history

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume

As I’ve mentioned here before, I live about a block and a half from a beautiful Anglican church that holds a jamboree every year.  They have games for children, food and, in one delightful room, piles of used books for sale.

I particularly love this because the kind of books they have for sale tend towards the things that the British community in Argentina would have had on their shelves in the fifties, sixties and seventies: books and other periodicals in English that I never would have thought to buy for myself.  Often, they can be had for a token price and all proceeds go to charity, so there’s plenty of incentive to bring home something outside your normal comfort zone.

The White Nile by Alan Moorhead

One of these titles was The White Nile by Alan Moorehead, a hefty hardcover that I immediately grabbed out of the pile.

Now, for those of you who don’t know it, the history of the exploration and colonization of the lower reaches of the Nile in the latter half of the 19th century is fascinating, and Moorehead’s style makes for gripping reading.  The tale of Livingstone and Stanley is probably the most famous of these, but perhaps the military quests and particularly Gordon’s famous defeat at Khartoum are the most interesting parts.

Like Tarzan of the Apes, this is a book that one needs to read without falling into the revisionist trap.  Published in 1960, a time where the glories of the British Empire lived vividly in the minds of many, it doesn’t pander to modern sensibilities.  That’s not to say it’s rampantly racist or one-sided–it isn’t; Moorehead was a historian with a decent amount of sensitivity to the people he wrote about–but it IS written from the British viewpoint, and exclusively through the testimony of white explorers, many of whom truly believed that they were bringing light to a dark region of the world.  When you read their descriptions of what they found, it’s even possible for open-minded readers to understand why they felt this way.

If you can set aside modern thought patterns for a moment, this book is nearly as good as any lost race novel at transporting you to fascinating worlds… with the added benefit that the events related therein actually took place in real life.  It’s an escape from the pressures and rhythms of everyday life that make it well worth the effort of leaving one’s sensibilities aside.

And you’ll learn one heck of a lot along the way.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  He is the author of the well-received novel Siege.

Advertisements

Bibliophile Heaven with History

As a book lover, there are few things I enjoy more than perusing a good library.  Whether it be by looking at the spines of the books at a friend’s house or visiting the New York Public Library when I’m in the city (Protip: the original stuffed animals that inspired Winnie the Pooh are on permanent display in the Children’s section on the ground floor of the NYPL), this king of sightseeing is something I never fail to enjoy.

Abbey-of-Saint-Gall

However, it’s not always possible to hop on a plane and fly to St. Gall each time I want to view an even more impressive depository, so, as usual, my solution is to get a book.  Actually multiple books.  The first book I bought about libraries is called The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World, and as its name suggests, the preoccupation here is to allow the beauty to shine forth by using spectacular photography.  Fortunately, it also gives the–sometimes tortuous–history of each of them as well.

Over time, I discovered that despite its coffee-table size, this book is one of the most frequently perused volumes in my own book cases.

The Library - A World History

So I succumbed to the pressure of Amazon recommendations and bought a companion volume: The Library: A World History.  Written by James W. P. Campbell, this one, though also a large-format and lushly illustrated book goes back to the very beginnings of literary history and gives a blow-by-blow account of how the way people have stored books has evolved.  It’s bang up to date to its publication in 2013.

I found it fascinating to learn which advances permitted–and sometimes forced–the way library formats have evolved over the centuries.  Knowing why a room full of books looks the way it does is almost as enjoyable as looking at it.

Almost.

Though the focus here is definitely on the scholarship, the pictures of libraries, reading rooms, and the furniture within are worth the price of admission even if they were all that was included.  This book gets pulled out and stared at even more than the other one, mainly because, though there aren’t as many pictures of each library, there are many more libraries featured, including some in Korea, Japan and China. Those latter places are not only fascinating for themselves, but also illuminating in context; they illustrate beautifully how differences in book format created different kinds of storage rooms.

Recommended.  I think that bibliophiles will love these.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist who is currently writing the sequel to his comic fantasy novel The Malakiad.

The Byzantine Story of the Buenos Aires Zoo

On a cool evening in the autumn of 2016, I got home and my wife told me that there was an event being held in the neighborhood.  The idea was that one could visit various expositions and historic sites around Belgrano R and get a stamp at each.  Once one had all seven stamps, one could claim a prize.  The only catch was that we had to do it all before 8:30 PM… it was already 6:30.

St Saviour's Church Belgrano

Her kids and I (she couldn’t join due to being seven months pregnant) took off at once.  We rushed around like maniacs and visited 3 churches (including the one in the photo), 2 schools, a social club and some other stuff I can’t remember, walked about three miles and earned our prize.  The kids chose a book.

On the face of it, this book was a natural choice, as it was about the Buenos Aires Zoo.  But delving a little deeper, it wasn’t really a good book for kids at all.  It was a collection of scholarly historical essays dealing with the creation of the zoo itself in all its historical and social significance, as well as a specific focus on a Byzantine Portico commissioned for the entrance to the park.  The book, quite naturally, is entitled El Pórtico Bizantino del Jardín Zoologico de Buenos Aires.

