Siege Diaries 7/7/2020

It’s been five days since my last post, the longest I’ve gone since the Before Times.  But I was super busy the last few days on a number of things.  Most of them were routine–work, exercise, Sunday morning at the museum, the biweekly drive of the Porsche.  Some of them were a little unusual – a proofreading test for a gig I’m vying for, and a backyard “celebration of life” for a friend of my husband’s family (a little stressful in the physical distancing department).  But a lot of the time was occupied by something called the SCA Magnificently Awesome Scavenger Hunt, or SMASH.  Starting last Friday evening and finishing yesterday at noon, about 38 teams of SCA members from around the world vied to complete 90 “quests” of various sorts.  Some of them were research, some involved making an item from supplies on hand, and others involved various goofy and less-goofy tasks that were filmed and uploaded.   I was on a team (Team Onguiaahra – named after the original Indigenous language word for Niagara) comprised of ten people, and I ended up doing 22 of the tasks.   I thought I’d share some of my entries over the next few days.

#3:  Re-create a piece of period art, using stuff in your house. Share a photo of both the original and your re-production here.

Behold–the Catsnail!


#4:  Write a period style poem about self -isolation. Enter it as a comment.

Rhyming Octosyllabic couplets, the most common form of poetry for French romances and lais during the later Middle Ages.

St. Clare’s Cave

In my grotto, my lonely room
Visions I see, through feat of Zoom
Friends nearby, so far away
The foe without, and it would slay
With unseen darts, besieged more
I take up pen, and I wage war
With words fight I darkness, binding
Those I cannot touch, love finding
Not lacking, yet yearning ever
For future touch, parting never
Each day the same, I strive for hope
Obsessed, I wash my hand with soap
And don my mask, if forth I ride
And scan the stats, if home I bide
Midst cats and books, and music sweet
Safe I stay, through summer’s heat.

#12 – Create a medieval style map of your neighborhood. Create new names for the streets, to protect your privacy. They can be puns on the actual street names, or descriptive names, or any nonsense. Upload a photo of your map.


#19:  Research a pre-17th century person of colour living in Western Europe and write a one page outline of their life. Copy and paste it here (with links and photos, if you have them).

Averroes (Ibn Rushd)

The twelfth century Andalusian Muslim scholar Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd, or Averroes, was essentially responsible for bringing the works of Aristotle to Western Europe through his commentaries.

He was born in 1126 in Cordoba to a family of esteemed jurists, and his initial training was in Islamic law, but he soon branched out to such diverse fields as philosophy, medicine, and astronomy. As he rose through the ranks as a jurist, his wrting output actually increased, He eventually served as court physician, and then eventually, chief jurist of Cordoba, as his grandfather had served.  But in 1184, after the death of the previous Caliph, in response to complaints by more conservative jurists, his teachings were condemned and he was exiled. He did manage to regain royal favour shortly before his death.

Averroes wrote over 100 books, on a huge variety of subjects, including linguistics, grammar, medicine, and law, but it is his works in philosophy—particularly the commentaries on Aristotle—that cemented his legacy.  These commentaries were translated from Arabic into Latin and Hebrew and widely circulated in the newly-emergent universities in Western Europe. He wrote commentaries on almost all of Aristotle’s surviving works, except for his Politics, which he did not have access to.  These commentaries can be divided into short commentaries (summaries of Aristotelian doctrine), written early in his career; middle commentaries (paraphrases clarifying and simplifying the original text); and long commentaries (line by line, detailed analyses containing much of Averroes’ original thoughts.).  These commentaries earned him the title of The Commentator and The Father of Rationalism in Western Europe.

However, the Catholic Church, relying on older traditions of Artistotle’s work, pushed back against Averroes.  Aquinas, while relying on Averoees’ interpretations, disagreed with him significantly.  The Church issued condemnations of a number of doctrines in Averroes’ commentaries in 1270 and 1277, which “weakened the spirit” of Averroism, although it still maintained a following into the sixteenth century.

#20 – Write a fake one page documentation for something completely modern, like a car or a smart phone. Copy and paste it here (with pictures, if you have them).

The 16th Century Origins of the Third Movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony

Scholars of classical music are familiar with the story of the composition of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony.  The composer, in the face of official opprobrium from Stalin over the “formalist” tendencies of his music, and in the midst of the Terror of the mid-1930s, produced his Fifth Symphony as a “Societ composer’s response to just criticism.”  While on the surface triumphant and boisterous, the composition upon further examination is revealed to have many layers of complexity, particularly in the deeply emotional third movement, at which the audience at the premiere was said to have openly wept.

Scholars have now discovered the reasons as to why this particular movement resonated so strongly for listeners, as it hearkens back several centuries to the bloody reign of Tsar Ivan IV “The Terrible.” The city of Novgorod was, in the late 16th century, a rival to Ivan’s Moscow for power and prestige, and thus a threat to his power.  City leaders had been pursuing a possible alliance with Poland-Lithuania against Muscovy, raising Ivan’s ire. The purges of “traitors” began in 1569, culminating in a series of brutal trials, executions, and massacres directed against all classes in the city, wrought by Ivan and his secret police, the oprichniki.  It is thought that up to 12,000 people were slaughtered within a few months.  Novgorod was reduced to a provincial backwater town as a result.

A recently-discovered manuscript found in the archives of Dmitri Shostakovich reveals that the musical compositions of an anonymous Novgorod monk who witnessed and survived the purges provided the musical motifs that Shostakovich used for the third movement of his Fifth Symphony.   Musicologists have long noted that these motifs have the distinctive feel of Orthodox hymns, and thanks to this manuscript that association is now clear—the themes were taken directly from two hymns written by the anonymous monk, one describing the beauty of the city’s cathedral, and the other lamenting for those killed in the massacre.  It seems clear now that Shostakovich was aware of the two hymns, which subversively circulated in Novgorod for centuries after the massacre, and, seeing the parallels with his own times, used them to add layers of meaning to the third movement of the 5th symphony.  Novgorod is not far from Shostakovich’s home of Leningrad, and from a note appended to the manuscript, it is clear that it was passed down secretly for centuries and finally gifted to the composer, who was able to embed the melodies subversively into his symphony.

To hear this for yourself, listen and follow along in the score in a 1973 performance by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Yevgeny Mravinsky (the conductor who premiered the work in 1937).  – the third movement starts at 20:06.

Here is an image of a page from the manuscript.


(Note:  this actually is an early page from a manuscript of Russian liturgical chant associated with Novgorod.)

More to come tomorrow!