Tag Archives: history

The Father of Tall Tales

I have been reading Herodotus–called by Cicero “the Father of History,” and by other ancient commentators “the Father of Lies.” I don’t know which side to come down on, but one thing’s for sure: Herodotus was definitely the Father of Tall Tales. Davy Crockett was a mere exaggerator, compared to him.

Herodotus’ Histories, written sometime around 450 B.C., is one of the most entertaining books in the world. Boy, could that old man spin yarns! The book is supposed to be about the wars between the Greeks and the Persians, but Herodotus crams it full of stories about anything and everything you could imagine.

Here we find the giant ants of India, as big as foxes, and the flying serpents of Arabia, not to mention griffins that guard huge stores of gold, the first circumnavigation of Africa by a Phoenician sailor–a story which Herodotus himself was unable to believe because it only makes sense if you consider the world to be a globe with an Equator–and a treasury of historical curiosities, from the character and riches of Croesus to the homicidal madness of Cambyses, son of Cyrus the Great. Open the book at random, and on any page you’ll find either an eye-popping marvel or a desperate adventure.

Warning: once you start reading Herodotus, you’ll find it very hard to stop. And I defy you to read it only once. I come back to it again and again, every few years.

If we had a cottage by the bay, and a stretch of rainy winter nights too cold for fishing, my wife and I agree that nothing would suit us better than to have old Herodotus visit for a time and treat us to several dozen hours of his tales.

No fantasy writer who ever lived was able to top Herodotus for flights of the imagination.


The World’s Oldest Music

This is a pagan hymn from about 1400 B.C., produced by an ancient Near Eastern people we call Hurrians. The music score is in cuneiform, preserved on a clay tablet. The instrument on which it is played, here, is a reproduction of a lyre, as reconstructed by archaeologists. If the translation of the tablet is accurate, then we are listening to a piece of music from 3,400 years ago.

Was this similar to the music Saul heard, when David played for him? When David first composed the Psalms, did he set them to music that sounded like this?

It’s possible that what we have here is a true window into the remote past, and a live connection with a portion of the Bible. It may be as close as we can ever come to actually hearing the Psalms as David sang them.

Which is really, really something, when you think about it.


Crazy Jane, the Queen of Spain

It isn’t always a picnic, being a member of a royal family. Consider the case of Juana la Loca–meaning “Crazy Joanna” or “Crazy Jane”–the first rightful queen of what was to become modern Spain.  She died in 1555 after being kept under close confinement for going on 40 years ( .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joanna_of_Castile ).

Juana was among the most cultured and well-educated women of her time, mastering philosophy, classical languages, and music. She was also beautiful, and a royal heiress–all in all, a fine catch for any ambitious prince.

So why was she diagnosed as mentally ill, given that “Crazy Jane” nickname that’s lasted some 450 years, and locked up for most of her life?

First her father put her away, so he could continue to rule as a king in Aragon. That didn’t work out too well. Then her husband died, and the Hapsburg dynasty had her locked up so they could keep Spain for her infant son, the future Emperor Charles V. It seems everyone who had anything to gain in `16th century European politics was out to keep poor Juana locked up in a nunnery. And in every event the explanation given was her supposed mental illness–a diagnosis which is met with strong skepticism by today’s historians.

But of course Juana’s great exhibition of craziness was her reading and studying the work of Martin Luther, her defense of him and of his doctrine, and the suspicion that she had become a secret Protestant. With that to be held against her, there was no help for her.

And so she comes down to us as Crazy Jane–just as Richard III has come down to us as a hunchbacked monster who murdered the poor little princes in the Tower, his own nephews. The case against Richard is weak, and the case against Queen Juana even weaker.

I guess you can’t believe everything you read in the history books.


Memory Lane: The Shark Arm Murders

Let us stroll down Memory Lane to Sydney, Australia, 1935, and one of the most strange and baffling murder  mysteries of all time: the “Shark Arm Murders” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_Arm_case ).

Why does it have such a weird name? Attendez-vous.

Some Australian fishermen caught, alive, a 14.5-foot tiger shark and brought it to the city aquarium. The big shark did nothing for a week, and didn’t eat, but then fell ill and vomited up a bunch of interesting objects–including a severed human arm. (Note: I’m going by the account of the case given in The Book of Sharks by Richard Ellis, Knopf, New York, 1989, which differs from the Wikipedia article in a few details.)

They killed the shark–for no good reason I can think of–but the medical examiner found that the arm had been removed from its original owner by dint of a very sharp knife. The shark had certainly not bitten it off.

Based on fingerprints, and a well-preserved tattoo of two boxers, investigators were able to identify the owner of the arm–an ex-boxer now augmenting his income by being a police informant. He was in a risky line of work, and I suppose it caught up to him. He went missing some days before the fishermen caught the shark, and was never seen or heard from again.

Anyhow, detectives did their best, they finally arrested someone whom they considered a highly likely suspect, but the court said it couldn’t render a Guilty verdict on the  basis of a loose arm in the belly of the shark. (Offstage we hear Robert Shaw singing, “Farewell and adieu to ye, fair Spanish ladies…”)

There’s some controversy about whether the arm was actually inside the great big tiger shark or the much smaller shark swallowed by the tiger earlier. We shall let Mr. Ellis have the last word.

