Saturday, December 5, 2009

Were Chaucer and Gower Druids?

One of the nice things about using Blogger as the basis for this blog is that I can use Google Analytics to track my traffic, see which posts are the most popular, trace referring sites and list which Google key words brought visitors to what parts of my blog. So far it's clear that the most popular (or, at least, most visited) post so far has been "Agora" and Hypatia - Hollywood Strikes Again, with 1,908 page-views. This is followed by The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman, with 353 page-views, The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History by James J. O'Donnell with 293, God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam with 255 and The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages by Chris Wickham with 235. By contrast the least clicked review was Four Books on Fourteenth Century England, with a paltry 37 page-views, though that was after a long posting hiatus.

What's rather more amusing is some of the stuff that people type into Google that leads them to this blog. Not surprisingly the keywords "Armarium Magnum" top the list of search terms (341 page-views). But second on the list is "gongfermours", with 17. For those of you who weren't among the 37 people who read that Four Books on Fourteenth Century England post, a "gongfermour" was a guy in Medieval England who had the unenviable job of cleaning out latrines and cesspits. Ian Mortimer mentions them in his book The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England and I mentioned them briefly in my review of it. This means that a whopping 17 of the 37 people who viewed that post went there because they were Googling English toilet cleaners of the Middle Ages. Why? Who knows ...

But the more amusing key word searches tend to be found towards the bottom of the list. I can see how "ostrogoth inheritance western europe" would bring you to my blog or even "streets magnum market description" (I think they were after information on the ice cream), but why "dominic sandbrook irish"? The one that tickled me the most however was "witch kind of animal a 350 magnum can kill" - who said gun nuts were illiterate? This is closely followed by the person who asked Google "why did geoffrey chaucer have such a weird beard?". But the top prize has to go to "were chaucer and gower druids?". In case that searcher ever comes back I think I can answer that: NO.

That anyone would think Chaucer was a druid is kooky enough, but the fact that they thought John Gower might have been one is bizarre. In fact, that someone who is into "druids" even knew who Gower was is very odd. Still, the depths of pseudo historical kookiness never cease to amaze me. Kooky Scottish loon, Gordon Strachan, got in the news this week as the "expert" whose claims form the basis for a new documentary called And Did Those Feet which claims, yes, that Jesus visited England. And, of course, studied with the druids. This is typical crappy Holy Blood Holy Grail-style bonkers pseudo history, but it's amazing to see how happily the media reports it as though it's much the same as any real research by a real historian. No wonder the general public's grasp of history is so whacko.

The story got a mention on the Forum where, to their credit, most of the posters called shenanigans. One, however, tried to come to the defence of the "Jesus as Teenaged Backpaper in Glastonbury" theory, largely by talking up the "ground breaking research" of one Graham Phillips. A quick survey of Mr Phillips' literary output will quickly give anyone with the ghost of a clue an indication of how "ground breaking" his crap actually is. This led to a discussion of what elements a truly kooky theory needs to have:

Ah, but as the guys in Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum make clear, any mushbrain theory has to involve (i) Templars (of course), (ii) Masons (same thing, according to the mushbrains), (iii) Druids (ditto), (iv) the Grail ("bloodline" and/or cup) and, preferably (v) the Ark of the Covenant. Mix in some Rosicrucians, the Illuminati, the Assassins, hidden messages in paintings, some "Symbology" (never mind that there is no such discipline - it's in The Da Vinci Code) and try to work in the Cathars, Montsegur, the Rosslyn Chapel and Rennes-le-Chateau if possible. An ancient Egyptian angle, preferably involving Akhenaten, is nice as well. Stir in some mysterious documents in obscure archives, vaguely referenced so no-one can check your facts (the Vatican Archives are great for dramatic effect), add a title with words like "Mystery" and "Hidden" and "Secret" and "Conspiracy", put a blurb by some other kook on the cover ("Even more sensational than my last ten books!" - Graham Phillips) and serve to an endless market of gullible clowns. A recipe for kook success.

This gave me an idea for next year's Armarium Magnum Essay Competition. Entrants will have to write a detailed summary of a Holy Blood/Graham Phillips-style kooky pseudo historical thesis that (i) combines as many of the usual elements as possible in a new way, (ii) could be seen as plausible by people with no critical analysis skills and (iii) is funny. That gives you all a whole year to start dreaming up whacko pseudo historical conspiracy theories and gives me plenty of time to think up a prize that is both desirable and appropriate.

Now I better go because there's an albino monk at the door who wants to talk to me about something or other.


Humphrey said...

I don't think anyone who wrote a spoof would be able to come up with something more wacky than the kind of stuff David Icke comes up with. The ironic thing is, when he was just a snooker commentator he was pretty much Joe Average; but since he started wearing a turquoise shellsuit, calling himself the son of God and claiming that the US government and the UK monarchy is run by a gang of blood swigging shape shifting Lizards he has become an international publishing sensation.

Omniskriba said...

Would the essay competition still be on? Would a copy of "God's Philosophers" (or similar work) again be at stake?

Err... just passing through. I forgot how I got here but I think it had something to do with Hypatia of Alexandria and the TV Tropes website. Incidentally, I'm doing a comprehensive work on Apologetics (nothing thoroughly academic and a bit on the quirky, ponderous side of dialectic) and it was refreshing to see secular discussions that didn't foist on us all the ills of the modern world.

If I may ask however: in defending against the assumption that Christian Culture always ultimately stifles the development of science and reason (especially in the Middle Ages), what common arguments have you encountered from apologists that prove to be largely bunkum. I may be writing from a bias but I hope to at least be factual and I was hoping you might have opinions on the subject.