160,000 Pages of Glorious Medieval Manuscripts Digitized: Visit the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis

We might think we have a general grasp of the period in European history immortalized in theme restaurant form as "Medieval Times." After all, writes Amy White at Medievalists.net, “from tattoos to video games to Game of Thrones, medieval iconography has long inspired fascination, imitation and veneration.” The market for swordplay, armor, quests, and sorcery has never been so crowded.

But whether the historical period we call medieval (a word derived from medium aevum, or “middle age”) resembled the modern interpretations it inspired presents us with another question entirely—a question independent and professional scholars can now answer with free, easy reference to “high-resolution images of more than 160,000 pages of European medieval and early modern codices”: richly illuminated (and amateurishly illustrated) manuscripts, musical scores, cookbooks, and much more.

The online project, called Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis, houses its digital collection at the Internet Archive and represents “virtually all of the holdings of PACSCL [Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries]," a wealth of documents from Princeton, Bryn Mawr, Villanova, Swarthmore, and many more college and university libraries, as well as the American Philosophical Society, National Archives at Philadelphia, and other august institutions of higher learning and conservation.

Lehigh University “contributed 27 manuscripts amounting to about 5,000 pages,” writes White, including “a 1462 handwritten copy of Virgil’s Aeneid with penciled sketches in the margins" (see above). There are manuscripts from that period like the Italian Tractatus de maleficiis (Treatise on evil deeds), a legal compendium from 1460 with “thirty-one marginal drawings in ink” showing “various crimes (both deliberate and accidental) being committed, from sword-fights and murders to hunting accidents and a hanging.”

The Tractatus' drawings “do not appear to be the work of a professional artist,” the notes point out, though it also contains pages, like the image at the top, showing a trained illuminator's hand. The Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis archive includes 15th and 16th-century recipes and extracts on alchemy, medical texts, and copious Bibles and books of prayer and devotion. There is a 1425 edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English (lacking the prologue and several tales).

These may all seem of recent vintage, relatively speaking, for a medieval archive, but the collection reaches back to the 9th century, with hundreds of documents, like the 1000 AD music manuscript above, from a far earlier time. "Users can view, download and compare manuscripts in nearly microscopic detail," notes White. "It is the nation’s largest regional online collection of medieval manuscripts," a collection scholars can draw on for centuries to come to learn what life was really like—at least for the few who could read and write—in Medieval Times.

via Medievalists.net

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A Free Yale Course on Medieval History: 700 Years in 22 Lectures

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Alice B. Toklas Reads Her Famous Recipe for Hashish Fudge (1963)

toklas cookbook

Alice Babette Toklas met Gertrude Stein in 1907, the day she arrived in Paris. They remained together for 39 years until Stein’s death in 1946. While Stein became the center of the avant-garde art world, hosting an exclusive salon that welcomed the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Toklas largely preferred to stay in Stein’s shadow, serving as her secretary, editor and assistant.

That changed in 1933 when Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas -- a retelling of the couple’s life together with Toklas serving as narrator. The book is Stein’s most accessible and best-selling work. It also turned the shy, self-effacing Toklas into a literary figure.

After Stein’s death, Toklas published The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in 1954, which combined personal recollections of her time with Stein along with recipes and musings about French cuisine. Yet it wasn’t her stories about tending to the wounded during WWI or her opinions on mussels that made the book famous. Instead, it was the inclusion of a recipe given to her by Moroccan-based artist Brion Gysin called “Hashish Fudge.”

In this 1963 recording from Pacifica Radio, Toklas reads her notorious recipe. The snack “might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR,” Toklas notes in her reedy, dignified voice. Then she gets on to the recipe itself:

Take one teaspoon black peppercorns, one whole nutmeg, four average sticks of cinnamon, one teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of Cannabis sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

Toklas concedes that getting the key ingredient “can present certain difficulties” and recommends finding the stuff in the wild, which might have been possible to do in the early 1960s. Nowadays, the best course of action is to move to Washington, Colorado or Uruguay.

In the recording, Toklas then goes on to recall how hashish fudge came to be included into her book.

“The recipe was innocently included without my realizing that the hashish was the accented part of the recipe,” she says without a trace of facetiousness. “I was shocked to find that America wouldn’t accept it because it was too dangerous.”

