Living Pictures in the Albanian style …

Living pictures in the Albanian style.

Now that’s a phrase if ever there was one. It’s from the journal of one of the Rothschild daughters describing a holiday in Scarborough in 1858 and refers to the spectacle of swimmers, presumably male, emerging nude from the surf.

We say ‘presumably male’ because we know from a number of sources, including Francis Kilvert’s diaries, that men not only habitually swam nude until the 1860’s but that many men found the requirement that they wear short bathing pants irksome.

However, there is also a rather nice

Rowlandson aquatint from 1813 of Scarborough beach in which there are two nude figures, clearly female, standing in sea having a chat after their swim.

So we can say that some women swam nude in the Regency period.

At the same time we know from other sources that increasingly women wore long weighted flannel gowns while being dipped in the sea.

Being dipped was part of the cure. Going to the seaside really started in Georgian period as an alternative to going to a spa such as Buxton or Bath and being ‘dipped’ was thought to be good for you. Essentially you were taken out into the sea in a bathing machine in deep water, and assisted by a professional dipper pushed under the waves and pulled up again before you drowned. Wearing a weighted flannel gown would clearly help preserve your modesty under such circumstances.

Men were also dipped, and as they did in spas, they also often wore gowns, although not always – there’s a rather nice pen and ink sketch of

George iii being dipped at Weymouth and despite being a public event surrounded by courtiers and notables, he’s clearly nude.

But being dipped isn’t the same as swimming. Swimming in a weighted flannel gown would have been difficult, and probably most women, if they swam, swam nude.

There’s another Rowlandson print that shows how it was done. Bathing machines were equipped with a canvas hood that was pulled down almost to the waves over the exit of the bathing machine and the swimmer launched herself off the steps under the hood almost unseen into the waves, although as Rowlandson’s aquatint suggests, some women didn’t give a damn about modesty.

This would suggest that as it became normal for women to wear all encompassing swimwear women ceased to swim – of course we’re talking about the middle and upper classes here – as the mid Victorian requirement to wear suitably modest clothing probably stopped them being able to swim effectively.

If you’ve ever done an old fashioned lifesaving course where you had to swim 25m fully clothed you’ll appreciate just how much a drag (literally!) that is – imagine trying to do the same in a heavy serge Victorian swimsuit ….

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Booking online train tickets in Mitteleuropa …

We’re going to go on holiday.

We’d originally planned to go to central America and Mexico to go visit the Maya sites but the Aussie dollar’s sudden drop against the US currency put a stop to that foolishness.

So, where else? Well we had enough frequent flyer points to get to Frankfurt, and Vienna and Budapest have been on our bucket list for years, so a trip to the old Habsburg lands seemed like a good idea, especially as the Euro/AUD exchange rate seems to be behaving itself.

The shape of the trip is quite simple – Vienna for the culture and to allow me to overdose on Egon Schiele artworks and some quite remarkable architecture, Budapest for interest and a trip to Slovenia and Croatia to do some human things (and visit some interesting Roman sites).

We had thought about a side trip to Switzerland but the Swiss central bank’s unlinking of the Swiss Franc from the Euro means that will have to be another trip.

So how to get about?

Renting a car for the whole time seems silly, and discount airlines are a pain, so the answer seemed the train, which took us into a maze of twisty, but ultimately rewarding passages. Basically we’ve had a crash course on the online railway booking systems of central Europe.

As with all mazes, it helps to have a guide and was invaluable as a resource, even if a tad Anglocentric – not everyone wants to start off from London.

All the sites have English language versions but having some basic German was most definitely a help, as was Google translate when occasionally you ended up somewhere other than you expected.

Frankfurt airport has a nice big shiny train station with high speed trains to Vienna, which can be booked either via Deutsche Bahn, the German railway operator, or OBB, Austrian Federal Railways.

I booked via OBB as they’d give us a discount which DB didn’t seem to have. The whole process was straight forward and we got our tickets as a pdf to print at home.

Given the hassle it used to be to order tickets from overseas, it always seems miraculous to me that I can sit at home nine timezones away and print a pdf of our rail tickets, but that’s what we did. We had tickets for train#23 and we were on our way.

Tickets from Vienna to Budapest were equally easy, except this time they didn’t give us some print at home ones – instead we got a reference number and have to print our tickets in the station from the collection machine. I always have doubts about these ever since I had an episode in Amsterdam late at night when the self service machine wanted my credit card and failed to read it – to be fair I hadn’t pre-booked and was just off a flight from Australia, but being stuck in Amsterdam trying to get to hotel in the Hague wasn’t the best.

