Sunday, October 17, 2021

Plague in the Renaissance: plus ca change...

Found while researching for a fantasy novel:

Much of the dread generated by epidemics was caused by the rigid restrictions on daily life, the threats and bullying of officials charged with enforcing them, and the abuses that inevitably resulted. The merchant Romolo Amaseo, writing from Bologna in September 1527, reported that the proclamations against the pestilence were “grandissima—very extreme” and that most of the citizens had tried to flee, “if they were not already dead or gravely ill.” 

Not surprisingly, people resented the restrictions. Even as a child, Leonardo would have looked on, terrified, as the health police rapped on people’s doors and demanded entry, burned their belongings in gigantic bonfires, and marched the infected off to the lazzaretto...

"The remedy they found for relieving the pestilence was this: they ended all those restrictions and let people live in their own way. They ordered the physicians to visit the people in their houses and the pharmacists to give them medicines. After this decree went out, the epidemic didn’t have as much force, and all of a sudden a great gladness grew in the hearts of the people and thus the plague was completely eradicated."

William Eamon: The Professor of Secrets (Scribd): Mystery, Medicine, and Alchemy in Renaissance Italy (Scribd)

Monday, March 29, 2021

Why is it always the hard stuff?

 Yeah, yeah, I'm really trying to stay away from politics, but the latest dispatch from the cancel culture wars has me rolling my eyes so far I can see the inside of my forehead. Some goofballs at Oxford have decided that sheet music is inherently racist. 


Well, it is predominantly white and sprinkled with little black dots. And as an untalented, very amateurish musician, I used to avoid pieces of music that had too high a proportion of black dots... What? That's not what they mean? 

It's not, I gather, about the physical appearance of the page. Rather, there are some inchoate word salads - they don't rise to the level of 'argument' - about how dead white males like Beethoven used sheet music, and therefore... oh, whatever. 

The same article mentioned that Middle English and Old English literature are also being tipped into the racist dumpster. 

And for quite some time now I've been seeing the "Math is racist" cry. 

So, just asking: why is it always the hard stuff that gets labeled racist and canceled? 

An uncharitable sort just might begin to suspect that "It's racist!" is the excuse du jour for people who don't want to turn their brains on.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Etymology takes away the magic

 There was something about the word condottiere. It didn't conjure up a romantic image exactly - I do understand that the condottieri were not, by and large, nice people - but it seemed, oh, exotic? Dashing? Like this statue of Bartolmmeo Colleoni in Venice? 

So, the first book I picked up on the subject pointed out that etymologically, condottiere derives from condotta, which means "contract." Yeah. A condottiere was somebody who had a condotta. In short - a contractor. 

It just doesn't have the same exotic aura, does it?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021


 I'm taking a vacation from current events, because the daily onslaught on liberty, history and common sense has begun to depress me. Reading the news these days makes me feel as if I'm repeatedly hitting myself on the head with a hammer.

So... following a bit of reading on 15th century Florence in the interests of keeping up with my online book club's study of Machiavelli, this magically talented condottiere strolled into my head and started talking about his career. 

I've decided to shove the current work-not-really-in-process onto a back burner; it was stalled out in a scene where the new office manager tries to push the dictates of Critical Race Theory onto the paranormal working group, and you know what? That's not funny any more. Not in the current atmosphere, anyway. Instead I'm listening to what Gian Galleazo No-last-name-yet has to say. And instead of waking myself up with coffee and the news, I'm starting the day with coffee and more reading on Renaissance Italy - not just Florentine politics in the time of Machiavelli, but everything from housewives' "books of secrets" to studies of arms, armor and warfare styles of the condittori. 

Because, you know, I have to read something over the coffee.

Friday, February 12, 2021

A Modest Proposal

 I'm disturbed to find that in the current debate over transgender athletes, even right-leaning news organizations seem to be adopting what I find to be a completely false framing of the issue. Case in point: I just saw the headline "North Dakota House Passes Bill Banning Transgender Athletes from High School Sports Teams."

But when I clicked over, the first sentence in the Daily Wire article read:

The North Dakota state House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that requires school athletes to participate on sports teams that correspond with their biological sex.

 Does this ban transgender athletes from anything? I don't see it. It appears to me to be saying that if Jim wants to wear a skirt and call himself Jean, fine, but he's still eligible for the boys' team. Does not say that Jim can't participate. 

It's known that post-pubescent males have significant athletic advantages over females - lung capacity, upper body strength, overall muscle mass, etc., etc. They might conceivably have a problem with gymnastics, but there is no case for allowing people with male bodies to "compete" with females in weightlifting.

It's known that in most athletic fields, female athletes' best records are well below those of male athletes. That's the reason for women's sports to begin with! We want our young women to compete with each other in an arena where dedication and hard work make a difference, not to form a permanent underclass who will never "win" while there's a "transgender" man who wants to scoop up the trophies. Don't we? 

If certain scolds in our population are offended by the very concept of "boys" and "girls" I can think of two solutions.

1) Do what North Dakota has just very sensibly done, but tweak the nomenclature. We will no longer have boys' and girls' or mens' and womens' teams, just Teams of People Who Happen to Have XY Chromosomes and other Teams of People Who Happen to Have XX Chromosomes. Sure, it's awkward to say, but it's not nearly as silly as being required to call certain people ze/zir or other manufactured pronouns.

2) Scrap the division of teams by sex entirely and let each sport be represented by just one team whose members are the best-performing athletes in the school. Sure, this destroys women's sports in one blow, but that may be better than the death by a thousand cuts in which each young woman's athletic record is held hostage for the first boy in her school sport who decides he'd like to compete as a girl. At least it makes clear up front that women are now to be sacrificed to the pretense that men can become women simply be saying so. 

Oh, but the people who do this don't want to make that clear, do they?

And that's why I find headlines such as the one on the Daily Wire article so irritating.


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Simplifying history

 My online book club is reading The Prince. I rather wish we'd picked Discourses on Livy instead, because I find Machiavelli's thoughts on republics more interesting and more relevant to the present day than his (possibly ironic; there's a lot of debate on that) comments on principalities. Oh well, c'est la vie. Anyway, his references in The Prince have made me realize how ignorant I am of Renaissance Italian history, so I've been doing some background reading and have come to the following "conclusions":

1. Given any two Italian states X and Y that border one another, X attacked Y (or vice versa) at some time.

2. Any prominent figure apart from Girolamo Savonarola betrayed somebody else to the Borgias at some time, and I'm not sure about Savonarola. (Good only to the date of Cesare Borgia's death.)

3. Somebody invited France in to support their claim to somewhere. Somebody else invited Spain in.

and finally, the only one relevant to the present day:

4. Our current situation could be worse. If our Republic fails, it will be.

I realize all this is something of an oversimplification, but honestly, the shifting alliances and wars make my head hurt. Anyway, I've already simplified my "understanding" of history by deciding:

5. All kings of France were named Louis.

6. All prominent medieval figures were named William, unless they were named Matilda/Maud. (You haven't lived until you've written a scene featuring three historical characters all of whom were named William or some variant thereof.)

It's not much of a stretch to extend this system to early Renaissance Italy. 

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