Boreal Master 2011 – Pilgrimage

The Boreal Master Makes Pilgrimage to Rome
A New Fragment for Consideration

Katherine Ashewode

A recent find at an archeological dig in northern France has led to what may be the most exciting discovery in Boreal studies since the unveiling of the Lay of the Rowing Bench itself. While the fragment initially seems to have little similarity to the main opus of the Boreal Master’s work, I am convinced that it was, in fact, penned by the same author and may indeed open an entire new sub-discipline within the field of Boreal studies.

The fragment1 was discovered at Laon, in a 2008 archeological dig. The parchment is six inches high by four wide, with the inner edge jagged as though it had been torn out of a book or manuscript. This piece of parchment was the only one found at the dig – most of the other artifacts were of metal or pottery, as the region is known for being particularly hostile to biodegradable materials. That the parchment survived at all is already a good indication that the Boreal Master’s hand may have graced the page.

The matter was brought to the attention of the Boreal community in Montreal circuitously. It appears that anyone on the dig who handled the parchment began to display unusual symptoms.2 One of the researchers on the dig was a colleague of mine and, having heard tales of similar symptoms afflicting those who had unwitting exposure to the Boreal corpus of work, brought the parchment to my attention.

Handling the parchment with all care due to a work of the Boreal Master, it was subject to the usual battery of tests.3 When it emerged unscathed through these various ordeals, we knew that we had on our hands a genuine work of the Boreal Master, improbable as it might seem.

Indeed, it seemed remarkably improbable at first glance. First, the text was in Latin, not the Old English or Old Norse normally associated with works of the Boreal Master.4 Second, the document was discovered several hundred miles inland, and there is little evidence that the Boreal Master ever went far from Snorgloid Bigtoe’s ship.5 Finally, the text shows clear evidence of a Christian conversion, whereas we have seen little sign of contact heretofore.6

All that said, I nonetheless believe the evidence is too strong to ignore. The three verses recovered below point clearly to the Boreal Master’s hand.7

HH clavus in calceo est
care deus, clavus in calceo est
quot stadia ad Romam nescio
sed si scirem, illa numerarem
numerarem maledicaremque
clavus in calceo est


HH8 There’s a nail in my shoe
Dear God,9 there’s a nail in my shoe
I don’t know how many miles to Rome10
But if I did, I would count them11
Count them and curse them
There’s a nail in my shoe


HH clavus in calceo est
care deus, clavus in calceo est
me fodit perpetuo quamquam soccos gero
socci septeni septeni
socci calidi mollicellique
socci lanei subtiles
clavus in calceo est


HH There’s a nail in my shoe
Dear God, there’s a nail in my shoe
It still stabs me,12 even though I am wearing socks13, 14
Seven pairs15 of sock
Warm, fuzzy socks16
Fine wool socks
There’s a nail in my shoe


HH clavus in calceo est
care deus, clavus in calceo est
si invenero qui calceos meos fecit
HH There’s a nail in my shoe
Dear God, there’s a nail in my shoe
If I could find the man who made my shoes
illum suspendam, eviscerabo, in quattuor scindam
et flagellabo et fervebo
usque ei satis sit
et deinde iterum faciam
et cum haec perfecero,
omnes particulas legam
et in eos saliam
usque aliquid ingratior inveniam
I would have him hung, drawn, and quartered
And whipped and boiled
Until he’d had enough
And then I’d do it again
And when I’d finished,
I’d take all the little bits
And I would jump on them
Until I could think of something even more unpleasant to do
clavus in calceo est


There’s a nail in my shoe17


Taken all together, I believe there is little doubt that this is an authentic Boreal Master work. Nonetheless, there are far more questions raised by the fragment than answered. Why did the Boreal Master convert to Christianity, and when? Why did he undertake a pilgrimage? Where is the rest of the manuscript? And why did he not just hammer the nail back into his shoe?

I look forward to seeing further research explore these and the myriad other questions raised by this work. I have every trust that it will be treated with the dignity and seriousness that has marked the Boreal Foundation thus far.

