Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Right Stuff, Astronauts and Actors

The movie The Right Stuff is about the first seven astronauts of the American Mercury program, and the great test pilot Chuck Yaeger. The following Popthems expand on some of the incidents shown in the movie.


The first American to go into space was Alan Shepard played in the movie by Scott Glenn.   On May 5, 1961, 23 days after the Russians sent Yuri Gagarin into space, Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 mission.  Unlike Gagarin's 108-minute orbital flight, Shepard stayed on a ballistic trajectory (basically up and down)—a 15-minute suborbital flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles.

The euphoria that followed the flight may seem extravagant to us today given that the flight lasted only as long as the time it would take to eat a hamburger. But it meant a lot at the time.


Shortly before the launch, Shepard said to himself: "Don't fuck up, Shepard..."  This quote was reported as "Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up" in The Right Stuff, though Shepard confirmed this as a misquote.  The latter quote has since become known among aviators as "Shepard's Prayer."

He nearly 'fucked up'.  When he tried to observe the scene below him, he noticed that he had forgotten to remove the grey filter from the periscope.  He tried to remove it, but as he reached for the filter knob the pressure gauge on his left wrist banged into the abort handle.  He carefully pulled his hand away without removing the filter.  He observed the wondrous sights below through the grey slide, but still said "What a beautiful view!"


According to Gene Kranz in his book, Failure Is Not an Option, when reporters asked Shepard what he thought about as he sat atop the Redstone rocket, waiting for liftoff, he replied, "The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder".

After a dramatic Atlantic Ocean recovery,  Shepard observed "It's not the fall that hurts; it's the sudden stop".


During the pre-launch countdown a small electrical part had a problem and this resulted in an hour and twenty six minute delay.  Shepard was on top of the Redstone rocket for so long now that he had to urinate.

The liquid pooled in the small of his back. His heavy undergarment soaked up the urine, and with 100 percent oxygen flowing through the suit he was soon dry.  The countdown resumed.


The name "Freedom Seven" was Alan Shepard's choice. "Freedom" because it was patriotic and "Seven" because it was the seventh Mercury capsule produced. It also represented the seven Mercury astronauts. To help relieve any tension Shepard might have built up before his flight, Glenn pasted a little sign on the spacecraft instrument panel, reading "No handball playing here." This bit of humor hearkened back to their training days.


Ten years later, at age 47 the oldest astronaut in the program, Shepard commanded the Apollo 14 mission, piloting the lander to the most accurate landing of the Apollo missions. He became the fifth person to walk on the Moon, and the only one of the seven Mercury astronauts to walk on the moon. During the mission he hit two golf balls on the lunar surface.


On July 21, 1961, Gus Grissom was pilot of the second Project Mercury flight, popularly known as Liberty Bell 7.   He was played by Fred Ward.

The flight was a suborbital flight and lasted 15 minutes and 37 seconds.  After splashdown, emergency explosive bolts unexpectedly fired and blew the hatch off, causing water to flood into the spacecraft.   Grissom asserted he had done nothing to cause the hatch to blow.  In the movie we are led to believe that Grissom had panicked and and blown the cover off.  This is what the NASA engineers are shown in the movie to believe.

In reality NASA officials eventually concluded that Grissom was correct.  Initiating the explosive egress system required hitting a metal trigger with the side of a closed fist, which unavoidably left a large, obvious bruise on the astronaut's hand, but Grissom was found not to have any of the tell-tale bruising.  Fellow Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra, at the end of his October 3, 1962 flight, remained inside his spacecraft until it was safely aboard the recovery ship, and made a point of deliberately blowing the hatch to get out, bruising his hand.


Gus Grissom died on January 27, 1967 when he and two other astronauts burned to death in the command capsule during a pre-launch test.  An investigation revealed a wide range of lethal hazards.  These were fixed and the Apollo program reached its objective of landing men on the Moon.


John Glenn was played by Ed Harris.  He was the first American to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962,

Ed Harris

What were those mysterious 'fireflies' that Glenn saw during his orbital flight?  The mystery was solved later that year, when another Mercury astronaut, Scott Carpenter, made his orbital flight aboard Aurora 7.  Carpenter also reported seeing the particles, and to him they looked like snowflakes.  Carpenter was close to the truth.  They were bits of frozen condensation on the capsules’ exterior that broke off as the capsule moved through areas of varying temperatures.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hannibal. How Real Estate Speculators Saved Rome.

