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GEN - bekah

expastic in medievalstudies

in the avoidance of anachronisms

Hello all!

I have probably a very odd question to propose, but I figured you all would definitely be the ones to ask. ;) If this isn't community appropriate in any way, let me know and I'll be glad to take it down. :)

A little background: I'm currently taking an "honours tutorial" at my school called Zombies and Philosophy. Yes, you read that correctly. A course on zombies. ;) It is quite wonderful, although pretty intense. Anyway, we have a final project coming up and it's a "creative project" where we have to write/film/draw something creative about both zombies and philosophy/social and political matters. I think I'm either going to draw a fairly short graphic novel or write a short story.

But the point is, I have decided that I would really like to base my story in medieval times! I can't really think of anything cooler than a medieval zombie plague, can you? :D

Basically my medieval knowledge stems from television shows and films which are pretty laughable in their historical inaccuracies for the most part. I want to make sure I don't turn in a project that is rife with historical anachronisms or simply has information that's made up. (Although my next semester of school will hopefully include a course on King Arthur. Fun!)

Can anyone offer any insight as to what the protocol would be in a situation such as attack or plague in medieval times? I know I'm going to have to improvise some of the information a bit on account of the fictional zombie element, but I can try and make it as realistic as possible. What would the kings do in case of attack? How about the people? Would the king be more concerned with the immediate castle areas and not worry about the hinterlands? Were there court physicians that would investigate the cause of the zombies? What about the army that would fight them? I definitely don't expect anyone to do my research for me, but I don't have the time to learn medieval history completely, so anything is helpful.

I appreciate any insight at all, and especially everyone putting up with my ridiculousness! Thanks! :D

(cross-posted at askahistorian)


I can't really think of anything cooler than a medieval zombie plague, can you?

...Possibly, but it would take a lot of thought, and possibly ninjas. ;)

Seriously, you might be better off going ahead with some anachronisms, and a satirical/ironic sort of Monty Python 'bring out your dead' kind of thing. Other than that, check out some records on the Black Plague, I imagine.
Haha, that's a good point actually. I'll ask my professor if I can approach this in a satirical way for the sake of...everything. :P


Sorry, as of 6:05 this evening I've already landed the movie rights. You'll have to change your topic, I'm afraid.

Re: Shotgun!

LOL!! Here, I'll write the book and then you can make the movie based on the book. ;) ;) ;)

I'm actually really surprised that there aren't any zombie films set in the past. INSTANT FUN!

Edited at 2008-11-24 12:49 am (UTC)

Re: Shotgun!

Haha, we actually talked about that in my class! I've been meaning to check it out. :D
I only wish I had the humour of Monty Python. ;)
It might help to look up anything and everything you can find about Revenants, especially the Wm. of Newburgh source.

Also I would look at the parallels you can find for both royal behavior during plagues (esp. THE one of 1348-49) and during war time, and see how much you can combine them/overlap. Obviously it would depend most on the temperament of the king in question--he might go ahead and lead an army against the horde, or he might send out his younger sons to do so (assuming he had any). It would also depend on the country, but I'm going to hazard a guess you're intending UK as your location.

There would definitely be a court physician but given medieval medicine I'm not sure how much help he would be :/

Given the supernatural element at work here I'd definitely think you'd want the royalty/leaders/TPTB to be in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury or his analogue.

WOAH, that is all SO FANTASTIC. Thank you!! :)

Ahaha, I know, right? I wish more schools would offer interesting classes like that. It makes learning about otherwise dull/dense material REALLY FUN. :D
Good luck!!! and Don't hesitate to post your story on here when you're done ^_^
Thank you!! I'll be sure to, definitely. It's due December 19, so keep a weather eye open. ;)
The opening of Boccaccio's Decameron has a vivid description of how people in medieval Florence reacted to the plague. E-text here.
Oh, wow, thank you so much!! That's tremendously helpful!!
How cool!

