Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


19.10.06
  Another Exhibition in Magdeburg

The Holy Roman Empire 962-1806 - From Otto the Great to the Close of the Middle Ages

Magdeburg is a days tour from my place, involving a lot of driving, but I'm going to share the job with my father who furtunately likes the Middle Ages, too. We plan to go come Sunday.

I still have some pics from last years tour to share, so here's a detail from the interior of the cathedral.

Otto I (the Great, 912-973) founded a Benedictine monastery in 937, destined to be the burial place for him and his wife Editha. In 968, Magdeburg became seat of an archbishop, in this context the cathedral St. Maurice was enlarged and beautifully equipped with antique porphyr and marble pillars Otto had brought all the way from Ravenna in Italy, together with a collection of relics.

During an incendiary in 1207 most of the cathedral was destroyed, only a few items from the interior decoration could be saved. Two years later, a new cathedral was built in the place, the first Gothic church in Germany. The main part of the cathedral was finished in 1363 (took them some time, lol) but the towers were finished only in 1520. Money problems seem to have been one of the reasons for the delay. The Magdeburg cathedral is even today one of the largest Gothic churches in Germans, the main hall is 120 metres long and the ceiling vaults are 34 metres above ground, the towers rise to 104 metres.

The cathedral was badly damanged in WW2 and rebuilt in 1955. Additional repairs are taking place since the German reunion.

The porphyr pillars in the middle of the picture are from the original building Otto I commissioned.
 


14.10.06
  Roman Spears and Axes

Most of the artefacts excavated at Hedemünden Fort were shown in the local museum of Northeim, a small town north of Göttingen. Photographing in museums is a challenge, if allowed at all, but I managed to get a few decent pics.

Spear points found at Hedemünden

The iron hasta points were attached to wooden shafts. In the right upper corner you can see the iron butt spikes of the shaft end, and the yellowish one in the middle of the pic has been left uncleaned after finding to show what the archaeologists deal with.

Hasta points would be more permanently fixed to the shaft than in case of the pila because those lances are used for stabbing rather than throwing.

Same display seen from the other side

The three points in the middle are classified as iaculum points. Iacula were smaller javelins used by the cavalry. The exhibit to the very right is a spear point as it would look like when it comes fresh out of the earth. TV documentaries showing archaeologists digging out shiny stuff are always edited for the public. Those artefacts need professional cleaing and conservation first.

To the left is the drawing of a fully equipped 1st century legionary (taken from one of the tablets at Hedemünden). They were called 'Marius' Mules' after the consul Gaius Marius (175 - 86 BC) who restructured the Roman army and standardised the equipment. Note that during Marius' time the soldiers would still have been wearing a mail shirt; the lorica segmentata came into fashion only in the first century AD.

The legionary is equipped with the traditional two pila, and you can clearly see the points differ from the hasta ones. The pilum has a solid pyramidal point at the end of a slender iron shank; the shank is then attached to the wooden haft. The idea is that, when thrown, the pilum will continue to penetrate whatever it hits, to a greater depth than a spear. It may even punch through a shield and continue into the body of the shield-bearer. Nice, eh?"

Oh yes, very nice - depending what side you're on. *grin*

The points are also designed to break off the shaft after they got stuck which makes removal even more difficult.

Here is a more recent post about pila, showing a display of pilum points.


Below are some photos of doloabrae. A dolabra is a so called pioneer axe, used to fell trees and such, though it could also be used as weapon if needs be. What is left nowadays are the iron parts; the wooden handles usually have decayed. But the design hasn't changed much over times.

Dolabrae (left) and part of a shovel blade (right) from the Hedemünden finds.

Shovels were needed for digging trenches which formed part of Roman forts and marching camps. It is amazing to imagine that the Romans - according to the sources - on the first night of the Varus battle, after the German attack had already begun albeit not yet full scale, still managed to build a proper marching camp complete with entrenchments and walls. Says something about Roman discipline.

dolabrae

The pic shows some pioneer axes from the Hedemünden finds that were presented in an exhibition in Hannoversch-Münden in 2009 - the year of the 2000 year anniversary of the Varus battle.
 


11.10.06
  69 Operas in 5 Genres

Composed in 25 years. Not to mention a nice collection of chamber music, a few symphonies, and a bunch of religious works (masses, requiems, etc.).

That's the output of Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848). Makes even Sheila look slow. *grin*

Donizetti's first work that has come to us in complete manuscript is Enrico di Borgogna from 1818. His last opera was Dom Sébastien in 1843; the last years of his life he spent in hospital, suffering from what today is thought to have been syphilis.

