Thursday, May 17, 2018

New Article: How An Old Man Allegedly Helped Create The Han Dynasty By Dropping A Shoe

(Painting of Zhang Liang and Huang Shigong, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Zhang Liang was from a prominent family that served one of the feudal kingdoms that was eventually toppled by the Qin Dynasty (c. 221-206 BCE). Even after the Zhang family found itself under Qin rule, they still had wealth—Zhang Liang reportedly had the means to fund a staff of 300 servants. Yet, Zhang Liang was too patriotic to appreciate being able to keep his wealth under the new regime. Instead, he decided to spend his remaining family fortune on bankrolling a band of rebels to resist the Qin rulers.
According to the ancient historian, Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), Zhang Liang and his band of dissidents tried to assassinate the First Emperor of Qin, Shihuangdi, in 218 BCE. They hunted down the emperor’s carriage train while he was touring the east. The rebels set up an ambush and Zhang Liang gave his strongest recruit an enormous iron bludgeon with which to lead the attack. As the rebels had planned, the emperor’s entourage rolled into the trap. When the time was right, the assassins charged toward the wagons and successfully smashed their way into one of the regal carriages. Luck, however, was not on the side of the rebels that day. They made the unsalvageable mistake of attacking the wrong carriage. Instead of discovering the vulnerable emperor inside, the rebels found only startled attendants. The mistake gave the guards enough time to rally to the defense of their emperor. With their plan foiled, the rebels scattered and went into hiding. Zhang Liang assumed an alias and settled down in Xiapei. While there, he spent much of his time pacing around the local embankments. 
Continue reading about the peculiar encounter that Zhang Liang had with an odd old man in Xiapei, HERE.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

New Article: The Otter’s Ransom—A Norse Tale Of A Dragon And Cursed Gold

(Sigurd and Fafnir, c. 1906, painted by Hermann Hendrich (–1931), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

A certain tale from Norse mythology, which has come to be known as “The Otter’s Ransom,” has had a great deal of influence on writers of the fantasy genre. One such visionary who drew inspiration from the tale was J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. “The Otter’s Ransom” was featured in the 13th-century Saga of the Volsungs, a book about the Volsung family, with the most notable sections of the text being about Sigurd the dragon-slayer. Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), the greatest of the medieval Icelandic scholars, also recorded the tale in his own work, The Prose Edda.

Read about the exciting tale origin tale of the Norse serpent, Fafnir, HERE

Monday, May 7, 2018

New Article: Seven Strange Character Names From The Ancient Philospoher And Theologian, Chuang Tzu

(7 sages of the bamboo grove Wittig collection painting 16, c. prior to the 19th century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
 
Get to the Point
The ancient Daoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu, was one of the most brilliantly witty thinkers of his day, and his work still is influential. He was one of the most important figures of early Daoism, with only Laozi, the founder that religion, consistently ranked above him. Chuang Tzu’s insight into the world we live in will leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads his work, but some particulars about his writing may cause a stray giggle here and there; the names of the characters in his stories can be very peculiar. This article uses the version of Chuang Tzu’s work translated by Burton Watson. Whether Chuang Tzu’s names are a result of the English translation, or a tool to convey meaning, is unclear, but the latter is the likeliest option. Here are seven of Chuang Tzu’s strangest names, starting with the most tame and ending with the most bizarre.

Read about the humorous names created by Chuang Tzu, HERE.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

New Guest Article: 16+1 Dark And Vicious Ancient Greek Deities

(Guest Article)


As well as being talented and innovative in science and philosophy, the ancient Greeks were also a very religious and devout people. They believed in many gods and deities. Many of these could be kind and fair, but the deities were also frequently evil, wrathful and merciless. Many of them were considered to be daemonic winged spirits, malevolent or benevolent, who, along with their lord, Hades, spread terror, panic, misery, unluckiness, disaster, violence and suspicion among their victims.

16. Ate

 (Thetis and other deities dipping Achilles in the River Styx, by Donato Creti (1671–1749), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Ate was the personification and deity of damage, devastation, delusion, mischief and infatuation. According to Hesiod, she was the daughter of Eris (strife), while according to Homer her father was Zeus. She led people in the path of destruction and was responsible for corrupted minds and recklessness of people, as well as for the results of such acts. She led not only mortals, but also gods in divergence and irresponsibility, blurring their minds and inducing catastrophe. After every accident caused by Ate, the Litai (prayers) came in to deal with it.


Continue reading about all of these dark and vicious deities, HERE.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

New Guest Article: 10 Legendary Figures From Ancient Greek Folklore And Mythology


(censored and cropped version of The Apotheosis of Hercules, by Noël Coypel (1628–1707), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Numerous heroes, due to their super-human strength, cunning and courage, were worshipped as gods or demigods. Their diligence in doing their duty for the good of all mankind, as well as their guts to slay monsters, have made their stories truly immortal.