El Portico Bizantino del Zoologico de Buenos Aires

To understand the attraction of something like this, it must be noted that, when the zoo was being planned in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Buenos Aires was the capital of a world power which looked to Europe for its social cues.  Anyone visiting from fin de siècle Paris would have felt right at home, and did.  Transplanted victorian ladies would have been able to walk the park’s promenades without having to modify their dress–their Argentine peers would have looked exactly the same.

So the government had art experts scouring the markets in Europe and the Middle East for suitable antiquities.  Many arrived… some real, some not-so-real, and the analysis of whether the Portico’s columns are from classical antiquity or from a 19th century Italian workshop is both exhaustive and, to a modern reader, amusing.

Amusing in a sad way, though.  Firstly, because, despite having been in the zoo many, many times, I’d never really paid much attention to the semicircle of columns set on an island in a park lake.  It was just part of the background, and a difficult to see and not-very-imposing part at that.

Secondly, it’s sad because, due to unfortunate intervention of a small but vocal minority, the Buenos Aires zoo, a magnificent public space enjoyed by a city of fifteen million people, was forced to close at just about the same time as I was gaining possession of this particular volume.  It’s supposedly going to be reopened at some future date as an eco-park (the word “eco” in there should give a clue as to which special interest group needs to be appeased), but it hasn’t happened yet.

It’s poignant that the Portico might disappear now.  Not because it was a major attraction–it wasn’t.  But it was part of the history of the city… To have it disappear as an unintended side effect of pressure from fanatics is a sad but accurate reflection of how the modern world works.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His novel Incursion was released by Severed Press in 2017.

A Stained-Glass View into a Simpler Time

A Stained Glass Tour In Italy

In the early twentieth century, tourism was mostly an upper-class pursuit.  Due to the way the upper classes were (and to a certain degree still are) educated in those days, this made for a very different kind of tourism.  The mere concept of going to Coney Island for a Hot Dog Eating Competition would have been met with a mixture of derision and outright disbelief.

While you’re not really going to find too many equivalents of the glorious Grand Tours in the years just before the Great War, you still found erudite madmen going off on interesting expeditions.  Heirs to Victorian obsessions, these adventurers were hobbyists and diarists that make the people who dress up as Stormtroopers for Comic Con (or worse, science fiction writers) look like normal, well-adjusted human beings.

Many of them left books behind regarding the unlikeliest of subjects, I was delighted but unsurprised when a volume entitled A Stained Glass Tour in Italy appeared at the annual jamboree at our local Anglican Church.

But, before I talk about the book let’s talk about this church.  I’m not religious in the least (and certainly not Anglican), but I love the place.  It is a lovely stone building that looks like it should be situated somewhere in fictional Wessex in the early 19th century and not a block from my house in the middle of a heavily built up sector of one of the world’s megacities.  It was the perfect spot to find a book like the one above, my copy of the Stained-Glass tome.

St Saviour's Church Belgrano

The book itself is a first edition, albeit worn frayed around the edges and well-aged, and probably the thing that I loved most about it was the fact that I was the first person in its over 100 years of history to read the thing completely.  How did I know this?  Because some of the pages were still uncut.  So, for two dollars, I purchased a journey back in time and the thrill of trying to separate pages with a steak knife (long story) without tearing them.

The book itself was a charming example of something that would never have been touched by a modern day publishing house.  A couple of wealthy friends go on a tour of northern Italy for the express and arcane purpose of viewing significant works of stained glass in the regions churches.  As they guide us through the towns they visit, the focus is on the glass and a brief history of the art form, but glimpses of life in the Italian countryside before WWI peek nostalgically through.  My lasting impression of this book is one of sunlight bathing dusty country roads and sand-colored buildings, slightly crumbling but once magnificent.

The book itself is interesting, too, with a number of laid in photographs and a strangely folded map, its production values would be dismissed as an amateur production today, but carries the stamp of the Bodley Head, a major publisher in 1911.

But it’s the writing which carries the day.  This book functions as neither a comprehensive guide to Italian stained glass nor as a reasonable tour guide for the era.  A labor of love, written – and likely published – with little or no consideration for any commercial value, in a tone that is as affectionate towards the subject as it is to any reader interested enough to open the volume.  It’s the work of a generalist who happened to love stained glass, a product of a polymath and a man of his time (Charles Hitchcock Sherrill – ambassador, athlete and stained-glassophile) that we like to think would be an avid reader of Classically Educated today.

We were definitely avid readers of his book!

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer.  His best-known book is the science fiction novel Siege.

Party Like You’re in India and It’s a Thousand Years Ago

A few years ago, we published our most popular post ever.  Ironically, considering that we try to be at least a little bit high-brow and are proud of being elitist pigs, our most popular piece was a humorous story about parties written by our vampire columnist.  It immediately went viral and everyone read it.  Then, like all these things, everyone forgot about it.  (even more ironically, our second-greatest hit was a depressing relationship piece written by a columnist calling herself Scarlett – argh, there goes our street cred).

We may be elitist, but we aren’t proud and we like clicks as much as the next blog, so we asked Baron H (famous as the main columnist of the now defunct Undead Smart Set) to do a follow up to that one.  He hemmed and hawed that he’d gotten all the best parties in the first one, but when we pushed, he started saying things like “well, there was that one time in Mexico, but I really shouldn’t talk about that…”  We told him he was going to talk about it or we’d call in the stakes and garlic brigade, and the results are below.

