'tis but a scratch: fact and fiction about the Middle Ages
'tis but a scratch: fact and fiction about the Middle Ages
Richard Abels
Talking about popular conceptions of the Middle Ages and their historical realities. Join Richard Abels to learn about Vikings, knights and chivalry, movies set in the Middle Ages, and much more about the medieval world.
"The Northman"
In this episode Richard and his special guest and co-host Dr. Christine Senecal of Shippensburg University discuss the 2022 Viking movie "The Northman."  Director and co-screenplay writer Robert Eggers' avowed goal in making this movie was to recreate the material and mental world of the Vikings. Please join Richard and Chrissie as they assess how well he succeeded in accomplishing this.[My apologies to the 110 listeners who have already downloaded this, but I added five more minutes toward the end to cover some historical points that I left out in our discussion of the movie "The Northman." A transcript of the missing material is posted in the transcript section. ]This episode includes sound clips from the movies "The Vikings" (1958) and "The Northman." The composer of "The Vikings" theme music is Mario Nascimbe. The composers of "The Northman" music are Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough.  Alexander Nakarada composed the podcast's intro and exit music.
Feb 14
1 hr 4 min
In this episode, Richard and Ellen discuss who and what vikings were historically, and how they were depicted in the Middle Ages and modern times. The episode focuses upon the first century of the Viking Age, roughly from the late eighth to the early tenth century. (This episode marks the first anniversary of 'Tis But A Scratch: Fact and Fiction About the Middle Ages.  Ellen and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, our listeners. If you are enjoying the podcast, please let friends, family, and (if you are a teacher) students know about it. And if you are listening on one of the platforms that rates and reviews podcasts, like Apple, please take the time to rate us. It is a great way of spreading the word. I should also add my sincere apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein and to all French speakers for butchering the pronunciation of the names of French towns.)
Jan 27
1 hr 3 min
Some thoughts about Hanukkah by a (secular) Jewish medieval historian
This is a short end of the year episode.  It's exactly what the title says, just some thoughts about the role of Hanukkah in contemporary America and the Middle Ages. Happy Holidays from Ellen and me to you and yours!
Dec 25, 2022
24 min
Was King Æthelred Really Unready?
Few English kings have had a worse popular reputation than Æthelred the Unready (r.978-1016), the king who lost England (at least temporarily) to viking invaders. But does he deserve that reputation?  Was King Æthelred really "unready"?  My co-host for this episode is the person most qualified to answer that question, Dr. Levy Roach of the University of Exeter in the U.K, author of Æthelred the Unready (Yale University Press, 2016).  Please join Levy and me as we explore the troubled reign of a much maligned king.
Dec 20, 2022
1 hr 13 min
"Wicked" Medieval Women and the Monks Who Loathed Them
In this episode Ellen and I discuss three "wicked" medieval women and the monastic authors who loathed them.  We begin with the Anglo-Saxon Queen Ælfthryth, a champion of the Tenth-Century Benedictine Reform movement in England,  who appears in the twelfth-century Liber Eliensis as a lascivious witch responsible for the murders of her stepson King Edward the Martyr and Byrhtnoth, the first abbot of Ely.  We then turn to an early twelfth-century French countess, Sibyl of Porcien, a lascivious beauty whose adultery, according to Abbot Guibert of Nogent, caused a war between her first and second husbands, and who plotted the ruin and death of her stepson. We conclude with a late eleventh-century Norman female robber baron, Mabel of Belleme as she appears in Orderic Vitalis's Ecclesiastical History.  In each case, Ellen and I discuss whether these women deserve their notoriety, and consider why the monks who told their stories portrayed them as wicked.  The larger issue in this episode is, of course, medieval misogyny. 
Dec 7, 2022
1 hr 20 min
King Arthur in Literature and Popular Culture: From Sir Thomas Malory to the Present
Today’s episode concludes our three part series about King Arthur in history, legend, and popular culture.   Our jumping off point for this episode is Sir Thomas Malory’s late fifteenth-century Le Morte D’Arthur, the work most responsible for the popular conception of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  We then trace how the legend has been repeatedly reinterpreted down to the present day in literature, films, comics, and even video games. 
Oct 17, 2022
1 hr 2 min
King Arthur in History, Legend, and Popular Culture, Part 2: The Middle Ages
In this episode Ellen and I with the help of my longtime friend and colleague Dr. Jennifer Paxton of the Catholic University of America trace the development of the Arthurian legend during the Middle Ages, as Arthur was transformed from the chieftain of Welsh stories into the exemplar of medieval French and English chivalry.
Oct 9, 2022
58 min
King Arthur in History, Legend, and Popular Culture.  Part One: Was Arthur a Real Person?
This episode features a guest co-host, my old friend and colleague Dr. Jennifer Paxton, director of the Honors Program at The Catholic University of America and one of the best historians of medieval Britain. Jenny, Ellen, and I examine the evidence for a historical Arthur in the aftermath of the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the fifth century. We begin with the historical context, the "Fall of Roman Britain" and the coming of Germanic mercenaries and migrants to the British Isles. If Arthur existed, he would have been a military leader in the Romano-British resistance to the conquest of England by these newcomers from northern Germany and Jutland. The big question here is "if he existed."
Sep 6, 2022
1 hr 12 min
Inquisitions, Jews, and the Formation of a Persecuting Society
In this episode Ellen and I compare medieval Inquisitions with the Spanish Inquisition, and both with the popular conception of the Inquisition.  Among other subjects, we discuss what an inquisition was--and is--, how inquisitions served as a tool in the formation of a persecuting society, and why it is not quite accurate to see either the medieval or the Spanish Inquisition as targeting Jews--or, at least, Jews as Jews.  Please join us!
Aug 14, 2022
55 min
Heresy and Crusade in Southern France: The Cathars
In this episode Ellen and I talk about a dualist heresy that was widespread in twelfth- and thirteenth-century southern France and northern Italy.  This heresy is generally known as Catharism.  Its central tenet was that there are two gods, a good god who created the spiritual world and an evil god who created the visible world. The soul of man is good, but the flesh in which it is imprisoned is evil.  Pope Innocent III regarded the heresy as a sufficient threat to Christendom to warrant a crusade. This was the so-called Albigensian Crusade that began in 1209 and did not end until 1229.  A Dominican friar writing around 1250 observed that “if the heresy had not been cut back by the swords of the faithful … it would have corrupted the whole of Christendom.”  The Albigensian Crusade was exceptionally brutal even by medieval standards. It began with a massacre that gave birth to the saying, "kill them all. God will know his own." The failure of this crusade to eradicate the heresy was the impetus for the creation of the medieval inquisition.     This subject is also a stroll down memory lane for Ellen and me, as we reflect upon our collaboration many, many years ago on an article about women's participation in Catharism.  When we wrote that article no one questioned whether there really was a Cathar heresy. That is no longer the case.      Please join us as we examine the historiography and history of the Cathars.
Jul 23, 2022
58 min
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