Continue reading about ten of these immortalized heroes from Greek myth and legend, HERE.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

New Biography: Lucius Fulcinius Trio Lived And Died By The Law In Ancient Rome


(Zoomed and cropped version of “Cicero Denounces Catiline” painted by Cesare Maccari (1840–1919), c. 1889, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

During the reign of Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37), lawyers could amass huge fortunes as prosecutors. Similar to a witch-hunt atmosphere, the rich and powerful in Tiberius’ empire threw countless accusations of criminality and treason at each other. The prosecutor that won these high-profile treason cases could expect to gain a portion of the defendant’s assets. In addition to the ill-gotten wealth, the act of prosecuting supposed traitors could also lead to honorary awards and government promotions. Among the many prosecutors that participated in the judicial reign of terror was a man named Lucius Fulcinius Trio.

Continue reading about Trio's eventfull law career, HERE.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

New Guest Article: 10+1 Life-Changing Quotes From Ancient Greece

(Plato’s Academy, by Raphael (1483–1520), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Greece preserves one of the most ancient cultures and one of the most inspiring histories worldwide. Its history is made up of bloody wars and occupations, but also of people who, with their ideas, visions and ambitions, have shaped the course of the whole world. Most of them are considered to be philosophers and many of their ideas, point of view and world theories still inspire modern people. Although many of them did not actually write texts, their sayings were saved by their students. Recognized virtues, such as discipline, glory, honor, and the value of family and friendship, can be traced back to their insights, and still move and influence modern people's lives.

Continue reading about these life-changing quotes from the brightest minds of ancient Greece, HERE.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

New Biography / Article: The Greatly Endowed Plot Of Lü Buwei To End His Affair With The Mother Of A Chinese King

(Career of Xu Xianqing Huanji Tu 18, c. 1590s, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Lü Buwei was a prominent minister of Qin during the decades before the kings of Qin formally became emperors. He began his career as a simple merchant, and, because of his keen mind for strategy and administration, his business was extremely profitable. Nevertheless, his career trajectory would dramatically change after a trip to the city of Handan, the capital of the state of Zhao.

While in Handan, Lü Buwei encountered a Qin nobleman being held there as a diplomatic hostage—the man’s name was Zichu. He was one of more than twenty sons fathered by Lord Anguo, who had become the crown prince of Qin around 267 BCE. As such, Zichu was a member of the Qin royal family, but he was still considered low enough in the succession to be given away by his king as a hostage to assure peace between Qin and Zhao. Nevertheless, with a potential heir to the kingdom of Qin at his fingertips, Lü Buwei decided to give up the life of a merchant for that of a politician.

Continue reading about the dramatic life of Lü Buwei and the bizarre story of his downfall, HERE.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

New Article: The Numidian Chief, Tacfarinas, And His Persistent Wars Against Rome

(Hannibal at Cannae, by Heinrich Leutemann (1824-1905), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

In the first two decades of the 1st century, a peculiar military leader named Tacfarinas asserted himself as a constant thorn in the side of the Roman Empire by unrelentingly threatening their interests in North Africa. Thankfully for us, the Roman historian and statesman, Tacitus (c. 56-117), kept fairly detailed records of Tacfarinas’ campaigns within his book, The Annals of Imperial Rome. Even though The Annals focused on the actions of the imperial family, especially Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37), Tacfarinas’ name made numerous appearances in the pages, popping up each time he launched another invasion of Rome, which seemingly occurred every other year. So, even though Tacitus often sidelined describing Tacfarinas’ reign of terror in favor of discussing political maneuverings in Rome, a decent sketch of Tacfarinas’ life can be drawn from The Annals of Imperial Rome.

Tacfarinas was born in Numidia, and like many of Rome’s greatest threats, he began his career in the Roman military as an auxiliary soldier serving in North Africa. He eventually deserted from the Roman military and started a new life as a bandit. His ambitions, however, were too broad for common thievery. He gathered a large band of marauders and began to teach them Roman military discipline and tactics. Once he had gathered enough resources, he even equipped an elite core of his forces in Roman-styled weaponry and armor. Finally, Tacfarinas somehow maneuvered himself into becoming chief of the Musulamian tribe, a strong Numidian people known for their great warriors. With his newfound power, Tacfarinas was able to strike up a secret alliance between his own troops and other anti-Rome factions in North Africa. Along with Tacfarinas’ own bandits and Musulamian soldiers, the Cinithii tribe and dissidents from the Roman-aligned kingdoms of Mauretania and Garamantes also joined the growing coalition.

