Category: Medieval Stuff

Apparently, coloring books for adults are a thing now. We anticipated the trend years ago, when we (the organization crew of our festival Waldeck-Freakquenz) produced a stack of slightly NSFW and silly art, which we wanted to offer for free at our next festival. It’s gotten lost in someone’s files now, but I swear, this year is the year it gets printed.

Anyway, there are all sorts of coloring books now, from animals and gardens to Game of Thrones to Dr Who (expensive) and even magazines like Flow.

This morning I stumbled over a hashtag on twitter, it’s called #ColorOurCollections. Libraries all around the world offer coloring pages, prints and sketches from their archives for free! Special collections libraries and archives around the world are teaming up to provide coloring pages scanned from historic materials all week.  Here are just some highlights:

The New York Academy of Medicine

Bodleian Library


Ellis Library

… and lots more. Peruse the hashtags this week, there’s a ton of participants. Have fun!


If you have read headbugz for a while, you are not only a very faithful reader (thx!) but you might also have discovered that I have a knack for medieval literature. That’s probably because I study it. I’d never have thought that this would end up to be my field of research, but it sort of grew on me. So I have written about medieval phenomena here a lot. Finally, I have felt the need to expand that section blogwise.

My friend Andrea, fellow (ex-)student at the University of Hamburg, and I have decided to create a blog together. We have had our own seperate blogs for while and we thought: Why not create something together? Since we live in Germany, and the texts we talk/write about are mostly German (sometimes French, too), I will sadly have to disappoint our English readers.

The blog is called “Die Mediævistinnen” and we are expecially proud of the fancy ligation (that’s the double letter “æ“-thingie). Here we will write about our current studies, maybe do some interviews with professors, give you an inside view of a medievalist’s mind. We would like to give a scientific angle, but without writing obfuscatingly complex sentences. We’ll use technical terms, but we’ll explain them in what we hope will be enjoyable reading. Since Andrea’s focus is more on art history and mine is more on literature, especially epics, those are going to be our basic approaches. For now.

A Monthy Python reference is absolutely necessary at this point.

If this is your thing: Participate! It’s open. We would be happy to welcome interested writers or students of history, art or literature into the author community. Right now it’s just the two of us, but everything has a beginning, right? Contact us, mail, twitter or carrier pigeon, and we’ll see what happens.

As good as this news is (is it? I barely make the time for the one blog.. now there’s two..), this also means I am going to cut back on the medieval topics on headbugz. Maybe once in a blue moon I might translate something, but for now, everything in that category flows directly into “Die Mediævistinnen“. I hope your reading will migrate with me; subscribe, RSS, bookmark or whatever, just read the damn thing and LET ME EDUCATE YOUUU…. BRAIIINS:…

Dragon Lore

“A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow in gold.”

J.R.R. Tolkien (p. 16, sources below)

The dragon is known as a mythic creature in many cultures. The word derives from latin “draco”, or greek “drakon”, which probably comes from the verb δρακεῖν (drakeîn) “to see clearly”. Though in the east he has more positive connotations as a a symbol of good luck and fertility, in the west a dragon commonly symbolizes chaos and perdition. Especially in the middle ages. Since the bible was the most wide-spread book back then, it’s not surprising that its mention of the dragon in the Book of Revelation (which tells about the apocalypse) had a great impact. Here is the bit:

1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”[a] And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. (Revelation 12,1-6)

The Revelation of St John: 10. The Woman Clothed with the Sun and the Seven-headed Dragon by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). Wikimedia Commons.

This is the only time the dragon is mentioned in the bible. Archangel Michael fights with the seven-headed dragon who, yes, you might already have guessed that, is Satan himself. So this is one of the reasons the dragon is seen as a hideous creature.

Probably much older are conceptions of ancient Germanic mythology. For example the  Midgard Serpent or Jormundgard (Old Norse: Midgarðsormr) was involved in the creation of the world as well as its destruction.

