Medieval Cooking, and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” at West Point

Posted: January 3, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Came across this site the other day: Gode Cookery.  Looks like crazy fun and really well done and informative.  I’ve been interested in medieval cooking for a while, but have been stymied by two problems: one, I don’t cook that often, and two, medieval recipes are such that you often can’t just decide of an evening “I’m going to cook medieval,” because the recipes often require an ingredient or two that you don’t have just lying around.  One of these days…

On another topic…This has been going around for the last week or so: an interesting article in The New Republic by Professor Elizabeth D. Samet, on the worth and utility of teaching Ovid to plebes at the United States Military Academy.  Really interesting, especially the description of the exercise in which the students (I say “students” rather than “plebes” or “cadets” to emphasize the transferability of the exercise) change “from consumers into authors of myth”:

After reading these myths, the plebes will be asked to invent one of their own: to unleash their unpredictable, insufficiently exercised creativity in the modern reimagining of an ancient metamorphosis. By setting a shape-changing episode within the known worlds of home, high school, or West Point, the plebes will learn how to make the familiar strange and thus to recognize more clearly the lineaments of the stories that surround them. In transplanting Ovid to new soil and exerting some measure of control over a narrative—complex, contradictory, and alien though it may seem—they will begin their own transformation from consumers into authors of myth.

Such an act of imagination seems especially appropriate at this critical phase in the plebes’ journey as soldiers and storytellers. Because, sooner or later, they will arrive at a moment we all experience—when the old stories on which we have relied stop working. Joan Didion describes this crisis in her essay “The White Album,” which explores the dislocations of living in California in the late 1960s: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Didion writes. “Or at least we do for a while.” During this period in her life, she explains, “I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling.”

Professor Samet then goes on to elaborate this point in the remainder of the article.  As an illustration of the method, the usefulness, even the necessity of literature, I think this article is one of the best–certainly the most concise–that I’ve yet read.

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