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Friday, September 23, 2011

The Battle of the Pamphlets: Printing as a Weapon

Twenty-volume folios will never make a revolution.
It's the little pocket pamphlets that are to be feared.

The advent of printing brought forth many changes in the world.  One was providing a way for people who could afford it to advertise their thoughts and opinions.  An interesting piece of the history of early printing is the so-called "battle of the pamphlets", which is often given as one of the impetuses of the Protestant Reformation.  It is also a prime example of how a medium can be used to foster hate and insanity - clearly something that is rampant today.
Speculum adhortationis iudaice ad Christum, by
Pfefferkorn in 1507.  This was his first pamphlet,
and was intended to convey the message that Jewish
books contain hideous lies about Jesus and Mary.
Image courtesy of the Illinois library

In the early 1500s, some Christian scholars hotly debated whether Jewish texts, with the exception of the Old Testament, should be burned.  The primary character on the pro-burning side was a rascal named Johannes Pfefferkorn.  He was born a Jew, but converted to Catholicism a year after being released from prison for committing a burglary.  He became an assistant to the prior of the Dominican order in Cologne, Germany, and embarked on the career of theologian.

Johannes Pfefferkorn, left, in his master's robes facing a kneeling
Johann Reuchlin, right.  From a 1521 woodcut from Cologne, Germany.

Although he had limited knowledge of Hebrew writings, he condemned them anyway.  In a pamphlet he published, Warnungsspiegel, he professed that he was a friend of Jews, and his intent was to convert them to Christianity for their own good.  He condemned their persecution as it would deter their conversion, and denied that they murdered Christian children for blood for their rituals.  In another pamphlet, Der Jugenspiegel, published in 1507, he urged them to give up usury, attend Christian sermons (which he felt would compel them to convert by their own merit), and to get rid of the Talmud.

A page of the Talmud from Johann Reuchlin's library.

No surprise that he was bitterly denounced by Jews.  In retaliation, apparently upset that they did not appreciate his concerns and desires for them, he published three more pamphlets:  Wie die blinden Jüden ihr Ostern halten (1508); Judenbeicht (1508); and Judenfeind (1509).  His third tract was a contradiction of every good thing he had written about Jews earlier, and instead claimed that every Jew thought it was good to kill, or at least mock, a Christian. He called for Jews to be expelled from "Christian" lands, and that Jewish children should be removed from their homes and raised as Christians.

Pfefferkorn's Büchlein der Jude Peicht, 1508, was
written to encourage other Jews to convert and share
the "secrets" of Judaism with the Christian world.
Image courtesy of the University of Chicago Library.

In his fourth pamphlet, he argued that Jews should be expelled or enslaved, and the first thing was to collect and burn all copies of the Talmud.  He tried to have them seized and destroyed.  In his efforts to do this, he was able to connect with Emperor Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor.  On August 19, 1509, Maximilian ordered the Jews must relinquish all books opposing Christianity to Pfefferkorn, or destroy them.  Pfefferkorn traveled to several German towns and began confiscating them.

The Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I by Albrecht Dürer, 1519.

The Jews, with the help of the Archbishop of Mainz, asked Maximilian to appoint a commission to address and examine Pfefferkorn's charges.  On November 10, 1509, an imperial mandate ordered that the Archbishop of Mainz was to get opinions from several universities and scholars, including Johann Reuchlin, a scholar versed in Hebrew who was considered the hub of Greek and Hebrew learning in Germany.  Although several of the parties chosen were against the Jewish books, Maximilian suspended his edict on May 23, 1510, and the books were returned.

Johann Reuchlin's The Rudiments of Hebrew.  This was
the first Hebrew lexicon and grammar published for Christians.
Image courtesy of the Illinois Library.

