TheCollector A Top Authority On Art, Artists, Ancient History & Collecting For Art Enthusiasts, Scholars & Collectors. en-US 2023-07-05T20:11:02 TheCollector 32 32 <![CDATA[The Early Modern Period in Europe: How Did the Middle Ages End?]]> 2023-07-05T20:11:02 Barbora Jirincova


The Early Modern Period arrived after the Middle Ages. But when did the Middle Ages end? Some say it was when Christopher Columbus set foot on American soil. Others, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door. Some claim that it was when Donatello finished his statue of David. The wise historian says nothing and smiles because he knows the answer is not so simple. Moreover, it is far more essential to understand why these events were taking place.


The Early Modern Period and the Middle Ages: What was the Difference?

quentin the moneylender the early modern period bourgeisie
The Moneylender and his Wife, by Quinten Metsys, 1514, via the Ministére de la Culture


The Early Modern Period differed from the Middle Ages in many ways so we cannot draw a line between the two eras just like that. The Middle Ages were full of magic and mystery, while cold reason crept in with modernity in the Early Modern Period. In the Middle Ages, there was one Church in the West, one universal ruler crowned by the pope, and one world — the old one. In the early modern period, many churches and many powerful princes fought for power, and the New World enriched the old one in a significant way. There was no one universal culture anymore. Catholics and Protestants developed their own cultures and cultural centers. But what brought the change? Why did the people of the Middle Ages change the way they saw the world?


The Two Worlds of the Early Modern Period

Christoper Columbus arrives in America, by L. Prang & Co, 1893, via the United States Library of Congress


Christopher Columbus and other voyagers discovered the Americas. We can hardly imagine what that meant. There were maps before 1492 with blank spaces on them. People knew there was something in the areas of the Americas but had yet to learn what. Nowadays, there is unexplored land — on the bottom of the seas and in the heart of some jungles. But the map of our Earth is otherwise complete.


The land explorers discovered in South America completely differed from the land people knew. There was tobacco, coffee, and cocoa. There were strange animals and even stranger people. The European Christians in the 16th century knew of Muslims and the Jews, but these were both monotheistic religions. And yet there lived people in the Americas who had not heard the name of Jesus Christ. Their customs were so different from Eurasian civilization that the question was raised whether they were human at all. Cardinals and scholars discussed it a lot. Because if these strange peoples were humans, if they possessed human souls, then hunting and enslaving them would be wrong. European civilization had to cope with the shock of finding out that there were people unlike them.


How the End of the Reconquista Started the Voyages

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The Capitulation of Granada, by Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz, 1882, via Wikimedia Commons


Why did these voyagers set sail in the first place? What drove them out of the relative safety of the European harbors? Those who left first were visionaries, people who dreamed of new lands. And technological progress enabled them to make these dreams come true. But that is not all. It is no coincidence that the first voyagers came from the Iberian peninsula.


In 1492 the Reconquista ended, Granada fell, and the last Arabs were driven out of Spain. After two centuries, there was finally peace. But what to do with the knights that for centuries did nothing but fight? These men were not suited to peace. They would not work, they would not plow, and they would not do business. A whole social class of proud, wild, and strong fighters was suddenly out of a job. The king and queen of the newly united Spain did the best thing for their country. They turned the Reconquista into a Conquista. They packed their knights onto ships and sent them to the New World to win new land for their king and queen. This saved Spain because the unruly knights could have been a problem. For now, the people of the Americas were to deal with the knights. Hernan Cortez and Francisco Pizzaro were just two of these men.


Early Modern Warfare: Guns and Mercenaries

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Battle of Vienna, 1683, via Vienna Unwrapped


In the Middle Ages, cavalry knights were the deciding force in every battle. These knights did not work; war was their craft and loot was their source of income. But that time was now gone. Gunpowder had changed the game completely. Now infantry was the leading element of the war machine, armed with guns and cannons.


Mercenaries, specialized professionals, could now win a war. A mercenary did not follow a strict moral code. His loyalty was to his unit and his comrades; he fought for his employer as long as he was paid. Then, he was free to change sides. Warfare looked utterly different with cannons and guns, and a whole social class was now unemployed. Rebellions and convulsions erupted around Europe. Only Spain was spared this problem because Spanish monarchs dispatched their knights overseas.


The Birth of the Modern Reader

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Drawing of a printing press, 1770, via Wikimedia Commons


Another change in the 16th century was the rise of literacy; more people could read than ever before. Of course, the reason was that there were more books to read. Cheaper books. Before the invention of the printing press in 1450, it could take months and even years to create a book. Now it was a matter of days and, later, hours.


The first printed books were still costly. It took time before the printing press was effective. At the beginning of the 16th century, people still copied books and newspapers by hand because it was much quicker. Book vendors would choose carefully which book to print because it was very time-consuming to create the wooden blocks to print text. But there was one book that would always sell — the Bible. The printing press brought the Bible to everybody. Before the first Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1455, the literate few read handwritten biblical texts.


The old literate class could usually read Latin and there was no need for translations. But now, when the Bible was suddenly available to all, ordinary people wanted to read it, and it had to be translated. The printing press led to the rise of literacy and also the development of national languages in Europe.


Last but not least, when people could read the Bible themselves, they started to think about the text, God, their faith, and, more importantly, the Church. They began to ask whether the church in its current state was what it should be.


The Ultimate Spiritual Crisis of the Early Modern Period

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Antipapal Caricature, c. 1500, via Wikipedia Commons


The state of the Church at the end of the Middle Ages was not good. Voices were heard from within and without, calling for reform. During the fifteen hundred years of its existence, there were many moral lapses in the Church. People were used to it. But the worldliness of the Renaissance popes went beyond everything ordinary Christians could accept. Not only did the popes rule as secular princes, but they also had lovers and appointed their own children openly as rulers. It became a new norm but some people would not accept it and called for the pope and his cardinals to become humble servants of God. The pope´s title as the servant of God´s servants was further from reality now than ever.


In 1500, many people expected the end of the world. It all seemed so clear. The world was so different, and the Church was so corrupt. Surely the end would come— humankind could not go on like this. And 1500 seemed like a convenient number. But as usual, their God did not follow the convention, and the Apocalypse did not come. What then? A deep spiritual crisis followed. As more people read the Bible and other religious texts, more people could ask the right questions and look for an answer.


Moreover, townspeople gained influence in the Early Modern Period; business flourished, and they invested in the future of their souls. The aristocracy mostly donated money and land to the church in the Middle Ages to gain God´s favor. Now the burghers started to do the same. And when you pay for something, you watch over your investment. Thus, more laypeople felt they had the right to question the morals of the church.


The Religious Reformations of the Early Modern Period

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Luther Before the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877, via Staatsgalerie Stuttgart


Nowadays, historians mostly agree that it was Martin Luther who triggered the changes that led to the creation of various Protestant confessions and the reform of the Catholic church. Luther belonged to the Middle Ages; he wasn´t a humanist from the Early Modern Period. He was a medieval scholar with very original thinking and, more importantly, very influential supporters. He was the answer to the most burning question on everybody´s mind. The German Lutheran Church cut all ties to Rome; after the Lutherans, the Calvinists, and the Zwinglians came along. This would have been unthinkable a hundred years ago.


The Catholic church woke up too late to hinder the schism, but it did wake up, nonetheless. The Council of Trent triggered the Catholic Reformation and the Counter-reformation. The Catholic church rid itself of the moral lapses of the clergy, redefined itself, and finally reacted to the demands of the people of the Early Modern Period. Early modern Catholicism, as some scholars call it, was nothing like the medieval church. It was modern; it emphasized reason, the moral authority of the clergy, and education. The inevitable clash came in the 17th century when the Protestant churches established themselves and the Catholic church re-established itself. Thus the Early Modern Period was a time of religious disputes and even wars. For the first time in Christianity´s history, it was not the Church against a few heretics but a church against a new church.


The Culture of the Early Modern Period

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Idealized Portrait of a Lady, by Sandro Botticelli, around 1480, via Google Arts and Culture


Renaissance art and humanist culture brought man, the human, into the center of everything. God was still very prominent, don´t be mistaken. But the humanists did not ask questions about God´s substance and existence; they looked at God through his people. The Renaissance was the culture of educated laymen and, most importantly, of educated burghers, the culture of affluent Italian towns. Wealth, economic changes, and the rise of people in business from the bourgeoisie created perfect conditions for a new type of artist. The Renaissance artist. We owe much Renaissance beauty to the corrupted popes and cardinals of the 15th and 16th centuries. The rise of humanism was tied to the increase in literacy. Humanist scholars criticized the old order, the old universal order, and together with the religious reformation, they brought its collapse.


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The Triumph of Bacchus and Adrianne, by Annibale Caracci, 1591, via Web Gallery of Art


All these changes, together with a transformed economy, ended the Middle Ages and created the Early Modern Period. But there remained places where the difference was barely visible. In villages, people still depended on natural cycles and they would do so until the Industrial Revolution. Women would still die on birthing beds until modern medicine changed the game. We should never overestimate the labels we give to historical periods and never forget the people who lived to see them.

<![CDATA[Jason and the Argonauts: A Detailed Breakdown of the Greek Myth]]> 2023-07-05T16:11:02 Bethany Williams


The myth of Jason and the Argonauts has inspired storytellers throughout the ages and continues to be a popular story to retell today. You might even think of the 1960s movie with the clay skeletons. It is a cinematic feat indeed, inspired by the legendary feats of Jason’s ancient myth. One of the oldest sources for the story of Jason and the Argonauts is the Argonautica, written by Apollonius of Rhodes. This was an epic poem, much like the Iliad and the Odyssey, however, instead of focusing on the Trojan War and the aftermath, the Argonautica follows the adventures of the young prince Jason.


Jason and the Argonauts: A Hero’s Beginnings

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Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts, by Jacopo di Arcangelo, c.1465, via The Met Museum


Storytellers often use familiar and popular tropes, and Apollonius of Rhodes did not deviate from them in the Argonautica. Apollonius gave his protagonist a true hero’s beginning, in the fashion of many myths preceding it. To start with, Jason had a royal birth — he was the son of King Aeson, who ruled Iolcus, a region in Northern Greece. However, a royal birth did not come with safety and stability. When Jason was a newborn, his half-brother called Pelias decided to make a play for the throne. As Jason was just a baby, he did not yet prove to be a threat but he did have the potential to be one as a male heir.

Aeson was able to escape with Jason. In a step to secure Jason’s livelihood and prospects, Aeson gave Jason over to Chiron the centaur’s care. In Greek mythology, Chiron was the rearer of heroes. Many young Greek princes were given to Chiron at a young age, much like an ancient boarding school.


In another version of the story, Aeson was locked up by Pelias before Jason was born. Jason’s mother, Alcimede, evaded the violent plots of Pelias by pretending that Jason was stillborn. Alcimede was able to smuggle Jason out of Iolcus and bring the baby to Chiron for protection.


Growing up with Chiron

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Jason and His Teacher, Collier’s magazine frontispiece, by Maxfield Parrish,1909, via Heritage Auctions


Jason was taught the key principles of being a prince. This included defensive and offensive skills such as sword-fighting, javelin throwing, and the art of warfare. Hunting and warfare in the mythical world were a matter of survival. With political turbulence in Jason’s hometown, Iolcus, it was important for Jason to learn these measures from Chiron.


As a devotee to the arts, Chiron would round off this practical education by also teaching his students to appreciate music. This often involved the lyre, an ancient musical instrument, made of strings pulled taut over a tortoise shell. In other words, a very ancient version of the modern guitar.

Finally, Chiron would also teach his students the vital basics of medicine. The ancient world was not a safe place, and it was wise to know how to handle injuries. In fact, the name “Jason” is sometimes interpreted as meaning “healer”, which points towards his skill with medicine. Some sources say that Chiron chose this name for Jason.  Jason was one of the many students of Chiron, including Hercules, Asclepius, and Achilles.


Returning to Iolcus

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Statue of Jason, 2nd half of the 16th century, via the Victoria and Albert Museum


Eventually, the time came for Jason to leave Chiron’s care. After coming of age, Jason had plans to recover the throne of Iolcus. Pelias, who had taken the throne from Jason’s father, was very much in control of the city. Jason did not know the hard time he would have getting the kingdom back. And so the time came when Jason had to leave Chiron’s home in the idyllic Grecian woodland.


“On that day all the gods looked down from heaven upon the ship and the might of the heroes, half- divine, the bravest of men then sailing the sea … And there came down from the mountain-top to the sea Chiron, son of Philyra, and where the white surf broke he dipped his feet, and, often waving with his broad hand, cried out to them at their departure, “Good speed and a sorrowless home- return!”
Argonautica, Apollonius of Rhodes


When Jason returned to Iolcus, he did not receive a warm welcome, instead, he was challenged for his rightful hold on the throne. Pelias gave him an impossible task.


The Prophecy

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Wall painting of Jason taking the golden fleece with Medea’s help, 3rd Century CE, 2016, via Wikimedia Commons


As with most fantastical stories, Jason’s included a prophecy, much to Pelias’ detriment and to the hope of listeners to Jason’s myth.


“Such was the oracle that Pelias heard, that a hateful doom awaited him to be slain at the prompting of the man whom he should see coming forth from the people with but one sandal. And no long time after, in accordance with that true report, Jason crossed the stream of wintry Anaurus on foot, and saved one sandal from the mire, but the other he left in the depths held back by the flood.”

After a troublesome trip, which involved losing one shoe, Jason, now the one-sandaled threat, arrived back in Iolcus. At this time, Pelias was hosting a grand banquet. Pelias quickly identified Jason and his missing shoe as his mortal enemy.  Immediately, the king devised a plot for Jason…

“The toil of a troublous voyage, in order that on the sea or among strangers he might lose his home-return.”

Pelias demanded that Jason traverse the Black Sea to seek the Golden Fleece, and bring it back to Iolcus.


The Argonauts Assemble

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Atalanta Led by Diana (Artemis), copy of the original by Giulio Parigi, c.1635, via the British Museum, London


The greatest group of heroes assembled to take on this quest, which was proposed to be the greatest adventure of the age. Heroes from all over Greece wished to partake in this momentous voyage to the end of the known world. The heroes included Hercules, Orpheus, Atalanta, Meleager, Philoctetes and many more. Even Acastus, the son of mighty Pelias himself, did not want to stay behind but joined the crew.


For a mighty crew, there was a need for a mighty ship. The ship was designed and manufactured by Argus, who was said to have been guided by the goddess Athena, who valued craftsmanship and wisdom. Once the ship was built, the crew needed a leader.


“All the equipment that a ship needs for all is in due order — lies ready for our departure. Therefore we will make no long delay in our sailing for these things’ sake, when the breezes but blow fair. But, friends, — for common to all is our return to Hellas hereafter, and common to all is our path to the land of Aeetes — now therefore with ungrudging heart choose the bravest to be our leader, who shall be careful for everything, to take upon him our quarrels and covenants with strangers.”


After a brief hesitation in which Hercules, famous even within his lifetime, benignly rejected the proposal to make him leader, Jason was ultimately chosen.


Island Hopping

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Illustration of the entry of the Count of Brionne, in the likeness of Jason’s travels, by Jacques Callot, via the British Museum


The final destination of the Argonauts, Colchis, was a great distance away. Jason and the Argonauts stopped off at many islands along the way. When the Argonauts arrived at Lemnos, they found the island deserted of men. Aphrodite had cursed the island so that the men found the women repulsive and this caused tensions that led to a massacre of the men. After the curse had lifted, the women lived on the island without men. When the Argonauts visited, there was a huge movement for repopulation. This generated the race called the “Minyae”.


The next stop was Cyzicus — and the Argonauts had a baffling time here. They encountered beings called “Gegeines” who were giants with six arms. These giants attempted to destroy the Argonaut’s ship but Heracles managed to defend it. In the dark, the Argonauts came across the people who inhabited the island, but they believed them to be hostile. In the morning, when the Argonauts realized they had killed potential friends, they held a great funeral.


The Clashing Rocks

rubens persecution harpies
The Persecution of the Harpies, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1636-1637, via Museo del Prado


Not many had ever travelled to such a far destination as Colchis, where the Golden Fleece was rumored to lie. But the blind King Phineus was one of the few who knew the location. When Jason and the Argonauts arrived at his dwelling in Thrace, they found the poor King close to starvation.

Phineus had been cursed with blindness by Zeus, king of the gods, and Helios the sun god sent great winged creatures called Harpies to steal Phineus’ food. Phineus had offended the gods by harming his own sons. Jason and the Argonauts chased away and slaughtered many of the Harpies. When Phineus was pleased by this, he told the Argonauts where Colchis was, and how to get there through the perilous seas.

Phineus told Jason and the Argonauts that the only way to reach Colchis was through a particular sea passage. Here there were two cliff-like rocks which would repeatedly come together and crush anything in between. Phineus told Jason to release a dove, and if the dove was able to get through safely, then the Argo ship should have enough time to get through as well. The wind and sea pattern would be important for the Argo to survive.


Trials in Colchis

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Jason and the Golden Fleece, by Erasmus Quellinus, 1636-1638, via Museo del Prado


Despite the impossibility, Jason was able to sail through the clashing rocks, with damage to the stern of the ship, and a few feathers lost from the bird’s tail. When Jason and the Argonauts disembarked in Colchis, King Aeetes who was in current possession of the Fleece, said that he would give the Fleece to Jason under conditions. Yet again, Jason was challenged to more trials. At first, Jason was disheartened, but the love goddess Aphrodite placed a spell on Medea, a powerful witch and the daughter of Aeetes, to be infatuated with Jason. Therefore, Medea used her skills to help Jason get the Fleece.

For the first trial, Jason had to yoke fire-breathing oxen and plow a field with special seeds from Aeetes. Medea gave Jason a fire-resistant ointment for his skin, and then warned Jason that these “special” seeds were actually jinxed to grow into skeletal warriors, and so he was prepared to fight. He tossed a rock into the mass of undead and they began battling each other in the commotion — unable to detect who had thrown the stone. They defeated each other and Jason escaped unscathed.


Jason’s next trial was to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the tree which was guarded by a sleepless dragon. Again, Medea stepped up. She gave Jason a sleeping potion for the dragon, and so Jason was able to slip past and steal the Golden Fleece.


Medea’s Curse and Orpheus’s Magic

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Orpheus and the Sirens, by James Lesesne Wells, 1983, via National Gallery of Art


As with most love-curses, things began to turn sour between Jason and Medea. The love-curse on Medea was so powerful, that she began to commit horrific crimes on his behalf. When the Argonauts were being pursued by King Aeetes, Medea killed her own brother and tossed his chopped-up remains into the sea. Some sources say that Jason and Medea planned this together. Either way, King Aeetes abandoned the chase to collect the pieces of his son. Zeus punished Medea and the Argonauts for their terrible acts by sending a strong wind to blow them off course.

When Jason and the Argonauts got back on track, they next came to the island of the Sirens. It was luck that Orpheus, a famed musician, was with the Argonauts at this time. Sirens were known for their magical singing voices which would compel sailors to their deaths by drowning. However, Orpheus’ charmed singing was strong enough to battle them. He sang and strummed his lyre so powerfully that the sailors were able to concentrate on Orpheus instead of the Sirens as they sailed past them.


“Suddenly to the heroes, too, [the Sirens] sent forth from their lips a lily-like voice. And they were already about to cast from the ship the hawsers to the shore, had not Thracian Orpheus, son of Oeagrus, stringing in his hands his Bistonian lyre, rung forth the hasty snatch of a rippling melody so that their ears might be filled with the sound of his twanging; and the lyre overcame the maidens’ voice.”
Argonautica, Book 4.


Jason and the Argonauts Return

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Argo, by Constantine Volanakis, c. 1800s, via Wikimedia Commons


After stopping at one more island, and defeating an automaton (a very ancient robot), with the help of Medea, Jason triumphantly returned home to Iolcus. The Golden Fleece had magical properties which would increase the livelihood of the city, providing greater crop growth, fewer sicknesses, and renewed vigor.


Jason and the Argonauts disbanded, and Jason was able to reclaim the throne of Iolcus. At this time, Jason’s father was waning in his old age, and so Medea brewed him a special cauldron that would revive his youth. The peace did not last upon Jason’s return … Medea offered this age-reducing magic to Pelias but then killed him instead. Charged as murderers, Jason and Medea were chased out of Iolcus. This later led to a terrible rift in Jason and Medea’s relationship.

Jason rejected Medea and chose another princess to marry. He later returned to Iolcus to yet again take back the throne, from Pelias’ son this time. However, the goddess of marriage, Hera, never forgot the slight Jason had given Medea by marrying another princess, and cursed him to become friendless and alone.


Jason’s end was a quiet and poignant one. He was sleeping under the stern of the Argo, a ship which represented years of adventure and friendship between the legendary crew, when the rotting stern broke away, and crushed Jason. A shocking end to a Greek tragedy.

<![CDATA[Picasso’s Forgotten Fascination with Romanesque Art]]> 2023-07-05T12:11:54 Dora Sesar


Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, in the southern Spanish region called Andalusia. His father was an artist, so Picasso started his artistic education during his childhood. His first word was piz which is Spanish for pencil. His family moved to A Coruña in Galicia in 1891, when Picasso was 10 years old. A few years later, in 1895, they moved to Barcelona, where Picasso and his father both became connected to La Llotja School of Fine Arts. His father worked there as a professor, while Picasso enrolled as a student. However, in 1897 Pablo’s father sent him to Madrid to study at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts which was considered to be the best in the country.


Pablo Picasso and Catalan Romanesque Painting

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The Four Cats bar in Barcelona, via Pinterest


In Madrid, Picasso started showing his aversion to formal studies. In 1899, he returned to his beloved Barcelona, a city that appears in many of his paintings from this period. Picasso gladly joined the artistic scene of modern Barcelona.