“It never went into the American edition,” she says. “The English are braver. We’re not courageous about that sort of thing.”

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in January 2014.

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

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Watch L’Inferno (1911), Italy’s First Feature Film and Perhaps the Best Adaptation of Dante’s Classic

In its second decade, cinema struggled to evolve. The first films by the Lumière Brothers and Thomas Edison were short and gimmicky - shots of trains racing towards the screen, couples kissing and cute kittens getting fed. A quick rush. A bit of fun. Its creators didn’t see much past the novelty of cinema but then other filmmakers like Georges Méliès, Edwin S Porter, Alice Guy-Blaché and D.W. Griffith started injecting this new medium with elements of story. It started aspiring towards art.

To this end, filmmakers started to expand the canvas on which they created. Films that were just two to eight minutes lengthened in duration as their stories grew in complexity. The first feature-length movie came in 1906 with the Australian movie The Story of the Kelly Gang. In 1915, D.W. Griffith premiered his racist masterpiece The Birth of a Nation, which crystallized film language and proved that longer movies could be financially successful. In between those two movies came L’Inferno (1911) – perhaps the finest cinematic adaptation of Dante's Inferno out there and the first feature-length Italian movie ever.


Like Griffith, the makers of L’Inferno - Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan and Giuseppe de Liguoro – sought to raise cinema to the ranks of literature and theater. Unlike Griffith, they didn’t really do much to forward the language of cinema. Throughout L’Inferno, the camera remains wide and locked down like the proscenium of a stage. Instead, they focused their efforts on creating gloriously baroque sets and costumes. Much of the film looks like it was pulled straight from Gustave Dorè’s famed illustrations of The Divine Comedy. Yet seeing a picture in a book of a demon is one thing. Seeing it leap around lashing the naked backs of the damned is something else entirely. If you were ever tempted by the sin of simony, you’ll think twice after seeing this film.

L’Inferno -- now added to our collection of Free Movies Online -- became both a critical and commercial hit worldwide, raking in over $2 million (roughly $48 million in today’s money) in the US alone. “We have never seen anything more precious and fine than those pictures. Images of hell appear in all their greatness and power,” gushed famed Italian novelist and reporter Matilde Serao when the film came out.

American film critic for The Moving Picture World, W. Stephen Bush, was even more effusive:

“I know no higher commendation of the work than mention of the fact that the film-makers have been exceedingly faithful to the words of the poet. They have followed, in letter and in spirit, his conceptions. They have sat like docile scholars at the feet of the master, conscientiously and to the best of their ability obeying every suggestion for his genius, knowing no inspiration, except such as came from the fountainhead. Great indeed has been their reward. They have made Dante intelligible to the masses. The immortal work, whose beauties until now were accessible only to a small band of scholars, has now after a sleep of more than six centuries become the property of mankind.”

Of course, the film’s combination of ghoulishness and nudity made it ripe to be co-opted by shady producers who had less that lofty motives. Scenes from L’Inferno were cut into such exploitation flicks as Hell-O-Vision (1936) and Go Down, Death! (1944).

You can watch the full movie above. Be sure to watch to the end where Satan himself can be seen devouring Brutus and Cassius.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in July 2015.

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Gustave Doré’s Dramatic Illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Pretty Much Pop #18 Discusses Stephen King’s Media Empire

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Is the most popular writer of our time actually a good writer? Or maybe he used to be good but has long since run out of inspiration? What are the most effective ways to adapt these very readable short stories and novels? Does showing us the evil in a film lessen its impact? While you've been thinking about those questions, King has already written another book.

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt share their experiences with and opinions about King's oeuvre and the films and shows that have come out of it, including It, "The Body" (aka Stand By Me), The Shining, In the Tall Grass, The Dark Tower, The Stand, Children of the Corn, From a Buick 8, Under the Dome, The Outsider, Mr. Mercedes, Castle Rock, Pet Sematary, Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, and more.

Some articles we read to prepare for this discussion include:

If you've never actually read a Stephen King novella, go ahead and read "The Body."

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.


Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Novel Adaptation

The human imagination can be an extraordinary coping device in times of trouble, a tiny window providing mental escape from whatever cell fate has consigned us to.