Thus began the battle of the pamphlets.  Enraged by Reuchlin's vote against his confiscation or conflagration campaign, Pfefferkorn published Handspiegel wider und gegen die Juden in 1511, attacking Reuchlin and saying that he had been bribed.  In retaliation, Reuchlin published Augenspiegel, which theologians at the University of Cologne tried to censor, and did, in fact, get an imperial order the following year to confiscate.  This caused a furor, as the universities sided against Reuchlin and tried to make him recant.  The "Reuchlin Affair" caused a rift in the church.  Eventually the case against him was tried in the papal court in Rome, and although the judgment of July 1516 was for Reuchlin, news of the trial was suppressed.  Supporters of Reuchlin published more treatises, but the once enthusiastic public interest had waned, and besides, there was a new target afoot - Martin Luther.

This 1521 engraving shows Reuchlin and Luther (1st and 3rd from left)
as the patrons of liberty facing their various enemies.

In the meantime, Pfefferkorn had answered Augenspiegel with Brandspiegel.  In 1513, Maximilian silenced them both.  But Pfefferkorn published another pamphlet, Sturmglock, in 1514, which spoke out against Reuchlin and the Jews. Soon other Humanists joined in, to which Pfefferkorn wrote more tracts.  Finally, in 1520, Pope Leo X condemned Reuchlin's Augenspiegel, and Pfefferkorn celebrated with Ein mitleidliche Klag Gegen den Ungläugbigen Reuchlin in 1521. The situation was intense, with scholars and theologians from both sides lobbing their print bombs.

The cover of Reuchlin's Augenspiegel.  Reuchlin used
spectacles as a symbol of scholarship.  Image courtesy
flickr/Center for Jewish History, NYC.

It didn't take long for printing to be used as a weapon.  Not only were these pamphlets printed and circulated to influence the public, but they were distributed at the new venue of book fairs.  The idea of using printing presses to mold public opinion was a new one, and one that caught on pretty quickly.  Just as quickly in modern times other forms of communication media were also appropriated for the use of propaganda - newspapers, radio, television and films, and now the internet. Proof, again, as if we needed more, that there is nothing new under the sun.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where There's Dirt, There's a Way!

World War I poster by James Montgomery Flagg, 1918.

Gardening is the new old trend.  With the economy being what it is, the return of consumers to real food, which we now call "organic", and the green push to eat locally harvested produce, more and more people are making the attempt to grow their own food.  This is leading to some new and inventive ways of doing it.

World War II poster from the U.S. GPO,
by artist Morley, 1945. 

In the 1940s, "victory" gardens were planted to help with war rations.  Recent figures I read claim that nine million tons were produced in the U.S., and the efforts produced 40% of the veggies consumed nationally.  In Great Britain, it is estimated that $1.2 billion worth of produce was grown by the end of the WWI, in five million gardens.  When people grew their own produce, it freed the produce on the market to be purchased by the military to feed the troops, and it was available at lower costs.

Handbook from April, 1944, image courtesy of this site

The postwar boom had housing being built with yards big enough for gardens, but most people went for lawns - the greener and more weed-free the better.  Some people grew their own produce still, but until recent years it wasn't a trend. Container gardening did become popular, both for homeowners and apartment dwellers, especially when people found they could grow some produce in containers.  Herbs were commonly grown in pots, but soon people found they could grow tomatoes, lettuce, and other veggies.

Various containers are used here - from wooden boxes to tires.

One type of container that is becoming popular to use is plastic swimming pools. They can be placed on the ground, patio or pavement, or even rooftops.  They are great for sites with poor or contaminated soil, and even in harsh climates can last 5-6 years.  Drain holes are made about 2" from the bottom to drain off too much water, while still keeping a small reservoir.

Here pools are used to create little mini-gardens.  This image and the one
above courtesy of this site, which has lots of good info.

In the 70s, community gardens started flourishing.  Today they are an important part of urban renewal in some areas, and make use of vacant land that would be wasted otherwise.  It also is less time-consuming, as the labor and costs are shared. Some are parceled off in allotments, each participant receiving their own little portion of land to grow what they wish.

A community garden in D.C. in 2006.

