A Touch of Classical Wisdom IX


Anselm Feuerbach (1829–1880), Das Gastmahl des Platon, 1869 [1] Agathon as depicted in Plato’s Symposium

Art has a love of chance, and chance for art.

-Agathon, Fragment 4. He means to say that the two are inseparable from one another. [2]

Agathon (5th c. BC) was a Greek Tragic Poet (and apparently super smexy, according to ancient sources) whose poems and plays do not survive today. Some of his work is referenced in Aristotle and he is depicted in works of Plato and Aristophanes, the former seeming to have some kind of artistic crush oh him. He was a mainstay at the court of Macedon and was also broskis with Euripides.

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] “14. Some Notable Afterimages of Plato’s Symposium [1].” Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite – SB, chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/6321.14-some-notable-afterimages-of-plato-s-symposium-j-h-lesher.

[2] Aristotle, The Nicomacheon Ethics. Trans. A.K. Thomson, Penguin Classics. 2004 ed.



Harry Potter and the Arthurian Shipwreck Grave (Also, Hitler was a Vegetarian)

This week’s History Around the Web brings us some Boy Who Lived mixed with King Arthur, Anne Frank’s newly discovered ‘naughty’ pages, Royal Wedding humor, and more!

King Arthur Harry Potter

Harry Potter, the Arthurian Romance | JSTOR Daily

Twenty years after the U.S. publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the “Boy Who Lived” shows no sign of dying, with a record-smashing Broadway show, new editions of all seven novels, and a traveling museum exhibit (the most successful of all time at the British Library).

Disturbing picture aside, this article is a fantastic read. It’s no secret that Harry Potter follows the same storied structure of the Hero’s Journey like other epic fantasy franchises like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. This article posits that there’s an even more specific relationship with Arthurian Romance. J.K. Rowling herself studied French Literature in college, so one can expect she was made quite familiar with Arthurian legends which surged in popularity among the medieval French after Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae hit the manuscript copying Monk-press. A few of the notable parallels between the two stories are the human/divine coupling creation of King Arthur & Harry Potter, the Medieval influence upon the Wizarding World/Order of Merlin, The Trio reflecting the Arthurian Knights of the Round-table, and more obvious monsters and legends!

Researchers Uncover Two Hidden Pages in Anne Frank’s Diary

AMSTERDAM – Anne Frank tried to cover up two pages of writing in her diary that contained dirty jokes and a description of what she referred to as “sexual matters,” pasting brown paper over the pages in her red-and-white plaid notebook.

It’s always a good day when something new is uncovered from Anne Frank’s diary. Especially when it’s some of her more naughty writings! Part of what made Anne Frank so memorable and iconic is her unabashed honesty in her writing. That’s why it’s extremely interesting to find that she attempted to censor some of her work. Researchers point to this case as demonstrating Frank’s desire to publish her work one day, covering these pages in an effort to self-edit her writing. These particular pages also point to a growth in literary narrative which proves, once again, that it’s a real shame we never got to see what she would have come up with had she survived. The Anne Frank House will be posting the full text eventually, but it will be in Dutch with no named plans to release in English translation.

Archaeologists Find ‘Holy Grail of Shipwrecks’ Carrying Stash Worth Up to $17 Billion

In 1708, the San José- a Spanish galleon ship carrying a stash of gold, silver and emeralds – sank during a fierce battle against the British in the Caribbean Sea. Now, after sitting at the bottom of the ocean for 310 years, the San José’s shipwreck has finally been officially identified, thanks to an analysis of the distinctive bronze cannons that sank with the ship.

Somebody call Dirk Pitt!

Thousands of Human Bones Reveal ‘Barbarian’ Battle Rituals

Archaeologists working in a sprawling wetland in Denmark have uncovered 2,000-year-old human remains that are challenging traditional ideas about “barbarian” warfare in northern Europe. The research, which was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also provides a unique look at how Germanic tribes memorialized their battles.

