Wednesday, March 29, 2017

President Theodore Roosevelt, The Prolific Best-Selling Author

(Left—Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, pre-1919, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons. Right—List of books by Theodore Roosevelt, c. 1919, [Public Domain] via the Theodore Roosevelt Center)

Not only was Theodore Roosevelt one of the greatest presidents in United States history, but he was also a very successful author. Before, during and after Theodore Roosevelt’s term of office from 1901 to 1909, he was constantly writing a wide variety of books. In the last 37 years of his life, around the same number of books were published with Theodore Roosevelt as a collaborator or author.

Teddy Roosevelt wrote works belonging to multiple literary genres. He wrote histories, such as The Naval War of 1812 (written 1882) and The Winning of the West (four volumes written 1889-1896). His biographies covered such people as the painter, Thomas Hart Benton, the U.S. founding father, Gouverneur Morris, and even Oliver Cromwell. Theodore Roosevelt also wrote several memoirs and autobiographies about himself, recounting his political achievements, as well as his ranching, hunting and soldiering. In the last decade of his life, Teddy Roosevelt published several collected essays and books of political philosophy. In the year of his death (1919), two collections of Theodore Roosevelt’s personal letters were also published—Letters to Anna Roosevelt Cowles and Letters to Kermit, 1902-08.

Written by C. Keith Hansley


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ares, The Underwhelming God Of War

(The Combat of Ares and Athena (cropped), by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The ancient Greek god of war, Ares, remains one of the most famous of the old Olympian gods. With an impressive title like ‘god of war,’ Ares definitely had the benefit of the brute, devilish appeal of strength and power to ensure his longevity. The violent character of Ares (or Romanized Mars) has found a home in television, cinema, novels and video games, where people enjoy observing the god of war raise all sorts of chaos and bloodshed. Yet, the ironic reality of Ares is that despite his modern depiction as the ultimate tough-guy, the Ares of Greek myth was a bit of a pushover compared to the other Olympian gods.

The god of war should be given his due before his modern image is besmirched—here are some of Ares’ undeniable victories from myth. For one, Ares was the one who subdued Sisyphos, a man who had previously overwhelmed a god of death named Thanatos. Another of his exploits occurred after Ares’ agent/offspring—the serpent Dracon—was slaughtered by Cadmus of Thebes. In response, Ares turned Cadmus, as well as his wife, into serpents. In another story, Ares’ lover, Aphrodite, had an affair with a man named Adonis. In a jealous rage, Ares turned into a boar and murdered the unfortunate mortal—which, I suppose, is a victory of sorts for Ares. One more memorable achievement of Ares was his revenge killing of Hallirhothios, a son of the ocean god, Poseidon. Hallirhothios had raped one of Ares’ daughters, and when the god of war heard about this crime, he personally hunted down and slaughtered the rapist. Poseidon put Ares on trial for murder, but the god of war was acquitted.

Now that the achievements of Ares have been discussed, let’s look at some of the god of war’s numerous failures and embarrassments. As mentioned earlier, Ares and Aphrodite were lovers, but there was a problem—in common mythology, Aphrodite was married to the smith god, Hephaestus. In one story, Hephaestus snared his unfaithful wife and the god of war in a golden net and allowed all of the gods of Olympus to ridicule the pair.

That embarrassment was for love, but Ares had multiple defeats in his area of expertise—war and battle. Ares was one of multiple gods to be injured by Heracles (or Hercules), the son of Zeus. Yet, because so many other gods were harmed by Heracles (including Hera and Hades), it is not fair to give this point too much credence. During the Trojan War, however, Ares was constantly defeated by the military prowess of Athena, and was even knocked off his feet in a one-on-one duel with her. Yet, the most humiliating story has to be Ares’ fight against the two virtually indestructible giants, Otus and Ephialtes—known as the Aloadai. When Ares faced the giants, he was simply scooped up and stuffed into a bronze jar. The goddess Artemis succeeded where Ares had failed by successfully tricking the giants into killing each other. Even after the death of the Aloadai, Ares remained imprisoned. Hermes finally saved the pitiful god of war after he had spent around 13 months trapped in his bronze jar prison.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Geoffrey Chaucer Was Captured By The French During The Hundred Years’ War

(Portrait of Chaucer as a Canterbury pilgrim, Ellesmere manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, c. 15th century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In his youth, the renowned English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400 CE), tried his hand at soldiering in the army of King Edward III of England during the Hundred Years’ War. He was deployed on the French front in 1359, but he soon found that war was not his calling—the eighteen year-old Chaucer was captured by the French during the English siege of Rheims in 1360.