“An animal so indiscriminate in its eating habits that it eats coal, boat cushions, and tom-toms, would be only too eager to taste a swimmer or a diver–which must look more edible than an unopened can of salmon. Perhaps the label was still on the can; maybe tiger sharks can read.” (pg. 126)


A Leader Who Murdered His Country

As our own leaders scramble to see how many illegal aliens they can jam into America in time for the next presidential election, it reminds me of an ancient king who actually succeeded in destroying his own kingdom… by much the same method.

In 5th century Britain, in the wake of the departure of the Roman government, a man named Vortigern became High King. Jealous and fearful of the lesser kings, Vortigern tried to build up his position by importing mercenaries from the European mainland–warriors from Germany and Denmark, men who would be known to us as the Anglo-Saxons. The warriors came with their extended families, young and old.

Vortigern might have stopped when his position was secure, but he didn’t. He kept bringing in pagans until whole sections of Germany were depopulated. Everyone had gone to Britain, where the living was easy and the looting was good. Had Social Security benefits been invented in the 400s, Vortigern would have handed them to new arrivals.

Once the floodgates were opened, and whole populations began pouring into Britain, the native British found themselves outnumbered and forced to fight for their lives. The Anglo-Saxon chiefs stopped pretending to obey Vortigern and set about grabbing everything they could. As for Vortigern himself, his British subjects rallied against him and burnt him alive in his own tower.

As for the native, Christian Britons, Divine Providence gave them a leader named Arthur who stopped the bleeding. Within 100 years, most of the pagan Anglo-Saxons had been converted to Christianity. Before the year 700, there were Anglo-Saxon saints. The Britons survived in Wales, in Brittainy, in Cornwall, and in the North. And God blended these different peoples into a new nation, England–whose role in world history, and in the growth of Christianity, has been considerable.

But between Vortigern and St. Bede was a mighty rough ride and many years of tribulation.

Because we will not hear God’s word, He has handed us over to leaders who seem determined to emulate Vortigern in nearly wiping out their own country. Vortigern’s fate was well-deserved–but it came too late to do the British any good.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.


Nameless Portraits on a Colossal Scale

Life is full of unanswered questions. Like, why did I once pay money to watch Tentacles? But there are bigger mysteries than that.

In the hot, steamy country around the Gulf of Mexico, in Vera Cruz, in Tabasco, there flourished long ago a civilization we call “Olmec.” That was the name given to them by people who came along much, much later. We have no idea what these people called themselves.

According to archeologists’ best guess, Olmec civilization lasted from 1500 to 400 B.C., approximately. The Olmecs had writing, but they didn’t leave many inscriptions and most of these haven’t been deciphered yet. So we know nothing of their history, their famous people, their beliefs, or their customs. We don’t know the name of even one Olmec. They do seem to have invented the ancient Mesoamerican ball game that was still being played by the Maya and the Aztecs a thousand years after the Olmec civilization disappeared.

But did the Olmec people disappear with it?

The most tantalizing remains of this civilization are 17 colossal stone heads, the biggest of them weighing almost 50 tons, all of them made sometime well before 900 B.C. The Olmecs didn’t use the wheel and had no beasts of burden, so how they transported these enormous stones is a mystery as yet unsolved. That they could do this very difficult work proves that they had skills and resources worthy of a great civilization–even if we don’t know what they were.

The cool thing about these gigantic heads is that they seem to be portraits of real people. No two are alike. Each face has its own expression, its own distinctive features. The Wikipedia article shows all 17 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olmec_colossal_heads ).

Who were these men? Rulers? Gods? Ballgame stars? Epic heroes? Nobody knows. Some of them smile at us; some of them frown. It’s as if they know we’ll never know the answer.

There are people living in the Olmec lands today who seem to resemble the stone portraits. So it may be that the Olmec people survived the dissolution of their civilization, even if all knowledge of it became lost.

What will remain, someday, of our own global humanist civilization?

The stone heads of our day are still attached to the leaders’ and the wise men’s shoulders.


In Search of Merlin

Because I will soon be reviewing, for the Chalcedon Foundation, a series of novels about Merlin, I thought it’d be a good thing to renew my acquaintance with him.

Nowadays, thanks to public education and cultural decay, there are people who wouldn’t know Merlin from Liberace. Nevertheless, 1,500 years from his lifetime, he’s still famous enough for people to be writing books about him.

Who was Merlin? He was King Arthur’s teacher, protector, adviser, and magician. If you play a lot of video games and watch movies based on comic books, you probably don’t know who King Arthur was, either. Suffice it to say that, at a time when heathenism had just about wholly overwhelmed the island of Britain, some 1,500 years ago, somebody fought the pagan invaders, stopped them, and made it possible for the Christian faith not only to survive, but to convert the invaders within 100 years. That somebody was King Arthur. And preserving England as a Christian country had a profound effect upon all of world history.

So, OK, Merlin is important. But who was he? Tracking him down is almost impossible. The time he lived in was turbulent. People were too busy trying to stay alive, never mind writing accurate history.