Continue reading about the persistent campaigns of Tacfarinas against the Roman Empire, HERE.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

New Biography: The Dramatic Life of Fan Ju, The Marquis Of Ying, And His Quirky, Bizarre Ascension To Power


Countless advisors, philosophers, generals and statesmen of all kinds found fortune and destruction while serving the plentiful warring kings of ancient China. One particular statesman named Fan Ju definitely can be ranked as having one of the quirkiest and bizarre ascensions to power. As an added bonus, unlike many of his contemporaries, Fan Ju’s story actually had a pleasant ending.

Most of the information on this interesting figure was left to us by Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), a Grand Historian from the Han Dynasty who is often labeled as the father of Chinese history. According to the Grand Historian’s sources, Fan Ju was born in the kingdom of Wei. Even though his family had little wealth and influence, Fan Ju aspired to be an itinerate advisor to the kings of the age. Yet, despite his ambition, the young intellectual found that his low social status and his limited resources were obstacles barring him from entering the courts of the ancient Chinese kings. Facing reality, Fan Ju decided to start climbing the social ladder from the bottom, hoping to eventually reach the top.

Continue reading about the bizarre rise to power of Fan Ju, HERE.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

New Article: The Light Of The Moon Suppressed A Roman Army Mutiny In Pannonia

(Moon in front of a blueish background, [Public Domain] via Pixabay.com)



Shortly after the death of Augustus in 14 CE, the civilian soldiers in the three Roman legions stationed in Pannonia were incited into mutiny. Most of the known information about this event was recorded by two statesmen-historians of the Roman Empire, Tacitus (c. 56/57 – 117) and Cassius Dio (c. 163-235). Tacitus, perhaps the greatest orator of his time, gave the lengthier and more detailed account of the mutiny, but he was also known to take artistic license with some of his historical descriptions. Nevertheless, both historians claimed that the goal of the mutiny was to bring about military reforms, specifically a restriction of military service to 16 years, as well as an increase in pay from one sesterce a day to one denarius (4 sesterce) per day. Without these changes, the mutineers claimed that the excessively long period of military service, combined with the harsh discipline and severe punishments in the Roman Army, were simply unfair.

Continue reading about how the moon foiled a potentially dangerous mutiny in Pannonia, HERE.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

New Article: The Outrageous Childhood Of the Semi-Mythical Viking-Poet, Egil Skallagrimsson

(Ingolf settling Iceland, painted by Johan Peter Raadsig (1806 - 1882), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Egil Skallagrimsson was one of several prominent Vikings whose lives were recorded by the Icelanders in the form of a saga. Egil’s Saga was anonymously composed around the 13th century, with the Icelandic historian and scholar, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), being one of the likeliest authors of the piece. While most of Egil’s Saga is folklore and embellished history, many historians think that the plentiful poems contained in the saga may have indeed been written by a historical Viking-poet from the 10th century. So, like many other figures from the sagas, Egil Skallagrimsson is often considered to be a historical person whose reputation, over time, became exaggerated to the point of bordering on mythical.
 
Continue reading about the absurd life of the semi-mythical Viking-poet, Egil Skallagrimsson, HERE.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

New Biography: The Obsessively Pure Life Of Saint-Queen Etheldreda And Her Miraculous Remains


(cropped 10th century depiction of Saint Æthelthryth (Etheldreda) of Ely from the Benedictional of St. Æthelwold, illuminated manuscript in the British Library, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
 
Etheldreda (also known by the names Æthelthryth and Audrey) was one of the most popular saints to come out of early Anglo-Saxon England. In particular, she found an admirer in Bede (c. 673-735), the author of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which recorded events in England from the days of the Roman Empire up to Bede’s own time; in it the monk included a chapter on Etheldreda, drawing largely from clergymen who had known the saint, specifically her friend and mentor, Bishop Wilfrid.
King Anna of East Anglia (d. 654) fathered several saintly daughters, one of which was Etheldreda. The young princess was said to have begun dreaming about life as a nun relatively early on in her childhood. Even though she was not allowed to join a religious order, she reportedly still tried to live with extreme virtue. Most importantly, she vowed to live in chastity and remain a virgin. Despite her vow, noblemen still sought her hand in marriage, for the union (even if only symbolic) would still bring the prospective husband into an alliance with the East Anglian king. Therefore, Etheldreda was married to a certain Tondbert, a prince or king from South Gyrwas. Apparently, the couple struck up an accord—she received her own estates, he became the king’s son-in-law, and neither husband nor wife bothered about consummating the marriage. As such, when Tondbert died shortly after the marriage had occurred, Etheldreda was still widely considered to be a pure virgin princess.