Yet, Chaucer was a man with connections. In the years prior to his being called up for war in France, Chaucer had been employed as a page for the Countess of Ulster. Fortunately for Chaucer, the Countess had become the Duchess of Clarence, and her father-in-law was none other than King Edward III. Therefore, the king of England paid the ransom for Chaucer’s release, allowing the young man to return home—which was around the time Geoffrey Chaucer likely began dabbling in the poetry that would make him immortal.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Check out our Geoffrey Chaucer biography, HERE.

Take a look at our Geoffrey Chaucer quote pictures, HERE.

  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, translated by Nevill Coghill. New York: Penguin Classics, 1977.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Most Popular Of The Ancient Mystery Religion Cults—Demeter and Kore in Eleusis

(Varrese Painting of Demeter, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The mystery religions of the ancient world are a fascinating subject. While most worship in public temples at the time focused more on action than emotion, any ancient Greeks and Romans who wanted a more personal relationship with a god could find a home in the various mystery religions scattered throughout the ancient world. Perhaps the most popular of these mystery religions was dedicated to the goddesses, Demeter and Kore (associated with Persephone), located at Eleusis.

Fairly close to Athens, in the region of Attica, Greece, the community of Eleusis set up a cult to the earth goddesses, Demeter and Kore, in support of the local agriculture. One of the cult’s early functions was to ensure their patron goddesses’ favor for the health of the grain they sowed around September and October. The agricultural cult in Eleusis was founded and controlled by the Eleusinian people until Athens usurped control of the cult around 600 BCE.

As the name ‘mystery religion’ suggests, much of what happened in the cult of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis remains a mystery, for what occurred in the cult was a guarded secret. It is known that they, at least, celebrated two events—the lesser and greater mysteries. The lesser mysteries are thought to have been a preparatory celebration that occurred near Athens around February at a place called Agrai. The much more elaborate greater mysteries occurred during September and October, when the sacred items held by the cult of Demeter and Kore were transported from Eleusis to a temple in Athens. Once they were in the great city, eager initiates into the mysteries of Eleusis were instructed to bathe in seawater. Next, they would sacrifice a pig in honor of their patron goddesses. After the celebrations and ceremonies of the greater mysteries were complete, the cult members and initiates packed up the sacred items of their goddesses and returned to Eleusis, singing and dancing as they went.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

  • The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts by Marvin W. Meyer. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

This Is A Photograph Of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

(A childhood photograph of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, c. 1884, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

If your parents have ever humiliated you by showing embarrassing photographs of you as a child, then rest assured, you have something in common with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States, more commonly known as FDR. As a young boy, FDR was coddled to the extreme by his mother, and one of the unfortunate ways that she showed her affection for her son involved years of gender-neutral costumes.

As gender-neutral garb was all the rage in wealthy American households of the day, FDR’s mother kept the future president dressed up in this unfortunate garb until the poor chap was six years old. She had him trussed up in dresses and kept his hair long—see the picture above. Even though this style of dress was fairly common for young children from wealthy families of the time, it still might have been a bit awkward if Roosevelt's political or foreign rivals found one of these old photographs. FDR eventually outgrew his gender-neutral dresses when he reached six years old and was introduced to a new wardrobe consisting of kilts and the dreaded sailor costume. Additionally, another childhood ceremony he had with his mother continued—she personally oversaw his daily bath until he was around nine years old.

So, if your parents have embarrassing stories or pictures of you from your childhood, don’t despair. Despite being photographed in dresses with curled hair and elaborate hats, FDR went on to become one of the most widely acclaimed presidents in the history of the United States.

  • The Roosevelts: An Intimate History by Ken Burns, ep. 1. PBS, 2014.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Heart And Brain Of The WWII British Royal Air Force Fighters—Air Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding

(Photograph of Air Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, circa 1935, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

One of the lesser-known heroes from World War Two is Sir Hugh Dowding. For much of the 1930s Dowding headed the research and development of the RAF. While he directed R&D, he backed the development of radar, and he also was involved in incorporating the Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft into RAF use.

Around 1937, Sir Hugh Dowding was appointed as head of Fighter Command. In this position, he strengthened the structure of the RAF and reworked British fighter strategy and doctrine.

