A Podcast Exploring the Wit and Weirdness of Medieval Texts

Category: Episodes (Page 2 of 15)

MDT Ep. 80: Concerning Boccaccio’s Description of the Plague

Detail from a 15th-century French manuscript of the Decameron (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 239, fol. 1r.)

We return at last for our first episode of 2020 in the midst of the covid-19 global pandemic. As such, our text for today is the famous description of the bubonic plague as it appeared in Florence in 1348 with which Boccaccio frames his tale collection, the Decameron.

Today’s Text

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni. Stories of Boccaccio (The Decameron). Translated by Léopold Flameng, G. Barrie, 1881. Google Books.


  • Keys, Thomas E. “The Plague in Literature.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, vol. 32, 1944, pp. 35–56. europepmc.org/backend/ptpmcrender.fcgi?accid=PMC194297&blobtype=pdf.
  • Kowalski, Todd J., and William A. Agger. “Art Supports New Plague Science.” Clinical Infectious Diseases, vol. 48, no. 1, Jan. 2009, pp. 137-138. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40309557.
  • Marafiotio, Martin. “Post-Decameron Plague Treatises and the Boccaccian Innovation of Narrative Prophylaxis.” Annali d’Italianistica, vol. 23, 2005, pp. 69-87. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24009628.
  • Martin, Paul M.V., and Estelle Martin-Granel. “2,500-Year Evolution of the Term Epidemic.” Emerging Infectious Diseases, vol. 12, no. 6, pp. 976-980, doi:10.3201/eid1206.051263.
  • “Mortality Frequency Measures.” Centers for Disease Control, Principles of Epidemiology in Public Health Practice, 3rd ed., 12 May 2012, www.cdc.gov/csels/dsepd/ss1978/lesson3/section3.html.
  • “Plague.” Centers for Disease Control, 19 Nov. 2019, www.cdc.gov/plague/index.html.

Image Credit: Detail from a 15th-century French manuscript of the Decameron (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 239, fol. 1r.)

MDT Ep. 79: Concerning Cursed Christmas Carolers and an Unlikely Bishop

Detail of dancers from Bodleian Library MS 264 f. 51v.

This Christmas Eve episode, we return to the Gesta Regum Anglorum of William of Malmesbury, to learn hear some legends of Saxony, including some overly boisterous Christmas revelers cursed to continue their revels for a whole year without rest.

Today’s Text:

  • William of Malmesbury. Chronicle of the Kings of England. Edited by J.A. Giles, translated by John Sharpe and J.A. Giles, George Bell & Sons, 1895. Google Books.


  • Hecker, J.F.C. The Epidemics of the Middle Ages. Translated by B.G. Babington, 3rd ed., Trübner & Co., 1859. Google Books.
  • McDougall, Sara. “Bastard Priests: Illegitimacy and Ordination in Medieval Europe.” Speculum, vol. 94, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 138-172.
  • Thomas, Edith M. “The Christmas Dancers: A Legend of Saxony.” The Century, vol. 59, no. 2, Dec. 1899, pp. 165-173. Google Books.

Music Credit: “Venite, Benedicti” from World of Dante.

Image: detail from Bodleian Library MS 264 f. 51v.

MDT Ep. 78: Concerning the Character of William Rufus and Some Scandalous Shoes

William Rufus as drawn by Matthew Paris

This episode, we explore a character analysis of an unpopular leader, as William of Malmesbury explains how the virtues of William Rufus transformed into his greatest vices. Along the way, we also learn why pointy shoes are indicators of moral degradation.

Today’s Texts:

  • William of Malmesbury. Chronicle of the Kings of England. Edited by J.A. Giles, translated by John Sharpe and J.A. Giles, George Bell & Sons, 1895. Google Books.
  • Orderic Vitalis. The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy. Vol. 2. Translated by Thomas Forester, Henry G. Bohn, 1854. Google Books.


  • Barlow, Frank. William Rufus. Yale English Monarchs, Yale UP, 2000. First published by Methuen London, Ltd., 1983.
  • Disraeli, Isaac. Miscellanies of Literature. Revised ed., vol 1, Baudry’s European Library, 1840. Google Books.Gransden, Antonia. Historical Writing in England. Cornell UP, 1974.
  • Jolliffe, J.E.A. Angevin Kingship. Adam and Charles Buck, 1955.
  • Schütt, Marie. “The Literary Form of William of Malmesbury’s ‘Gesta Regum.'” The English Historical Review, vol. 46, no. 182, Apr. 1931, pp. 255-260. JSTOR,https://www.jstor.org/stable/552950.
  • Shapiro, Susan C. “‘Yon Plumed Dandebrat’: Male ‘Effeminancy’ in English Satire and Criticism.” The Review of English Studies, New Series, vol. 39, no. 155, Aug. 1988, pp. 400-412. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/516769.

Image: William Rufus, as drawn by Matthew Paris (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Medieval Death Trip Christmas Playlist on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5EmlXCdeLV3HPmspb0I9AX?si=xLAmcPy5T-ORU_5xIvvyzg

MDT Ep. 76: Concerning a Glimpse into 15th-Century School Life

Woodcut of a Tudor Grammar School
XJF265591 Schoolroom scene in Tudor times (litho) (b/w photo) by English School, (16th century); Private Collection; (add.info.: Schoolmaster seated holding a birch, usher (assistant) beating a boy; classroom is divided up in ages and stages of learning;); English, out of copyright

We return from our hiatus with an exploration of life in Tudor grammar school classroom, as described in a compilation of translation exercises composed for his students by a master of the Magdalen School, Oxford.

Today’s Text:

Image: Woodcut of a Tudor grammar school (via https://ninenet.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/xjf265591eng/schoolroom-scene-in-tudor-times-xjf265591-eng/).

MDT Vacation Bonus: Dragonslayer Film Commentary

As a treat to all of our listeners while the regular show is on vacation for July, here’s the commentary track I made for the 1981 film Dragonslayer. This was originally released this past winter just to our Patreon supporters, but now everyone can get have chance to enjoy it. Note that this includes a long introduction featuring a reading of the legend of St. George and the Dragon. If you want to jump straight to the actual commentary synced to the film, you’ll need to skip ahead to around the 18-minute mark of the file.


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