Staying In Persona: An SCA Dilemma?

This is an abstract from “A Miscellany,”a legendary work in the Society, produced by the equally legendary Duke Cariadoc of the Bow. See below for a link and information on acquiring a copy.

The Little Things

by Cariadoc of the Bow [Giata has inserted her Italian persona suggestions in bold]


Staying in persona does not mean saying you are a different person. It means being a different person. One of the hardest, and most interesting, parts is getting the little things right. Before you worry about inventing ancestors for seven generations and an elaborate personal history-things which few people tell strangers in any case-it is worth first learning as much as possible about the little things that anyone from your time and land would have known. The more such details you integrate into your medieval self, the better you can convince others (and yourself) that you are your persona.

One way of doing this would be as a group project, involving two successive gatherings a few weeks apart, both held out of persona. In the first, each person tries to stump the others with questions their personae could have answered without thinking-the sort of questions that you could answer without thinking if they were asked of your twentieth century persona. The questions must be ones for which the answer can be learned; invented answers are not allowed.

I suspect that most of us, myself included, would find that we did not know the answers to a majority of the questions. Those who were sufficiently interested could then go home, or to the library, and try to find the answers to as many as possible. In the second gathering, we would come back together to report to each other the answers we had succeeded in finding.

I have not actually participated in such gatherings, but I have spent some time thinking up questions-to some of which, for my own persona, I do not know the answers. Here they are. All are intended to apply to your persona prior to your arrival in the Current Middle Ages.

Theatrum Sanitatis from Biblioteca Casanatense Ms4182 tav117

What kinds of money do you use? What are the relative values of the different kinds? How much does dinner at the inn cost? How much does a horse cost? How much does a skilled worker make per month? [For an Italian noblewoman, would you have handled money at all? See Monete and Misure at []

What system do you use to describe what time it is? When does one day end and another begin? How do you tell time (sundial? clock?)? [See Celebrations and Saint’s Days on  my blog]

What system do you use for describing dates? What is your calendar like? [See From Dawn to Dusk and  Daily Life on my blog]

Can you read? If so, what have you read? What poems, tales, etc. have you heard told?

What do you know about history? Have you heard of Alexander the Great? Julius Caesar? Charlemagne? Vergil? Saladin? [For Italy think of Greek and Roman philosophers and writers] What do you “know” about each?

What do you know about geography? What is the most distant country you have heard of? The most distant country you have met someone from?

Who is your immediate overlord (title and/or name)? Who is your ultimate overlord? [For Italy think of your Emperor or Pope, and then your respective local representative of each]

What is your religion? What duties (prayers, fasts, dietary restrictions, etc.) does it impose? What do you (your persona) know about its doctrines and history? [See Church and Home as well as From Dusk to Dawn on my blog]

What do you eat for breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? What do you drink? Where do your food and drink come from? How is the food cooked (style of cooking, tools, how does the oven work, etc.)? [See Food on my blog]

What sorts of wild animals live in your area? Which are dangerous? Which are good to eat? How are the latter hunted?

What clothes do you wear? What are they made of? Where do they come from? [See the Clothing page on my blog]

What crops are grown in your part of the world? What goods, if any, are exported, and how are they transported? What goods are imported?

What language(s) do you speak? What language(s) do other people in your town (city, barony…) speak? [See the Women’s Lives page on my blog]

If you or one of your friends wrote a poem, what form would you use? What about a song?

What “mythological” beasts do you know about? Which ones do you believe in? What do you believe about them?

Most of these questions are specific to your persona and so may seem to violate the requirement that the answers be researched instead of made up. But in most cases, although research may not tell you for certain what would be true of your persona, it will limit you to a few alternatives. A twentieth century American might plausibly have any of a number of different things for breakfast, but there are far more things that he would not have.

One final remark. Some of you, after reading the list (and perhaps making some additions of your own) will conclude that only a professional scholar can stay in persona. There are few things that must be done perfectly in order to be worth doing, and staying in persona is not one of them. The more such questions you can answer the better a job you can do. Finding the answers-recreational scholarship-is one of the things the Society is about. And fun.

gonella in painting by gozzoli 1461

A few Answers:

[In 1405 a ration of food for a laborer was 650 grams of bread, 0.7 liters of wine, and 150 grams of meat, all for 24 denari. Source: Goldthwaite, Richard. The Building of Renaissance Florence, An Economic and Social History]

[Many Italians purchased the staples of wine and bread ready to eat and also often bought cooked meat as take-out. Source: Cohen, Elizabeth. Daily Life in Renaissance Italy]

