As you may have realized by this point, one of my favorite pastimes is creating imaginary relationships between people who may or may not actually exist inside of my head. This is my right and privilege as an American, and it fills me with great joy from morning til night.
Another hobby of mine is maintaining a vague but enthusiastic knowledge of European medieval legends. The Middle Ages were a wonderful time for falling in love, and also for being imaginary. It’s two great tastes that go great together. Without further preamble, let me present to you a list of medieval personages who almost certainly never existed that I feel would have made terrific couples.
Prester John is easily the most delightful invention of the medieval era. He was, at various times, the Christian king of India (or of one of “the three Indias,” or all of the three Indias; Europeans at the time had more of a general sense for what India was than a working knowledge of it), of Ethiopia, of the Mongols, of “the East,” of Syria, and of Persia. His existence was likely inspired in part by the Christian church that had existed in Ethiopia since the fourth century, the Nestorian church, and the third-century gospel of Saint Thomas that described the partial Christianization of India. It was believed that he was descended from one of the three Magi who visited Christ after his birth, and that he possessed a special glass that allowed him to see what was happening anywhere in his kingdom whenever he liked.
He was the Carmen Sandiego of the medieval world, popping up first in this place and then another. Marco Polo thought he saw him in China. At least one pope sent him a mash note with a group of crusaders asking them to deliver it if they saw him. A letter supposedly from the king himself started circulating in the twelfth century that passed through various courts, sometimes addressed to the pope, sometimes to local kings, sometimes to the Holy Roman Emperor, and gradually picking up detail over the years. At first, it was a fairly straightforward “Help me, Obi-Wan” sort of missive: he was beset by heathens, his fabulously wealthy empire was desperately in need of aid, he wanted his Christian brothers in Europe to come rescue him and also maybe take a look at some of his fabulous wealth, but eventually it turned into a description of the Fountain of Youth (!) and all the various salamanders that lived within his kingdom’s borders.
He later appeared in a dreadful, pulpy, racist adventure novel by John Buchan that I cannot recommend, and a marginally better arc in several issues of Marvel Comics, although that’s neither here nor there.
Pope Joan, as you may or may not know, was a woman who disguised herself as a man (in many versions of the story, at the request of an unnamed male lover) and becomes an unmatched ecclesiastical scholar, eventually rising from bishop to cardinal to pope. Eventually she was discovered after giving birth during a religious procession, after which she was either executed or forced into early retirement. Like Prester John, she did not exist.
But what if they dated? What if a version of the (very real) Prester John Letter had fallen into Pope Joan’s hands and she had immediately flown to his rescue? And he had begged to thank her personally, for all the saving him that she had done, and she said Oh no, it’s nothing really, and he said Please, I insist, and she said Oh all right but just for a minute and then I must really be getting home, and she toured his castle and he kept wondering why he felt so curiously protective of another man (his spiritual father to boot) until he accidentally saw her changing (for some reason) and realized she was a woman and she said Please don’t tell anyone and he said I would never, I respect you all the more for what you’ve accomplished, AND THEN THEY FELL IN LOVE.
She’s a religious genius, he’s descended from three of the wisest men in history; she rules the Church Militant and he’s wealthy beyond the dreams of mortal men. It would have been perfect.
A vulnerable, trussed-up man who keeps involuntarily shapeshifting into hot burning coals and lions meets a woman who can’t stop turning into snakes and spruce trees or turning the sea into blood. I’m sold. Plus, they’re both parents, so they have that in common.
This is partly because I always mix the two of them up, but also because most of the Arthurian legends can never keep straight which of them is always going after the Questing Beast. Sometimes it’s only Pellinore, but sometimes he switches off with Palamedes (who is sometimes Palomides, which I find distractingly similar to the word “palomino” and so prefer the alternate spelling), so I think they would have a lot in common.
Plus this screengrab of Palamedes is pretty adorable, I think. I don’t know if it’s from a real video game or not, but I think more knights should have gone out with each other. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was pretty homoerotic, with all of the kiss-swapping, and the legend of Galeheut is well worth a read (Galeheut, not to be mistaken with Galahad, challenges Arthur for his entire kingdom and ends up falling passionately and tragically in love with Sir Lancelot), but we can do better than “pretty homoerotic” and tragic dead gay guys. I want real knights, some of whom are adorable Saracen twinks, holding hands while they quest together.
Jean is the son of a human woman and a bear. Sometimes he is drawn as a man, or a man in a bear suit, or a particularly bearish man. The degree to which he is part man and part bear isn’t important. The important thing is that humans and bears can have children together, and then name those children Jean.
Bisclavret was a werewolf whose wife betrayed him, thus permanently trapping him in wolf form. I think that a tender, hesitant love story between a werewolf with trust issues and a half-man/half-bear hybrid would make an excellent gay YA novel, and I hereby give any and all of you permission to write it and win several Lambda Literary awards. Maybe Bisclavret’s wife comes back halfway through the book and wants him to take her back, and they have to figure that out. I don’t know; it’s your book. I like to think that Jean would call Bisclavret “Bickles” when he was feeling playful.
There is nothing I can add to this. I simply submit it for your approval.
Gog and Magog are names that appear in the Old Testament, and in numerous subsequent references in other works, notably the Book of Revelation, as well as in the scripture of Islam, the Qur’an. They are sometimes individuals, sometimes peoples, and sometimes geographic regions. Their context can be either genealogical (as Magog in Genesis 10:2) or eschatological and apocalyptic, as in the Book of Ezekiel andRevelation. The passages from Ezekiel and Revelation in particular have attracted attention due to their prophetic descriptions of conflicts said to occur near the “end times.”
In Jewish and Christian mythology, the Lords of Shouting, or Masters of Howling, are a group of 1,550 myriads of angels (15,500,000 angels) who gather at dusk and sing the evening Trisagion prayers. The choir is led by Jeduthun, a former master of music appointed byDavid, who by tradition ascended to become an angel. Other choirs, led by Jeduthun’s former companions Heman and Asaph, continue the singing during the other times of day. It is said that at dawn, because of chanting of the Lords of Shouting, judgment is lightened and the world is blessed.
I’m not particular how we mix them up. Could be one for each of them, depending on how many Gogs and Magogs are running around; could be a polyamorous kind of deal. The world is a wondrous place, with many strange and beautiful things in it.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.