Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Key to Victory: Boots on the Ground 

Today is Saint Crispin’s Day. For most people, this day is probably best known as the occasion on which Shakespeare’s Henry V gives the famous band of brothers speech just before the battle of Agincourt. I went through a fanatic Shakespeare period during college in which I saw every Shakespeare performance I could (which was a lot, as I was living in London at the time), so I must have heard or read the speech a dozen times before I got around to asking who this Saint Crispin fellow was anyway.

It turns out that Crispin and his brother, Saint Crispian, were Roman nobles who went on an evangelical mission in Gaul in the middle of the third century. In order to avoid having to live off the charity of the faithful, the brothers took up the trade of shoemaking. Their charity, piety and hard work impressed the local enough that it got the local Roman governor’s attention and eventually led to their execution. Together they are the patron saints of cobblers, and are thought of as demonstrating that attention to wordly professions is neither an impediment toward holiness nor an excuse for avoiding Christian obligations.

Last night, under the influence of too much whiskey, I wound up explaining to someone how this also makes them anachronistic symbols of our victory over the Neanderthals. As I have been telling people for years, it was the invention of shoes that gave us the edge over our prehistoric competitors. Now just because I’ve been telling people that doesn’t mean I had any reason to believe it. It was just something that was fun to say.

Until now. Recent evidence suggests that we started wearing shoes around 30,000 years ago, right about the time the Neanderthals exited stage oblivion. It circumstantial but the timing is right. Tonight I plan to raise at least a few glasses in honor of Crispin and Crispian, cobblers everywhere, and those original, bold shoemakers who gave our ancestors the perhaps decisive edge over those powerful Neanderthals.