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Phantom Histories: Thoughts on the Work of Medievalist Claude Lecouteux

In those days it was common to bury people at night and by torchlight: and it was noticed that whenever a funeral was toward, John Poole was always at his window, either on the ground floor or upstairs, according as he could get the better view from one or the other …

There came a night when an old woman was to be buried. She was fairly well to do, but she was not liked in the place. The usual thing was said of her, that she was no Christian, and that on such nights as Midsummer Eve and All Hallows, she was not to he found in her house.

— from “There Was a Man Dwelt by the Churchyard” by M.R. James

A wonderful collection of classic texts was discovered beneath the finely writ words of a Byzantine prayer book. Seven treatise by Archimedes, including the only known copies of his works The Method of Mechanical Theorems and Stomachion, along with previously unknown speeches by the Athenian orator Hyperides and a commentary on Aristotle’s Categories from the second or third century AD, have been carefully reproduced by analyzing the traces left on the prayer book’s vellum pages. Some enterprising scribe had scraped them clean to reuse the sheets, overlaying prayers on top of a wealth of ancient knowledge.  

Mirroring the material focus of our time this discovery gives a very physical example of a process which is prevalent in all areas of culture. Hidden beneath folk tales, myths, familial anecdotes, and in between the lines of every song, book and treatise one can find the remnants of past revelations.

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