Coronavirus Would Not Have Disrupted Our Ancestors’ Lives

A virus circles the world, killing 1% of the population or more, particularly the elderly … and people just go about their business. Even in countries that understand contagion, no one healthy stops working, and neither do most of the sick. In fact, if you suggest staying home, most people think you’re crazy. Why manufacture an economic disaster? That’s how our ancestors would react to coronavirus, from the ancient world through early modern times. Their lives already involved a steady risk of death from acute, fast-acting disease, so this comparatively mild new illness would hardly set them back.

Europe's history of pandemic inspired Breugel's famous painting
The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. c. 1562. Click for a closer view of death’s regular assault on our ancestors.

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This week in history: Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

This week in 537, eastern Roman emperor Justinian I finished construction of the Hagia Sophia: the great cathedral of his capital, Constantinople. Upon completion and for centuries thereafter, it was the largest building in the world. Justinian’s realm was the remainder of the Roman Empire: the original mega-state’s eastern half, which survived the fall of the West and which we call the Byzantine Empire. And the Hagia Sophia became the central cathedral of the eastern region of the Roman Christian Church, not to mention the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Eventually, the two great sections of the church broke into the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church — the latter led by the Patriarch of Rome, a.k.a the Pope. The Hagia Sophia remained the central cathedral of the Eastern church and the Byzantine Empire until 1453, when Constantinople fell to Muslim invaders and became the capital of the Turks’ new Ottoman Empire. The conquerors turned the cathedral into a mosque and added its now-iconic minarets: the slender towers you see on many mosques, used for the call to prayer. In the 1930s, however, the new, secular state of Turkey closed the mosque and transformed it into the Ayasofya Muzesi, or the Museum of the Hagia Sophia. You can visit the museum to this day, in Istanbul: the Turkish name for Constantinople. Continue reading “This week in history: Hagia Sophia”

Star Wars and History: Samurai and Nazis

~ This is the last of a six-post series called Star Wars and History. ~

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Samurai with faceplate

Star Wars draws on history for its look and feel as much as for its plot choices. In particular, the samurai of Medieval and early modern Japan contribute their style both to good guys and bad buys. Darth Vader’s armor looks like a night black, plastic version of samurai armor, and the Jedi’s robes have medieval Japanese feel too. Continue reading “Star Wars and History: Samurai and Nazis”

Star Wars and History: Divine Conception in Myth

~ This is the fifth of a six-post series called Star Wars and History. (See below for a list of the six titles.) ~

In The Phantom Menace, we learn that the Force conceived Anakin Skywalker in his mother’s womb, without a father. That divine conception puts him in company with the Buddha, according to some stories, and of course with Jesus Christ, along with a long list of pagan heroes. For instance, in The Secret History of the Mongols, a radiant being descends through the roof of a lady’s yurt and fathers Bodonchar Munkhag, founder of Genghis Khan’s dynasty. And in Greco-Roman myth, Zeus conceives the hero-king Perseus by descending on a virgin as golden rain — while Mars conceives Rome’s Romulus and Remus when his phallus emerges from a sacred fire tended by a virgin priestess.

Alexandre_Jacques_Chantron_(1891)_Danae
Perseus’ mother, Danae, and the golden rain

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Star Wars and History: Father vs. Son in Myth

~ This is the fourth of a six-post series called Star Wars and History. (See below for the six posts’ titles.) ~

In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker fights his father, Darth Vader. Revenge of the Sith repeats this father vs. son theme when Darth Sidious (Palpatine) reveals that Sith apprentices often kill their masters: their figurative fathers. That aligns Star Wars with a common theme from myth. Many mythic heroes confront and kill their fathers. Mordred, for instance, kills his father, King Arthur (and is killed by him). And of course, the Greeks’ Oedipus kills his father and takes his place as king of Thebes. Gods battle their fathers too, including the titan Cronus, who overthrows — and castrates — his father, Ouranos, the sky god. But a similar fate awaits Cronus; he’s later overthrown by Zeus, his own son.

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Mordred and King Arthur

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Star Wars and History: Fall of the Knights Templar

~ This is the second of a six-post series called Star Wars and History. (See below for the six posts’ titles.) ~

In Revenge of the Sith, the Chancellor/Emperor orders the sudden liquidation of the Jedi Order, including an assault on the Jedi Temple. The story models the fall of medieval Europe’s Knights Templar. The Templars were a religious order whose key members were both knights and monks (kind of like the Jedi). They fought in the Crusades and were among Christendom’s most feared warriors. They also became wealthy as pioneers in banking.

The Knights Templar
Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon — a.k.a. Templars

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Why Sounds Yoda so Archaic?

Says Yoda things like: “Powerful have you become; the dark side I sense in you.” Sounds it like speaks he an old dialect of English. Yet uses not Yoda “thou hast” or “erstwhile” or “thee” — or any other word or phrase found no longer in English. Old English does not speak Yoda, nor even Middle English. Speaks Yoda Modern English, except that one rule he breaks. Alters Yoda noun-verb order. That same one rule this post breaks too (more consistently than Yoda). Continue reading “Why Sounds Yoda so Archaic?”

Snow White May Have Begun as a Sexy Goddess

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“Freyja and the Necklace,” by J. Doyle Penrose (1862-1932), c. 1913

In the myths of the Norse and other Germanic peoples, Freya is the beautiful goddess of sex, love, and fertility — and of war and death. She drives a chariot pulled by cats, treasures the pig as her sacred animal, and wears a powerful golden necklace called Brisingamen. According to one story, Brisingamen is the work of a troop of dwarves. While visiting the dwarves’ cave, Freya sees the beautiful necklace and begs to buy it. But the misshapen smiths already have plenty of treasure, so they demand a higher price. In exchange for the necklace, Freya stays in the cave until she’s slept with each dwarf. Continue reading “Snow White May Have Begun as a Sexy Goddess”