In most medieval epics, though, the dragon antagonizes the human hero. Beowulf, Dietrich of Bern, Siegfried (“Nibelungenlied”), Tristan or St. George for instance, are all dragonslayers. As Winder McConnell puts it: “If you have not slain a dragon, as a hero, you are noone.” Interestingly, in medieval heroic epics dragons seldom fly. Thinking about it now, I have not encountered a dragon in the works I have read that was explicitly said to have taken flight (“Tristan”, “Iwein”, “Sigenot”, “Nibelungenlied”…) Being called wyrm or trachen in middle high German, they seem to be crawling rather than flying. Which does not make them any less of an opponent for the hero, but maybe I’ll go expand the notion found in Röhrich’s article and suspect this might be a newer concept. Lecouteux seems to be of the same opinion.

In medieval legends the dragon represents evil, chaos, and the struggle of the holy saint against it. The most famous is St. Georg, who is still to be found in various art.

Woodcut St. George and the Dragon, Raphael, 1505.

One of the positive aspects about dragons is that dragon blood, or sometimes a stone to be found inside the dragon’s head (after you decapitated it, of course) was said to have healing powers. It was believed to cure almost anything. In Siegfried’s case, who is said to have killed a dragon in the “Nibelungenlied” (~1200), bathing in the dragon’s blood makes him able to understand the birds. It would have made him absolutely invincible too, if there hadn’t been that thrice-damned basswood leaf that covered up a small spot on his back, so Hagen could kill him anyway (oops, Spoiler!).

Siegfried in Fritz Lang's "Die Nibelungen" (1924) is about to kill the poor dragon and bathe in its blood. For the film, eight people had to sit inside the model dragon to operate it.

Another interesting aspect about western dragons and their appearance that might explain the wing-theory: They were pieced together from various bits and pieces. You might have heard of so called bestiaries. They were related to encyclopaedias like Isidor’s of Seville, but mainly collected animals and sorted them. Also, they interpreted them, mostly in a christian context, for they were mainly made in monasteries and used in their lectures.

British Library, Harley MS 3244, Folio 59r from

For example, here is one description of what is said about dragons in various bestiaries or encyclopaedias.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 4:4-5): The dragon is the largest serpent, and in fact the largest animal on earth. Its name in Latin is draco, derived from the Greek name drakon. When it comes out of its cave, it disturbs the air. It has a crest, a small mouth, and a narrow throat. Its strength is in its tail rather than its teeth; it does harm by beating, not by biting. It has no poison and needs none to kill, because it kills by entangling. Not even the elephant is safe from the dragon; hiding where elephants travel, the dragon tangles their feet with its tail and kills the elephant by suffocating it. Dragons live in the burning heat of India and Ethiopia. (Book 16, 14:7): Dracontites is a stone that is forcibly taken from the brain of a dragon, and unless it is torn from the living creature it has not the quality of a gem; whence magi cut it out of dragons while they are sleeping. For bold men explore the cave of the dragons, and scatter there medicated grains to hasten their sleep, and thus cut off their heads while they are sunk in sleep, and take out the gems. (text from Medieval Bestiary)

Here is another:

