April 6, 2005
For some reason all this talk of the conclave electing a new pope has reminded me of a book I read in high school. Set in the time of Frederick Barbarosa the Holy Roman Emperor when there were rival popes, it follows a group of Robber Knights (unlanded German knights, who preyed on merchant travelers) on an adventure north where they encounter a group of Asian barbarians. The thing about the book that struck me is that these Robber Knights all thought of themselves as ruthless characters (they would often leave merchants nude and penniless by the side of the road), but the barbarians were infinitely more cruel. They would castrate their enemies and leave them nailed to a tree by their tongues. There is this great shift in the book as the hunters become the hunted. Anyway I don't remember the title, so it's neither here nor there.
As an aside, I always found it amusing that Frederick Barbarosa managed to unite the German tribes, captured Rome, and brokered the peace of Constance but drown in a river after he fell off his horse while wearing full armor.