Midas Touch – When Archaeology and Myth Craft a Delicious Beer

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Liquid gold

History being a life long passion of mine, I often inform people of this fact when dancing through the usual small-talk ‘get to know you’ questions. This is something that usually doesn’t inspire much interest and most of the responses I receive are something along the lines of, “Ah, that’s cool–always found it boring in school though.” History is more than just memorizing dates, I’d exclaim! It’s insanely dramatic and fun, filled with stories so crazy half the thrill of it is knowing it happened for real–and sometimes, it even uncovers ancient recipes for booze that can be reproduced for us modern day plebeians to try! How are you not entertained?!

Almost 50 years ago, Penn University excavated a tomb found at the ancient site of Gordion, Turkey. Gordion was famous for being where the impossibly legendary Gordian Knot was tied and prophesied to be undone only by someone destined to rule all of Asia. That someone turned out to be Alexander the Great because if there was ever a prophecy, it certainly applied to him most conveniently. Geez, Alexander, leave some table scraps for the rest of us! Gordion was also famous for being the seat of the kingdom of Phrygia which was home to a famous ruler you may have also heard tales of. That being King Midas of poorly chosen wishes. Though the tomb hasn’t been definitively proven to be that of Midas [1] (the other assumption is that it may instead belong to his father Gordius), Archaeologists are sure that the tomb certainly belonged to a beloved Phyrgian king from the Iron Age because they discovered the body of a 60-65 year old male adjourned in purple and surrounded by over 150+ bronze drinking vessels left over from a celebratory farewell feast held outside of his tomb.  The collection was whisked away and sent off to the Penn Museum for safe keeping and forgotten about until Dr. Patrick McGovern, basically the Indiana Jones of ancient alcohols & beverages became bored one day and decided to take a closer look at the contents. [2]

Phrygian jug

Sexy drinking vessel

Using an array of micro-chemical analysis including, but not limited to, infrared spectrometry, gas and liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry (I don’t know what any of this means but I wanted to include it so I could make any of the science nerds in the audience warm and fuzzy), he was able to isolate the marker compounds of specific natural products that were contained in these vessels by studying the sticky residue found in the remains. And what he found was shocking–besides the completely normal consumption of spicy, barbecued lamb and lentil stew, he found evidence to suggest that the drink of choice among these funeral revelries was a booze concoction hinting of grape wine, honey mead, and barley beer together. A mixture that made him blanch at the thought!

That doesn’t even sound good, right? Ever curious, however, Dr. Patrick McGovern issued a challenge to micro-brewers while speaking at a convention, and invited any one of them to join him in the labs the next morning to see if they could reverse engineer the drink found in Midas’ tomb. At least 20 micro-brewers took him up on the offer, but only one came out the victor–Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery. Together, they created Midas Touch–a craft brew you can actually purchase and drink today! It’s completely based off of the components found in the drinking vessels making it the oldest ancient ale recipe. It’s made with white muscat grapes, honey, and barley–actually a pretty delicious combination having tried it. It falls more on the line of mead in my opinion. It also contains the addition of saffron–it’s a bit of conjecture, but since the bittering agent hops wasn’t introduced to Europe until around 700 AD, they went with this extremely valuable spice which was found prominently in Turkey during antiquity and which is possible to have been the component responsible for the yellowish color found in the residue in the drinking vessel remains. The beer isn’t the cheapest in the world, thanks to the saffron, but it’s an insanely yummy drink and I personally love it not being much of a beer drinker myself. Makes for a fun immersive history experience too, now you have a taste for what ancient peoples drank! [3]

Now, if you’re a bit hazy on the details of Midas and why you remember his name, I got you–there are a few mythological traditions that his story comes from thanks in part to Aristotle and the diligent re-tellings of Ovid in his Metamorphoses XI. 

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What Gordian Knot?

There are a few variations, but one of the more well known ones has Dionysus, the god of wine and other wild pleasures making him the favorite of Dude-Bros everywhere, hanging out with his gang of satyrs and the like. One of the satyrs, Silenos, gets super drunk and finds himself kidnapped by a bunch of filthy peasants and brought to King Midas. One variation has Midas actually lacing a drinking fountain with wine because apparently Silenos, when drunk, spouts all kinds of useful wisdom and quips and lashed out a positively delightful one upon being abducted to court:

The best thing for man is not to be born at all, and the second best thing is to die as soon as possible. [4]

Yikes. Either way, King Midas recognizes Silenos and pays extra attention to his comforts, lavishing him with entertainments for 10 days before returning him to Dionysus who is surprised and exceedingly grateful. Dionysus tells Midas that he’ll grant him one wish in thanks for not raping or murdering the hell out of Silenos which most ancient men are want to do in these days and Midas takes next to no time in deliberating on what his true desires are. Clearly lacking in the gift of hindsight, which he should have wished for instead if you ask me, he requested that everything he touched be turned instantly to gold.

