, where to start? Margery Kempe and I go back a long way... I  first encountered her in my second year as an undergraduate. At the time I did not really accept how integral religion was to the medieval period and found Margery's books to be the worst kind of religious text, unashamedly spiritual, constantly didactic and slightly embarassing. Her weeping made me uncomfortable to say the least! So I was understandably less then keen to try to read Margery again, but I have come a long way in the five years since I first read her.  Though there were two extracts that involve leprosy I found the second much more interesting as it is the more personal of the two.

At the start of her second Book Margery describes how her son, 'fel into the synne of letchery' (line 7460). Her son develops a disease which is described as being like leprosy. When someone goes to his mother and tells her that her disapproval of her son's lifestyle has brough the vengence of God upon him she states that she will not pray for his recovery until he comes and prays for himself. When he does this and faithfully submits to the will of God then he and Margery pray for him to be cured and he is.

What I find interesting about this is that neither of them interpret this illness as a challenge from God, to suffer an earthly purgatory, instead both see it as a punishment from God. Indeed you might argue that if Margery's son truly bowed to God's will then he would not expect to be cured as he would accept whatever fate God granted him. Even though his disease is only described as like leprosy this story offers an interesting perspective of a mother's love conflicting with her love of God, as well as an interesting use of leprosy as a punishment for lechery.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Summoner

There has been some scholarly debate over the Summoner from the Canterbury Tales. The General Prologue descibes the Summoner as suffering from a disease that some critics argue is leprosy. Reading the description for myself today I agree. He is pimpled, red faced and lecherous (many medical treatises argued lechery was a symptom of leprosy rather than a cause). I think I need to think about what the importance of this leperous pilgrim is. Is the leprosy Chaucer's warning to distrust the Summoner? Or was it merely a device to explain his lechery? Still the Summoner will probably be my most famous Middle English leper....which is quite cool!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Handlyng Synne

Eased myself back into Middle English this week by reading Robert Mannyng of Brunne's Handlyng Synne. This is a fourteenth century religious manual that contains stories which could be used for sermons on different sins. Found a wonderful story in the section on envy:

There once was a pair of hermits, but one of the hermits left to become an abbot. The hermit that remained was so lonely that he prayed to God to give him some company. God send the hermit a bear that both kept him company, and also herded his sheep without eating them. News of this tame bear spread far and wide, eventually reaching the abbey where the hermit's old companion was. Though he was happy his friend had found company, his monks were jealous. So they decided to kill the bear, not realising the bear was sent as a gift from God. As a result all the monks involved in the death of the bear were smitten instantly with leprosy of the most extreme form.

I know I may find few people who agree with me but I find this story really sweet!