Category Archive 'History'
01 May 2020

Victims of Communism Day

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Human remains at Kolyma.

Ten films on the subject of Communism’s demicide.

The most comprehensive statistical source for democide statistics, Death By Government, puts the toll at 106 million. Necrometrics estimates that Stalin and Mao alone killed 60 million. Wikipedia, defining democide more narrowly, puts the toll between 21 million and 70 million. The Museum of iCommunism estimates 100 million murdered. The Black Book of iCommunism estimates 80 to 100 million.

But these are just statistics. As psychologists have pointed out, it’s impossible for the human mind to grasp the magnitude of that level of horror through sheer numbers. Just as Schindler’s List was instrumental in getting the public to come to finally terms with the Holocaust, it is perhaps through film that death toll of communism can best be understood.

Every May 1st for the last several years, Ilya Somin has written an editorial for the Washington Post declaring the “May Day” so beloved by the Left to be renamed “Victims of Communism Day.” I concur, and so, while socialists blissfully celebrate their worker’s paradise this May Day, indifferent to the human cost of their political philosophy, I propose that well-meaning people consider watching a film on the subject, both out of respect for those lost and to be intellectually armed against the ignorance of those still in denial. Here are some recommendations.

RTWT

29 Apr 2020

TheDecameron and the 14th Century Plague in Florence

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John William Waterhouse, A Tale From the Decameron, 1916, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Paula Findlen, in Boston Review, remembers an earlier, far more terrible pandemic, which at least resulted in the creation of an enduring literary classic.

We know the plague best, of course, through the lens of the Black Death, the infamous outbreak of plague that peaked in the mid fourteenth century. The scourge affected most of Eurasia and North Africa, and may have reached as far as sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean. But some of the most vivid documentation of the devastation it wrought comes from European cities such as Florence, where the fourteenth-century humanist Giovanni Boccaccio had a front-row seat to the most fatal pandemic in recorded human history. There the Black Death left its mark on everything to such a degree that one could speak of a time before plague, and a time after. …

In 1348 Boccaccio’s world changed abruptly and dramatically. The illegitimate son of a wealthy Florentine merchant, he was a struggling writer and sometime commercial agent in his mid-thirties, desperately trying to establish his independence from his father and hoping that he had mostly left Florence behind. He was probably not there but when the “deadly pestilence” arrived in his native city but returned in the aftermath. At least a third of the population died, including his father and stepmother, leaving him to deal with the chaos of lives interrupted.

Boccaccio immediately began to write about his experience as a creative response to this blighted landscape. He most likely completed the Decameron—one hundred tales told by seven young women and three men who fled the city—in 1351. As the title suggests, the collection is a ten-day StorySlam, a verbal marathon racing through the full spectrum of human behavior: aristocratic pretensions, clerical failings, romantic misalliances, corrupt institutions, business deals and marriages gone bad, Christians interacting with Jews and Muslims, peasants wondering if they might ever best their lords. Boccaccio populated his tales with characters from every walk of life. Even today, he remains one of the most articulate and thoughtful eyewitnesses to a society living with a pandemic.

The literary masterpiece begins with an introduction recalling the “painful memory of the deadly havoc wrought by the recent plague.” A keen observer of society, Boccaccio noted how quickly trust broke down, even among friends and neighbors, as the fourteenth-century equivalent of social distancing altered and strained normal relations.

Fear overtook people and found its expression in a number of ways. Boccaccio lamented how many people died alone or among strangers. He documented changes in burial practices, noting that people no longer mourned as they used to because they could not gather publicly or embrace the body of a beloved relative or friend who had succumbed to disease. Ordinary activities became a source of enormous anxiety, as people realized that everything they encountered in their daily lives might harbor infection. Notaries saw business increase, as people obsessively made wills on the chance that they might not survive. Once disease penetrated and altered the social fabric of the city, this corporate body struggled to maintain its integrity.