According to findings, most of the bones found at this site were young adult males with plenty of trauma wounds. Along with weapons found alongside, it’s suggested they all died in a battle event that took place on the site around the 1st century AD. They haven’t finished excavating the entire site yet, but a portion of it exists in bogs which means I’m crossing my fingers for some Bog Bodies likely to be uncovered. One of the reasons researchers are so excited about this recent find, is that it gives us a good idea as to the size of armies in the Iron Age. One of the first lessons I learned from my History professor in college was that you should “never trust ancient numbers” especially when you’d find a source claiming a present number of troops. Finding actual archaeological evidence fixes that problem!

New Analysis of Hitler’s Teeth Confirms Nazi Leader’s Vegetarianism

Since his death on April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler has become synonymous with evil. A new study of his teeth by French researchers, however, has revealed more clues to Hitler’s life, including confirmation of his vegetarianism.

Did I just commit Godwin’s Law against my own blog?! Yes, Yes I did.

And lastly, don’t lie–you’re still not over the Royal Wedding.

King Slayers: Charles VIII Knocking on Death’s Door


He certainly does look “Affable”

It almost seems like it’s a prerequisite to be both a French King and histrionic in death. I mean, when hunting accidents, executions, and bizarre gangrene infected limbs make-up the brunt of the company, it seems a bit cliche to just up and die of natural causes.

Part of the reason I’ve been interested in focusing on this series is because I’m still baffled by the completely mundane or stupid way these Royal Dudes have gone so far. And that’s largely due to the idea that royalty is somehow above us, an assumption fostered by the Will of God in declaring a divine right to rule (or, of course, all the people in charge want you to believe). I have plans to get into the Divine Right of Kings or the Mandate of Heaven someday on this blog, but for the basics–as a concept, it was an idea that a King was granted earthly powers through God in the same way as religious prophets/leaders were. The idea existed in Western and Eastern civilizations and it wasn’t that hard to stomach since the tradition of a mortal being imbued with special powers was no stranger to mythology. The fact that you had some kind of godly figure sitting on the throne accepted by large swaths of the population isn’t that questionable either, since you could take a quick search on Twitter and learn that people will believe just about anything if it means their leader is infallible and preferential in some way…



But for this next king, Charles VIII, it’s really hard to reconcile how anyone could find this guy anything other than divinely stupid in the way in which he chose to leave his mortal coils. And as it was so lovingly put in indignant bafflement:

And so the greatest king of the world is dead to the most ugly and dirty place of his court. Admittedly, this filthy place was too unworthy of this great and illustrious king and his fortune.Pierre de Brantôme, 16th century French Historian [1]

If you’ve been following along with my blog, I’ve already turned the embarrassing way he met his end into a punchline. But for those who are new, come on in (but please, watch your head) and listen to the tale.

Charles VIII wasn’t exactly the first choice to take over France after his father’s death. The state of France was looking pretty solid up to this point. His father, Louis XI, had spent his reigning years as a cunning bastard, mopping up territory for France and putting an end to the Hundred Year’s War. To have a 13-year old take over in his place who was, by contemporary accounts, kinda dumb, all of the hard work of his reign could quickly come undone. Therefore, Louis XI wished for his daughter Anne to act as regent instead. [2]


No kingdom is gonna mess with her!

Anne was kind of a badass. Since her father wasn’t exactly pleasant while conniving his plans, some of the kingdom was still a bit sore at his family and so Anne was forced to squish some open rebellion while in charge during what was known as the “Mad War”. She also positioned herself as an early Clarisse Renaldi (Queen of Genovia, come on you guys!) when it came to certain finesse in manners among the aristocracy, namely, that you should probably use a piece of fabric to wipe your nose instead of your hand. I’m also assuming she invented the princess wave but citation needed. All in all, France was in great shape under her leadership and if it wasn’t for her assistance in the Battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor might not have managed to win England and Jonathan Ryes Meyers would have been out a job.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, however, and Charles VIII was finally ready to take his throne. After also taking his father-in-law’s wife Anne of Brittany as well (and pissing off those incestuous Hapsburg’s to boot), he soon sought to take Italian territories for added good measure and marched all up in the Papal States too. I detailed a bit of the politics of this in my post on the Borgia family, but needless to say, Charles VIII did find some comfort in overtaking Naples for awhile. This pissed off the Italian Papal States enough to league up like this was ancient Greece and Charles was some marauding Persian though, and after plenty of bloodshed, Charles was eventually forced to return back to France with nothing to show for it. Except a considerable amount of national debt, of course. [4]