Diarist and aspiring professional writer Anne Frank, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 15, chafed at her now-universally-known confinement in the Secret Annex. She chafed at her mother’s authority and the seemingly effortless saintliness of her older sister. Documenting her daily physical and emotional reality offered temporary respite from it.

The liberating power of the creative mind is one of the aspects writer Ari Folman and illustrator David Polonsky sought to tease out when adapting Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as a graphic novel.

The graphic novel format decreed that entire passages would be cut or condensed. Polonsky can use a single panel to show logistics it took Anne paragraphs to describe. The interpersonal conflicts she dwelt on are now conveyed by facial expressions and body language.

As with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón’s 2010 Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biographythe diary’s small stage is expanded to give readers, particularly those unacquainted with the original text, a historical context for understanding the wider social implications of Anne’s tragedy.

But this graphic retelling is unique in that it traffics in magic realist visuals that should play well with 21st-century youth, who cut their teeth on CGI, fast-paced edits, and streaming teen-focused entertainments wherein characters are apt to break the fourth wall or break into song.

These are the readers to whom the project is most intentionally pitched. As Folman told Teen Vogue’s Emma Sarran Webster:

I truly believe that in a few years, when the very last survivors will have died, the angle that will be taken from the story will be that with every year, we are 10 years further away from the original. [...] There is a severe threat that the things we have to learn from it will not be taught and learned if we don’t find a new language for them. So any new language in my opinion is blessed, as long as it stays within the framework and reaches young audiences by means of their tools, which are now very visual.

Ergo, Kitty, Anne’s nickname for her diary, has been personified, emerging from the little plaid book’s pages like Peter Pan’s shadow, ear attentively cocked toward the secrets Anne whispers into it.

The melodramatic Mrs. van Daan’s prized fur coat has an anthropomorphized rabbit head collar, capable of joining in the dialogue.

Polonsky pays homage to artists Edvard Munch, whose “degenerative” work Hitler had removed from German museums, and Gustav Klimt, who painted many works that were confiscated from their Jewish owners by Nazi decree.

Young readers' modern sensibilities also guided Folman’s approach to the text. The spirit of the original is preserved, but certain phrasings have been given a 21st century update.

The snarky Secret Annex menus and diet tips he allows his heroine harken to the direct address of various meta teen comedies, as well as the blistering parody of the Sarajevo Survival Guide, a purported travel guide written during the Siege.

Noble goal of engaging the next generation aside, there are no doubt some purists who will view these innovations as imposition. Rest assured that Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation is sanctioned by Anne Frank Fonds, the charitable foundation established by Anne’s father, Otto.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Peruvian Scholar Writes & Defends the First Thesis Written in Quechua, the Main Language of the Incan Empire

We hear many tragic stories of disappearing indigenous languages, their last native speakers dying out, and the symbolic and social worlds embedded in those languages going with them, unless they’re recorded (or recovered) by historians and archived in museums. Such reporting, sad but necessary, can sometimes obscure the millions of living indigenous language speakers who suffer from systemic neglect around the world.

The situation is beginning to change. The UN has called 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages, not only to raise awareness of the loss of language diversity, but also to highlight the world’s continued linguistic richness. A 2015 World Bank report estimated that 560 different languages are spoken in Latin America alone.

The South American language Quechua—once a primary language of the Incan empire—claims one of the highest number of speakers: 8 million in the Andean region, with 4 million of those speakers in Peru. Yet, despite continued widespread use, Quechua has been labeled endangered by UNESCO. “Until recently,” writes Frances Jenner at Latin American Reports, “the Peruvian government had few language preservation policies in place.”

“In 2016 however, TV Perú introduced a Quechua-language daily news program called Ñuqanchik meaning ‘All of us,’ and in Cusco, the language is starting to be taught in some schools.” Now, Peruvian scholar Roxana Quispe Collantes has made history by defending the first doctoral thesis written in Quechua, at Lima’s 468-year old San Marco University. Her project examines the Quechuan poetry of 20th century writer Alencastre Gutiérrez.

