Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Past Asks You: Strange Families, c. 800

Sometimes you ask the Past, sometimes the Past asks you. Today, it's the latter.
"If a father and his son take a widow and her daughter in marriage, so that the son marries the mother and the father the daughter, say, please, what is the relationship between the sons they will bear?" 
Alcuin (?), Propositiones ad acuendos juvenes ("Problems for sharpening the young"), c. 800
I would say that the relationship between the sons will be... awkward. Medieval bragging rights if you figure it out; I'll post the answer tomorrow.

Carolingian genealogy
Berlin Staatsbibliothek, MS lat. fol. 295, f. 80v (12th c.)

13 comments:

  1. I think the children are both nephews and uncles to each other.

    ReplyDelete
  2. On the subject of relationships in early Europe, in Latin records it's quite common to see "filius/filia ejus" or "uxor ejus", and, less commonly but still not unusual, "pater", "mater", "nepos", "soror", "frater". "maritus" is surprisingly uncommon, but I was thrilled to pieces the other day to come across "privignus" (stepson) and "patruus" (paternal uncle).

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good job, Warren! You have a bright future as a medieval canon lawyer. (Here's a medieval reader's answer: "Hence my son and the son of my father are uncle and nephew of one another.")

    Sara, let us know if you find a medieval Latin term for "uncle/nephew." :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I thought they just all called each other "cousin."

    ReplyDelete
  5. I was gonna say "It wouldn't come up, because that's SOOO within prohibited degrees" but evidently things were different in the Carolingian period...

    ReplyDelete
  6. However it works out for the babies, the son will turn out to be his own grandpa.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Clearly the widespread use of the word "nuncle" is evidence of the frequency with which this family relationship must have occurred.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Awkward. I just snorted.

    ReplyDelete
  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYlJH81dSiw

    ReplyDelete
  10. We call them West Virginians

    ReplyDelete
  11. Steve Goodman covered Homer and Jethro's "I am my own Grandpa" on this subject.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Homer and Jethro's version was itself a cover. The song was written by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe. That, in turn, was inspired by a Mark Twain piece. Here's the Twain piece but I don't have the citation of where it was published: http://www.natemaas.com/2010/11/more-musical-genealogy.html

    ReplyDelete
  13. Too bad the resulting offspring aren't different sexes, then they can marry each other and your problem would be solved. One would be husband and the other would be wife.

    May as well take it down a step further...

    ReplyDelete