 

Greetings and Salutations,

It’s always a mystery to me why mortals get so exercised about parties.  They’re entertaining, yes, and often instructive, but from what I’ve seen of the blowouts organized by humans, they’re not really all that special.  Granted, there are some exceptions, but in general I’ve found that the undead have much better blowouts… Perhaps the fact that we’re permitted to eat the mortals present make our festivities inherently better.

Nevertheless, there were some good party eras in the past and it’s worth celebrating the ones I missed last time.  Nothing too new, of course, because modern people have no idea what a good party looks like – not even in the seventies, when sex was a lot more free and easy than it is today.

 

300px-Codex_Magliabechiano_(141_cropped)

5.  The Re-consecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan

Now this was a good party to be undead at mainly because, for a glorious few days, the strict taboo on not killing the partygoers was lifted.  Every male was expected to bring something to the party – specifically, every male was expected to bring a prisoner, captured in battle to sacrifice at the altar.

No one is quite sure what the final number of victims were.  Sources have said that it might have been as high as eighty thousand killed over the course of four days.  As a witness, I’d say that there certainly were a lot of them, although I’d be hard pressed to give an exact count.  Why, you ask?  Well, there are certain things that a gentleman doesn’t discuss… let’s just say that there were other things happening at the party apart from the sacrifices.  It was good enough for fifth place on this list.

 

kubla khan pop-up coleridge

4. Kubla Khan’s Xanadu

I didn’t mention this last time because I wanted to spare Coleridge’s blushes.  I told him all about the parties, how the great Khan would empty entire nations to have the right kind of food and drink for the table and the right shade of girls on hand for his soldiers.  But then he went and got stoned out of his mind and forgot most of it.

I tried again, but the woman I told it to was either even more stoned than Coleridge or had a really low opinion of what her contemporaries could understand.

Either way, these were amazing parties with a seriously dark edge, but I’m done trying to explain them to humans.

 

Nero's Domus Aurea

3. Nero’s Domus Aurea

This is a gold dome near to my heart.  Nero’s Rome was possibly unique in its tolerance of the undead.  They were pretty much up for anything back then, and would happily invite anyone – and anything – out of the ordinary to join in.  When you have accepted that infinite power corrupts infinitely, and have decided to enjoy that fact, it takes a lot of creativity to make you feel special again

At this place, every night felt special.

The amount of blood, wine, food and bodily fluids spilled at any of these parties could fill an ocean basin, and I suspect they probably tried.  I shudder to think of the wasted blood.

 

White Smoke from Papal Conclave

2. Papal Conclave of 1644

One normally doesn’t think of the Catholic Church as a hedonistic and freewheeling institution.  In fact, if one doesn’t know the right people, it might seem precisely the opposite (assuming one politely looks the other way on the subject of altar boys).

The reality is very different.  Everyone knows that in earlier, less social-media-conscious centuries, the Vatican had a brothel for its priests.  Also there were Medicis in there – those guys knew how to throw a party.

But that just scratches the surface.  If you want to see what the Vatican is capable of, try to get invited to a conclave.  Better yet, build yourself a time machine, or go around the earth really fast or get hit by lightning and go back in time to 1644 and get invited to that conclave.

While everyone in Rome was distracted by the fact that, oh, woe, the Pope was dead and also by the fact that someone had wisely ordered that the water from various fountains be replaced with wine, leaving the population drunk for days, the cardinals shut themselves in a huge palace with every courtesan in Italy.  The wine also meant they didn’t realize that a lot of their wives were also missing, and so were a number of altar boys.  Finally, I find it amazing that no one commented that the white smoke smelled decidedly funny.

The Cardinals themselves?  They were having such a good time that not one of them threatened me with a crucifix during the whole party.

 

Indian Sex Temple Carvings

1. Indian Chandela Dynasty

Look, I know there have been good parties everywhere.  But when they’re so good that you actually carve the images of them on temples and they’re still causing comment a thousand years later, then you were really on to something.

Such was the situation in India during the Chandela dynasty.  As Mel Brooks used to say, “It’s good to be the King”, but it is even better to be the king of a civilization whose Pantheon includes a deity called Kama, essentially a god of sex.  So you can spend the entire GDP of your people on a huge party, run through the entire supply of virgins of both genders in a few nights, and still say that you were observing a religious holiday.  Bliss.

Today all the guides tell tourists that the temples are carved with all aspects of life and that sexual lust was one of the things of which one had to be purified before entering the sacred space – hence its prominent placement along some walls.  It’s not hard to tell that that is purely PR spin and you should pay no attention to it whatsoever.

We know exactly what those temples are: they’re the 10th century equivalent of those Instagram pics of the party last weekend.  The one that got a little out of control.

I know because I was there – being immortal has its perks!

 

Anyhow, this time I’m really out of parties worthy of including in future lists, but if you know of any coming up that might compare to these…  well, just leave a comment and the owners of this blog will invite me.

Kind Regards,

Baron H

 

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel is entitled Incursion.  He assures us that, if you enjoy adventure and action by believable characters, you’ll like this one (of course, he’s the author, what else is he going to say?)