[Pork, peacock, fish, and octopus were eaten. Pasta, like Sicilian Macaroni made from white flour, egg white, rose water, and plain water were cooked in rich broth and poured into serving dishes sprinkles with butter and spices. Eggs were hard-boiled and stuffed with parsley, mint, marjoram, raisins, cinnamon, and verjuice. There were no tomatoes, corn (until 1540), potatoes, chili pepper, chocolate, or coffee. No gelato, but snow was used to chill drinks. Pizza was a simple, flat bread with no red sauce. Pasta was an occasional treat. Renaissance Italians diet was unusual for its many vegetables and fruits. Beans and chickpeas were abundant. Cabbage, squash, artichokes, spinach/greens, garlic, onions, and leeks were all popular. Vegetables were served both stewed and raw. Salads were dressed simply with oil, salt, and light vinegar. Apples, grapes, peaches, pears, and oranges were a treat.  Melons and pomegranates were given as gifts. Wheat bread and boiled grain porridge was common, white bread was a higher price. Source: Cohen, Elizabeth. Daily Life in Renaissance Italy]

Beer, manchet and fish or meat were the usual breakfast of the members of the Percy family, according to the Northumberland Household Book of 1512. The parents were served with a quart of wine as well as a quart of beer, but wine was evidently thought unwholesome for the children, who received beer alone.” C. Anne Wilson, Food and Drink in Britain, p.376. She also asserts that pottage was a common breakfast, especially for the poor, in England in the middle ages.

“… the Caliph’s breakfast was served him, of the remains of the previous evening’s supper, cold lamb or chicken, or some such dish.” Eric Schroeder, The People of Mohammad. The reference is to the Caliph Mu`awia.

“There are others who sprinkle ground pepper over the food when it is cut for eating; this is a practice of the Christians and Berbers.” From Manuscrito Anonimo, a 13th century Andalusian cookbook.

[ Illustration removed ]

A famous saint, Abu-l-Hoseyn En-Nooree, seeing a vessel on the Tigris containing thirty denns (clay jars) belonging to the Caliph Mu`tadid, and being told that they contained wine, took a boat-pole, and broke them all, save one. When brought before the Caliph to answer for this action, and asked by him”Who made thee Mohtesib (inspector of the markets)?” he boldly answered, “He who made thee Caliph!”-and was pardoned.

(From an account of events of the year 295 A.H., cited by Lane in Arabian Society in the Middle Ages)

Some Tricks

To stay in persona is convincingly to be another person. The first one you must convince is yourself. To do so, I find it useful to deliberately adopt certain tricks of behaviour in order to remind myself that I am now Cariadoc and not David.

Some are ways of speaking. I do not speak Arabic (and nobody would understand me if I did) but I can and do adopt medieval Muslim locutions. One example is the practice of always following the name of God with some admiring comment-most commonly “The Compassionate, The Merciful,” but sometimes “He that upholds the Heavens without pillars above us” or some other phrase borrowed from period sources. Another is following the name of a good Muslim who is dead with “on whom be peace,” and the name of a prophet or a particularly holy man with “on whom be the peace and the blessing”-and adding to the name of a notable non-Muslim the phrase “curses on him for an unbeliever.” (I usually omit that one, out of consideration for the perils of being a Muslim in a predominately Christian society.)

Medieval (and modern) Arabs eat only with the right hand, using the left for all “unclean” purposes. I think it likely that a medieval Moor, coming from a similar culture and one heavily influenced by the Arabs, would do the same. Cariadoc does not use his left hand in eating. The practice is not only (I think) authentic; it also provides me with a silent reminder of who, at the moment, I am.

For similar reasons, I do not wear glasses at events. Doing without glasses when I am in persona is not merely a matter of being authentic — it is also a striking way of reminding myself that I am in a different world. Fuzzier. As an adult, Cariadoc has never seen the stars clearly, and cannot recognize a friend across the length of a hall. Those are some of the ways in which he is a different person from David.

These tricks are mostly ways of convincing myself that I am a different person, although they may help to remind other people as well. Most of them are specific to my persona. The equivalents for your persona I leave for you to discover; they almost certainly exist.

[ Illustration removed ]

