Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pointless Question #18

Why is it that every little medieval town and castle has not one, but two guards who function as greeters instead of doing something useful?

8 comments:

Joshua said...

The two are actually a team of elite, highly-trained psychological profilers. By posing as "greeters", they are able to observe traveling vagabonds and, by noting what questions they ask and how they respond to the answers, can determine whether said vagabonds pose any threat to the community.

Anonymous said...

Because otherwise you are paying two guards to do nothing all day. You might as well make them do *something*, even if it's just a "hey, we have guards, so watch it" kind of function.

They're still more useful than airport checkpoints. :-)

Akusai said...

Well, that Wal-Mart business plan is just so damn successful.

Dunc said...

I could probably go on a lengthy discourse about the social importance of gatekeepers and porters in the Early Medieval period... Suffice to say that the lack of a proper greeting would have been regarded as a grievous breach of protocol. Gatekeepers figure quite prominently in many tales and poems from that period. [I am actually being completely serious here.]

Bourgeois_Rage said...

This is what guards do when they retire.

Joshua said...

"I could probably go on a lengthy discourse about the social importance of gatekeepers and porters in the Early Medieval period..."

Please do!

Dunc said...

Hmmm.... OK then. Not too long though.

Firstly, you have to understand the importance of hospitality. To refuse hospitality to pretty much anyone was almost unthinkable, but there are different levels - so a travelling pedlar might get bread and cheese in the stables, but the neighbouring baron would be offered the very best available, day or night. Getting the judgement as to who deserved what treatment wrong was the sort of thing that could spark small local wars. So the gatekeeper or porter had a very important job, and his lord's reputation could hang on his decisions. He has to balance the traditions of the court (for example, that no man might enter while the lord was at his meal) with the requirements of diplomacy. Of course, given that this is long before photographs or ID, he also had to be able to tell the difference between genuine nobility and chancers, as is seen in the early Arthurian poem "Pa gur yv y porthaur?" ("What man is the gatekeeper?"), where the gatekeeper Glewlwyd challenges Arthur to prove that he and his men are worthy of entry to the hall during a meal. The gatekeeper would need to be able to identify people that they'd only ever met once before, and know enough about the history (and especially the genealogy) of the important families in the area to be able to both interrogate visitors as to their identity and to be able to treat them as appropriate to their station.

Early medieval literature such as the Welsh Mabinogi and the tales of the Ulster Cycle are chock-full of references to gatekeepers and porters. It was clearly regarded as a very important and influential position.

valhar2000 said...

Well, that is what guards do: they sit around, doing absolutely nothing for hours on end, and then, in the blink of a eye, they have to spring into action, and sometimes into a LOT of action (like when you, the Hero, realize that you need to invade the city to finish the current quest).

Or when a gang of thieves decides kill all the guards, run in to steal a few million dollars, and then run back out.

You can see that dogs that have been bred to guard things, like mastiffs, have developed embraced this lifestyle to an extreme degree: they lie around and don't even move for most of the day, but if a stranger comes along you suddenly get 200 pounds of dog running around faster than most humans can.