“Now, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum,” Alcuin famously advised Charlemagne in a letter that outlined the dangers of proselytizing to conquered tribes, “and what might be right for you may not be right for some.”
Medievalists know this better than anyone—which is why, as Christmas approacheth, the e-mails keep coming, as relentless as pistachio mongers in eighth-century Aleppo: Jeff, what should I get for the medievalist in my life?
Shopping for medievalists is easy. Here are ideas for unusual presents, all of which will be more gratefully received than those Medieval Times gift certificates you gave everybody last year.
Turn tesserae of taste into a floor mosaic of flavor with A Taste of Byzantium: The Cuisine of a Legendary Empire.
Wipe away that gazelle-milk mustache and dine like a caliph with Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World.
Dig for traces of medieval history in Joan Nathan’s new book, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.
Let fly the yams! Defend the Land of Cockayne with a tabletop trebuchet (I’ve built this one! It’s pretty neat), and then lay siege to the sweet, spongy fortress that falls from your castle-shaped bundt pan.
Pretend this doesn’t sound dirty: Set your mouth on fire with Dante’s Inferno Balls.
“The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No lamprey! No lamprey sandwiches! No lamprey salad! No lamprey gravy! Lamprey hash! Lamprey à la king! Or gallons of lamprey soup! Gone, all gone!” So go on, order tinned sea lamprey from Russia and feast like Havelok the Dane.
THE BUSINESSE OF MEDIEVALISM IS BUSINESSE
Do your loved ones live where Beowulf and strategic pricing techniques intersect? Refer them to Wiglaf Pricing, which “take[s] up Wiglaf’s example and seek[s] to aid executives in making the right decision under difficult circumstances to yield dramatic strategic improvements.”
“VITÐ ÉR ENN, EÐA HVAT?”
Medieval Icelanders deployed the term “downward-facing dog” with unseemly specificity. Nonetheless, a lesson in runic yoga will de-stress your workaholic Viking.
The next time someone whines that medieval texts are unfilmable, hit them, literally, with this: the Icelandic adaptation of Gisli’s Saga on DVD. (While you’re ordering across the whale-road, why not snag some soda named after Egil Skallagrimsson?)
FROM THE SNORRI STURLUSSON BATHTIME FUN COLLECTION
You’ll be eager to hit the clubs and father all of Europe after scrubbing with Charlemagne Shower Gel.
I don’t know what to say about soap inspired by Dante’s Purgatorio, beyond “don’t get any in your eyes!”
Like Ibn Fadlan, I have mixed feelings about Beowulf soap made from honey and beer.
Wife of Bath bath salts may give your ablutions auctoritas, but they’re no substitute for experience—or penicillin.
HALL, HEARTH, AND HOVEL
Swing by the Got Medieval store, where Carl sells an awesome assortment of household doodads featuring medieval manuscript monkeys.
Make your den look all the jauntier with details from English cathedrals. (I especially like the hedgehog.) Or line your mantle with Chaucer-themed art tiles from the Moravian Tile Works in Pennsylvania.
While waiting for your vowels to shift, have a drink and admire the Norman knights coaster set.
How tired must Martin Foys be of nodding and smiling every time he unwraps these Bayeux Tapestry cushion covers?
BAUBLES FROM THE GIFSTOL
Develop a new ear for Middle English with Ellesmere mini-Chaucer earrings.
Don’t just study Chaucer’s Prioress; be her, with this AMOR VINCIT OMNIA bracelet.
Every woman longs to hear it: “He went to the Pierpont Morgan Library!” This Christmas, give her jewelry based on the cover of the Lindau Gospels.
There’s a poem in this: a heart encased in chain mail.
MIRABILE VISU (ET DICTU)
Grendel’s mom sez: “Preserve your child’s teeth and hair in a pewter castle-shaped reliquary—but catch the shrieks in a cup of gold.”
Incubus wearing you out at night? Secure your bedchamber with a dragon-themed lock and key.
Write a check for $64,350 and that 15th-century printed copy of Boethius can be yours. (Take heart: shipping is only $10.)
In the “Quid Plura?” household, we’re all about the True Meaning of Christmas: the anniversary of Charlemagne’s imperial coronation. This year, rock like a tinsel-draped Carolingian with Christopher Lee’s weighty-brass concept album, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross.
A mere $3.3 million can buy you the lifestyle of a heavy-metal medievalist: the late Ronnie James Dio’s house is for sale.
No one ever gets me what I really want: a picture of Dante and Beatrice in the Lincoln Tunnel.
It’s Iceland, or Fontenoy, or Hastings, or this place, when your head’s down over the pieces of the Lego Castle chess set or the Lego Viking chess set. (They can always pillage the Lego Medieval Market Village.)
If cerebral tabletop games are your thing, try the highly abstract (and fascinating looking) Carolus Magnus.
Pre-order The Sims Medieval, though you won’t see it until March.
“AND EEK IN WHAT ARRAY THAT THEY WERE INNE…”
This isn’t strictly medieval, but those of you in academia may want the Lands’ End “FeelGood Professor Cardigan.” (If you’ve a Ph.D, students can call you “Doctor FeelGood.”)
If you further need to look the part, the Canterbury Cathedral Shop sells a necktie featuring the heraldic shield of the Black Prince of Wales and a Canterbury Tales stained-glass window scarf.
Maybe Christmas isn’t the right season to draw attention to a sexy female Robin Hood costume, but it’s a fine time to remind you not to dress your child like a medieval monk. (And please, I beg you, don’t dress your dog as a jester.)
Happy shopping—and nowell!