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 18): The Dragon is most greatest of all serpents, and oft he is drawn out of his den, and riseth up into the air, and the air is moved by him, and also the sea swelleth against his venom, and he hath a crest with a little mouth, and draweth breath at small pipes and straight, and reareth his tongue, and hath teeth like a saw, and hath strength, and not only in teeth, but also in his tail, and grieveth both with biting and with stinging, and hath not so much venom as other serpents: for to the end to slay anything, to him venom is not needful, for whom he findeth he slayeth, and the elephant is not secure of him, for all his greatness of body. Oft four or five of them fasten their tails together, and rear up their heads, and sail over sea and over rivers to get good meat. Between elephants and dragons is everlasting fighting, for the dragon with his tail bindeth and spanneth the elephant, and the elephant with his foot and with his nose throweth down the dragon, and the dragon bindeth and spanneth the elephant’s legs, and maketh him fall, but the dragon buyeth it full sore: for while he slayeth the elephant, the elephant falleth upon him and slayeth him. Also the elephant seeing the dragon upon a tree, busieth him to break the tree to smite the dragon, and the dragon leapeth upon the elephant, and busieth him to bite him between the nostrils, and assaileth the elephant’s eyen, and maketh him blind sometime, and leapeth upon him sometime behind, and biteth him and sucketh his blood. And at the last after long fighting the elephant waxeth feeble for great blindness, in so much that he falleth upon the dragon, and slayeth in his dying the dragon that him slayeth. The cause why the dragon desireth his blood, is coldness of the elephant’s blood, by the which the dragon desireth to cool himself. Jerome saith, that the dragon is a full thirsty beast, insomuch that unneth he may have water enough to quench his great thirst; and openeth his mouth therefore against the wind, to quench the burning of his thirst in that wise. Therefore when he seeth ships sail in the sea in great wind, he flieth against the sail to take their cold wind, and overthroweth the ship sometimes for greatness of body, and strong rese against the sail. [This is usually said of the sawfish.] And when the shipmen see the dragon come nigh, and know his coming by the water that swelleth ayenge him, they strike the sail anon, and scape in that wise. (from Medieval Bestiary)

Sooner or later, descriptions of dragons and other animals must have interlocked, maybe that’s how it got its wings. I enjoyed reading about the other animals as well. To the modern reader, some of these notions about the pelican or the elephant seem so absurd that it is almost funny. But you have to remember that knowledge back then was very unevenly distributed and easily distorted. So what I wanted to show here is that the depiction of other (fictional) animals had a great impact of how a medieval author must have imagined the dragon.

E.g. the crocodile (seen in action here)

Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 12v

or the Griffin (also in action devouring something).

British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 7v

For example, the dragon Phetan in ‘Wigalois‘ is said to have yellow coloring at his sides like the crocodile in the ‘Etymologiae’, and feet similar to the Griffin (cf. Lecouteux p.26). So the visual nature of the dragon is very heterogenous around 1200 and can vary because of the interferences with other popular works.

If you want to read up on anything, you might enjoy these German sources:

Lecouteux, Claude. Der Drache. In: ZdfA 108 (1979). S. 13-31.

Röhrich, Lutz. Drache, Drachenkampf, Drachentöter. In: Enzyklopädie des Märchens: Handwörterbuch zur historischen und vergleichenden Erzählforschung. Bd. 3. Hg. von Brednich, R. W. [u.a.]. Berlin [u.a.]: de Gruyter, 1999. Sp. 787-820.

McConnell, Winder. Mythos Drache. In: Dämonen, Monster, Fabelwesen. Hg. von Ulrich Müller. St. Gallen: UVK, Fachverlag für Wissenschaft und Studium, 1999. S. 171-183.

Tolkien, John R. R. Beowulf. The Monsters and the Critics. In: The monsters and the critics and other essays. Hg. von Christopher Tolkien. London [u.a.]: Allen & Unwin, 1983. S. 5-48.

‘Muspilli’ – Reading Old High German

How about some Old High German poetry for sunday afternoon reading? Muspilli, one of the oldest surviving fragments of Old High German poetry, tells about the end of the world.

Muspilli is one of but two surviving pieces of Old High Germanepic poetry (the other being Hildebrandslied), dating to around 870. […] The poem has been theorized as a Christianized version of the pagan Ragnarök, with figures represented in 13th century sources swapped with Christian figures; Surtr replaced by the Antichrist whom Elias – replacing Thor – fights, Loki by the old fiend.[1] In the Norse Ragnarök, Muspelheim and Muspell play a large role, and both versions involve a wolf. (Wiki)

Here is the full text, and Alexander Sager reading Muspilli aloud for you. And of course, the english translation. And here, the manuscript in BSB-Hss Clm 14098. The poem is to be found at the end of a latin codex, wedged in between the last pages. Remember, German was not the written language at that time, so it’s an apostille. Enjoy the reading experience!

