Illuminating the Dark Ages

Image result for middle ages

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?

Continue reading

Advertisements

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

Image result for hung drawn and quartered

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.

Image result for braveheart hanged drawn and quartered

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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).

Continue reading

King Slayers: Charles VIII Knocking on Death’s Door

220px-Charles_VIII_Ecole_Francaise_16th_century_Musee_de_Conde_Chantilly

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…

800px-Karl_VIII._empfaengt_Franz_von_Paola_in_Amboise

See?!

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.

Continue reading

The Killing Joke

chrysippus

Stoic AF

There are many bizarre deaths in Classical antiquity and, with a people that guzzled wine like water [1], it shouldn’t be all that surprising. There was Emperor Caracalla who decided to take a pee break off the side of a road and was stabbed mid-stream [2].  Philosopher Empedocles who hurled himself into a volcano thinking he’d survive it and become a god because that sounds legit [3]. Or rich bastard Roman General Crassus who forced down molten gold because he lost a battle with the Parthians and irony [4]. There was even Saint Lawrence who earned his martyrdom by sass for quipping “Turn me over–I’m done on this side!” [5] while being cooked up on a giant grill to be served during a persecution of Christians BBQ. But speaking of jokes, my favorite has to be the tale of Chrysippus, whose death you probably just had to be there to get.

Backing up a little bit, let’s lay the foundation for this set-up. Chrysippus was a famous Greek philosopher who was tearing up the streets of Athens a few hundred years after Socrates daintily sipped an aromatic cup of freshly brewed hemlock tea. He was a stoic, the guys confused in modern days with sociopathy and Commander Spock, but taught his students about the aether of the Universe and living a life in congruence with the will of Fate and aligning oneself with Nature. So more like a Jedi rather than someone who refuses to smile at puppies. He also tinkered around with math, created prepositional logic, and started some early ancient therapy sessions hoping to assist folks with unruly passions. Chrysippus was kind of a big deal, logical in thinking and focused entirely on formulating an impressive philosophical rapt sheet. So let’s fast-forward to a now 73 year-old man with this impressive a career to behold.

Invited by his pupils to a sacrificial feast which, in those days, was probably akin to a professor attending a wild on-campus keg party, Chrysippus downed copious amounts of wine as one is want to do. It was noted by Diogenes Laertius, a Classical biographer of the Greek philosophers, that this particular wine was undiluted–no water, just pure sweet straight up wine which was sure to get even the most stoic philosopher congruently drunk in accordance with Nature. Stumbling around in the throes of intoxication, Chrysippus was giddy in delight when a donkey escorted by an old woman happened by him and immediately started to consume the remaining figs Chrysippus must have been carrying around from the party. [6]

Struck with the genius of his own cleverness, Chrysippus seized upon the moment to hurl the greatest joke to which would ever be uttered in the history of hilarity:

Now give the ass a drink of pure wine to wash down the figs! [6]

Howling with laughter, Chrysippus was beside himself with his own joke, the old woman we can only assume, struggling to find the humor at all in this line. Delirious and overtaken with his own comedic timing, Chrysippus fell into such a violent fit of hysterical giggles about the prospect of giving a donkey wine or something, I don’t know, I don’t get you Chrysippus, that he promptly died on the spot–in the wake of his own comedy. [6]

The dude literally died laughing at his own joke.

And it wasn’t even that funny.

Fact Check it, yo!

[1] Wine and Rome. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/wine/wine.html

[2] Goldsworthy, A. K. (2009). How Rome fell: death of a superpower. New Haven: Yale University Press. P. 74.

[3 & 6] Laertius, D. (1980). Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[4] Nuwer, R. (2014, June 10). Here’s What Actually Happens During an Execution by Molten Gold. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/heres-what-happened-people-who-were-executed-having-molten-gold-poured-down-their-throat-180951695/?no-ist

[5] Miller, O. F. (2017, March 06). Saint Lawrence. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-lawrence/

Kings and Their Mistresses

As Caroline had feared, Henrietta was replaced by younger, prettier, more manipulating mistresses. Dying from an umbilical rupture in 1737, wrapped in towels as her intestines spilled out, the queen, sensible to the end, suggested that George remarry. But the king, heartbroken, hovering near her bed in her last agonizing moments, swore he would have only mistresses and never remarry.

“Oh, my God!” the dying queen said in French, with characteristic practicality, “that won’t make any difference!”

-Excerpt from Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman. Famous last words of Queen Caroline to her gallivanting husband King George II of England.