A Wandering Minstrel, I…

Everything’s on sale today, even WordPress blogs. Once I went (with the Evil-X who was a shopaholic) to an electronics store in San Diego — Frye’s — on Black Friday, and the line around the store was 2 hours to get in. He was even ready to stand in line. What could be in there that was worth two hours of my life? 

I hate shopping, but like most people I get that little “high” from buying something I want. I mostly shop online. I got into that habit when I was working so much that going to stores was almost impossible. I learned that there are a lot of ordinary things that are cheaper that way (toilet paper?). 

Now I’m starting to research the Goliards, and that’s involved shopping for books that no one wants to read. I bought some.

Books like these are usually extremely expensive (my Amazon wishlist is full of books I want but will never be able to afford) or really cheap.

One of the interesting parts of research is that it usually starts with one book and that book has footnotes that lead to books that are more helpful. Right now I’m reading Helen Waddell’s  The Wandering Scholars. I like it (her) because she also rejects the term “Dark Ages,” and because of her clear passion for these wandering scholars (I also love them), but her writing presupposes knowledge I don’t have, AND she gushes. Her assumptions have made me reach and shown me what I need to learn, but the gushing… I don’t know. Still it’s not a history book; it’s an introduction to a time and place. Generally I like it — but what I like most are the occasional quotations from the poetry she’s writing about, poems mostly written in Medieval Latin, which, of course, I can’t read. Most of the medieval lyric poems I’ve read have been in medieval German which is bizarrely like Middle English. Actually, not all that bizarrely. Conveniently.

The Wandering Scholars relates some beautiful stories of these people, and one point has really hit home. Back in medieval times, if a person wanted a real education, he had to join a monastery. Lots of people joined monasteries for this reason (as well as others that had nothing to do with a monastic calling). Even with the grand teachers and the collections of books, monastery walls were confining. At a certain point, their minds heavily laden with the classics and the scripture, many of these scholars just needed out. They were called vagabonds, wanderers. Here’s a story:

Some are born wanderers; some have it thrust upon them; but the word vagus denotes often a mental quality…Ekkehard’s [ have no idea who that is, another rabbit hole for me] use of it is interesting.: he tells a story of a young monk of St. Gall, of a mind incorrigibly vagus, with whom discipline could do nothing and how, on a certain day, being forbidden to go beyond the monastery, he climbed in his restlessness the campanile — “O that I were where I (could) but see” — to look abroad, and missing his foot, crashed to the ground. (The Wandering Scholars)

This young monk dies, but not before he asks for his soul to be commended to the Virgins, because, he says, he is one. The attending doctor has masses said for the young scholar’s soul every year.

I was that restless person long ago. The rhythm of the wanderer’s life (as Helen Waddell writes) is that in youth, some need wide horizons and will sacrifice everything to have them. When they’re older many of the vagabond scholars settled down to monastic lives, sometimes of great severity. I’m not especially restless now. Most of the wide horizons I sought are now contained within me. 

Anyway, it’s fascinating, and I’m loving what I’m learning. Long ago, before I knew anything about the Middle Ages, I suspected this second world without knowing for sure it existed. When I wrote Martin of Gfenn I sensed, without knowing for sure, that there was an undercurrent of what we call “Humanism” beneath everything. It just seemed illogical that there wouldn’t have been. In the process of writing that book I found a wonderful book of German medieval lyric poetry that supported my idea very clearly and made me curious about who these people were. Then, finding the Codex Manesse, a beautiful book from the 13th/14th centuries that preserves — with illustrations! — the stories of the lives of these poets was pretty solid evidence.

I have a long journey ahead of me before I find my story. I think it is about Michele, Martin of Gfenn’s painting teacher, but I might be wrong. 

“Let no one in his travelling
Go against the wind,
Let him not, because he’s poor,
Look as though he sorrows.
Let him set before himself
Hope’s consolation, for
After sorrow comes,
Delight.”

Carmina Burana

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8 thoughts on “A Wandering Minstrel, I…

  1. “This young monk dies, but not before he asks for his soul to be commended to the Virgins, because, he says, he is one….”

    Yeah, I’ve used that line too. The more things change, the more they remain the same….

  2. Are you a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan? I performed in those when I was still in high school. Your title is from “The Mikado”, IIRC.

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