…sin tac piqueme,         daz er touuan scal.
uuanta sar so sih diu sela         in den sind arheuit,
enti si den lihhamun         likkan lazzit,
so quimit ein heri         fona himilzungalon,
daz andar fona pehhe:         dar pagant siu umpi.
sorgen mac diu sela,         unzi diu suona arget,
za uuederemo herie         si gihalot uuerde.
uuanta ipu sia daz Satanazses         kisindi kiuuinnit,
daz leitit sia sar         dar iru leid uuirdit,
in fuir enti in finstri:         daz ist rehto uirinlih ding.
upi sia auar kihalont die         die dar fona himile quemant,
enti si dero engilo         eigan uuirdit,
die pringent sia sar uf in himilo rihi:
dar ist lip ano tod,         lioht ano finstri,
selida ano sorgun:         dar nist neoman siuh.
denne der man in pardisu         pu kiuuinnit,
hus in himile,         dar quimit imo hilfa kinuok
pidiu ist durft mihhil
allero manno uuelihemo,         daz in es sin muot kispane,
daz er kotes uuillun         kerno tuo
enti hella fuir         harto uuise,
pehhes pina:         dar piutit der Satanasz altist
heizzan lauc.         so mac huckan za diu,
sorgen drato,         der sih suntigen uueiz.
… read the rest here.

I just remembered the name of a fascinating artist I have been meaning to look up: 19th century illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. His works were influenced “by the style of Japanese woodcuts, emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic.” (wiki) He is also known for his Poe illustrations, but I’m going to show you some of his works for ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’ by Thomas Mallory, which is a compilation of tales of the Knights of the Round Table, first published in 1485.

How Sir Bedivere cast the sword Excalibur into the water

Pictures courtesy of Le Savoy.

‘Perceval le Gallois’ by Éric Rohmer

I have been attending a seminar about receptions and adaptions of Wolfram’s of Eschenbach ‘Parzival’. Among other interesting adaptions (music, young adult novels, modern drama like Tankred Dorst and Christoph Hein etc.) we looked into film. I researched Rohmer’s ‘Perceval le Gallois‘.

The movie was incredibly hard to come by, and apparently it is only available in French. Since it was a real flop at the time (1978), that is not surprising. It has some interesting aspects, though, and it is quite unique. Here is the trailer.

Though known for his association with the French cinema movement nouvelle vague, this film is very far away from their aesthetics (outdoors, natural light, subjectivism). It was filmed entirely at a soundstage with décor fixe. It may look like a school theater production at first, but the attention to detail is incredible.

The character talk in verse and speak a modernized version of a shortened Chrétien text. Chrétien de Toyes wrote down the original Roman de Perceval or ‘Li conte del Graal’ around 1180. You can read a transcription here, if you know Old French. This is what Wolfram used as template, btw. Except for the ending (Parzival suddenly understands religion and ‘relives’ the crucifixion of Christ) it is exactly according to the book.

Here is an example of what medieval miniatures looked like, from probably the most famous collection of Minnesang, Cod. pal. germ. 848, also called Codex Manesse. (You can browse the whole volume here). Note the women’s gestures up on the battlement (this scene has nothing to do with ‘Parzival’ btw).

Page 52 r of Codex Manesse (Cod. Pal. germ. 848)

Rohmer tried to imitate courtly postures and architecture througout the movie.

More examples for medieval art, a bit later. This time the paintings are on-topic.

Parzival and Condwiramurs. Page 147r of Cod. Pal. germ. 339; illustration by Hagenau - Diebold Lauber, ca. 1443-1446

Cod. Pal. germ. 339, page 111r: Parzival with Artus

At first, it may seem a little stiff, but at the same time you get the feeling of watching animated medieval paintings.  The film creates medieval aesthetics with modern means. You be the judge if this experiment has failed – or not.

Very Old Lovers and Faeries

I have been researching Konrad’s of Würzburg ‘Partonopier and Meliur’. This chivalric romance,put to writing around the second half of the 12th century, tells the story of a mortal, Partonopier, falling in love with a faerie, Meliur.