In the year 211 B.C.  Hannibal brought his army to the gates of Rome and camped by the river Anio three miles from Rome.  The Romans had suffered two devastating defeats at the battles of Lake Trasimene and Cannae.


After some skirmishing Hannibal withdrew.  Specifically, there were two reasons why at this point he gave up hope of capturing Rome.  First was that he heard that, although his army was under the very walls of Rome, yet detachments of Roman troops had set out under their colors to reinforce Spain; not to reinforce Rome but in the opposite direction - such was the force of Roman confidence.

Secondly he learned from a prisoner that about this time the land on which he had camped his army was put up for sale and was sold, and with no reduction in price despite his army being parked on the property.

It seemed to him so arrogant and such an indignity that a purchaser should have been found at Rome for the ground which he had seized in war and was himself its occupier and owner.  He considered himself to be the owner of the land and yet it was being sold from underneath him.

As a psychological countermeasure, he summoned a herald and ordered the bankers' shops which were round the Roman Forum to be sold.    

But the damage had been done.  He had been faked out.  This was the closest he ever came to capturing Rome.

There's a saying; 'When there's blood on the streets buy real estate'.

From Livy, 'The War With Hannibal'.  Book 26, Chapter11

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lindbergh's Guardian Angel


As he fights sleep with his eyes constantly closing and opening and closing again, he finds something within himself.  Above the mind and the body he finds a third element:

"My body knows definitely that what it wants most in the world is sleep.  My mind which is constantly making decisions that my body refuses to comply with is weakening in resolution."

But something else "which seems to become stronger instead of weaker with fatigue, an element of spirit, a directive force"....... "has stepped out from the background and taken control of both mind and body".

"It seems to guard them as a wise father guards his children; letting them venture to the point of danger, then calling them back, guiding with a firm but tolerant hand."

“When my body cries out that it must sleep, this third element replies that it may get what rest it can from relaxation, but that sleep is not to be had."

"When my mind demands that my body stay alert and awake, it is informed that alertness is too much to expect under these circumstances."

"And when it argues excitedly that to sleep would be to fail, and crash, and drown in the ocean, it is calmly reassured, and told it’s right, but that while it must not expect alertness on the body’s part, it can be confident there’ll be no sleep."


"This third element, this separate mind which is mine and yet is not, this mind both far away in eternity and within the confines of my skull, within the cockpit and outside of it at the same moment, connected to me and yet unlimited to any finite space."


When he landed in Paris, Lindbergh had not slept for 72 hours.  Consider this; when Hannibal led his army into Italy, there was a period when he went without sleep for four days.  He caught an infection and went blind in one eye.


Lindbergh was the 92nd person to fly across the Atlantic, and his was the 14th flight. (Thirty-one of the flyers were on one dirigible, the R-34 in 1919.)

He was the first person to cross the Atlantic alone by air, whether in an airplane or airship.

He was the first person to fly nonstop from the U.S. to Europe in an airplane (as distinct from an airship).

He broke the record for longest straight-line distance flown nonstop in an airplane, and what's more, he did it alone, (which meant of course that he could carry more gas).

And his was the first flight in an airplane (solo or not) from New York to France.

In New York, about four million people lined the parade route, equivalent to about 60% of the city's population (although this number included out-of-towners).

An estimated 25% of the entire U.S. population came out to see him on his 82-stop tour of the country after his return.

Within a few months, there was more film footage of him in existence than of any other human being, ever. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mark Twain and Dueling Scars

Mark Twain visited Heidelberg in Germany and described the culture of dueling that pervaded German universities.  The following is from his book, 'A Tramp Abroad', published 1881 describing dueling in H


The dueling spot...

... a large whitewashed apartment perhaps fifty feet long by thirty feet wide and twenty or twenty-five high; a well-lighted place with no carpet, and across one end and down both sides extended a row of tables, and at these tables some fifty or seventy-five students are sitting, sipping wine, playing cards or chess, chatting and smoking cigarettes while they wait for the coming duels.