Vampiric Creatures of Ancient Myth and Legend

As you can see, we’re in the spirit of October here at Classically Educated with the spirits being prevalent!  Our guest columnist Richard H. Fay, is back this week (you can see last week’s post about the connection between fairies and the dead, here) with yet another topical entry (for more vampire posts, we also recommend this article).  You can read his blog here, and we also recommend checking out his Zazzle Store.  

 

Lilith Stone Carving

Ever since mankind first imagined mythic threats alongside the mundane, creatures that feasted on the blood or life-force of humans haunted the long, dark night. Blood-sucking monsters, life-draining fiends, and the revenant dead featured in the myths and legends of many diverse cultures across the globe and throughout history. Even though the concept of the vampire as an animated corpse feeding on the blood of the living became most fully developed in medieval Eastern Europe (Curran, 2005, p. 33; Richardson, n.d.), the idea of strange and supernatural creatures sustaining themselves on human vitality goes back centuries.

The great-great grandmother of vampiric creatures in Western lore may have been the winged female entity known as Lilith. This spiteful demoness entered early Hebrew tradition through Mesopotamian mythology about beings such as Lilitu, a wind and storm spirit (Matthews & Matthews, 2005, p. 366). Lilith was either Adam’s first wife or became his lover after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Jealous of the fruits of marital unions and angry over God’s destruction of hundreds of her own demonic offspring, Lilith became the vampiric bane of women in childbirth and newborn babes (Guiley, 2005, p. 181; Matthews & Matthews, 2005, p. 367.) She also sought sexual intercourse with lonely and vulnerable men, leaving her male victims exhausted or even dead after their night of sinful passion (Curran, 2006, p. 23). In an interesting parallel to vampire lore regarding the crucifix as a potent protection against the predatory undead, magic amulets and holy talismans could thwart Lilith’s unholy advances and infanticidal attacks (Guiley, 2005, p. 181; Matthews & Matthews, 2005, p. 366).

According to the apocryphal text Testament of Solomon, King Solomon encountered and eventually controlled a vampiric, shape-shifting demon named Ornias. During the construction of Solomon’s Temple of Jerusalem, Ornias appeared every day at sunset to steal a portion of the wages, food, and very soul of the head workman’s boy. The lad wasted away as the demon drained his life by sucking on his thumb. Given a magical ring by the archangel Michael, Solomon subdued the demon and ordered him to cut stone for the temple. Terrified to touch iron tools, Ornias begged to be freed. Solomon then sought the aid of the archangel Uriel, who commanded the demon to obey. Once his work was completed, Ornias was delivered to Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons (Guiley, 2005, p. 223; Peterson, 1997).

Babylonian and Assyrian storytellers told tales of the revenant ekimmus. Individuals that died violent deaths or suffered improper burials would be denied entry into the underworld. Doomed to walk the Earth, ekimmus troubled mankind by wreaking misfortune and destruction upon the living. These restless souls could also possess mortal bodies and proved to be very difficult to exorcise (Guiley, 2005, p. 117).

Dracula First Edition

Ancient Greek mythology spoke of several blood-thirsty beasts and beings. Empusae, ghostly daughters of the goddess Hecate, frightened travellers to death and lured young men to bed to drain their life energies (Atsma, 2000, Empusa & Lamiae; Guiley, 2005, p. 117). Dark, grim-eyed keres, female death-spirits, hovered over battlefields to drink the blood of the wounded and dying. Some of the keres also personified plague and pestilence (Atsma, 2000).

The half-serpentine monster Lamia was yet another mythic beast that stalked the Grecian night. Once a mistress of the god Zeus, Lamia suffered a fell transformation at the hands of his jealous wife Hera. The goddess also destroyed all of Lamia’s children that arose from her illicit union with the lord of Olympus. Angered by her terrible fate, Lamia swore to kill the children of others. The lamiae became a class of female demons who stole newborns and seduced young men to feed on tender flesh and pure blood (Curran, 2006, p. 19; Guiley, 2005, p. 175; Matthews & Matthews, 2005, p. 361).

The Greek dead did not always remain in their graves. Dead men were known to shout abuses, torment passers-by, attack descendants and former neighbours, and even seek sexual intercourse with their grieving spouses. The Greeks that crossed between the worlds of the dead and the living appeared not as wispy phantoms, but rather as corporeal revenants, fully capable of maiming or even killing those around them (Curran, 2006, p. 17).

The Romans adopted many of the same terrifying beings found in Greek mythology, but they also added a few nightmares of their own. Along with the erotic night terrors known as incubi and succubae, Romans feared encountering horrible striges, female avian monstrosities that drank blood and spread disease (Curran, 2006, p. 20). Possibly born through the metamorphosis of hags into dreadful birds of prey, striges possessed misshapen heads and plundering claws. Poisonous milk filled their ungainly breasts. According to certain accounts, striges would peck at infants to feed on their blood and bowels or cause illness by offering children their poisoned milk (Curran, 2006, p. 20; Guiley, 2005, p. 268; Simboli, 1921, p. 33). Carna, the goddess of door hinges, could chase them away with magical incantations and rituals involving an arbutus branch, “drugged” water, and a white thorn twig (Simboli, 1921, p. 33).