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Self-portrait by Pablo Picasso, 1907, via Wikiart


He started visiting The Four Cats Café where many avant-garde artists came to meet. In this bar, Picasso had his first solo exhibition. In Barcelona, he started looking at the Catalan Romanesque painting, the art of frescoes and altarpieces of the 11th and 12th centuries which greatly influenced his works.


Romanesque Elements in Picasso’s Works

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The Visit by Pablo Picasso, 1902, via Wikiart


Picasso was well known for his interest in different styles, influences, and cultures. However, he adapted them in his own way by creating new styles. During his formative years which are now known as his Blue Period that lasted from 1901 until 1904, Picasso implemented many elements from Catalan Romanesque painting. So, what were the elements that Picasso took from the Catalan medieval paintings?


Picasso’s biographer Marilyn McCully sees a connection between Picasso’s painting The Visit and the visitation scene from the upper right part of the Romanesque Lluçà altarpiece from the 13th century. For example, in his work, Picasso does not use any kind of background, which is characteristic of Romanesque frescoes and altarpieces. Both Picasso’s figures and the medieval ones look heavily elongated and flat, two-dimensional with emphasized black outlines.


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Altarpiece from Santa Maria de Lluçà, 1210-1220, via Museu Episcopal de Vic, Barcelona


These figures also have geometrical facial features. Their heavy eyebrows are shown in the form of strict lines and their almond-shaped eyes are very peculiar. Even their feet have geometrical shapes, as they are triangularly pointed. The dresses also look similar since Picasso painted dresses in medieval fashion. Another interesting fact is that Picasso’s painting was made on a panel and not on canvas, and panels were broadly used in the middle ages.


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The Crucifixion by Pablo Picasso, 1932, via Widewalls; next to Erill la Vall Descent from the Cross, the second half of the 12th century, via Wikipedia


What was it that Picasso found so interesting in the Romanesque painting? Stylistically speaking, Picasso was attracted to Romanesque painting because of its simplicity and effectiveness. On the other hand, Picasso also used thematic motifs that are specific to the Catalan Romanesque painting, mainly focusing on the skulls and the crucifixions. Violence and death were also frequently depicted themes.



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Black Jug and Skull by Pablo Picasso, 1946, via Tate, London


There are more reasons why Picasso got so interested in the art of the 11th and 12th century. Picasso was Andalusian, but after his move to Barcelona, the artist got very connected with the Catalan people and their culture. He became very supportive of Catalan patriotism and he probably considered Barcelona his home.


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Detail of a fresco from Sant Pere de Sorpe, 12th century, via Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona


During his stay in Barcelona, Picasso integrated quickly into the Catalan capital’s social and artistic life. Catalonia was entering the 20th century aiming to prove itself as an independent country with a unique history and culture with roots dating back to medieval times. Romanesque art was having its revival during this time as a national symbol for the Catalans. Long-forgotten frescoes and altarpieces from isolated mountain churches were being brought to Barcelona’s museums in order to be saved from deteriorating. Romanesque art dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries, the period when Catalan country was born as well.


Romanesque art was also having its revival amid Barcelona’s avant-garde artists. Picasso was certainly not the only one getting interested in Romanesque art. When asked how much Romanesque art meant to him Joan Miró used to tap the veins in his forearm.


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Portrait of Joan Vidal Ventosa by Pablo Picasso, 1899, via Pinterest


Moving in these circles, Picasso made many friends. One of them was Joan Vidal Ventosa, a man who was very passionate about Catalan Romanesque art. Ventosa was a documentary photographer focusing on Catalan monuments. He was also an official photographer for Barcelona’s museums. He traveled through Catalonia to photograph frescoes and altarpieces in many Romanesque churches. It is possible that Picasso also accompanied him during some of these trips. Many other artists of the time were emphasising the medieval origins of their country to promote Catalan culture and independence.


Barcelona’s Romanesque and Gothic Art Exhibition 

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Frescoes from Sant Climent in Taüll, c. 1123, via Wikipedia


During the two-week-long festival of the Virgin of the Mercy, an exhibition of Romanesque and Gothic religious art was organized. For the first time, the artifacts brought from old churches were gathered in a museum. Picasso visited the exhibition in 1934, shortly before the official inauguration of the new National Museum. At this point, he was already a famous artist and his visit to the museum was covered by the press. One reporter wrote: Picasso, before those incomparable fragments of early Catalan art, admitted their power, intensity, and skill… and he stated without hesitation that our Romanesque Museum will be something unique in the world, an indispensable resource for everyone who wishes to know the origins of Western art, an invaluable lesson for the moderns.


Barcelona’s Cultural Events

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Corpus Christi in Barcelona, via Catedral de Barcelona


Cultural events held in Barcelona had a great impact on Picasso. One of the most important events was The Annual Floral Games. This was a medieval tradition during which participants and observers would gather in a city hall where they would listen to odes extolling the ancient Catalan achievements and poems proclaiming the incredible powers of different Madonnas.


Another event was known as Corpus Christi. This was a 14th-century tradition that consisted of a procession that honored the fragment of the True Cross which the city acquired during the medieval period. Gegants, giant figures that participated in this procession, originate from medieval times when they were used to spread Biblical messages to illiterate people. Once more, we can see that medieval imagery was everywhere around Picasso during his years in Barcelona. However, one year while Picasso was in Barcelona, the Corpus Christi event had a tragic outcome. During the procession, a bomb killed six people, while forty others were injured.


The Blue and Rose Period of Pablo Picasso

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The Soup by Pablo Picasso, 1903, via Wikipedia; next to Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso, 1903, via Art Institute of Chicago


During his formative years, Picasso was still searching for his signature style. During his Blue Period, he aimed to bring attention to people who were living in poverty. He painted beggars, sex workers, and alcoholics. He showed people who were on the margins of society.


Medieval elements in Picasso’s paintings disappeared in 1904 when he moved to Paris and started painting in brighter pink tones. This period is known as the Rose Period. However, in 1906 Picasso returned to the small village of Gósol in the Catalan Pyrenees. His plan was to stay there for 10 weeks, away from the Parisian hustle. In this village, he was able to enjoy a simple life while painting. Indeed, he was very productive during this period. According to his biographer John Richardson, Picasso made seven large paintings, a dozen medium-sized paintings, and many sketches, drawings, watercolors, and gouaches while there.


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Virgin from Gósol, 12th century, via Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona


During his isolation in a small mountain village, Picasso changed his style once more and returned to the Romanesque elements. He was impressed with religious festivals held in the village, but also by a Romanesque church called Santa Maria del Castell. In this church, there was a Romanesque sculpture of the Virgin from Gósol that had a great impact on Picasso’s art.


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Self-Portrait with Palette by Pablo Picasso, 1906, via Philadelphia Museum of Art


Two paintings he made during his stay in Gósol show how his style evolved once again. These two works are known as Self-Portrait with a Palette (1906) and Woman with Loaves (1906). In his self-portrait, we can see the medieval elements emerging again. There is no background and the body is made out of geometrical shapes. The almond-shaped eyes are covered with two heavy lines representing the eyebrows, while the chin has an almost triangular shape.


pablo picasso woman with loaves
Woman with loaves by Pablo Picasso, 1906, via Philadelphia Museum of Art


Woman with Loaves is a painting that also shows ties between Picasso and Romanesque art. The woman shown in this portrait was clearly inspired by the figure of the Virgin from Gósol. Upon his return to Paris, Picasso continued using Romanesque elements which inspired his stay in Spain.


Picasso Retrato de Gertrude Stein 1906 miniatura
Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso, 1905-06, via the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


For example, he finished the portrait of Gertrude Stein that he had started a year before. However, his Gertrude now looked like a Catalan Romanesque Madonna. These Romanesque influences, their simplicity, and their effectiveness would slowly escalate in Picasso’s invention of Cubism. Roots of Cubism can be seen in his famous work called Les demoiselles Avignon.

<![CDATA[Here’s Why You Should Visit the Colosseum of Rome]]> 2023-07-05T10:11:05 Rosie Lesso


The Colosseum is the quintessential symbol of Rome, representing the city’s incredible history as the heart of the Roman Empire. Once the greatest amphitheater in the world, it was the place where terrifying gladiatorial fights and monumental naval battles played out to a live, captive audience of people from all walks of life. Today it is a top tourist attraction, drawing in more than 6 million people who marvel at its vast, impressive structure and monumental historical significance. Because of this, it was recently voted one of the modern seven wonders of the world, and has become a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. We take a look through the top reasons why the Colosseum should be high on your bucket list of places to visit. 


1. The Colosseum Is One of the Oldest Structures in the World

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The Roman Colosseum, built 70-72 CE


In spite of being over 1,900 years old, the Colosseum still stands tall over the city of Rome today. Commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 72 CE and completed by his son Titus in 80 CE, the Colosseum has survived earthquakes, fires and stone robbery, with enough of the original monument intact for audiences to imagine how it would have appeared during ancient times. History buffs and novices alike trek to this ancient construction to marvel at the weight of history hidden within its walls, from terrifying battles to fearsome gladiatorial fights. It represents the impressive architectural engineering skills of the Romans, who designed its multi-layered tiers to carry a vast volume of spectators seated around its circular arena, with each level reserved for a different class of Roman society. 


2. It Is Largest Amphitheatre in the World

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Panoramic view of the Colosseum arena in Rome


Romans designed and built a series of amphitheaters throughout the Roman Empire, but the Colosseum was the largest and most popular of them all. Even today, it is still the largest amphitheater in the world, despite being nearly 2,000 years old. In fact, the site covers 5 acres of land, is 612 feet long, and 515 feet wide. During its heyday the spectacular venue could hold audiences of up to 70,000 people. 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone mined from the quarries at Tivoli would have been hauled into place by the Romans to piece together with many thousands of iron clamps and concrete.


3. The Colosseum Is an Incredible Feat of Engineering

Aerial view Roman Colosseum
Aerial view of the Roman Colosseum


Given its sheer scale, and the fact that much of the original building still remains, the Colosseum is undoubtedly a testament to the architectural and engineering skills of the Romans, whose ideas continue to inform the way buildings are constructed today. In fact, experts agree the reason the Colosseum is still standing today is because of its robust concrete foundation which holds the building’s complex system of archways in place. 


4. A Reminder of Gladiatorial Fights and Naval Battles

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The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1883, via the Walters Art Museum


The Colosseum is a clear reminder of the terrifying events that would once have played a central role in Roman society. It is hard for us to imagine just how spectacular and gruesome they would have been, including gladiatorial fights, dramas based on Classical mythology, mock naval battles, wild beast hunts, battles reenactments and chariot races. Romans loved the weird and wonderful range of events staged here, returning again and again to fill up its seats. 


5. A Symbol of Ancient Imperial Rome

The Roman Colosseum today
The Roman Colosseum today


The Colosseum is one of the best-preserved monuments from ancient imperial Rome, and it speaks of the weight of human history bound into its hefty stone walls. It can be recognized today as a symbol of the glory days before the Roman Empire collapsed, when they ruled over much of the ancient world and populated great swathes of the western world with their sophisticated architecture and engineering. 

<![CDATA[Pointillism and its Legacy: 8 Examples of this Maximalist Technique]]> 2023-07-05T06:11:49 Elizabeth Berry


Developed in the mid-1880s and popularized by French artists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, pointillism is a pivotal technique in art history. Though critical reception to pointillism was initially mixed, this painting style went on to be an important element in several artistic movements. Paintings created in the pointillist style, composed of tiny dots which form to create a larger image, can be found in Impressionist, Neo-Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Fauvist works. From Pissarro and Van Gogh to Damien Hirst’s contemporary interpretation, here is a selection of incredible pointillist artworks.


The Origins of Pointillism: How Was the Technique Created?

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, 1884, via Art Institute Chicago


Pointillism is a painting technique in which an artist creates a larger image from small, colorful dots. This style was primarily created by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. In the mid-1880s Seurat and Signac began to adopt a more systematic and scientific approach to their art, methodically adding small, separate dots of unmixed paint to their canvases to create a larger image. Sometimes this was done on a very large canvas for maximum effect, such as with Seurat’s 1884 pointillist masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, a striking piece with incredible attention to detail and a fascinating border composed of blue, orange, and red dots.


Before the term pointillism was coined, Seurat and Signac referred to their newfound technique as divisionism. Divisionism has since evolved into an umbrella term referring to work incorporating divided sections of color, like a mosaic. In the beginning, many critics found this system of creating art with tiny dots silly and created the term pointillism to mock the artists who used it. As pointillism became more popular and solidified itself as an element of many artistic movements, its name was adopted as the official term.


1. Georges Seurat: A Major Pointillist Artist

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Bathers at Asnières by Georges Seurat, 1884, via Art UK


One of the most famous pointillist artists, Georges Seurat (1859-1891), played an important role in the creation and development of the technique. Seurat was a French post-impressionist artist known for his creation of divisionism (also known as chromoluminarism) and pointillism. Seurat was only twenty-four years old when he created some of his most famous pointillist paintings: the aforementioned A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) and the remarkable Bathers at Asnières (1884). Bathers at Asnières, which hangs in the National Gallery in London, was rejected by the Parisian salon in the 1880s when Seurat submitted it for the show but stands out today as a cornerstone of pointillism and post-impressionism.


2. Paul Signac: Same Technique, Different Goals

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Maisons du port, Saint-Tropez by Paul Signac, 1892, via Sotheby’s


Paul Signac (1863-1935) was a prominent French painter in the Neo-Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art scenes. In real life, Paul Signac and Georges Seurat were great friends. In the late 1880s, he was influenced by Seurat’s scientific new painting technique and helped develop the theory behind pointillism. Seurat also influenced and was influenced by many of his contemporaries other than Seurat, including Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.


Maisons du port, Saint-Tropez (1892) is an arresting example of Signac’s pointillist work. Created shortly after his friend Seurat’s death in 1891, Maisons du port, Saint-Tropez depicts the port at Saint Tropez, a place that fascinated Signac through the peak of his career. Though he and Seurat created the technique of pointillism together, Signac had a much more Neo-Impressionist interpretation of the painting style.


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La Baie (Saint-Tropez) by Paul Signac, 1907, via Christie’s


Signac’s La Baie (Saint-Tropez) (1907) is an outstanding reflection of his standing as a pioneer of Neo-Impressionism. Neo-Impressionism was a small offshoot of the Impressionist movement that harnessed the pointillist technique to create a more rational or scientific version of Impressionism. After his friend Georges Seurat passed away, he became the main spokesman for pointillism and divisionism, allowing this different way of interpreting color to define the Neo-impressionists among their contemporaries.


3. Camille Pissarro: Paintings Inspired by Seurat and Signac

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Picking Peas by Camille Pissarro, 1887, via Kazo Art


Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was a French Impressionist painter who also created many significant pointillist works. Pissarro experimented with many movements under the Impressionist umbrella throughout his life, including Post-Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism, so it is not surprising that someone so involved in these scenes would create artwork using the pointillist technique. He was acquainted with Seurat and Signac in real life and found their scientific approach to color and light fascinating, though he grew tired of pointillism after about four years and stopped creating works in such a rigid style. Picking Peas (1887) is an example of Pissarro’s artwork during this time and the unique gift he had for capturing light and shadow using an array of tiny dots.


4. Maximilien Luce: Another Impressionist Turned Pointillist

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Morning, Interior by Maximilien Luce, 1890, via the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Maximilien Luce (1858-1941) was another artist who began as an impressionist before dedicating a large period of his career to pointillism. His 1890 painting Morning, Interior is a stunning example of early pointillism and divisionism, depicting his friend and fellow artist Gustave Perrot getting ready in the morning. This painting is composed of many individually colored dots, mostly in orange, red, yellow, and blue, which create an image that has incredible detail. Some consider Luce to be a Neo-Impressionist rather than an Impressionist, as he was politically in line with the movement throughout his life and was sympathetic to the proletariat, even advocating for anarchy at times. Toward the end of his life, Luce stopped discussing these topics as much and returned to painting in his original impressionist style.


5. Henri-Edmond Cross: A Neo-Impressionist Master

henri edmond cross fuite des nymphes painting
La Fuite des nymphes by Henri-Edmond Cross, 1906, via Musée d’Orsay, Paris


Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910) was a French painter and the cornerstone of the Neo-Impressionist movement. He was acquainted with Georges Seurat in the 1880s and finally tried painting with the pointillist technique in 1891 to great success. His painting La Fuite des nymphes (1906) shows a remarkable grasp of the technique and reflects the intersection of pointillism and Neo-impressionism in a way that resembles the work of Paul Signac. Cross’ use of pointillism was a major turning point in the history of the technique, as he was a massively influential figure in the art world and defined the second phase of the Neo-impressionist movement. Henri-Edmond Cross’ work and legacy would inspire other great artists like Henri Matisse and pave the way for the emergence of Fauvism.


6. Henri Matisse: Pointillism in the French Fauvist’s Art

henri matisse luxe calme volupte painting
Luxe, calme, et volupté by Henri Matisse, 1904, via Musée d’Orsay, Paris


Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was a French visual artist known for his fauvist paintings and his fluid treatment of light and color in his work. In many ways, Fauvism was an extension of both pointillism and neo-impressionism, as the movement was defined by vivid colors and rough, short brush strokes. Inspired by his predecessor Henri-Edmond Cross, Matisse created many works that could be considered pointillist, including the 1904 painting Luxe, calme, et volupté. This iconic painting is considered a seminal piece that marked the birth of Fauvism, utilizing earlier techniques to communicate a philosophy based on leisure and fantasy.


7. Undergrowth (1887): A Rare Pointillist Piece by Van Gogh

vincent van gogh undergrowth painting
Undergrowth by Vincent van Gogh, 1887, via Widewalls


Pointillism had a widespread influence among artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Van Gogh was no exception. Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was a Dutch post-impressionist painter who has since become recognized as one of the most influential people in the history of Western art. Most of his works were completed in the last couple of years of his life, which is also when he became familiar with Seurat and Signac’s creation and popularization of pointillism.


Van Gogh’s 1887 painting Undergrowth is a shining example of his utilization of the pointillist technique. Though Van Gogh struggled with consistency in both his life and art and abandoned such a highly technical method as pointillism fairly quickly, one can see the influence of the style in some of his most famous works such as his iconic self-portraits and his 1889 masterpiece Starry Night.


8. Pointillism and Beyond: Damien Hirst’s Modern Interpretation

damien hirst spot painting
Spot Painting by Damien Hirst, 1986, via Gagosian


Over the years, there has been much debate over what qualifies as pointillism. Though Seurat and Signac created the named technique and theory behind it in the late 1880s, dotted art has been created for as long as there have been people. There are even records of Aboriginal art that used a dotted or stippled technique on cave walls.


British contemporary artist Damien Hirst (born 1965) referenced pointillism and the long-standing tradition of dotted art with a modern twist. Hirst’s series of spot paintings, including the first piece created in 1986 titled Spot Painting, call back to pointillism and the idea of dots being an essential building block of imagery within art. Rather than making a clear image in his work like Seurat and Signac originally did, Hirst turns the series of dots into a striking abstraction.

<![CDATA[6 Monsters and their Roles in Homer’s Odyssey]]> 2023-07-04T20:11:55 Rhianna Padman


Monsters in the Odyssey represent a variety of themes and ideas, including the unknown, danger, temptation, and the primitive. A source of fear and fascination for the ancient Greeks, they are embodied specific difficulties Odysseus must face on his journey home. These monsters are reminders of the significance of certain cultural and societal values held in Greece and the anxiety about the unknown. Since the Odyssey stresses certain obligations concerning community, hospitality, piety, and family, which formulated the Greeks’ notion of civilization, it is the lack or, rather, outright rejection of these values that construct the barbaric image of the Homeric monsters. The monsters also play a crucial role in highlighting Odysseus’ heroism, leadership, and cunningness, all fundamental values within ancient Greek society.


1. Polyphemus: The Cruel Cyclops of the Odyssey

odysseus polyphemus böcklin
Odysseus and Polyphemus by Arnold Böcklin, 2896, via MFA Boston


Polyphemus was a cyclops — a one-eyed giant — described in the Odyssey as a brutal, uncivilized creature who devoured several of Odysseus’ men before the hero was able to outwit the monster and escape.


When Odysseus and his men arrived on the island where Polyphemus resided, they entered his cave, attempting to steal his food. Polyphemus returned and trapped them inside, intending to consume the companions as punishment for their transgressions. Odysseus then devised a plan to get Polyphemus drunk and blind him by stabbing him in the eye with a hot stake as soon as he fell into a deep sleep.


After Odysseus and his men had escaped, the blinded cyclops cursed them, praying to his father, Poseidon, to punish them for their actions. Poseidon granted his son’s request causing Odysseus to face numerous hardships and obstacles on his journey back to Ithaca.


The Polyphemus episode represents the dangers of the unknown as well as the importance of cunningness and strategy in overcoming adversity. Polyphemus’ one eye is also symbolic, representing a primitive type of one-dimensional thinking that is vulnerable to cleverness and wit. Throughout the episode, Odysseus displays resourcefulness as he seeks to outsmart the Cyclops and save his men. When Polyphemus asks Odysseus and his men for their names, Odysseus lies and tells him that his name is “Nobody.” Later, this proves to be a clever ploy, for when Odysseus blinds Polyphemus and the other Cyclopes hear his cries for help, Polyphemus tells them that “Nobody” has hurt him, leading them to believe that he is unharmed.


