[This is an article from Cariadoc's Miscellany. The Miscellany is Copyright (c) by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, 1988, 1990, 1992. For copying details, see the Miscellany Introduction.]

The Little Things

Staying in persona does not mean saying you are a different person. It means being a different person. One of the hardest, and most interesting, parts is getting the little things right. Before you worry about inventing ancestors for seven generations and an elaborate personal history-things which few people tell strangers in any case-it is worth first learning as much as possible about the little things that anyone from your time and land would have known. The more such details you integrate into your medieval self, the better you can convince others (and yourself) that you are your persona.

One way of doing this would be as a group project, involving two successive gatherings a few weeks apart, both held out of persona. In the first, each person tries to stump the others with questions their personae could have answered without thinking-the sort of questions that you could answer without thinking if they were asked of your twentieth century persona. The questions must be ones for which the answer can be learned; invented answers are not allowed.

I suspect that most of us, myself included, would find that we did not know the answers to a majority of the questions. Those who were sufficiently interested could then go home, or to the library, and try to find the answers to as many as possible. In the second gathering, we would come back together to report to each other the answers we had succeeded in finding.

I have not actually participated in such gatherings, but I have spent some time thinking up questions-to some of which, for my own persona, I do not know the answers. Here they are. All are intended to apply to your persona prior to your arrival in the Current Middle Ages.

What kinds of money do you use? What are the relative values of the different kinds? How much does dinner at the inn cost? How much does a horse cost? How much does a skilled worker make per month?

What system do you use to describe what time it is? When does one day end and another begin? How do you tell time (sundial? clock?)?

What system do you use for describing dates? What is your calendar like?

Can you read? If so, what have you read? What poems, tales, etc. have you heard told?

What do you know about history? Have you heard of Alexander the Great? Julius Caesar? Charlemagne? Vergil? Saladin? What do you "know" about each?

What do you know about geography? What is the most distant country you have heard of? The most distant country you have met someone from?

Who is your immediate overlord (title and/or name)? Who is your ultimate overlord?

What is your religion? What duties (prayers, fasts, dietary restrictions, etc.) does it impose? What do you (your persona) know about its doctrines and history?

What do you eat for breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? What do you drink? Where do your food and drink come from? How is the food cooked (style of cooking, tools, how does the oven work, etc.)?

What sorts of wild animals live in your area? Which are dangerous? Which are good to eat? How are the latter hunted?

What clothes do you wear? What are they made of? Where do they come from?

What crops are grown in your part of the world? What goods, if any, are exported, and how are they transported? What goods are imported?

What language(s) do you speak? What language(s) do other people in your town (city, barony...) speak?

If you or one of your friends wrote a poem, what form would you use? What about a song?

What "mythological" beasts do you know about? Which ones do you believe in? What do you believe about them?

Most of these questions are specific to your persona and so may seem to violate the requirement that the answers be researched instead of made up. But in most cases, although research may not tell you for certain what would be true of your persona, it will limit you to a few alternatives. A twentieth century American might plausibly have any of a number of different things for breakfast, but there are far more things that he would not have.

One final remark. Some of you, after reading the list (and perhaps making some additions of your own) will conclude that only a professional scholar can stay in persona. There are few things that must be done perfectly in order to be worth doing, and staying in persona is not one of them. The more such questions you can answer the better a job you can do. Finding the answers-recreational scholarship-is one of the things the Society is about. And fun.

A few Answers:

"Beer, manchet and fish or meat were the usual breakfast of the members of the Percy family, according to the Northumberland Household Book of 1512. The parents were served with a quart of wine as well as a quart of beer, but wine was evidently thought unwholesome for the children, who received beer alone." C. Anne Wilson, Food and Drink in Britain, p.376. She also asserts that pottage was a common breakfast, especially for the poor, in England in the middle ages.

"... the Caliph's breakfast was served him, of the remains of the previous evening's supper, cold lamb or chicken, or some such dish." Eric Schroeder, The People of Mohammad. The reference is to the Caliph Mu`awia.

"There are others who sprinkle ground pepper over the food when it is cut for eating; this is a practice of the Christians and Berbers." From Manuscrito Anonimo, a 13th century Andalusian cookbook.

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A famous saint, Abu-l-Hoseyn En-Nooree, seeing a vessel on the Tigris containing thirty denns (clay jars) belonging to the Caliph Mu`tadid, and being told that they contained wine, took a boat-pole, and broke them all, save one. When brought before the Caliph to answer for this action, and asked by him"Who made thee Mohtesib (inspector of the markets)?" he boldly answered, "He who made thee Caliph!"-and was pardoned.

(From an account of events of the year 295 A.H., cited by Lane in Arabian Society in the Middle Ages)

Some Tricks

To stay in persona is convincingly to be another person. The first one you must convince is yourself. To do so, I find it useful to deliberately adopt certain tricks of behaviour in order to remind myself that I am now Cariadoc and not David.

Some are ways of speaking. I do not speak Arabic (and nobody would understand me if I did) but I can and do adopt medieval Muslim locutions. One example is the practice of always following the name of God with some admiring comment-most commonly "The Compassionate, The Merciful," but sometimes "He that upholds the Heavens without pillars above us" or some other phrase borrowed from period sources. Another is following the name of a good Muslim who is dead with "on whom be peace," and the name of a prophet or a particularly holy man with "on whom be the peace and the blessing"-and adding to the name of a notable non-Muslim the phrase "curses on him for an unbeliever." (I usually omit that one, out of consideration for the perils of being a Muslim in a predominately Christian society.)

Medieval (and modern) Arabs eat only with the right hand, using the left for all "unclean" purposes. I think it likely that a medieval Moor, coming from a similar culture and one heavily influenced by the Arabs, would do the same. Cariadoc does not use his left hand in eating. The practice is not only (I think) authentic; it also provides me with a silent reminder of who, at the moment, I am.

For similar reasons, I do not wear glasses at events. Doing without glasses when I am in persona is not merely a matter of being authentic --- it is also a striking way of reminding myself that I am in a different world. Fuzzier. As an adult, Cariadoc has never seen the stars clearly, and cannot recognize a friend across the length of a hall. Those are some of the ways in which he is a different person from David.

These tricks are mostly ways of convincing myself that I am a different person, although they may help to remind other people as well. Most of them are specific to my persona. The equivalents for your persona I leave for you to discover; they almost certainly exist.

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Yakub bin El-Leyth Es-Saffar, having adopted a predatory life, excavated a passage one night into the palace of Dirhem, the Governor of Sijistan. After he had made up a convenient bale of gold and jewels, and the most costly stuffs, he was proceeding to carry it off, when he happened in the dark to strike his food against something hard on the floor. Thinking it might be a jewel of some sort, a diamond perhaps, he picked it up and put it to his tongue, and, to his equal mortification and disappointment, found it to be a lump of rock-salt. Throwing down his precious booty, he left it behind him, and withdrew empty-handed to his habitation. Next day the governor's treasurer was alarmed to discover that a great part of the treasure and other valuables had been removed; but on examining the package which lay on the floor, his astonishment was not less, to find that not a single article had been conveyed away. The Governor had it proclaimed that if the thief would announce himself, he would be pardoned and rewarded. Yakub, relying upon the promise, presented himself before the governor, and explained that, having by inadvertance tasted the Governor's salt in his house, and so become the Governor's guest, he had been unwilling to violate the laws of hospitality by stealing from his host, and had therefore put down his booty and departed. The governor appointed him to an office of importance, where he gradually rose in power until he became the founder of a Dynasty.

(Based on an anecdote in Arabian Society in the Middle Ages by Edmund Lane).

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir