Magma, Memphis, and the Middle Ages

Benjamin Nugent in The Paris Review:

When you go on a first date, do you struggle to make conversation? Read Morris Bishop’s The Middle Ages, a popular history from 1968, and your troubles are over. Did you know that if you failed to attempt to return a lost falcon to its rightful owner, flesh was cut from your breast and fed to the falcon? Did you know that there was plastic surgery, with noses, lips, and ears enlarged via skin graft? Did you know that to become a Master of Grammar at Cambridge, you had to prove that you were skilled at beating students by hiring a boy and hitting him with a birch rod, with a beadle as your witness? Did you know that, at the same time, there were rules against the hazing of freshmen? One statute from Germany: “Each and every one attached to this University is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever… any who come to this town and to this fostering University for the purpose of study.”

More here.