Some of the operas are shorter, one act pieces (novellas or novelettes) that were played before the main opera by someone else. An evening at the theatre was a society event and general fun, a lot louder than today. And the public was more fickle than some Amazon reviewers.

But most of Donizetti's operas are full fledged novels in the 80-120K range, a few even longer. Also, he had to deal with an Italian censorship which makes the banned book lists of schools in Planet Utah look tolerant.
You couldn't kill a king in an opera, adultery was bad (both influenced fe. the libretto of Ugo Conte di Parigi), no confession scene onstage (which caused troubles for Maria Stuarda), and you could never know what else the censors might come up with.

His genres were:
  • farsa - the shorter pieces I mentioned, of lighthearted content (with an exception, Elvida is a short opera but rather dramatic albeit with happy end)
  • opera buffa - operas with strong humorous elements, though lyrical love is also ok (L'elisir d'amore, Don Pasquale)
  • opera semiseria - operas with a dramatic main plot and humorous subplot/characters, happy end (Linda di Chamonix, Gli esiliati di Siberia)
  • opera seria - the main corpus of Donizett's work, operas with lots of drama, betrayal, unrequited love and usually at least one dead character at the end, his best known is Lucia di Lammermoor (a few have a deus-ex-machina sort of happy ending after all the drama, like L'esule di Roma)
  • grande opéra - operas with drama and unhappy endings that follow the special conditions of the Opéra in Paris, fe. they must include a ballett (Dom Sébastien)


  • Donizetti also rewrote some Italian operas for Paris or the other way round (La Favorita).

    Composers were badly paid (does that sound familiar?) and had almost no copyright protection. To make a living as composer, most of them had to write more than they felt up to (Verdi would later call the times when was obliged to come up with at least one opera a year as his 'galley slave years'). Donizetti doesn't seem to have had problems with the high output but as we've seen, it took its toll later in his life.

    Many composers are forgotten today, their work gathering dust in archives and seldom being revived (like Callas did for Cherubini's Medea). Some, like Donizetti, managed to write a few operas that became so popular they were restaged (usually an opera played only one season in Italy) and still have their place in the theatres today. Rossini is another of those who has a way larger backlist than the popular Il Barbiere di Seviglia.

    In case of Donizetti it was mostly the opere buffe L'elisir d'amore and Don Pasquale, as well as the opera seria Lucia di Lammermoor that survived. Maria Callas already dug out Anna Bolena, an opera seria with lots of coloratura singing and great drama that would let her shine as singer/actress. The Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer revived Maria Stuarda, Roberto Devereux and Belisario, and thus since the 60ies there was some interest in the unknown Donizetti. In the 80ies, Edita Gruberova staged Roberto Devereux and Linda di Chamonix (both were shown in German TV). The interest long concentrated on the later, more mature works of the composer, but recently, his early operas have gained some interest as well, not at least as examples for the development of the Italian opera scene spread over several towns in the early 19th century (Naples, Milan, Venice, Rome, etc.).

    More than half of his oeuvre is avaliable on CD today (some thanks to Opera Rara who have recorded, among others, the early Elvida and Gabriella di Vergy). I now have 24 and I'm going to get my hands on everything I can find, except the above named farsa ones.

    Next time: fun for our Edward fans: L'assedio di Calais (The Siege of Calais - ok, it's Edward III but still an interesting opera)
     


    1.10.06
      Opera Rara

    Fine, I so needed another temptation to spend money on that I don't have.

    Since my TBR pile still supports the ceiling and another Amazon order is on the way to me, I'll go for some opera CDs the next months. I already have a nice collection of unknown operas by Donizetti, and Opera Rara has five more. Yay. Not to mention I need to replace some old Verdi tapes with CDs, and then there's always some Meyerbeer.

    The good thing is our University Library has started to collect CDs and obviously, they found the Opera Rara site, too, so I can loan some and figure out which one I want first - because in the long run, I'm going to want them All. For. My. Very. Own. :-)

    Btw, I wonder if anyone would be interested in posts about opera. It's easy to find information about fe. Verdi's Aida, but what about his Giovanna d'Arco, or Donizetti's Belisario, to name just two. Opera can be fun because of the outrageous plots, lol, and sometimes the history behind a work is interesting.

    Not to mention I love, love, love the music.
     


    Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

    All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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    I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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