Wednesday, October 31, 2018

New Biography: The Remarkable Tale Of The Kidnapped Noble, Dou Guangguo


Dou Guangguo was from an impoverished noble family based out of Qinghe in Zhao. Even though the rebellion against the Qin regime and the consequential rise of the Han Dynasty under Emperor Gaozu (king r. 206-202, emperor 202-195 BCE) was a time of tremendous social mobility, the Dou family remained of little significance, holding virtually no worth except the noble blood that ran in their veins.

The downtrodden Dou family, however, was given a door to future opportunities during the reign of Empress Dowager Lü, the wife of Emperor Gaozu and the mother of Emperor Hui (r. 195-188 BCE). Either during Empress Dowager Lü’s domineering years over her son’s reign, or in her own sole rule by means of young puppet emperors between 188 and 180 BCE, the empress dowager took an interest in Dou Guangguo’s family. Empress Dowager Lü had many relatives in need of consorts and concubines, so she was always on the lookout for young women from good families who could be integrated into the imperial court. As it happened, Dou Guangguo had an older sister who fit the empress dowager’s requirements. Guangguo was very, very young at the time, but he would later claim to have vivid memories of spending time with his sister, Lady Dou, before she left to become a palace attendant of Empress Dowager Lü. Whereas the fortunes of Lady Dou were on the rise, young Guangguo would have a drastically different path in life.

 Read about Dou Guangguo's crazy life, HERE.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

New Article: Homer’s Detailed Ancient Ritual To Summon The Dead

(Souls on the Banks of Acheron, by Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl  (1860–1933), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

If you have a copy of Homer’s masterful epic poem, The Odyssey, on your bookshelf, you may be surprised to know that the poem contains a powerful ritual to summon the spirits of the dead. Yet, before you attempt try it out, this ritual will not work in your back yard. According to Homer, the spell will only work if performed at the borderlands of the underworld.

The Story
The ritual in question is mentioned at the end of book 10 and the beginning of Book 11 in The Odyssey. In regards to plot, this scene takes place after Odysseus blinded the cyclops, Polyphemus, a child of the sea-god, Poseidon. From the land of the Cyclops, Odysseus then sailed to the island inhabited by Aeolus, keeper of the winds, who gave the adventurer a bag of air that would ensure that the sailors had favorable weather on their journey home. Yet, Odysseus’ crew opened the bag, releasing the wind and consequently blowing the ship off course. The wind-blown sailors eventually washed up in the territory of the giant, man-eating Laestrygonians. When it became apparent to Odysseus that the locals wanted to have his crew for dinner, he quickly set sail and eventually anchored his ship at Aeaea, the island called home by the goddess-witch, Circe.

Odysseus sent out half of his crew to scout the island of Aeaea and these unlucky men found Circe’s polished-stone palace. Circe greeted the sailors and managed to lure all but one member of the party into her hall, where she fed them a feast of cheese, barley-meal, honey and wine. The goddess, however, had added a secret ingredient to the food and drink—all of the men who ate from her table were transformed into swine. Luckily for the pig-men, their captain, Odysseus, was on his way to save the day. Using a magical antidote dropped off by Hermes, Odysseus entered the stone palace, and after some intimate negotiations with Circe in her bedroom, Odysseus convinced the goddess to turn the crew back into humans. Interestingly enough, Odysseus’ crew and Circe became the best of pals after the incident, and Odysseus decided to party with the goddess on Aeaea for an entire year.

When that year was over, however, Circe told Odysseus that he needed to consult with the spirit of the dead prophet, Teiresias, to have any chance of returning to his home in Ithaca. In addition to this advice, Circe gave Odysseus instructions on how to reach the border of the underworld, as well as instructions for a ghostly summoning ritual and the supplies needed to perform that spell. Thus equipped with knowledge and provisions, Odysseus set sail toward the land of the dead.

Continue reading about the Odysseus' powerful spell to summon the dead, HERE.
 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

New Article: The Fatal Curse Over The Yngling Dynasty



King Harald Finehair brought all of Norway under his influence in the later half of the 9th century and continued to rule over Norway until his death around the year 940. His successors are often labeled as the Finehair Dynasty, but Harald supposedly claimed lineage from an even more ancient line royal line, which was said to link all the way back to the Norse gods.

