Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Biography: Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400 CE), The Masterful 14th Century English Poet

(Sketch of Geoffrey Chaucer from The Illustrated Magazine of Art. 1-1 (ca. 1853), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in 1342 to a family with some ties to government bureaucracy (court and minting), but Chaucer’s father mainly made a living by producing wine. When Geoffrey Chaucer was around fifteen years of age, he managed to gain a position as page to the Countess of Ulster. In that position he acted as a servant and a messenger for his noble employer. Two years later, in 1359, Chaucer was sent to fight in the long-running Hundred Years War between England and France. French soldiers, however, captured the seventeen-year-old youth. Thankfully for Chaucer, he was not imprisoned for very long. The Countess of Ulster’s father-in-law, King Edward III of England, must have seen something he liked in young Geoffrey Chaucer, for he paid the boy’s ransom and negotiated his release in 1360.

Continue reading about Geoffrey Chaucer's life, HERE.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Article: The Strange And Lively Adventures In The Apocryphal 2nd-Century 'Acts of John'

From Resurrections To Commanding Bugs And A Tale Of Necrophilia

(St John the Evangelist, by El Greco (1541–1614), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The Acts of John
According to Christian teachings, after the crucifixion of their Savior, many of the apostles of Jesus dispersed into the known world to spread their religion to the masses. They traveled in all directions from Jerusalem, venturing downward toward Ethiopia, northwest to Turkey and Greece, and west through North Africa, Rome and Spain. The adventures of the apostles were immortalized in Christian texts featuring mystical healings, exorcisms and all sorts of miracles. One of the most dramatic accounts of one such apostle, however, is less well known. Despite its unique story and its vivid descriptions of miracles, the Acts of John was left out of the New Testament cannon for its hints of Docetism, which described Jesus as more divine and less human than the proto-orthodox (pre-Catholic) church could condone. Though the Docetic elements in the text were mainly at the end of the work, those latter passages tarnished the entirety of the Acts of John in the eyes of the church.

Continue reading about the odd adventures in the Acts of John, HERE.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

New Article: Loki Almost Caused The Loss Of The Goddess Freyja, The Sun And The Moon To The Giants, But Saved The Day With His Thorough Shape-Shifting Abilities

(Loki transformed as a bird, by W.G. Collingwood (1854 - 1932), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Troublesome Loki
In most Norse legends, Loki was often the culprit behind the dangerous or embarrassing situations that plagued the gods. He, however, usually set things right with the gods and fixed the problems he created (with the exception of the myth where he caused the death of the god, Baldr). This is one such myth—Loki nearly ushered the world to destruction, but eventually saved the day, ending with Loki giving Odin a great gift, the eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.
Continue reading about this odd myth where Loki nearly brings ruin upon the Norse gods, HERE.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Short Biography: Virgil (70-19 BCE)

(Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia, by Jean-Baptiste Wicar (1762–1834), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
The poet Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Virgil, was born in the rural village of Andes, near the modern day region of Mantua, Italy. He grew up during a tremendous time of tumultuous change. In the 1st Century BCE, the power of the Roman Senate was challenged by many powerful authoritarian figures. The dictator, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, had only been dead for nine years when Virgil was born, and Julius Caesar was leading Roman legions into modern Switzerland, France, Belgium and England during Virgil’s teenage years. 
Continue reading about the fascinating life of Virgil, HERE.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New 'Did You Know' : The Sibylline Books Are One Of The Most Important Topics of Roman History, But Remain One Of Rome’s More Obscure Mysteries

(Woodcut of Sibyl Almathea from a German translation by Heinrich Steinhöwel of Giovanni Boccaccio, c. 1474,via Creative Commons 2.0 (CC 2.0)
Thankfully for us, ancient Romans were avid writers. Poets wrote of Roman mythology and legends. Historians detailed the events of the Roman Republic, the empire and the numerous emperors. Julius Caesar wrote an elaborate autobiography. Emperor Marcus Aurelius left us his book of insightful meditations, and Emperor Julian the Apostate published his learned attacks against Christianity in favor of the traditional gods of Rome. Yet, with all of the abundant information available about the Roman Empire, one subject of immense importance remains infuriatingly mysterious—the Sibylline Books.
Continue reading about the Sibylline Books, HERE.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New Article: The Battles of Boudica

Camulodunum, Londinium, Verulamium And The Battle Of Watling Street
 (Boudica and her rebels, by Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–1896), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Before reading about Boudica's sieges and battles against the forces of Rome in ancient Britain, take some time to look at Irina Yakubin's biographical article about Queen Boudica, her motivations for fighting, and her legacy, HERE. The article below will reference why Boudica began her rebellion, but the military struggle between Boudica and Governor Suetonius is the primary focus of this piece.

