Violet Tries: A Day in the Life of A Medieval Scholar

Flora Bowen takes us through a typical day in the life of a Medieval Scholar, starting with cult medieval favourite dish ‘sop’ and ending with the foregoing of Zoom in favour of letter writing

Flora Bowen

"There is a line in Gawain and the Green Knight that notes he eats ‘sop’ before a morning battle"WIKICOMMONS

6am: The bells ring out in my room, the noise rattling around my sleep-deprived skull. I get up, open the curtains, and watch matins on Youtube.

7am: I stare at myself in the mirror. My look is perfect, if the intended end product is ‘human embodiment of a head cold’. Black under eye circles and pale skin: very chic, and today I am foregoing Max Factor – mascara seems not ‘not medieval enough’ – and I’m fresh out of ground lily root for foundation. Instead, I wake myself up with a dawn walk through Cambridge.

8am: The first meal of the day is usually for me an opportunity to down industrial quantities of organic almond butter in porridge. Although lots of sources say breakfast wasn’t a very important meal, I think it would be a bad day for civil society if I skipped breakfast. There is a line in Gawain and the Green Knight that notes he eats ‘sop’ before a morning battle, another word for ‘frumenty’, a soupy, watery kind of plain porridge. If it’s good enough for Gawain, it’s good enough for me. Delicious moist sop.

“If it’s good enough for Gawain, it’s good enough for me”

Morning: Reading for Medieval French essay on ‘La Fille du Comte de Ponthieu’. Who needs Sally Rooney when you’ve got this 14th century classic? I listen to lyre music from the 13th century; one of our medieval French lecturers used to e-mail our group recordings. Frankly, it would be a lie to pretend that this is the first time I’ve used it to accompany my work. However, it would also be deeply embarrassing to admit in a student newspaper that I have a private Spotify playlist called ‘Top of the Pops: the dark ages’, so I’ll just leave you with the recommendation that the chanting of Benedictine Monks can be usefully soothing when you have inhaled two ‘productivity espressos’ at 3pm on a Tuesday.

1pm: Buttery. Usually I have a sad solo salad for lunch, but eating in hall would have been an important part of college life as well as being the main meal of the day, so I have salmon and potatoes. This may as well be gold-plated oysters, so decadent does it feel in comparison to ‘frumenty’. I am with the other 4th year MMLers in college, and we talk about the experiment; one friend, à propos of nothing, decides she can be my ‘whore’. I continue eating potatoes while considering the proposition. One criticism arises: they tell me that it is historically vague to refer to the entire 12th-16th centuries as ‘back in the day’; I politely disagree.

“ supervisor could also pass quite happily for a 13th century scholar”

Afternoon: I have a historically suitable supervision in Peterhouse. It is the oldest college in Cambridge, and my supervisor could also pass quite happily for a 13th century scholar. Gradually I am realising that living as a medieval scholar is pretty much the same as living my normal life. This does not trouble me, but I think it should.

Back in the college library I feel ashamed whenever I have to use my laptop, so I find a very peaceful video called ’ASMR: Medieval Castle Ambience.’ to keep me in the medieval mindset. It is a three-and-a-half-hour video set at evening in a stone-paved hall: torches flicker gently in iron wall brackets; steam rises from a pot over the roaring hearth, the faint and familiar (well, to some of us) strains of the lute plucks away in the background. I zoom out mentally and see myself alone in a tower, watching Medieval ASMR in the middle of a global pandemic. Is this living, I wonder?

5pm: Usually I would zoom with my boyfriend around now, but a quick glance at my books informs me teleconferencing platforms weren’t a big deal back in the day; instead, I write him a letter. He is also part of the medieval universities club (1425), an exciting elite to be part of!

5-7pm: I ‘work’ (I think in detail about all the cracks in the paint on my wall).

7.15pm: Complin in Chapel is a beautiful event that I would usually miss.


Mountain View

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8pm: Wine in the Eagle with a friend. The purchase of wine helps me to determine the class status of my indeterminate ‘medieval’ persona, as wine imported from France would have been expensive, and so drunk mainly by the upper classes. I suppose mulled wine or mead would have been a good choice, but as this day didn’t involve a surgical removal of my tastebuds or sense of style, I decided against.

At the end of the day I feel calmer and more tired than usual, probably due to the lack of blue light sticking my eyelids open past midnight; when the bell chimes 10, I go to bed.

Reflections: If there is a moral to be taken from this experience – and I would strongly advise against you trying to find one – it would be the uncontroversial opinion that a digital detox is always a good idea. Otherwise, the day mainly consisted of feeling slightly hungry, with more religion than usual, as I realised that the medieval life is already worryingly similar to my everyday life. If you need me, I’ll be in my tower away from the plague, listening to la belle douëtte, and working to four hour videos of rain falling in an animated medieval village.