Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Its founding date is uncertain, but it dates back to at least the eleventh century. Prior to that, where Oxford is now, there were Roman settlements and later monastic institutions. During the twelfth century, the University of Paris kicked out all of its English scholars, and they brought the French university’s curriculum with them when they fled back to England.
Sipping from a cup of freshly brewed Guatemalan dark roast as she surfed the Internet in the Emerald Victorian library, Laetitia ran across an interesting piece about an Oxford scholar who was applying new imaging techniques to ancient codices (manuscripts bound in book form) from the University’s archives. He had discovered, among other things, a piece of Roman erotica that had been written over with a religious text. Parchment, made from specially treated animal skins with the hair removed, was costly and hard to obtain. Thus monastic scribes recycled parchment by disassembling old discarded texts, removing the ink, writing new text in its place, and reassembling the rewritten pages into a new codex.
The original text, from the Roman period, was written in Latin. It was a variation of the story of mythical Phrygian (Greek) King Midas. Midas was given the golden touch as a gift by Dionysus or Bacchus; mythical stories vary. In the recently discovered manuscript, the Midas story has been reset in England near Oxford. Midas’ wife, Queen Demodike, distraught because Midas can no longer touch her without turning the touched area to gold, takes a lover. Midas discovers them in flagrante delicto and takes his revenge on her young suitor. At the end of the story, the queen secretly has her servants erect a monument to her lover somewhere in the vicinity of Oxford.
Shortly after the discovery of the manuscript and its translation was in the local newspapers, a man from a nearby hamlet called Golden Balls called on the scholar and told him that the Midas love triangle story had been part of the oral tradition of their community for centuries. Part of the legend was that the monument was an anatomically correct nude male statue made of marble, except for testicles, which were made of gold. The gold parts were almost immediately stolen. Until recently, there was a badly eroded and unrecognizable piece of marble statuary in the hamlet that local folks thought might have been the one in the story, but unfortunately it was accidentally destroyed during the construction of a roundabout.
After reading the Internet piece, Laetitia took another sip of coffee and thought to herself, “I can’t believe Bailey and Hurst would miss a place called Golden Balls.” She looked and indeed they hadn’t. She found that Golden Balls was number 90 in Rude UK. Next to the text was a picture of the sign announcing the approach to the Golden Balls Roundabout. Laetitia decided she wouldn’t lead a tour today. She already had her limerick.