By April 1940, when the Battle of Britain began, Dowding had been involved in developing, structuring and drilling doctrine into the RAF. Due to his mechanical and theoretical contributions to the Royal Air Force, Britain was well equipped to defend against the larger German Luftwaffe.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

  • Warfare in the Western World: Military Operations Since 1871 by Robert A. Doughty and Ira D Gruber et al. Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and Company, 1996.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The 16th-Century Unifiers Of Japan Deified Themselves

(Tokugawa Ieyasu, painted by Kanō Tan'yū (1602–1674), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Near the end of the Sengoku Period (The Warring States Period) lasting from the mid-15th century to the mid-16th century CE, three successive warlords unified the warring daimyo lords of Japan under the authority of a single, powerful shogun—the supreme military leader of Japan that was generally supported by the Japanese Emperor. The first of the three unifiers was Oda Nobunaga. He brought around half of Japan under his control, and the stability he brought officially ended the Sengoku Period. Nevertheless, war did not end. He died in 1582 CE after his vassal, Aketchi Mitsuhide, betrayed him and rebelled. After Nobunaga’s death, power shifted to a brilliant peasant soldier named Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was promoted to the rank of samurai. He avenged Nobunaga’s death by defeating Mitsuhide, and he expanded Nobunaga’s conquered territory to include all of Japan. Hideyoshi even tried to invade Korea several times, but died in 1598, shortly after the expeditions failed. With the death of Hideyoshi, Japan broke apart, once more, and a warlord named Tokugawa Ieyasu took command of one of the leading factions. In 1600, Ieyasu won the Battle of Sekigahara, making him shogun and cementing the unification of Japan. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu, however, did much more than attain power—they also made themselves into gods.

Oda Nobunaga wanted to be seen as more than just a powerful daimyo. He labeled himself ‘tenka’ (the realm), and his vassals would address him as such. Nobunaga expanded his importance out of mundane conceptions of governments and titles into the spiritual realm. Oda Nobunaga encouraged the belief that being loyal and respectful to his rule would lead to good health and fortune in this life and the next.

After Nobunaga’s death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi worked hard to cultivate his own spiritual importance in Japan. First, the victorious Hideyoshi went to great lengths to make himself an equal of the Japanese emperor. He would have the emperor come visit him at his own palace, rather than journeying to the emperor’s own home in Kyoto. Hideyoshi also had his family members (his consort and his son) recognized as equal in status to the family of the emperor. Yet, like Nobunaga, Hideyoshi wanted to be more than a mere symbol of government—he wanted to be a divinity. Therefore, he put in place a plan that would bring about his deification after death. Once he died, he wanted to be known as the Great August Deity, and there would be a national network of shrines for his worship.

When Hideyoshi died, however, he had no mature, legitimate heirs, causing Japan to break apart into more war. When Tokugawa Ieyasu brought the other daimyo back into submission, he underwent steps to bring about his own godhood—and demolished Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s shrines in the process. As Ieyasu neared death, he prepared for his own deification. He wrote in his will that he wanted to be enshrined in an impressive memorial located at Nikkō. Like Hideoyshi, Ieyasu also prepared a divine name for himself—his impressive title was, “Great Incarnation, Shining Over the East.” The shrine at Nikkō remains one of the great tourist locations of Japan.

  • A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present (Third Edition), by  Andrew Gordon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Herodotus’ Revealing Experience During the Festival Of Bastet

(Statues of Herodotus and Bastet)

While he traveled Egypt, the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus (c. 490-420 BCE), took notes on the local history, religion, mythology, and his own contemporary observations on the Egyptian countryside and people. One of the goddesses (and the worship surrounding her) that Herodotus described was Bastet, the popular feline goddess who was thought to protect women and homes, as well as being a general goddess of pleasure. The epicenter of Bastet’s worship was the city of Bubastis where a temple to the goddess was located, which also—interestingly enough—acted as a gigantic cat cemetery. Herodotus witnessed one of the annual festivals dedicated to Bastet in the city of Bubastis—it was a sight that he likely found baffling.

Herodotus’s description of the festival of Bastet is reminiscent of the modern day celebrations of Carnival and Mardi Gras. He wrote that when it was time for the festival, the Nile River and other waterways filled up with barges ushering hundreds-of-thousands of celebrants to the city of Bubastis, where they would make sacrifices and drink a lot of wine.

Herodotus gave a colorful description of the revelers traveling to Bubastis on their barges and boats. He wrote that as they sailed toward their destination, they would sing and play music with castanets and flutes, while those without instruments clapped along to the song. When their boat passed a village or town, the celebrants would steer up to the shore and have an interesting exchange with the local people. Sometimes, they would continue to just play music, but other times they acted quite salaciously.