One of the coolest techniques is rooftop gardening.  This method uses the otherwise unused space on top of a structure's roof, which receives the sun, and provides insulation to the structure, significantly cooling it in hot months.  Roof load capacity is a critical determinant of whether this type of gardening is applicable to any structure.  Hydroponics, where plants are grown in a soilless medium and fed a special nutrient solution is the lightest option.  Accessibility and water supply are two other concerns, but if it can be done not only does it benefit the gardeners, but also birds, butterflies, and other creatures we share the earth with.

This is the rooftop garden of Eagle Street, over a warehouse in Brooklyn.

Vertical gardens were first planted by architects in the 80s to help cool buildings. Also called green walls, they are being employed to grow vegetables now.  Some have plants rooted into the soil and growing up onto a supporting structure.  Others have soil packed into a bag or shelf, then are hung on a supporting structure. These have to be replenished every year, and are not suitable in areas with seismic activities or high winds.  Access to the plants and water is also a concern.  Mat or coir fibers are often used, and new systems are being developed for consumers all the time.

I recently read of "pocket" gardens being planted in France.  These make use of posts in an urban setting, where vegetables and flowers are planted.  A Parisian artist, Paule Kingleur, worked with 600 Parisian schoolchildren to plant them and tend to them.  The planters are made of discarded milk cartons wrapped in fabric from recycled tents.  Let's see if this trend catches on!

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Draglevtsi Monastery and Its Important History

There is a monastery on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, that was built in 1345.  It was abandoned with the Ottoman takeover of the area in 1382, although it was one of the few monasteries that the Ottomans did not destroy.  It was then renovated in the late 15th century.  The Draglevtsi Monastery of the Holy Mother of God of Vitosha became an important literary center.

It became a repository of Bulgarian cultural records.  One monk who stayed there in 1612 wrote a list of the medieval rulers of Bulgaria.  The scriptorium produced several manuscripts, including a gospel from 1469, a Draglevtsi gospel in 1534, and a psalter in 1598.

The monastery church, the Church of the Holy Mother of God, is the only surviving building today.  It is roughly 39 x 16 feet, with a single apse and nave. The architecture is typical of the era and region.

View of the apse of the main church.

What is important today is the art that has endured.  There are 15th century frescoes, and 16th and 17th century paintings.

The frescoes of warrior saints, George, Mercurius, and Demetrius of Thessaloni, date from 1475 -1476.  They are realistically painted with the armor of knights of that period.  Demetrius is featured in a mural fighting Kaloyan, the Bulgarian tsar, who is depicted as an enemy of the faith.

Saint Mercurius, possibly holding the sword that was
said to have been given him by the Archangel Michael.

There is an iconostasis in the church that was carved in the 18th century.  The iconostasis of a chuch is a wall of icons and religious paintings that separate the nave from the sanctuary.  (It is also an icon stand.)  The icons within were painted by Nikola Obrazopisov, from the Samokov Art School in the 19th century.

Both images (above and below) courtesy of the monastery website (linked below).

Radoslav Mavar was the feudal lord who funded the rebuilding in the late 15th century.  Portraits of him and his family are among the surviving paintings.

Besides the valuable examples of art from three different eras, the monastery is a good example of what Bulgarian monasteries were like.  During the mid-19th century, it was an underground center for revolutionary committees that worked in secret against the Turks.  It still functions as a cloister for nuns.  This is one of the overlooked treasures of history - one of the places that is ignored by the mainstream of history, but is rich in significance nonetheless.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.
The monastery website has information for visitors.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Silence of the Monks

Two abbots offer their churches to the Virgin Mary,
while below a scribe offers his manuscript.
Image from the Citeaux illuminated manuscript from
the 1100s.   Cisterians observed silence.   Courtesy of this site.

Monastic silence is the providence of many religions.  It is thought to offer the best opportunity for meditation, purity of thoughts, and closeness to God.  It can be observed for short or long periods of time, for certain occasions or situations, and can be communal or individual.

Statue of Amitabha Buddha quietly meditating, circa 1865.

