Monday, December 2, 2019

Ker's "The Dark Ages", Part 2: Gerhard and Bucephalus Go to Chartres

Continued from Part 1

After the discussion of common literary forms, The Dark Ages moves on to Latin, and here there was a clear gap between Ker's expectations of his reader and what modern education provided.  I did not spend too much time trying to decipher the Latin poetry.  More interesting were the relayed stories of monastic life, which were recorded in Latin.  There was one particularly interesting passage, where Gerhard the Benedictine talks about his journey from the monastery at Rheims to that at Chartres (about 150 miles) in 991 AD:
[A messenger from Chartres] produced a letter urging me to read the Aphorisms of Hippocrates.  This gave me great pleasure, and I determined to set out for Chartres along with my envoy and a boy to attend me.  From the abbot I received no more than one palfrey.  Without money or letters of credit I reached Orbais [about 30 miles], a place renowned for charity, and there was much refreshed in conversation with the abbot, and munificently entertained.  I left on the morrow for Meaux [another 40 miles].  But the perplexities of a forest which I and my companions entered were not without their evil fortune; we went wrong at cross-roads, and wandered six leagues [20 miles] out of our way.  Just past the castle of Theodoric, the palfrey, which before had appeared a Bucephalus, now began to drag like a sluggish ass.  Now the sun had passed the South, and, all the air dissolving into rain, was hastening to his setting in the West, when that strong Bucephalus was overcome by the strain, failed, and sank beneath the boy who was riding him, and as if struck by lightning expired at the sixth milestone from the city...  
I left the boy there with the baggage, told him what to answer to passers-by, bade him beware of falling asleep, and along with the Chartres messenger, got to Meaux.  I pass on to the bridge, with scarcely light to see by.  Then looking more narrowly I was assailed by new mischances.  There were so many large gaps in the bridge that the visitors of the townsfolk can only have got over that day with hazard.  The man of Chartres, full of quickness and of good sense likewise for the difficulties of the journey, after looking all about for a ferry and finding none, came back to the perils of the bridge: Heaven granted him to get the horses safe over.  For in the gaping places he sometimes put his shield under the horses' feet, sometimes laid loose planks over, stooping and rising and coming and going till he had brought the horses, and me with them, safe across. 
I don't really want to keep block-quoting this story, but for those who hate loose ends, Gerhard went to the Abbey of St. Faron in Meaux and slept, the messenger went back out to get the boy and they slept at the foot of the bridge and crossed in the morning.  They left the boy at St. Faron's and proceeded on to Chartres, where Gerhard read the book he was looking for.

I felt this bit highlighted some interesting features of dark age wilderness adventures.  They did a bit better than 24 miles a day, but this was a relatively well-settled part of France, near Paris, and there were apparently roads of some sort (hence the crossroads).  I'm not sure where they got the extra horses (maybe the abbot of Orbais).  I thought it was really interesting that there was a chain of monasteries, about one every other 24-mile hex, and elsewhere Ker mentions another chain of monasteries including St. Gall in Switzerland, which linked the monasteries of Italy with those of southern Germany.  I was sort of impressed that they managed to go 20 miles out of their way, since their party included a messenger who had just done this route in the opposite direction.  The state of disrepair of the bridge at Meaux was somewhat surprising, given that it was a settled region with literal milestones.  The whole thing, traveling 150 miles to read a book and having a wilderness adventure where there were no enemies but still tension, just struck me as rather remarkable.

Hexes right around 24-25 miles I think

Continued in part 3.

1 comment:

  1. I would have loved to know who passed the boy as he waited, and how many of them.