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Ulysses deriding Polyphemus by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1829, via The National Gallery


From a broader perspective, the episode can be interpreted as a metaphor for the conflict between civilization and barbarism. Odysseus is aligned with values of reason, intelligence, and rationality that were celebrated by the Greeks. Polyphemus, on the other hand, represents the uncivilized with his lack of refinement, cruelty, and violence, consumed by primitive instincts such as eating his human visitors. The Cyclops can be viewed as embodying the ancient Greeks’ fears and anxieties about the other and the foreign. By consuming his guests, the Cyclops completely defiles the concept of hospitality or xenia. In ancient Greece, xenia was an essential moral obligation involving the mutual respect between host and guest expressed through gifts, food, and shelter.


2. Sirens: The Hypnotic Enchantresses 

ulysses sirens blaas
Ulysses and Sirens by Carl von Blaas, 1882, via Wikimedia Commons


In Greek mythology, the Sirens were alluring half-bird, half-woman sea creatures who used their enticing voices to lure sailors to their deaths. Their voices were said to be so captivating that sailors would become mesmerized and unable to resist their call, leading to their deaths by crashing their ships onto their rocky shores. During their journey, Odysseus and his crew had to navigate the perilous waters near the island of the Sirens. To avoid succumbing to the Sirens’ song, Odysseus orders his men to plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast of the ship. This way, he could experience the beauty of their song without being lured toward them.


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Ulysses and the Sirens by John William Waterhouse, 1891, via National Gallery Victoria


One explanation concerning the metaphorical significance of the Sirens in the Odyssey is that they represent the temptation of the other, the allure of something or someone perceived as different or exotic. Their irresistible pull signifies the negative consequences that might be caused by yielding to temptation. Despite the danger, Odysseus’ desire to hear the Sirens’ song can be interpreted as a reflection of the human desire to experience the beauty and allure of the unknown. Another symbolic understanding of the Odyssey’s Sirens is that they represent the power and seduction of art. Their songs have been described as incredibly beautiful, capable of entrancing even the toughest of men, expressing — to the extreme — art’s ability to move people and elicit an intense response.


3. Scylla: The Six-Headed Serpentine 

odysseus scylla charybdis
Odysseus in front of Scylla and Charybdis by Henrey Fuseli, circa 1794-6, via Wikimedia Commons


Scylla was a sea monster with twelve tentacle-like legs and six heads, each with three rows of sharp teeth. She lived in a narrow channel of water opposite Charybdis’ whirlpool. She was said to live in a cave on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea, and her presence made ships passing through this strait dangerous.


This terrifying mythological creature represents the dangers of unfamiliar territory and the perils of exploration. She is known for her frightening ability to snatch sailors from their ships with her many tentacles. Odysseus is warned of the danger of Scylla by the witch Circe, who states that he must choose between losing six of his crew to Scylla or risking the entire ship by passing too close to the whirlpool of Charybdis. This choice highlights the cost of achieving one’s goals and the sacrifices that must be made along the way. Odysseus’ decision to sacrifice six of his men to save the rest of the crew demonstrates the difficult choices of a leader that must be made to achieve success.


4. Charybdis: The Devouring Whirlpool 

scylla charybde allori painting
Charybde et Scylla by Alessandro Allori, 1575, via Wikimedia Commons


In the Odyssey, Charybdis is described as a massive whirlpool that sucked in everything around her, a force of nature with no physical form or personality. Her only purpose was to devour anything that came near her. Homer describes her as having a “black mouth” that swallows ships and men alike.


In Book 12 of the Odyssey, Odysseus and his men had to navigate through the narrow strait between Charybdis and Scylla, warned by Circe. Ultimately, Odysseus avoids the powerful force of nature that was Charybdis, choosing instead to sacrifice some of his men by passing Scylla.


5. Laestrygonians: The Cold-blooded Cannibals 

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Laestrygonians Fresco, 46 BCE, via Vatican Museum


In Book 10 of the poem, Odysseus and his men land on the island of Telepylos, which is home to the Laestrygonians, cannibalistic giants. The sailors are initially welcomed by a local princess, who directs them to a nearby harbor, but when they arrive, they are ambushed by the Laestrygonians. The Laestrygonians attack, devouring many of Odysseus’ men, while the remaining survivors flee to their ships. The giants hurl boulders at the ships and sink all of them except for Odysseus’ vessel. Odysseus and his men escape by cutting the ropes of their boat and sailing away, narrowly avoiding being captured by the Laestrygonians.


It is the first major obstacle that Odysseus and his crew encounter on their return to Ithaca, and it establishes the tone for the many perils that they would have to face along the way. The Laestrygonians were described as incredibly powerful and frightening, with their size and strength making them nearly invincible. Ruthless and bloodthirsty, they held no regard for humanistic values, with their cannibalism highlighting their savage nature. The Laestrygonian episode is a clear example concerning the violation of xenia. Odysseus and his men are lured under the false guise of hospitality before being ambushed.


6. The Lotus-Eaters: The Bewitched Tribe of Homer’s Odyssey

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Land of the Lotus Eaters by Robert S. Duncanson, 1861, via Canvas Magazine


In book 9, Homer introduces the Lotus-Eaters, a tribe who lived on a remote island and consumed a magical plant known as the lotus. The consumption of the lotus plant resulted in the loss of all sense of time as well as the desire to return home. When Odysseus and his men encounter the Lotus-Eaters, they are offered the plant, which some choose to consume causing them to become uninterested in returning home. The Lotus-Eaters are certainly not monsters like the Laestrygonians. They are portrayed as peaceful and hospitable, but their capacity to induce total apathy and forgetfulness through the lotus poses a significant threat.


The encounter with the Lotus Eaters highlights the importance of Odysseus’ leadership skills and determination in resisting such temptations and overcoming obstacles on the path to achieving his goal to return home. He is shown to be an exemplary leader, recognizing the danger posed by the Lotus-Eaters and devising a strategy to avoid their influence. Despite the seductive power of the lotus, he successfully convinces his men to leave the island and continue their journey.

<![CDATA[Gottfried Leibniz on Time, Space, and Monads]]> 2023-07-04T16:11:19 Luke Dunne


What is the relationship between time, space, and the most fundamental elements of reality? This article presents certain elements of Leibniz’s answer to this question. Why only certain elements? One reason is the complexity of the answer Leibniz gives; another is the complexity of the relationship between time and space in itself.


This article begins with an introduction to this general topic before progressing to a discussion of the perspective of Isaac Newton and Samuel Clarke that Leibniz objected to. Leibniz’s own “relational” theory will be reviewed, along with some of the problems this theory presents in light of Leibniz’s mature philosophy, which centers around the concept of the monad.


Introducing the Philosophy of Space and Time

triumph of time painting
Triumph of Time by Jacopo da Sellaio, 1485, via Google Arts and Culture.


Before discussing Leibniz’s theory of space and time, it might be useful to say something about the theory of space and time in general.


The concept of time is often developed on a certain analogy or disanalogy with space. The relationship between our experience of being in time and our ability to theorize time is complicated, not least because having a concept of a thing often requires us to conceive of what would happen if the concept changed. We add the concept to the world, then we imagine the world without it. What’s the difference?


Unfortunately, this way of identifying concepts works least well for those concepts which are the preconditions of our imagining the world in the first place. Time might very well be one of these concepts.


leibniz francke painting
Portrait of Gottfried Leibniz by Christoph Bernard Francke, 1695, via Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum.


It is worth further prefacing this discussion of Leibniz’s views on space and time with a note on his intellectual development.


At the time of his death, the vast majority of Leibniz’s work was unpublished. Why? This was partly due to Leibniz’s concern that his metaphysics would be misunderstood, both due to its incompleteness and its complexity. This was a meaningful risk for him, given that he saw the purpose of his life as lying not just in the successful prosecution of his philosophical investigations, but in a wide program of educational and social reform. To achieve this, he needed to retain the privileged political position of a court intellectual which he held throughout much of his adult life. In other words, reputation mattered a great deal, and it was in Leibniz’s interest not to allow an excessively radical philosophical work to jeopardize it.


Those who have attempted to follow the train of Leibniz’s thought have had to make sense of a large and sometimes incoherent posthumous corpus. The upshot of all this is that making sense of Leibniz’s theory of space and time involves, at certain points, making inferences for him given the overall shape of his philosophy rather than what he explicitly says.


The Clarke-Newton Theory of Time

samuel clarke portrait oil
Portrait of Samuel Clarke, author unknown, c. 1720, via National Portrait Gallery.


Samuel Clarke, an avid follower of Isaac Newton, developed the theory of time and space that Leibniz was responding to, both directly and indirectly. It is worth noting that Leibniz and Newton were locked in a vicious and highly public spat over who invented calculus (the consensus now being that they made the discovery simultaneously).


What is the Clarke-Newton approach to space and time? First, that tim and space are conceptually and logically prior to the existence of things. Things need space and time to exist — they cannot exist outside of the conceptual space of space and time. Yet the inverse is not true — time and space do not rely on things for their concept or for their meaning. It is possible to conceive of time and space which is empty of objects, of things. Physical objects exist in space and time, not the other way around.


It is possible to delineate or otherwise pick out parts of space and time, but that is all we are doing – we are picking out parts of space and time; we are not finding sections that are already there. Space and time are continuous rather than intrinsically divisible — the parts we identify are our own imposition upon them. Space and time correlate to divine aspects – space correlates to God’s “immensity,” and time to God’s “eternity.”


Leibniz’s Criticisms of the Clarke-Newton Theory of Time

isaac newton marble statue
Photograph of a statue of Isaac Newton by Andrew Gray, 2007, via Wikimedia Commons.


This picture of space and time seems, on the face of it, reasonably plausible, and yet Leibniz had deep misgivings about it. What were they?


The first criticism is concerned with the last point summarized above; that space and time correlate to divine aspects. In a response Leibniz wrote to Clarke himself, he poses the following problem: “if space is a property of God … space belongs to the essence of God. But space has parts: therefore there would be parts in the essence of God”. What exactly is the problem here? Implicitly, it is not in God’s nature to have parts. Associating space with God’s aspects means transferring the properties of space over to God in inadmissible ways.


There are other ways in which this undermines a Christian understanding of God’s nature. As Leibniz has it, “Sir Isaac Newton says, that space is an organ, which God makes use of to perceive things by. But if God stands in need of any organ to perceive things by, it will follow, that they do not depend altogether upon him, nor were produced by him.” This contradicts God’s being the cause of all things.


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Portrait of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, 1710-1719, via Herzog August Library.


A second criticism draws on one of Leibniz’s most famous philosophical principles – that of the “Identity of Indiscernibles.” What is this principle? Jeffrey K McDonough, a contemporary philosopher, puts the principle in these terms:


“In the present context we may understand the PII (Principle of Identity of Indiscernibles) as ruling out the possibility of two things being distinct, but not distinct in virtue of some discernible property. It thus suggests that where we cannot identify a recognizable difference between two things or possibilities, those two are in fact only one — that is, as Leibniz puts it, that ‘To suppose two things indiscernible, is to suppose the same thing under two names.’”


Leibniz holds that the concept of absolute space violates the principle of the identity of indiscernibles. Roughly, the reason Leibniz gives for this hinges on the contentless nature of the concept of absolute space. The world “orientated” towards absolute space is no different than if it were not. The concept of absolute space is vacuous, and therefore contradictory. This is one of the surprising consequences of Leibniz’s identity of indiscernibles.


On the Monad and its Relationship to Time

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The Passage of Time by Toni Verdú Carbó, 2008, via Flickr


Leibniz offered other criticisms too, but these two are sufficient to illustrate the thrust of Leibniz’s point: absolute space and time are philosophically and theologically incoherent.


What of Leibniz’s own theory of time? First, Leibniz holds, contra Newton and Clarke, that time and space are relations. To illustrate this, he liked to use the analogy of the family tree, which is not itself “real,” but merely plots the relationship between real things (i.e, members of the same family).


Understanding Leibniz’s theory in more depth means understanding it in terms of one of his most notorious and difficult concepts – that of the monad. What is a monad? It is the defining concept of Leibniz’s “mature” metaphysics: that is, the set of philosophical positions which we held later in life. The monad is Leibniz’s answer to the question which arguably defined early modern philosophy from Descartes onwards: “what is (a) substance?” Leibniz’s work on the monad, titled Monadology, begins with the following characterization of the monad’s key features:


“The monad, of which we shall speak here, is nothing other than a simple substance which enters into composites; simple, that is to say, without parts. And there must be simple substances, because there are composites; for the composite is nothing other than a collection or aggregatum of simples. Now, where there are no parts, neither extension, nor shape, nor divisibility is possible. And these monads are the true atoms of nature and, in a word, the elements of things”


Space, Time, and the Monad in Leibniz’s Philosophy: a Complicated Relationship 

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Photograph of Leibniz’s Skull by Bern Schwabe, 2021, via Wikimedia Commons.


The relationship between Leibniz’s theory of space and time and the Leibnizian monad is complicated. We can conclude this article by observing several specific complications.


For one thing, space and time cannot be conceived of relating different monads to one another straightforwardly. Whereas the relationships between monads are fluid and changeable, both time and space plot fixed relations. Moreover, at least by the end of his philosophical career, Leibniz denies that what reality consists in, most fundamentally, are objects. McDonough characterizes the implications of this as follows:


“Relations of relative distance and duration holding between bodies must therefore themselves be a step removed from monadic reality, and thus space and time must be, as it were, a second step removed from the most basic non-relational entities of Leibniz’s most mature metaphysics.”


In other words, Leibniz wants to characterize space and time as wholly relational, and yet space and time do not straightforwardly relate the most fundamental entities that exist.

<![CDATA[Virginia Woolf: A Literary Icon of Modernism]]> 2023-07-04T12:11:26 Catherine Dent


Virginia Woolf is one of the great prose stylists of English literature and has become something of a literary icon. A society beauty in her youth, a prodigiously talented author, and a pioneer of the feminist movement, Virginia Woolf’s legacy is perhaps somewhat overshadowed by the bouts of mental illness she suffered throughout her life and her suicide in 1941. Though she struggled with depression at various points in her adult life, she also produced a remarkable body of work, ranging from fiction to non-fiction, and is rightly celebrated as not only one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century but of all time.


Virginia Woolf: The Early Years

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Photograph of Virginia and Adrian Stephen, c. 1886, via Smith College


Named after an unfortunate aunt on her mother’s side of the family, Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25, 1882 to Julia Duckworth Stephen and Sir Leslie Stephen, founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. Both her parents had already been married previously. While her disabled half-sister, Laura, from her father’s first marriage would be institutionalized by the time Virginia was nine years old, her half-sister and half-brothers on her mother’s side (George, Stella, and Gerald) lived with the four Stephen children at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington, London.


In many ways, her childhood was fairly standard for a young girl of her social class. She was educated at home by her parents while her brothers went off to school and university – a gender disparity which she came to resent. While he did not send his daughters to school, Leslie Stephen did allow all his children “free run of a large and quite unexpurgated library,” from which the young Virginia read voraciously (see Further Reading, Woolf, ‘Leslie Stephen’, p. 114). Recognizing her literary talents, her father cherished the hope that Virginia – rather than his two sons, Thoby and Adrian – would follow in his footsteps and become a writer.


Her childhood was also marred by tragedy, however. Her mother died in 1895, after falling ill with influenza. That summer, Virginia – aged just 13 – suffered her first mental breakdown. In addition, from the age of six, she was sexually assaulted by her half-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth, throughout her childhood. Her sister, Vanessa, was also assaulted, and Hermione Lee suggests that her half-sister Laura most probably was, too. When their father became ill in 1902, Virginia and Vanessa were still more vulnerable and exposed to their half-brothers, and his death in 1904 led Virginia to suffer another mental breakdown.


Finding Freedom in Bloomsbury

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Photograph of Vanessa Bell (left) Thoby Stephen (right), via Charleston


Though the death of her father deeply affected Virginia, it also freed her from the conventions imposed on women in middle-class society. No longer having to play hostess to Sir Leslie’s teatime guests, Virginia and her siblings (at Vanessa’s instigation) moved out of their childhood home in Kensington and into 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury. At the time, Bloomsbury was not seen as a desirable locale. This, however, was part of the attraction for the Stephen siblings, who were keen to cast off the strictures and limitations of their middle-class Victorian upbringing in bohemian Bloomsbury.


Here, Virginia began teaching evening classes at Morley College. And, along with her siblings, she held “at homes” for Thoby’s friends at Cambridge University, including Lytton Strachey, Saxon Sydney Turner, Clive Bell, and Leonard Woolf. This marked the beginning of what came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. When her favorite brother, Thoby, contracted typhoid during a family holiday to Greece and died shortly after returning to London at their Bloomsbury home in 1906, the Bloomsbury Group could have fallen apart. Shortly after his death, however, Vanessa agreed to marry Clive Bell. And when Virginia married Leonard Woolf in 1912, the group was even further consolidated, with the two Stephen sisters centering the group as Thoby had done before them.


The First Three Novels: The Voyage Out, Night and Day, & Jacob’s Room

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Leonard Woolf by Henry Lamb, 1912, Private Collection, via BBC


When Virginia Stephen married Leonard Woolf in 1912, she was thirty years old and, though she thought of herself as a writer, had yet to publish a novel. She was, however, working on what would be her first novel, The Voyage Out (1915). This, along with her next novel, Night and Day (1919), was published by Duckworth Press, established by her half-brother, Gerald. Not only did Virginia not want to be dependent on her abusive half-brother when publishing her books, she felt the pressure to write books that would be sufficiently popular to secure her further publishing deals for any future novels and thus secure her future career as a writer. Determined to revolutionize the novel, this state of affairs did not suit Virginia Woolf or her creative ambitions.


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Photograph of Virginia Woolf by Man Ray, 27 November 1934, via AnOther Magazine


In 1915, however, Leonard and Virginia Woolf moved to Hogarth House on Paradise Road, also in London. It was here that the couple would set up the Hogarth Press, which not only went on to print all of Virginia’s later works but also work by T. S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, and the first English translations of the works of Sigmund Freud.


Though it did entail more work for the young couple, having their own printing press gave Virginia Woolf the freedom to write whatever she liked. Her third novel, Jacob’s Room, was published by the Hogarth Press in 1922 and it marks a significant turn in her writing style. Embracing a more experimental mode of writing with Jacob’s Room, Woolf found her voice as a writer and paved the way for her later works.


Continued Success: Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, & Orlando

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Excerpt from Virginia Woolf’s manuscript of Mrs. Dalloway, via the British Library


The first novel published after Jacob’s Room was Mrs Dalloway (1925), which is widely considered to be among Woolf’s greatest works. While Katherine Mansfield had criticized Woolf for neglecting to mention the First World War in her earlier novel Night and Day, here, Woolf drew on her own experiences of illness to depict the inner lives of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked veteran struggling to cope with civilian life.


For her next novel, Woolf drew on her childhood holidays in St. Ives and attempted to exorcise the ghosts of her late parents. In To the Lighthouse (1927), Woolf depicts the lives (and deaths) of members of the Ramsay family both before and after the First World War and a series of deaths that devastate the family. In doing so, she focuses on the human cost of war and loss while meditating upon the struggles faced by female artists.


Photograph of Vita Sackville-West, via the Paris Review


While writing To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf had fallen in love with the English aristocratic socialite and writer Vita Sackville-West. As both a break from her own more serious works of literary experimentation and a love letter to Vita, she published Orlando just one year after the release of To the Lighthouse. In Orlando, Virginia Woolf draws on and fictionalizes Vita’s aristocratic ancestry to create the novel’s eponymous protagonist, who lives for centuries and transitions from a man to a woman. Not only did Virginia Woolf give Vita a fictionalized version of her beloved childhood home, Knole, to keep, she also wrote a feminist classic and an important text for the field of transgender studies.


Politics and Polemic

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Photograph of Virginia Woolf by Man Ray, 27 November 1934, via AnOther Magazine


As well as writing some of the twentieth century’s most important novels, Virginia Woolf was also a celebrated essayist and writer of non-fiction. Her essays were collected into two volumes of The Common Reader, and she was involved in the UK’s Labour Party through her husband.


Perhaps her most famous work of non-fiction, however, is A Room of One’s Own, which is now considered a foundational feminist text. While the main body of the text focuses on women’s issues, towards the end of A Room of One’s Own, she takes aim at Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy. And it was the rise of fascism that was to inspire her subsequent extended work of polemical non-fiction, Three Guineas. As a lifelong pacifist, she was horrified by fascist Italy and Germany, having visited both countries before the outbreak of the Second World War with Leonard. In Three Guineas, she seeks to draw parallels between fascism and anti-feminism in these regimes. Despite the seriousness of the topics she covered, both A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas maintain a lightness of tone and an impish irreverence for institutions and figures of authority.


Late Style: The Waves, The Years, & Between the Acts

Photograph of Virginia Woolf by Gisèle Freund, 1939, AnOther Magazine


The Waves was published in 1931 and is perhaps Woolf’s most formally audacious and experimental novel. The novel’s narration is split between six characters, whom we follow from childhood to adulthood, and the events of the novel are focalized and filtered through their various and often interweaving consciousnesses. Throughout her work, Woolf was concerned with exploring human interiority, though nowhere does she explore it so thoroughly as in The Waves.


The Years (1937), then, might seem to be something of a contrast. Originally conceived of as a hybrid of the essay and the novel, extricated the two halves, which came to be The Years and Three Guineas. However, shorn of its experimental hybridity, The Years may not initially seem to be a very experimental novel at all, but rather a return to the realist family sagas of the previous century. Here, however, Woolf sought to demonstrate how the wider currents of public and political life intersect with the privacy of her characters’ lives. Perhaps due to its outward conventionality, The Years was Woolf’s best-selling novel within her own lifetime.


Virginia Woolf would not live to see her final novel, Between the Acts (1941), published. Focusing on the lead-up to and performance of a pageant play as part of a festival in a small village in southern England shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Between the Acts captures a moment of calm before the storm. Virginia Woolf, however, did not live to see the end of the war.