There’s a certain irony here that this painting is on a ceiling…

It was while residing at home and licking his wounds before undertaking another foray into campaigning in the Italian Peninsula, that Charles VIII’s story reaches its inevitable crescendo. Lumbering about in the throes of excitement over a game of proto-tennis out in his court, Charles VIII was so eager to catch the match that while running outside to go see it, he struck his head on the low archway of a gallery like a dolt. Possibly muttering an unfazed “herp derp”, he stumbled to the game as if he hadn’t just broke his skull and caused the internal bleeding that was about to give him a nasty stroke later that night. [3] Needless to say, he died an embarrassing death at the heir-less age of 27. Way to go, bruh.

Cause of Death: Tennis by Fatal Door Lintel

(Also, Charles VIII wasn’t even the first French King to die this way. Louis III did it first, chasing after a girl on horseback with the intent of raping her. Though you could say that Karma was the clear murderer in that scenario rather than lintels.)

Fact Check it, yo!

[1Germa-Romann, Hélène. “EXEMPLAIRE ET SINGULIÈRE, LA MORT DU ROI (DE CHARLES VIII À LOUIS XIII).” Bibliothèque D’Humanisme Et Renaissance, vol. 60, no. 3, 1998, pp. 673–706. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20678425.

[2] Joni M. Hand, Women, Manuscripts and Identity in Northern Europe, 1350-1550, (Ashgate Publishing, 2013), 24

[3] BÜHLER, CURT F., and ROBERT H. BOWERS. “A MEDICAL MANUSCRIPT PRESENTED TO CHARLES VIII OF FRANCE.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 11, no. 1, 1942, pp. 69–86. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44440691.

[4Du Haut-Jussé, Barthélemy-A. Pocquet. “LES DÉBUTS DU GOUVERNEMENT DE CHARLES VIII EN BRETAGNE.” Bibliothèque De l’École Des Chartes, vol. 115, 1957, pp. 138–155. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42959342.

[5Rorimer, James J. “The Glorification of Charles VIII.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 12, no. 10, 1954, pp. 281–299. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3257546.

A Touch of Classical Wisdom VIII

Works and Days

That man is best who sees the truth himself;

Good too is he who listens to wise counsel.

But who is neither wise himself nor willing 

To ponder wisdom is not worth a straw. 

-Hesiod, Works & Days c. 700 BC [1]

Fact Check it, Yo!

[1] Hesiod, ‘Works & Days‘, 700 BC. Whittingham, C., Woodfall, G., Davison, T., Baldwin, R., Payne, T., & Robinson, G. (1810). English translations, from ancient and modern poems,. London

History Around the Web: Megan ‘Faux’ Archaeology & Brawling Greek Gods

History is happening every day and new things are constantly being discovered or, as is the case with this blog, revisited. I’ve stated as a goal when starting Histastrophe! years ago that not only did I want to focus on learning more about history myself, but that I wanted to find an audience that I could discuss my passion for when it came to things long dead and gone. I’ve been trying to think of ways to better engage my visitors and what better way than to provide a weekly curation of the goings on in the history world?

Every week I want to give an internet round-up of the discussions, discoveries, controversies, or hilarity that is happening in the world of history (or that have piqued my attention!). I feel as if we few with a love of the past are sometimes living on the fringe as far as interests and hobbies go, but if doing this can help keep us all engaged and up-to-date with current History things, I feel like it’d be worth it.

