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Isidore of Seville says:

The noun (nomen) is so called as if it were ‘denoter’ (notamen), because by its designation it makes things known (noscere, ppl. notus) to us. Indeed, unless you know its name (nomen), the knowledge of a thing perishes.[1]

So if naming is the creation of knowledge, what is anonymity? Is it simply not knowing? or is it un-knowing; the destruction of an idea?

[1] Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, ed. by Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach and Oliver Berghof (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), (p.42) I.vii.1.

And another thing… This:

Skeleton recently identified as that of Richard III

seems to answer a question that has been at the back of my mind since high school. Viz., whether the king really had a physical deformity, or whether this was all so much Tudor rhetoric. Given that it seems the former was the case (i.e. skeletal analysis shows evidence of scoliosis; they haven’t just laid it out oddly to make it *look* hunch-backed), it raises an important point that isn’t necessarily new but possibly in need of restating:

The academic world, or perhaps the world in general, has an excessive tendency to regard historical reportage, particularly in medieval and ancient texts which are already highly ‘othered’, as metaphorical, mythic, exaggerated, or just plain baloney. I see this as having been intensified by the linguistic turn, at which point historians everywhere suddenly realised (or at least articulated) that language is/was a manipulable and fallible vehicle for the ‘truth’ about historical pasts. This theoretical inheritance puts us at risk, occasionally, of throwing the baby of historical depth and complexity out with the bath-water of Whiggish certainty. The king’s remains remind me that sometimes or rather, also, the most politicized and rhetorical of texts can reflect observed realities, and we really should be working harder to keep both our trust and our cynicism –if that’s the word I want– in constant dialogue when approaching the past.

No doubt there’s more to say, but I’m still digesting this, and I refuse to be rushed…

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

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