The duelers

The students belong to one of five corps with colored caps representing the corps to which they belong.  They neither bow to nor speak with students whose caps differ in color from their own. It was considered that a person could strike harder in the duel if he had never been in a condition of comradeship with his antagonist; therefore, comradeship between the corps is not permitted.


The swords

In the windows at the vacant end of the room stand six or eight, narrow-bladed swords with large protecting guards for the hand, and outside is a man at work sharpening others on a grindstone.  When a sword left his hand you could shave yourself with it.


Protective clothing

The duelers eyes are protected by iron goggles which project an inch or more.  The leather straps of the goggles bind their ears flat against their heads and these straps are wound around and around with thick wrappings which a sword could not cut through.  From chin to ankle they are padded thoroughly against injury; their arms are bandaged and rebandaged, layer upon layer, until they look like solid black logs.  They resembled beings one sees in nightmares. Their arms which projected straight out from their bodies are so heavy that fellow-students walk beside them and help to support them.


The duels

The instant the word is given, the two duelers spring forward and begin to rain blows down upon each other with such lightning rapidity that it is not possible to tell whether you see swords or only the flashes they make in the air.  Every few moments the quick-eyed seconds would notice that a sword was bent — then they would call "Halt!" strike up the contending weapons, and an assisting student would straighten the bent one. 

In time the fighters began to show great fatigue.  At intervals they are allowed to rest a for a moment, and they get other rests when they wound each other, for then they could sit down while the doctor applied the lint and bandages. The rule is that the battle must continue fifteen minutes if the men can last that long; and as the breaks do not count, the duel normally lasts twenty or thirty minutes.



           An 1896 picture of Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, a German Corpsstudent, showing an             extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones.

Scars were usually targeted to the left profile, so the right profile appeared untouched.  (This may sound counter-intuitive since, because most people are right-handed, it is usually the right profiles of the duelists that face each other, which is where you would expect the scars to be.   The right profile however is also the profile that is protected by the sword of a right-handed swordsman.)

Dueling scars were seen as a badge of honor.  They were known as 'Mensur scars' or 'bragging scars'.

American tourists visiting Germany in the late 19th century were shocked to see the students at major German universities such as Heidelberg, Bonn, or Jena with facial scars - some older, some more recent, and some still wrapped in bandages.

German military laws permitted men to wage duels of honor until World War I, and in 1933 the Nazi government legalized the practice once more.

Within the duel, it was seen as a way of showing courage to be able to stand and take the blow, as opposed to inflicting the wound.  In fact, the victor was seen as the person who could walk away from the duel with a cut that would become an obvious scar.  It was important to show dueling prowess, but also that one was capable of taking the wound that was inflicted.

The scars showed that one had courage and also would make 'good husband material', because they implied strength of character and were an indicator of social standing insofar as dueling occurred in the better universities; and the wounds were not so serious as to leave a person disfigured or bereft of facial features.

The scars were judged by Otto von Bismarck to be a sign of bravery, and men’s courage could be judged "by the number of scars on their cheeks".

Minority groups in Germany also indulged in the practice, some seeing it as an aid in their social situation, including some Jews who wore the scars with pride. 

The swords used are so razor-like that they cut without bruising, so that the lips of the wounds can be closely pressed, leaving no great disfigurement, such as would be brought about by the loss of an ear.

Sometimes, students who did not fence would scar themselves with razors in imitation.  Others paid doctors to slice their cheeks. 

Face wounds from dueling are so prized that youths have even been known to pull them apart from time to time and put red wine in them to make them heal badly and leave as ugly a scar as possible.


A colored silk band or ribbon worn diagonally across the breast signifies that the wearer has fought three duels in which a decision was reached — duels in which he either whipped or was whipped — for drawn battles do not count.  After a student has received his ribbon he is 'free'; he can cease from fighting, without reproach.  He can volunteer to fight if he wants to, or remain quiescent if he prefers to do so; but most volunteer to fight again and again. 

Prince Bismarck fought thirty-two of these duels in a single summer term when he was in college.  So he fought twenty-nine after his badge had given him the right to retire from the field.