Gathering the Angry
When Roman occupiers publicly flogged the Iceni queen Boudica, and raped her two daughters, they unknowingly provided a horde of angry and vengeful Britons with a leader who would become legendary. Though the Iceni (before the floggings and rapes) had been willing to work with Rome, many other tribes had been hostile to Rome, in both thought and action, ever since Emperor Claudius invaded and occupied the British Isles in 43 CE. When Boudica called out for vengeance after her and her daughters’ terrible ordeal, multiple tribes (Trinovantes, Dumnonii and stragglers from the Caturvellauni) joined the Iceni in rebellion.
Continue reading about the sieges and battles of Boudica, HERE.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New 'Did You Know?' : In The 5th And 4th Centuries BCE, Dionysius I Made Syracuse One Of The Strongest Powers Of Sicily And Italy

(“Dion Presents Plato to Dionysius,” an colored engraving print from Hermann Göll, Die Weisen und Gelehrten des Alterthums, Leipzig (Otto Spamer) 1876, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
For Hellenistic history, Dionysius I (or Dionysius the Elder) is a bittersweet figure. On the one hand, he led Syracuse, a Sicilian city-state of Greek descent, to be a regional power that could defeat the empire of Carthage in multiple wars. On the other iron-fisted hand, however, Dionysius’ authoritarianism and inhospitable expansion throughout Sicily and lower Italy gained him the label of ‘tyrant.’
Continue reading about the great, but tyrannical, Dionysius I of Syracuse, HERE.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Article: Boudica- The Avenging Queen

(Illustration of Boudica, courtesy of Irina Yakubin)
Boudica (also spelled Boudicca and Boadicea) was a tall, fierce woman, with long reddish hair, who ruled the Iceni tribe of East Anglia along with her husband, Prasutagus, during the Roman occupation of England. In what he must have considered an astute political gesture, Prasutagus named the Roman Emperor Nero co-heir to his lands, along with his two teenage daughters. Unfortunately, the Romans were not known for sharing, nor were they particularly advanced on the matter of gender equality.
Continue reading about the vengeful Boudica, HERE.

New 'Did You Know?' : Virgil’s Aeneid Contained Some Peculiar Nautical Sea Nymphs

(THE NYMPH ROSE FROM THE SEA AND BORE THE VEIL AWAY, by William Heath Robinson (1872-1944), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Ancient origin myths and creation stories can be really strange. So, too, are many of the creatures and monsters found in mythology weird and bizarre. Therefore, it is not surprise that the origin stories of some mythological beings are especially odd.
Continue reading about the strange nymphs found in Virgil's Aeneid, HERE.

New 'Did You Know?' : Most Of The Names J. R. R. Tolkien Used For His Dwarves In His Books Were Actual Names Of Dwarves In Norse Mythology

(The Dwarves at Work, c. 1871, engraved by George Pearson (1850-1910), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, such as The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings Trilogy, have inspired a new wave of fantasy novels that take place in a highly detailed, fantastical worlds. Though Tolkien had an incredibly imaginative and ingeniously creative mind, he drew his ideas heavily from Norse mythology. Not only did he find the concepts of elves, dwarves and magical rings from Nordic tales, but he also gathered names for his characters from Scandinavian mythology—especially the dwarves. For example, almost all the names of the J. R. R. Tokien’s dwarves in The Hobbit can be found in one passage from The Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson. The dwarves in The Hobbit are Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur and Thorin Oakenshield. You will find most of their names, and that of Gandalf, in the following excerpt from The Prose Edda:
Continue reading about Tolkien's use of Norse names, HERE.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