Since ancient times, the observation of silence has been practiced.  Pythagoras had a strict rule of silence for his disciples.  The Roman Vestal virgins were bound by vows of silence.

A monk prays.

Nearly every monastic tradition all over the world has a tradition of silence.  In the West, it is more highly developed in Catholicism than in Protestantism.  Silence, in a monastic setting, can mean absolute quiet, or speaking in low tones.  Some monasteries had rules for silence in certain areas or specific times.  Practicing silence applied to guests as well as resident monks.

Alphabetic gestures being used in Fernando Gallego's
retablo panel, circa1485.

Certainly there was a need for communicating the basic needs, and to this end a code of hand gestures developed to convey basic thoughts regarding work and spirit.  Most of these gestures dealt with food, people, and items used in worship. A lot of them are mimetic, such as the gesture of a hand ringing a bell to express a deacon, since he was the one to ring the bell in rituals.

Hand gestures are still used today.

In the West, monastic sign languages were used in Europe since the 10th century, and are still in use in the Cistercian and Trappist traditions.  They are not like the sign languages that deaf people use, but are more gestural, leading some scholars to refer to them as sign lexicons.

St Anthony the Great, considered the
father of Christian monasticism.

In medieval Benedictine monasteries, from Portugal to England, there is documentation for these sign lexicons.  Most are nouns, and the few verbs deal with sitting, standing, kneeling, and confessing.  There was no grammar assigned to these gestures, and they probably used the word order of the language most spoken, whether it was Latin or a vernacular.  Vocabulary lists from medieval texts range in number from 52 to 472 signs, with an average of around 178.

A manual alphabet from 1815.

Fingerspelling was also used.  The most simplest form is writing letters in the air or tracing them on the hand.  This sort of communication serves as a bridge between spoken and sign languages.  People who are adept at both sign language and fingerspelling communicate by looking at the "speaker's" face, and reading the signs peripherally.  While fingers have been used for counting, scholars think that the practice of substituting letters for numbers, called gematria, was also common in ancient times.

Hand memory system from 1579, showing three
variants.  Published in Venice, 1579.

The earliest known finger alphabet was described by Bede, the Benedictine monk, in the 8th century.  While his purpose is unknown, it may have been devised for teaching deaf people.  (Bede became deaf late in life.)  Some scholars consider this a game.

1494 woodcut is a modification of Bede's "finger calculus",
made by Luca Pacioli.

Monks may have influenced, and in turn been influenced, by the popularity of manual alphabets for secret communication.  Arthrological systems, where letters are indicated by pointing to different parts of the fingers and palm, were in use by hearing people for some time in England.  Some have speculated that they were derived from early Ogham manual alphabets.

Plate from John Bulwer's Philocophus, 1648,
London, showing an arthrological system.

Sign languages for the deaf developed independently, although it is hard to not think there must have been some interaction.  The monastic gestures were all common sense:  to ask for a candlestick, blow on your forefinger; if you wish a person to rise, turn your hand and move it up quickly in stages;  the sign for porridge was to move your fist as if stirring porridge;  the sign for honey was to set your finger on your tongue; if you wished to have more fish, you would put your hands together and move them back and forth like a fish waving its tail.

Today we have some iconic gestures, understood the world over.  The "victory" or "peace" sign, above, is certainly one of them.  Then, for us geeks, there is the one below, meaning "live long and prosper".

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Mother of All Libations

Bottles of Russian mead.

Until the 12th century, sugar was not a common ingredient, although it had been extracted and refined for a couple thousand years.  Honey was the common sweetener, and was used medicinally and as a preservative as well.  Honey, mixed with water and perhaps a grain mash, then fermented, is the oldest known fermented drink.  Its origins are lost, but there is archaeological evidence of fermented drinks.  Science Daily reported in 2004 that pottery jars found with the remnants of a fermented beverage made of rice, honey, and fruit show that it was produced in northern China 9,000 years ago.

Honey, the basis of mead.