Ancient cultures created a host of foul entities that exhibited many of the characteristics found in more recent vampire lore. Lilith, Ornias, empusae, keres, Lamia, and striges all dined on the blood, flesh, or life force of hapless humans. Striges and keres were also associated with disease, a trait shared with later vampire traditions. Ekimmus and Greek revenants returned from the dead to wreak havoc upon the living. Furthermore, some of the devices effective against many of these marauding beings, such as holy symbols and charms, were similar to what might be found in a vampire hunter’s array of armaments. Although certain aspects involving their creation and appearance differed from those found in later vampire beliefs, ancient vampiric creatures were thought to be as much a threat to humanity as their more recent cousins.

 

References:

Atsma, A. J. (2000). Keres, in theoi greek mythology. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2008, from
http://www.theoi.com/Daimon/Keres.html

Atsma, A. J. (2000). Empusa and lamiae, in theoi greek mythology. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2008, from
http://www.theoi.come/Phasma/Empousai.html

Curran, B. (2006). Encyclopedia of the Undead: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Cannot Rest in Peace. Franklin Lakes: The Career Press.

Guiley, R. E. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. New York: Checkmark Books.

Matthews, J., & Matthews, C. (2005). The Elemental Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures: The Ultimate A-Z Guide of Fantastic Beings From Myth and Legend. London: HarperElement.

Peterson, J. H. (1997). The testament of Solomon (F. C. Conybeare, Trans.). In twilit grotto: Archives of western esoterica. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2008, from
http://www.esotericarchives.com/solomon/testament.htm

Richardson, B. (n.d.). Vampires in myth and history. The vampire’s vault. Retrieved Feb 20, 2008, from
http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/~vampire/vhist.html

Simboli, C. R. (1921). Disease-Spirits and Divine Cures Among the Greeks and Romans. New York: Columbia University. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2008, from
http://books.google.come/books?id=NvsHAAAAIAAJ

(Article originally published in Hungur, Issue 6, Walpurgisnacht, 2008.)

The Connection Between Fairies and the Dead

Today marks the return of guest columnist Richard H. Fay, a man who exemplifies the polymath spirit of Classically Educated by being an artist, a poet and also, as he proves below and in his previous post for us, an expert on very different aspects of history.  You can read his blog here, and we also recommend checking out his Zazzle Store. Best of all is that this is only the first article in a weekly series, which we’ll be running over the next couple of months!

The Fairy Queen

At first glance, there may seem to be few links between the frolicking fairies and the souls of the dead. However, if one delves deeper into traditional fairy lore, one finds that the fairy realm and the realm of the dead overlapped. A handful of fairy types functioned as harbingers of death or summoners of dying souls. On occasion, fairies would intermingle with the human dead. At times, the spirits of deceased mortals gathered in fairy places or even behaved rather like fairy folk. Lost human souls, especially those of children who had died prior to undergoing the Christian rite of baptism, might take fairy form and join the ranks of the fays.

Some denizens of the fairy realm had links to the realm of the dead by heralding the approach of death or summoning the spirit of a dying human to the otherworld. The keening fairy woman known as the banshee foretold the forthcoming demise of Irish mortals of Milesian descent, humans of heroic lineage whose surnames started with ” Ó” or “Mac”(White, 2005). A glimpse of the Highland Bodach Glas, the Dark Grey Man, signalled impending doom (Briggs, 1976). The gruesome-looking dullahan would ride the countryside on his thundering black steed and then stop to hold his severed head aloft to summon the soul of whoever was about to die (Curran, 1998). The mine-dwelling wichtlein of Germany warned miners of imminent death or disaster by raising a din as if they were hard at work (Sikes, 2002). Dunters or powries, noisome resident spirits of Border fortresses who sounded as if they were beating flax or milling grain in a quern, would raise a louder ruckus if death or disaster drew near (Briggs, 1976).

According to tales from Ireland and its remote western isles, at certain times human souls who had departed their mortal shells would accompany the fairies in their preternatural revelries. During dark celebrations held on the night of October the Thirty-First, fairies reeled hand-in-hand with the risen dead (White, 2005). A man of Ireland’s western islands named Hugh King discovered that his deceased friends and dead acquaintances, clad in their long funeral shrouds, danced at the fairy fair held on November Eve (Wilde, 1887). Out late one November night, an Inishark woman sighted revenants garbed in white mingled amongst a great gathering of cavorting fairies (Wilde, 1887). A grief stricken lass from the same isle spied her late lover gambolling with the fairies atop their hill when she peered through a ring of herbs given to her by a lady in white (Wilde, 1887). A shepherdess who encountered a group of festive fays met a pale young man; a man she knew had drowned the previous winter (Wilde, 1887). In a tale found in different locales across Ireland, a man witnessed deceased acquaintances riding with the fays when he tried unsuccessfully to rescue his dead wife from a fairy procession (Ó hÓgáin, 2006). The Irish fairy monarch Finvara was also King of the Dead and ruled over a host of departed mortals (Briggs, 1978).

