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).