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Photograph of the Grave of Virginia Woolf, Monk’s House Garden, Rodmell, Lewes District, East Sussex, England, via LitHub


Disappointed by the reception of her biography of Roger Fry and feeling unmoored and uncertain following the destruction of her London homes during the Blitz, she fell into a depression and suffered what was to be her final breakdown. On 28 March 1941, she weighed her pockets down with stones and waded into the River Ouse, where she drowned. She was 59 years old.


Virginia Woolf’s life was thus cut tragically short. Yet, in spite of her mental health struggles, she managed to produce a prodigious output of writing – and, more importantly, she did so on her own terms, according to her own artistic ambitions. A lifelong advocate for pacifism and feminism and a scathing critic of the rise of fascism in the early twentieth century, she was as fearless when it came to speaking her mind in her non-fictional works as she was when charting new artistic territories in her fiction. And it is for these achievements that Woolf deserves to be remembered and for which she has become a literary icon.


Further Reading:


Lee, Hermione, Virginia Woolf (London: Vintage, 1997).

Nadel, Ira, Virginia Woolf (London: Reaktion Books, 2016).

Spalding, Frances, The Bloomsbury Group (London: National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2021).

Woolf, Virginia, ‘Leslie Stephen’, in Selected Essays, ed. by David Bradshaw (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 111-15.

Woolf, Virginia, Moments of Being: Autobiographical Writings, ed. by Jeanne Schulkind (London: Pimlico, 2002).

<![CDATA[Who Are the 4 Most Important Angels in the Bible?]]> 2023-07-04T10:11:45 Rosie Lesso


In the Christian Bible, angels are supernatural beings that reside in heaven with God, acting as his servants and messengers. Taking a human form, they act as a point of contact between heaven and the human world. In art we often see angels depicted as strikingly beautiful people bearing huge wings and halos, and surrounded by auras of divine, heavenly light. There are more than a hundred references to angels in the Bible, but only a small number play a definitive role within the Biblical narrative.


Some of these angels are named, and have a close relationship with God, who are referred to as the ‘heavenly host’, while others are ‘fallen angels’, who began their lives as angels in heaven but betrayed God, and were cast into hell. Below are four of the most important angels referenced in the Biblical text, who played a significant role during different stages of the story. 


The Angel Gabriel

The Annunciation
The Annunciation, Francisco Rizi, 1663, courtesy Museo del Prado


The Angel Gabriel appears in four different passages of the Bible, each time delivering a different message to the human world directly from God, travelling ‘by flight.’ When the visionary prophet Daniel began experiencing a series of strange visions he prayed for help; Gabriel visited him on two occasions to help him make sense of them. Daniel was so terrified at the first sight of this formidable angel that he fell unconscious, and was ill for several days after. Next Gabriel came to visit the priest Zechariah in order to deliver the news that his formerly barren wife would have a son, named John the Baptist, who would fulfil the coming of Elijah.


When Zechariah expressed disbelief of his vision, the angel struck him dumb until the child was circumcised. Finally, Gabriel’s most important role was to deliver a message to Mary, mother of Jesus, telling her she was pregnant with Jesus, the son of God and the savior of the world, a story known as The Annunciation.


The Archangel Michael

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The Archangel Michael Overthrowing Lucifer, by Francesco Maffei, ca 1656, via Nacional d’Art de Catalunya


The archangel Michael appears in four different passages of the Bible. He is described as an ‘archangel’, meaning the ‘chief prince’, ‘chief messenger,’ or ‘angel of the highest rank.’ Michael is a warrior who engages in spiritual combat against the forces of evil, making him one of the most powerful beings in heaven. He is also a great protector of the people – the prophet Daniel is told that Michael the archangel is “the great prince who protects your people,” his people being the Jews. Michael plays a significant role in the end times, battling against the dragon (Satan) and hurling him to the earth, from where Satan “went off to wage war against… those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”


Lucifer: The Fallen Angel Who Became Satan

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Lucifero by Roberto Ferri, 2013, via Roberto Ferri


Lucifer is the fallen angel who became Satan following his attempted rebellion against God. Before his fall from grace, Lucifer was described as beautiful and wise, and the cherub assigned to guard and protect the garden of Eden. But he became vain and prideful, which corrupted his innocence. He was subsequently banished from heaven and sent to live on earth, where he briefly became the prince of power in control of air. But his corruption of people and attempts to lead the world astray led him to be banished forever into eternal fire upon the return of Christ


The Angel of Destruction: Abaddon/Apollyon

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Artistic interpretation of the character Abaddon/Apollyon


With a name meaning ‘destruction,’ Abaddon, also known as Apollyon, only makes a single, brief appearance in the Bible, as ruler over a bottomless pit called the Abyss. He is a fallen angel who resides in a terrible place of doom and destruction. During the end times, God wields Abaddon as an instrument of Judgement, suggesting his role is somewhere between good and evil.

<![CDATA[The Impact of Banned Alcohol in Prohibition-era America]]> 2023-07-04T06:11:25 Ching Yee Lin


The 18th Amendment in 1919 prohibited the manufacture, sale, and distribution of liquor in the United States from 1920–1933. Believing that the ban could stop alcoholism and resolve health issues and social problems like family violence, the US government embarked on what would later prove to be one of the most ill-conceived policies in history: Prohibition. What were the intentions behind this alcohol ban and how did Americans react to the Prohibition laws? What were some of the far-reaching effects of Prohibition and how has it contributed to our understanding of American society of the 1920s and 1930s? This article delves into the troubled history of Prohibition.


The Temperance Movement in the United States Before Prohibition

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Illustration of women gathered in protest outside a local saloon, 1874, via The Mob Museum, Las Vegas


Advocating moderation or abstinence from liquor consumption, the temperance movement in the United States took root in the early 1800s. That was a time when heavy drinking among men was extremely common. The average adult male was said to be consuming between seven to 12 gallons of alcohol per year. This was turning into a social problem, sparking further issues such as domestic violence and crime. As a result, women were particularly supportive of the temperance movement. This was further motivated by religious reasons as women, particularly middle-class Protestants, championed Christian virtues of temperance and prudence.


By 1831, there were already a total of 24 women’s organizations promoting the ideals and benefits of temperance in various parts of the country. Some of their methods included confrontations, picketing, and sit-in protests at saloons, breweries, and distilleries frequented by men. As the temperance movement gained momentum in the 1870s, temperance advocates began delivering anti-drinking sermons and hymns inside saloons to halt alcohol sales in the Midwest and West.


The Road to the 18th Amendment

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Men protesting for dry laws in states throughout the country, date unknown, via PBS


In 1874, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was formed. Headed by its president Frances Willard, the WCTU advocated for a nationwide ban on alcohol. Willard’s work in promoting temperance went hand in hand with her efforts on women’s suffrage, education, and welfare. In 1893, the Anti-Saloon League was founded and was headed by Wayne Wheeler, a political tactician. Wheeler would later be instrumental in pushing for a constitutional amendment banning alcohol, especially with the onset of World War I.


Witnessing the rising anti-German sentiments, Wheeler and his entourage cleverly exploited Americans’ patriotism and resentment against German-American beer makers to push for their agenda. They successfully convinced Congress to pass a law on Wartime Prohibition, laying strong foundations for the eventual 18th Amendment. In August 1917, the US Senate voted in favor of the amendment, and four months later, the House of Representatives did the same. In January 1919, the 18th Amendment became written into law and was to take effect one year later in 1920.


The Scurry for Alternatives

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Inside a speakeasy in New York City by Margaret Bourke-White, 1933, via LIFE Magazine


Finally, over a century of crusade against liquor use was over. The temperance advocates had won. The entire American society was in an upheaval, as people reacted differently to the one-size-fits-all approach at banning alcohol. Almost overnight, saloons, breweries, and distilleries across the country had to be closed and Americans had to find alternative ways to get booze. Speakeasies, illicit bars that sold alcohol away from the privy eyes of the law, sprouted quickly for those who wanted to sneak a tipple. The clandestine nature of speakeasies also made them a haven for the Flappers of the Roaring Twenties as rebellious women found a somewhat public place to drink.


Hardcore drinkers also looked to places like pharmacies and churches where legal liquor use was permitted, and to bootlegging syndicates who had ways of procuring alcohol, whether of poor or high quality. Bootleggers would often smuggle alcohol using vehicles that had hidden compartments that could evade law enforcement. The lucrative bootlegging industry in the 1920s was run by organized crime syndicates that controlled large-scale interstate liquor smuggling. Al Capone, the legendary mob boss, made over $60 million a year supplying bootlegged alcohol to his network of speakeasies in the late 1920s.


Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

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Policemen raiding the home of Eugene Shine, a bootlegger, during the Prohibition era, 1930, via History


During Prohibition, many people turned to homemade alternatives. The term bathtub gin was invented to describe any kind of liquor that was made illegally in one’s home. These drinks were often of poor quality and were said to be even potent recipes of poison due to their questionable ingredients such as rotten meat and chemicals. Contrary to its name, alcoholic products weren’t made in an actual bathtub, but rather stashed there. It was estimated that in 1929, Americans produced almost 700 million gallons of homemade beer.


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Moonshine still recently confiscated by the Internal Revenue Bureau photographed at the Treasury Department, 1921–1932 via Library of Congress, Washington


Those who made these illegally distilled alcoholic products were called moonshiners and they were one of the supply lines for bootleggers during Prohibition. Some of the alcohol made by the moonshiners eventually made its way to speakeasies all over the country via the bootlegging network. However, the poor quality of the bathtub gin made it difficult for bartenders to use them as they were. Ingredients such as soda pop, fruits, and juices had to be used to mask the flavor of the poor-quality booze. This process was later credited for the invention of many of the classic cocktails we love today.


The Thriving of Organized Crime

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The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre making headlines, Chicago Daily News, 1929, via The Mob Museum, Las Vegas


One major, disastrous consequence of Prohibition was the rise of organized crime in the United States. From Gambino to Colombo, several notorious Italian-American crime syndicates had earned their fortunes from running large-scale operations in bootlegging and speakeasies during Prohibition. Territorial clashes and gang violence were commonplace during this period too as rival gangs competed for the lion’s share of the Prohibition Pie.


The most infamous incident of all was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Seven men associated with the Irish mobster George Bugs Moran were gunned down by police attire-clad men in the chaotic Chicago’s North Side. The tragedy was widely believed to have arisen from the gang rivalry between Moran and Al Capone, although there was no official evidence pointing to Al Capone’s involvement.


The End of Prohibition

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New Yorkers celebrating the end of Prohibition, 1933, via History


As gang violence and heightened criminal activity further destabilized the already chaotic American society, public sentiments began tipping over to the side of repeal. This was compounded by the sobering realization that Prohibition laws were not properly enforced since Americans never stopped drinking during this period. Even Dry Americans became increasingly disheartened by the fact that law enforcement never caught up with the bootleggers and gangsters. More often than not, police officers and federal agents were the ones taking bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to criminal activities.


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President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the first relaxation of the Volstead Act in all the years of Prohibition in Washington, 1933, via Politico


With the Great Depression of 1929, the American economy went on a downward spiral, with millions losing their jobs and declaring bankruptcy. In such circumstances, income from alcohol sales and tax appeared to be a viable lifeline for an economy in shambles. The future US President Franklin D. Roosevelt would campaign for the 1932 elections on the very premise that legalizing liquor again would increase federal revenue by several hundred million dollars a year. On top of that, putting an end to Prohibition was also seen as a direct solution to the rising unemployment problem. Riding on this momentum, Congress passed the 21st Amendment in 1933 which repealed the 18th Amendment, legalizing liquor again.


Evaluating the Prohibition Years

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New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach watching agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition, c. 1921, via Library of Congress, Washington


Finally, after thirteen long years, Prohibition had come to an end. Across the United States, ecstatic drinkers toasted to the taste of hard-earned freedom and reaffirmed the wonders of alcohol. Marking the only instance in American history where a constitutional amendment was passed to repeal another, the end of Prohibition has made many wonder if it was even necessary to enforce such an ill-conceived law in the first place.


Did Prohibition bring about positive outcomes, if any at all, and how far off was it from its well-meaning intentions? First, Prohibition brought about severe implications for the economy of the United States. It had caused tens of thousands of people to lose their livelihoods as alcohol-related industries suffered an instant blow. Bars, breweries, distilleries, liquor shops, and saloons had to close and occupations such as winemakers, truckers, and waiters became irrelevant overnight, rendering thousands jobless. On a government level, billions of tax revenue from liquor-related trades were lost and an additional $300 million had to be forked out to enforce Prohibition laws.


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German-Americans celebrate the end of prohibition at the Bismarck Hotel, Chicago, c. 1933, via The Guardian


If the economic consequences had to be a necessary outcome of a moral decision, did Prohibition at least achieve what it set out to do? As history and Americans in the 1920s have demonstrated, the reality could not be any further from the expectations. Despite an initial dip, alcohol consumption was shown to have increased sharply in the subsequent years to about 60 to 70% of pre-1920 levels. Thousands of people were also dying every year from consuming alcohol of poorer quality in larger quantities due to the perceived scarcity. Historical data, however, have shown that death rates from cirrhosis and alcoholism had reduced significantly when Prohibition laws came into effect. It was also evident that attendance at workplaces had improved, signaling how controlling one’s alcohol intake was beneficial to productivity.


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The Daily News from 6 December 1933, via CNN


Despite this, given the heavy socio-political costs and the economic repercussions of Prohibition laws, America’s experiment on curbing alcoholism had proven to be a spectacular failure. Thriving organized crime painted the glaring picture of the fallibility of law enforcement and ultimately, the failure of the law to regulate human behavior. In a time when America, the Land of the Free, was forced to go dry, Americans proved that their incredible resourcefulness and their love for alcohol knew no bounds.

<![CDATA[China’s Forbidden City: 10 Things You Need to Know]]> 2023-07-03T20:11:31 Ching Yee Lin


Spanning 72 hectares, the Forbidden City in China bore witness to the monumental developments and, eventually, the demise of one of the world’s greatest empires. It was constructed in the early 15th century and housed 980 buildings and a whopping 9,000 rooms. Designed to function as the center of the ancient walled city of Beijing, the Forbidden City was cocooned by a larger Imperial City. Well-fortified and shrouded in mystery to commoners, the Forbidden City was at the heart of the political and ceremonial activities of the Chinese government for centuries. What are some of the lesser-known facts about this magnificent landmark?


1. The Forbidden City is the Biggest Imperial Palace in the World

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Portrait of an official in front of the Forbidden City by Zhu Bang, 1522–1566 via British Museum, London


Over three times larger than the Louvre in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, the Forbidden City is the largest imperial palace in the world. At the start of the 15th century, the newly crowned Chengzu Emperor decided to relocate the capital and his army from Nanjing in south-eastern China to Beijing in the north. In an effort to solidify his power and guard against the Mongols, the Chengzu Emperor began constructing the Forbidden City. Said to be the tireless endeavor of over 1 million laborers, the Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420, during the peak of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).


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The approach to the main gate of the Forbidden City, 1901, via Library of Congress, Washington


The Forbidden City is largely divided into three sections: the defenses, the Outer Court, and the Inner Court. The main gate of the Forbidden City is the 125-foot-tall Meridian Gate, a superstructure composed of five buildings, where the emperor issued imperial edicts. The Outer Court was where emperors used to attend grand state ceremonies and official functions, while the Inner Court was where they worked and lived.


2. A Stunning Evergreen Landscape Thrives in the Imperial Garden

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One of almost two dozen buildings in the Imperial Garden, date unknown, via National Geographic


Among its many scenic views, the Forbidden City was known for its well-manicured gardens designed for the leisure and relaxation of the emperors and their wives. The best-known of all is probably the Imperial Garden which is preserved today and situated behind the Palace of Earthly Tranquility in the Inner Court. Built in the 15th century by the Yongle Emperor, it was meant to be a peaceful place to relax and connect with nature.


Subsequently expanded and now spanning 1.2 hectares, the Imperial Garden accounts for 1.5% of the total land area of the palace. In the vast land area, the Garden houses an exquisite Taoist temple called the Hall of Imperial Peace, as well as the Piled Elegance Hill, a tall artificial rockery featuring winding stone step paths and stone-carved dragons. More impressively, over 160 ancient trees could be found in the Imperial Garden, including cypresses and Chinese wisteria which are all hundreds of years old.


3. Despite the Inner Court’s Lushness, the Outer Court Had No Trees

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Gate of Supreme Harmony, date unknown, via The Palace Museum, Beijing


Arguably the most important political nerve center of Imperial China, the Outer Court of the Forbidden City was where stately public ceremonies and important functions of the emperor were held. There are three main halls in the Outer Court, namely, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The largest of all, the Hall of Supreme Harmony was reserved for coronations, investitures, and royal weddings. The Hall of Central Harmony was used for the emperor to rest and prepare for these ceremonies, a function shared by the Hall of Preserving Harmony which also doubled as the site of the imperial examinations. Despite the large spatial area it occupied, as well as the number of people who would be expected to pass through it, the Outer Court did not have a single tree planted on its premises.


While there was no official explanation given to explain this unusual phenomenon, experts have come up with two possible explanations. First, the Outer Court hosted solemn state ceremonies where the emperor’s supreme powers were displayed. As such, trees were thought to be a bad idea as they would overshadow the majesty of the emperor and the imperial court. Second, the lack of trees was also thought to be deliberate since it would make it difficult for assassins to hide in the midst.


4. Its Magnificent Roofs are not Exactly Bird-Friendly

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The roof of a building at Forbidden City in Beijing by Harrison Forman, 1943, via University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries


Featuring glorious tiles in the royal color of yellow, the roofs of the buildings in the Forbidden City were a hallmark of the empire’s stateliness. They boasted unique designs and decorations such as animal statuettes and double eaves that only imperial buildings were allowed to have. However, these roofs were not meant for birds to perch on as the craftsmen had devised an ingenious way to retain the cleanliness and magnificence. Birds were unable to land on the roofs because of their steep pitch, which made the roof spines wider than the width between the birds’ claws. The glazed tilework also created a slippery surface that no birds would be able to perch on.


5. The Architectural Style of the Palace Wasn’t Limited to Chinese

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The unique architectural style of the Lingzhao Xuan, date unknown, via The Palace Museum


Despite the prevalence of Chinese motifs, the architectural style of the buildings in the Palace was influenced by other cultures. Nestled within the western part of the Forbidden City is an unusual building with a bathroom that demonstrates a strong Arabic influence. Named Yude Hall or Hall for Cultivating Virtues, it was designed by a Persian architect and featured an arched dome and walls with white glazed tiles. On top of being a bathhouse during the Ming Dynasty, the Yude Hall was later used to steam paper used for the Qing Emperors’ calligraphy.


Another prominent building in the Palace not built in a traditional Chinese style is the Lingzhao Xuan, or Bower of the Spirit Pool, located in the famed Yanxi Palace. Due to the incidence of fire at the Yanxi Palace, the Lingzhao Xuan was born out of a need to construct fire-proof buildings. Built on European architectural principles, it was to feature a pool at the bottom out of steel and stone. However, due to the lack of funding and political strife in the late Qing era, the project was halted.


6. Its Collection of Prized Artefacts Narrowly Avoided Destruction during WWII

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The vast collection of pottery at the Palace Museum, date unknown, via The Palace Museum, Beijing


With the collapse of the Qing Empire in 1912, the Forbidden City was no longer the political center of the Chinese government. However, the last emperor Puyi was allowed to reside in the Inner Court of the palace. After Puyi was expelled from the Palace in 1924, the Palace Museum was established a year later with many prized artifacts put on public display. However, the threat of the Japanese invasion in the 1930s soon forced the Chinese to evacuate the precious collection to safety. Some of the most important artifacts were shipped and sent to various locations such as Guangxi, Shaanxi, and Sichuan. After the war, they were recovered and returned to the Palace Museum. Today, the Palace Museum is known for its impressive collection of some 1.8 million artifacts of great historical value, including paintings, sculptures, and seals among others.


7. The Palace Escaped Destruction During the Cultural Revolution

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A statue of Buddha in Ling Yin Temple in Hangzhou, via BBC


After 1949, China fell under communist rule, which precipitated drastic reforms such as the Great Leap Forward, a five-year economic plan designed to modernize the agricultural sector. In the 1960s, the Cultural Revolution was launched by the Chinese Communist Party to purge existing capitalist and traditionalist elements in society. In particular, it sought to rid the Chinese society of the Four Olds: old ideas, old culture, old habits, and old customs. The Palace Museum, which undoubtedly epitomized all of the Four Olds, became an unwitting target of attack.


With the support of Chairman Mao Zedong, the Red Guards stormed the Forbidden City, determined to destroy the bastion of the Four Olds. Luckily, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai sent an army battalion to guard the palace, thereby preventing it from regrettable destruction. All the gates of the Palace were sealed shut to prevent further destruction from 1966 to 1971.


8. The Forbidden City is Home to a Lot of Cats

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A cat in the Forbidden City, via China Global Television Network


Tales from imperial harems have long described dramatic catfights between the concubines as they clamored for the emperor’s attention. But did you know that real cats have been residing in the Forbidden City as well? Historically, concubines in the Ming and Qing Dynasties were indeed known to have kept them as pets. As such, some of today’s cats in the Forbidden City are believed to be descendants of royal felines. However, many of them here are strays who have either sauntered into the palace or have been abandoned at the main gate. Apart from humoring tourists, the felines in the Forbidden City play an important role in controlling the rodent population and keeping mice from destroying ancient structures. In return, the museum authorities take care of them by feeding, vaccinating, and keeping them warm during winter.