The Decameron also reflects how imperfectly the state intervened—something Boccaccio understood very well; his recently deceased father was the aptly named Orwellian “Officer of Plenty” (Ufficiale dell’Abbondanza) in charge of reserve supplies. Grain mattered, toilet paper not at all. Ad hoc committees enacted emergency measures, claiming extraordinary powers beyond the normal rule of law, as they also did in times of war.

Unlike COVID-19, bubonic plague is not transmitted by human contact but by fleas and the animals bearing them—unless you were a surgeon lancing buboes or otherwise had direct contact with the site of infection. Renaissance Florentines did not know how this disease worked. Physicians initially took the cause to be the hot humid air of the city in summer. Compared to quarantine, which actually harbored the possibility of preventing infected goods and rodents from entering the city, improvised measures to isolate the sick by immuring them in their homes did little to slow the terrifying course of disease.

Widespread fear became a basis for further mistreatment of the poor, foreign, and disenfranchised sectors of society—those who did not have the luxury of flight. Were they the source of the poisonous air? Previous generations believed that heretics, Jews, and lepers could kill with their breath. That pestilential idea inspired moral explanations of this new disease and fear-ridden efforts to rid society of its impure elements—not in Florence, but in parts of Spain, England, and Northern Europe where religious and economic tensions predated the arrival of plague.

Instead, the more pious Florentines prayed. The clergy who did not flee to save themselves remained to save others, alternately exhorting people to their best behavior and chastising them for being the cause of it all. Thwarting the state, defiant preachers convened the faithful since it was impossible to imagine a good end without divine recourse. Of course business ground to a halt. Commerce between peoples and regions virtually ceased, save for those bold and foolhardy enough to take the risks and suffer the consequences.

Taking the pulse of his society, Boccaccio discerned four principal reactions to a pandemic. First were those who “lived in isolation from everyone else,” who appeared to him a rather self-satisfied, if stoic lot. Their pantries were full of “delicate foods and precious wines”; they lightly entertained themselves and simply shut their doors on the world until plague passed. They constantly congratulated themselves on responding well. By contrast, society’s epicureans partied from dawn until dusk, treating plague as “one enormous joke.” They were smart enough to avoid contact with the sick but considered the pandemic a reason to flout all rules.

In between lay a third group of people who did not self-quarantine, soberly or riotously, but carefully moved about the city taking precautionary measures. Long before the modern face mask became a competitive sport for those inclined to make do-it-yourself YouTube videos, fragrant flowers, aromatic herbs, and exotic spices became popular adornments for those dangerous forays outdoors, since they allegedly kept the miasmas of disease at bay. A final group avoided all these problems and fled for the relative isolation and fresh air of the countryside, much like the ten youthful protagonists of his Decameron. Boccaccio observed that all of them lived and died in equal measure, unlike the poor who had no choices and were disproportionately afflicted.

For Boccaccio and his contemporaries, plague became the ultimate test of the fine line between knowledge and ignorance, truth and deception, as much as it also defined the limits of greed and compassion. Famous physicians deployed the full might of their expertise, offering a dizzying array of contradictory explanations—fantastically elaborate astrological charts and complex medical theories of humoral balance and imbalance, bolstered by the weight of authority and learning. They did not have a theory of contagion. Instead, the most perceptive medical practitioners who cared for the sick and dying concluded that the best medicine came from experience, which was initially in short supply. Far more humble healers and those who considered healing an act of pious charity risked their lives to alleviate suffering. Charlatans promising false hope preyed on people’s desperation. Physicians and apothecaries furiously recalibrated recipes for legendary antidotes in the ancient pharmacopeia to ward off poisons in the hope that they might work on something new. No one initially could provide anything remotely like a cure.

Instead, everyone became proficient at recognizing the symptoms, which Boccaccio describes in gruesome and precise detail, finding the right words because it was a shared experience. His telling observation that the Florentine plague “did not take the form it had assumed in the East” is a reminder that we do not have to await the modern era to be aware that a disease is not one thing but a complex of different symptoms that might evolve and change as they migrate with humans, animals, and insects. Even though his society did not understand the means of transmission, people observed its manifestations closely.