So, for those of you who’ve finished watching Royal Wedding highlight reels and have had their fill of scones, here’s what else has been happening in the world of History:

This Twitter Thread by @Vengeful_Doe had me rolling on the floor in stitches. Quick hilarious fighting card profiles of Greek Gods and who specifically would be beatable in a fight. For lovers of mythology, this thread is teeming with references and enough jokes that if you were to print this off and pin to your English teacher’s desk, you’ll undoubtedly be rewarded with an A+. You’re welcome.

Frank Sinatra’s Mob Ties and Other Secrets from His FBI File

Frank Sinatra was many things: A crooner who could make bobby-soxers faint, an Academy Award-winning actor, the elder statesman of the Rat Pack. At the height of his career, it was rumored that “every woman wants to have him; every man wants to be him.”

I’m not usually a fan of the History Channel, I mean, anyone willing to serve copious airtime to programs suggesting aliens built the pyramids is sure to get a hard pass from me. But this Frank Sinatra profile that came out this week was certainly fun to see. As my readers have no doubt discerned by now, I’m deeply Italian-American in my roots–and Frankie is still a household name and topic of gossip to this day. I grew up hearing about Frank Sinatra’s mob ties and never once doubted the stories. Having never gone too deeply into research myself, it was nice to see this article float across my radar this week, validating all the stories my family had already spread.

Ancient Lost City of Mardaman Uncovered in Iraq

Ruins from the lost city of Mardaman, which dates back some 4,800 years, have been discovered in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, archaeologists just announced. A team from the University of Tübingen in Germany has been digging at the site for years now, but only last summer did they discover 92 cuneiform tablets hidden in a pottery vessel found in the remains of a palace.

Major archaeological discovery in Iraq–Archaeologists just announced that they’ve discovered the lost city of Mardaman. Mardaman was an ancient city in the Fertile Crescent that largely flourished during the Bronze Age. The city itself would have had connections with Mesopotamia, the Akkadians, and the Assyrian Empire to name a few. They’ve been digging there for years and only just found and studied the cuneiform tablets that confirmed the location, so there’s still a lot left to be discovered about this lost city. Always good to see archaeology alive and well in Iraq!

Megan Fox wants to rewrite history. So what’s the harm in that?

MEGAN Fox is a stunning supermodel and credible actress. Add her to a wealth of ancient fables, conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific technobabble. Then add funding from the Travel Channel. Sounds like a perfect fit? For ratings-hungry TV producers – yes. For those who know what they’re talking about – no.

I’m torn on this one. I’m personally a big fan of Josh Gates and his show Expedition Unknown, and though I haven’t really found any complaints about it online, I understand the inherit trouble with shows like these that tend to glamorous and simplify a complex field. Whereas Josh Gates tends to shed light on current expeditions and teams working to unravel discoveries in the making, it looks like this show is specifically focused on fantasy–that you can do all of these things without any feigning of expertise. What’s outlined in the article is an attitude by the show to both present history as accessible to everyone while also denouncing the need and expertise of trained professionals in their given fields. That’s…a little dangerous. These shows are fun, but it’s important to DO YOUR RESEARCH. And while doing that, consult scholarly sources or primary texts yourself. Don’t watch a show with that one girl from Transformers and call it good. Researchers are not infallible, I’ve provided enough examples of doubt and differing opinions among them on my blog before, but these are conversations being had by people firmly rooted in the knowledge necessary to discern fact from fiction. We should probably be listening to them.



Nefertiti versus Nefertari


Guess who I’m supposed to be…

Here at Histastrophe!, I make it a personal goal to arm my readers with random factoids they might have the pleasure of one day ‘Well, actually…” utilizing in everyday conversations to exert their historical dominance. Life is too short to go through in ignorance, after all. And while I’ve covered myths and misconceptions before, sometimes a common knowledge mix-up is nothing more than just a bit of confusion in differentiation. History certainly didn’t make it easy on us, especially with the insistence on naming all those damn kings Louis, for example.  Here’s looking a heavy side-eye at you, Kate & William

First up, two completely different famous Egyptian queens who ruled a Dynasty apart and have, unfortunately, similar monikers. Here’s how to tell the difference!