I had seen the heads and faces of ten youths gashed in every direction by the keen two-edged blades, and yet had not seen a victim wince, nor heard a moan.  Such endurance is to be expected in savages and prize-fighters, for they are born and educated to it; but to find it in these gentlemanly bred and kindly natured young fellows is matter for surprise.  It was not merely under the excitement of the sword-play that this fortitude was shown; it was shown in the surgeon's room where the doctor's manipulations brought out neither grimaces nor moans. 


Bismarck's wisdom:

A statesman... must wait until he hears the steps of God sounding through events, then leap up and grasp the hem of His garment.

Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.

When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn't the slightest intention of putting it into practice.

When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.

The most significant event of the 20th century will be that the fact that the North Americans speak English.  How true!

He who is not a socialist at 19 has no heart.  He who is still a socialist at 30 has no brain.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Darwin's Earthworms


It is appropriate that the naturalist who studied the infinitely slow progress of change as a species evolved over hundreds of millions of years, that this same scientist should focus on the minutely small changes of the surface of the land as effected by the workings of one of the lowliest creatures on the Earth, the earthworm.  Darwin spent considerable time on this study.

Initially his earthworm work drew as much or even more attention than his evolution work.  During Darwin's lifetime his book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits, published in 1881, sold even better than On the Origin of Species.  The section concerning the intelligence of earthworms was chiefly responsible for this success.


Until he started looking at earthworms, no one appreciated the role they had in agriculture.  Most people thought of them as pests.  Darwin showed that they were valuable for turning over the soil, which they did in part by chewing it up and pooping it out, thereby making it more fertile.

He realized that England’s lush topsoil was the product of ceaseless soil consumption and defecation by earthworms; about 54,000 of them per acre, depositing ten tons of fresh soil on each acre of English countryside, every single year.

He wrote:

     'It may be doubted whether there are any other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly, organized creatures'.


To find out how fast the worms were turning the soil, Darwin did experiments.  He spread small coal stones across a field behind his house and left them for 20 or 30 years.  Then he dug a trench across the land and looked in the walls of the trench to see how far down the stones had sunk through the action of the worms.

He concluded that the cumulative effect of millions of worms in a field chewing their way through the soil and depositing it on the surface is that the worms actually raise the surface of the soil.  Darwin worked out that the soil increased in depth by 0.2 of an inch per year.  After 10 years an object in the soil will go down two inches, and after 1,000 years it will sink almost 20 feet.


He found that earthworms were sensitive to touch and vibrations but not to sounds; also that they had a 'selective sense of smell', and were sensitive to light, preferring darkness or very low light, except when they were mating.  He also concluded that they had favourite foods.

Caricature from 'Punch', 1882.  Man is but a worm.


Concerning intelligence

Darwin observed that earthworms plug the mouth of their burrows with leaves, leaf stalks, or twigs and considered that an intelligent animal would draw such irregular-shaped objects into a cylindrical hole by their narrowest part.  Therefore he placed leaves and triangular pieces of paper of various sizes around the burrow entrance.  In the majority of trials, these objects were drawn into the burrows by or near their narrow apex. The only exception was pine needles that were drawn in by (or near) their base.  He concluded that worms possess 'some degree of intelligence instead of a mere blind instinctive impulse'.


The New York Graphic wrote: 'The result of the author's observations is proof that the small and apparently insignificant earth-worm is the cause of mighty changes in the surface of the earth, seeing that each of them, on the average, passes about twenty ounces of earth through its body every year, which earth it brings often from a depth of eight or ten feet below the surface to deposit it as mould at the top, thus doing the work of a plow.'

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Little Foxes and Mushrooms and The History of Civilization

The following popthems are from Robert Graves' book, 'Food for Centaurs'.  They are about this mushroom, the amanita muscaria, aka. fly-amanite, fly-agaric:


Fear of mushrooms.

Mycophobia, the irrational fear of mushrooms, felt by a great part of mankind, is a leftover from some ancestral religious awe.  Mushrooms were used by initiates in ancient religious ceremonies that were choreographed to inspire awe.  The purpose was to reserve the "religious" experience for a select few, and to use the awe as a barrier to keep the remainder of mankind at a distance.



The ordinary Greek word for 'mushroom' is 'mukes', which also means 'nasal mucous' or 'snot'.  To turn something into a taboo item you associate it with something disgusting; perhaps some body function.