(Yes I got there, I took a deep breath and tried my Australian debit card instead of my credit card and amazingly it worked).

Anyway, not a problem, we have enough time and we’ll choose a time the day before to collect our tickets when there’s some station staff around to help.

Now from Budapest we are going on to Slovenia. Our initial idea was to get the direct train from Budapest to Ljubljana, but it’s not the fastest and arrives inconveniently late. We can get there quite a bit earlier by going back to Vienna and then on via Villach where we have a tight change that OBB thinks is perfectly feasible.

Hungarian Railways online site is, shall we say, inscrutable. Things don’t work on it or time out. Sometimes this is because of maintenance periods that they possibly warn you about on the Hungarian language version of the site, but not on the English, and of ourse being ten timezones away we’re always trying to book the tickets in what is the wee small hours in Budapest.

So trying to book the ticket was frustrating – we could see the trains, select the ticket and then we went down a black hole.

So we tried OBB. They couldn’t book the whole trip but suggested we buy two tickets – one from Vienna and one from Budapest – a strategy also suggests – given that we have 35 minutes between trains I don’t see us having a problem even if we have to go out one door and in another

My fallback position was to book the tickets in person in Budapest, but Hungarian railways came good in the end and finally allowed us to book tickets – and yes we have a Hungarian ticket collection machine to play with as well.

I think we’ll collect our tickets the day before …

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Urban foxes in Canberra

I’ve written before about urban foxes in Canberra.

Well, no new sightings to report, but from the amount of fox like roadkill I’ve seen on my way to work, I’d say it was still a problem. Today’s ABC news website has a piece that tends to confirm this.

Guess we keep watching …

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Lucius Hiberius (again)

I’ve been thinking recently about oral transmission, and also what happens to documents when they’re copied and recopied as part of the process of manual transmission.

And I found myself thinking again about the Lucius Hiberius passage in Monmouth’s History of the Kings of England.

Lots of things sound right to make me think that it’s a memory of an actual incident during the time of the Byzantine Exarchate in Italy. Even the slightly fantastical battle against the Emperor of the Romans feels like it could be a memory – for the simple reason that the action takes place near Autun at the head of the Saone and Autun was a site of strategic significance – famously Julian the Apostate and his men were refused entry while the city was under attack by the Alemanni as they were mistaken by the defender for barbarians, and later, in the eighth century the city was briefly held by Umayyid troops during their attempted expansion north from the Mediterranean coastal cities of Provence.

So I did something very simple last night – I looked up the the proper looking Roman names in my old reprint of Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary – not that I expected to find the names mentioned as such, but that if I could find similar names from an earlier period it would reinforce my hunch that the names were plausible.

Lempriere’s Dictionary is online if you want to try this yourself – the scan of the 1832 edition is a bit cleaner than the 1812 edition if you want to feed it through some text analysis scripts but either is good enough for the old eyeball test.

Formal Roman tria nomina are structured differently from contemporary western names – the first one is a personal name, the second is the family name, and the third one is an extra personal name to distinguish all the Gaius Metelli from each other. As the Romans were very conservative as to the first two components it’s the third one we’d expect most variation in.

If you look for Cocta – as in our old friend Gaius Metellus Cocta – you don’t get a lot of results – suggesting that Cocta was not a well known cognomen. However I didn’t look for Cocta first of all, I misremembered the name and looked for Cotta, and Cotta shows up as a reasonably well known cognomen, and it could be plausibly argued that misreading tt as ct could easily have happened during transcription in the early manuscript versions.

Where does this leave us?

Well I don’t think it rules anything out, but it doesn’t add much either, other than add a little more weight to the plausibility stakes. Given the paucity of sources from the sixth century or thereabouts I think we are still stuck with a very hand waving argument about the plausibility or otherwise of there actually ever being a delegation from the Exarchate asking the British post Roman polities to express allegiance to the Emperor of the East in Constantinople …

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The Iliad and the telling of tales

Following on from my post about medieval and e-book publication and how medieval books really were compilations or syntheses of stories, we can probably say the same about the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Bronze age Greece was a literate society in that the palace accountants wrote down their accounts and recorded land holdings, using a script known as Linear B. People undoubtedly told tales and stories, but if they were written down, they have not yet been found due to the paucity of the sources and the difficulty of translation.

Then along came the Bronze Age collapse when iron using barbarians came down from the north and put a stop to the Mycenaean efflorescence. (This is where we get centaurs from – these barbarians rode horses and made iron weapons. Centaurs were ironsmiths and half men half horse – go figure).

After the collapse, the Greeks became illiterate – the vast palaces became memories and the country fragmented into a set of little villages and towns with a wooden fence round them- a peasant society had no need of accountants, and as they were the only people who could write, literacy went.

