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persona-art - 11/12/96


An article on persona by Duke Cariadoc.


NOTE: See also the files: persona-msg, personas-msg, names-msg, Persona-Build-art, Inquisitn-Gme-art, per-lepers-msg, Easy-Persona-art, Som-Per-Ideas-art.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

   Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         Stefan at florilegium.org



From: ddfr at quads.uchicago.edu (david director friedman)

Date: 9 Jun 91 16:29:59 GMT

Organization: University of Chicago


               Concerning Consistency


                Ignorance is Bliss


One of the things I enjoy about SCA events is the opportunity to be

in persona--to act and speak as the medieval person I am pretending

to be. In discussing the subject with other members of the Society,

one problem that is often raised is the problem of consistency. How,

it is asked, can one function as a medieval person at an event? Time

travel is not a medieval idea, so how can a medieval person interact

with people from hundreds of years before and after his time? How can

I, as a North African from 1100 A.D., learn Italian dances from the

sixteenth century or cook from a fifteenth century English cookbook?


What is wrong with all of these questions is that they confuse what I

know with what my persona knows. I know that my wife's persona is

several hundred years later than mine. My persona knows only that his

lady wife is a foreigner. David knows that the gentleman in the

starched ruff is from the sixteenth century. Cariadoc knows, having

been told, that the gentleman is from a Frankish tribe called the

English. Cariadoc also knows that, like most other Franks, the

gentleman in question does not face towards Mecca to pray, does not

wear a turban, and does wear funny clothes. None of that is in any

way inconsistent with what Cariadoc knows of the world--foreigners

are like that.


Cariadoc comes from a culture far from the SCA mainstream, so it is

easy for him not to know the difference between a tenth century

Englishman and a sixteenth century Englishman. But while the average

SCA persona may not be quite as ignorant of other people's times and

places, he is still much closer, in that regard, to Cariadoc than to

David. Most medieval people did not know very much history or

geography, and much of what they did know was wrong. If you meet a

stranger who is wearing odd clothes, it is much more natural to

assume that he is from a distant country, or even from a part of your

own country where local styles are a bit unusual, than that he is

from a different century.


One obvious response to this is that Cariadoc does not have to

recognize sixteenth century clothes in order to know that the

gentleman he has just met is from the sixteenth century--after all,

the gentleman has just responded to my query of "what are you" by

answering "a sixteenth century Englishman." But this is an

inconsistency that comes not from being in persona but from being out

of persona. Real medieval people did not start conversations with

strangers by asking them what century they were from. All we have to

do in order to avoid problems with temporal inconsistency is to talk

as our personae instead of about them--and avoid mentioning dates.


This brings up a related point--conversation. Some people seem to

assume that, in order to be in persona, you must spend most of your

time talking about current events--"have you heard the latest news

about the crusade/Henry VIII/the Norman Conquest?" If so, then being

in persona for more than a few minutes would require quite a lot of

specialized knowledge, and a conversation among personae from

different times and places would rapidly become either obviously

inconsistent ("What crusade/Henry who/what's a Norman?") or very



But consider, for a moment, your ordinary twentieth century

conversation. How much of it is about events that will appear in the

history books a thousand years from now? The answer, surely, is very

little. Mostly we talk about what is happening around us or in our

lives--and two people with very different personae are still

attending the same event. If we do mention current events, they are

likely to be something like the latest Welsh border raid or last

year's bad harvest--neither of which comes attached to a date.


It is sometimes suggested that, in order to do a consistent persona,

one would have to talk only with others from the same time and place.

One wonders how medieval travellers managed. When Ibn Battuta, a

fourteenth century North African, travelled through Anatolia and

Southern Russia to India, where he spent several years as one of the

chief judges of Delhi, did he maintain a consistent persona? The

people he travelled among were as foreign to him as my fellow

feasters are to me--yet somehow he managed to interact with them

while remaining himself.


A different sort of consistency problem is raised by the institutions

of the Society itself. Knights, Dukes, Seneschals, Knight Mrshalls,

Masters of the Laurel and Pelican--how do all of these things fit

into Cariadoc's world? And, equally puzzling, how does he fit into

them--what is a Berber doing marshalling a tournament or ruling a

Kingdom full of Englishmen, Vikings, et multae caetera?


The answer, again, is that I am obvously a foreigner. The Middle

Kingdom is not the Maghreb. It is not much stranger for a North

African Berber to be Earl Marshall of the Middle Kingdom, as I was

many years ago, than for another North African Berber to be the chief

Malikite Judge of the city of Delhi in India. It is no stranger for

me to have ruled over the mingled populations of the Middle than for

Robert Guiscard de Hauteville, a Norman adventurer,  to have ruled

over the medley of Moslems, Byzantines, Italians, and Jews inhabiting

what was to become the Norman Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The

customs by which the Middle Kingdom chooses its kings are indeed very

odd--they will make a fine traveller's tale for my hearers to scoff

at, if I ever make it back to the Maghreb.


Another problem that some people see with being in persona is the

problem of being stuck with your persona's quarrels. How can we

conduct a civilized event if Vikings and Celts, Normans and Saxons,

Guelfs and Ghibbilenes, Saracens and Crusaders, feel obliged to kill

each other in the middle of the dance floor? Is it not necessary, in

order to conduct our affairs in relative quiet, to impose an

ahistorical ban on period persona violence?


The simple answer is that such a ban is not in the least ahistorical.

In period, "enemies" interacted peacably quite a lot of the time. The

Irish and the Norse may have had their little troubles, but that did

not keep them from trading, allying, and intermarrying. One of my

favorite bits in the memoirs of Usamah ibn Munqidh, a Syrian Emir who

was an older contemporary of Saladin, is the part where he is trying

to avoid offending a Frankish friend while turning down the friendUs

offer to foster UsamahUs son. One has the impression that Usamah is

about as eager to have his son fostered among the Franks as a

nineteenth century Englishman would be to have his son raised by

cannibals in darkest Africa--but, being unwilling to say so, he

politely explains that, much as he appreciates the offer, the boy is

the apple of his motherUs eye, so ... . Moslems and Christians might

fight to the death on the walls of Acre, but in Norman Sicily they

got along well enough--so well that one of the most famous of the

successors of the Norman Kings, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederic II,

was suspected by some contemporaries of being a closet Moslem.


Nothing I have said so far answers the question of whether being in

persona is more fun than other ways of enjoying the Society. Nor have

I said much about the techniques by which one convinces oneself and

others that one is, for the moment, a medieval person. Both are

subjects I have discussed elsewhere. But I hope I have convinced you

that there is no inherent impossibility, no glaring inconsistency, in

attending an event as a medieval person at a medieval feast rather

than a twentieth century hobbyist at a costume party.




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org