Continue reading about the intriguing life (and afterlife) of Saint Etheldreda, HERE.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

New Article: Edgar Allan Poe Wrote A Short Story Based On An Actual Murder

(Illustration from Edgar Allan Poe's "Mystery of Marie Roget," Printed and published by Henry Vizetelly, 1852. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The poet and author, Edgar Allan Poe, worked several jobs in or around New York City during his life. While he was there, Poe, along with other writers and reporters, frequented a tobacco shop owned by a Mr. John Anderson. Surprisingly, many of John Anderson’s customers were not venturing into his shop for the fine selection of cigars. Instead, most of the men were lining up to talk to Anderson’s star employee, the twenty-year-old Mary Cecelia Rogers. Young Mary was a woman of legendary beauty, and the promise of catching a glimpse of her was more than enough enticement to lure in an eager crowd. Edgar Allan Poe was not the only famous writer who was lured by her beauty into the tobacco store; James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving also took the bait and went to see Miss Rogers.

During the time she was working at John Anderson’s tobacco store, Mary Rogers lived in a New York City boarding house located on Nassau Street, which was run by her mother. On a fateful day, Mary voiced her desire to travel from New York to New Jersey. The reason that she gave to her family and to her fiancé, a certain Daniel Payne, was that she wanted to meet up with relatives. Therefore, on Sunday, July 25, 1841, Mary Cecilia Rogers set off from her home to undertake what would become a one-way journey.

Continue reading about the murder of Mary Rogers, and how it inspired Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Mystery of Marie Roget," HERE

Thursday, January 11, 2018

New Article: The Wrathful Tale Of Amestris, Wife Of The Persian King Xerxes

(Cropped young woman spinning and a servant holding a fan from a fragment of a relief known as "The spinner". Bitumen mastic, Neo-Elamite period (roughly 8th – 6th century BCE). Found in Susa. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Although Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE) is mainly remembered for his massive invasion of Greece, his reign continued for around fourteen more years after his Greek ambitions were crushed at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE.  This later period of his life, after Xerxes withdrew from Greece and returned to the heartland of his empire, remains a fairly undefined part of the king’s reign. What we do know about Xerxes’ final years is that he began to focus a great deal of his empire’s resources on construction projects. Nevertheless, he eventually started to lose the support of several key governing satraps and advisors, ultimately leading to a violent end for the king.

Herodotus, one of the main sources on Xerxes’ life, lightly glossed over a few of the events that supposedly occurred in the Achaemenid Empire during the years after the Persian King of Kings returned home from Greece. By far, the most dramatic of these episodes (located in The Histories, Book IX) was a story about how one of Xerxes’ affairs led to the extermination of nearly all of his brother’s family. This story, which will be told shortly, is considered to be largely a fiction created by the father of history, Herodotus (490-425/420 BCE). Yet, many historians believe the core elements of the story were likely based on factual events.

Continue reading about the ruthless wrath of Amestris, following her discovery of her husband's affair, HERE.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Biography: The Crazy Life Of The Roman Princess Galla Placidia


Galla Placidia and her eventful life perfectly showcased the hectic state of affairs that the Western Roman Empire found itself enduring (and eventually collapsing from) during the 5th century. She was a daughter of Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) and Empress Galla. Upon Theodosius’ death, two of Galla Placidia’s brothers were crowned as emperors, one to rule the East and another to control the West. Galla Placidia, herself, was left to the care of the powerful general Stilicho (or more specifically, his wife, Serena), under whose direction she learned Latin and Greek, as well as other subjects that women of the time were expected to be know, such as sewing and weaving.

The young princess stayed in the Western Empire during the reign of her brother, Emperor Honorius (r. 393-423), mostly residing in the city of Rome. Yet times were not easy—for various reasons (but mostly because of pressure from the Huns) a large coalition of peoples, including the Vandals, Suevi and Alans, crossed the Rhine into Roman Gaul in 406, throwing the empire into chaos. A former Roman mercenary named Alaric brought the havoc straight to the heart of the Western Empire. After becoming king of the Visigoths, Alaric eventually led his people to besiege Rome. He arrived at the city walls first in 408, but was paid off by the Roman Senate. He attacked again in 409, but was once more convinced to withdraw from the city. Finally, in 410, King Alaric and the Visigoths besieged Rome for one last time, with no intention of withdrawing from the city. Instead, they looted the city for three days, stealing wealth and harassing the locals, but keeping most of the city remarkably intact. Around this time, or perhaps during the earlier sieges, the Visigoths captured Galla Placidia. King Alaric hoped he could use the princess as leverage in his negotiations with Emperor Honorius. Alaric, however, had miscalculated—Honorius and Galla Placidia were not friendly siblings.

Continue reading about Galla Placidia's impressive waves of political weakness and strength, HERE.


Picture attribution: (Supposed miniature of Galla Placidia on top of a destroyed city painted by Thomas Cole (1801–1848), both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).