Boccaccio not only knew that plague had been something different before it reached Florence; he also understood that “the symptoms of the disease changed” as it evolved between spring and summer within the city. Bubonic plague probably gave way to the pneumonic and septicemic versions—and we might add, surely, the gastrointestinal version if people ate infected animals. Now one could become sick if someone coughed up blood in proximity to a healthy individual, and everyone took note of this awful development. Understanding disease became a project of society as a whole, not simply those who claimed particular expertise or authority. This was a lesson that Boccaccio inscribed in the introduction to the Decameron, which is why his brief but compelling description remains one of the best accounts of this disease, written by a layperson rather than a physician. (Daniel Defoe similarly captured the sheer awfulness of the Great Plague of London a little over three centuries later.)

By the time Boccaccio completed the Decameron, physicians began to write down what they learned, too. He became one of their most attentive and critical readers. While plague initially revealed the inadequacies of fourteenth-century medicine, it also challenged physicians to offer better advice and attempt different solutions in the coming years. They began to think about what kind of poison a plague might be, the first step toward a model of contagion. None of their preventive measures eradicated plague, to be sure, but they helped to establish a new partnership between medical practitioners and the state in devising public health measures, at first temporary and later semi-permanent. Boccaccio was among the first to publicize the changing response to disease.

Despite plague’s virulence, Boccaccio did not leave his readers without hope. With bitter irony, he declared that in the long march of human history, plague had been a “brief unpleasantness”—short in duration, long in impact. He lived to see his society emerge from the scourge and later saw it return. In 1351, however, he was cautiously optimistic that better preparedness in the future could lessen the high mortality rate of 1348. “A great many people died who would perhaps have survived had they received some assistance,” he concluded.

RTWT

17 Mar 2020

Isaac Newton, Be Like Him

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09 Mar 2020

“Kvinnors Minnen” (Womens’ Memories)

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Kvinnors minnen from Dalarnas museum on Vimeo.

In the old days, Swedish women would take the cattle and goats for summer grazing in the hills. It looks like the film footage would have been taken pretty late, in the 1950s or 1960s. Country people worked hard, but they also had a lot to enjoy that’s missing from the modern urban environment.

HT: Karen L. Myers.

06 Mar 2020

Siege of the Alamo

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Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, Fall of the Alamo, 1903, Texas State Archives.

March 6, 1836: Following a thirteen-day siege, more than 2000 Mexican troops launched a pre-dawn attack from all four sides on the fortress defended by 180 men. The Mexicans were repulsed twice, but a third assault gained the north wall and broke through the west wall. After fierce fighting, the defenders were killed to a man. The casualties included Colonel William Barret Travis, James Bowie, and former Congressman from Tennessee David Crockett.

04 Mar 2020

Lost Passageway Found in British House of Parliament

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18 Feb 2020

Our National Park Service, Delivery Source of Leftism

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George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Michael Pillsbury, in the WSJ, explains how America’s national historic sites have wound up being explained in relation to Identity Group grievances and Climate Change by people who majored in Marxism and Social Justice.

George Washington’s birthday is celebrated on Monday, so consider this thought experiment: It is 2026 and Washington and close military advisers like Alexander Hamilton return for a 250th-anniversary ride on the eight decisive battlefields where American independence was won.

At first, they might be pleasantly surprised to see the battlefields still intact. But suppose the visiting heroes lean down from their saddles to listen to the park rangers leading tours in green-and-gray uniforms. Expecting to hear a recounting of battles that formed the republic, they instead hear stories about identity politics and climate change. Hamilton, upon returning to his only home, in New York—a site that attracts thousands of visitors annually—would be taken aback to hear, as I did on a visit, park rangers editorialize that he stashed his wife there so he could carry on with his mistress in his Wall Street home.

This casual, official reinterpretation of history has alarmed many modern historians and Americans, including those like me with relatives who served at Valley Forge. In 2016, a park ranger reportedly telling tourists at Independence Hall in Philadelphia that “the Founders knew that when they left this room, what they had written wouldn’t matter very much” resulted in news articles and calls for her resignation. Rangers, however, aren’t required to stick to any script when interpreting the Revolution. Washington and Hamilton might ride on to privately owned Mount Vernon for a more authentic experience.

