Wednesday 24 November 2010

Miserable Biscuit-Whores

Once upon a time there was a Hebrew word migdal meaning tower. On the shores of Galilee was a fishing village with a tower.  This village was called Magdala Nunayya, which is usually translated as Magdala of the Fishes, but could equally be rendered The Fishy Tower.

From there, probably, came a lady called Mary from Magdalen. Mary was possessed by seven demons, until a chap called Jesus drove them all out and got crucified. Mary from Magdalen was present at the crucifixion and, by all accounts, was rather upset by it.

In pictures of the crucifixion she is shown crying, weeping, lamenting and ululating. So much did she weep, and so often was she painted, that her name, without the G, became a byword for misery. And that is way sad people are maudlin to this day.

The disappearing (and reappearing) G is also the reason that the Magdalen[e] Colleges Oxonian and Cantabrigian are both pronounced maudlin. And the people there are miserable.

It's also the reason that girls named after Saint Mary Fishy-Tower are called Madeleine. One such girl was Madeleine Paulmier, who was a French pastry chef* and invented a kind of biscuit called a madeleine. Marcel Proust ate a madeleine and it reminded him of lost time and he went to live with a swan.

Finally, Mary Fishtower's reputation took an nasty knock in 591, from which it has never recovered. Pope Gregory the Great gave a sermon in which he seems to have confused and compounded several different biblical ladies. He identified Mary Fishtower with the woman taken in adultery and therefore reckoned that she was a repentant prostitute. The confusion stuck and that is why Mary Magdalene is usually portrayed as voluptuous, if lachrymose, blonde. It is also the reason that Magdalenism means prostitution.

All of which means that one could theoretically have a maudlin and magdalenic Madeline eating a madeleine.

A typical day at Magdalene College

*This is disputed, and the OED doubts her existence.

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