According to Herodotus, female celebrants traveling on these boats to Bubastis would often shout at the women that they could see on the riverbanks. Herodotus did not go into much detail on what was shouted, but the line is frequently translated as shouting ‘abuse.’ Yet, the most shocking sights happened when some bold women in these boats heading for Bubastis stood up to expose their bare loins for all of the people observing from the riverbanks to see—and with allegedly hundreds-of-thousands of celebrants gathering in Bubastis, Herodotus may have seen a whole lot of exposed women around the festival of Bastet.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

  • The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt and revised by John Marincola. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002).  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

In The Late 19th Century, China Was Divided Like A Pie Between Imperialist Powers

(French Political Cartoon "China -- the cake of kings and... of emperors," c. 1898, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The diplomatic relationship between China and the colonizing powers of Europe and the United States underwent a dramatic plummet from the start to the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the century, the Chinese thought the Western powers were little more than brutish barbarians. Western merchants were quarantined to the port of Guangzhou and any messages that the foreigners wanted to send to the Chinese authorities had to be funneled through a long arduous system of bureaucracy.

The tense balance of power, however, began to shift once the West’s desire to expand trade fused with their growing impatience over not being respected in China. Soon, the Westerners came to the conclusion that the threat of military force could achieve much more in China than debate and diplomacy, leading to events like the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1857-1860). As a result of the Opium Wars, Britain took control of Hong Kong and opened up more Chinese ports for trade.

Yet, even though China was defeated in the Opium Wars and suffered from repeated revolts and rebellions, the Western powers continued to regard Chinese leadership, led by Empress Dowager Cixi, with an underlying tone of respect. All of that respect vanished, however, when the small island-nation of Japan (which only really began modernizing in the 1850s) walloped China in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). When the war ended with the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China relinquished its control of large swaths of land, including Taiwan, Korea, and parts of Manchuria. Russia, Germany and France worked together to force Japan to return Liaodong, Manchuria, back to China, but it would provide no relief for the Chinese, because after the First Sino-Japanese War, the imperialist powers disregarded all of their former inhibitions regarding expanding into China.

Below are lists, organized by country, detailing what the various imperialist countries took from China during the late 19th century:

  • (1895) In the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China gave Japan land, money and trade ports.
  • (1896) Japan was allowed to develop industry within designated Chinese trade ports. The Western powers were given the same capability.
  • Japan built up an economic sphere of influence in Fujian.

  • Russia, with French and German help, had Japan release control of Liaodong.
  • Russia obtained permission to construct the Tran-Siberian Railway through Chinese territory.
  • (1898) Russia leased Port Arthur and Liaodong from China for twenty-five years.
  • (1895) Russia lent the Chinese government around 400 million francs, or 15.8 million pounds, in a race against other powers to control China through debt.

  • (1896) Together with Britain, Germany lent China around 16 million pounds, followed by another 16 million in 1898.
  • (1897) After an incident of banditry, Germany seized the Jiaozhou Bay and the city of Qingdao. China later leased the land to Germany for ninety-nine years.

  • (1895) France was given rights to operate in the provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong.
  • (1896) France was allowed to construct a railroad from Vietnam to Guangxi, China.
  • (1898) France leased the Guangzhou Bay for ninety-nine years.

  • (1897) Britain was permitted to operate in the Yunnan province and expand the Burmese railroad into the region.
  • Britain had China officially recognize British economic interests in the Yangtze Valley region.
  • Britain leased the area of Kowloon, near Hong Kong, for ninety-nine years.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

  • China’s Path to Modernization: A Historical Review from 1800 to the Present (Third Edition), by Ranbir Vohra. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Government Of Charlemagne Was Not Feudal

(Charlemagne at Alcuin, painted 1830, at the Louvre, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

When you think of medieval Europe, two words often come to the forefront of the mind—Charlemagne and feudalism. The empire created by Charlemagne, however, was not governed by a feudal system, at least not in the way most people imagine.

First of all, we have to define feudalism. Broadly speaking, a king used a feudal system when he delegated to underlings varying amounts of autonomy to rule portions of the kingdom. Feudal lords can also be called ‘banal lordships’ because of the monarch’s authority (or bannus) that local lords siphoned from the king in order to rule their lands, such as dukedoms or counties. Claiming to rule their territory in the name of the king, these lords claimed ownership of the resources in their lands, allowing them to set up monopolies on goods production and agriculture in their specific domains.

The key points of feudalism, however, are delegation and decentralization—and these are traits that are hard to find in the empire created by Charlemagne. He simply did not delegate enough of his power for his government to be adequately labeled as feudal. Sure, Charlemagne granted his trusted followers titles such as ‘vice-count’ and ‘judge,’ but there is little to no evidence that suggests any of these officials labeled themselves as ‘lords.’ During Charlemagne’s time, power remained firmly centralized in the hands of the monarch.

