Monday, January 30, 2017

Before The 15th Century, Adults Frequently Wore Diapers

(Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons. Modified with diaper.)

Sorry—that is misleading. In the Middle Ages, there was a fancy fabric called diaper. It was a cloth decorated with a repeating pattern, like diamonds, floral patterns or geometric shapes. The diaper pattern was sometimes used with silk fabric, and even gold and silver threads would be sewn into clothing or linens in the diaper fashion.

Around the 15th century, however, the fabric was being widely used in a new way. Enough people were using the diaper-decorated fabric as nappies for their young children that the cloth became irreconcilably connoted with baby excrement. Consequently, diaper fabric fell out of fashion on anything but babies and toddlers.

In books before the 15th century, however, there are plenty of references to grown people, and everyday objects, being clothed in diaper fabric. An example from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is included below—now it should make more sense to the average reader.

“And with Arcita, so the poets sing,
Went great Emetrius the Indian king
On a bay steed whose trappings were of steel
Covered in cloth of gold from haunch to heel
Fretted with diaper.”
  • From The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, translated by Nevill Coghill (Penguin Classics edition, 1977).


Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Greek Goddess Artemis Unleashed A Giant Boar Against A City That Slighted Her

(Wild Boar by Walter Heubach (German, 1865-1923), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons mixed with The Ancient City of Agrigento, by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750–1819), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

According to the ancient Greek poet, Homer, Lord Oeneus of the Aetolian city of Calydon made the grave mistake of forgetting to leave a harvest offering to Artemis, the goddess of animals and hunting. Apparently, every single Greek god and goddess besides Artemis was given his or her share of the harvest. Artemis, alone, was forgotten—and she was not happy about that, at all.

To have her revenge against the people of Calydon, Artemis sent a colossal boar to ravage the personal lands of Lord Oeneus. The gigantic beast used its terrible tusks to gouge the land and rip up trees from their roots. Lord Oeneus’ son, Meleager gathered a large army of hunters and hunting dogs from the surrounding Aetolian settlements to do battle against Artemis’ boar. Though many of the huntsmen died, they managed to kill the rampaging boar and return its impressive carcass to Claydon.

Artemis, however, not to be outdone by the hunters, sowed jealousy and rivalry between the many proud hunters. They all argued over who would keep the magnificent boar as a hunting prize. To make matters worse, war broke out between the Aetolian people and their foes, the Curetes.

Meleager championed the Aetolians in war, and his skillful military leadership made victory almost a certainty. There was, however, a nagging problem among the Aetolian ranks—Artemis was still flaming the fires of envy and jealousy over who would keep the boar as a prize. In a heated dispute over the giant hunting trophy, Meleager killed his uncle in a frenzied rage. After the murder, Meleager’s mother could not forgive her son for killing her brother. Quite the opposite, she prayed to the gods for her son’s death. Having killed his uncle, and with his mother wishing his death, Meleager withdrew from battle and sulked with his wife at their home in Claydon city.

Without Meleager’s leadership, however, the Aetolian forces lost their advantage. The Curetes seized their chance and counter-attacked, pushing deep into Aetolian territory. The line of battle was pushed all the way back to the city of Claydon, where Meleager was still licking his wounds.

Only when the Curetes began to siege and scale the walls of Claydon did Meleager rejoin the battle. With their champion back in the battlefield, the Aetolians were able to soundly defeat the Curetes and end the war. No longer distracted by the threat of war, the Aetolians decided who would obtain prizes fashioned from the giant boar that the huntsmen had recently killed. Meleager, whose stubbornness and solitude had caused the Curetes to reach all the way to the walls of Claydon, was pointedly not given a share of Artemis’ great boar as a hunting trophy.

Written by C. Keith Hansley


  • The Iliad (Book 9, approximately line 530) Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

According To Legend, John The Evangelist May Have Awkwardly Raised A Woman From The Dead For Her To Make Him A Meal

(St John resurrecting Drusiana, c. 1487-1502, in the Fresco Strozzi Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The tale in question is supposedly about St. John the Evangelist (writer of the Christian Book of Revelations) and a woman named Drusiana. This story traces its origin to the Acts of John, an early 2nd century religious text that lies in a gray area between heresy and Apocrypha in the eyes of Catholicism and its Protestant offshoots.  By the Middle Ages, the tale of St. John and Drusiana had been extracted from the Acts of John and spread to avid readers in a more orthodox fashion. 

