… a female deer. Oops, sorry, wrong thread.
Anyway, a medievalist, goblinpaladin, has tagged me with a meme. Now I don’t’ get tagged a lot with memes, possibly because folk know I have published on them, both for and more recently against, but you can’t deny the buggers on the Interwubs. Here it is:
1) Link to the person who tagged you.
2) List 7 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure.
3) Tag seven more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs.
4) Let the person know they have been tagged by leaving a note on their blog.
It’s hard work, because I don’t actually have any friends, so I need to randomly search the Interwiks for victims. But I do have a favourite historical figure. And it’s not Charles Darwin, who I know more about than this guy. Oddly, he’s medieval… which goblinpaladin who tagged me explicitly exempted me from having to choose within.
My meme hero is…
Frederick II Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily and Jerusalem (1194-1250). What’s not to like?
1. He was a secularist in an age of papal absolutism. He installed a legal system based on Roman Law and effectively established Luther’s much later Two Kingdoms doctrine in practice. There were matters the Church had no say over.
2. He considered starting his own religion with himself as Messiah, to oppose the popes. He managed to get himself excommunicated not once, but twice, which takes some doing. While excommunicate, he led a crusade to Jerusalem, where he politely discussed the role of Jerusalem for Christendom with the Saracens, and came to a negotiated settlement. This enraged the pope of the day – crusades were for killing infidels, not talking to them. Naturally the demagogue preachers called him the Antichrist, because, you know, peace is so not what Jesus would have wanted…
3. He was a Norman, who were regarded by the rest of “civilised” Europe as barbarian war mongers. Nevertheless his court was educated and sophisticated, and he was called the “Stupor Mundi”, the wonder of the world by his subjects.
4. He was a religious skeptic. A slander by the orthodox was that he wrote a text called “Three Imposters”, naming Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, but that is probably a setup, as it was ascribed to various figures the Catholic church did not like over the next few centuries, a bit like the later Protocols of Zion being ascribed to Jews by Marxists, Russian imperialists, and American democrats.
5.He kept exotic, mainly African, animals such as elephants, cheetahs, lynxes, leopards and birds in a zoo that he moved around from city to city to impress the populace. He funded the first secular university, the University of Naples, and decreed that doctors should study anatomy by dissection which was regarded by the religious as blasphemous.
6. He spent about as much time on affairs of state as he did on falconry, a recently developed fad among the European nobility, and he had several hundred falconers and thousands of birds. He wrote a classic manual De Artes Venandi Cum Avibus (The art of hunting with birds). I’ve read this. It’s an empirically based work quite unlike any other of the day. He repeats no mythological travellers’ tales. He debunks myths about birds, and what is more, he identifies “kinds” (Lat. species) of birds as those that interbreed irrespective of temperament, colouration or form. You can guess why I like him.
7. And this is the thing that most attracts me to him: he debunked Aristotle. Aristotle! Within 30 years of Aristotle’s Liber Animalium (Book of Animals, the History, the Generation, and the Movement bound together) being translated into Latin by Michael Scot, Frederick is prepared to write in the preface to De Artes:
Inter alia, we discovered by hard-won experience that the deductions of Aristotle, whom we followed when they appealed to our reason, were not entirely to be relied upon, more particularly in his descriptions of the characters of certain birds.
There is another reason why we do not follow implicitly the Prince of Philosophers: he was ignorant of the practice of falconry – an art which to us has ever been a pleasing occupation, and with the details of which we are well acquainted. In his work “Liber Animalium” we find many quotations from other authors whose statements he did not verify and who, in their turn, were not speaking from experience. Entire conviction of the truth never follows mere hearsay.
In case you haven’t made the connection – Aristotle is supposed to be beyond criticism by the medievals according to a well worn view of western intellectual history. Here’s a guy in the thirteenth century who is a skeptic, an empiricist, and afraid of no authorities. No bloody wonder they called him stupor mundi. He must have stupified them. And had he been a better tactician, he might have defeated papal and church power five hundred years sooner, and set in train an age of enlightenment.
Here’s a site that gives much more information about Fred. There’s a lot more I could say about him, but I’ll contain myself to the following anecdote. The Khan of the day was wont to send threatening letters to European monarchs demanding that they pledge allegiance to him. There was little chance the khans could have taken over Europe at that time, however. Still, sending a letter back to the Khan saying that he would gladly surrender his crown to the Khan if only the Khan would guarantee he, Frederick, could be the Khan’s falconer, well that was a little bit individualistic. I think, if he hadn’t had me killed, I would have liked him a lot.
Who to tag? OK, since I’m off to Arizona soon anyway, I’ll tag Lynch at Stranger Fruit, so he can hit me when I get there. Ian Musgrave, Astronomy Blogger and all round genius is next. I will tag PZ Miares, even if goblinpaladin wouldn’t, because I have no fear. Larry Moran at Sandwalk has plenty of spare time [see? No fear at all. Nor sense.] Mike Dunford at The Questionable Authority needs a break from work. John Pieret needs no break being a lawyer and all. But his Thoughts in a Haystack is a good place to visit. And to round it off, Janet at Adventures in Ethics and Science. Have fun…
Late note: I forgot to link to my previous post on Frederick. Tsk.