Medieval Death Trip

A Podcast Exploring the Wit and Weirdness of Medieval Texts

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MDT Ep. 82: Concerning Plague Persecutions

This episode, we examine the persecution of Jews that occurred during the plague years of 1348-1350, including the record of well-poisoning interrogations, the pope’s attempt to quell the violence, and a Jewish account of the persecutions and resistance. 

Today’s Texts

  • “Appendix 2: Examination of the Jews Accused of Poisoning the Wells.” The Epidemics of the Middle Ages, by J.F.C. Hecker and translated by B.G. Babington, 3rd ed., Trübner & Co., 1859, pp. 70-74. Google Books.
  • Clement VI. Bull of 1 Oct. 1348 [Latin text]. Acta Salzburgo-Aquilejensia, edited by Alois Lang, vol. 1, VerlagsBuchhandlung Styria, 1903, pp. 301-302. Google Books.
  • Joseph ha-Kohen. The Chronicles of Rabbi Joseph Ben Joshua Ben Meir, the Sphardi. Translated by C.H.F. Bialloblotzky, vol. 1, Richard Bentley, 1835. Google Books.


Consulted for translation comparisons

  • Horrox, Rosemary, translator and editor. The Black Death. Manchester Medieval Sources, Manchester UP, 1994.
  • “Quamvis perfidiam Iudeorum.” Translated into French by Claire Chauvin, RELMIN, Université de Nantes, 2013,

Music credit: Hershman, Mordechai, performer. “Rochel Mevake Al Bonaiho.” 1921. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Image: Photo of Chillon Castle on Lake Geneva,  by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay.

MDT Ep. 81: Concerning More Descriptions of the Plague

Figure of a bubo being treated from the Bristol City Library MS of Guy de Chauliac's Chirugia Magna.

As life under quarantine begins to enter a new phase, we continue our survey of plague texts, with a grab-bag of selections ranging from Petrarch baring his soul to a surgeon listing failed remedies to some Paris professors issuing pandemic guidelines to keep the country safe, which include by no means consuming olive oil.

Today’s Texts

  • Capgrave, John. The Chronicle of England. Edited by Francis Charles Hingeston, Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1858. Google Books.
  • Dobson, Susanna, translator. The Life of Petrarch. Collected from Memoires pour la vie de Petrarch by Jacques-Francois-Paul-Aldonce De Sade, vol. 2, 7th ed., W. Wilson, 1807. Google Books.
  • Guy de Chauliac, Grand Chirurgie. “Description of the Plague.” Tr.  by Anna M. Campbell. Reprinted from Campbell, The Black Death and Men of Learning, pp. 2-3, 1931.
  • Guy de Chauliac, Grand Chirurgie. “Description of the Plague.” Tr.  by William A. Guy. Public Health: A Popular Introduction to Sanitary Science, Henry Renshaw, 1870, pp. 48-50. Google Books.
  • Petrarch, “Letter to Gherard, May 1349.” Translated by Francis Aidan Gasquet in The Black Death of 1348 and 1349, 2nd ed., George Bell and Sons, 1908, pp. 33-34. Google Books.
  • “Statement of the Faculty of the College of Physicians of Paris.” In The Epidemics of the Middle Ages, by J.F.C. Hecker, translated by B.G. Babington, 3rd ed., Trübner & Co., 1859, pp. 47-49. Google Books.


  • Hecker, J.F.C. The Epidemics of the Middle Ages. Translated by B.G. Babington, 3rd ed., Trübner & Co., 1859. Google Books.
  • “May You Live in Interesting Times.” Quote Investigator, 18 Dec. 2015, Accessed 21 May 2020.

Image: Figure of a bubo being treated from the Bristol City Library MS of Guy de Chauliac’s Chirugia Magna. In Singer, Charles. “The Figures of the Bristol Guy de Chauliac MS. (circa 1430).” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 10, pp. 71–90,

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.
  • 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,
  • Marafiotio, Martin. “Post-Decameron Plague Treatises and the Boccaccian Innovation of Narrative Prophylaxis.” Annali d’Italianistica, vol. 23, 2005, pp. 69-87. JSTOR,
  • 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,
  • “Plague.” Centers for Disease Control, 19 Nov. 2019,

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,
  • 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.

