Medieval Hamster Wheels

A helpful reader alerted me to this new, bizarre medieval metaphor from ESPN.com’s Page 2. Discussing the really odd photo spread that A-Rod did for Details magazine recently, LZ Granderson observes:

It’s curious how technology makes it possible for anyone on the planet to pull up A-Rod’s photo spread, and yet when it comes to discussing it, we’re trapped on some sort of medieval hamster wheel.

“He’s on the DL”
“That’s supergay”
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, Could this be the gayest pose of all?”

Your first reaction is, no doubt, one of incredulity. What makes this metaphorical hamster wheel which represents the tendency of sports fans to make gay jokes medieval, exactly? Does he mean to suggest that medievals were well known for their very simplistic gay jokes? [They weren’t.] Or that they often strapped gay people to their big medieval torture wheels? [They didn’t.] Or that they loved their hamsters, but were also paralyzed by the secret fear that their hamsters were gay? [That’s more a Late Antiquity thing, really.]

Actually, as it turns out, LZ Granderson has been reading his Boethius. As the Boethius scholars who frequent my blog can attest, Boethius followed his medieval bestseller The Consolation of Philosophy (which featured his meditations on the fickleness of Dame Fortune and her Wheel) with the disastrously under-performing The Consolation of Owning a Pet Hamster, in which Boethius suggested that what appears to be the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune can better be explained by supposing that inside Fortune’s Wheel–to which all of humanity is mercilessly strapped in a never-ending cycle of bliss and blunder–there lives a cute, furry hamster. This image is taken from one of the only remaining manuscripts of Boethius’s Consolation II:

You see, in this further refinement of his Fortune metaphor, man still passes from regno (I reign) to regnavi (I have reigned) to sine regno (I am without a kingdom) to regnabo (I shall reign again), but the motive energy is provided by the hamster which, unlike the Lady who holds the wheel, does love us very much and wants the best for each and every one of us, but his cage is small and nobody thought to buy him one of those tubes that he could crawl through when he gets bored, so what do you expect him to do except run in the wheel? And the consolation is that if you give him pistachios, which are his favorite, he’ll run faster and fast forward you to the regno again.

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  • Steve Muhlberger

    Much gratitude (and a mad cackle or two).

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