[Guiliano dei Medici tells a story of Poland and Muscovy of which Signora Giada has a lively rendition involving the Kingdom of Aethelmearc and the Kingdom of the East: A fellow citizen of Gleann Abhann, a merchant of Grey Niche, affirmed the other day a positive fact regarding a trip to buy pelts. This merchant tells the story this way, once finding himself in the Kingdom of the East he decided to buy a quantity of sables with the intention of carrying them into Gleann Abhann and making great profit thereby. And after much effort, being unable to enter Aethelmearc himself (by reason of the war that was then waging between the King of the East and the King of Aethelmearc), he arranged with the help of some people of the East, that on an appointed day certain Aethelmarc merchants should come with their sables to the frontier of the East, and he promised to be there in order to strike the bargain. Accordingly, proceeding with his companions (from the East) towards Aethelmearc, the man of Grey Niche reached the river border, which he found all frozen as hard as marble, and saw that the men of Aethelmearc (who on account of the war were themselves suspicious of the Easterners) were already on the other bank, but approached no nearer than the width of the river. So, having recognized each other, the Aethelmearc men after some signaling began to speak with a loud voice and to ask the price that they wished for their sables; but such was the extreme cold that they were not heard, for before reaching the other bank (where the man of Grey Niche and his interpreters were) the words froze in the air, and remained there frozen and caught in such a manner that the Easterners, who knew the custom, set about making a great fire in the very middle of the river; because to their thinking that was the limit reached by the warm voice before it was stopped by freezing. The river was quite solid enough to bear the fire easily. So, when this was done, the words (which had remained frozen for the space of an hour) in due course began to melt and to fall in a murmur, like snow from the mountains in May; and thus they were at once heard very well, although the men had already gone. But, as the merchant thought that the words asked too high a price for the sables, he would not accept the offer and so returned without them (Libro di Il Cortigiano II:132-133).]

Yakub bin El-Leyth Es-Saffar, having adopted a predatory life, excavated a passage one night into the palace of Dirhem, the Governor of Sijistan. After he had made up a convenient bale of gold and jewels, and the most costly stuffs, he was proceeding to carry it off, when he happened in the dark to strike his food against something hard on the floor. Thinking it might be a jewel of some sort, a diamond perhaps, he picked it up and put it to his tongue, and, to his equal mortification and disappointment, found it to be a lump of rock-salt. Throwing down his precious booty, he left it behind him, and withdrew empty-handed to his habitation. Next day the governor’s treasurer was alarmed to discover that a great part of the treasure and other valuables had been removed; but on examining the package which lay on the floor, his astonishment was not less, to find that not a single article had been conveyed away. The Governor had it proclaimed that if the thief would announce himself, he would be pardoned and rewarded. Yakub, relying upon the promise, presented himself before the governor, and explained that, having by inadvertance tasted the Governor’s salt in his house, and so become the Governor’s guest, he had been unwilling to violate the laws of hospitality by stealing from his host, and had therefore put down his booty and departed. The governor appointed him to an office of importance, where he gradually rose in power until he became the founder of a Dynasty.

(Based on an anecdote in Arabian Society in the Middle Ages by Edmund Lane).

[…And another instance was when Lucrezia Borgia was on her way through the great hall at Castello Estense in Ferrara, and stopped to ask one of the ladies-in-waiting the best way to make towards the famous garden; and the Ferrarese “woman”, seeing she was a little round in the face and stomach said, laughing, “Other women carry their borsa on their hip, but this one carries hers in front”. Lucrezia at once replied; “That is the way we Romans do in the land of thieves.” (Libro di Il Cortegiano II:136)]

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir

 This is an article from “A Miscellany” (, a legendary work in the Society, produced by the equally legendary Duke Cariadoc of the Bow.

© David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook,
1988, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2011
ISBN 10: 1463789327
ISBN 13: 9781463789329
Copies may be purchased online from

Giata has inserted her Italian suggestions in bold.

4 thoughts on “Staying In Persona: An SCA Dilemma?

  1. Oh, this is brilliant! So many things I would never have even thought of! Would you be willing to allow the use of this (minus your personal answers) in the branch newsletter for the Shire of Midhaven (of which I am chronicler)? This is such a wonderful research-provoking piece 🙂 and I think our A&S minister would agree.

    1. If you follow the links to Cariadoc’s page (mka David Friedman), he lists the requirements for reprinting. Be sure to follow his wishes. If you’d like to reprint any of my Italian suggestions please just provide a link to this URL. Grazie!

      1. Y’know, I was so enthralled by the contents I failed entirely to see it was from another source! Thank you, I will be sure to contact him directly.

        Your answers were still wonderful! I will link to them in the upcoming newsletter so those who are interested can visit your page.

        Thank you again 🙂

  2. This is an abstract from “A Miscellany” (, a legendary work in the Society, produced by the equally legendary Duke Cariadoc of the Bow.

    Please respect his wishes with regard to it, to wit:

    © David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook,
    1988, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2011
    ISBN 10: 1463789327
    ISBN 13: 9781463789329
    Copies may be purchased online from

    If you wish to reproduce or reprint anything in this book, you may do so subject to the following conditions:

    1. The material should be accompanied by a credit line giving the source and author.

    2. Any article or recipe that is quoted must be quoted in full, with no changes, deletions, or additions.

    3. If you are making more than 100 copies, you must first get permission from the author.

    4. Recipes may be quoted on web pages, provided that the source is credited. We would appreciate a link to the online version of this volume, at the URL below.

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