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Ask a Medievalist

By Pa-hinn Cruikshank

By Pa-hinn Cruikshank

In a new feature for the Lankville Daily News, we decided to take advantage of the rich intellectual resources the area has to offer by putting some pressing questions to Dr. Emma T. Hogg, Visiting Professor of the Dark Ages at Lankville State University. Dr. Hogg sat down with Pa-hinn Cruikshank, special reporter on the medievals, to answer reader queries on the Middle Times.

Dear Dr. Hogg:

So what’s up with all those funny hats?
– Sincerely, Chapeau-no

Dear Chapeau:

Funny hat (file photo)

Funny hat (file photo)

The medievals wore hats for a variety of reasons, much as we do: to protect themselves from the weather; to prevent roving bands of children from viciously making fun of them; and simply for the sake of fashion. But one ubiquitous fact of life more than any other during the Middle Times made people wear funny hats: Critters. Critters infested medievals’ beds to such an extent that poets often complained about them in their verse. Who can forget these immortal lines from the opening of Humffrey Jaussler’s Cadbury Canticles, in which he describes villagers

That slepen al the nyght with open eye,
So priketh hem nature in hir corages…

Of course, what Jaussler means is that “nature” (in the form of critters) is “pricking” the sleeping villagers in their “corages,” or “orifices,” forcing the villagers to sleep “with one eye open.” Therefore medievals often kept their ears and mouths completely covered, with a large funny hat pulled down to their noses, fitted with a thin tube for breathing.

Doc Hogg:

No computers. No phones. No cameras. They didn’t wear t-shirts with catchy slogans on them. Only the lucky few had writing utensils. My question: How did the medievals ever remember anything?

– Memory Lame

Dear Lame:

One of the few remaining medieval "memory holes". The tiles were removed and made into a fountain at a mall.

One of the few remaining medieval “memory holes” photographed in 1961 (now the food court at a mall in East Lankville).

It is indeed a mystery to the modern soul, ensconced in all the technological accoutrements of contemporary culture, to understand how people from previous ages ordered dinner, let alone “connected” with one another, kept appointments, and so on. One could not merely enter information into one’s Blackberry and be reminded with a series of beeps, vibrations, and whistles. So how did they do it? Believe it or not, the medievals had a complex system of memorization that involved peach pits, small pebbles, and elaborate patterns on stone floors. In short, whenever a medieval needed to remember something, he or she would whisper that information into a peach pit and then carefully toss it into a “memory hole” – a large, circular maze-like design on a communal floor, usually located in a shared courtyard. For more complicated information, such as the dates of nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays, they would attach small pebbles to the peach pit using bits of string. Whenever they needed to recall those details, medievals would slowly wander about the maze, “listening” for the pits and pebbles to whisper it back to them. This explains why one often sees artists’ renderings of hooded figures tromping about in solemn contemplation, with heads bowed – they’re wandering down the “memory hole”!

Dear Dr. Hogg:

The other night in bed things were getting hot and heavy with my boyfriend. We were whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears when suddenly he murmured, “I wanna get medieval on you, baby.” Something about the way he said it and the odd gleam in his eye stopped me cold. I quickly made an excuse, put my pantaloons back on, and ran home. But now I’m intrigued – and wondering if I bolted too soon. What did he mean?

Damsel in Distress

Dear Damsel:

Adult toys were sold much in the same manner that they are today.

Adult toys were sold much in the same manner that they are today.

One of our main misconceptions about the Middle Times is that people did not enjoy sex. Wrong! Of course they did, in a variety of positions and with an array of partners. They just didn’t brag about it in songs or on talk shows. The medievals actually had quite a sophisticated and sensual attitude towards the erotic arts, passed down in coded manuals translated from the tongues of the ancients. One such practice involved “chin-chucking,” in which a man would rub a woman’s chin in a counter-clockwise motion while chucking carrots, bits of meat, and other foodstuffs into an iron pot, set simmering over a small fire. Once the man had successfully filled the pot, the woman took over, rubbing the man’s chin with a clockwise movement and ladling out stew from the pot. They would continue this way until sated, gastrointestinally and otherwise. A related practice was called “chirping” – the man would hide under a woman’s window and “chirp” up at her with a variety of elaborate bird-calls. Describing one such paramour, Humffrey Jaussler writes, “He syngeth brokkynge as a nyghtyngale,” meaning “He breaks into song like a nightingale.” Women loved such wooing! They often opened the window and made their own animal sounds in reply. So my advice: next time you and your boyfriend are whispering sweet nothings, take charge, and tell him you’d like to “get medieval” on him, too!

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