A Fighter’s Guide to the Arts (or, Flying Buttresses and Flaming Goldfish)

By Sir Guillaume de la Belgique
(©2003 Scott Farrell)

Throughout the Middle Ages, knights and warriors were seen as thuggish, tax-collecting morons who did nothing but consume huge quantities of meat and expel various bodily gasses in between tournaments and wars. This perception was prevalent among the serfs and vassals, who generally kept such views to themselves because of a complex political and social structure which allowed knights to travel around the countryside carrying four-foot long, razor sharp swords and riding testosterone-crazed stallions the size of merchant marine vessels, whereas the vassals had to rely on a blunt stick in order to poke holes in the mud to plant their crops, and could only defend themselves by fleeing into the local forests where they had the legal right, after remaining free for one year and one day, to be eaten by wolves.

Fortunately in the SCA people no longer have the same opinion of fighters, because fighters do not collect taxes. Except for this slight difference, however, the opinion of most non-fighting members of the Society seems to be slipping more and more toward the same disdainful perception of warriors which was prevalent in the middle ages.

Fellow fighters, I say it’s time we get rid of our negative image. I have tried to do my part by seeking out those members of the Society who have a poor opinion of fighters, listening earnestly to their complaints, and then hitting them with a stick. This does not seem to be working, however, due mainly to the fact that these people do not wear armor and can therefore run faster than me.

Because of the ineffectiveness of the current system, I believe the time has come to devise a new strategy of convincing people that fighters are more than just homicidal Neanderthals. I thought the best way to do this would be to create an informative and comprehensive overview of the medieval arts and sciences for the fighters of the SCA, which would result in a greater understanding of the important cultural contributions of the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that in order to do this I would have to read several books which did not involve “Hagar the Horrible” cartoons, so instead I decided to just make some stuff up.

• Literature •

Throughout the Middle Ages, two forms of literature prevailed. The first was the chanson du geste, meaning literally “unbelievably long poem describing in detail how various knights were maimed in battle and mentioning hundreds of seemingly random people as if you should know them by name.” Examples of such Medieval epics are “El Cid,” starring Charlton Heston, “The Nibelungenlied,” by J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Song of Roland,” from Roland’s “Unplugged” album, and, of course, the unforgettable “Nibelungenlied 2: Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Bikini Chainsaw Massacre.”

The second form of Medieval literature is the “lengthy and rambling religious treatise.” Using this literary format, a variety of medieval saints employed the proven marketing strategy of explaining how everyone in the Western world was condemned to the deepest bowels of hell. Many monastic orders were founded in order to study these writings in detail, for years on end, with the monks devising elaborate allegories relating everything — including misspellings, commas and ink smudges — to some mystical divine plan. Because of the diligent work of these monks, we know there was not much in the way of “night life” during the Middle Ages.

• Calligraphy & Illumination •

Medieval scribes used a very precise style of writing to create beautiful and artistic documents under the theory “if you can’t make it interesting, at least make it look good,” because, let’s face it, most of the works of literature described earlier wouldn’t exactly make John Grisham worried about being pushed off the bestseller list, if you get my drift.

Utilizing a special pen, medieval scribes created many stylized calligraphy scripts which had the benefit of being both beautiful and nearly impossible to read. In this manner, the scribe could take hours or even days to convey the same amount of written information which today we can put on a telephone message Post-It note in about 20 seconds.

Once the calligraphy was complete, if the scribe had not died of old age he would illuminate the document by painting elaborate pictures in the margins of the text. These illuminations often depicted royal coronations, scenes of daily life, or the adventures of Spiderman and Captain Marvel in their quest for justice in the galaxy.

• Architecture •

The architecture of the middle ages is best exemplified by the many medieval cathedrals which were left standing by the various revolutionary armies at the end of the Renaissance. In the early Middle Ages, architects created these huge buildings, some as many as 20 stories high, using elaborately carved and hastily erected stonework, which meant that although the interiors were dark and gloomy, the huge chambers were filled with visages of demons and gargoyles which would plummet to the floor and crush the visitors when the cathedral collapsed.

Throughout the Middle Ages, architecture progressed as builders learned to use advanced structural designs such the pointed arch, the ribbed vault, the jumping jack, the squinch, the swindle and the presept to make cathedrals “lighter” and more “open,” creating chambers flooded with dazzling colors where the visitors could be killed by falling stained glass when the cathedral collapsed.

Most famous of the architectural innovations of the Middle Ages was the “flying buttress,” which allowed builders to strengthen tall structures and which could comfortably seat over 200 passengers with meal service on a domestic trip.

• Cooking •

For the people of the Middle Ages, daily meals consisted of meager fare which contained barely enough sustenance to stave off the threat of starvation. Naturally, when the time came to observe a festive occasion, the people would celebrate by wasting huge amounts of food in the creation of fanciful displays of inedible culinary art, such as pastries containing live birds which would spring out and fly around the room to spread mites, droppings and other contaminants around the dining hall; a “pitcher of cooked meat” which, when cracked in front of the diners, would spill live, squiggling goldfish out onto the table; and a candy replica of a phoenix which would burst into flame, covering the diners seated nearby with blazing, molten sugar.

Ironically, these displays were called “subtleties.”

• Singing •

The standard Medieval unit of music was the “madrigal,” a singing troup which was comprised of between seven and 31 people grouped together in harmony to eliminate the very real danger that someone would discover what the heck they were singing about. Most madrigal songs which I have personally been subjected to seem to convey the following important musical message: “My lady, my lady, my lady, my lady (repeat 137 times) … She is rather pretty!” (For a more cultured presentation, the song can be translated into Italian.)

So, fighters of the Known World, let’s take this opportunity to show the people of the kingdom that we have a broad understanding of medieval art and its importance in Western culture. Let’s show them that our creative talents and ideas can rival those of anybody in the Society, from the most decorated Laurel to the newest member. And if all that fails, let’s show them that we still have razor sharp swords.

You can help make sure Guillaume does not get involved in any more art by buying his books and CDs in the Market Square

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