Starting with someone who believed Merlin actually existed, I returned to Merlin by Norma Lorre Goodrich (1988). She is controversial because she believed Arthur and Merlin were real persons, whose lives and careers were truthfully described by Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th century writer nicknamed “BS Artist” by just about every scholar but Goodrich.

Professor Goodrich does make ingenious and sometimes convincing arguments. But it is so hard to find out “what really happened” in history! You could break your heart, trying. And then she comes out with this–after you’ve read 213 pages of her book:

“Nobody seems to know to this day, despite all the progress in linguistics and anthropology, why in this ancient world of King Arthur young married women were so frequently beheaded by their husbands as soon as they became pregnant.” Period. No footnote. No attribution. No support from any other source. Just “Here it is, take my word for it.”

Is this just an eruption of off-the-wall feminism? The more you read Professor Goodrich, the more you catch her making these weird observations without backing them up. I recall in another book of hers she said something like, “The Holy Grail was last seen in World War II.” Really? By who? Where? What happened to it? But the sentence ends with a period, and after that comes not another word of explanation.

How are we supposed to find out what really happened, when the people we rely on to tell us are wackos?

Then again, maybe a highly-educated loose cannon like Professor Goodrich is precisely the kind of historian Merlin would choose to write his biography.

I’ll betcha his soul is laughing at us from heaven. Betcha he is.

 


D-Day: What Were We Fighting For?

June 6, 1944–Tens of thousands of American, British, Canadian, and Polish soldiers swarm onto the beaches of Normandy in a bloody  battle that will bring about the end of Nazi Germany–a criminal regime founded on socialism, “science,” state supremacy, and racial hatred, all mixed together in a cauldron stirred by Hitler.

June 6, 2014–The European Central Bank announces a new policy of “negative interest”: if another bank puts money in the ECB, it will earn interest of minus 0.1% ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/06/05/less-than-zero-europ-introduces-negative-interest-rates-to-save-its-economy/ ). According to the Washington Post article, “Charging banks to park cash at the ECB” is supposed to inspire those banks to lend the money instead, and perk up Europe’s sagging economy.

There is no truth to the report that when New York Mayor Warren “Bill DeBlasio” Wilhelm Jr. heard about negative interest, he suffered a seizure of envy that caused his head to spin around a full 360 degrees.

Yes, boys–you overthrew National Socialism to make the world safe for Euro-socialism. We Americans fought for our current right to be ruled–not “governed”: that word would imply some measure of lawfulness–by low-lifes, racists, thieves, liars, Juan Peron wannabes, and homosexual supremacists.

But it’s not your fault that subsequent generations–like mine–have failed you. Your courage defeated the evil of your age in history.

We today bow down to evil.

P.S.–The link to the Washington Post story does not work. I have no idea why not. Sorry!


Three Men: Four Presences

I would like to share with you something that happened 100 years ago to Sir Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer.

Their ship having been crushed in the ice and sunk, Shackleton left most of his crew on a desert island while he and a few men went for help. After crossing 800 miles of stormy ocean in a patched-up longboat, and landing on South Georgia Island, Shackleton and two men had to slog across the mountainous, heavily-glaciated island to reach a whaling station.

After incredible hardships and against seemingly insurmountable odds, they made it. All the men were rescued. The following is from Shackleton’s own memoir:

“When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snow-fields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, ‘Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.’ Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels ‘the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech’ in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near our hearts.”

Compare this to the experience of another three men, farther back in time. It’s from Chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel.

“Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury… and he commanded the most mighty men… to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace… Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and said unto the counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they have no hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

Sophisticated modern pinheads reject the Bible story out of hand: miracles simply do not happen. But no one has dared to question the story told by Shackleton and his two companions.

Then again, what do I know? There are probably academics who say that never happened, either.

 


Oh, No! It’s Columbus Day!

This is the day when libs ‘n’ progs of all stripes lament and bewail Christopher Columbusdiscovery of America in 1492. Teachers’ unions make sure the kiddies learn what a total calamity this was. Oh, alas! If only the Aztecs and the Mayas could have gone on doing human sacrifices! Oh, if only there were no United States! You’ve heard it all before.

Then again, maybe a great Chinese fleet discovered America in 1421, as described in a book titled 1421, by Gavin Menzies. His findings are controversial, but it could’ve happened. Chinese ships of that era made it to East Africa and Europe; they could’ve reached America.

On the other hand, since 1964, Oct. 9 has been officially recognized by the U.S. government as “Leif Erikson Day.” Oops, it slipped past me this year. Around 1000 A.D., Icelander Leif Erikson, son of Eric the Red, visited a place he called “Vinland.” Archeologists have found the remains of Norse settlements in Newfoundland.

There is no day to celebrate Some Poor Devil of a Carthaginian Mariner Who Got Blown Off Course and Wound Up Here, circa 300 B.C.

The point is, America was probably discovered more than once; and even if it hadn’t been, it would have been discovered eventually. And pinhead college professors and other left-wing dummkopfs would still be crying their eyes out.

I have no problem with that. Whatever makes them cry, has got to be good.

 


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