After centuries of editing and simplification, however, the story of St. John and Drusiana evolved drastically. When it was collected in The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine (1275), the event had been reduced to a short and abrupt shell of its original form. Fair warning: the story may be triggering to people with feminist, or women’s advocate, inclinations. As told in The Golden Legend, the story of St. John and Drusiana is quite awkward.

The story occurs after John the Evangelist returned from exile and could, once again, roam the lands of the Roman Empire. In some medieval accounts of the story, an Ephesian woman named Drusiana had sheltered John in her home and played the part of a servant for him, before he was sent into exile. The Golden Legend, however, only proposed that she loved, respected and admired St. John and wanted to see him in person. Tragically, she died while John was exiled, and those who knew Drusiana were heartbroken that she had not been able to see the one she so deeply admired. Some medieval accounts of the story even claim she died because she felt so distraught at no longer being able to serve St. John.

After his exile ended, John the Evangelist traveled back to Ephesus, where the friends of Drusiana told the saint of the woman’s death. With the Ephesians in tow, the saint went to where Drusiana’s body lay. As a powerful miracle-worker, St. John had no trouble resurrecting Drusiana from the dead, but he had an immediate task for the newly resurrected woman—he wanted her to prepare a meal. In The Golden Legend, St. John brought Drusiana back from the dead, saying, “Drusiana arise, and go into thy house, and make ready for me some refection” (Jacobus de Voragine, 1275). In The Book of the City of Ladies, the French writer, Christine De Pizan (1364-1430), summarized St. John’s statement even better; “Rise up Drusiana! Go home and get my food ready for me!” (Part III, chapter 18).

In the original Acts of John, there was no talk of preparing meals. The 2nd century account gave Drusiana a much more elaborate and interesting story—one involving lust, necrophilia, serpents and angels. If that sounds interestung, check out our article about the strange and odd events that occur in the Acts of John, including the original Drusiana story, HERE.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

  •   The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, translated by Rosalind Brown-Grant. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Zeus Was Disturbingly Creative In The Ways He Punished His Wife, Hera

(Hera Campana. Marble, Roman copy of an Hellenistic original, 2nd century AD, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In Greek mythology, few divine couples were perfect. More often than not, married couples among the Greek gods were in rocky relationships. Aphrodite and Hephaestus often did not see eye to eye, and the relationship between Hades and Persephone was definitely not formed on love—Hades kidnapped his bride and tricked her into eating a pomegranate, sealing her fate in the underworld. Very few of the divine married couples, however, could be as icy toward each other as Zeus and Hera.

With such tense relationships at work among the gods, domestic violence was, unfortunately, a prevalent occurrence on Mt. Olympus. Yet, the Greek gods were beings of immense power, so consequentially, fights between spouses were horrifically violent. When Zeus threatened Hera with extravagant punishment, he usually meant what he said, and when fists flew, Zeus did not pull his punches. One of the most extreme punishments Hera was forced to endure came either after she incited the gods of Olympus to attempt a rebellion against Zeus, or when she tried to thwart the success of Zeus’ illegitimate son, Heracles (Hercules). In response to one of these events, Zeus bound his wife in an unbreakable golden chain and hung her up in the sky within the sight of all the gods, but also out of their reach. Zeus made the punishment even worse by attaching anvils to Hera’s feet, stretching her more efficiently than if she was on a medieval rack. Anyone who attempted to rescue Hera from her punishment was thrown by Zeus far and hard enough to leave them breathless when they hit the ground. Zeus eventually let Hera go free, but their lovers' quarrels continued, though Hera likely took her husband’s threats more seriously.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

  • The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Historical Reasons To Watch Netflix’s ‘The Crown’

(Queen Elizabeth II portrait from 1959, courtesy of the arciives of Canada, via Creative Commons 2.0 (CC 2.0))

If you have any interest in drama, history, government or British politics, the Netflix series, ‘The Crown’ should be well to your liking. The show is about the transition to power of Queen Elizabeth II, and all the internal and external political maneuverings brought about by the succession of a new queen. It also explores the emotional and personal toll Queen Elizabeth suffered in her family life once she assumed the mantle of monarch.  Should you, by chance, need more persuasion, here is a long list of the types of interesting historical content that can be found in the show:

