Don’t say “Dark Ages”…

…not unless you want to upset medievalists!

I’m speaking from experience here. It’s not that I actually want to call them the Dark Ages, but I ventured to suggest in the LinkedIn Medieval and Renaissance Studies group that it was understandable that people used the term:

these were “Dark Ages” if you think it’s a good thing
not to have children growing up with gallows and whipping posts in the street, if you think that even if a surgery is done by the Top Surgeon it is still better with anaesthetics than without, if you don’t want to be told that your only real purpose here on earth is to partake of the sufferings of Christ.

I do temper that by saying:

However, they were not uniquely dark – oppressive attitudes towards suffering have prevailed, and still do prevail, in other ages and places – and if you believe that suffering may perhaps have a purpose and not simply be something to avoid then the medieval period was possibly even more enlightened than today.

But apparently the rider doesn’t make up for the original sin! I stirred up a bit of a hornets’ nest, it seems, and the discussion ended up in flames.

The same debate carried over into another thread, where feelings also ran pretty high, but without people actually going over the top.

Surgical Implements

A couple of weeks ago I posted in answer to a question on Quora about whether there was such a thing as necessary suffering. I began by saying that in an age before anaesthetics this question could hardly even have been asked. I then went on, in my wonted fashion, to discuss the issue in a rather abstract and philosophical way. This brings home the point rather more directly:


These surgical instruments from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are (left) lithotomy dilator; dental forceps; trepan; dental forceps;
(right) double-bladed bistoury; forceps for extracting arrow head; bullet extractor;
(below) surgical saw.


Disturbingly erotic…or not?

I posted this a few months ago, but I’m having some trouble with spambots on a few of my posts, so I’m republishing with a slightly different permalink to see if that resolves the problem. Apologies to those who’ve already seen it!
An art historian is claiming that Dürer’s work is deeply erotic, in a highly explicit but subliminal way. The trouble is, she gives the answer away, and once you know the answer it’s impossible to unknow it! As a result, I can no longer look at the picture with objective eyes. So I’m asking you. Take a good look, spend several minutes and – here’s a hint – focus on other stuff going on in the picture, not on the woman breastfeeding the baby. It might also help if you half-close your eyes, forget that it’s representational art and think of it as something a bit like a Rorschach test. Think dirty!

Then take take a look at what Dr Garner says. Click on comments to see a summary of reactions so far…