To See the Antisemitism of Medieval Bestiaries, Look for the Owl

On March 24, 2020, I published my first piece for Aeon Magazine. I am genuinely happy about how this piece turned out. It might be my best piece of writing so far, if I may so myself. A big thank you to Pamela Weintraub, the editor who I worked with for helping me unlock it.

Enjoy!

To See the Antisemitism of Medieval Bestiaries, Look for the Owl.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The owl watches you from the raised seat on the medieval misericord in Norwich Cathedral in the east of England. Surrounding the owl are birds with feathers like the scales of a pangolin. The birds are focused on the owl. The owl pays them no mind.

The motif of this scene would have been familiar to the woodcarver who made it and to the abbey monks who leaned against it during the long hours of Mass. But the associations the people of the Middle Ages made when they saw the scene on the misericord seat were different from how we would interpret it today.

Please click here to read the rest of the article.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

10 Things You Need to Know about the Sarajevo Haggadah

Passover is just around the corner, so on March 26, 2018, I published the following post on Book Riot.

10 Things You Need to Know about the Sarajevo Haggadah

Sarajevo Haggadah_Wikipedia

Page from the Sarajevo Haggadah. Notice the wine stains and handwritten doodles, which indicate that this haggadah has been in extensive use throughout the years. (Source: Wikipedia)

Every year on Passover Jewish families all over the world gather ’round to celebrate and commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. At the center of this annual celebration is taking turns reading from a book called a haggadah. The word haggadah comes from the Hebrew root HGD, which means “to tell,” which is exactly the purpose of the Passover celebration–to tell the story of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, also known as the Exodus.

Because haggadot are not considered holy texts, but rather instruction materials, over time they have developed into beautiful artifacts of book art. And nowhere were such beautiful haggadots made as in the Spanish city of Barcelona during the Middle Ages. And of these Barcelona haggadots, few can compare to the wonder and splendor of a book today known as the Sarajevo Haggadah.

Here are ten things you need to know about the Sarajevo Haggadah.

If you wish to read the post in its entirety, please click here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

100 Must-Read Books about the Middle Ages

On January 4, 2018, I published the following post on Book Riot.

100 Must-Read Books about the Middle Ages

The ideas we tend to have about the Middle Ages are mostly based on how the time period has been interpreted through fantasy fiction and games, and the romanticizing of the era by intellectuals, scholars, politicians, and artists in the nineteenth century.

These interpretations have given rise to of a view of the Middle Ages as an entirely Christian society in western Europe, populated only by white people, and with few influences coming from outside.

This view is inaccurate.

If you want to read the post in its entirety, please click here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

The Stockholm Bloodbath

On the upcoming anniversary of the Stockholm Bloodbath, a public mass execution of members of the nobility and clergy in the middle of Stockholm on November 7-9 in 1520, a portrait of the man held responsible for it all. Kristian II, in Sweden nicknamed Kristian the Tyrant, the last reigning king of the Union of Calmar.

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The last reigning king of the Union of Calmar, Kristian II (r. Denmark and Norway 1513–1523, r. Sweden 1520–1521). Source: Historiska Museet.

100 noblemen and clergymen were executed for having been in opposition to the King or for being perceived as threats to his reign.

The executions took place at Stortorget (Main Square) in Stockholm. I took this picture of the square when I was there this summer.

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Stortorget, Gamla stan, Stockholm. The location where the Stockholm Bloodbath took place. The building on the left is the Nobel Museum. Photo: E.H. Kern.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

The Life and Work of Christine de Pizan, Feminist Writer of the Middle Ages

On August 15, 2017, I published the following post on Book Riot.

The Life and Work of Christine de Pizan, Feminist Writer of the Middle Ages

(British Library, Harvey MS 4431 f. 4).

Women during the Middle Ages tend to be seen as oppressed, robbed of all agency, and constantly under the guardianship of a man. Even though the lives of women during the Middle Ages were more circumvented than the lives of women living in Europe and the United States today, the idea that they lacked control is not entirely true.

Nor is it entirely true that medieval women were prevented from expressing their views in public, or that they were prevented from pursuing artistic careers because of the burdens laid upon them as mothers, wives, and daughters.

In fact, during the Middle Ages there were plenty of women who led independent lives, excelling as politicians, artists, and writers. One of these women was Christine de Pizan, a French renaissance poet who is the first woman in France known to have made her living solely from writing. Christine is also known as one of the earliest feminist writers, publishing protest poems, utopian fiction about a city inhabited only by women, and a celebration of the achievements of Joan of Arc.

If you would like to read the post in its entirety, please click here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

10 Things You Need to Know about the Lisbon Bible

On July 27, 2017 I published the following post on Book Riot.

10 Things You Need to Know about the Lisbon Bible

When King Afonso I of Portugal gained recognition for the independence of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1143, there had been a Jewish community in the Iberian Peninsula since at least the second century C.E. After having been expelled from Jerusalem by Emperor Hadrian, Jews found themselves a new home in one of the farthest-most provinces of the Roman Empire. The Jewish culture that developed here is known as Sephardic, from the Judeo-Spanish word for the Iberian Peninsula—Sepharad. A vital part of Sephardic culture was the creation of the Bible, also referred to as the Tanakh by Jews and as the Hebrew Bible by Christians.

If you would like to read the rest of the post, please click here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Quirky History: Micrography, or Minuscule Medieval Images Drawn with Letters

On June 14, 2017, I published the following post on Quirk Books.

Quirky History: Micrography, or Minuscule Medieval Images Drawn with Letters

Whenever we here at Quirk Books think we have found everything there is to discover about the weird and wonderful world of medieval manuscripts, something new always pops up and takes us by surprise. This time, what came at us out of left field was the incredible art form of micrography.

Micrography is an art form unique to Judaism that developed during the Middle Ages. Here, reading, writing, and imagery come together in one.

If you wish to read the entire post, please click here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.