9. The Cold Palace does not Refer to a Specific Palace

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Palace of Great Brilliance, via The Palace Museum, Beijing


Fans of Chinese period dramas would be familiar with the term Cold Palace. Often depicted as remote, rundown premises without the opulence typical of the imperial harem, these residences housed neglected concubines shunned by others in the palace. However, did you know that there was no palace in the Forbidden City that bore this specific name? This was because the term Cold Palace simply referred to the residences of concubines who had made mistakes or lost the favor of the emperor. This meant that it could be any concubine at any given time. The common Chinese saying da ru leng gong (banished to the Cold Palace) which refers to someone who has lost favor originates from this historical scenario.


Although there was no specific palace named The Cold Palace in the Forbidden City, the Palace of Great Brilliance, located on the northeastern side of the Inner Court, was often associated with it. Now home to royal goldware and silverware, the Palace of Great Brilliance was the place where Consort Gong, a Ming dynasty concubine of the Wanli Emperor, spent her miserable 30-year confinement. Despite giving birth to the future Taichang Emperor, Consort Gong was a source of embarrassment for the Wanli Emperor. This was because he refused to acknowledge their relationship due to her low status as a former palace lady. Not only was she not entitled to any privileges as a royal consort, but she was also often neglected and ignored by the emperor. It is said that she was so miserable that she cried herself blind while being locked up in her residence.


10. The Forbidden City is Said to be Haunted 

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The Forbidden City during a special event in 2019 when the palace opened for night tours for the first time in history, via CNN


Beheading, warfare, chaos, politics, and neglected concubines confined to remote palaces. The Forbidden City had its fair share of misery and tragedy over the two dynasties. As such, it was not wholly unexpected that the palace would be home to tons of rumors and legends, especially those related to the supernatural. For years, stories of a weeping woman in white wandering around the palace at night have intrigued locals, tourists, and ghostbusters alike. Some tales also recounted how the palace was haunted by those who were killed or beheaded by the emperor.


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Aerial view of the Forbidden City, Peking, 1912–1914, via Historical Photographs of China


One particularly striking location of such tales was a narrow walkway called the dong tong zi jia dao that was found in the Inner Court. Legend has it that this was the walkway used to transport dead bodies out of the palace in the dead of the night. Countless ghostly sightings along the walkway have been reported over the years. The persistent stories of the supernatural, along with the fact that the palace is closed from 5 pm in the afternoon, further fuelled popular imagination of the Forbidden City as a mysterious and haunted place.

<![CDATA[The Age of Jahiliya: What Did Arabia Look Like Before Islam?]]> 2023-07-03T16:11:23 Ilias Luursema


Muslims use the term ‘Jahiliya’ to refer to the time period and state of affairs of pre-Islamic Arabia. The word, which translates to “the age of ignorance”, holds a negative connotation. The Arabs of this era are believed to have conducted themselves in destructive and sinful ways, frequently practicing gambling, drinking wine, usury, and fornication. Polytheism, too is often negatively mentioned as characteristic of the time period. Virtually the only positive thing the Islamic tradition attributes to Jahiliya is the poetry of the time.


Our knowledge of Jahiliya mostly stems from surviving traditions, legends, and poems, as written sources on the time period are limited. In addition, we rely on Islamic sources such as the Quran and Hadith. Nonetheless, by using all available information, it is possible to paint a picture of pre-Islamic life in Arabia.


Tribal Life in Pre-Islamic Arabia

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The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan by Eugène Delacroix, 1826, via Wikipedia


The Arabs of Jahiliya organized themselves along tribal lines. Each tribe tended to be named after a prominent leader from whom its members claimed descendance. Tribes consisted of smaller familial groups called clans, which were often in fierce competition for wealth and status. When a larger threat presented itself, however, clans would typically stop their quarrels and unite against it.


Clans were led by sheiks who were selected for their seniority, generosity, and courage. These clan leaders usually led a council tasked with making important decisions and passing judgment. When intertribal conflict took place, clan councils would come together to try and resolve it.


During the time period of Jahiliya, there were no established laws. Arabs were judged arbitrarily, with partisanship and bribery being commonplace. If a case came to be discussed in a tribal council, it was often the better-connected party that would be acquitted.


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Arab chieftains in council, by Horace Vernet, 1834, via Musée Condé


Oftentimes when a crime was committed, the wronged party tried to punish the perpetrator without due process. The accused tended to seek shelter with his tribe, which had a duty to protect its members. If the accused belonged to a tribe that was more powerful than that of the wronged party, the former often escaped punishment.


Arabia’s prominent tribes held authority over regions of land. Among the possessions of tribes were tents, watery places, pasturage, and cultivable land. Some tribes, and clans within tribes, were richer than others. No matter the extent of their wealth, however, tribes and clans always had to be wary, as raids were common during the time.



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Arrival of a Caravan Outside the City of Morocco by Edwin Lord Weeks, 1882, via Wikipedia


Although the empires of antiquity mostly considered Arabia’s desert lands of minor importance, the tribes that inhabited the region did not fully escape participation in the larger political games played.


The Byzantine and Sassanid empires protected their southern borders by using Arab tribes as vassals. The Byzantines employed the Ghassanid tribe and the Sassanians the Lakhmid tribe. As allies and clients, Arab forces were part of Byzantine and Sassanian armies and regularly fought each other on the battlefield.


On many occasions, Arabs refused to wage war on other Arabs when approached to do so by foreign powers. However, if a tribe was already in conflict with another tribe, it tended to ally itself with outside powers if it deemed it advantageous.


On occasion, empires staged campaigns into Arabia, sometimes to avenge raids, and sometimes to conquer territory. Outside powers did find it difficult to establish a permanent foothold in Arabia and tended to be repelled by Arab forces within a few decades.



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A trade caravan passing the Isle of Graia in the Gulf of Akabah, lithography by Louis Haghe after an original by David Roberts, 1839, via Library of Congress


Trade was the primary way through which the Arabs of Jahiliya connected to life beyond the peninsula. Caravans of men, camels, horses, and donkeys frequented markets in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Ethiopia, selling hides, raisins, and silver. Their safe return was a celebrated event as many Arabs invested in the caravan trade and made hefty profits.


Christian traders and missionaries are believed to have first entered Arabia traveling with the trade caravans. Another development linked to commerce was urbanization, with the caravans sustaining the populations of cities, including Mecca and Medina.


In the 5th and 6th centuries, the trade caravans became even more important in the context of sea routes becoming increasingly dangerous due to war and piracy. As a result, Arab tribes that controlled the overland routes grew richer and more powerful.


To facilitate trade, seasonal markets were held at different locations throughout Arabia. These were considered safe places where Arabs from all over the peninsula met to do business. Poets and missionaries, too, assembled at the markets to engage each other and speak to the crowds. The markets were also a place where slaves were bought and sold, and where predatory money lenders operated.


Accounts of usury during Jahiliya are widespread. Many Arabs borrowed money to participate in the profitable caravan trade. If the caravan returned safely, the high-interest rate could be paid off with profits. However, if it did not return, it spelled economic disaster for the borrower. Sources mention interest rates of 100 percent to be common during Jahiliya.


The richest Arab merchants were often both traders and usurers. They grew richer while those who borrowed grew ever poorer. Islam rose to prominence in the context of raising inequality and speaks out against it. Common themes in Muhammed’s messages and the Quran are the condemnation of usury and the promotion of distributing wealth to the poor.


Quran 3:130: O believers! Do not consume interest, multiplying it many times over. And be mindful of Allah, so you may prosper.



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Alabaster votive figurines from Yemen, now in the National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome, via Wikipedia


The people of pre-Islamic Arabia were predominantly polytheistic. Christians were concentrated in the south of the peninsula in modern-day Yemen, with small groups as well as monks and hermits living in the desert. Jewish communities too lived in Arabia and were mostly situated in villages and cities.


The Arabs of Jahiliya did not adhere to a uniform polytheistic religion. Often, different clans worshipped different deities, and even households could have their distinct religious practice.


The Islamic scholar Ibn al-Kalbi, who lived in the 8th century, relates a story of Arabs deifying their ancestors at the time of Jahiliya. He writes of the relatives of five deceased men approaching a sculptor to immortalize the men in stone. After the statues were worshipped by the men’s ancestors for three centuries, the statues were held in such high regard that they were deemed intermediaries between the people and God.


The Arabs of Jahiliya visited oracles and shamans, whom they believed to be able to connect to deities through visions and dreams. Various methods of divination were also practiced to contact gods and spirits. One such method involved posing a question to a deity and throwing arrows on the ground. The answer to the question was then interpreted by analyzing the position in which the arrows had fallen.


Tribes in Arabia also worshipped statues of their deities, a practice they may have adopted from the ancient Mesopotamians. The statues were installed in sacred places and brought offerings. Before Muhammad established Islam as the dominant religion in Mecca, the people of the city worshipped as many as 360 deities. Upon taking Mecca in 630, Muhammed destroyed all the idols, forbidding the practice of polytheism.



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Arabic poetry via Muslim Heritage


Poetry was a widely practiced art and a highly regarded skill among the Arabs. Jahili poetry was valued to such an extent that Muslims preserved and taught it for centuries after the emergence of Islam.


Through poetry, the Arabs challenged authority, praised individuals and tribes, commemorated battles, and elevated the activities of their everyday lives. Topics of renowned Jahili poems are various, ranging from lamenting the death of beloved, to elaborate descriptions of the poet’s camels. There were no strict rules when it came to poetry. As such, each Jahili poet had their unique style and was free to decide on topics of their choice.


Poetry also played a role in conflict situations. When tribes clashed, poets defended the honor of their tribe by reciting carefully constructed verses and directing them at their rivals. This poetic warfare allowed for expressing grievances without bloodshed.


While prohibited from engaging in physical warfare and occupying tribal leadership positions, women were allowed to be poetesses, the art giving them a voice in a context of strictly defined gender roles.


Much Jahili poetry has survived on account of the importance attributed to it by the Arabs. Initially solely through vocal transmission and later through writing they kept their legacy alive. Muslims, however, consider that with the revelation of the Quran, all previous Arab poetry had been surpassed in literary quality.


The Rise of Islam, the End of Jahiliyyah

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An Islamic Egyptian family during an evening prayer, by Jean-Baptiste Huysmans, 1859, via Sotheby’s


The advent of Islam in the 6th century brought an end to the era of Jahiliya. Muhammad introduced a new way of life which came with profound changes.


Under Islam, women gained rights and freedoms. Tribal convention had been to minimize the rights of women and subject them to the interests of the men. Islam promotes honoring women and establishing their rights in scripture. Going forward they could claim the divine right to own property and make their own decisions to a greater extent. Importantly, women gained a say over whom they married and the ability to initiate divorce.


The Arab people united as one community under Islam, decreasing the pervasiveness of an inequitable tribal system. The society also stabilized on account of Muhammad and the Quran establishing a legal framework, ending the anarchy of Jahiliya.


The rise of Islam was an earth-shaking development. It involved a complete overhaul of Arab society. Divided desert tribes which had been in perpetual conflict with each other banded together and conquered much of the known world in a time span of decades. The rise to prominence of the Arabs speaks to the effectiveness of Islam as much as it does to the restrictiveness of Jahiliya.

<![CDATA[An Interview with Zahi Hawass: Indiana Jones, Cleopatra, and More]]> 2023-07-03T12:11:56 Richard Marranca


Zahi Hawass* talks to Richard Marranca about his meeting with George Lucas in Cairo, the Indiana Jones franchise, Cleopatra, the great discoveries in the desert, and more. He also expresses his obsession with finding Nefertiti’s tomb and discusses how the tools of science help archaeologists bring astounding discoveries to light. For Hawass, the world remains full of wonders waiting to be discovered.


*Dr. Zahi Hawass is an Egyptian archaeologist and former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, serving twice. He continues to play a large role in major excavations throughout Egypt and notably heads the science committee overseeing the Scanpyramids project. He and his team have discovered the necropolis of the pyramid builders at Giza, have began excavations of tombs at Bahariya Oases, initiated the Egyptian Mummy Project, discovered major tombs throughout Egypt, CT scanned King Tutankhamun’s mummy, and more.


“George Lucas opened the eyes of millions of people to the adventure of archaeology” Zahi Hawass.

Q: What do you, the world’s most famous archaeologist, think about Indiana Jones, the cinema’s most famous archaeologist?

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Zahi Hawass outside the pyramids of Giza, Cario, Egypt. via Reuters


A: Well, I’m very happy about Indiana Jones movies. George Lucas opened the eyes of millions of people to the adventure of archaeology. More than ever, people are interested in discoveries.


Q: The Ark of the Covenant, the search for the Holy Grail, the Crystal Skull, and, in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the Antikythera Mechanism. Can all the discoveries of the Indiana Jones franchise motivate the public to learn more about archaeology?


A: Yes, people are inspired and want to learn. During my lectures, people ask me questions relating to the Indiana Jones movies and express their fascination with archaeology. They love the adventure.


Q: In the movies, Indiana Jones stares at new discoveries with admiration. Are there such moments for archaeologists like yourself?


A: Well, something inside me makes me look for a long while. It’s a passion — the same passion when you’re with your beloved.


Q: You’ve met American presidents, royalty, and lots of Hollywood luminaries. I heard you also met George Lucas.


A: George Lucas and I had dinner in Cairo. He was with family members. It was special. He asked me about my hat, which is a symbol of the whole adventure and ties in with the movie. He also gave me the whip from the Indiana Jones movie. I have my old hat and the whip in my office in Cairo.


Q: Have you been surprised by any discovery?


A: Yes, of course. The Golden City surprised me. The village of the pyramid builders surprised me. That’s two of many.


Q: Was Queen Cleopatra as brilliant as she comes down to us in history?

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Cleopatra by John William Waterhouse, 1887, via Wikimedia Commons


A: Cleopatra was brilliant and very well-educated. She knew many languages. She was successful at holding onto power and these extraordinary relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

She was a great leader with great potential.


Q: What was Cleopatra’s cultural background or identity?


A: She was Macedonian and the last of the Ptolemies. She was a great queen of Egypt.


Q: What did she want?


A: She dreamt of Egypt controlling the whole world.


Q: I hear that Omar Sharif was a close friend of yours. Is that true?


A: Omar Sharif was a very close friend. We saw each other often. He once told me that he was the most famous Egyptian until all these archaeological discoveries. He was generous.


Q: Did you used to go to movies a lot? And what’s your favorite movie with Omar Sharif?


A: Of course I did. I saw films from around the world. Regarding Omar Sharif’s movies, I just saw one. If I had to choose, I’d say Dr. Zhivago is my favorite, along with Funny Girl. Lawrence of Arabia is a top one too.


Q: What kind of things can get people, young and old, into archaeology?


A: Books, lectures, movies, travel. I see it in every country I visit. Archaeologists inspire others. People connect to the past and to all sorts of discoveries.


Q: I just attended your presentation in New York City and saw how there’s a big place in your heart for children and young adults. You had kids come up on stage and introduce them to the audience.


A: Yes, for sure, children are in love with archaeology. They’re asking me questions about Cleopatra, Indiana Jones, Tut, and everything else.


Q: You’re about to head to Texas and then Massachusetts for the next lectures on the tour. After USA, what countries are on your agenda?

Zahi Hawass in front of the Sphinx, via


A: Well, I travel a lot. Peru for some big events. South Africa, Italy, Belgium, Australia, and more.


Q: Do you think that Peru will be special, given that it’s perhaps the second most famous country for its mummies?


A: Yes. Peru is a beautiful country with a rich history and culture. Peru has had some spectacular discoveries — one, in particular, is comparable to the discovery of Tut.



Q: You’re busier than ever, yet you always find time to share your knowledge of history and archaeology.  


A: I do what I can. When I had a government job, I had to work in the office a lot and do endless projects. I’m often out excavating. This also helps tourism and Egypt in general.


Q: Archaeology and technology go hand in hand more than ever.


A: Archaeology is very technical. Scanning the pyramids, robots looking at hidden places, 3Ds, radar, infrared, and ultrasound. Much of my work requires technology.


Q: Egypt has a big influence on world culture. It goes back a long time…

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Pyramids at Giza, photo by Osama Elsayed, via Unsplash


A: I’ve seen restaurants and houses in Egyptian style, people dressed up as Tut or Cleopatra, and other personalities from ancient history. People are obsessed with the pyramids and the Sphinx. Egyptomania is a separate branch of study now. Tut is the most important discovery that opened people’s eyes to Egypt.


Q: Could you mention some of your ongoing or new projects?


A: We are doing DNA research — possibly we have found Nefertiti’s mummy. We are researching how Tut died. We are looking for the tomb of Imhotep. We are also looking into the hidden places in the pyramids. That’s part of it. I also have a movie project coming out soon.


Q: I was just rereading one of your books, and you wrote that Nefertiti was pharaoh at one time. Is that true?


A: There is a lot of evidence to support this. I think that Nefertiti was not only coregent but also ruled Egypt with the name Smenkhkare. It’s a long story.


Q: What do you think about Tut’s widow, Ankhesenamun, who wanted to marry a foreigner?

Horemheb as scribe, Museum of Metropolitan Art, New York


A: It’s unprecedented. Tut’s wife was being forced into marrying Ay. She requested that the Hittite king send one of his sons — one of the princes — to marry her in Egypt. At the border, the prince was killed by Horemheb.


Q: Was Horemheb a bad pharaoh?


A: Horemheb was a great pharaoh. He saved Egypt, which was in crisis after Tut died. Akhenaten had focused on Aten, neglecting all else, and this had significantly damaged the country. Horemheb never wanted the throne, though he could have taken it at any time. He saved the empire.


Q: Who is your favorite pharaoh?


A: Khufu is my favorite. I wrote my dissertation and a novel about him too. Amenhotep III is also very interesting.


Q: Of the projects you’re working on now, which one stands out as most important?


A: Finding the tomb of Nefertiti would be the most important. It’s more important than the discovery of Tutankhamun.


Q: Is that because Nefertiti had a more significant role and a longer life? 

A: Yes. She was powerful and ruled longer.


Q: I know you have to lecture soon. Thanks very much for everything.

A: You’re welcome. It was my pleasure.

<![CDATA[Why Is the Fourth of July Important?]]> 2023-07-03T10:11:02 Rosie Lesso


The 4th of July, also known as Independence Day, has been recognized as a day of holiday and celebration in the United States since 1941. Typically, the date involves a series of parades, concerts, firework displays and family gatherings across the US. But what is it about this particular date that is so significant? Since 1776, the 4th July has been recognized as the date the Continental Congress voted for independence. Two days later, the historic Declaration of Independence was adopted by 13 different colonies, as written by Thomas Jefferson. We take a closer look at the monumental significance of this date in the history of the US.


The Fourth of July Is Tied to the American Revolutionary War

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Battle of Germantown, by Xavier della Gatta,1782, via the Museum of the American Revolution


The Revolutionary War, also known as the American Revolution, began in April 1775 as tensions rose in Great Britain’s 13 North American colonies between local residents and the colonial rulers. What began as a small-scale armed conflict quickly gathered pace, leading to a full-on war between the two nations. Before long, rebels began fighting for complete independence from British rule. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, titled Common Sense, was published in 1776, and it played a key role in stirring up a desire for American freedom from Great Britain. 


June 7th: Richard Henry Lee’s Call for Independence

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Richard Henry Lee engraved picture, via The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library


June the 7th, 1776, was a significant historical moment, when Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee proposed a call for the colonies to gain independence during the Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. Voting for Lee’s bill was postponed, but a five-man committee was subsequently formed to draft a formal agreement outlining a break with Great Britain, made up of Robert R Livingston from New York, Roger Sherman from Connecticut, John Adams from Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.


July 2nd: The Vote for Independence

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Committee of Five, Declaration of Independence, July 1776, detail of John Trumbull’s painting, 1819, from the US Capitol, Washington DC


Subsequently, on July the 2nd, Continental Congress reconvened and held a new vote for Lee’s proposed bill. Voting was almost entirely unanimous, aside from the New York delegate, who initially hesitated, but later confirmed their agreement. Just two days later, on the 4th of July, Continental Congress officiated the Declaration of Independence. This meant while July the 2nd was the true date when American independence was confirmed, the official documents for the Declaration of Independence were put together on the 4th, making this date the official Independence Day.


It Is a Historical Day of Celebration

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Declaration of Independence, signed in 1776


The 4th of July became a day of celebration in many parts of the United States from 1776 onwards. These celebrations involved firing on cannons, as well as music concerts and parades, along with public readings of the Declaration of Independence. In the first year of independence, some colonists also held fake funerals for King George III, to represent their newfound freedom from British colonial rule. However, the Revolutionary War was still underway in several American colonies, and it wasn’t until after the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, when the British finally retreated following their defeat, that celebrations spread across the entire US. In this same year, Massachusetts was the first state to make the 4th of July an official public holiday.


The Fourth of July Is a Public Holiday

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American Independence Day celebrations today


In 1870, the US Congress officially declared the 4th of July as a public holiday. In 1941, the date became a paid holiday for federal employees. From this date onwards, Independence Day has typically been celebrated with fireworks and family gatherings, along with waving of the American Flag and recitals of the American national anthem. While the political significance of Independence Day is now relegated to history, the date is still widely accepted across much of the US as a day of great patriotism and pride.

<![CDATA[5 Obsessive Motifs in Salvador Dalí’s Works]]> 2023-07-03T06:11:29 Dora Sesar


Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí I Domenech, known popularly as Salvador Dali, was a Catalan artist celebrated for his surrealist, irrational, and erotic paintings. He was born in 1904 in Figueres, a small village in the north of Catalonia. His family supported his creativity and love for art, and sent him to Madrid to study at the Academy of Arts where he met important artists like Federico García Lorca and Luis Buñuel.


