I can never make up my mind about whether I believe in Progress. Sure, many more people have all their teeth nowadays, and, with the exception of the subway station I used to use in Brooklyn, you don't encounter as much shit on the streets; but, on the other hand, aren't we just the same apes we always were -- just with better access to home improvement projects on the Internet? The fundamental things apply, as time goes by, and all that. (Another argument against: the kind of Kunstlerian apocalypse-of-progress forecasts you read about in the comments of The Oil Drum. Maybe improved public health will be the cause of our downfall after all.)
The reason why I'm bringing up this ambivalence is because today we have some crazy Arthurian stories from Malory, and it reminds me of the kind of "childhood of the race" kind of intellectual history I used to encounter here and there: like, back in medieval times, people were not only shorter, but they acted shorter - i.e. like children. This always seemed to me to be privileging our own moment to a high degree; who are we to patronize these old-school writers? They didn't even have eyeglasses!
However, today's story really does seem like something a kid would think up: our guys (Percival, Galahad, etc.) are stopping by a castle:
So in the meanwhile there came out a ten or twelve knights armed, out of the castle, and with them came gentlewoman which held a dish of silver. And then they said: This gentlewoman must yield us the custom of this castle. Sir, said a knight, what maid passeth hereby shall give this dish full of blood of her right arm.Some custom. Our (three) knights, sensibly, call bullshit. They then have to fight first, ten knights, and then, no lie, sixty:
Then there came out of the castle a three score [! -- ed.] knights armed. ... We will let you go with this harm, but we must needs have the custom. Certes, said Galahad, for nought speak ye. Well, said they, will ye die? We be not yet come thereto, said Galahad. Then began they to meddle together, and Galahad, with the strange girdles, drew his sword, and smote on the right hand and on the left hand, and slew what that ever abode him...This also seems a little kid-like, as does the heading of the next part: "How Sir Pericivale's Sister Bled a Dish Full of Blood for to Heal a Lady, Wherefore She Died; and How That the Body Was Put in a Ship." And that's what it's about. They need the blood to heal the lady of the castle; Sir Percivale's sister, who I guess was around but didn't take part in the hot three-on-sixty killing action, has the magic blood that heals the lady of the castle. (I also like the frank self-interest she expresses as her motive: "an I die for to heal her I shall get me great worship and soul’s health, and worship to my lineage." Sort of like endowing your alma mater's new basketball arena, but with blood.
Maybe she's more modern than I think. In fact, maybe I'm selling Malory short -- god knows there's a lot of kid-like entertainment these days, and back then the literate demographic was even smaller than it is today. So bring on the sixty dead maidens -- at least it will help us understand Monty Python better.
Hey, this bottle's empty. Must do something about that.