Faeries in the Middle Ages

This motif is called “Mahrtenehe” in German; a marriage with a supernatural being. In the middle ages, genealogical stories that claim the descent of a house from a fay often offered justification for legitimate reign. It sets the lineage apart from common mortals. In a nutshell; they want to feel different. For example,  Artus (King Arthur) is said to have a fay, Terre de la schoie, as an ancestor in Wolfram’s of Eschenbach ‘Parzival’. Another example is Thüring’s of Ringoltingen ‘Melusine’, who is said to have founded the house of the French Lusignans.

Melusine turns into a serpent or fish once in a while. Her husband, Raymond, has made a vow never to look at her while she locks herself up. When he can’t control his curiosity anymore, Melusine departs through the window, never to be seen again.

The Frescoes of Runkelstein Castle

I read several claims now that claim that Partonopier and Meliur are painted in the frescoes of the Castle Runkelstein, also known as Castell Roncolo in Italy. Its frescoes are world famous because they depict scenes of high middle german literature and, unlike other castles, it has not been totally modernized and kept a lot of its medieval characteristics. The English Wiki article is sort of short, but here you go anyway. There are several rooms, each with a different theme, such as The Jousting Hall, the Hall of the Coat of Arms, a chapel depicting e.g. the Story of St. Katharina and the Room of Tristan (from Tristan and Isolde, of course).

One room tells the story of “Garel vom blühenden Tal” by the Pleier, another famous Arthurian romance. Sorry for all the namedropping, but this is just what this castle is; a who is who in literature of the time and a treasure of culture.

Scenes of ‘Garel’ at Runkelstein Castle; note the two lovers to the right.

Those are the two old lovers I was looking for. Here is the enhancement.

I enhanced some more and kind of deciphered something that could read Partonopyr, so I guessed that must be it.

Inversion helped a little.

I tried to match the outlines, this is what comes out.

Same goes for what supposedly is meant to read “Melivr“.

I took a course in palaeography once. But I certainly am not the most leet graphic nerd out there. If anyone has any CSI “Enhance this, and we know who the killer is”-knowledge to share with me, please do. I keep guessing my way through these pictures. Most of you will say, “What, you are a medievalist. Isn’t that what you do all the time? Guessing?”

Bits & Pieces

Of course, a lot of research into things that happened a thousand years or so in the past is terra incognita. There often is very few material to go on, because time is cruel, especially to paper and painting. You may gasp in shock now when I tell you that for ‘Partonopier and Meliur’, there is only one manuscript left and it doesn’t even have a proper ending. Often, things are fragmented. So it needs someone to piece them back together This is what I do most of the time; puzzling.

There are many other lovers in this cycle. Some I could read, the very first couple is Adam and Eve. But most of the names on paintings are so faded you can’t read them, like this one.

There is still something here, but what does it mean?

This one, I actually know the name of the woman. It is Secundille, a queen in India, wed to Parzival’s half-brother Feirefiz.

But the name of the man definitely starts with an A.

Fishing & Adultery

It could be  Anfortas, the Fisher King and the keeper of the Holy Grail. He was not always so holy though; he just wasn’t made for chastity. While committing adultery, he was wounded and got a – ouch! – spear through the nuts. The wound did not heal and festered and must have reeked incredibly terrible. That’s why they took him out to the lake to ‘air’. That is why he is called the Fisher King. True story.

Anyway, one woman in particular was suiting him, and it was said Indian Queen Secundille. He was fond of another, Orgeluse, tough. Since this is not the typical pair of lovers at all (compared to the rest of them) I doubt that it is Anfortas, though.


Having read ‘Parzival’ again, I think it could read Anschevin, which is Feirefiz’s last name, as well. He is Gahmuret’s son and his kingdom was Anschouwe. He is Secundille’s “Minneritter” and does great deeds in her name, but he renounces Secundille when he meets Repanse de Schoye, becomes baptized and marries her.

Help needed

What does it mean? I want to know! If anyone could help me to get more advanced enhancing techniques with Gimp or Photoshop or anything, please contact me. I would be ever so grateful for knowing Partonopier’s and Meliur’s neighbours.