Faerie

Some stories of earthbound souls blurred the line between fairy and ghost. Noisy spectres of those who had once been human would haunt fairy raths with their clanking and creaking (White, 2005). The Northumberland bogy called Dunnie, a shape-shifting prankster who liked to adopt the guise of a horse or donkey to play practical jokes on Hazelrigg farmers, had been a plundering Border reiver in life (Briggs, 1976). The Irish Phooka of Kildare, who appeared as an ass and performed the toilsome tasks of a household fairy, identified itself as the spirit of an indolent scullion (Briggs, 1978). The English Cauld Lad of Hilton, a brownie-like entity that the servants of Hilton Hall expelled in the traditional fashion of laying brownies by leaving him a gift of a new cloak and hood, was said to be the ghost of a murdered servant boy (Keightley, 1978). The Cauld Lad of Gilsland, reputed to be the restless soul of a neglected boy who died of hypothermia, acted like a banshee and foretold death by shivering and moaning at the bedside of one about to die (Rose, 1998).

In perhaps the most direct link between fairies and the dead, certain types of fay were considered to be human spirits endowed with fairy powers. The sluagh of the Scottish Highlands, dark entities that winged to and fro across the midnight sky and forced hapless mortals to join in malicious mischief, were said to be the Host of the Unforgiven Dead (Briggs, 1976). The bean-nighe, who portended doom by washing blood-stained clothes in the forlorn streams of both and Ireland and Scotland, was believed to be the restless shade of a mother who had perished during childbirth (Briggs, 1976). Cornish tin-miners claimed that their helpful mine fairies known as knockers had once been Jews who had toiled in the mines in ancient times (Briggs, 1976). The Welsh commonly considered their Tylwyth Teg to be the spirits of departed humans neither entirely evil nor completely good, spirits consigned to reside in this world’s hidden places until Judgement Day (Sikes, 2002). The samovily, a fatally seductive southern Slavonic water fairy, was thought to be either a human bride who had lost her life on the night of her nuptials or a deceased mortal girl who had never been baptised (Franklin, 2002). The beautiful vily of Slavonic lore danced in circles and possessed powers of enchantment and shape-shifting just like their Fair Folk kin of Western Europe, but some accounts insisted that these alluring beings were the ghosts of prideful maids or unbaptized youngsters (Franklin, 2002).

In a recurring theme in fairy lore, the souls of departed human children who never entered the Christian fold could become mischievous and even malevolent members of the fairy realm. The sheerie, luminous Irish sprites who used maleficent magic to lead wayfarers astray, were thought to be the bitter spirits of unbaptized babes (Curran, 1998). According to Devonshire lore, their own diminutive mischief-making pixies shared similar origins (Keightley, 1978). The potentially deadly tarans who roamed Scottish forests and the nocturnal spunkies who misled wanderers in Somerset were also believed to be the souls of children who never underwent the ritual of baptism (Franklin, 2002). The same explanation was applied to the origins of numerous will-o’-the-wisps such as Pinket, a will-o’-the-wisp who haunted Worcestershire (Franklin, 2002).

Though some people insist that “ghosts are not fairies” (White, 2005), certain aspects of fairy folklore suggest that wayward human souls did, at times, acquire a fairy existence. The connection went beyond mere association. Ghostly entities such as the Phooka of Kildare, Dunnie of Northumberland, and the Cauld Lad of Hilton appeared to possess fairy-like attributes and exhibit fairy-like behaviour. Fairy folk such as the sheerie, the sluagh, and the samovily had once been human. Fairies not only foretold the coming of death and consorted with the dead, sometimes, they were the dead.

(Article originally published in Disturbed Digest, Issue #4, March 2014.)

 

References

Briggs, K. (1976). An encyclopedia of fairies, hobgoblins, brownies, bogies, and other supernatural creatures. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Briggs, K. (1978). The vanishing people: Fairy lore and legends. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
Curran, B. (1998). A field guide to Irish fairies. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Franklin, A. (2002). The illustrated encyclopaedia of fairies. London, England: Vega.

Keightly, T. (1978). The world guide to gnomes, fairies, elves, and other little people. New York, NY: Avenel Books.

Ó hÓgáin, D. (2006). The lore of Ireland: An encyclopaedia of myth, legend and romance. Woodbridge, England: The Boydell Press.

Rose, C. (1998). Spirits, fairies, leprechauns, and goblins: An encyclopedia. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Sikes, W. (2002). British goblins: Welsh folklore, fairy mythology, legends and traditions. Doylestown, PA: Wildside Press.

White, C. (2005). A history of Irish fairies. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers.

Wilde, Lady F. S. (1887). Ancient legends, mystic charms, and superstitions of Ireland. Boston, MA: Ticknor and Co.

The Etruscans – and Their Chariots

Etruscan Chariot Race

The most ironic thing about the Etruscans of central and northern Italy is the fact that their very success doomed them to present-day obscurity and mystery. The reason for this is that the twelve great Etruscan city-states were probably the greatest single influence on Rome before its expansion. In fact, many in the ancient world considered Rome, despite its Latin language and origins, to be an Etruscan city. Etruscan territory was also among the first to be annexed into the growing Roman domain, and the descendants of the Rasna (or Rasenna), as they called themselves, were made into Roman citizens along with the rest of the Italians, at a very early date.

The upshot is that it becomes very difficult in the present day to separate pre-Roman pure Etruscan civilization from what occurred in the region after the Romans swept everything away. The fact that their language has never been adequately deciphered (it is one of those stand-alone oddities like Basque) has not helped much either.