The Bust of Nefertiti,  made from stucco and limestone, currently residing in the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Nefertiti is, arguably, one of the most famous Egyptian queens–right along side Cleopatra, and with growing renown, Hatshepsut. But the reason for the world’s attention has everything to do with the bust above and less to do with what we actually know about her, which isn’t a whole lot. The bust in question was discovered in 1912 by a German archaeologist in the ancient capital of el-Amarna (then Akhetaten) in a sculptor’s workshop named Thutmose. Since then, the world has been enraptured by her beauty and her image has become synonymous with Ancient Egypt. But who was Nefertiti? That’s still a matter of debate.

What we do know for sure is that she was the reigning queen and Great Royal Wife alongside her husband Akhenaten. Being the principal wife meant that you were a step above the rest of the wives and concubines that typically made up the harem of an Egyptian pimp-daddy Pharaoh. In Nefertiti’s case, she might have been a step even above that. What’s notable about the rule of Akhenaten, is that a few years into his reign, he decided to revolutionize the Egyptian cult of worship by proclaiming that Aten, a sun god, was the single monotheistic religion. This, understandably, didn’t go over too well with the Egyptians since they had an entire pantheon of gods and most cities had their own patron deity. But while the whole one-true-god experiment went on, it seemed Akhenaten shook up a bit of the social hierarchy too. When it came to his chief consort Nefertiti, archaeologists were a bit surprised to find her depicted in parallel with her husband suggesting they were both co-regents. Typically, a queen was shown behind the pharaoh or at least smaller in scale, but in this case there were many examples of Nefertiti sitting alongside her husband, walking next to him in processions, officiating at ceremonies, and even sometimes wearing a distinctive crown signifying she might have been a bit more badass boss lady under this new era of Aten. [1]

King Tut's Funerary Mask

Not gonna lie, had a crush on this kid when I was 8-years old

In fact, it’s this seeming display of power that have lead archaeologists and historians to wonder if perhaps she even became pharaoh for a period of time. After the death of Akhenaten, another extremely famous ruler took his place–our favorite clubfooted teenage boy king, Tutankhamen. But while he would have been too young to immediately rule at the time, it seems there might have been a separate ruler entirely in the interim, which some have suspected to be Nefertiti herself. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell. And herein lies the problem with attempting to subvert an entire religious order in the matter of one lifetime. Tutankhamen immediately reversed his father’s monotheism and restored the old Gods when he became pharaoh but even that wasn’t enough to  ward off the animosity towards his family. After Tut’s untimely death at such a young age, his grandfather’s old vizier Ay came to power, shortly followed by a general named Horemheb who was determined to erase as much of the family from history as he could. That’s partially why the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb was such an amazing find at the time–due to it’s unorthodox location given Tut’s early death (some believe the tomb was intended for Ay in the first place) and the resulting erasure from history that followed, it’s entirely possible that his tomb remained untouched and un-defiled for so long because people had simply forgotten he existed.

Piecing together a timeline and a story of a family who had almost been struck from history forever is no easy task. And there are a lot of theories and unanswered questions about Nefertiti, some that may never be resolved. Who were her parents? Possibly the adviser Ay or maybe she was a sister of Akhenaten. Was she King Tutankhamen’s mother or would that have been a lesser wife Kiya? If she was King Tut’s mother, perhaps we’ve already found her and is the mummy known as The Younger Lady. [2] Or, maybe she’s still out there in the sands somewhere, waiting for us to find her. You’ve probably seen her recently in the headlines, Nicholas Reeve’s having theorized a hidden chamber within King Tut’s tomb having belonged to Nefertiti (Spoiler: It wasn’t), or Expedition Unknown’s facial reconstruction on The Younger Lady trying to figure out if the mummy is possibly the queen, it’s clear that Nefertiti is still certainly in the forefront of our attention.



