Saturday, December 13, 2014

Odd Details in History Spark a Story

by Carl E. Ramsey

“There’s something wrong with this scroll….” The main hero in my recently published Arthurian screwball comedy, Sir Christian de Galis and the Fish Gravy, confronts the main heroine, a lady who only looks harmless. “It begins with sixteen kings and one duke. Then the knights are numbered one through one hundred forty-nine. But that adds up to one hundred sixty-six names. You said one hundred sixty-seven. Was someone else also removed from the Honor Roll? If so, I hope it was Sir Dagonet! Or is this scroll a fake?”

There does seem to be an error in the scroll that Sir Christian examines, or at least an inconsistency on the document as it appears on in the library of Henry VIII. Researching John Leyland’s Assertion of King Arthure, in Merlin by Norma Lorre Goodrich, I discovered that Merangis des Portz and Gauuaine le Franc are sequentially listed with the same number on a roster of Round Table knights.

And it wasn’t with just any number, but fifty-two. I designated my find, a diamond in the details and developed it into an ongoing comedy routine about scribes “who began playing cards while copying scrolls. That’s when they made their scribal error with the number fifty-two.” Incidentally, card playing in the historical middle ages is mentioned in the Parson Letters.

For punishment and to protect the two scribes from the two angry knights who “were savagely outraged when they found out.” they were sentenced to the peasant crew that cleans out the castle gardé robe pits where “the scribes’ sensational new aroma should keep them at a safe distance until things—ahem—blow over.”

Another diamond in the details, which seems just right for providing humor in future installments of Sir Christian’s quest, appears on the Bayeux Tapestry. It was brought to my attention that a right handed archer is shown placing his arrow on the right side of an archery bow. When I tried that at a Renaissance Festival I was corrected by a resident archer. Comparing notes with online contacts, Charles Bazalgette thought the tapestry artist made a mistake or the archer in the tapestry actually shot that way. However, he also was corrected when he placed the arrow on the wrong side of the bow while taking up archery as a teenager. He mentioned the archer’s paradox: when the arrow is fired on the correct side of the bow, it “flits around the bow and straightens up'. Strangely, or interestingly enough, this inconsistency in placing the arrow on supposedly “the wrong side” of the bow has been noticed on other ancient or medieval archery pictures.

A third diamond in the details which I noticed while doing research for my Arthurian comedies involves the name “Longinus” given to the centurion who stuck the pilum or spear into side of the Lord Jesus at the crucifixion. This spear then becomes a sacred sought after item. It appears in Arthurian fiction in the tale of the Dolorous Stroke and in history during the first crusade where it is supposedly found in Jerusalem in such a way that it leads the crusaders to victory.

But let’s return to the name Longinus, a name so popular and interesting that Henryk Sienkiewicz assigns it to a symbolic character in his Nobel Prize winning story, With Fire and Sword. In the Biblical tale, The Spear, by Louis de Wohl, the complete name of the crucifixion centurion is Gaius Cassius Longinus. How many ever noticed that complete name also belonged to Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of Caesar’s assassins so notorious that he is listed at the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno.

What I labeled diamonds in the details in this blog are little known facts, mistakes, or connections hidden in information that a researcher may discover when writing a story. But to get at them, he has to look through piles of boring lists, check out something odd about a picture, or while researching a name. Moving from the medieval to other world history, how many noticed that Anastasia, the name of the Russian princess, who supposedly escaped the assassination of the Tsar’s family, means “Resurrection.” In doing US veterans work, I discovered that Pvt George Phillips, the medal of honor hero that my Marine Corps League detachment is named after, was a member of 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine regiment, who raised the flag on Iwo Jima. (My only Marine Corps League colleague, who knew this fact, interesting enough, was another Iwo Jima veteran who had been knighted by a descendant of Lord Kitchener.) One last example occurred this past weekend when I was shown a large tomb in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery where a Civil War Veteran was said to be a Medal of Honor hero, but when I later checked his name it didn’t appear on any known list. Such information in medieval stories, historical accounts, and even grave yards provide true diamonds that may be dug out of the details—and perhaps turned into intriguing stories. May the good writers and researchers discover many such diamonds in the details.


Carl E. Ramsey is a Marine Corps war veteran who graduated with high distinction from Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University), Seward, Nebraska, in December, 1975. Following a thirty-five year mixed career of English teaching and IT he does veterans work and writes Christian comedy adventure in Saint Louis, Missouri.

1 comment:

  1. In Paragraph 3, I think you were thinking of the Paston Letters.


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