Historical Topics of ‘The Crown’
  • Abdication of the throne by King Edward VIII
  • Winston Churchill’s post-WWII career
  • Lung cancer and death of King George VI.
  • Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh
    • Dissatisfaction among British nobility for the marriage
    • Marital complications between Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
  • Televised coronation of Queen Elizabeth
  • Commonwealth tours taken by Queen Elizabeth
  • Queen Elizabeth’s education for the throne, including mentoring from her father (George VI), Winston Church and even her uncle Edward VIII
  • Deadly smog of 1952
  • Independence movement in Egypt, the fall of King Farouk I and the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser
  • Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth’s sister)
    • Sisterly rivalry between the queen and the princess
    • Princess Margaret’s inability to marry Captain Peter Townsend
    • Sisterly drama caused by the forbidden marriage
  • Cold War
  • Nuclear arms race
  • General/President Eisenhower of the United States
  • Graham Sutherland's portrait of the 80 year old Winston Churchill, and its destruction.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ares, The Greek God of War, Was Trapped In A Bronze Jar For 13 Months

(So-called “Ludovisi Ares”. Pentelic marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from ca. 320 BC. Some restorations in Cararra marble by Gianlorenzo Bernini, 1622, photographed by Marie-Lan Nguyen, via Creative Commons 2.5 (CC2.5))

Though Ares, according to Greek mythology, was the god of war, aggression, rage and all other chaotic emotions that come from battle and bloodlust, he suffered a very embarrassing incident. This ancient mythological tough-guy was overwhelmed and stuffed in a bronze jar by two young brothers (possibly only nine-year-olds) named Otus and Ephialtes.

To be fair, these were no ordinary brothers, and they were far from human. Otus and Ephialtes were immensely powerful giants born to Poseidon and Iphimedeia. By ‘immensely powerful,’ I mean they were virtually indestructible—Hercules (strong enough to harm and embarrass multiple gods) could not place a scratch on the giant brothers and even Zeus’ feared lightning bolts had no effect.

As the story goes, Otus and Ephialtes plotted to march against Olympus and usurp power from Zeus and the gods. Along with their longing for world dominance, Otus lusted after the goddess, Artemis, and Ephialtes felt the same emotion for Zeus’ wife, Hera. Therefore, when they were not trying to break into Olympus, the giant brothers would call out for the goddesses they desired.

Ares, the god of war, charged out of Olympus to defeat the threat to the gods, but was quickly humbled by the giants. Otus and Ephialtes scooped up Ares, as if he were nothing, wrapped him in chains, and stuffed him in a bronze jar. Meanwhile, Artemis answered the call of the giants and appeared before them. After the brothers saw her, she turned into a white doe (other stories claim Apollo sent the doe), and ran in-between the two giants. The brothers, trying to incapacitate or kill Artemis, simultaneously threw spears at the doe, but missed—instead of hitting the doe, they skewered each other. Though Otus and Ephialtes were invulnerable to the attacks of gods and man, they proved to be their own weakness, because they died from their wounds.

Ares, whose only achievement during the giant brothers’ reign of terror was to be captured and imprisoned in a jar, remained in his bronze prison for thirteen months. The god of war was nearing his last breaths when Hermes (one of the most under-appreciated and underestimated of the gods) was informed of Ares’ predicament. Hermes quickly found, and saved, Ares and brought the god of war back to Olympus, where Artemis was being celebrated for her wit and valor. Ares, on the other hand, only gained from the ordeal a tale he wished everyone would forget.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

  • The Iliad (Book 5, approximately line 390) by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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.

The Sibylline Books were a well-guarded collection of cryptic and poetic prophetic riddles, in which the Romans would search for answers in times of crisis. One of the known examples of when the Sibylline Books were consulted was when Italy was ravaged by the military genius, Hannibal of Carthage, during the Second Punic War. The Roman Republic surveyed the Sibylline Books and deduced that their fortunes would change if they invited a goddess from Phrygia into the Roman pantheon of gods. They took the prophecy to heart and brought the cult of Cybele, the Magna Mater (Great Mother), into Rome with great honors around 204 BCE.

That, however, is one of the few facts we know about the Sibylline Books.  Along with the Punic Wars story, scholars have very loosely deduced that one to twelve Sibyls, or prophetesses, wrote the Sibylline Books. Only one particular Sibyl can be considered historical-ish. A prophetess only known as the Cumaean Sibyl (sometimes named Almalthea) reportedly sold a collection of prophetic books to King Tarquinius Superbus (c. 6th century BCE), the last king of the Romans. She tried to sell nine books of prophecy to the Roman King, but when he refused to pay her price, she burned six books before the king was convinced to buy remaining three (for the price of all nine). The Cumaean Sibyl is even thought to be the sibyl featured in Virgil’s epic poem, The Aeneid.