Queen Nefertari under the Ramasside Dynasty


As for Nefertari, a quick google image search will get you a whole bunch of images of the Bust of Nefertiti above, siiiigh. Nefertari perhaps doesn’t have a world famous bust hanging around in a museum, but she too was known for her beauty back in the day. And she must have been some looker to be Ramesses II’s most beloved wife out of his extensive harem that bore him somewhere around 100 children. [4] Ramesses II loved her so much, he even constructed a temple for her at Abu Simbel which you’re probably familiar with…


Hey baby, I heard you like monuments so I put a monument in a monument

Ramesses II was so smitten with his queen his dedication text reads like something a teenage boy would scribble into song lyrics in a flex notebook.

A temple of great and mighty monuments, for the Great Royal Wife Nefertari Meryetmut, for whose sake the sun does shine, given life and beloved. [4]

Oh, and though it would take me an entirely separate post to detail why Ramesses II is known as ‘The Great’, I’m sure you’ve all already heard of him. He’s the pharaoh commonly associated with the biblical story of Moses in popular culture re-tellings. There isn’t any verifiable evidence to suggest he was the pharaoh mentioned in The Bible, but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from portraying him and his wife Nefertari whenever they’ve gotten the green light. So, perhaps Nefertari’s face isn’t featured in archaeology magazines every now and again, but she’s been immortalized on the silver screen and has become famous in her own right as a result. Take your pick!

So, a quick little guide to tell the difference between the two…

Nefertiti is the queen with the famous bust resembling Angelina Jolie.

Nefertari is the queen in that crappy Ridley Scott Exodus movie.

Who knows where the hell Nefertiti is or even who really mothered King Tutankhamen.

We uh, er, found Nefertari’s knees.

Nefertiti maybe probably kinda who knows got to play as Pharaoh before she died.

Nefertari got temples and the most lavish tomb known to queens.


Does that help?


Fact Check it, yo!

[1Samson, Julia. “Nefertiti’s Regality.” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 63, 1977, pp. 88–97. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3856305.

[2Rose, Mark. “Who’s in Tomb 55?” Archaeology, vol. 55, no. 2, 2002, pp. 22–27. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41779653.

[3] Kemp, Barry, and Albert Zink. “Life in Ancient Egypt Akhentanen, the Amarna Period, and Tutankhamun.” RCC Perspectives, no. 3, 2012, pp. 9–24. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26240370.

[4Agnew, Neville, and Shin Maekawa. “Preserving Nefertari’s Legacy.” Scientific American, vol. 281, no. 4, 1999, pp. 74–79. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26058441.


Ruminations on Pirates & Rum


Aside from the obvious pillaging, trinket burying, and severe lack of lemons–nothing apart from a flag adorned with skull and crossbones could fill the popular mythos of pirates as effectively as a passionate love of Rum. But where did the idea come from and how many daiquiris could they possibly have been guzzling while terrorizing the high seas?

Before we set our coordinates and dive in on the history of rum and pirates thing, I want to briefly touch on what, specifically, rum is. Don’t laugh, I’m sure most of us chug whatever giggle juice we can find without much thought to where it came from. And, in this case, the distillation of rum is insanely relevant to what I’m about to get into in this post. So, for those who don’t really know what’s in their piña colada, rum is distilled from sugarcane by-products, specifically in this case, molasses. And, historically, where could you find an over abundance of molasses from 1650-1730 AD along with pirates? The Caribbean, baby.

As a colonial territory, the Caribbean was rampant with European special interests, sugar plantations, and, er, despite what Kanye West thinks–slavery.

planting sugar cane

The Triangular Trade is certainly a post for another day, but the bare essentials of it was the creation of a trade highway in the middle of the Atlantic. Slaves were taken from Africa and shipped off to the Caribbean and then were worked on plantations where “a total environment in which the lives of the captive workforce could be bent unremittingly to maximize output” [1]. From there, sugar & molasses were imported back to Britain and (with sometimes slaves) to North American colonies, with an exchange of needed goods sent back. Rum was at the heart of this exchange. In the process of crystallizing cane sugar, one of the by-products of this process produced a considerable amount of molasses, which no one really knew what to do with. When life gives you molasses, one of the cheapest and easiest things to do was make rum out of it, and thus in turn created an abundant and bountiful return for the West Indies. [2] Unlike the French, who refused to distill rum and preferred to remain loyal to the classic French brandy and wine, they were simply throwing away around half a million gallons of molasses a year in the 1680’s on their Caribbean colonies. To get an idea on how crazy the export game was, in 1702 Barbados exported more than 200,000 gallons of rum. 30 years later, that number rose to 4 million. [3]