Traditionally, great powers trust their military forces with protecting and interpreting the sacred battlefields of their founding fathers. After the Revolutionary War, the U.S. military protected the battlefields, conducted “staff rides” to review decisions and scenarios, and encouraged private donors such as the Ladies of Mount Vernon to restore other historical places tied to Washington.

But then came the National Park Service. In the 1920s and early 1930s the NPS was a minor agency struggling for attention and already filled with what today are called environmental activists. These ideologues sought to obtain possession of the nation’s historic sites, which would raise the Park Service’s profile above that of a mere maintenance organization.

In April 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited Park Service Director Horace Albright for a Sunday drive along Skyline Drive, a new highway the Park Service was building in the mountains of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Albright had already created a “history division” and set up historical monuments. So he took advantage of this time with the president to defeat objections from the War Department, which wanted to keep the battlefields under its purview. Mere months later, by executive order, the War Department transferred 57 historical sites and, more important, the authority to interpret the history of the sites to the Park Service. Albright saw this victory as the culmination of his career.

RTWT

02 Feb 2020

Candlemas, Demotically “Groundhog Day”

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Tintoretto, Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, 1550-1555, Gallerie dell Accademi, Venice

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

From a very early, indeed unknown date in the Christian history, the 2nd of February has been held as the festival of the Purification of the Virgin, and it is still a holiday of the Church of England. From the coincidence of the time with that of the Februation or purification of the people in pagan Rome, some consider this as a Christian festival engrafted upon a heathen one, in order to take advantage of the established habits of the people; but the idea is at least open to a good deal of doubt. The popular name Candlemass is derived from the ceremony which the Church of Rome dictates to be observed on this day; namely, a blessing of candles by the clergy, and a distribution of them amongst the people, by whom they are afterwards carried lighted in solemn procession. The more important observances were of course given up in England at the Reformation; but it was still, about the close of the eighteenth century, customary in some places to light up churches with candles on this day.

At Rome, the Pope every year officiates at this festival in the beautiful chapel of the Quirinal. When he has blessed the candles, he distributes them with his own hand amongst those in the church, each of whom, going singly up to him, kneels to receive it. The cardinals go first; then follow the bishops, canons, priors, abbots, priests, &c., down to the sacristans and meanest officers of the church. According to Lady Morgan, who witnessed the ceremony in 1820:

    ‘When the last of these has gotten his candle, the poor conservatori, the representatives of the Roman senate and people, receive theirs. This ceremony over, the candles are lighted, the Pope is mounted in his chair and carried in procession, with hymns chanting, round the ante-chapel; the throne is stripped of its splendid hangings; the Pope and cardinals take off their gold and crimson dresses, put on their usual robes, and the usual mass of the morning is sung.’

Lady Morgan mentions that similar ceremonies take place in all the parish churches of Rome on this day.

It appears that in England, in Catholic times, a meaning was attached to the size of the candles, and the manner in which they burned during the procession; that, moreover, the reserved parts of the candles were deemed to possess a strong supernatural virtue:

    ‘This done, each man his candle lights,
    Where chiefest seemeth he,
    Whose taper greatest may be seen; And fortunate to be,
    Whose candle burneth clear and bright: A wondrous force and might
    Both in these candles lie, which if At any time they light,
    They sure believe that neither storm Nor tempest cloth abide,
    Nor thunder in the skies be heard, Nor any devil’s spide,
    Nor fearful sprites that walk by night,
    Nor hurts of frost or hail,’ &c.