Wish granted, Midas was pleased to see that he could turn all matter into glittering gold, most likely singing the line from Smash Mouth’s All Star as he did so. He was delighted when twigs and leaves shifted to aurum with the slightest touch and skipped on back to his court excited for a future filled with endless wealth. He began to regret his wish pretty quick, however, when he realized his new golden touch also applied to anything he tried to drink or eat–apparently not being a dickish enough king to demand being hand-fed to by his servants. He soon became so inconsolably hungry and thirsty, that he went crying back to Dionysus asking for the wish to be taken back. Dionysus told him to stop being such a whiny baby and go wash off the wish in the river Paktolos which could be found near Sardis. Doing as he was told, Midas washed away his golden touch in the river which is said to be why the sands of the river are forever golden. [4]

That’s the most famous story of King Midas but there were others. Another one has Midas’s bad judgment continuing when he foolishly insists Pan to be a better musician than Apollo, which results in the god furiously cursing him with donkey ears for being such an ass. Then there is the supposed bastard son of Midas, Lityerses, who is some kind of proto-Dexter serial killer who tricks travelers into competing against him in an unwinnable contest and then ceremoniously whipping, beheading them, and then stuffing up his victims into a corn stack while singing a playful tune (probably also All Star by Smash Mouth). Herakles came across him and was like nah brah and gave him a piece of his own medicine. [4]

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In a much later version, Midas’ daughter becomes the victim of his golden touch.

 

But whether or not you believe in Greek Mythology being in any way factual (no judgments from me), there really was a King Midas of Phrygia which is why Archaeologists assume he could be the occupant of the tomb they found and the owner of the vast amount of residue-y drinking vessels. The Midas most likely featuring in these tales reigned around the 8th century BC during the time of Sargon II. He showed up a few times in correspondences and was known as an aggressive and powerful ruler who allied himself with Hittite kings (basically Troy, ya’ll) against the Assyrians. He also cooperated in coordinated military campaigns with the Greeks, which might explain why they adored him enough to feature him in stories (whether or not they were much for flattery). Sources also suggest that he had dedicated his throne to Apollo in Delphi (perhaps as an apology in hopes of getting his old human ears back, no?) and that he had married a Greek princess and daughter of King Agememnon of Kyme (Not that Agememnon). Her name was Hermodike II and she’s credited with inventing Greek coinage which might explain the whole gold thing, who knows. [5]

Oh and also, this was secretly a Kingslayers post all along (Hah! Got you!) According to sources, which include Herodotus, this King Midas committed suicide by drinking bull’s blood. [5]

Because why in the gods names would you do such a thing.

 

Cause of Death: Drinking the blood of bovines when he should have been drinking Dogfish Craft Beer, clearly.

 

Fact Check it, yo!

 

[1] Krill, Richard M. “Midas: Fact and Fiction.” International Social Science Review, vol. 59, no. 1, 1984, pp. 31–34. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41881501.

[2] McGovern, Patrick. Midas Touch, www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology/?page_id=143.

[3] Johnson, Marilyn. Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. Harper, 2014. Ch. Extreme Beverages

[4] March, Jennifer R. The Penguin Book of Classical Myths. Penguin, 2010. Pgs. 532-534

[5] Berndt-Ersöz, Susanne. “The Chronology and Historical Context of Midas.” Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, vol. 57, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–37. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25598415.

 

 

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It’s All Greek to Me!

 

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Physical representation of my writing discipline.

 

Gather around the hearth, my friends. I have a story to tell!

There was once a proud blogger who panicked when she realized that she was about to reach 100 published posts. This was a crowning achievement, she thought, and so she wanted to do something special to celebrate this momentous occasion. Perhaps I should do an extensive essay on my blog’s tagline and prove it do-able — 

Because even monkeys can write a paper on Misogyny, Aristotle, and Middle Age Europe.

Oops, yeah. That blogger is me.

I have a tendency to buckle under pressure, especially when it is self-imposed. I envisioned this research being something akin to an amateur thesis, the scope of it so grand! I was ramping up to it with my posts such as Illuminating the Dark Ages, and had another planned to cover the contentious Great Man Theory, and then to round out with a state of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages before I hit you with my epic take.

But, alas, I have failed to do so. Not because I can’t write it–but because I can’t commit to doing it. I don’t feel like it. History for me is a muse and he takes me through various phases of interest and right now, I must admit, my headspace is about nearly 2,000 years in the past from where I need to be in order to successfully pull off this ‘golden post’.

Yeah, I’m talking about Classical Greece.