Rum-men traded rum for slaves in Africa, and then slaves for molasses in the West Indies. Frequently, molasses served as a partial payment for the slaves, thereby making the circle of Caribbean involvement complete. [2]

And so it was that rum became exceedingly popular in the 18th century. In England, where brandy and wine became less readily available while warring with the French, an average of 1,317,062 gallons of spirits had been made from molasses between 1728 and 1736. By 1740, the annual consumption in London was estimated at 14 gallons per person. The Royal Navy even instituted a rum ration, guaranteeing a sailor a half pint of it a day. The Scottish had their own run at it, trading and smuggling around British tariffs. [1] North American colonies like Rhode Island and South Carolina got into the rum production game too. In fact, it seemed like everyone was guzzling rum down like water except for Georgia, those Southern Gents tryin’ their darnedest to ban the evil nectar. [4]

Found the people were grown very mutinous and impatient of labour and discipline. …this petulancy was owing chiefly to several of them having got into drinking of rum.Oglethorpe on why Georgians can’t handle their drink. [4]

So where do pirates come in to play? Clearly, an inclination to drinking copious amounts of rum wasn’t mutually exclusive to pillaging and plunder. For pirates, it’s probably nothing more than happenstance.

With The Triangular Trade, not only were there avenues of trade across the Atlantic, but also prime targets for a little self-serving economic prosperity to anyone willing to take it. Piracy increased around the same time, at first with privateers and marauders with official licenses from their respective governments to attack and plunder enemy ships, blurring the lines between agent and villain like with Sir Francis Drake and Captain Henry Morgan. But during the early centuries, it was not unusual to feel a sense of loyalty to a homeland. Pirates during the Golden Age, however, were loyal to their crew alone. These pirates were unique in that they were made up of a band of misfits, characterized as castaways, escaped slaves, and ex-sailors disenchanted with the employment opportunities and financial prospects available to them. [5] They were a counter culture in explicit retaliation of nationalist enterprises in trade and resented political and religious authority. These were rebels operating within the bounds of their own ideology and lifestyles–with the recourse to spend lavishly on all kinds of pleasurable indulgences from fancy clothes and prostitution to, yes, rum. And yet, despite their supposed anarchy, they still “developed a distinctive work culture with its own language, songs, rituals, and sense of brotherhood as well as shared institutions and agreed-upon rules for their social order.” [6] This is where the Pirate’s Code comes from, and one such example from Captain Black Bart’s Pirate Law shows how even the respective indulgence of rum was worked into the deal:

Every Man has a Vote in Affairs of Moment; Has equal Title to the fresh provisions, or strong Liquors, at any Time Seized. [6]

Therefore, it’s safe to say that pirates themselves, as diverse a band of miscreants as can be, have some form of a shared culture. And at least in pop culture, happen to be associated with rum. Whereas their consumption of rum during the 18th century was little out of the ordinary, more contemporary authors seem to shed particular light on the coupling in no dissimilar a way as any other popular outlaw characterization would a Wild West gunman with a cowboy hat or Prohibition-era mobster with a Tommy gun. [6] One of the earliest literary examples comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island written more than a hundred years after the more famous high sea shenanigans took place. In it, we not only get the image of peg legs and shoulder-warming parrots, but the classic ‘Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest, Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum.” [1] And obviously, the romanticizing hasn’t stopped there.

Related image

Edward Teach, aka ‘Blackbeard’. Supposedly enjoyed his rum with gunpowder, probably how he managed the smokey hair tendril look.

Now, pirates are distinctly part of the Disney narrative, which in and of itself, is nearly a monopoly as a juggernaut of cultural output with the vacuum of Star Wars, Marvel, and now Fox Searchlight tangled in its web. The irony of Pirates of the Caribbean then being a narrative text within the Disney world and thus commoditized for gain in its own image is not lost on me.