Collantes began her thesis presentation with a traditional thanksgiving ceremony,” writes Naveen Razik at NITV News, “and presented her study titled Yawar Para (Blood Rain),” the culmination of seven years spent “traveling to remote communities in the mountainous Canas region” to “verify the words and phrases used in Gutiérrez’s works.” The examiners asked her questions in Quechua during the nearly two hour examination, which you can see above.

The project represents a significant personal achievement for Collantes who “grew up speaking Quechua with her parents and grandparents in the Acomayo district of Cusco,” reports The Guardian. Collante's work also represents a step forward for the support of indigenous language and culture, and the recognition of Quechua in particular. The language is foundational to South American culture, giving Spanish—and English—words like puma, condor, llama, and alpaca.

But it is “rarely—if ever—heard on national television or radio stations.” Quechua speakers, about 13% of Peruvians, “are disproportionately represented among the country’s poor without access to health services.” The stigma attached to the language has long been “synonymous with discrimination” and “social rejection” says Hugo Coya, director of Peru’s television and radio institute and the “driving force” behind the new Quechua news program.

Collantes' work may be less accessible to the average Quechua speaker than TV news, but she hopes that it will make major cultural inroads towards greater acceptance. “I hope my example will help to revalue the language again and encourage young people, especially young women, to follow my path, “she says. “My greatest wish is for Quechua to become a necessity once again. Only by speaking it can we revive it.” Maybe in part due to her extensive efforts, UNESCO can take Quechua off its list of 2,860 endangered languages.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Flowchart of Philosophical Novels: Reading Recommendations from Haruki Murakami to Don DeLillo

Do you want to read a philosophical novel? Sure, we all do. But the question of exactly what kind of philosophical novel you want to read, let alone which individual book, isn't quite so easily answered. But now a professional has come to the rescue: "Ben Roth, a philosopher who teaches in the Harvard College Writing Program, has put together a kind of flowchart recommending philosophical novels and stories," reports Daily Nous' Justin Weinberg. "With categories like 'about a philosopher,' 'by a Ph.D.,' 'horror,' 'the complications of history,' and many more, the chart is pretty big."

The choices you make in navigating it could land you on the work of a writer from one of a variety of countries, one of several eras, and one of a capacious range of definitions of "philosophical." If you take the word in the sense of a novel's being about or steeped in the work of a particular philosopher, Roth recommends books like Thomas Bernhard's Correction (Wittgenstein) and Teju Cole's Open City (Benjamin and Barthes). Elsewhere on the map he also includes novels written by philosophically credentialed academics like William Gass, Iris Murdoch, and Anuk Arudpragasam.

If you prefer novels where "fiction writers drop into straight essayistic mode," Roth offers a choice between the easy mode of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the hard mode of Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities. (If you just wanted to read about a bunch of philosophy students, well, there's always Donna Tartt's The Secret History.)

To those who go in for more "novelly novels," as Geoff Dyer (a known Bernhard enthusiast and author of some pretty philosophical fiction himself) memorably put it, Roth presents more forks in the road: Would you like to read science fiction? Existentialism? Postmodernism? A book free of -isms entirely, or anyway as free as possible?

Your answers to those questions and others could have you reading anything from J.G. Ballard's Crash ("body horror") to Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea ("mid-century French classic") to David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (postmodern, encyclopedic, on addiction). Other choices may lead you to selections less obviously involved with philosophy: J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, or Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Of course, you may not want to read a philosophical novel at all: you may want to read philosophical short stories, in which case Roth recommends such form-defining figures as Edgar Allan Poe, writer of "disturbing stories"; Lydia Davis, writer of "short stories" (emphasis his); and Jorge Luis Borges, writer of "awe-inducing stories."

Borges and quite a few other names on Roth's philosophical-novel flowchart also appear in critic David Auerbach's "Inquest on Left-Brained Literature," a revealing look at the authors read by "engineers with a literary bent." Both also include Don DeLillo, whose work Auerbach characterizes as making "heavy use of phantasmagoria, complemented by very sophisticated narrative construction," and "simple, visceral, classical themes approached in [a] flashy, novel way." Roth, for his part, describes DeLillo's White Noise as his "favorite book ever." Elsewhere on the flowchart, to the philosophical literature enthusiast who's read everything he offers "the most underrated philosophical novel of all time," Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe. No, I haven't heard of it either, but I have to admit that it keeps good company.

via Daily Nous

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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