According to Scandinavian tradition, Harald Finehair was a member of the Yngling Dynasty. The Icelandic scholar, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), wrote an account of this peculiar family in his Yngling Saga. He began with pure myth and gradually moved through legend, semi-legend, and finally folklore-laden history to reach the more factually-grounded time of Harald Finehair. According to legend, the first two members of the family were gods and, if calculations are correct, Harald Finehair was supposedly the thirty-fifth ruling member of the Yngling Dynasty. Yet, despite the supposedly divine origin of their family, the Ynglings were very, very unlucky—according to the saga, twenty-five of Harald’s thirty-four predecessors died violent, accidental, or simply unnatural deaths.

The Yngling Saga begins with an interesting theory that suggests Odin and the Norse gods migrated from a location near the Black Sea and eventually traveled across Europe to ultimately settle Sweden, where Odin founded a kingdom. After a long reign, Odin handed the control of his kingdom over to another god from outside his family. The successor’s name was Njord and he was technically the founder of the Yngling Dynasty. The dynasty, however, was actually named after Njord’s son and successor, Frey, a popular god who apparently also went by the name Yngvi, hence the family name of Yngling. In the saga, the reigns of Njord and Frey were portrayed as golden ages of prosperity, as would be expected from gods. The personal luck of these two god-kings were said to have been very positive during their time as rulers over a Swedish kingdom and their aura of good fortune spread over the entire kingdom during their reigns. Of course, Frey was prophesied in the Norse religion to eventually fall during the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok, but that did not stop his mythical days as a monarch from being considered the epitome of good fortune.

After the reign of Frey, however, the Yngling Dynasty suffered an unbelievable fall from grace. Here are the bizarre fates of the Yngling Dynasty members, beginning with Frey’s son and ending with Harald Finehair’s father, Hálfdan the Black. Enjoy the stories, but keep in mind that the Yngling Dynasty is considered mythical or extremely legendary, with Harald Finehair, and to a lesser extent, Hálfdan the Black, being the only members of the dynasty generally accepted as historical figures.

Continue reading about the bizarre fates of these 34 Yngling monarchs,
 HERE.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

New Biography: Árni Magnússon And His Many Chests Of Original Icelandic Manuscripts

(Image of Árni Magnússon (1663-1730), by an unknown artist, combined with the Kringlublaðið [the Kringla leaf], c. 1260, both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
In the year 1663, Árni Magnússon was born in the region of Kvennabrekka, Iceland. The occupations and status of his family would serve him well in later life—Árni’s father was a local sheriff with some political clout and his grandfather and uncle were familiar with the processes of printing and scribing. As these latter two men oversaw Árni Magnússon’s early education, their love of books evidently affected the young boy’s future interests.
 
After graduating from the Skálholt School in Iceland, Árni Magnússon accompanied his father on a trip to Denmark in 1683. While there, he enrolled at the University of Copenhagen and found a job as an assistant to Thomas Bartholin Jr., the Keeper of the Royal Antiquities in Denmark. This trip to Denmark was a momentous event in Árni Magnússon’s life, as the Keeper of Antiquities would set the young scholar on a task that would become his lifelong passion. 
Continue reading about Árni Magnússon and his life's work, HERE.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

New Article: The Crazy Succession Crisis In Early 9th-Century Denmark

((A scene from the saga of King Olaf, by Halfdan Egedius (1877–1899), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons))
 
Charlemagne came very close to open war with what could have been one of his deadliest foes—King Godfrid of Denmark (also spelled Godofrid, Godefrid, Gudfrey and Godfrey). As early as 804, presumably Godfrid’s first year of rule, the Danish army and navy moved down to the border of Saxony, a region that the Franks held dearly, as they had spent decades crushing Saxon rebellions to stabilize the region. Godfrid wisely did not invade Saxony proper, but he did invade the territory of the Obodrites in 808, a people who were neighbors of the Saxons, and a long-time ally of the Franks. In response, Charlemagne sent forces to defend Saxony against a possible attack.

Continue reading about King Godfrid of Denmark and the turmoil in his kingdom following his death, HERE.