Regardless of where the Sibylline Books came from, they stayed safe in their guarded temple until they were required in times of crisis. They reportedly were heavily damaged by fire, or completely destroyed, in 83 BCE. That was the tumultuous year when the dictator, Sulla, took Rome by force for a second time in his life, this time against a man named Cinna (who was Julius Caesar’s father-in-law). Nevertheless, it is thought that the Sibylline Books were repaired, or replaced, and lasted until the 5th century CE. What remained of the Sibylline Books, however, is thought to have been completely destroyed by General Flavius Stilicho around the year 407, when he seized or destroyed pagan objects and properties in an attempt to gain new, anti-pagan, allies—it did not work, for he was assassinated a year later.

Despite this, another collection of ‘prophesies’ called the Sibylline Oracles has managed to survive until the present day. These, however, are not the original Books, but are forgeries of the originals, combined with heavy doses of history, mythology and even Jewish and Christian religious teachings. These hoax Sibylline works have been loosely dated to between the 2nd and 6th centuries CE.

To close this on a fun note, here is a vivid description of a Sibyl in a god-inspired craze from Virgil’s Aeneid:

“But the Sibyl, still not broken in by Apollo, storms
with a wild fury through her cave. And the more she tries
to pitch the great god off her breast, the more his bridle
exhausts her raving lips, overwhelming her untamed heart,
bending her to his will. Now the hundred immense
mouths of the house swing open, all on their own,
and bear the Sibyl’s answers through the air.”
  • From The Aeneid by Virgil (Book Six), translated by Robert Fagles (Penguin Classics edition)

Written by C. Keith Hansley


Monday, January 16, 2017

The Number Of Speeches In The Iliad Adds Up To A Suspiciously Diabolical Sum

(Achilles Slays Hector by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The number of individual speeches contained in Homer’s Iliad may astound people because of the sheer size of the number. Suspicious people, however, shiver when they see the sum. Other readers, who keep up with Internet memes and lingo may even say that the Illuminati is confirmed after seeing how many speeches are in The Iliad.

 According to Peter Jones, who edited, revised and introduced the 2014 Penguin Books publication of The Iliad, the great epic poem of Homer contains exactly 666 speeches. Cue the spooky music!

For more useless (but interesting) statistics about the Iliad, check out are article, HERE.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

  • The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and revised by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

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.’

Dionysius’ life before his ascension to power remains obscure.  He likely held some sort of public office, possibly the position of a clerk, but he began his rise to power in a war against Carthage around 409 BCE. Dionysius distinguished himself as a leader during the war, and by 405 BCE, he managed to seize power in Syracuse. The war that allowed him to rise to power ended—or a ceasefire was put in place—giving Dionysius approximately eight years to strengthen his hold over Syracuse and grow his influence to encompass other Greeks residing in Sicily.

Around 397 BCE, Dionysius was able to rally the Sicilians to attack Carthage. Dionysius’ army sieged the Carthaginian city of Motya, spurring Carthage to send an army to siege Syracuse. While they were encamped near Syracuse, the Carthaginian force may have picked up a plague, sapping their strength and crushing their morale. Dionysius pressed his advantage against his opponent’s weakness and relentlessly struck at the Carthaginian army. Harassed by Sicilian arms, and weary from plague, the Carthaginians conceded defeat around 396 BCE. Another war between Syracuse and Carthage broke out within the same decade, but Syracuse, again, emerged victorious near 392 BCE. With his two wars in the 390s, Dionysius pushed Carthage out of Sicily, and made Syracuse the master of the Sicilian island.

Shortly after expelling Carthage from Sicily, Dionysius set his sights on Italy. By 390 BCE, he moved into lower Italy, conquering Thurii, Croton, Locri and Rhegium, the last of which fell to Dionysius around 388 BCE. It is even thought that he established a colony in northern Italy around Illyria. Even though he had brought all of these places (Sicily and parts of Italy) under the control of a Hellenistic state, the Greek descendants living in Dionysius’ territory did not necessarily prosper. Like most other armies of the time, the military of Dionysius had a large contingent of mercenaries, and mercenaries require payment and gifts. Unfortunately for the Greeks living under Dionysius, one of the easiest gifts for the tyrant to give to the mercenaries was Greek lands and slaves.

In 383 BCE, Dionysius began a third war with Carthage that would end his laudable winning streak. Dionysius the Tyrant continued to fight Carthage until his death in 367 BCE, but he lost control of everything west of the ancient Halycus River (around 1/3 of Sicily). Nevertheless, Dionysius I brought himself, and Syracuse, on a tremendous rise to power. Unfortunately, as his power grew he only became more and more tyrannical, and will always be remembered as a tyrant.

(Image of Dionysius I of Syracuse, by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Written by C. Keith Hansley