The first thing that came to mind on an analogue is the draugar from Icelandic sagas, but that's only because I"m an Anglo-Saxonist - so this might not help. They're not really zombies but they are fleshy former people who get up out of their graves and cause havoc. The social stuff comes in in the *ways* they cause havoc - running people off land, destroying the fertility of cropland, scarring Icelandic heroes for life, stuff like that. If you look at Eyrbyggja saga I think there's something in there - it's been a while since I've worked on this. I know there's an essay by William Sayers called “The Alien and Alienated as Unquiet Dead in the Sagas of the Icelanders" in JJ Cohen's _Monster Theory._ It might give you an idea of how Icelanders dispatched of these guys anyway, and give you a quick overview of the draugar situ without having to hit a bunch of books.

In any case, good luck - what a cool project.
Woah, that is AWESOME. :D I wasn't even aware of that legend! Very cool. I'll definitely try and tie that in somewhere. :D

Thank you!!
I have nothing to add but cheers from the sidelines. Sounds awesome. :D
In fact, I'm going to add this post to my favorites. *labels as "medieval zombies"...*
In fact, I'm going to add this post to my favorites

:D :D :D You're all so lovely. Thanks!!
AW, thanks! :D I'll be sure to post again when it's finished!!
You make me think of the hordes of the dead during the Black Plague rising... I think the kings would retire with their whores and lords and hide, waving dried toads and 'herbal remedies'. I guess the knights and guards would be busy, ne'?
Yeah, totally! I think I'm going to go with Black Plague stuff. It's all so fascinating!!
As a lapsed fabliaux scholar, may I suggest you give your zombies a nicely authentic medieval touch by fitting them with flying penises and ambulatory vulvas? Sadly, I am unaware of authenticated medieval flying vulvas--but perhaps someone knows better...
Also check out the movie: Masque of the Red Death - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Masque_of_the_Red_Death_(film). There are several versions of this, including a 1989 remake with Adrian Paul.
Man, that cracked me up.
WOW. That is awfully special. :D :D
Suggest you have a look at stuff relating to leprosy. Can't reccomend anything off the top of my head (not something I've ever particuarly studied), but medieval reactions to that were fairly extreme & might give you some ideas about zombies.

An intresting perspective, & I might be slightly wrong is that in medieval times, at judgement day the dead were supposed to rise up in their own bodies (plus all the stuff in revelations.) therefore it is possible to suppose that until they started eating brains on a large scale, a medieval reaction to zombies might be quite different to a modern 'omg, dead person, run!!' one. Although everyone was incredibly scared of judgement day & going to hell, people might be a lot more positive towards the zombies that we would & assuming judgement day was at hand, would be far more worried about a lot of other stuff.

I know there are sources on judgement day apart form the bible, but I think the coolest stuff is from medieval wall paintings. There is an amazing one in Stratford-upon-Avon near where my parents live, in the Guild chappel. I can't find a good picture on google though this site gives a general idea. http://www.thearnott.com/
Seconding the "medieval reactions might be different" thing, especially given that everyone believed that the resurrection before the final judgement would be a bodily one--that is, you would actually get up out of your grave and go see Christ. Thus, in part, the importance of proper burial.

Personally "medieval zombies" makes me think of Chaucer's "Prioress' Tale" in which a young boy is slain by Jews, reanimated by the Virgin, and then wanders around singing incessantly until someone removes the magic seed from his mouth. I emphasize the word "reanimated" because there are some seriously uncomfortable textual moments, in which spectators see him and immediately go "oh god, you are so seriously dead. how are you singing with that giant gash in your throat?" etc etc.

But it's also been a while since I read this, so my memory may be unfairly colored with the tint of zombies.
Heehee, yes - the Prioress' Tale definitely has resonances of zombiosity (that's my own word).
You could also take a look at the late medieval allegorial tradition of the Dance of Death, or "danse macabre". Here's the entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04617a.htm
You guys ROCK! SO much awesome information -- thank you!!!
Very good point. In any case, the religious aspect cannot be neglected.
I will definitely pay attention to it. ;)