Consequently, much of the history of the Etruscans has been pieced together through the years, using burial sites and art. From carvings found in burial sites and elsewhere we know that the Etruscans did indeed have chariot races: two and three horse teams pulling one-person baskets. By the prominence of chariot racing in Etruscan visual art, it is clear that the sport held a significant spot in Rasna hearts during the first half of the 5th century BCE, with some differences from the way it was practiced in Greece, including the use of a helmet.

Other sports practiced by the Etruscans include discus and javelin throwing, wrestling and horse-racing, end there is even speculation that they introduced the Romans to gladiatorial games.

Experts believe that the most important sporting events in ancient Etruria took place during religious ceremonies such as burials, which makes the situation in the story extremely probable, apart from the fantasy element, especially considering the proliferation of deities within the Etruscan pantheon.

Etruscan women were considered equal to the men, much to the consternation of Greek visitors to the region often exercised. This has led to a series of defamatory articles written by certain Greek historians which are suspected to be at least partly apocryphal.

Erotic Etruscan Threesome Tomb Art

While tomb artwork does indicate that Etruscan society was sexually liberal, there is little to indicate that no one was quite certain as to who their father was, something that Greek travelers hinted at! Etruscan women were certainly interested in their bodies, and often exercised, but were not allowed to participate in the sporting events themselves.

An Interesting Duality

After a bit of an early-summer break, Classically Educated returns with an eye-opening look at two incidents that should you think… and not like many of the conclusions, particularly if you’re the kind of person who likes to analyze the karmic link between events…

Most of you will quickly realize that the post below is by our historical expert Stacy Danielle Stephens.  But for those new to the site, please look out for her other, longer pieces!

The weekend of Palm Sunday, 1935

Black Sunday 1935 Storm

On Saturday, April 13th, 1935, nine officers of the LAPD Red Squad[1] attempted to restore order at a student anti-war protest by liberally applying their blackjacks and brass knuckles to seventeen-year-old Flora Turchincsky[2] and nineteen-year-old Esther Kleinman. In response, some of the protesters charged the police, who withdrew in fear while clearing a path to safety with their blackjacks, while other protesters carried the two unconscious girls away. The nine officers sustained widespread abrasions during their escape, inflicting minor injuries on another dozen of the protesters.

That same day, the Chicago Police Red Squad managed to disperse protesters at the University of Chicago with only a single broken nose among the students, and no injuries to themselves. Both protests were part of the second annual National Student Strike Against War[3]. In most cities, protesters were opposed only by other civilians armed with rotten eggs, who considered themselves patriots.

* * *

On the morning of Palm Sunday, April 14th, 1935, a cold front originating in the Dakotas began moving just a few points east of south. It was a storm system desperately seeking humidity, but finding only sustained and unremitting drought conditions. As the dry heat simply pushed it along, it gathered up more dust than it left behind, becoming an increasingly massive and impenetrable column, gradually encompassing the horizon and climbing as high as the atmosphere could carry it. It travelled at sixty-eight miles per hour, reaching Amarillo, Texas by seven O’Clock in the evening. Crossing Kansas, the thing had begun to look like Hell itself moving south; swirling black topsoil with red dakota dust flickering at the upper edges, horrendously backlighted by the declining sun, which could not penetrate the bulk of it. By nightfall, more than three hundred million tons of dust had moved, some of it going as far as a thousand miles before it settled.

The next morning, The Carbondale Free Press[4] reported that “wind drifted the dust like snow,” covering all of Kansas, almost all of Missouri, and most of Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

[1] As early as 1920, and in many cases, well into the 1970s, the police departments of several US cities had special units within them to deal with “the communist threat”. Although the press and public were generally quite aware of their existence, they were seldom officially acknowledged.

[2] The daughter of Russian immigrants, Flora was born in Minnesota, and graduated from the University of California at Berkley, with honors, in 1938. She would later work in legal research, child welfare, and accounting, and would twice be elected to the Nevada State Legislature. On the Judiciary committee, she fought for prison reform in Nevada. She died in Los Angeles, of cancer, on October 25, 1973.

[3] Organized by communists in 1934, this event, which took place on the anniversary of US entry into The Great War of 1914-1918, later gained widespread support among several liberal and pacifist groups. In 1936, one half-million students would participate nation-wide. Over the following five years, support for the annual even would decline, and 1941 would be its final year.

[4] Many accounts mistakenly attribute this to The New York Times.

From Chancellor to Führer – Part 2

Nuremburg Rally

Today brings the conclusion of our excerpt from Stacy Danielle Stephens’ historical novel charting the rise of Adolf Hitler from Chancellor to Führer.  Those who missed Part 1 can read it here.

Near the end of May, 1934, German President Hindenburg returned to his estate at Neudeck, leaving Berlin for what no one doubted would be the last time. Before he left, he remarked to Vice Chancellor von Papen that things were going badly, and asked him to see what he could do about the Nazis.