New 'Did You Know?': The Groundbreaking Akkadian Priestess Enheduanna Is Mankind’s Oldest Known Author To Have Signed Her Work

She also may be the mother of hymns, poetry and verse, and likely influenced Homer and the authors of the holy texts of Abrahamic religions

(Calcite disc of Enheduanna discovered by Sir Leonard Wooley in 1927 depicting Enheduanna and her attendants, photographed by Mefman00 and cropped, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Enheduanna was born in Akkad (thought to be within modern Iraq), the capital city of the Akkadian Empire, which may be the world’s first multi-ethnic empire. While dating the lives of people from earth’s most ancient civilizations is often unreliable, the scholars seem to be comfortable placing Enheduanna’s life between 2285 and 2250 BCE. Enheduanna was an incredibly bright princess, was the daughter of the empire’s equally brilliant king, Sargon I of Akkad (2334-2279 BCE), also known as Sargon the Great.

Continue reading about this mother of hymns and poetry, HERE.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

New Biography: Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 CE)

The Life Of A Deceptively Deep Man And His Book Of Norse Mythology

(Print of Snorri Sturluson, c. 1899, by Christian Krohg (1852–1925), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The Prose Edda is a very short book that may be dismissed at a first glance, but once the pages are opened and the words are read, the reader immediately understands why this short book became Scandinavia’s most renowned literary work, and the most elaborate collection of Norse mythology known to exist. The Prose Edda’s author, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 CE), is equally as deceptive as his book. His name attached to the book may at first only conjure an image of a robed scholar penning down the legends and tales of his country, but he was a much more interesting person than that—Snorri Sturluson was a rich, powerful and conniving Icelandic warlord who met a violent death.

Continue reading about the tumultuous life of Snorri Sturluson, HERE.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Article: Emperor Valerian—The Stepping Stool Of Persia

This unfortunate emperor suffered an imaginative death in 260 CE

Throughout the long history of the Roman Empire, it seems as if enough blood was spilt to replace the earth’s oceans. Assassinations, massacres, persecutions, executions, gladiatorial games and wars fill almost every century of the Roman Empire’s lengthy existence. Even with the over-abundance of morbid and macabre killings, the execution of Emperor Valerian (r. 253-260) was so shocking that it remains vividly unique, even when compared to other bloody events that are abundant in Roman history.

(Radiate of Valerian, photographed by the Yorkshire Museum, via Creative Commons (CC 4.0))

When he came to power, Emperor Valerian was no stranger to government and administration. He had already been a senator and a governor, and had refused to take the powerful position of censor. He was also no amateur to imperial politics or war. He helped Emperor Gordian I gain favor with the Senate, and Valerian was also a trusted aid to the emperors, Decius and Gallus. When a rebellion broke out against Emperor Gallus in 253, Valerian gathered his troops to reinforce the emperor, but he was too late—Gallus was assassinated. When news of the emperor’s death spread throughout the empire, the legions that were marching to aid Gallus proclaimed Valerian as the new emperor. Compared to other imperial successions, Valerian’s transition to power was unnaturally smooth. The Senate accepted him, and Aemilianus, the rebel who had been warring with the late Emperor Gallus, was assassinated by soldiers defecting to Valerian’s side.

Continue reading our article, HERE.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Article: Mythology Madness—The Norse Gods And The Giant, Skrymir

The humorous talent contest in the land of giants.

Norse religion and mythology has some intriguing differences from Rome and Greece. The Norse gods (or Æsir) are arguably the most human of the old gods. They were described as not inherently immortal—they had to eat magical apples to live their long lives. Many of them were not born with their powers, but rather gained their abilities through the weapons they wielded and attire they wore. Also, while most religions claim their gods reign supreme, and will continue to do so forever, many of the most powerful Norse gods were prophesied to die in Ragnorak.

Stories of Norse mythology often emphasize the mortality of the Æsir, or at least recount ways the divine can be thwarted, fooled or embarrassed. This is one such story where three of the Norse gods find themselves in an embarrassing situation in the land of giants.

Thor Meets His Match
("I am the giant Skrymir" by Elmer Boyd Smith. Thor, with his hammer Mjolnir, confronts the jötunn Skrymir, c. 1902, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Continue reading our article, HERE.