Tuesday, 1 February 2011

People can get used to anything

My favourite bit of this passage, a fairly standard medieval interpretation of a metereological phenomenon, is the last line. "Oh, yes, the sky kept turning red, but we weren't that bothered when it happened a third time..."

This took place during Richard I's captivity in Austria, 1192-3; it was written by the Yorkshire chronicler William of Newburgh.

'About the first watch of the night, the intermediate region of the sky between north and east grew so red that it appeared to blaze, as it were; though there was not the slightest cloud, and the stars were brightly shining; and these, too, were so tinged with fiery redness, and streaked with white stripes, that they seemed to twinkle with a kind of blood-stained light. After this dreadful appearance had possessed the eyes and minds of the beholders with astonishment throughout all the borders of England for nearly the space of two hours, by degrees gently vanishing it disappeared, leaving much conjecture concerning it. And in the month of February in the following year [1193], while the king of England was yet detained in Germany, and the news of his captivity was not generally known in England, a portent very similar appeared throughout England, in the same region of the sky, soon after midnight, when the religious orders were chanting their customary praises to God. We know that persons in different provinces were so terrified by the reflection of this tremendous redness on their glass windows, that many of them, supposing that some accidental fire had happened in the adjoining houses, left their chanting, and, marking the dreadful portent, returned to their psalmody… And indeed, in the same year, when the king's detention had now become prolonged in Germany and his speedy release was expected, on the fourth of the nones of November [2 Nov.], before daybreak, the selfsame token appearing for the third time in the same region of the sky, terrified (but in a less degree) the minds of the beholders; for now they were accustomed to it, though it was the cause of increased conjecture and suspicion.'

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