Thursday, 8 July 2010

Twelfth-Century Insults

When I tell someone that at the moment I'm mostly reading medieval monastic chronicles, they usually pull a sympathetic face. It's true that these things can be pretty dry. But they can also be unintentionally hilarious: for instance, I've just been reading a chronicle which is mostly taken up with an account of the life of St Anselm, written by a monk named Eadmer who knew him when he was Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite Eadmer's obvious love and respect for Anselm, you would never guess from reading this chronicle that the man was a philosopher (the words 'ontological argument' are nowhere to be found...). As far as Eadmer was concerned, the burning issue of Anselm's life was proving the supremacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury over the Archbishop of York. Oh, and the very important issue of men's hairstyles. This is how he concludes his chronicle, sadly observing that no one listened to Anselm's wisdom:

"The men with long hair were, as we very well know, excommunicated by Father Anselm and banished from the doors of holy Church; yet now they so abound and so boastingly pride themselves on the shameful girlish length of their locks that anyone who is not long-haired is branded with some opprobrious name, called ‘country bumpkin’ or ‘priest'."

'Priest' - the worst insult you could give an Englishman in 1110?

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