Well, I had my last graduate class today. The text for this week was Books I, II, and XVI from the Scotichronicon. I enjoyed reading Books I and II more than I thought I would: it started by explaining the order of the world, the cardinal winds, and then the six ages from the beginning of the world to the ‘present’. I find it fascinating how the medieval mind sought to understand the universe. Here is an excerpt from the Third Age:
Joseph lived for 110 years (3549). Greece began to have crops. The Captivity of the Hebrews lasted for 154 years (3689). Atlas discovered astrology. In the 505th year f the third age the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea dryfoot. Moses ruled the people for 40 years (3729). The Hebrews became literate. Joshua ruled the people of Israel for 27 years. Erichtonius yoked the four-horse chariot in Troy. Othniel ruled for 40 years (3710). Cathmus or Cadmus gave the alphabet to the Greeks. Ehud ruled for 80 years (3876). Legends were invented. Deborah ruled for 40 years (3816). Apollo invented the lute and the art of medicine. Gideon ruled for 40 years (3955). Mercury invented the lyre. Abimelech ruled for three years (3958). Choral drama was invented in Greece. Tola ruled for 23 years (3958). Priam reigned in Troy.
It goes on for quite a while, but this excerpt serves the purpose of showing how the chronicler juxtaposed Jewish history with Classical mythology. Later on he includes some Egyptian as well. I actually enjoyed reading the ‘brief summary of the six ages’ because I’m pretty sure that’s what my brain looks like most of the time. I have all sorts of alternate histories happily coexisting in my head. Oh, Scotland was founded by Scota, daughter of Pharaoh, and her husband Gaythelos instead of by Albanactus a son of Brutus (a grandson of Aeneas)? Alright, I’ll file that alongside the Brutus-story. And Arthur does exist, no matter what Higden may say.
Also fascinating is the explanation for the origin of images and idols in Book I, Ch 35. He said it quite possibly began when ‘Some father in his bitter grief made an image of the son who had been suddenly snatched from him, and afterwards began to worship him as a god the person who had previously died as an ordinary mortal, and he instituted sacred rites and sacrifice to him among his slaves. Then as time went by and the wicked custom became established, this mistaken practice was observed as law, and graven images were woshipped at the command of tyants.’ The chronicler is very apologetic for how something as honest as grief for a lost child can turn into idolatry through an attempt to assuage that grief.
And of course, the last line of the last chapter of the last book amused me greatly. ‘Christ! He is not a Scot who is not pleased with this book.’
CGW asked how I was in class and I told him that I felt better, but not well. He said that I looked ‘quite pale’ like I needed a ‘holiday in the Caribbean’ (‘But not Mexico!’ one of the other professors interjected), and gave me an extension. I managed to finish my Gawain essay yesterday, so I’m going to give myself the rest of today off. I’ll start on my Kingship essay tomorrow.