The English abstain from horesflesh because their Saxon and Danish ancestors had once participated in a sacramental October horse-feast, the greatest holiday of the year, though horseflesh was taboo at all other times.  When the Church banned this feast as idolatrous, the awe it had inspired changed to revulsion.  It's an example of how taboos work.


The food of the gods.

What is 'ambrosia', the food of the gods, the drink that confers immortality?  The grammarians of ancient Greek define ambrosia as a thick porridge of honey, water, fruit, olive-oil. fruit and pearl-barley.
So lets take the recipe and write it down in tabular form:


Now the recipe for nectar specifically:


Finally the recipe for 'kukeon' ('mixture'), the draught that the Goddess Demeter accepted in the palace of King Celeus, by which she broke her fast and which was thereafter imbibed in her honor by the initiates of the Greater Mysteries, 'Kukeon' is mint-water mixed with pounded barley:


Now lets examine the three sets of the initial letters:

MUKETA, MUK, MUKA - MUSHROOM.  No way to misinterpret this - the letters spell out 'mushroom'.
MUKA, an earlier form of MUKES, answers the question, 'What substance grants the mystic vision?'
MUKETA, the accusative form, answers the question, 'What do the gods eat?'

Ambrosia, the food of the gods, that which confers immortality refers to mushrooms, (specifically - hallucinatory mushrooms).


Mystic visions.

The mystic vision was granted only to the initiates, who guarded the secret under penalty of death.

Here's some of what they saw in their visions:

        'The corn was orient, and immortal wheat,
         That never had been sown and never could be reaped'.

(from Thomas Traherne)


The Mysteries.

Consider the following - the word for 'mystery' in ancient Greek is 'musterion'.  The Mysteries were held in Autumn which is the mushroom season, and the word for this Autumn ceremony is likewise 'musterion', and the word begins with 'mu' which means 'mushroom'.

In Spring, which is the flower season, there was another ceremony which was called 'anthesterion'.  Since this word begins with 'anthos' which means (flower), doesn't it follow that the 'mu' at the beginning of 'musterion' would refer to mushroom.  Seems like a no-brainer.

'Mukes' is mushroom and 'muos' is fly (as in the insect), and the syllable 'mu' as in musterion could come from either one or the other. What is the significance of 'fly' in this context and what is its connection to "mushroom"?  I don't know.


Conspiracy of silence.

And yet not a single mushroom figures in the works of Hesiod, Homer, and the Greek dramatists; no admission that it even exists.  Could it be a conspiracy of silence - quite natural if mushrooms were the hallucinatory agents used by the mystagogues of the Eleusinian Mysteries - a secret that nobody blabbed in the course of all those early centuries; and we must believe that there was a secret, for other wise we are left believing that the recipe that made the adepts of the Mysteries gasp in wonder was a soft drink of mint-flavored barley water - hardly!


Foxes with fire in their tails.

Little foxes with fire in their tails - that's what Samson sent against the army of the Philistines (Book of Judges), and this is how Graves explains this unlikely story:

How did Samson collect three hundred foxes and send them into the Philistine's cornfields with torches tied to their tails?  The Palestinian fox is not gregarious and the task of capturing three hundred of them, at the rate of one or two a day, and feeding them all until he had collected the full number would have been a senselessly exhausting one.  Besides, how could he make sure that the foxes would run into the cornfields and that the torches would stay lit?  The truth seems to be that Samson organized a battalion of soldiers - three hundred was the conventional Hebrew battalion strength, as appears in the story of Gideon-and sent them out with torches to burn the Philistines' corn.  Indeed, in the 1948 Jewish War of Liberation a raiding battalion was named 'Samson's Foxes'.

So what's the significance of the foxes?

Well, the juice of the amanita muscaria mushrooms (which still grow under the pines of Mount Tabor)

would make the raiders into a completely fearless fighting force - note the Viking Berserkers; and this variety of amanita mushroom, when dried, is fox-colored.  Are these 'little foxes' the amanita mushrooms?


Solomon's erotica.

Here's another mention of "little foxes' in the bible - In the Song of Solomon the Shulemite bride has been amorously addressing Solomon, calling him the turtle-dove in the clefts of her rock, and  urges her lover to fetch her 'the little foxes that spoil the vines, for my vines have tender grapes'.  She means that Solomon must fortify his manhood with mushroom-juice laced with wine, the better to enjoy her young beauty.

