This week’s blog is by regular contributor and friend of the blog, and the other half of Medieval Dick Twitter, Dr Sara Öberg Strådal, a kick ass art historian working on medieval medical visual culture. Follow her on Twitter for excellent meme action, and generally correct opinions.
In the last week American police forces responded to demonstrations against state brutality and the recurring extrajudicial murders of Black people with, predictably, more violence. Donald Trump, unencumbered by critical thinking and with an internal monologue consisting entirely of old-timey slurs, called for even more violence. Upon his request, tear gas and rubber bullets were used to drive away peaceful protestors so that he could walk down to St Johns, ‘the Church of the President’s’, and take a series of creepy photos holding a book he has almost certainly never read.
It has been a heavy week as we in the global north struggle with our collective legacies of racism and heavy handed policing. Some of my colleagues of colour are working on a piece for the blog about race and racism in the medieval period and in medievalist circles now, which will be published ASAP. Until then, for an overview I have compiled some academic reading lists for you. I have tired, where possible, to supply online materials.
Today in London it is the sort of hot that it should not be in May. I am talking about wearing short shorts and writing on the deck hot. I am talking I ate mangoes and hot sauce for lunch hot. I am talking the sort of hot that it should be in August, not May, the middle of Spring. Instead of thinking about how this means that the planet is going through a series of changes that are going to be a very serious challenge for life as we know it, I am going to talk to you about how on days like this you can sort of understand why medieval people were extremely horny for May.
Given the general state of the world, I thought today would be a good day to consider the best saint to ever have the title stripped of them, and what that means about personal religious devotion versus Church ideals in the medieval period. Yes there are some very high minded reasons why we can discuss St Guinefort, but my interest has nothing to do with that, as will soon become clear.
So, this week on Twitter, aka the place that Mufasa would have warned you that you must never go, we met a new dude. I became aware of him because he had some advice to world’s strongest man, and holder of the new world deadlift record Hafþór Björnsson, aka the Mountain, on how to stand next to his wife.
There is a historical conception pioneered by Ernst Kantorowitz outlined in his book The King’s Two Bodies, which argued that medieval kings had – wait for it – two bodies. Historians refer to these as “the body natural” and “the body politic”. The body natural is the king’s actual physical body. It is born, grows, has sex, gets ill, an dies. You know, like bodies do. The body politic on the other hand is a symbol of the office of the king. It transcends the king himself and instead is a symbol of his divine right to rule. It is bigger than any one actual king and is bestowed onto whoever becomes the next king when a king’s body natural dies. This is where you get the phrase, “The king is dead, long live the king.” The conception of the king is larger than any one actual person and it is a stand in for the conception of a kingship within that kingdom itself.