The festival, at whatever date it took its rise, has been designed to commemorate the churching or purification of Mary; and the candle-bearing is understood to refer to what Simeon said when he took the infant Jesus in his arms, and declared that he was a light to lighten the Gentiles. Thus literally to adopt and build upon metaphorical expressions, was a characteristic procedure of the middle ages. Apparently, in consequence of the celebration of Mary’s purification by candle-bearing, it became customary for women to carry candles with them, when, after recovery from child-birth, they went to be, as it was called, churched. A remarkable allusion to this custom occurs in English history. William the Conqueror, become, in his elder days, fat and unwieldy, was confined a considerable time by a sickness. ‘Methinks,’ said his enemy the King of France, ‘the King of England lies long in childbed.’ This being reported to William, he said, ‘When I am churched, there shall be a thousand lights in France !’ And he was as good as his word; for, as soon as he recovered, he made an inroad into the French territory, which he wasted wherever he went with fire and sword.

At the Reformation, the ceremonials of Candlemass day were not reduced all at once. Henry VIII proclaimed in 1539:

    ‘On Candlemass day it shall be declared, that the bearing of candles is done in memory of Christ, the spiritual light, whom Simeon did prophesy, as it is read in. the church that day.’

It is curious to find it noticed as a custom down to the time of Charles II, that when lights were brought in at nightfall, people would say—’ God send us the light of heaven!’ The amiable Herbert, who notices the custom, defends it as not superstitious. Some-what before this time, we find. Herrick alluding to the customs of Candlemass eve: it appears that the plants put up in houses at Christmas were now removed.

    Down with the rosemary and bays,
    Down with the mistletoe;
    Instead of holly now upraise
    The greener box for show.
    The holly hitherto did sway,

    Let box now domineer,
    Until the dancing Easter day
    Or Easter’s eve appear.
    The youthful box, which now hath grace
    Your houses to renew,
    Grown old, surrender must his place
    Unto the crisped yew.
    When yew is out, then birch comes in,

    And many flowers beside,
    Both of a fresh and fragrant kin’,
    To honour Whitsuntide.
    Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
    With cooler oaken boughs,
    Come in for comely ornaments,
    To re-adorn the house.
    Thus times do shift; each thing in turn does hold;
    New things succeed, as former things grow old.’

The same poet elsewhere recommends very particular care in the thorough removal of the Christmas garnishings on this eve:

    ‘That so the superstitious find
    No one least branch left there behind;
    For look, how many leaves there be
    Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
    So many goblins you shall see.’

He also alludes to the reservation of part of the candles or torches, as calculated to have the effect of protecting from mischief:

    ‘Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
    Till sunset let it burn,
    Which quenched, then lay it up again, Till Christmas next return.
    Part must be kept, wherewith to tend
    The Christmas log next year;
    And where ‘tis safely kept, the fiend Can do no mischief there.’

Considering the importance attached to Candlemass day for so many ages, it is scarcely surprising that there is a universal superstition throughout Christendom, that good weather on this day indicates a long continuance of winter and a bad crop, and that its being foul is, on the contrary, a good omen. Sir Thomas Browne, in his Vulgar Errors, quotes a Latin distich expressive of this idea:

    ‘Si sol splendescat Maria purificante,
    Major erit glacies post festum quam fait ante;

which maybe considered as well translated in the popular Scottish rhyme:

    If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
    The half o’ winter’s to come and mair;
    If Candlemass day be wet and foul,
    The half o’ winter’s gave at Yule.’

In Germany there are two proverbial expressions on this subject: 1. The shepherd would rather see the wolf enter his stable on Candlemass day than the sun; 2. The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemass day, and when he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining, he draws back into his hole. It is not improbable that these notions, like the festival of Candlemass itself, are derived from pagan times, and have existed since the very infancy of our race. So at least we may conjecture, from a curious passage in Martin’s Description of the Western Islands. On Candlemass day, according to this author, the Hebrideans observe the following curious custom:

The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up in women’s apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call Bríd’s Bed.; and then the mistress and servants cry three times, “Bríd is come; Bríd is welcome!” This they do just before going to bed, and when they rise in the morning they look among the ashes, expecting to see the impression of Bríd’s club there; which, if they do, they reckon it a true presage of a good crop and prosperous year, and the contrary they take as an ill omen.

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Groundhog Day is simply a modern commercialized adaptation of the earlier weather traditions associated with the Christian feast day.

02 Feb 2020

Candlemas Eve by Robert Herrick, Sung by Kate Rusby

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DOWN with rosemary and bayes,
Down with the mistleto,
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.

