Magazine article Humanities

Heraldry and Harleys

Magazine article Humanities

Heraldry and Harleys

Article excerpt

"Road Warriors: Knight Riders," a new exhibition at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts, challenges popular stereotypes of the medieval horseman and modern motorcyclist.

"There are definite similarities between the knight of the Middle Ages and the biker of the mid- and late-twentieth century," contends medievalist Linda Honan, curator of the exhibition. A knight of the Middle Ages would often roam the countryside as a free lance, traveling from castle to castle, lord to lord, and giving us the modern word for working independently. "It was a way for culture to be spread and ideas to be spread," continues Honan. "It was an interesting social phenomenon, but it was also regarded then, as now, with some misgivings by people who stay put."

"The loner-the individual knight and the individual biker-can also be encountered in a group," Honan explains. "King Lear's daughters hated his band of knights 'debauched and bold.' Similarly, a lot of people dislike and are frightened by the sight of a group of bikers coming towards them. In both cases, the people are coming at high speed. They move faster than the rest of us. They are capable of traveling, of moving on, of leaving we're not sure what in their wake."

Some of the most striking similarities can be seen in the protective gear worn by both groups. "In the case of the knight," says Honan, "he wanted his armor to be deflective, so he made it with no chinks. . . and with rounded surfaces." The biker's gear protects him from the ground should his elbows and knees drag. "He also needs to be resistant to the wind," Honan says. …

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