Cryptographists just deciphered one of the famous indecipherable texts of the 18th century. Kevin Knight of USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schäfer of University of Uppsala  and others did the job – with science! Excellent coverage, pictures and excerpts courtesy of the University, also

The “Copiale Cipher” is a 105 pages manuscript containing all in all around 75 000 characters. Beautifully bound in green and gold brocade paper, written on high quality paper with two different watermarks, the manuscript can be dated back to 1760-1780. Apart from what is obviously an owner’s mark (“Philipp 1866”) and a note in the end of the last page (“Copiales 3”), the manuscript is completely encoded. The cipher employed consists of 90 different characters, comprising all from Roman and Greek letters, to diacritics and abstract symbols. Catchwords (preview fragments) of one to three or four characters are written at the bottom of left–hand pages.

Here is the transcript (for complete transcript, click here).

Transcription, transliteration and decipherment brought to light a German text obviously related to an 18th century secret society, namely the “oculist order”. A parallel manuscript is located at the Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv, Staatsarchiv Wolfenbüttel.

Rough english translation of the above german text (symbols marked by – ):

book of law

the illuminated – e –

secret part

first section

secret instruction of the apprentices.

first title.

ceremonies of introduction.

if the seurity of the – through the elder gatekeeper is accomplished and the – of the conductor is inaugurated with the donning of his hat, the candidate is retrieved from another room by the younger gatekeeper and led by the hand in front of the conductor’s – desk who asks him:

firstly, if he desires to become –

secondly, if he will submit himself to the requisitions and if he will endure the period of his apprenticeship without contumacy.

thirdly, the – the – […] to keep secret and if he will mandatorily comply [this part is hard because there are bits missing. But basically, it says, keep your mouth shut and obey.]

the candidate answers yes.

This is pretty cool. Congratulations to the team! What’s next?

Die Nibelungen von Fritz Lang

Remember me posting about the pains of finding a version of Fritz Lang’s epic movie “Die Nibelungen”?

arte, a german/french broadcaster, now has the original restored version online for seven days. I watched it yesterday, it is amazing.

Also, this german documentary about the movie and its history is now online and it is very accurate. I recorded everything. You should watch it now while it is online.

“Los Nibelungos” – srsly?

I am currently researching the Nibelungenlied for my oral exam. It’s probably the most famous German medieval epic. I’m sure everyone has heard the tale of Siegfried, the Dragon Slayer, once or twice in their lives. With its fame also comes great tragedy. The epic has been abused by the Nazis who made it into something it was not: a representation of true Germanic identity, loyalty, courage and all their propaganda bullshit. So, as you see, there have been various re-tellings of this tale, which was by the way written down around 12oo A.C. There are also various TV adaptions.

“In 1924,director Fritz Lang made a duology of silent fantasy films of the epic: Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache.” (wiki) Here is a segment.

This is probably the most skillful adaption into film, so I wanted to see it. Download the movie somewhere, buy the DVD used or new, or what have you. I ended up digging deeper than I thought I would have to. As it turns out, the movie has been restored by the Murnau Stiftung. Also, a new final scene was inserted: UFA cut the the slaughtering of Kriemhilt, I think. Fun fact: the movie was not intended to be black and white, but actually a sort of orange tint. Now I really want to watch this.

But how is it possible that apparently, you cannot buy a German movie, about ‘the’ German epic, that has been restored in Germany, IN GERMANY? The DVD has only been released in the USA, Spain and UK as far as I could gather. Taszman from Berliner Morgenpost (German newspaper) sez that the interest for classic German movies might be higher in other countries. E.g. the restored / new version of “Metropolis” was a success with 20.000 sold DVDs, while in the US of A 80.000 copies were sold. With productions costs ranging from 60.000 to 150.000 €, publishers think twice before taking the risk here.

I heard that it will be screened on arte, German TV station, on October 3rd. Maybe I’ll catch that instead of paying 50 € on amazon for a Spanish copy! Or does anyone have any suggestions?


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