Delirious Melons, and Other Ancient Snark

2801381202_44dc0c1c27_bIn this several months-long absence, I’ve been plugging away at my book manuscript in hopes of an October submission. I’m ahead of schedule, but getting to that point meant much else that is important to me fell away, even as I frenzied myself in what I would have otherwise left alone.

To get back in the game, I’ll share over the next week or so some of the amusing bits I’ve run across while, uh, plugging. Here’s one: Irenaeus of Lyons’ parody of the specialized terminology of Gnostic cosmology in his Against Heresies I.11.4

There exists a certain royal Pre-principle, pre-unintelligible, pre-insubstantial and pre-prerotund, which I call Gourd. With this Goard there coexists a Power which I call Supervacuity. This Gourd and this Supervacuity, being one, emitted without emitting a Fruit visible in all its parts, edible and sweet, which language calls Cucumber. With this Cucumber there is a Power of the same substance, which I call Melon. These Powers, Gourd and Supervacuity, and Cucumber and Melon, emitted the whole multitude of Valentinus’ delirious Melons. For if one must accomodate ordinary language to the first Tetrad and if each one chooses the terms he wants, who would keep him from using these last terms, much more worthy of credence, in ordinary usage, and known by all?

I could tolerate nonacademic complaints about academic jargon much better if they were all packaged like this!

Like all of you, I hope, I’m a fan of ancient snark, although perhaps I ought not to be: it’s probably immoral for me, for example, to admire the snark of an anti-Catharist, if only for what the Cathars (or so-called Cathars?) suffered. I offer this to you (again, as I did in Sept 2006), then, in the hopes of inviting attacks from your good consciences: from Eckbert of Schönau’s (yes, they were related) Sermon 6, “Contra secundam haeresim de esu carnium,” of his Sermones contra Catharos:

Miror si Dominus creator omnium rerum, quando hominibus concessit ut ederent carnes, ignorabat hanc vestram sanctam rationem, videlicet immundos fieri omnes qui ederent carnes, pro eo quod omnis caro ex concubitu nasceretur. Heu! quod non habebat catharum unum, qui ei hanc sapientiam in aurem susurrasset, in illa hora quando dedit potestatem edendi carnes Noe et filiis ejus! (PL 195:37A)

It is quite extraordinary that when the Lord, the creator of all things, allowed men to eat flesh, he ignored your “sacred reason,” namely that because all meat is born from coitus, everyone who eats meat becomes unclean. Alas! that he didn’t have any Cathar about who could have whispered this wisdom to him in his ear in that hour when he gave Noah and his sons the power to eat flesh!

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A Public Service Message from 12th-Century England

Try to keep your celebrations in line tomorrow night or the ghost of Bartholomew of Exeter might rise up to punish you. He warns:

De Balationibus. Si quis balationes ante ecclesias sanctorum fecerit, seu qui faciem suam transmutauerit in habitu mulierbri, et mulier in habitu uiri, emendatione pollicita tribus annis peniteat

Amateur Theatrics.* Whoever does amateur theatrics in front of churches–either a man cross-dressing as a woman or a woman cross-dressing as a man–should do penance for 3 years.

I can only assume that Bartholomew meant “until the next election season.” So, ladies, men, if you’re tempted to dress up as McCain and Palin to put on a show tomorrow night, or even if you just want to bust out in some Shakespearean comedy, find an appropriate venue. Keep it from the houses of the holy.


(from here, but can find the same thing here in an injunction against people who make “balationes” and change their form)

* Okay, I tried. What’s your best shot at “ballatio”? I don’t think “dance” is sufficient. By the way, the OED etymology takes me to this hilarious conclusion: [a. OF. baler. (since 16th c. baller) to dance (= Pr. balar, It. ballare, Sp., Pg. bailar): late L. (Isidore) ballare to dance. Some think the L. formed from Gr. to dance, some f. balla BALL n.1, on the alleged ground that, in the Middle Ages, tennis was accompanied with dancing and song]