The term 'little foxes' is used in a number of cultures as a name for mushrooms.


The Spartan boy.

Remember the Spartan boy who brought a fox into the school unknown to the Ephor (one of five rulers of Sparta elected annually), and made no sound though the foxes teeth were gnawing at his vitals.  Surely it would have been easier to throttle the fox than to disguise its presence under his short tunic.  But what if he had eaten fiery little foxes as a wager and the poison started working in his stomach, and yet he managed by a great effort of will to control himself before the ephor like a true Spartan.  Doesn't that make a whole lot more sense?


Alice In Wonderland.

And then there's the magical mushroom that Alice found growing in Wonderland.  The caterpillar sat on it smoking his hookah.  Lewis Carroll had read about its properties not long before he published the book; the properties  included the same hallucinations about height from which Alice suffered after nibbling the mushroom.


A cocktail.

A mixture of amanita muscaria with whisky has long been used as a drink by salmon-poachers in Scotland to celebrate a successful catch.  It is called a 'Cathy', in honour of Catherine the Great of Russia who is said to have been partial to it.


Deluded scholars.

Dionysus's source of intoxication has always been politely attributed by Greek scholars to wine. Ambrosia is identified in the Oxford English Dictionary with Asclepias (milk weed); and by various Encyclopedias with almost every sort of plant except mushrooms.


The serpent of Eden.

The word paradise means 'orchard' in the Semitic languages; an orchard-garden of fruit trees, flowers and running water.  The inevitable serpent, familiar to readers of the Paradise chapter in Genesis might well be that bright snake-like formation which is a common symptom of a cerebral deoxygenization induced by hallucinogenic drugs; and seeing snakes is a common occurrence among alcoholics, saints who starve themselves, drowning sailors and sufferers from meningitis.


Connection of toads and mushrooms:

Why mycophobes called mushrooms 'toadstools' can readily be explained. When the toad is attacked or scared the warts on its back exude bufotenin, the poison secreted in the white hallucinogenic warts of the amanita muscaria.


The Mushroom City.

In ancient Greece the toad was the emblem of Argos, the leading state of the Peloponnese.

The capital city of Argos was Mycenae ('Mushroom City') said to have been built by Perseus ('the destroyer').

Sculpture by Cellini

According to Pausanius,  Perseus had found mushrooms growing on the site beside a spring of water.

Mycenae is the home of Agamemnon who, from here, launched his campaign against Troy to gain the release of Helen - the basis of The Iliad.

The division of the Peloponnese into three states had been made by a legendary king named Phoroneus, which seems to be a form of Phryneus, meaning 'Toad-man'.  The emblems of the two other states are also connected with the mushroom: namely fox and serpent.



The toad was also the emblem of Tlaloc, the Mexican God of Inspiration, and appears surrounded by mushrooms in an Aztec mural painting of Tlalócan, his Paradise.


Slavs are not mycophobic.

Probably because their remote ancestors were nomads on the treeless steppes and unacquainted with amanita muscaria.  Their fermented mare's milk, called kavasse (Kumis), satisfied their need for occasional intoxication.  Like the Arabs in their desert poverty they had learned to eat any growing plant or living animal that was not poisonous.  Bavaria which was once invaded by Slavs is not mycophobic, while the rest of Germany is.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Et Tu Brute

So who was Marcus Brutus of 'Et Tu Brute' fame?

Bust of Brutus by Michelangelo


His father was Marcus Brutus Sr., his mother was Servilia, reputedly one of Rome's most beautiful women.  But here's the interesting part - it was widely rumored that Brutus' real father was Julius Caesar.  It was well known that Caesar and Servilia had had a teenage affair, but Caesar would have been fifteen at the time of Marcus junior's birth.  Servilia, Marcus' mother, was in fact thirteen when he was born.

Caesar treated Marcus Brutus like a son, but when the Civil War broke out between Caesar and Pompey, Brutus sided with Pompey and the Roman republic.


Caesar loved him like a son...

Brutus wasn't much of a soldier.  In fact he had no military experience.  The day before the climactic battle of Pharsalus, Brutus spent the day in his tent writing a condensed Latin version of a work by the Greek writer Polybius.  More scholar than soldier.