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Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey came out and if you’ve been following my blog all these years (Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!) you know already that I’m versed primarily in Classical Antiquity. So for a role-playing video game with an open world concept functioning like a sandbox where the developers researched every painstaking detail to fill their map with as close to accurate representations of historical locations as it is possible for any of us to know–I’m all over that in a heartbeat.

The consequence being, however, that this is pretty much all I feel like writing about right now. Which brings me to the problem with this ‘Golden 100 Post’. I haven’t updated my blog in the past month, despite an interest in doing so (just not on the purposed topic I had planned!) because I’m literally 2 posts away from hitting 100. Well, now 1 away with this one. With my proposed celebratory essay, this didn’t leave room for me to dabble and post about anything else! So, to allow myself the freedom to again write about anything in History that I find fascinating (or humorous) enough to share with you–I’m going to let myself off the hook on the celebration post. I’ll get to it when I’m good and ready! I can certainly still clap for myself on reaching 100 with or without the sweating over a research essay I’m not earning a letter grade for!

So in the meantime, you can expect some Ancient/Classical Greek inspired posts from me as I continue to gallivant around in a video game and am reminded of things I’ve always wanted to touch on our look into deeper for myself. And the good news is, I’ll get to introduce you to Aristotle a bit more too before I start retroactively blaming him for a bunch of bullshit.

Thanks for sticking around with my general assholery and lack of a coherent update schedule–I’m about to get a little Greeky with it.

 

 

Illuminating the Dark Ages

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Depiction of King Valdemar IV of Denmark in 1361. Painting by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist 1851-1890.

There are two ways people generally look upon the past, either with fondness and nostalgia or with scrutiny and disdain. That’s why we can never all quite agree on whether or not high school is the worst or best years of your life or if the 90’s really were all that and a bag of chips. Historically, it’s no different–was the Classical era a time of heightened scholarship and monuments or was it a barbaric time lacking of spiritual sense and with an inclination towards bloodshed? Many scholars during the Renaissance would certainly argue that point. So it was then, during The Enlightenment era of the 18th century in particular, that it seemed only fitting to look upon the time between history bookended by the fall of the Western Roman Empire to Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas as a period of considerable dimness. Both metaphorically and intellectually. A time in between two eras commonly thought of as periods of prosperity and culture. We know it as The Dark Ages and I’m calling bullshit on that conception.

What do you think of when your brain mulls over The Dark Ages? I’m sure squalor and peasantry comes immediately to mind, probably with a healthy dose of Bubonic plague coupled with high infant mortality rates for the helluva it. Not to mention self-flagellation, the burning of suspected practitioners of devil worship and witchcraft, and The Crusades. You’re probably picturing monks with tube-ring hairdos, Norsemen with burly beards and a fondness for pillaging monasteries, and a whole lot of chainmail. It’s easy to imagine this time being one of darkness since all of that does sound pretty bleak, I know, but is it a fair assessment to have? Is it not incorrect to view history through the lens of progress? After all, what will future civilizations think of us when they look back at our historical era?

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To Be or Not To Be Hanged, Drawn, & Quartered

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Er, do I have to?

Warning in advance, it’s about to get all morbid up in here! I’ve been reading The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones, a narrative romp in British History imploding into a shower of blood and political upheaval only to settle into a charred semblance of stability that George R.R. Martin saw and was like, you know, this would be a fun inspiration for a thing where I slaughter all of my characters for sheer entertainment.

One thing that struck me more than how often power changed hands like the casting of the doctor in Doctor Who was how frequently someone wound up Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered throughout this mess. Leading me to ask, DEAR GOD WHY? When I was young, this phrase came up often when associated with Ye Olde Medieval Times (“Ye Olde” is nonsense by the way, we here at Histastrophe use it ironically because we’re shallow and pedantic like that, ya dig?) and I never quite knew what it meant. The “hanged” part is pretty transparent, so I went on my merry little life assuming it was just a spiffy alternative take on the usual ritual execution on the scaffold. It wasn’t until I was old enough to watch R-rated Mel Gibson films did the horrific reality become a bit more clear.

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{Insert Mel Gibson joke about still being given a job and critical acclaim somehow here}

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Versatile Blogger Award!

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The lovely https://simplydeeindc.com/ nominated me for the versatile blogger award! Simply Dee is refreshingly honest and open about writing and pursuits of passion,  lives adventurously, and manages to keep a positive and motivating energy through it all! I love keeping up with and reading about her life and latest explorations, and I think all of you will too! She’s also the sweetest blogger I’ve come across on this site and if any of you need a little more light in your life, go visit her blog and hit that follow button! Now onto the rules–

The rules for the versatile bloggers award:

  • Thank the person who nominated you with a link to their blog
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Nominate bloggers for the award

I’m usually talking about dead people on this blog and not myself, so this should be fun!

