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It is my firm belief that one should watch assorted Monty Python on a regulated basis, because it makes you think about the important things in life.

Or at the very least, its well-crafted British humour (note the spelling) may lead you to wonder about poignant, worldly intellectual issues. Or at least ponder its funnies.

Take, for example, a scene from The Holy Grail, in which the knights are attempting to decipher an inscription that will lead them to the grail:

Brother Maynard: "It reads: ‘Here may be found the last words of Joseph of Arimathea. He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the Castle of A-a-a-a-a-gh…"

King Arthur: "What?"
Maynard: "The Castle of A-a-a-a-a-gh."
Bedevere: "What is that?"
Maynard: "He must’ve died while carving it."
Lancelot: "Oh, come on."
Maynard: "Well, that’s what it says."
King Arthur: "Look, if he was dying, he wouldn’t bother to carve ‘A-a-a-a-gh.’ He’d just say it."
Maynard: "That’s what’s carved in the rock."
Galahad: "Perhaps he was dictating."

 

And this made me think of all the times throughout history when spelling, grammar, and authorial intent has gone flying out the window, often spectacularly.

Sometimes, it’s a simple matter of translation:imageMmmm, tasty.

Or maybe, a word is left out:

image I don’t see this ending well…

Perhaps, a well-intended handwritten sign:image

Or even “intellectuals” asleep on the jobimage

The word ‘phusei’ was spelled with an ‘S’ rather than the Greek letter sigma, which looks similar to a capital ‘E.’ Whoops!

 

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“M-A-R-….O-L-Z…H?”

And then we go back in time, and see odd junk like this, where even the chisel doesn’t make excuses for the illegible mess.

(But, then again, even the Romans F’ed up – and we know they were the shit. )

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Or maybe some careless craftsman broke it, and left it there to puzzle future scholars, and to inspire countless future theses and dissertations.

  And for that reason, I offer my thanks to humanity, for keeping the wonder/frustration/scholarship/face-palming alive since the B.C’s.

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For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.

~ Parliament of Foules, Chaucer

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On this ever-popular day of “love,” it’s nice to remember that there was a real person behind all the hearts and flowers: St. Valentine. 

My mom always told me that Valentine was arrested by the Romans, and sentenced to be thrown to the lions. While he was in jail, he wanted to get a message out to his people, but all he could get was a piece of something to write on, without anything to write with. So he cut his hand and let some of the blood fall onto the paper, which he folded in two, and when he unfolded the paper he revealed the shape of a heart, which was the first Valentine ever sent.

There are several versions of this infamous story, but who was St. Valentine, really?

According to history.com, one legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. (What a jerk, no?)

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured. (ek, I’m studying Latin now, but this makes the Romans look like…not nice people)

According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first ‘valentine’ greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed ‘From your Valentine,’ an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It’s no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial — which probably occurred around 270 A.D — others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to ‘christianize’ celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat called spelt throughout their interiors. Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

So, overall, there were likely three different possible St. Valentines, all matyrs, which, to some people, probably seems like a good match for the holiday. Then there’s the festival connection, to pairing birds and such (hence the Chaucer quote). But whether you have someone to hang out with today or not, and remember you can always hang out with yourself, I hope you enjoy this lovely, sunny day! (Plus, you can always use today as an excuse to eat excessive amounts of chocolate. Yum)

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P.S. even though Valentine’s day is one of the worst reviewed movies that I’ve seen in awhile (something like 15% on Rottentomatoes.com) is it wrong that I still kind of want to see it? If I like it though, what does that make me?….

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Today’s book: Confessions of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsela

Now, as an English grad student in general, I try and weed out the more ‘fashionable’ i.e. less ‘literary’ books while I’m at the bookstore. That being said,  can’t help but sometimes go for the trendy – the shiny covers are just so inviting.

Last night I started reading Confessions of a Shopaholic, and it really is the paper equivalent of a blueberry muffin. Delicious, sugary, and full of fat, but somehow you can still convince yourself that it’s healthy in some way because it’s not a cupcake. However one can’t help but fall in love with protagonist Becky whose shortcomings translate into actual debt. And I understand her shopping addictions; when all you can think of is how you need to not spend money and cut back on everything buying yourself a little reward is a small consolation. The difference between me and her is that she buys a 200 scarf, and I buy a sweater from the Gap, on sale. And who doesn’t think, in the back of their mind, that they could someday win the lottery and pay it all off?

And I also wonder what exactly is going on in the publishing world but suddenly there is an explosion of books with women in period costume on the cover. Queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, and everyone associated with the Tudors or Henry VIII is apparently in vogue.  The books themselves may not have much in common, but they are all working a look, and for some reason including an actual woman’s entire face just ruins it for them.

           

If you’re going to pick one, I’d recommend Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. She’s an amazing writer who makes history seem like juicy fiction.