It was only after Charlemagne, around the 10th and 11th centuries, that kings began to lose their grip (just like the weak Merovingian kings that preceded Charlemagne's own dynasty) over the banal lords that governed the kingdoms. As the power of the kings weakened and decentralized, the autonomy and independence of local lords strengthened. These autonomous, powerful lordships held together loosely by a decentralized monarchy were the true feudal lords of the Middle Ages.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

  • Introduction to Medieval Europe, 300-1500 (Second Edition) by Wim Blockmans and Peter Hoppenbrouwers. New York: Routledge, 2014.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Alexander The Great Crushed An Invading Army When He Was Only 16 Years Old

(Alexander the Great receiving news, painting by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne, 1672, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In the year 340 BCE, King Philip II of Macedonia was off campaigning in Byzantium to further his agenda of becoming the undisputed ruler of the Ancient Greeks. As Philip was challenging his other regional rivals, he left his sixteen-year-old son, Alexander, in charge of the home guard and the general management of the kingdom.

With the king away from his kingdom, and an untested youth commanding the garrison left in Macedonia, a Thracian mountain tribe known as the Maedi decided it was the opportune time to do some raiding. The invading warriors gathered in the Strymon valley and threatened the city of Amphipolis. The Maedi, however, underestimated the young prince of Macedonia. Showing no sign of incompetence or indecision, the teenage Alexander calmly mustered his troops and set out to crush the invading force.

Alexander curtailed the invasion and pursued the warriors into the homeland of the Maedi. Very little was recorded about what battles may have occurred between Alexander and the Maedi forces, but the aftermath of the incident was much better documented.

After the sixteen-year-old Alexander had invaded the territory of the Maedi, he occupied the main settlement of the Maedi people and colonized it with a more loyal population, including former soldiers. With the people and the attitude of the settlement drastically changed, Alexander renamed the community in his own likeness—Alexandropolis. Two years later, the young royal would add to his growing résumé of military victories by participating in his first major battle, alongside his father, against Athens and Thebes in the 338 BCE battle at Chaeronea.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

  • Alexander The Great: The Story of an Ancient Life by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.  
  • Alexander The Great by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2011.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Tragic Greek Myth Of Niobe, And Her Family That Was Massacred By The Gods

(Apollo and Artemis Killing The Niobids, c. 1772, by Pierre-Charles Jombert, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The myth of Niobe is definitely a contender for ancient Greece’s most depressing mythological story. Her story was one of the clearest examples of unrestrained wrath from the gods meted out against humans. What became of Niobe and her family is sure to dampen your eyes and strum on your heartstrings.

According to myth, Niobe was the daughter of King Tantalus and the wife of King Amphion. Alongside her husband, Queen Niobe ruled Thebes. Her proudest achievement, however, was her huge family—Homer wrote that she had twelve children, but many other writers recorded that she had fourteen. The sexes of her children were split evenly in all accounts of her myth; there were either six or seven sons and six or seven daughters.

Niobe’s pride for and love of her family would bring destruction upon everyone she loved. It all began when she acted disrespectfully during a ceremony that honored the titan goddess Leto—Niobe had the gall to compare her motherhood to that of the goddess. Leto did not take kindly to a petty human comparing her motherly achievements with a goddess like herself, so she had her children go put Niobe in her place. In some versions of the story, Leto’s famous divine twins, the archer-gods Artemis and Apollo, sought out retribution against Niobe without any instruction from their mother. Nevertheless, in each way the story was told, the two powerful twins set out to defend the honor of their mother, Leto.

The number of deaths that Artemis and Apollo caused depended on which account was being read—in all cases, however, the majority of Niobe’s family was massacred. Apollo rained arrows down on all of Niobe’s sons and Artemis shot the queen’s daughters. In an alternative telling of the myth, the youngest daughter survived. After witnessing the massacre of his children, King Amphion committed suicide. With her children and her husband dead, Niobe fled from Thebes to Mt. Sipylon (or Sipylus).

After the killing of Niobe’s children, Zeus turned the people of Thebes into stone. As there was no one to bury the dead, the bodies of the slain children were left out in the weather for nine days. Only on the tenth day did Zeus and the gods, themselves, bury Niobe’s deceased children.

As for Queen Niobe hiding in the mountains, she could only cry. She eventually turned to stone, but her tears continued to pour—legend claimed that the Achelous River was created and sustained from Niobe’s ceaseless tears caused by the loss of her children.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

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