This drink is called mead, and the very word attests to its ancient heritage.  The word comes from the proto-Indo-European root *médhu, and it has an interesting range of meanings in Indo-European languages which all have to do with honey, sweet, intoxicating, or drunkenness.  The earliest surviving written mention of it is in the Rig Veda, the ancient Indian collection of Sanskrit hymns (1700-1100 BCE). Aristotle (384-322 BCE) wrote of it in his writings.  Columela, who lived in the first century CE in Roman Hispania and wrote on agriculture of the area, recorded the following recipe:

Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius
of this water with a pound of honey.  The whole is exposed
to the sun for 40 days, and then left on a shelf near the fire.
If you have no rain water, then boil spring water.

Mead can be found in literature, especially Celtic.  In Beowulf (circa 8th-11th century CE), warriors drink mead.  About 550 CE, Taliesin, a famous bard, wrote "The Song of Mead".  But in Norse mythology, there is the Poetic Mead or Mead of Poetry, also known as the Mead of Suttungr.  This is a mythical drink that renders anyone who drinks it a scholar, able to recite lore and answer any question.  This was a metaphor for poetic inspiration, said to have been created from the gods spitting in a vat.  They created a man from this spittle who was so wise he knew everything.  Two dwarves killed him and mixed his blood with honey, creating a mead that transformed anyone who drank it into a scholar or a poet.  (The dwarves told the gods that the man had suffocated in his own intelligence.)  Such is the stuff of legends and drunks!

An image from the 18th century Icelandic manuscript "SÁM 66",
showing Odin as a bird spitting "the mead of poetry" into a vessel.
Illustration by Jakob Sigurdsson.

Mead was the historical beverage of preference, until heavy taxation and regulations of the ingredients in alcoholic beverages caused the commercial production of it to significantly lessen.  However some monasteries, especially those in areas where grape production (and hence winemaking) wasn't feasible, engaged in making mead, although it was often a by-product of beekeeping.

A Polish mead, called Trójniak.

In Central Europe and the Balkan area, mead has always been popular.  The Polish name for it is miód pitny, or "drinkable honey".  It also remained popular in Russia, and is mentioned in the works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Gogol.  The Finns make a sweet mead spiced with lemon, then raisins are added in a second fermentation.  In Africa, Ethiopians drink tej, flavored with a species of buckthorn, and traditionally served in a rounded container called a berele.  There is a mead called iQhilika made by the Xhosa of South Africa.

A berele of tej.

Since honeys have so many different flavors, so do meads.  Taste also depends on the yeast used or created during fermentation, and the aging process.  In ancient times, meads were fermented by wild yeasts or the bacteria from the skins of fruits, but since these are so unpredictable, yeasts have been developed for use that preserve the honey flavor.  Additives, known as "gruit", also enhance the flavor. Some types of gruit are a combinations of herbs, seeds, and berries.  Others are a mix of fruits and spices.  The blending opportunities are endless, and making mead at home is enjoying a revival, especially since commercial meads, although more prevalent, can be hard to find.

Two types of Finnish mead, on the right is rhubarb-flavored.

There are a plethora of variants of meads.  Meads that contain spices or herbs are called metheglin.  If a mead contains berries, it is a melomel.  This was also a good way to use up summer fruit, in effect preserving it for the winter.  A mead made with fermented grape juice is pyment.  Bochet is an interesting mead where the honey is caramelized before added to water, giving a toffee flavor to it.

Homebrewed melomel.

There are wines made with honey, but these are not considered true meads, and are in fact called faux-meads.  Hypocras, is a drink made with wine, sugar, and spices (mostly cinnamon), which is strained.  It was popular in the Roman Empire, and highly prized in the late Middle Ages, and even inspired the Spanish to make Sangria, originally made with cinnamon, ginger, and pepper.

So, if you are looking for a hobby and are interested in starting a meadery, you will find plenty of help online, from supplies to advice.  What a great way to keep the past alive, and perhaps your mead will, like the Mead of Poetry, enlighten your fellow human beings.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.