“Although piracy, mutiny, and rogue sailors may have certainly existed, the manner in which they are displayed in the ride–as swashbuckling caricatures, bungling and gluttonous–is more a function of exposure to other media, not to factual pirate accounts.” –  [7]

And though I absolutely adore the Pirates of the Caribbean films, it’s important to point out how Disney manufactures and contextualizes their stories. It’s no secret that their films aren’t exactly congruent with the origin stories of which they’re based, and Pirates is no different a fairy tale than Cinderella is. With base material like Treasure Island, add in all those Errol Flynn movies, and Disney’s own Peter Pan and The Swiss Family Robinson, and you’ve already got a known place of reference. And with the first Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) film in particular, the screenwriters who were responsible for Aladdin (1992) and Shrek (2001), were already established as priding themselves on exceedingly self-aware and referential fans of fairy tales. “Slyly poking fun at the very essentialized pirate narratives and Disneyfication they were enlisted to produce” [7], they created a film both riddled with Easter eggs in synergy with the park ride and the opportunity to sell memetic jokes as merchandise. The ongoing one, in particular, should be fairly obvious…

Image result for why is the rum always gone gif

Image result for why is the rum always gone gif

Image result for why is the rum always gone gif

That’s not to say it’s all Disney’s fault by any means. Just look at all of these various rum brands that are capitalizing on pirate imagery to sell their product. But even this is completely fair, as pirates were known for making their own version of grog called ‘bumbo’ because who doesn’t like a little extra spice in their life? You could say they’ve probably earned their labels.

And, if we get right down to it, associating rum with pirates is just more fun. Because rum’s tangled history is a bit of a messy one, and it’s not one people usually like to call for shots of at a Miami dance club. With rum, there is a direct link with the slave trade, a drink synonymous with colonialism and sometimes used to barter with for slaves (or to subdue them with). [2] Then there’s traders in North America who would ply Native Americans with rum and cheat them out of their wares, getting them hooked on the drink much the same way as the British did with Opium in China. [8] And then of course, the pervasive image of rum became an evil one during the Temperance movement, especially with the associations above. [9]

But all that aside, rum is good as Jack Sparrow would say. So why not just let the pirates steal all the love?


Fact Check it, yo!

[1Grabiner, J. (1998). ‘Some Disputes of Consequence‘: Maclaurin among the Molasses Barrels. Social Studies of Science, 28(1), 139-168. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/285753

[2Nesbitt, Jennifer P. “Rum Histories: Decolonizing the Narratives of Jean Rhys’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and Sylvia Townsend Warner’s ‘The Flint Anchor.’” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 26, no. 2, 2007, pp. 309–330. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20455331.

[3Ostrander, G. (1956). The Colonial Molasses Trade. Agricultural History, 30(2), 77-84. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3739927

[4Sweet, J. (2010). “That Cursed Evil Rum”: The Trustees’ Prohibition Policy in Colonial Georgia. The Georgia Historical Quarterly, 94(1), 1-29. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40585152

[5Dawdy, S., & Bonni, J. (2012). Towards a General Theory of Piracy. Anthropological Quarterly, 85(3), 673-699. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41857267

[6Mackie, E. (2005). Welcome the Outlaw: Pirates, Maroons, and Caribbean Countercultures. Cultural Critique, (59), 24-62. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4489197

[7] Petersen, A. (2007). “You Believe in Pirates, Of Course…”: Disney’s Commodification and “Closure” vs. Johnny Depp’s Aesthetic Piracy of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Studies in Popular Culture, 29(2), 63-81. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23416141

[8DiVirgilio, J. (2005). Rum Punch and Cultural Revolution: The Impact of the Seven Years’ War in Albany. New York History,86(4), 434-449. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42677835

[9] McArthur, Judith N. “Demon Rum on the Boards: Temperance Melodrama and the Tradition of Antebellum Reform.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 9, no. 4, 1989, pp. 517–540. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3123754.