Barbarians: who knew?

What does a teacher do when a student calls another a name that is just plain wrong?

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Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.

So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.

The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.

It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?

Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.

Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised.  Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.

Barbarians
The Barbarians. https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/416794140495615038/

Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess.
(Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?) 

The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.

The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth”  was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf,  as told in the oldest English poem in existence.

Scandinavia at the time of Beowulf.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42

They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.

Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.

It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way.  Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.

By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.

 

If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing. 

RIP George Michael et al 2016

“RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone…”

RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone.
First Bowie, then Prince and Rickman
And then it was Leonard Cohen.
But Donald Trump is alive and well –
What drug has this year been on?

The Perils of Being a Teacher #23

Today I’ve been given a Year 8 Maths class to cover for a teacher who is away. 

Maths. Seriously? 

I struggled with Year 8 Maths when I was in Year 8. I have no hope of appearing to master it now, no matter how good an actress or improviser I may be. 

So I advised the class: “I expect you to work quietly and stay focused on your work. If you need help, I strongly advise asking one of your classmates, because I am not going to be of any help to you.”

One boy raised his hand and asked incredulously, “Are you saying you can’t do Year 8 Maths?”

“What I’m saying,” I replied, “Is that my career as a teacher should be an encouragement to anyone who struggles in one area or another. You can be successful, even if something like Maths defies you.”

The strugglers in the class smiled, and everyone settled down to their work. They seem to know what they’re doing. 

Phew. Dodged a bullet there. 

Dumb.

 

2015-11-24 23.28.04

 

Haters can be so dumb.
I wonder if the guy who made the sign was in a hurry, careless, or just genuinely ignorant of the mistake he made.

Everything about this annoys me. Especially the hate.

I have no time for people who will brand all the members of one group by what a few people, who claim to be the representatives of that group, do.
I resent their attempts to change the fabric of society and the blanket statements they make.

As I’ve said before, IS claiming to be Muslim is like the KKK or Hitler claiming to be Christian.

So I decided to take the sign literally and have a little fun at the haters’ expense.  Just because I could.

No offence is intended. Unless, of course, you’re one of the haters.
Then it’s a bonus.

Karma and 90s music. 

Tonight I did a terrible thing. 

A friend and I were discussing a relationship breakup and, in response to a question, the first thing that came to mind was a lyric from a Mariah Carey song.  The fact that I initially thought it might have been Whitney Houston doesn’t absolve me from quoting it to her. 

My brainPod is generally rather genius at pulling up lyrics from songs in response to random words and actions, but even I was shocked at the cruelty of my memory in dredging that up. I felt kind of bad for inflicting the video clip on her, too. 

Some kind of friend I am. Thankfully, we were both able to laugh about it. 

Karma had the last laugh, though. 

Knowing I have to get up early for work, Karma waited until I was about to drift off and then she made Tony Delroy, host of the radio program I always listen to, play the theme song from Titanic. 

Freakin‘ Celine Dion.  

I cannot stand her. As much as I love Canada, and as much as I don’t want to offend anyone who loves her, I think she’s bloody dreadful. 

I heard the first few notes of the flute and groaned, “Kill me now!” I turned the volume right down but it was too late. The damage was done. 

And here I am, wide awKe and blogging about it instead of sleeping.

Karma is, indeed, a bitch, but at least she has a sense of humour.