What Are the Main Motifs in Salvador Dalí’s Artworks?

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Salvador Dalí and Gala, via The Economist


In the 1920s, Dalí moved to Paris from Madrid, where he met painters like René Magritte, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró. These artists greatly influenced his art. During his stay in Paris, he also met Gala Eluard whom he married in 1934. Many of his paintings show his love for Gala, who quickly became his muse. Dali became best known as a surrealist painter, but he also worked as a designer, writer, and sculptor.


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Salvador Dalí, via Wikipedia


It is difficult to uncover the real personality of Salvador Dalí. He controlled every single text and interview published about him while he was alive and he deeply cared about his public persona. No text could be published without him reviewing it first. He even wrote an autobiography titled The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí in which he shared stories from his life. However, we can never be sure that everything written here was completely true. Some historians believe Dali could have been trying to bolster his artistic persona in order to get more attention.


What we do know is that Dalí had many fears. He was scared of blushing, paternity, women, female sexuality, traveling, aging, death, grasshoppers, and ants. There are numerous obsessive motifs that this painter constantly repeated in his paintings. The main idea of surrealist art was to explore the unconscious mind–Dali often explored his fears. One could go on forever looking for every obsessive and fetishistic motif in the work of the painter. Let’s take a look at some of them.


1. Ants

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Scene from Un chien andalou, 1929, via Tumblr


Ants are one of the common elements seen in Dalí’s paintings. When the artist was five years old, he saw a dead insect being eaten by a bunch of ants. From that moment on, ants allegedly became constantly present in his thoughts. In Dalí’s works, ants represent death and decay. They serve as a reminder of human mortality and the ubiquitous transience. Ants also appear in the film Un chien andalou (1929) which Dalí made together with Luis Buñuel. In a well-known scene from the film, ants swarm up from one man’s sleeve, flooding his hand.


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The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí, 1931, via MoMA, New York


Ants appear in one of Dali’s most famous paintings called The Persistence of Memory. In the center of the work, we can see a deformed head with a melting clock on the top. Distorted heads and melting clocks are also frequently featured in his works.


2. Distorted Heads

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The Lugubrious Game by Salvador Dalí, 1929, via Wikimedia


The next obsessive motif seen in Dali’s paintings is the large deformed head. His painting The Lugubrious Game, which Dalí painted in Cadaqués during the preparation phase for his first solo exhibition in Paris, features a deformed head. On the right we see a head shown in profile which could be a portrait of the artist himself. It looks like he is sleeping. In his mouth, there is a grasshopper, a creature of which he was irrationally scared. The painting shows the artist’s sexual fears and insecurities.


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The Great Masturbator by Salvador Dalí, 1929, via Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid


The Great Masturbator was painted in 1929 when Dalí was only 25. Here we see a deformed head shown in profile, as a kind of artist’s self-portrait in the center. A big grasshopper is seen sucking the artist’s head while ants are shown crawling on his cheek. We also see male and female figures emerging from the head, referencing a sexual scene.


There is one more self-portrait of Dalí in this painting, noticeable in the form of a small figure making love to a rock in the shape of a woman.  The Great Masturbator represents the transformation that the artist had gone through when he met Gala, the woman of his dreams who saved him from his fears. In this painting, the Spanish artist expressed his anxieties, fears, fantasies, and obsessions. The head in the form of a rock, as pictured here, is one of the motifs that will reappear in Dalí’s work.


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The Enigma of Desire: My Mother, My Mother, My Mother by Salvador Dalí, 1929, via Artsy


Dalí painted one more painting with the same motif in the same year as the previous two called The Enigma of Desire: My Mother, My Mother, My Mother. The deformed head that is shown sleeping and dreaming in this painting again represents the painter’s self-portrait. Some art historians believe that Dalí was inspired to paint heads of this shape by looking at the rocks on the coast of Cadaqués.


However, the head shown in this painting is somewhat different from the previous ones. It is small, subtle, and full of compartments. Ants and grasshoppers appear in this work as well.


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Sleep by Salvador Dalí, 1937, via


The deformed head is also presented in a work called The Persistence of Memory. This motif was mostly used by Dalí around 1930, after which he stopped painting it for a while. Around seven years later he started focusing on it again. In the painting titled Sleep the head is not a representation of himself, but a personification of a dream. Crutches support the sleeping head, referencing people’s worries in their dreams. Everything looks unstable in this work. Even the dog shown in the background needs support. The bluish light that fills the entire surface of the image also contributes to the surreal atmosphere of the work.


3. Melting Clocks

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The Disintegration of Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí, 1952-1954, via Medium


Melting clocks are a motif that is often seen in Dali’s paintings. From 1952 until 1954, Dalí worked on a painting called The Disintegration of Persistence of Memory. Here, the clocks are shown completely falling apart, while the rest of the world shown in the painting breaks down into geometric blocks. The deformed head is now barely noticeable next to everything else that’s going on in this picture.


4. Female Figures Shown From Behind

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Figure at the window by Salvador Dalí, 1925, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; next to Woman at the Window in Figueres by Salvador Dalí, 1926, via Pinterest


Dalí constantly depicted female figures from behind. One of the first paintings with this motif is known as the Figure at the Window. Around 1925, Dalí painted numerous works featuring this motif. In Woman at the Window in Figueres we see a charming woman sitting at the window while knitting. She is pictured in Figueres, Dali’s birthplace.


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Girl from Ampurdan by Salvador Dalí, 1926, via Wikiart


In a painting called Girl from Ampurdan, the artist emphasized the buttocks and the hips of an unknown woman. After 1929, this feminine motif still appeared in Dali’s paintings, but with Gala in the leading role.


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Portrait of Gala by Salvador Dalí, 1935, via MoMA, New York; next to Gala Nude from Behind by Salvador Dalí, 1960, via Mutualart


Portrait of Gala represents Dalí’s beloved wife and muse. Behind her head we see Millet’s painting Angelus. Dalí always painted Gala as a young woman. Another work featuring his muse, titled Gala Nude from Behind, is often compared to Ingres’s La Baigneuse de Valpinçon.


5. Salvador Dalí’s Telephones

Mountain Lake by Salvador Dalí, 1938, via Tate Modern, London


When Dali was young, telephones were a relatively new invention that only a few had the opportunity to use. Dalí said that the subject of his painting Mountain Lake was a conversation between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler. The phone shown here is supported by crutches which could represent the instability of the telephone connection. The broken telephone line also contributes to these feelings of instability.


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The Enigma of Hitler by Salvador Dalí, 1939, via Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid


A year later Dalí made another controversial painting titled The Enigma of Hitler. The telephone shown here once again represents the bearer of news. It is placed above a plate, symbolizing the fear and anticipation that was present at that time.


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Lobster Telephone by Salvador Dalí, 1936, via Tate Modern Museum, London


In 1936, Dalí designed the famous Lobster Telephone. Lobsters were another animal frequently seen in Dali’s art. For the artist, lobsters represented something erotic and sensual.

<![CDATA[Norse Cosmology: What Does the Universe Look Like in Norse Mythology?]]> 2023-07-02T20:11:42 Rhianna Padman


In Norse mythology, the structure of the universe is organized into nine distinct realms that are interconnected by the ash tree Yggdrasil. The nine worlds were Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, Niflheim, Muscenters, Helheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, and Vanaheim. The universe’s origin story centers around the primal entity of Niflheim and Muspelheim. The creation narrative describes how the universe was formed through the interplay between these two opposing forces. Additionally, the Norse cosmological tradition includes the prophesied event known as Ragnarök, which foretells the end of the world.


Muspelheim and Niflheim: The Primeval Realms of Fire and Ice in Norse Cosmology

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Odin and his Brothers Create the World by Lorenz Frølich, Unknown, via Wikimedia Commons


In Norse mythology, Niflheim and Muspelheim were two prominent realms that played a pivotal role in the genesis of the cosmos. Niflheim was regarded as a primeval realm characterized by frigid mist and ice, predating the universe’s inception. This world was associated with obscurity, low temperatures, and demise, and was considered the origin of all the rivers and streams that flowed throughout the Norse universe. Conversely, Muspelheim was a realm of fire, also existing before the universe’s creation, and represented an antithesis to Niflheim. It was a place of blazing heat and radiant light, serving as the source of all the fire in the Norse cosmos.


According to Norse mythology, the convergence of Niflheim and Muspelheim marked the genesis of the universe. Muspelheim’s fiery heat melted the icy terrain of Niflheim, initiating the emergence of life, which took the form of the entity Ymir. The gods Odin, Vili, and Ve subsequently put an end to Ymir and used his corporeal remains to forge the realms. Thus, Niflheim and Muspelheim were the antagonistic forces that engendered the cosmos. Furthermore, the Norse creation myth included the fashioning of the first humans, Ask and Embla, from two trees by the deities. These humans received life from the gods and were placed on Midgard to live.


Midgard: The Human World

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Runestone dedicated to a Viking mother, via the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen


Midgard, located in the center of the Norse cosmos, was the realm designated for human habitation and surrounded by the realms of the gods (Asgard) and the giants (Jotunheim). The gods fashioned Midgard as a place for humans to live and separated it from the remainder of the universe by an ocean and an impassable barrier called the Midgard Serpent. Midgard was considered the most vulnerable of all the realms, continuously threatened by the giants from Jotunheim. Nonetheless, it was considered a realm of hope and rebirth where humans led their daily lives, carried out labor, and raised their families.


Asgard: Realm of the Aesir

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Thor wades rivers while the rest of the æsir ride across the bridge Bifröst by Lorenz Frølich, 1895, via Wikimedia Commons


Asgard, the beautiful and radiant realm located high above Midgard, was solely accessible by the rainbow bridge, Bifrost. It was considered the center of the universe and the home of numerous preeminent Norse gods, including Odin, Thor, and Frigg. The realm was a place of feasting, storytelling, and great gatherings, where the gods would assemble to drink, fight, and make momentous decisions about the universe’s fate. In the tradition, it was regarded as a place of immense power and prestige, the center of the universe, and the objective of the heroic journey. Nonetheless, despite its magnificence and beauty, Asgard was not invulnerable to the forces of chaos and destruction, since it would also be the site of Ragnarök, where the gods and giants would engage in a final battle that would culminate in the annihilation of the universe.


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Valkyrie by Peter Nicolai Arbo, 1865, via The National Museum


Valhalla, a magnificent hall, was also located in the center of Asgard presided over by Odin, the god of war, death, and wisdom. The warriors who resided in Valhalla were thought to be the bravest and most skilled warriors, who had perished in battle and had been chosen by Odin to reside in his hall. In Valhalla, the warriors were said to enjoy an existence of endless feasting, fighting, and revelry as they prepared themselves for the final battle of Ragnarök. The warriors were also said to be equipped with the finest weapons and armor, and they were said to be able to battle all day, only to rise from the dead each evening to feast and drink in Odin’s hall.


Jotunheim: Land of the Giants

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Giant Skrymir and Thor by Louis Huard, 1900, via Wikimedia Commons


Jotunheim was a dark and icy realm far from Asgard’s shining halls, it was said to have towering mountains, dense forests, and deep valleys. The giants who inhabited Jotunheim were often depicted as immense in size, strength and power being unpredictable forces of nature. Despite their chaotic nature, the giants were regarded as important figures in Norse mythology, as they were the source of numerous great challenges that the gods and heroes faced. They also played a central role in Ragnarök, the end of the world, as they were perceived as the enemies of the gods who would engage in a final battle that would bring about the end of the universe.


Helheim: The Gloomy Underworld

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Illustration of the Norse Cosmos by Henry Wheaton, 1831, via British Library


Helheim was considered to be the bleak underworld situated beneath Midgard, the world of humans. It was ruled by the goddess Hel, a half-dead and half-alive goddess who presided over the souls of the departed. According to the tradition, those who died were destined to Helheim, except for the brave warriors who were chosen by Odin to reside in Valhalla or the goddess Freya’s domain, Folkvangr. In Helheim, the dead were said to live a joyless existence, cut off from the world of the living and condemned to a shadowy existence in the underworld. Despite its grim reputation, Helheim was regarded as a significant dominion in Norse mythology, as it was the ultimate destination for many of the dead and was often depicted as a place of judgment, where the dead were evaluated and assigned their fate.


Alfheim and Svartalfheim: Light and Dark 

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Ängsälvor (Meadow Elves) by Nils Jakob Blommér, 1850, via The Guardian


Alfheim was believed to be the home of the light elves. It was characterized by lush forests, flowing rivers, and crystal-clear lakes, and was considered to be a place of beauty and harmony. The light elves who resided in Alfheim were renowned for their artistic and magical skills, and they were known for their great beauty and grace. They were often seen as benevolent creatures who lived in harmony with nature and each other, and their home was considered a place of refuge and peace. Despite its beauty and serenity, Alfheim was not without danger, as it was believed to be home to powerful and potentially dangerous entities and forces.


Contrastingly, Svartalfheim was home to the dark elves or dwarves, who, unlike the light elves, were known for their cunningness, malice, and greed. Svartalfheim was a gloomy and enigmatic realm characterized by cavernous tunnels, mines, and subterranean rivers. The dwarves who inhabited Svartalfheim were known for their exceptional craftsmanship, producing intricate and valuable objects, as well as powerful weapons and tools. Despite their abilities, they were often portrayed as cunning and treacherous, and their realm was considered a place of danger to outsiders.


Vanaheim: Home of the Vanir 

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Freyja by Emil Doepler, 1905, via BBC


Vanaheim was the land of the Vanir gods, who were seen as a distinct group of deities from the Aesir. The realm was often portrayed as a place of peace and prosperity, where the Vanir gods lived in harmony with nature and with one another. It was described as a verdant land, filled with lush fields, forests, and abundant crops. In contrast to the warlike Aesir gods, the Vanir gods were characterized as generous and kind, and they were often depicted as promoting peace and fertility. The most well-known of the Vanir gods were Njord, the god of the sea and fishing, and his children Freyja and Freyr, who were associated with fertility, peace, and prosperity.


Yggdrasil: The World Tree

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Yggdrasil by Oluf Olufsen Bagge, 1847, via Public Domain Review


Yggdrasil, or the “World Tree”, was a colossal ash tree that served as the central arbor that connected and held together the nine realms of the Norse cosmos. This eternal tree was rooted in the underworld, extending through the worlds and connecting them all. Yggdrasil served as a powerful symbol of the interconnectedness of everything in the Norse universe, representing the cyclical nature of life, death, and rebirth. It was revered as a sacred symbol of the cosmos, and its roots were believed to hold the fate of the universe and all its inhabitants. As the World Tree, Yggdrasil was central to Norse cosmology, with its branches reaching out to the different realms, including Asgard, Midgard, and Helheim, among others. Its trunk and branches were inhabited by several creatures and beings, such as dragons, giants, and even some of the gods themselves.


Ragnarök: Armageddon in Norse Cosmology

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The Ride to Asgard by Peter Nicolai Arbo, 1872, via AKG Images


Ragnarök, which translates to “Fate of the Gods,” was a significant event that marked the end of the current world and the beginning of a new one. The events leading up to Ragnarök began with a long period of conflict and chaos. Known for his trickery and cunningness, the god Loki was said to have broken free from his imprisonment and rallied the forces of evil, including the giant Surtr and his armies from the fiery realm of Muspelheim. The gods and their allies fought fiercely against these evil forces, but they were finally overwhelmed and many of them perished. As the battle raged on, the world was plunged into darkness, and the sky was said to catch fire. The earth shook violently, and the oceans rose, engulfing everything in their path. Ultimately, the world was consumed by fire and water. Despite its ominous overtones, Ragnarök was not seen as a completely negative event but rather as a necessary step in the cyclical nature of existence. After Ragnarök, a renewed world would emerge and a new group of gods would take over the universe’s rule

<![CDATA[A Complete Timeline of the Greco-Persian Wars]]> 2023-07-02T16:11:47 Greg Beyer


The Greco-Persian Wars spanned more than half a century and were fought throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers fought in battles that would determine the fate of not just their nations or city-states but of the future of Western and Middle Eastern Civilization.


From before the Ionian Revolt to after the Wars of the Delian League, here is a timeline of the Greco-Persian Wars.


Achaemenid (Persian) Expansion Before the Conflict (559 – 500 BCE)

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Cyrus the Great, by Aegidius Paulus Dumesnil, 1721-1735, via the British Museum


In 559 BCE, Cyrus II established the Achaemenid Dynasty and immediately set about expanding his domain. The Kingdom of Lydia, which had subjugated Greek city-states on the Ionian coast (the coastline of western Turkey today), fell to Cyrus II in 546 BCE, and in the following years, the Greek city-states of Asia Minor were subjugated by the Achaemenids.


522 BCE: Beginning of Darius’ Reign 

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Darius I with incense burners, bas relief, Persepolis treasury, late 6th to early 5th BCE, in Tehran Architectural Museum, via the Britannica


During the reign of Darius I, the Achaemenid Empire expanded even further while bureaucracy and the military were improved. With massive resources and vast pools of manpower, the Achaemenid Empire is considered by many historians to be the world’s first superpower.


514 BCE: Darius Prepares to Invade Greece  


Darius ordered the building of a pontoon bridge across the Bosporus. Darius’ first targets, however, were north of Greece. He attacked the Scythians first, in the process conquering eastern Thrace and parts of what is now Ukraine.


Around 500 BCE: Persia Attacks Greek Islands


The North Aegean Islands of Limnos and Imnos were attacked and occupied by the Persians. This helped the Persians control the grain supply coming from the Black Sea. The island of Naxos in the Cyclades was also the target of Persian conquest. In 499, Aristagoras, the tyrant of the Greek Ionian city of Miletus, attempted to lay siege to Naxos with the backing of Darius and the Persians. The siege failed.


The Ionian Revolt (499 – 493 BCE)

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A map of Ancient Greece showing the Greek mainland, the islands, and Ionia. Image via Encyclopaedia Britannica


The Greek Ionian cities were ruled by tyrants who owed tribute and allegiance to the Persians. After the failed attempt to take Naxos, Aristagoras, who promoted the expedition, feared a Persian reprisal. Along with his father-in-law, Histiaeus, he declared a constitutional government in Miletus and expelled the tyrants from the other city-states.


498 BCE: The Fighting Begins


Aristagoras sailed to the Greek mainland, looking for help. He was refused by the Spartans, but the Athenians promised to send 20 triremes, and the Eretrians promised 5. The ships arrived in 498 BCE, and the Ionians promptly attacked and burnt the city of Sardis, Cyprus. This action spurred rebellions in other places. Greeks in the states of Caria, Bosporus, the Hellespont, and Cyprus rose up against the Persians.


497 – 496 BCE: The Persians Retake Cyprus


Three Persian army groups were dispatched to deal with the uprisings. The Persians first concentrated on regaining control in Cyprus. Although losing a fleet battle to the rebels, they routed the Cyprian Greeks on land, and the last Greek stronghold on the island capitulated in 496 BCE.


496 – 493 BCE: The Ionian Revolt Is Crushed


Although delayed by a defeat at the hands of the Carians, two Persian army groups managed to regain control of the Bosporus and the Hellespont. With a large fleet of ships recruited from Phoenicia, Egypt, and Cyprus, the Persians won a decisive victory at sea and then systematically regained control over the rebellious city-states on the coast. Miletus was captured in 494 BCE, and the Ionian Revolt was completely stamped out in 493 BCE.


The First Persian Invasion of Greece (492 – 490 BCE)

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An amphora depicting a Greek hoplite in combat with a Persian soldier, via Metropolitan Museum of Art


After the Ionian Revolt, the Persians made preparations to invade the Greek homeland and pacify the Greeks.


492 BCE: Mardonius’ Campaign


Before Greece could be invaded directly, preparations had to be made in the surrounding areas. Darius’ son-in-law, Mardonius, led this effort in 492 BCE. He re-invaded Thrace, which had thrown off the yoke of Persian control, and fully subjugated Macedon, which had been a vassal of Persia.


Mardonius’ fleet sailed to Thasos and subjugated the island, but disaster struck afterward, and the fleet was caught in a violent storm that destroyed many of the ships and drowned thousands of men.


Despite these problems as well as having trouble with a local Thracian tribe, the Brygians, the campaign was overall a success, as it had secured the strategic approaches to Greece.


491 BCE: Darius Tries Diplomacy


Before the Persians launched a full invasion of the Greek homeland, Darius wanted to secure allies in Greece. He sent diplomats to each of the city-states asking for “earth and water” — a traditional way of asking for submission. Many of the states, fearing the wrath of the Persians, accepted the offer. Athens put the diplomats on trial and had them executed, while the Spartans simply threw them down a well.


490 BCE: The Main Campaign

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‘Olympias’; a reconstruction of a Greek trireme, 1987, via Hellenic Navy


The second and main expedition set sail in 490 BCE and was under the command of a Mede named Datis and Artaphernes, the son of a powerful Satrap. The first target was the island of Rhodes, just off the southern coast of Ionia. The Persians attempted to besiege the city of Lindos but were unsuccessful.


Naxos to Eretria


The island of Naxos in the Cyclades was the first victim of the Persians. The settlements were burnt, and the population either fled into the mountains or was enslaved.


The next target was the island of Delos, but after demonstrating his power, Datis felt no need to raze the settlements. The fleet then island-hopped across the Cyclades, taking hostages and troops until they reached the city of Karystos in Euboea, mainland Greece. The city refused to surrender hostages and was ravaged until the leaders submitted to the Persians.


The first major city encountered by the Persians was Eretria which was besieged. After six (or seven) days, the city was captured, razed, and the population enslaved.