The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineere,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter’s eve appeare.

Then youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kinne
To honor Whitsontide.

Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With color oken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed as former things grow old.

19 Jan 2020

Roman Engineering

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Interior of the Pantheon in Rome.

In his excellent King Arthur’s Wars: The Anglo-Saxon Conquest of England (2016), retired British officer Jim Storr (now teaching at the Norwegian Military Academy in Oslo) puts the astonishing Roman technological achievements into perspective.

Roman engineers… were astonishingly skillful. In the years just before the birth of Christ they built an underground tunnel to bring water to Bologna in Italy. The tunnel was 20 kilometres long. Hundreds of years earlier they had drained the Pontine marshes south east of Rome. In the second century A.D. they brought water to a city in what is now Syria from a source over 130 kilometres away. It had an average gradient of just 3 centimetres’ fall in every kilometre. Many kilometers of it still exist today. In several cities in Europe, Roman aqueducts still provide water from several kilometres away. The world-famous Trevi fountain in Rome is supplied by the Virgo aqueduct, 22 kilometres long and built in 19 BC. The Pantheon in Rome was built in about 126 A.D. It is the world’s first large mass-concrete dome building. It is over 40 metres high and is visited by thousands of tourists, in complete safety, every day: almost 2000 years later.

Roman engineers were not just good builders. They were also world-class surveyors. If you walk south from London Bridge today, you soon reach Kennington Park Road (the A3). As you look along it you are looking in the precise direction of the east gate of Chichester, 59.84 Roman miles from the end of London Bridge. The surveyors who first laid out that road, probably in the first century A.D., knew precisely which direction Chichester lay in. There are two major rows of hills (the North and South Downs) in between.

In about 155 A.D. Roman surveyors re-aligned a section of 82 kilometres of frontier defenses in southern Germany. The southernmost 29 kilometres ran over several heavily wooded ridges, yet none of the forts (a Roman mile apart, with turrets in between) is off the direct line between start and finish by more than 1.9 metres. That is a deviation of less than five minutes of arc (five sixtieth of a degree). The accuracy which Roman surveyors achieved was phenomenal. It was only bettered with the invention of surveying instruments with magnifying optics (such as the theodolite) in the 17th century. Yet, as far as is known, Roman surveyors did not even have an instrument for observing and copying angles directly (such as a protractor). However, by about the year 500 or so, nobody could even build in stone, let alone lay out aqueducts or build in concrete. Concrete only came back into use in the late 18th century.

06 Jan 2020

Epiphany, or Twelfth Night

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Twelfth Night
Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste

(From Robert Chambers, A Book of Days, 1869)

Born: Richard II, King of England, 1366; Joan d’Arc, 1402; Peter Metastasio, poet, 1698; Benjamin Franklin, philosopher, Boston, U.S., 1706; David Dale, philanthropist, 1739; George Thomas Doo, engraver, 1800.

Feast Day: St. Melanius, bishop, 490. St. Nilammon, Hermit. St. Peter, abbot of St. Austin’s, Canterbury, 608.

TWELFTH-DAY

This day, called Twelfth-Day, as being in that number after Christmas, and Epiphany from the Greek ‘‘ΕπιΦáνєια”, signifying appearance, is a festival of the Church, in commemoration of the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles; more expressly to the three Magi, or Wise Men of the East, who came, led by a star, to worship him immediately after his birth. (Matt. ii. 1-12.) The Epiphany appears to have been first observed as a separate feast in the year 813. Pope Julius I is, however, reputed to have taught the Church to distinguish the Feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany, so early as about the middle of the fourth century.