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

The Medieval Death Trip Christmas Playlist on Spotify:

Robert Henryson’s “The Tale of the Paddock and the Mouse”

By listener request, here is my reading version of Robert Henryson’s “The Taill of the Paddok and the Mous,” lightly adapted for modern English speakers by me, as featured in Episode 73.

Upon a time, as Aesop could report,
A little Mouse came to a river side;
She might not wade, her shanks were so short;
She could not swim, she had no horse to ride:
Of verray force behove it her to bide,
And to and fro beside that river deep
She ran, crying with many piteous peep.

“Help over, help over,” this silly Mouse did cry,
“For God’s love, somebody over this brim.”
With that a Paddock in the water by
Put up her head, and on the bank did climb;
Quick by nature could duck, and gayly swim.
With voice full rauk, she said on this manner:
“Good morne, Sir Mouse, what is your errand here?”

“Seeist thou,” quod she, “of corn yon jolly flat
Of ripe oats, of barley, peas, and wheat;
I am hungry, and fain would be there-at,
But I am stopped by this water great;
And on this side I get nothing to eat
But hard nuts, which with my teeth I bore.
Were I beyond, my feast were far the more.

“I have no boat, here are no mariners:
And, though there were, I have no freight to pay.”
Quod she, “Sister, let be your heavy cheer;
Do my counsel, and I shall find the way
Without horse, bridge, boat, or yet galley,
To bring you over safely—be not affeared!
And not wetting the whiskers of your beard.”

“I have great wonder,” quod the silly mouse,
How can thou float without feather or fin?
This river is so deep and dangerous,
Me think that thou should drowned be therein.
Tell me, therefore, what faculty or gyn
Thou has to bring thee over this water?” Than
Thus to declare the Paddock soon began:

“With my two feet,” quod she, “lucken [webbed] and broad,
Instead of oars, I row the stream full still;
And though the brine be perilous to wade,
Both to and fro I row at my own will.
I may not drown, for why?—my open gill
Devoids all the water I receive:
Therefore to drown forsooth no dread I have.”

The Mouse beheld unto her fronsit [furrowed] face,
Her wrinkled cheeks, and her lips wide;
Her hanging brows, and her voice so hoarse;
Her gangly legs, and her harsky hide.
She ran aback, and on the Paddock cried:
“If I know any skill of physiognomy,
Thou has some part of falseness and envy.

“For Clerks say the inclination
Of man’s thought proceeds commonly
After the corporeal complexion
To good or evil, as nature will apply:
A twisted will, a twisted physiognomy.
The old proverb is witness of this: Lorum
Distortum vultum, sequitur distortio morum.”

“No,” quod the Toad, “that proverb is not true;
For fair things oft times are found fake.
The blueberries, though they be sad of hue,
Are gathered up when primrose is forsaken.
The face may fail to be the heart’s token.
Therefore I find this Scripture in all places:
Thou should not judge any man after his face.

“Thought I unwholesome be to looked upon,
I have no cause why I should be found lacking;
Were I else fair as jolly Absolon,
I am no causer of that great beauty.
This difference in form and quality
Almighty God has caused dame Nature
To print, and set in every creature.

“Of some the face may be full flourished;
Of silken tongue, and cheer right amorous;
With mind inconstant, false, and varying;
Full of deceit, and means cautelous.”
“Let be thy preaching,” quod the hungry Mouse;
And by what craft thou make me understand
That thou would guide me to yon yonder land?”

“Thou wait,” quod she, “a body that has need,
To help themself should many ways cast:
Therefore go take a double twined thread,
And bind thy leg to mine with knots fast;
I shall thee teach to swim—be not aghast!—
As well as I.” “As thou,” then quod the Mouse,
“To prove that play it were right perilous.

“Should I be bound and fast where I am free,
In hope of help, now then I shrew us both;
For I might lose both life and liberty.
If it were so, who should amend the scathe?
But if thou swear to me the murder oath,
Without fraud or guile, to bring me over this flood,
Without hurt or harm.” “In faith,” quod she, “I do it.”

She gawked up, and to the heavens did cry:
“О Jupiter! of Nature god and king,
I make an oath truly to thee, that I
This little Mouse shall over this water bring.”
This oath was made. The Mouse, not perceiving
The false engine of this foul, deceitful Toad,
Took thread and bound her leg, as she her bade.