The Battle of Marathon 

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Heroes of the Battle of Marathon, painted by Georges Rochegrosse, c. 1859–1938, via Wikimedia Commons


The next Persian move was to land the army. They chose the beach at Marathon, where they were confronted by an army of Greeks, mainly from Athens. Five days of standoff ensued. Although outnumbering the Greeks by more than 2 to 1, the Persians decided to load their troops back onto their ships and pick another place to land. Once the cavalry had been loaded, however, the Greeks attacked, routing the Persian flanks before achieving a decisive victory and crushing any hopes the Persians had of continuing the campaign.


Interbellum (490 – 480 BCE) 

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A hand-colored engraving of Xerxes I, published by Gerard de Jode, circa 1585, British Museum


After the Persian defeat, it became clear that it would take a much bigger force of arms to be able to defeat the Greek city-states, especially if they united. Darius began building a huge army to take on this task. Darius, however, died in 486, and his son, Xerxes I, continued the buildup. By 481 BCE, the buildup was complete, and Xerxes began the march toward Greece.


The Second Persian Invasion of Greece (480 – 479 BCE)


The second Persian invasion of Greece would mark the zenith of the conflict. With an army ten times larger than that of Darius, Xerxes was understandably confident. The Persian army crossed the Hellespont on two massive pontoon bridges. Modern historians estimate the army to be around 200 000 soldiers, supported by a fleet of between 600 and 1 200 triremes.


August 480 BCE: The Battle of Thermopylae

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Leonidas at Thermopylae, by Jacques Luis David, 1814, via Louvre


The Greeks decided to defend the narrow pass at Thermopylae as the bottleneck would reduce the numerical superiority of the Persian army. Led by Spartan King Leonidas, several thousand Greek hoplites defended the pass for two days. Upon learning that the Persians were about to outflank the Greek force. Leonidas sent off the main Greek force and, alongside 300 Spartan warriors and 700 Thespians, stayed behind to delay the Persian advance. On the third day, the Persians took Thermopylae and killed Leonidas and his troops.


The Battle of  Artemisium


While the Battle of Thermopylae was being waged, the Greek fleet of 271 triremes defended the Straits of Artemisium, protecting the Greek flank at Thermopylae. After the loss at Thermopylae, the badly damaged Greek fleet withdrew.


September 480 BCE: Destruction of Athens and the Battle of Salamis

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An artist’s depiction of the Battle of Salamis. Image via BBC


After gaining access to virtually all of northern Greece, the Persians burned Athens. They also hoped that they could force a Greek surrender by destroying the Greek fleet. Under the leadership of Themistocles, the Greek fleet retreated to the Isthmus of Salamis directly off the coast to the west of Athens. Here the Persian numbers worked against the invading fleet, which struggled to maneuver. After destroying 200 Persian vessels, the Greeks secured a decisive victory.


June 479 BCE: the Battles of Plataea and Mycale

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Depiction of the Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE, via akg-images/Osprey Publishing/Peter Dennis


The Persian army attempted to draw the Greeks out into the open, where the Persians could make use of their cavalry. They made camp north of a small river near the city of Plataea. The Greek army, heavily outnumbered, attempted to outmaneuver the Persians but were caught in the open and separated. Despite the tactical blunder, the Greek hoplites were far too powerful for the Persian infantry to deal with, and the Persian army was crushed at the Battle of Plataea.


A few days later, possibly inspired by news of what was happening across the Aegean, a Greek army at Mycale in Asia Minor defeated the Persian army that was sent to face them. With the help of the Ionian Greeks who turned against their Persian commanders, the Greeks captured the Persian camp and burned the remaining Persian ships in another decisive battle.


479 BCE: Sestos


After the victories at Plataea and Mycale, the Greco-Persian Wars saw a major turning point, and the Greeks went on the offensive. The Athenians besieged and took the city of Sestos in a bid to deny the Persians access to the Hellespont.


478 BCE: Byzantium

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Immortals from the frieze of Archers from Susa, ca. 510 BC, via The Louvre, Paris


The following year, the Greeks sailed on Byzantium, which they captured after besieging the city. With control of Sestos and Byzantium, Hellespont and Bosporus were effectively denied to the Persians. This action brought to an end the second attempt to invade Greece.


The Wars of the Delian League (477 – 449 BCE) 


After the failed attempt by Xerxes to subdue Greece, the Greeks went on the offensive.


469 Or 466 BCE?: The Battle of Eurymedon


On the southern coast of modern-day Turkey, the Persians began rebuilding their fleet. This fleet was destroyed by the Greeks, who attacked and destroyed it. Around 200 Persian ships were captured or destroyed.


460’s BCE: Egyptian Revolt


In the mid 480’s BCE, the Egyptian Satrapy revolted against Persian rule. After about two decades, the Athenians decided to get involved and support the Egyptians. The campaign ended in disaster when the Greek forces were besieged and destroyed.


Was There a Peace Treaty Between Greece and Persia?


Historians are divided on whether a peace treaty occurred, but the conflict seemed to peter out, and actions were taken which would suggest some sort of agreement was made, which drew the conflict to a close. A notable date suggested is 449 BCE, when the Greeks left the Island of Cyprus.


The Greco-Persian Wars Were Not the Last Conflict Between Greeks and Persian

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Greek hoplite besting a Persian by unknown artist, 5th century BCE, the tondo of a kylix drinking cup, via the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh


The Greco-Persian Wars ebbed and flowed throughout their duration. Although the open conflict between the Greeks and the Persians ended, it was by no means an end to the struggle between the two entities, nor was it an end to the effects of war on the common people. Persia engaged in other conflicts, while Greece descended into a bloody war between Sparta and Athens known as the Peloponnesian War. It would be another century before Alexander the Great arrived on the scene and put an end to the Achaemenid Empire.

<![CDATA[Qing China: How Was Life in the Imperial Harems Like?]]> 2023-07-02T12:11:18 Ching Yee Lin


In China, the structure of the imperial harems varied across the dynasties. It was essentially a system of strict hierarchies that governed the lives and behaviors of women in the Forbidden City. During the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), women in the palace were typically categorized into eight classes, from the Empress at the highest tier to the humble serving ladies at the lowest. What did it take to enter the Qing imperial harem? What was life like for the women in the Forbidden City during the Qing period? What rights and privileges might they have, and what tragic tales resided behind the closed doors of the imperial harems?


Introduction to the Chinese Imperial Harems

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Ladies’ Seasonal Activities of Twelve Months (Yueman Qingyou Tu) by Chen Mei, 1738 via Palace Museum, Beijing


In China, imperial harems constituted an important part of an Emperor’s reign. To ensure the continuation of the dynasty, his harem needed to produce male heirs to be groomed as the future successor of the dragon throne. As such, it is customary for the royal family to scour the whole of China for suitable consorts to join the Emperor’s harem. The selection of xiunu (literally beautiful girls) was a rigorous selection process where young, unmarried women were benchmarked against impossible standards and competed to stand out.


They were put through rounds and rounds of physical examinations, as well as a series of behavioral and cognitive tests. Those who managed to survive the rigorous process and excel would be given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve the emperor as his concubines. Once they were selected, the concubines committed themselves to a strictly hierarchical system and a lifelong competition for the Emperor’s attention. Such a selection process to sieve out the most suitable consorts for the emperor was said to date as far back as the Jin Dynasty (265–420).


Qing Imperial Harem: The Selection Process

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Eight Banner positions in the Inner City around the Imperial Palace in Beijing, via Mandarin Mansion


Though the process of selecting xiunu was practiced in Qing China, it differed from the previous dynasties as Emperor Shunzhi limited the selection strictly to the Eight Banners families instead of the majority Han population. A Manchurian military and administrative framework, the Eight Banners system referred to an elite network of Manchurian and Mongolian families. Through the various clan heads and banner officials, the imperial Board of Revenue would secure a list of eligible candidates to facilitate the selection process that occurred once every three years.


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The Imperial Throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity, Forbidden City, Peking, 1900–1927, via Historical Photographs of China


Accompanied by the respective clan heads and their family members, the prospective candidates would report to the Gate of Divine Prowess at the Forbidden City for inspection on a selected date. Approximately 100 to 300 eligible girls would partake in the initial inspection of appearance and demeanor. Among the lot, those found suitable would register as a xiunu to undergo a more stringent selection process. This included tests that evaluated the intellectual abilities, talents, and skills of the remaining dozens of girls. Finally, those who survived these tests would attend the final selection at the Palace of Heavenly Purity where the Emperor himself and the Empress Dowager would make their choices. Usually, the candidates who were selected stood out in terms of beauty, health, talents, and most importantly, family heritage.


The Hierarchy in the Qing Imperial Harem System

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Empress Xiaoxianchun, the principal wife of Emperor Qianlong, via The Palace Museum, Beijing


Officially, there were eight classes in the Qing imperial harem system. The Empress, who held the highest authority at the top, was the Emperor’s only principal wife. Expected to exemplify Confucian morals, she was to take charge of and maintain harmony in the harem, playing a key ceremonial role in the palace. The Empress presided over the Six Western Palaces and Six Eastern Palaces where all the concubines lived. Down the pecking order, there was to be a maximum of one Imperial Noble Consort, two Imperial Consorts, four Consorts, and six Imperial Concubines. Commanding considerable authority, these women were granted their own official residences with at least six to eight attendants each. Lower on the hierarchy were the Noble Lady, First Class Attendant, and Second-Class Attendant. With no restriction on the numbers, these women lived communally in the same quarters and had little authority.


The Emperor’s Love Life

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A scene from the Chinese period drama The Story of Yanxi Palace (2018) which depicts the tablets containing each concubine’s name, via Bastille Post


As a thriving harem was an indication of a strong empire, the imperial court took pains to organize the Emperor’s sex life. With a rotation of concubines, detailed records of who the Emperor slept with every day were kept meticulously by court officials. As emperors typically were spoilt for choice, a standard practice was for the eunuchs to display wooden tablets of the names of concubines in front of the emperor. Once the tablet of a particular concubine was flipped over by the emperor, it meant that he wanted to sleep with her that night. The selected concubine would then have her body showered and cleansed before being wrapped up naked in a thick blanket as eunuchs carried her on foot to the emperor’s chambers. Concubines had to be naked before entering the emperor’s chambers to ensure that they did not carry any weapons that could harm the emperor.


Life-in-Waiting: Passing Time 

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Two court ladies playing chess, Qing Dynasty, via Bonhams


A day in the life of the imperial concubines could be rather boring if they did not have to accompany the Emperor on official functions. As such, leisure activities were abundant in the palace for them to pass the time and enjoy. Imperial concubines during the Qing Dynasty would often occupy themselves by playing board games such as Chinese Chess and enjoying arts and musical performances.


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The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795) Enjoying the Snow by an Anonymous Court Painter, Qing Dynasty, via The Palace Museum, Beijing


A special activity said to be enjoyed by the Manchu royalty was frolicking in the snow during winter. Not only would the concubines play in the snow, but the Emperor would also join in the fun as well. Other popular hobbies in the imperial harem included taking long garden walks, fishing, playing on swings, and taking care of pets. At one point, there were over 100 cats and dogs in the imperial palace, and designated caretakers were entrusted with ensuring they were well-fed and healthy.


Life-in-Waiting: Food and Fashion 

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An Embellished Kingfisher Feather Headdress Qing Dynasty, 19th Century, via Sotheby’s


From the highest-ranking Empress down to the humble Second-Class Attendant, life in the imperial harem matched a certain standard when compared to that of a commoner. This was especially apparent in the food and fashion enjoyed by the concubines. Imported from various locales, food of the highest quality was abundant in the imperial kitchen staffed by skilled chefs and nutritionists. While all of the Emperor’s concubines were entitled to curated, delectable meals, the quantity and variety differed according to rank. For example, it was said that the Empress would be given 21 pounds of premium meat every day, while a Second-Class Attendant would only receive five pounds.


Where fashion was concerned, the Manchurians were known for their colorful and ornamented clothing. Bright yellow was often the color associated with the Emperor and the Empress, especially on formal occasions. The other higher-ranking concubines would be dressed in golden yellow, while the remainder of the harem would be in champagne for easy differentiation. Expected to dress to impress, an imperial concubine had different sets of clothing, from the ceremonial Lifu and semi-formal Jifu right down to the more casual Changfu and Bianfu.


The Harrowing Harem: Survival of the Fittest

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The Story of Yanxi Palace, 2018, via BBC


While the imperial harem system was to function as a pillar of support for the emperor’s reign, it often became a bloody battlefield filled with schemes, lies, jealousy, and tragedy. From vying for the Emperor’s attention to elevating one’s rank through reproduction, being an imperial concubine was no easy feat. As with promotion, demotion and loss of favor were also a possibility should one put the wrong foot out. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong, several concubines were met with this fate – even the Empress herself.


In 1765, Step Empress Nara was said to have committed a grave faux pas by cutting her hair – an act associated with mourning according to Manchu traditions. Infuriated, Emperor Qianlong made a deliberate effort to strip her of her authority, removed her privileges, and even downsized the palace ladies attending to her. In 1778, another concubine, Lady Wang, was also demoted after a palace maid succumbed to injuries from the severe beatings she had ordered. Similarly, in 1788, within 16 days, Consort Shun dropped two ranks to a Noble Lady for unknown reasons.


The Tragedy of Being The Favorite

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Portrait of Consort Zhen, 1895–1900, via China Global Television Network


While it would seem like fighting for the Emperor’s favor was all it needed to elevate through the ranks, being a favorite did not always bode well for a concubine. Such was the tragic fate of Emperor Guangxu’s beloved Consort Zhen in the late Qing era. In sharp contrast to the traditional and conservative imperial palace, Consort Zhen was a bubbly and free-spirited woman who enjoyed learning about new cultures and technology. Her effervescent personality deeply captured the favor of Emperor Guangxu who would often spend his leisure time with her. Consort Zhen commanding the Emperor’s sole attention, along with her penchant for breaking the rules, soon became a source of discontent for the powerful Empress Dowager Cixi.


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The well where Consort Zhen was thrown into in the Forbidden City, date unknown, via China Global Television Network


Furthermore, during a time when the glories of the Great Qing were fading, widespread socio-political unrest and internal conflicts within the court plagued Emperor Guangxu’s reign. Consort Zhen knew about the Emperor’s well-meaning intentions to fix what was perceived as an ailing and outdated imperial system and often encouraged him to pursue his reforms. As such Consort Zhen would sometimes interfere in and influence decisions, which resulted in Cixi giving her a demotion to punish her perceived brazen behavior. During the siege of the Eight-Nation Alliance in 1900, Cixi and Emperor Guangxu fled Beijing and left Consort Zhen behind in the Forbidden City. Rumor has it that before she left, Cixi had ordered the eunuchs in the palace to drown Consort Zhen in a well. The well where her body was later found and retrieved is a tourist site in the Forbidden City today.


Entering the Imperial Harems: Was It All Worth It?

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Court ladies in traditional Manchu robes, 1910 – 1925, via Library of Congress, Washington


As tales of imperial concubines such as Consort Zhen continue to intrigue today, so too have retrospective evaluations of life in the Chinese imperial harem. While one can indeed expect a life of luxury in the palace, it was not without its fair share of problems. Has anyone ever prepared these young women for what was to come before they entered the palace? Was it all worth it to fight their entire life for the Emperor’s elusive attention and favor? Had these women known how difficult things would be in the future, would they have still taken the plunge during the xiunu selection?


A life of constant scheming, fear of making mistakes, as well the pressure of having to produce an heir was certainly not something everybody could endure. But perhaps the toughest to endure was the loneliness that came with the glory. Just as the great master poet of the Tang Dynasty Li Bai so eloquently captured in the poem below, the price of a life of luxury was the sorrowful solitude that resided behind the closed chamber doors in the vast and lonely palace.


The glad spring goes unattended,

At the laurel bower where sorrow is long;

But on the four walls of gold

The autumn dust clings like grief;

And night holds the bright mirror up in the emerald sky,

For the lonely one in the Palace of Long Gate.

– “Sorrow of the Long Gate Palace II” by Li Bai (701–762)

<![CDATA[What Was the Great Pyramid of Giza Used For?]]> 2023-07-02T10:11:38 Rosie Lesso


The Great Pyramid of Giza is the last remaining artefact in the seven wonders of the ancient world, a fascinating emblem of the ancient civilization that once ruled over Egypt. Along with the surrounding pyramids in the Giza complex, the Great Pyramid is remarkably well preserved, and has become a UNESCO World Heritage site which is under extensive protection. Built over 4,000 years ago, it is the largest pyramid in the world, and remained the tallest structure made by human hands for over 3,000 years, until the Eiffel Tower was constructed in Paris in 1889.


How, exactly, such a colossal structure was built has been a subject of fascination for centuries. The purpose of the Great Pyramid of Giza has also been a source of extensive study and research. Below we outline some of the most widely accepted purposes of the Great Pyramid that attracts millions of tourists every year. 


A Royal Tomb for King Khufu

statue king khufu great pyramid of giza
Statue of King Khufu, ca. 2580 BCE.


Historians believe the primary role of the Great Pyramid of Giza was to act as a tomb for the great Egyptian King Khufu. Egyptians believed that their pharaohs would go on to become gods in the afterlife, but in order to prepare for a safe transition into the next world, they had to have the right burial chamber. King Khufu spent 27 years planning the construction of his pyramid with his cousin and vizier, the architect Hemiunu.


In its day it was the most impressive structure in the world, unlike anything anyone had seen, and its sheer scale and ingenuity seemed to represent the almighty power of the man who once ruled over the ancient kingdom, although it was more likely a demonstration of his kingdom’s wealth, which waned in subsequent generations. When Khufu died, his sarcophagus was placed inside the king’s chamber, deep inside the pyramid, although his remains were never found. However, his pyramid was surrounded by several satellite pyramids built for his wife and family


A Treasure Trove?

Pyramid of Khufu in Giza, Egypt


Unusually, no treasures were uncovered inside the Great Pyramid of Giza when it was discovered during the late 18th and early 19th century, in contrast with the lavish, gold-filled tombs of later pharaohs such as Tutankhamun. There are several likely reasons for this. One is because historians believe the tomb had already been heavily looted over the centuries from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom onwards, leaving little of monetary value behind. Another reason is because the tombs of earlier pharaohs were far less indulgent affairs than those of later rulers, meaning the same kinds of treasures you might expect of an Egyptian tomb might never been there in the first place. 


A Temple to the Gods

The Pyramids of Giza, August Albert Zimmermann, 19th century, Bradford Museums and Galleries


The Pyramid of Giza, along with other Egyptian pyramids, have been the subject of speculation for centuries, with many pondering about why they were built in such a shape, and whether they had any purpose beyond being a burial site. Many historians believe pyramids were fundamental to Egyptian religious belief. Research suggests the pointed shape of the pyramid was made to resemble a mound of earth (what the Egyptians called a benben), from where they observed new life sprouting forth during the spring as it reached towards the sun. Much like a mound of earth, their pyramids pointed upwards towards the sky.


Originally made with gleaming white limestone, the pyramid would have glinted in the sunlight and shone with brilliant radiance at certain times of day, which researchers have argued was a tribute to the sun god Re, (also known as Ra), the giver of life. Experts have also observed how the pyramid’s four sides are built to align with the cardinal directions, which further emphasizes their dedication to the power of the sun.

<![CDATA[10 Famous Tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses]]> 2023-07-02T06:11:26 Rhianna Padman


The central theme of the poem is change, transformation, and the power of imagination and storytelling. Ovid explores the idea that everything is in a constant state of flux and that nothing remains the same for very long. He uses mythological stories to highlight the fluidity of identity and the transformative power of love, loss, and grief. Many of the stories feature characters undergoing physical or emotional transformations, whether through the intervention of the gods, the power of desire, or the natural course of time. While warning about the dangers of excess, hubris, and pride featuring characters who are punished for their arrogance or overconfidence and transform as a result. These transformations often serve as a warning against the dangers of succumbing to one’s desires.


1. Apollo and Daphne

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Apollo and Daphne by Galleria Borghese, 1622-1625, via Borghese Gallery


In Book 1 of the Metamorphoses, Apollo, the god of music, poetry, and prophecy, is struck by Cupid’s arrow and becomes infatuated with Daphne, a nymph who, due to her devotion to the goddess Diana, wished to remain chaste. Despite her constant rejections, Apollo continued to pursue Daphne, who finally prayed to her father, the river god Peneus, for help. In response to her prayer, Peneus transformed Daphne into a laurel tree. Apollo adopted this as his sacred tree, making it a symbol of victory, honor, and poetic inspiration.


Some have interpreted the myth as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unbridled passion, while others have seen it as a celebration of the power of artistic creation and the transformative power of nature.


2. Narcissus 

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Narcissus by Caravaggio, circa 1600, via Barberini Gallerie Corsini Nazionali


Book 3 contains the famous myth of Narcissus, a handsome youth admired by many but remained indifferent to their affections. Wandering in the forest, he came across a pool of water and saw his reflection for the first time. He became captivated by his own beauty, fell in love with his reflection, and spent all his time gazing into the water, neglecting all other aspects of his life. Eventually, he realized that he could never be with his reflection and became despondent, dying from a broken heart.


The tale warns of the dangers of vanity, self-obsession, and the illusions of love. In psychology, the term narcissism is used to describe a personality disorder in which an individual has a grandiose sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.


3. Diana and Actaeon

diana actaeon turchi
Diana and Actaeon by Alessandro Turchi, 1600, via AKG Images


Later in Book 3, the story of Actaeon is told. Actaeon, a skilled hunter, happens upon a grove where the goddess Diana and her attendants are bathing. Beholding Diana naked, Actaeon immediately becomes smitten with her beauty and continues to watch the goddess. Diana, furious that a mortal has seen her in this vulnerable state, punishes Actaeon by transforming him into a stag, ultimately causing his hunting dogs to turn on him and kill him.