  1. Believe it or not, I was absolutely terrible in high school. I know, I know, what I do here is basically glorified homework, so it might come as a shock to all of you that I hated doing it in actual school. Growing up, I was the perfect teacher’s pet version of Hermione Granger and enjoyed getting my straight A’s, but then Teenager Me happened. I got kicked out of AP American History because I refused to do the book report on Killer Angels. My European History teacher pleaded with me to do my homework because I was straddling a C in the class but was killing every test. It also bothered her that I wasn’t taking her AP course and my reason for not was, eh, homework. Once I got to college, however, I started to have a bit more fun with it and after I graduated, created this blog to help feed my need to continue researching and learning more!
  2. My favorite Historical Figure is Marcus Aurelius, yet I’ve never done a post. I’ve mentioned him off hand a few times, and his son Commodus is one of my most popular posts on here. But Marcus Aurelius was more than just a Roman Emperor and I really fell in love with him when I picked up a copy of his meditations at my local bookstore forever ago. He was thoughtful and considerate of himself at all times and detailed his journey with philosophy in his journals. He was raised on Stoic teachings and was incredibly humbled by them. I’d love nothing more than to sit down with him over coffee and pick his brain a bit!
  3. If I could go back in time to any era in history–I wouldn’t. People ask me this question often when they find out how much I love history, but I gotta say–I’m pretty firm in my content existing in this timeline. As a woman, I stand the best chance of having the freedom to chase my dreams now than I ever could at any time in history. Now, if I were able to go back in time as an invisible omnipresent being then we have ourselves a real thinker!
  4. I have seen Mad Men all the way through more times than I can recall. I can’t explain it other than this TV show is just perfection. I never thought I would particularly care to see an American 1960’s period piece, as you can see, I’m pretty much exclusively endowed with Classical-Medieval fare, but here we are. I’ve seen them so many times, you could name a particular quote or scene and I will know exactly where you are and will be able to immediately discuss with you. I don’t even particularly care for Don Draper but I love all of it, even when the characters break my heart.
  5. I have history blind spots and I’m not happy about it. My friends come to me a lot with history questions, and I love it, but there is so much that I don’t know! Entire periods of history I know only basics of, areas of the world where I couldn’t tell you heads or tails what happened there unless it had something to do with something I DO know. For example, I can’t cover much of anything Eastern Civilization unless we want to discuss The Golden Horde! I know it’ll take a lot of independent study, but I’d love to fill the gaps I have one day.
  6. I have over 5 books in various stages of completion and I’d love to finish one! One thing you should all know about me by now is that I’m a terrible procrastinator with plenty of lofty ideas I struggle to complete. So it’s probably not a complete shocker that I’ve got a handful of book ideas on the back burner. Since I was a kid, it was always a dream of mine to write one and have people read it–J.K. Rowling was my hero, after-all. I have a lot of work to do, but one day I hope to have one finished and ready to go!
  7.  I’m a rule-breaker. And always have been! So watch me leave and wave off this last fact with a…oh, crap, wait!

 

And now, for the blogs I nominate for this award:

http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/ 

https://lovetravellingblog.com/

https://stridetheearth.com/

https://nonwashablegamer.com/

http://brendaknowles.com/blog/

http://the-history-girls.blogspot.com/

https://ordinaryadventures44.wordpress.com/

 

Happy blogging, everyone!


Joan of Arc: Drunk on the Divine

 

Joan of Arc

Comedy Central dropped a hilarious clip yesterday from Drunk History on Joan of Arc, which for the un-initiated, is a show where comedians get completely smashed and re-tell something that happened in History. Then their drunken stupor of history facts is dubbed over and re-enacted by other comedians. Basically, the perfect show for me.

Aaaand that’s pretty much the gist of what happened! Knowing me though, I felt like offering a bit more context for those who were smitten to know more about the raging Maiden of Arc.

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Aristotle on Pursuits of Good, the Nature of Political Science, & Happiness

 

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Aristotle – The Nicomachean Ethics

 

Chapter I: The Object of Life

I. Every rational activity aims at some end or good. One end (like one activity) may be subordinate to another.

Arts, sciences, etc. All of these strive for the outcome of a good or purpose (Aristotle defines good as ‘that at which all things are aimed’), some activities are thus directly linked to outcomes that are done for a particular end goal in mind. Some are done for their own sake, while others are done for a ‘supreme good’. Aristotle uses the example of horse trapping being subordinate to horsemanship which is related to military action with the intended outcome being of victory. It doesn’t matter what you are doing only that all outcomes are recognized to be generally achieved for the good. Does it not follow, then, that a knowledge of the good is of great importance to us for the conduct of our lives? Are we not more likely to achieve our aim if we have a target? This is why Aristotle believes it is important to outline the definition of what is ‘Good’ and how that is achieved by these (or specific) activities.

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