Then foot for foot they lept both in the brim;
But in their minds they were right different:
The Mouse thought of nothing but for to swim,
The Paddock for to drown set her intent.
When they in midward of the stream were went,
With all her force the Paddock pressed down,
And thought the Mouse without mercy to drown.

Perceiving this, the Mouse on her did cry:
“Traitor to God, and mansworn unto me,
Thou swore the murder oath right now, that I
Without hurt or harm should ferried be and free;”
And when she saw there was but do or die,
With all her might she forced her to swim,
And pressed upon the Toad’s back to climb.

The dread of death her strengths gave increase,
And forced her defend with might and main.
The Mouse upward, the Paddock down did press;
While to, while fro, while ducking up again.
This silly Mouse, thus plunged into great pain,
Kept fighting as long as breath was in her breast;
Till at the last she cried for a priest.

As they fought thusly, the Glede sat on a branch,
And to this wretched battle took good heed;
And with a wisk, before any of them wist,
He clutched his claw betwix them in the thread,
Then to the land he flew with them good speed,
Glad of that catch, piping with many a pew:
Then loosed them, and both without pity slew.

Then disemboweling them, that butcher, with his bill,
And peeling the skin, full keenly them flayed;
But all their flesh would scant be half a fill,
And guts also, unto that greedy Glede.
When he had their debate thus settled,
He took his flight, and over the fields flew:
If this be true, ask ye at them that saw.


My Brother, if thou will take notice,
By this Fable, thou may perceive and see,
It passes for all kind of pestilence,
A wicked mind, with words fair and sly.
Beware therefore, with whom thou fellows thee:
To thee were better to bear the stone wheelbarrow,
For all thy days to delve while thou may endure,
Than to be matched with a wicked marrow.

A false intent under a fair presence
Has caused many innocent for to die.
Great folly is to give over soon credence
To all that speak fairly unto thee.
A silken tongue, a heart of cruelty,
Smites more sore than any shot of arrow.
Brother, if thou be wise, I advise thee flee,
Than match thee with a twisted feigned marrow.

I warn thee also, it is great negligence
To bind thee fast where thou was frank and free.
For once thou be bound, thou may make no defence
To save thy life, nor yet thy liberty.
This simple counsel, brother, take of me,
And it to learn by heart: see thou not tarrow;
Better but strive to life alone in peace
Than to be matched with a wicked marrow.

This hold in mind; right more I shall thee tell
Whereby these beasts may be figured.
The Paddock, used in the flood to dwell,
Is man’s body, swimming early and late
Into this World, with cares implict;
Now high, now low; at times plunging up, at times down;
Ever in peril, and ready for to drown.

Now dolorous, now blithe as bird on briar;
Now in freedom, now wrapped in distress;
Now hale and sound, now dead and brought on bier;
Now pure as Job, now surrounded in riches;
Now gowns gay, now rags laid in a chest;
Now full as fish, now hungry as a hound;
Now on the wheel, now wrapped to the ground.

This little Mouse here tied thus by the shin
The Soul of man betoken may indeed;
Bound, and from the body may not win,
While cruel Death can break of life the thread;
The which to drown should ever stand in dread,
Of carnal lust by the suggestion,
Which draws ever the soul, and drags it down.

The water is the World, always weltering
With many wail of tribulation;
In which the soul and body were stirred,
Standing right different in their opinion:
The soul upward, the body presses down;
The soul right fain would be brought over, I wis,
Out of this world unto the heavens’ bliss.

The Glede is Death, that comes suddenly
As does a thief, and ends soon the battle.
Be vigilant therefore, and always ready;
For man’s life is brittle, and ever mortal:
My friend, therefore, make thee a strong Castle
Of faith in Christ; for Death will thee assay,
Thou knows not when: evening, morrow, or midday.

Adieu, my friend; and if that any asks
Of this Fable so shortly I conclude,
Say thou, I left the rest unto the Friars,
To make example and a similitude.
Now Christ for us that died on the rood,
Of soul and life, as thou art Savior,
Grant us to pass until a blessed hour.

The original text can be found here:

  • Henryson, Robert. “The Taill of the Paddok and the Mous.” The Poems and Fables of Robert Henryson, edited by David Laing, William Paterson, 1865. Google Books.
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