Lesson #414: Medieval Testicle Removal

A coworker brought me to this lesson when she told me that people in medieval times believed that the left testicle was responsible for female children and, consequently, had a gonadectomy of the left testicle to help ensure a male child.

I know what you’re thinking. That is patently absurd! Sources or GTFO!

Sources for this are…awful. At best, this is a gobbet passed around the interwebs with some uncited small basis in historical fact. More likely, this is the same complete bullshit as the idea floating about the internet that the boiling point of saliva is three times that of regular water.

The best information I can find on this is a single sentence reference to it in a larger response on a page of The Tech Museum of Innovation’s site. But if we look at this logically, it doesn’t make any sense. Even if a bunch of men in medieval Europe — this is an assumption based on the fact that the medieval period in the Eastern world is far more advanced than Europe is — had their left testicles removed, statistically speaking, they still stood a 50% chance of coming out with a female child at the end of gestation. Surely people with some brains would have gotten together and said, “so…that didn’t work” and stopped with the lopping off of testes.

Obviously, I don’t have access to any primary source materials. But lots of places with lots of scholars do. And if there were primary source materials that said, “for a while there, we thought we’d get all boys if we castrated ourselves”, that information would be all over the place. Because the west loves to talk about balls. So let’s just go ahead and take this for what it is — a story that seems good for a light chuckle on the surface while it simultaneously disparages medieval culture for being seemingly lacking in common sense and enforces the patriarchal and historical notion that female children are worth less than male children.

So we’re in agreement then? We’re going to settle on the fact that men in medieval Europe didn’t go about removing a testicle so they could have male children. Cool? Cool.

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Lesson #136: Fire Beacons and Crusader Castles

One of my very favourite parts of the Lord of the Rings is the part where the beacons of Gondor are lit. And that was all fun in my imagination, but Peter Jackson made it beautiful. The way that sequence was filmed was probably my favourite part of the movies, which is sort of ridiculous because it’s such a minute detail (that looked very beautiful).

Anyway, today, we drove from Amman to Petra on the King’s Highway (mostly) and checked out Madaba, Herod’s Palace at Machaerus and Kerak Castle. Kerak was occupied by many, many different people including the Moabites, the Assyrians, the Nabateans, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans and the crusaders. Mostly, Kerak Castle is famous for being a crusader fort.

My travel companion is a. a teacher, b. intellectually curious and c. has lived in Jordan for four years, so has been to many of these sites on more than one occasion when she has friends and family visit, so she has thrown more information at me in the last four days than I could ever hope to remember on command, but today, she came out with this gem…

The crusader castles used fire beacons to signal Jerusalem that they were safe. And other occupants of Jordanian castles, especially along the King’s highway were built at specific intervals so that they could transmit information by way of fire beacons from Cairo all the way to the Euphrates.

I geeked out really hard over that. Internally mostly, but it still happened.

Also, we saw the most awesome thing ever tonight. We got in to Petra this evening and decided that since we had the opportunity, we would do Petra by Night — wherein they put out a trail of lights all through the Siq all the way to the Treasury. Anyway, it was a beautiful clear night out…and Orion (who in every place I’ve ever lived, is already gone for the summer by this time of year) was bright as day standing guard over the entrance to the Siq. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!

Lesson #44: Chansons de Geste

If you’re wondering how I got to this topic, I came by way of Wagner (or Mozart)’s composition of ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana.*

Anyway, a few steps later, I ended up looking into the chansons de geste. The chansons de geste are medieval (11th-13th centuries) French epic poems forming the base of the Charlemagne legend and are typical in their composition in that they narrate stories of heroic adventure and great deeds.** The most famous of these is The Song of Roland, but there are more than 80 in total.***

*Seriously. I actually read today that either Wagner (wrong) or Mozart (VERY wrong) composed Orff’s masterpiece. My soul cries.

**Like epics from pretty much everywhere in the western world beginning with one of my very favourite pieces of literature, Homer’s Iliad and including such heroes as Grettir the Strong (Iceland — Sagas of the Icelanders), Cu Chulainn (Ireland — The Ulster Cycle) and Väinämöinen (Finland — Kalevala).

***If you read French, descriptions for all of the chansons de geste can be found here.