On August 9th., 49 B.C., the day of the battle, Caesar gave orders that if his soldiers should come across Brutus on the battlefield, they must allow him to surrender and then bring him to Caesar.  If Brutus refused to surrender they must allow him to escape unharmed.


And forgave him...

After the defeat of the Republican forces, Brutus made his escape, traveling without stop through the night of August 9 -10 to the coastal town of Larisa.  From there he wrote a letter to Caesar and sent a messenger to find Caesar and deliver the letter.

Caesar arrived in Larisa and accepted the surrender of the town, but he was more interested in finding Brutus.  They were reunited, apparently at the city gates.  Caesar forgave Brutus for siding with his enemies and welcomed him to his side.  Together the pair then rode a short distance from Caesar's staff and bodyguard. They dismounted and then walked through the countryside deep in conversation.

It all points to the deep affection that Caesar held for Brutus.


And pardoned Cassius...

At this meeting Brutus solicited a pardon for his brother-in-law, Gaius Cassius Longinus, who was at this time commanding a senatorial fleet somewhere in the Aegean Sea. Caesar agreed to the pardon.  This is the Cassius of whom Shakespeare's Caesar says:

     "Let me have men about me that are fat, Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much; ..."


Who later conspired to kill Caesar.

Cassius was the instigator of the plot to assassinate Caesar.

In Dante's Inferno, Cassius is one of three people deemed sinful enough to be in the very center of Hell and for all eternity to be chewed in one of the three mouths of Satan, as a punishment for killing Julius Caesar.  The other two are Brutus, his fellow conspirator, and Judas Iscariot. (Canto XXXIV)

Monday, June 4, 2012



Recreation of Henry VII.

Henry Tudor, father of Henry VIII, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I, effectively became king of England when his Lancastrian forces decisively defeated Richard III's Yorkist army at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. - Richard is Shakespeare's hunchback king who cries out, "A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!" before he's killed in the battle, thus ending the Wars of the Roses.

Miniature of Henry VII.


But Henry Tudor never called himself by the name Tudor.  That name was imposed on the dynasty by future historians starting with David Hume's History of England Under the House of Tudor published in 1759.  Henry shunned the name, preferring his peerage title of 'Richmond', after his father, the Earl of Richmond.  In sixteenth-century accounts of his life before he became king he was always called Richmond, including in Shakespeare's play 'Richard III'.  Thereafter of course he was called King Henry VII.


The name 'Tudor' was virtually meaningless to residents of the sixteenth century.  It doesn't appear in official documents of the time, nor does it appear in the accounts written by chroniclers of the age.

The name comes from the old Welsh name 'Tewdwr', derived from the Latin 'Theodorus', (a Roman name of Greek origin meaning 'divine gift'), which gives us the modern English personal name of Theodore.  In more modern Welsh 'Tewdwr' became 'Tudur', which was rendered into English as 'Tudor'.

Henry was descended from Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur (anglicized to Owen Tudor) of Wales.


 Lawrence Olivier as Richard III.

‘Tydder’ was used by Richard III as a derogatory form of 'Tudor' to draw attention to Henry's allegedly low social origins.  In a letter he writes of 'Henry Tydder, son of Edmund Tydder, son of Owen Tydder..... for he is descended of bastard blood, both of father's side and of mother's side; for the said Owen was bastard born...'  Kind of like Gene Hackman's character in the movie 'Unforgiven" calling the Richard Harris character 'The Duck' instead of 'The Duke'.

Later came Perkin Warbeck, calling himself Richard IV, a pretender to Henry's throne, who issued a proclamation during the Bodmin uprising of 1497 in which he declared that Henry, grandson of "Owen Tydder of low birth in the country of Wales" had seized the throne.

These Tudor/Tydder associations may explain why Henry himself and his successors avoided using the word.


Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur decided to adopt an English style surname.  The obvious choice should have been for him to have anglicised his father's name and become 'Owain Maredudd' or 'Meredith'.  For reasons unknown Owain rejected this option and selected his grandfather's name 'Tudur', and therefore became 'Owen Tudor'.

Today we could be speaking of the 'Meredith' dynasty instead of the 'Tudor' dynasty.