Category Archives: History and Culture

King Tut forensics
King Tutankhamen, known as Egypt’s boy pharaoh, probably spent much of his life in pain before dying at 19 from the combined effects of malaria and a broken leg, scientists say.
You may have read or heard this story already, giving a new analysis of the life (and probable) death of the boy king, King Tut.
Curved spine, cleft palate, malaria, injuries…even if he was a King, he didn’t have that Kingly a life. I did not know that 100 walking sticks were found in the tomb. It makes sense, given the problems he likely had in life.


Via my friend Kevin Brady, here is a blog entry on English Russia on the “Seven Wonders of Russia”
It’s a mixture of human and natural wonders. Beautiful photographs of all of them. My favorite has to be the Geysers. Did you know that while Yellowstone has most of the Geysers in the world, many of the rest are in Far Eastern Russia?
Anyway, go and see the Seven Wonders. You could probably do a “Seven Wonders” meme for any sort of polity, countries, states, even cities.

Historic Map coming to Minnesota!

MPR had a story a couple of days ago that makes me jump in my seat for joy.
One of the world’s rarest maps — a massive print from 1602 showing the world with China as its center — will soon be on permanent display at the University of Minnesota.
The James Ford Bell Trust announced this week that it has acquired the “Impossible Black Tulip,” the first map in Chinese to show the Americas, from a London books and maps dealer for $1 million. Only six copies of the map remain and several are in poor condition.

The Library of Congress will display the map for the first time in North America on Jan. 12, where it will be scanned to create a permanent digital image available to scholars.
The map will then travel to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a brief exhibition, before moving to its permanent home at the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota in the spring.

Matteo Ricci, the Jesuit cartographer I read a biography of a couple of years back, was instrumental in the creation of this map. I recall the biography mentioning that he had collaborated on a map with chinese scholars; Clearly this is the map.
I definitely will go and see this map when it moves up here.

20 years ago today…

Where did the years go?
20 years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. This means, now, that more of my life has been spent without the Berlin Wall than it was with that edifice in place.
The Berlin Wall fell as I was beginning college, and making my way in the world. It was an exciting time and I can’t imagine it wasn’t even more exciting, there. I have a friend who had been to East Germany before the Wall fell.
From his stories, its clear that the adage that “the past is a different country” is definitely true.
And I still need to see the classic movie about the fall of the wall, “Goodbye Lenin!”

Birthplace of Roman Emperor Vespasian found
Via my brother (thanks, Greg)
Archaeologists have unearthed a sprawling country villa believed to be the birthplace of Vespasian, the Roman emperor who built the Colosseum, they said Friday. The 2,000-year-old ruins were found about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of Rome, near Cittareale, lead archaeologist Filippo Coarelli said.
The 150,000-square-feet (14,000-square-meter) complex was at the center of an ancient village called Falacrine, Vespasian’s hometown.

Ada Lovelace Day Post: Hypatia of Alexandria

Hypatia of Alexandria
Hypatia of Alexandria; born between AD 350 and 370 – 415) was a Greek scholar from Alexandria in Egypt,considered the first notable woman in mathematics, who also taught philosophy and astronomy.She lived in Roman Egypt, and was brutally killed by a Christian mob who blamed her for religious turmoil. She has been hailed as a “valiant defender of science against religion”, and some suggest that her murder marked the end of the Hellenistic Age.
A Neoplatonist philosopher, she followed the school characterized by the 3rd century thinker Plotinus, and discouraged mysticism while encouraging logical and mathematical studies.
Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, who was her teacher and the last known mathematician associated with the museum of Alexandria. She traveled to both Athens and Italy to study,before becoming head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in approximately AD 400.According to the Byzantine “Suda”, she worked as teacher of philosophy, teaching the works of Plato and Aristotle. It is believed that there were both Christians and foreigners among her students.
Hypatia maintained correspondence with her former pupil Bishop of Ptolomais Synesius of Cyrene. Together with the references by Damascius, these are the only writings with descriptions or information from her pupils that survive.
The contemporary Christian historiographer Socrates Scholasticus described her in his Ecclesiastical History:
There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.
Many of the works commonly attributed to Hypatia are believed to have been collaborative works with her father, Theon Alexandricus; this kind of auctorial uncertainty being typical for the situation of feminine philosophy in Antiquity.
A partial list of specific accomplishments:
A commentary on the 13-volume Arithmetica by Diophantus.
A commentary on the Conics of Apollonius.
Edited the existing version of Ptolemy’s Almagest.
Edited her father’s commentary on Euclid’s Elements
She wrote a text “The Astronomical Canon.”
Her contributions to science are reputed to include the charting of celestial bodies and the invention of the hydrometer, used to determine the relative density and gravity of liquids.
Her pupil Synesius, bishop of Cyrene, wrote a letter defending her as the inventor of the astrolabe, although earlier astrolabes predate Hypatia’s model by at least a century – and her father had gained fame for his treatise on the subject.
Carl Sagan has a good piece on her in an episode of Cosmos, which is where I first learned about her.

The Ides of March

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry ‘Caesar!’ Speak; Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Beware the ides of March.
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
Set him before me; let me see his face.
Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
What say’st thou to me now? speak once again.
Beware the ides of March.
He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.
Julius Ceasar, Act I Scene II

In Ancient Rome, the 15th of March, the Ides of March, was a feast day of the God of War, Mars, and a day devoted to military parades and celebrations.
On the ides of March, in 44 BC, Gaius Julius Ceasar, Dictator of Rome, was stabbed and killed by a conspiracy led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and his brother-in-law Marcus Junius Brutus, in a failed attempt to restore the Roman Republic.
If you have seen the HBO Series Rome, or seen the Shakespeare play, you are familiar with the basic details of the plot and its results. No matter how noble the intentions of the conspirators were (and that is extremely arguable), in the end, what the conspirators were trying to prevent by killing Gaius Julius Ceasar, they instead hastened and made manifest.