* * *

Hitler and von Papen

“Only weaklings tolerate no criticism,” Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen said in a speech he gave at the Landgrafenhaus of the University of Marburg on June 17, 1934. Not by coincidence, his speech was highly critical of the Storm Detachment, of the Nazi Party, and of Hitler’s repressive policies. His audience was very much surprised, because it was von Papen who had persuaded President Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor of the coalition government. His audience was also delighted[1]. If von Papen were no longer supporting Hitler, a new, less repressive, government might be formed. That his speech that day was the last public criticism in Germany of Hitler’s government by anyone in a position of authority for more than ten years indicates how very much mistaken they were.

* * *

On June 21st, 1934, Hitler and General Blomberg, the Defense Minister, met with President Hindenburg, at the president’s request, to discuss the growing friction between the Nazi Storm Detachment and the Reichswehr.

“Your man Roehm,” the President said to Hitler, “says he’s responsible for the defense of the country. Says the Reichswehr is just a training camp.”

“He spoke out of turn, Sir,” Hitler replied. “I’ve set him straight on that.”

“If you had,” the President said, “we wouldn’t be here now. You’ll have to do more than lecture him. Or I’ll have to call for Martial Law.”

“The Reichswehr stands ready to do as you wish, Sir,” General Blomberg replied. How he intended to subdue two million Brownshirts with a force of one hundred thousand men, he did not explain.

“I will do what must be done,” Hitler said, “for the sake of Germany.”

Of course, Hindenburg and Blomberg both knew that Hitler would be unstinting in his efforts to further his own interests; as it happened, civil war would be as hard on him as it would on Germany. He could therefore be depended upon to resolve this crisis decisively and in short order.

Careful inquiries made over the next several days established the understanding that Hitler’s loyalty to the Reischwehr in this crisis would be rewarded with an army oath of loyalty to him; further, the SS, under Heinrich Himmler’s control, would stand with Hitler and the Reichswehr against Ernst Roehm and the Storm Detachment.

On June 25th, the Reichswehr was put on alert.

* * *

In Essen on June 28th, 1934, Ilse Stahl, who had previously been Josef Goebbels’ secretary and mistress, married Gauleiter Josef Terboven. Goebbels, Goering, and Hitler flew in from Berlin to attend the wedding. Goering flew back to Berlin immediately afterwards; Hitler stayed in Essen. On the 29th, he inspected a Reich Labour Camp, then spent the night in Bonn.

Völkischer Beobachter

Also on the 29th, the Völkischer Beobachter[2] published an article by General Blomberg, expressing the Reichswehr’s support for Hitler and the Party. This was a good indicator of which way the wind blew and how soon the ax would fall.

* * *

Early in the morning of June 30th, 1934, Hitler flew to Munich, and shortly after 6 AM, personally placed Ernst, who had just been woken up, under arrest, informing him that he was considered a traitor and instructing him to get dressed at once. Hitler left, and when Ernst had his clothes on, a pair of ordinary police detectives took him to Stadelheim prison.

That afternoon, finally willing to accept the evidence Heinrich had collected and which Hermann had acquainted him with, Hitler uttered the code word, “hummingbird,” to Josef, allowing the purge of Brown Shirt leaders to begin. It would include from one hundred to two hundred men, most of them homosexual.

* * *

By July 2nd, it was complete. That same day, Hitler received a telegram from the German President, which read: From the reports which had been brought to me, I see that by your decisive initiative and by your brave personal activity you have nipped all the treasonable activities in the bud. You have saved the German people from a grave danger. For this I express to you my heart-felt gratitude and my sincere respect. With best greetings, von Hindenburg.

On July 3rd, Chancellor Hitler’s Cabinet met, officially asking the Reichstag to issue retroactive carte blanche; on the 13th, by a unanimous vote, the Reichstag sanctioned these murders (referenced as “events of June 30th, and July 1st and 2nd”), writing them off legally as emergency defense measures undertaken in the best interests of the nation. Officially, seventy-four conspirators had, by an imperative necessity, been summarily brought to justice, but just as officially, it was made known that there would be no accounting, no review, and no further explanation either requested or offered for what had happened in the course of those three hot summer days.

An irrevocable precedent was established on July 13th, 1934. From that date onward, it was clear to everyone that Adolf Hitler now uniquely and absolutely embodied the legitimate and freely elected government of Germany, and that if he felt a certain number of murders were in the best interests of Germany, there would be no questions. Not from the Reichstag. Not from the courts. Not from the public. There would be no questions from any industrialists or bankers, nor from the church in Germany, whether Lutheran or Catholic. Not even if the number of murders were in excess of ten million.

In 1933, no one had asked why a new special detention facility, a Konzentrationslager, or Ka-tset, was needed at Dachau. In 1934, no one asked why three more Ka-tsets, at Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Mauthausen, were also necessary. By the summer of 1934, it was universally understood in Germany that because difficult questions would no longer be asked, they would simply be set aside in these Ka-tsets. What was not understood at that time was that in every Ka-tset, terrible answers would eventually be found.

* * *

On August 2nd, 1934, German President Paul von Hindenburg died. Hitler had been waiting for this patiently, but not idly. He’d already made arrangements to combine the offices of Chancellor and President into a single office he would hold, with the title Führer.

[1] Hitler’s popularity was always equivocal. While very few Germans were dissatisfied with HItler’s accomplishments, even fewer were at peace with themselves about the price at which these things were achieved.

[2] People’s Observer; the Munich-based newspaper of the Nazi Party.