In Defence of the Liberal Arse,​ I mean Arts! Arts! In defense​ of the Liberal Arts


I think anyone involved in the Humanities is haunted by that suspicion that the Liberal Arts need defending and sometimes the case seems hard to make.  Did the Liberal Arts cure disease? No.  Did the Liberal Arts build suspension bridges and get us to the moon?  No.  Did they help defeat Hitler?  Kinda but I expect the application of science contributed as well.

The point is that sometimes you are faced with some rich man in a pub who asks you what you do and when you say, “I am a historian” he replies “How do you make money?” Well, I believe in the value of the liberal arts and you can make money out of it.

A prime example is Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail.  The animation is one of the strongest elements of the film and as you can see there is a direct inspiration for the classic “bottom trumpet” in marginalia.  From this and other films, the Pythons created a career and a lasting cultural phenomenon.

So if you have a gift for history or any other of the liberal arts go for it.  Get good at it and maybe you can be inspired by the past to create something for the funny.  And there is not much funnier than “bottom trumpets”. Maybe the catsnail?



Trajan’​s Column

I’ve been posting about Trojans Column and illuminating it with some interesting images.  These images are a record of the freise at Lunt Roman Fort.  They are no longer on display so I am pleased to have the opportunity to put them on display here.image


Medieval Marginalia: Confounding Prejudice about Medievals

I have been posting a lot about marginalia for two reasons; first I love it and second, there is so much of it.  Marginalia is literally drawn or written in the margins of a book or text.  I do it to make notes or to express my discontent when I disagree with an author.  Sometimes it is very interesting to see what other people write in books.  I know that there is a book entirely about Ayn Rands marginalia.  There is a medieval scholar of whom we have none of his books but we do have his marginalia and from that, we can see that he was incredibly well read, I’ve forgotten his name but am sure I will be able to find it again.


I have an interest in the images in medieval books.  Above we can see an image of a joust.  A rabbit is carrying a dog whilst another rabbit rides a snail, on a spiky twig.  Now if someone tells you they know what this means I am sorry to say they are at best guessing.


And now I am going to join in with the guessing.   A few facts are clear.  First, these cost money.  The ink and the parchment were expensive, I assume.  As I write this I remember that I am not a medieval scholar and I assume that these were expensive commodities but maybe they weren’t.  Even if they were prohibitively expensive maybe the medievals thought that it was wicked to waste parchment that wasn’t written on and that is why they filled up the gaps!  A bit like a gothic cathedral covered in gargoyles.  I’ve been looking at St Michael’s in Coventry today and that is crawling with gargoyles.  Some are religious and others are … secular.


I think that there are two mistakes to make about the medievals.  The first is to assume that all their art had secret meanings and second that they were deadly serious all the time.  If we assume that the marginalia was intended to use up blank space then you need a lot of images without being repetitive.  I suggest that this is why we see creative images.  I suggest that when the medievals had to come up with images they used their imaginations and came up with the kinds of scenarios you would find in loony tunes.

I think this puts to bed the idea that the medievals were a dour lot who spent all their time in the mud dying of plague.  Clearly, medieval Europe was a very colourful place and that colour came out of their minds.




Medieval Marginalia; The great Snail threat! (Video)

Classics Roman Army

Scenes from Trajans Column

Roman Army

Roman Army At War

In this image we see the Roman Army engaged in a battle (to the left).  As the heavy infantry engage the Dacians the Emperor “interviews” a prisoner held before him by an auxiliary soldier.  The legion was for the battle winning action whilst the role of the auxiliary was to enable them to win.  Behind the emperor are the signum the standard and the cultic musicians.


What is especially exciting is the mounted catapulta in the background. Mounted on a cart this Scorpion is a dart throwing artillery weapon that could be quickly and easily moved over the battlefield supporting the role of the infantry.

The success of the Roman Army lies not only in the fantastic equipment and training of the legion but in the backup it received from the rest of the army.  In modern terms this can best be described as the “warm fuzzy” feeling that the British Army tries to inspire.  The idea that the individual soldier is not alone and everyone else has his back.  Consider this, if you had this feeling how could you not conquer the world?


The Merry Maidens,Cornwall

I took this photograph in 2015. IMG_0837.JPG

Classics Roman Army Uncategorized

Cultic Behaviour in the Roman Army; Head Hunting

This is one of the fascinating scenes from Trajans Column in Rome.  It shows an Auxillary soldier holding a head in his mouth.  What it suggests is that he is a celt, possibly from Britain, Gaul or Spain who has been recruited into the army and is now fighting in Dacia.



Ancient Games: Kings Table and Fox and Geese

There is no game like an old game.  Fox and Geese is a Medieval game which fell out of favour in the Tudor period but still holds its own as a board game today.  What is exciting about both these games is that they are asymmetric.  One Fox against sixteen geese.  The Geese want to trap the fox so that it can not move and the fox takes the geese by jumping over them like in Checkers.  What it amount to is an exercise in concentration.  The geese have to advance without allowing the individuals to become isolated where they are vulnerable to the fox.  The fox in contrast must be mobile and look for those opportunities to spoil the geese players day.

My wife bought me a copy one Christmas having seen my copy of Kings Table which is another really good game.  I mostly play against my Father with this lovely set.  The board is printed cloth and the pieces are resin copies a real Viking chess set now in the British Museum.  Again this is a asymmetric  game   of white against red.  The white player wants the King piece to escape.   It does so by  getting to a corner .  The red player is seeking to trap the King  so he can not move.  In the Viking period  they played a variety of board which ranged from  small representing a bar brawl, medium (this size)  which represents a small engagement or ambush and incredibly large which could represent an entire campaign.

These games make excellent Christmas presents.  They are delightfully made and deeply engaging.  I have had both my sets for over ten years and am always up for a game.

Book review Classics

What am I reading? York Notes to the Wasteland

I have been interested in TS Eliot for a long time and finally decided to start reading his books seriously.  He was of course a genius whose literary merit I struggle to come to terms with.  I think the it is very important just to admit these things.  I am good at what I do but when I need a little help I ask for it.  I find it useful to get hold of these York notes for a good, brief but well informed overview of why the book I am reading is useful.