When it reappeared it in the sixth or seventh century BC, Greek was written using letters derived from the Phonecian alphabet, and apart from a few extra letters looked a lot like modern Greek.

So, even if the Iliad started life as a Mycenaean story, we know it must have gone through a period of oral transmission. passages such as the catalogue of ships and the place names suggest that it might have a an origin in Mycenaean times, although some of the embellishments and narrative might have come from its time as an orally transmitted story.

It also, because people’s memories are imperfect, suggests that there must have been variants, and perhaps other similar tales, as is the case with the various medieval and middle eastern tales centred around Alexander the Great. However, as far as tales about the Trojan war went, it was the Iliad that exercised a hold on people’s imagination, and was cleaned up and copied and recopied.

However, not many versions have come down to us – the earliest complete text we have is a Byzantine tenth century text, although we have earlier Roman period fragments from Egypt. However we do have a lot of later manuscripts, and the text is reasonably consistent, suggesting that there was one standard version in classical times – the version people learned in school and learned passages from in rhetoric class.

This tells us that the GrecoRoman book copying trade was based around standard versions rather than versions that were compiled on demand. At a guess the version we have is the Athens version – there might have been a different version elsewhere, but due to the Roman cultural cringe to all things Athenian they have not survived, or it might simply be that the Byzantine copyists preferred the version everyone knew and ignored other locally popular versions …

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E-books and the medieval book trade

I recently tweeted a link about a researcher in Oklahoma who was working on a new and definitive English translation of Wigamur, an early German medieval novel that forms part of the Arthurian canon, but so obscure that even the German version of wikipedia only has a skeletal entry.

Arthur, and the knights of the round table, were a medieval phenomenon. Somehow the tale, found in our old friend Geoffrey of Monmouth, spawned a whole set of derivative tales, blendings and reworkings.

Medieval novels were like open source software projects – there were original bits, borrowed bits, bits that were put in because the sponsor, or local lord, wanted it and so on.

The same holds true for the texts – copies were individually commissioned so, if someone didn’t like stories about dragons, out came the dragons. I’m being facetious here, but in very simplistic terms this explains why different manuscripts sometimes contain differing versions of ostensibly the same story.

Of course, to medieval people this didn’t matter very much. Books were not particularly common, and they were often read out loud, and as a performance – where a reader would read the book out loud, doing the voices and so on, and perhaps with a little bit theatre thrown in. Yes, some people did read privately, or to a group of friends, but rather than today’s silent reading it was more akin to a dvd binge watching session with friends.

None of this is new. But what is interesting is that the Arthurian canon can be viewed as a whole set of tribute novels, just as today we find people writing and publishing sequels to Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone, or indeed Jane Austen crime novels, and the whole slew of science fiction tribute literature.

There’s also supposed to be a whole slew of Russian and Chinese Harry Potter tribute novels out there.

Now, I suspect that people have always made up stories about their favourite characters from well loved novels. And quite a few may have also published them. However what is interesting is that the ease of e-book publication is such that it is relatively easy for someone to get their book out, just as in the medieval period there was no need to pitch it to a publisher.

Actually, I suspect that’s not exactly true. Because books were performed, tales only became written and copied if someone liked the tale, an ad hoc performance by a travelling troubadour did not. On the other hand there was no need to assess the saleability or otherwise – if someone like it, they commissioned a copy, just like used to happen in CD shops in Morocco, where individual shops would put together compilations to sell, and if you wanted one, would burn you a copy on the spot.

So with e-books we have a similar situation – people can publish and through Amazon’s self publishing platform make their books available, and people download them if they are interested, which is a kind of reversion to the medieval model of book creation …

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Women and Roman forts …

There’s an interesting report in New Scientist today that, contrary to traditional belief, women lived with their soldier menfolk while they were stationed on the frontier – and until things started going pearshaped in the 300’s most Roman soldiers were deployed on the frontier rather than as garrisons.

This makes sense, moving army detachments in Roman times was a logistical challenge, so these frontier deployments were relatively long lasting (no six month rotations here), and humans being humans, soldiers would doubtless form relationships locally.

It’s equally to be expected that, in times of threat or trouble, soldiers would want to protect their wives and children by having them inside of the fort rather than left outside in the vicus.

Certainly, there’s evidence of the presence of childern’s shoes and ‘female’ items such as hairpins inside military camps which lends weight to this.

As a thought experiment, it might also be interesting to look at the archaeological assemblages from both British and Dutch East India forts, where we have plenty of written evidence of similar informal arrangements …

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