Monday, November 26, 2012

Expressive Landscaping

I hope all readers of this blog had a happy Thanksgiving - I certainly did, and enjoying time with the family is never something to be passed up.


Robert Liddiard, in his article "Medieval-Designed Landscapes: Problems and Possibilities," says that until recently, historians of landscapes have disregarded medieval gardens in favor of the "developments" and "progress" displayed by post-medieval landscaping and horticulture. Specifically, he says:

"The suggestion that medieval men and women did not, or could not, conceive of the countryside in anything other than functional terms remained influential in writing on high-status landscapes for many decades; the scattered nature of landholding, attitudes to private property, and a perceived lack of appropriate sensibilities all ensured that 'the aesthetic manipulation of the countryside was not to begin until after the close of the Middle Ages (Williamson 1988, 261)'"[1]

The line "perceived lack of appropriate sensibilities" caught my eye, as I feel it more or less typifies the academic and popular attitude towards the Middle Ages as a whole. Whether it is gardening, or science, philosophy, or art, medieval Europe is given the short-end of the stick in popular imaginings - nowhere is this more evident in the terminology of "the Dark Ages." What was nothing more than a smug declaration of superiority bycontinental Enlightenment thinkers has curiously maintained itself in public vocabulary despite numerous, efficacious challenges to its veracity. People are only now rediscovering Peter of Abelard, John Duns Scotus, and [to bring things back on track] the nuanced way medieval society viewed the world in which they lived. Particularly through landscaping and horticulture!

While never truly forgotten in the Roman Catholic Church, Scotus has for a long time been ignored in the secular academic world.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Monk's Mood Pt. 2: The Wonder of Numbers in Strabo's Hortulus

Walafrihd Strabo (his surname means literally "the Squinter"[1]) was a Frankish monk living in the Carolingian period. While occasionally embroiling himself in the politics of the day (ie, the final dissolution of the Carolingian Empire), he is best known as a poet and writer of several diverse subjects. His most famous work is the Hortulus, lit. "The Little Garden," a poem about Strabo's own garden that he cultivates with his own hands. The Hortulus is interesting in many respects, but one in particular, teased out by Wim Verball in the article "The Arithmetic of Poetry: The Poetry of Numbers in Walahfrid Strabo's Hortulus" caught my eye. It gives insight not only into the poetic mastery of Latin verse that Strabo displayed in his writing career, but also more of the symbolic importance that gardens had in the monastic community in the Middle Ages.

Walahfrid Strabo