The primitive Christians celebrated the Feast of the Nativity for twelve days, observing the first and last with great solemnity; and both of these days were denominated Epiphany, the first the greater Epiphany, from our Lord having on that day become Incarnate, or made his appearance in “the flesh;” the latter, the lesser Epiphany, from the three-fold manifestation of His Godhead—the first, by the appearance of the blazing star which conducted Melchior, Jasper, and Balthuzar, the three Magi, or wise men, commonly styled the three Kings of Cologne, out of the East, to worship the Messiah, and to offer him presents of “Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh”—Melchior the Gold, in testimony of his royalty as the promised King of the Jews; Jasper the Frankincense, in token of his Divinity; and Balthuzar the Myrrh, in allusion to the sorrows which, in the humiliating condition of a man, our Redeemer vouchsafed to take upon him: the second, of the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of a Dove, at the Baptism: and the third, of the first miracle of our Lord turning water into wine at the marriage in Cana. All of which three manifestations of the Divine nature happened on the same day, though not in the same year.

    ‘To render due honour to the memory of the ancient Magi, who are supposed to have been kings, the monarch of this country himself, either personally or through his chamberlain, offers annually at the altar on this day, Gold, Frank-incense, and Myrrh; and the kings of Spain, where the Feast of Epiphany is likewise called the “Feast of the Kings,” were accustomed to make the like offerings. — Brady.

In the middle ages, the worship by the Magi was celebrated by a little drama, called the Feast of the Star:

    ‘Three priests, clothed as kings, with their servants carrying offerings, met from different directions before the altar. The middle one, who came from the east, pointed with his staff to a star. A dialogue then ensued; and, after kissing each other, they began to sing, “Let us go and inquire;” after which the precentor began a responsory, “Let the Magi come.” A procession then commenced; and as soon as it began to enter the nave, a crown, with a star resembling a cross, was lighted up, and pointed out to the Magi, with, “Behold the Star in the East.” This being concluded, two priests standing at each side of the altar, answered meekly, “We are those whom you seek;” and, drawing a curtain, shewed them a child, whom, falling down, they worshipped. Then the servants made the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which were divided among the priests. The Magi, meanwhile, continued praying till they dropped asleep; when a boy, clothed in an alb, like an angel, addressed them with, “All things which the prophets said are fulfilled.” The festival concluded with chanting services, &c. At Soissons, a rope was let down from the roof of the church, to which was annexed an iron circle having seven tapers, intended to represent Lucifer, or the morning star; but this was not confined to the Feast of the Star.’ — Fosbroke’s Antiquities, ii. 700.

Read the rest of this entry »

02 Jan 2020

Last Duel in France Took Place in 1967

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Open Culture:

Another man insults your honor, leaving you no choice but to challenge him to a highly formalized fight to the death: in the 21st century, the very idea strikes us as almost incomprehensibly of the past. And dueling is indeed dead, at least in all the lands that historically had the most enthusiasm for it, but it hasn’t been dead for as long as we might assume. The last recorded duel performed not with pistols but swords (specifically épées, the largest type of swords used in fencing) took place in France in 1967 — the year of the Saturn V and the Boeing 737, the Detroit riots and the Six-Day War, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Summer of Love.

The duelists were Marseilles mayor Gaston Defferre and another politician names Rene Ribière. “After a clash in the National Assembly, Defferre yelled ‘Taisez-vous, abruti!’ at Ribiere and refused to apologize,” writes professional stage-and-screen fight coordinator Jared Kirby. “Ribière challenged and Defferre accepted. The duel took place with épées in a private residence in Neuilly-sur-Seine, and it was officiated by Jean de Lipkowskiin.”

Heightening the drama, Ribière was to be married the following day, though he could expect to live to see his own wedding, Defferre having vowed not to kill him but “wound him in such a way as to spoil his wedding night very considerably.”

You can see the subsequent action of this relatively modern-day duel in the newsreel footage at the top of the post. Defferre did indeed land a couple of touches on Ribière, both in the arm. Ribière, the younger man by twelve years, seems to have taken the event even more seriously than Defferre: he insisted not only on using sharper épées than the ones Defferre originally offered, but on continuing the duel after Defferre first struck him. Lipkowskiin put an end to the combat after the second time, and both Defferre and Ribière went on to live full lives, the former into the 1980s and the latter into the 1990s. Just how considerable an effect Ribière’s dueling injuries had on his wedding night, however, history has not recorded.

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