1 Currently housed in the McGill hazardous materials lab until proper transportation can be arranged to the Berne Museum Roof Collection.
2 Viz, nausea, headaches, bleeding from the eyes, and a tendency to scream, “Oh God, oh God, make the bad man stop!”
3 That is, incineration with a blowtorch, immersion in acid, laceration with a diamond-edged blade, and passage through the digestive tract of the lab’s capuchin monkey.
4 Some early reviewers of the work have remarked that the Latin is, in fact, of quite poor quality, showing neither Classical meters nor even the simplified meters and rhyme schemes found in Medieval texts. It appears to be closer to a work of broken prose than of poetry. Moreover, it is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors that could be caught by even a contemporary schoolboy. However, given that the Boreal Master seemed to have only a passing familiarity with rhyme scheme and meter in his native tongue, little weight should be given to the poor quality of the Latin.
5 Professor Mookherji, naturally, has a dissenting opinion. In his 1998 article, “The Boreal Master and Astral Projection: Leaving the Ship for the Green Fields of Nirvana” (Uppsala UP), he argues that the Boreal Master’s work was composed during those rare instances where he was within his natural body and not floating above the ship. However, this theory has been mostly disproven. See Omen & Harbinger, “Help! My Soul is Stuck in my Body,” Uppsala UP, 2001.
6 However, I have noted in a previous paper that there may have been some contact between Snorgloid’s crew and Christian ideals, and they may even have begun the process of adopting some Christian values. Katherine Ashewode, “Holy Socks: How the Berserker’s Laundry List Explains a Curious Omission from Reliquary Lists,” Pennsic UP, 2009.
7 Knowing full well the deleterious effects that too much exposure to an original Boreal Master piece can produce, I assigned a mere two lines to each of my graduate students. And, while some of them have complained of headaches, nausea, and the hearing of voices, this can be equally ascribed to the grad school experience and should not be considered cause for concern.
8 The Latin does not, in fact, contain the words “Horrah Horo.” Instead, it contains a ligature in which an “H” is written with a double cross-beam and a superscript “O.” Nonetheless, given the rest of the substance of the verse, I believe it is undoubtedly meant to imply the traditional verse opening contained in the Lay of the Rowing Bench.
9 This invocation of a singular God, presumably the Christian god, might be a suggestion of the Boreal Master’s conversion to that religion. In the Lay of the Rowing Bench, among other works, the Boreal Master tends to invoke the Norse Gods, and the Christian God is only ever referred to as a “namby-pamby who should be covered in væle blübbr.” See John Whiner, “My God Can Beat Up Your God,” Kalamazoo UP, 2004.
10 While the author may have had any number of reasons for a trip to Rome, the most likely is that he was going on pilgrimage. If this is indeed the case, he may have been attempting to repent for past sins – of which there were many aboard Snorgloid’s ship – or trying to gain divine favor in the form of relief from his splintery rowing bench. Or, perhaps, from his stabbing shoe-nail.
11 Another obvious reference to the Lay of the Rowing Bench. No doubt the author was unfamiliar with the trip to Rome, compared to his deep familiarity with the trip to Orkney. While his travelling companions would likely have been better acquainted with the length of the pilgrimage trip, we can conjecture that either they refused to tell him (given his tendency to complain) or that he refused to believe the much larger distances involved. See Levar Burton, “If You Didn’t Know Your Numbers, We Wouldn’t Have to Listen to You Sing,” Reading Rainbow Press, 1988.
12 One of the many cases of unfortunate yet amusing word choice. The verb folio, -i, generally refers to placing spurs to a horse. We may never know for certain whether the Boreal Master considered himself little better than a pack-horse spurred on by his shoes, or whether this is merely the slip of a novice Latin-speaker.
13 The Boreal Master’s obsession with socks is well known and points to yet another indication that this piece was penned by the same author of the Lay of the Rowing Bench. Many comparisons can be drawn between this verse and the “Berserker’s Laundry List,” but I shall leave that detailed investigation to some future work of scholarship.
14 The noun socks, -i, refers to those stocks or stockings worn by comedic actors and was often taken as a sign of effeminacy. Again, while this may have merely been a poor word choice on the part of the author, it could equally point to a growing movement aboard Snorgloid’s crew to wear women’s clothing. A much more detailed investigation into this topic can be seen in Morgana bro Morganwg, O.L., “The Frilly Pink Dress Section (Lars’ Sea Chest)”, Pennsic UP, 2000.
15 The odd Latin here, septeni septeni, may in fact be a reference to the Vulgate. When Noah is reported as bringing in seven sets of each animal onto the ark (Gen. 7:2), the same phrasing is used. This suggests that the author had a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible, or at least that he read the first seven chapters. Whether he got any further or merely grew bored with the text is beyond the scope of this paper.
16 The Latin mollicellus, -a, -um, is a diminutive of mollis, -a, -um (soft), and thus points to these socks being particularly soft and delicate.
17 The discerning eye will note that this stanza uses almost the exact same phrasing as Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Macmillan Press, 1979, p.28. This leads us to two potential conclusions, each highly unlikely. First, that some sort of time-space rift erupted in the vicinity of this document, causing the Boreal Master and Mr. Adams to both be struck by the same phrasing, a thousand years separate from each other. While unlikely, it is hardly the most unlikely occurrence surrounding a Boreal manuscript, and it should not be dismissed out of hand. Second, that Mr. Adams somehow acquired a copy of this fragment, read it, and decided he liked the phrasing so much he would use it in his book. This is also highly unlikely, given that – to the best of our knowledge – Mr. Adams did not speak Latin, and there is no known copy of the fragment. However, exposure to the Boreal Master would do much to explain Mr. Adams’ writing style.

1 Comment

  1. July 12, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    This is a stunning example of *B*rilliant *S*cholarship

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