The myth has been understood as a warning about the dangers of lust, voyeurism, and the consequences of violating religious boundaries.


4. Pyramus and Thisbe

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Thisbe by John William Waterhouse, 1909, via Wikimedia Commons


Pyramus and Thisbe were two young lovers who lived in adjoining houses in Babylon. As their families kept them from seeing each other, they communicated secretly through a crack in the wall between their houses. This way, they planned to meet under a mulberry tree outside the city. Thisbe arrived first. However, upon seeing a lioness with blood on her mouth, she dropped her veil, which the lioness ripped to shreds, and fled. When Pyramus arrived and saw Thisbe’s torn veil, he thought that she had been killed and committed suicide. Thisbe later returned to find Pyramus dead and took her own life too.


The myth expresses the dangers of family conflict, the consequences of forbidden love, the power of love to transcend social and cultural barriers, and the tragic consequences of misunderstanding and miscommunication. The story has inspired many artistic works, including paintings, sculptures, and literary works, such as the infamous play “Romeo and Juliet”.


5. Perseus and Andromeda 

perseus andromeda loo
Perseus and Andromeda by Charles André van Loo, 1735-40, via Harvard Art Museums


In Book 4, the myth of Perseus and Andromeda is recounted. Andromeda’s mother, Queen Cassiopeia, had boasted that her daughter’s beauty surpassed that of the Nereids, the sea nymphs. This angered Poseidon, who retaliated by sending a sea monster to ravage the kingdom’s coast. An oracle of Ammon informed the king and queen that the kingdom could only be saved by sacrificing Andromeda to the monster. Upon spotting Andromeda chained to a rock on the coast, Perseus learned of her fate, became enamored, and vowed to save her. Using the severed head of Medusa, Perseus turned the monster to stone and freed Andromeda.


6. Arachne

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Minerva and Arachne by Antoine Houasse, 1706, via Palace of Versailles


Arachne was a gifted mortal weaver who challenged Minerva — goddess of wisdom, handicrafts, and warfare — to a weaving competition. Arachne’s exceptional weaving skills and claim that she surpassed Minerva in her craft enraged the goddess, who accepted the challenge. The competition began, with each weaver creating a tapestry showcasing their artistic abilities. Minerva wove a magnificent tapestry depicting her triumphs, while Arachne wove a tapestry that mocked the gods and depicted their infidelities and immoral behavior. Upon seeing Arachne’s irreverent tapestry, Minerva destroyed it and transformed Arachne into a spider, cursing her to weave intricate webs for all eternity.


The myth warns of the dangers of hubris and the consequences of challenging the gods.


7. Daedalus and Icarus 

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Daedalus and Icarus by Anthony van Dyck, 1615-25, via Wikimedia Commons


The myth of Daedalus and Icarus is a well-known tale that has captured the imagination of people for centuries. Daedalus, a skilled craftsman and inventor, was imprisoned by King Minos on the island of Crete. To escape captivity, Daedalus crafted wings of feathers and wax for himself and his son Icarus. Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun or too close to the sea, as the heat from the sun would melt the wax, and the dampness of the sea would make the feathers too heavy to fly. Excited by the exhilaration of flight, Icarus ignored his father’s warning and flew too close to the sun. The wax on his wings melted and caused him to fall and drown in the sea.


Some have viewed the tale as a warning against hubris and disobedience, while others have seen it as a metaphor for the dangers of overreaching and ignorance. In the Renaissance, the myth was often depicted in art and literature, with artists portraying the moment of Icarus’s fall and Daedalus’ grief.


8. Orpheus and Eurydice

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Orpheus and Eurydice by Edward John Poynter, 1862, via Christie’s


Orpheus possessed the gift of enchantment through his song and lyre. He fell in love with the beautiful Eurydice, and they were married happily for a short while. Soon after, Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died instantly. Orpheus’ melodic lamentations moved earth, heaven, and hell, and soon he decided his only choice was to descend to the Underworld. Playing his lyre for Hades and Persephone, he moved the gods to feel for his plight. Persephone told Orpheus that he could take Eurydice with him under one condition: Eurydice would walk behind him as they ascended to the land of the living, and Orpheus would be prohibited from looking behind him.


Orpheus understood the terms, but as he could not listen to Eurydice’s footsteps behind him, he believed the gods had fooled him. A few steps away from freedom, Orpheus turned to see his wife. This had dire consequences, as Eurydice was snatched away from him forever. The myth teaches the importance of self-control, obedience, and the danger of curiosity.


9. Pygmalion 

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Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786, via Louvre


The tale tells of a master sculptor named Pygmalion who becomes enamored with a statue he has created. Pygmalion’s passion for his art is a reminder of the transcendent power of creativity, and it celebrates the transformative potential of artistic expression. Pygmalion creates a statue of such beauty and perfection that it captures his heart and soul. Consumed by his desire, he implores the goddess Aphrodite to bring the statue to life, even if it means defying the laws of nature. His passion is a testament to the all-consuming nature of desire, and the lengths humans will go to satisfy their deepest longings.


10. Atalanta

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The Race between Atalanta and Hippomenes by Nicolas Colombel, 1680, via Sotheby’s


In book 10, Atalanta is a powerful, independent woman who defied traditional gender roles and societal expectations. A skilled huntress, Atalanta was renowned for her beauty, strength, and prowess with bow and arrow. She was fiercely independent and refused to conform to the gender norms of her time, rejecting marriage and motherhood in favor of adventure and freedom.


Captured by her beauty, a group of suitors pursued her with the intent of marrying her. However, determined to remain independent, she challenged the suitors to a footrace promising to marry the man who could beat her. Many tried and failed, but Atalanta’s resolve was tested when a handsome and talented young man named Hippomenes entered the race. Hippomenes was determined to win Atalanta’s hand but knew he could not beat her in a footrace. Instead, he sought the help of the goddess Aphrodite, who gave him three golden apples. Hippomenes dropped the apples one by one during the race, causing Atalanta to slow down and ultimately lose the race.

<![CDATA[Where Did the Vikings Travel? A Legacy of Raids, Voyages, and Trade]]> 2023-07-01T20:11:37 Marianne Plasse


During the Middle Ages, the name “Vikings” struck fear into the hearts of whoever heard it. In turn fearsome warriors, raiders, merchants, and settlers, the Norsemen traveled far and wide for hundreds of years. From Scandinavia’s shores, they sailed for the British Isles, northern France, Baghdad, and Russia on one side of the Atlantic, then turned their attention west to Iceland, Greenland, and North America. Many misconceptions remain when mentioning the Vikings, but one thing is for sure: they were born to sail the sea.


First Foray Outside Scandinavia: Raiding the British Isles

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Battle of Larges (Viking ships detail) by William Hole, circa 1899, via Wikimedia Commons


Viking raids changed everything in medieval Europe. They transformed the political and economic landscapes of the lands they pillaged or conquered. These raids influenced the creation of trade routes, and those used by the Vikings “promoted the flow of coins, silver, and limited goods.” The foundation of Norse settlements irrevocably changed the political map of medieval Europe. The Viking raids also reinvigorated the desire to create strong local political leadership to fight back against those who had come from the sea to pillage their shores.


The first raids started on the Baltic Sea, where the raiders made their way through present-day Russia and Ukraine. Still, the Viking raids were more infamous in the British Isles, some of the most battered locations during the Viking Age. As early as 750, British records already inform of small raids on these shores. The first substantive raid was the attack on the Irish monastery of Lindisfarne on June 8th, 793. The raiders massacred the monks and pillaged the monastery. The Viking raids had officially begun in the region.


After the massacre at Lindisfarne, the Norse presence in the British Isles continued for many years. The Scandinavians settled in Dublin and established settlements in both Ireland and Wales. While local leadership fought back, the Vikings’ political influence in the British Isles continued for centuries during the Danish invasion in the 9th century and Canute the Great’s control of the English territory during the 11th century.


The Normans in France

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Detail from Bayeux Tapestry showing Bishop Odo rallying William the Conqueror’s troops at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, 1066, via Wikimedia Commons


The Viking raids spread to France, known as Francia during this time, and pillaged their way through the kingdom. Following the death of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, no political leader was strong enough to resist the Norse who invaded his former territory.


The Vikings attacked Paris itself multiple times. Reginherus organized a siege of the city in 845, and Rollo did the same in 885-886. Following his Siege of Paris, Rollo continued his raids on the countryside until Charles III gave him the region that would eventually become Normandy in exchange for peace in the city. As promised, while Viking raids continued in Francia, Rollo protected Paris after 911.


Following his acquisition of Normandy, Rollo established a peaceful rule that would influence the reigns of his descendants. Richard I and Richard II were nonviolent rulers who lived long lives and ruled for many years. This peace lasted until William the Conqueror’s time, who would eventually cross over the English Channel and change the political landscape of Britain forever. As the Norse aristocracy reigned over French peasants, other Europeans, from then on, referred to the people of Normandy as Normans.


The Vikings of Kievan Rus’: From Raiders to Traders

invitation varangians painting
Invitation of the Varangians by Viktor Mikhailovitch Vasnetsov, before 1913, via Wikimedia Commons


Contrary to popular belief, not all Norse people were interested in raiding. Indeed, not all Scandinavians were Vikings either. The term “Viking” can only be associated with those who sailed the seas to raid other lands, and “going Viking” meant going on raiding expeditions. Most Scandinavians were neither sailors nor raiders. Many were farmers, blacksmiths, weavers, and musicians, among other occupations. Those who came to trade were called Norsemen.


The Norsemen, those who had crossed the sea to trade and not pillage, arrived on the eastern rivers to a land that had not yet received its name. Indeed, the name Russia came from the Rus, or the Kievan Rus’, who settled these parts much like the Norsemen who had founded Dublin and settled parts of Ireland and Wales.


Much like all Norse settlers, the Rus’ traded with their neighbors. Halfway between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire, their new lands were a prime location for commerce. The Norse traded “furs, cloth[e]s, and art objects” in exchange for goods such as Islamic silver or Indian golden Buddhas. Many Scandinavians also became soldiers and mercenaries. They joined the ranks of the Varangian Guard and became the Byzantine emperors’ personal bodyguards.


The Norsemen in Baghdad

Funeral of an old Russian nobleman by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1883, via Wikiart


The Norsemen who made their way into modern-day Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus did not stop there. Whereas some Rus’ went through the Black Sea to the Byzantine Empire, others made their way down the Volga and across the Caspian Sea to Baghdad. There, they traded furs, enslaved people, “honey, wax[,] and timber” in exchange for “Arabic silver coins and silk, spices, wine, jewelry, glass, and books.” The Scandinavian merchants were instrumental in the medieval Silk Road, which went from Constantinople to Kyiv and all the way to England.


Fascinating information about the Rus’ comes from the writings of Ahmad ibn Fadlan. Al-Muqtadir, the Caliph of Baghdad, sent him on a mission to meet with the King of the Bulgars in 922. He wrote of their features: from their blond hair to their clothing to their weapons. He also wrote of their living accommodations, from their houses to their enslaved workers. And he also wrote of the Rus’ funeral practices. He watched as the Norsemen put a deceased chieftain on a small boat along with his belongings and one of the enslaved women he had owned. Archers then set it on fire.


Ahmad ibn Fadlan probably exaggerated some accounts in his writings. An example would be the Rus’ supposed lack of hygiene. Still, the information he wrote down has been immensely helpful in our understanding of the Norsemen’s lifestyle during the Middle Ages.


The Norsemen Who Settled Iceland

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The Norwegians land in Iceland year 872 by Oscar Wergeland, 1877, via Wikimedia Commons


The Norwegians went west, first to the British Isles and then into the Atlantic. The winds and currents carried the first Norsemen who arrived on Iceland’s shores, Naddodd the Viking in 830 and Gardar the Swede in 860, off their course to the Faroe Islands. They landed in Iceland instead. These explorers didn’t stay long, and only a handful of permanent settlers lived on the island until Flóki Vilgerðarson came in 868. He named the land “Iceland” and returned to his homeland, where his crewmen told of this new empty land’s beauty. The crew member’s reports attracted the attention of many Norwegians.


Harald Finehair ruled over Norway during this time, and his reign might have been “tyrannical” for taxes and land allocation. This Norwegian reign with an iron fist made Iceland even more alluring. Many left Norway and traveled across the sea to settle in Iceland.


Farmers and a few members of the elite emigrated to the island. There, the social hierarchy was less profound than back home in Norway. As soon as the farmers established larger-scaled settlements, they created a new code of law. A brand-new political system called the Althing was born in Iceland, where a prototypical democratic assembly met at Thingvellir to vote for laws.


This political system lasted from the Age of Settlement, from 870 to 930, throughout the Age of the Commonwealth, from 930 to 1200, and until a few distinct familial clans gained political power during the Age of Sturlungs, from 1200 to 1262. Eventually, the King of Norway encouraged the chiefs who came from these clans and established their power and financial wealth to establish Norwegian sovereignty over the island. Norway became sovereign over Iceland from then on. This sovereignty would last from around 1262 to 1944 when Iceland became independent.


From Iceland to Greenland

erik the red painting illustration
Erik the Red by Arngrimur Jonsson, 1688, via World History


From Iceland, the Norsemen traveled further west. There, they found Greenland, three-quarters ice rather than land. The first Viking to arrive was Erik the Red, exiled from Iceland for murder. As soon as his exile ended, he returned to Iceland and encouraged others to follow him to settle these lands. The settlers survived Greenland’s icy weather by creating their settlements in “verdant pockets along the south-western coast” where life was hospitable.


The Norsemen of Greenland hunted animals, such as walruses, seals, and caribou, and kept grazing livestock, such as cattle, sheep, and goats. They sold furs and narwhal ivory for luxuries and iron from abroad. While mostly farmers settled these lands, much like in Iceland, they did not establish any form of government like the Althing in Greenland.


Much like Iceland, the territory came under Norwegian rule around 1261. Constant communication between Norway and Greenland lasted until the 15th century, when silence fell between the two. Temperatures turned colder during the Little Ice Age, and Norwegians feared the worst. By the time they managed to send Hans Egede, a missionary, to Greenland’s shores, there were no more Norsemen to be found.


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Brown Wooden Boat on Sea Shore in Reykjavik, Iceland, 2020, via Pexels


Whereas the Norsemen of Greenland’s lifestyle was so dependent on farming and livestock-keeping, there are signs that with the changing temperatures of the Little Ice Age, many starved and died in their settlements. Others might have emigrated. A combination of factors brought the end of Norse presence in Greenland.


Of course, the Norsemen weren’t the only settlers in Greenland. They shared these lands with the Thule people, the ancestors of the Inuit, and there is archaeological evidence that they traded ivory and hunting goods in exchange for metal. When Hans Egede arrived in Greenland looking for the Norse settlements there, he found the Inuit instead. He wrongfully accused the Inuit of coming in conflict with the Norsemen of Greenland, but as mentioned above, it was a combination of factors, and not war, that brought an end to the Norse settlements in Greenland.


Today, Greenland, called Kalaallit Nunaat in Greenlandic, is under Danish sovereignty.


Scandinavians in North America


After the Norsemen had settled Greenland and Iceland, they continued west, where they reached the shores of North America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus declared he had “discovered” these lands. Much like with the inadvertent discoveries of Iceland and Greenland by the Norsemen, when a Norwegian man named Bjarni Herjolfsson found himself lost when trying to find Iceland, he wound up instead in present-day Labrador, Canada. While he didn’t land on these shores, he moved back east to Iceland, where he told his tale.


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Leif Eriksson Discovers America by Hans Dahl, via Wikimedia Commons


Leif Eriksson was particularly interested in Bjarni Herjolfsson’s tale of this land. He was the son of Erik the Red, who had first arrived in Greenland, and like his father before him, he set off west. He and his crew set up camp in the lands they explored, which they called Vinland, which was probably parts of the coast of Newfoundland today. They returned to Greenland after winter. Leif Eriksson’s brother Thorvald led an expedition later on, but as it ended in bloodshed when they encountered First Nations people, he and his crew didn’t stay long.


The Norsemen took North American “produce, timber, and furs back to Greenland and Iceland,” but somewhat tense relationships with First Nations people and the long distance between Newfoundland and Greenland made staying difficult. Evidence remains that they tried. Archaeologists unearthed a Norse site at L’Anse aux Meadows, on the northern tip of Newfoundland, during the 1960s. Yet, the Norsemen may have only inhabited the settlement for barely a decade before they abandoned it. This was the end of Norse presence in North America.


Still, an interesting fact about the Norsemen’s relations with First Nations people was found in a DNA study made in Iceland in 2010. According to this study, eighty Icelanders from four families were descendants of a First Nations ancestor who had possibly followed the Norsemen from L’Anse aux Meadows back to Iceland. While nothing more is known about these ancestors’ relationship, it is an interesting historical incident that highlights the relations between the Norsemen and the First Nations people, whether tense or not.


To Conclude: Where Did the Vikings Travel?

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Global Extent of Viking Exploration by Simeon Netchev, 2021, via World History


To conclude, it can be said that the Vikings themselves only traveled from Scandinavia to the British Isles to France and Germany, as the term “Vikings” can only be used, historically speaking, to describe those who pillaged and raided their way through Europe. But Scandinavians, or the Norsemen as some called them, traveled much farther in order to trade their wares and settle new lands. From Northern Europe to the shores of North America, from Baghdad to Reykjavik, the Norsemen impacted the cultures they encountered through their travels in relatively smaller or bigger ways. Even during the Middle Ages, it can be said that the world was connected through travel, long before our modern age of trains and planes.

<![CDATA[The Suez Canal Crisis of 1956 & The Rise of the US]]> 2023-07-01T16:11:38 Owen Rust


In 1956, the president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal, which had mostly been owned by British and French investors. This canal was a major part of ocean-going shipping and allowed ships to pass into the Mediterranean from the Red Sea, effectively linking Europe to the Indian Ocean and trade from Asia. Swiftly, Israel, Britain, and France moved to intervene and invaded Egypt. Against the background of the Cold War and the anti-colonialism movement, the aggressive actions by Israel, Britain, and France heightened tensions with the Soviet-backed Arab states in the Middle East. The United States, Soviet Union, and United Nations criticized the intervention.


Setting the Stage: French Colonialism

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A painting of Napoleon Bonaparte of France invading Egypt in 1798, via Warfare History Network


In 1798, a French general named Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, with some 30,000 troops. Napoleon’s successful invasion and seizure of Cairo, the capital city, was quickly noticed by the British. With Napoleon’s massive army helpless on land, the British destroyed the French fleet in the Mediterranean. Moving by land, France faced another crippling blow when the British allied with the Ottomans to thwart Napoleon’s plans to take Syria. After just over a year in Egypt, Napoleon returned home to France, where he began seizing power as a dictator.


Though Napoleon and some of his top staff had returned to France, his troops remained in Egypt and occupied the country until 1801, when they evacuated. Strong ties between France and Egypt remained, as Napoleon had brought with him many scholars who eagerly studied contemporary and ancient Egyptian culture. Egyptian culture became extremely popular in France, known as Egyptomania, a phenomenon that eventually also found its way to Britain. During the mid-1800s, as photography and archaeology became popular, France focused heavily on Egypt as a source of inspiration.


Setting the Stage: British Colonialism

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A political cartoon from 1896 depicting Britain as protecting a helpless Egypt from the ill intentions of the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey), via the University of Cambridge


British interest in Egypt began in the 1860s due to two events: the US Civil War (1861-65) reducing the amount of cotton exported to Britain from the American South, and the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869. Swiftly, Egypt moved to increase cotton production, which would be bound for the textile mills of England. The Suez Canal also benefited the British, as ships could now pass through the Mediterranean to reach India. At this time, India was Britain’s most valuable colony. This began a political tug-of-war between Britain and France regarding which European power would “control” Egypt.


Between the 1880s and World War I, Britain came to dominate more and more of Egypt’s affairs. Officially, Egypt was under the control of the Ottoman Empire, and the outbreak of hostilities between the Allied Powers (which included Britain) and the Central Powers (which included the Ottoman Empire) allowed Britain to seize control of Egypt. This year, 1914, saw Britain seize the Suez Canal and declare Egypt a protectorate. After World War I, Egyptians began fighting for independence, which was granted in 1922. However, British troops remained in Egypt until 1929, when they withdrew. The Suez Canal zone, similar to the Panama Canal zone in Central America, remained under British military control.


Setting the Stage: Post-WWII Decolonization 

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A photo of French soldiers returning home from a tour of duty during the First Indochina War (1946-54) in 1949, via Foreign Policy


Both Britain and France had historic ties to Egypt, and both were facing strong anti-colonial headwinds after World War II. France, which had been wholly defeated and occupied by Nazi Germany, sought to regain its colonies after the war. This included much of North Africa, particularly Algeria. The British had stationed troops in Egypt to protect against Italy and Germany seizing the Suez Canal. However, the end of the war brought about a swift desire for decolonization. Many people questioned how Britain and France could want to retain their colonial empires after a war had been fought to prevent the empires of Nazi Germany and fascist Japan.


However, Britain and France did seek to retain their empires, at least initially.  In Europe during the War, the British units under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery were allegedly used cautiously to preserve their strength for maintaining an empire, and British, Australian, and Indian units controlled many former colonies in southeast Asia after defeating the Japanese. Quickly, people in southeast Asia began demanding independence. Although Britain decided to grant independence to India, France attempted to hold onto French Indochina. In 1954, the defeat of the French in Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu led to the end of French control in southeast Asia.


Background: The Cold War

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A map showing Cold War political alliances in the Middle East, via Geography Education


The decolonization movement coincided with the rise of the Cold War. The Soviet Union, one of the victorious Allied Powers of World War II, was looking to export communism. It could offer aid to newly independent nations or rebel groups hoping to win independence. This sparked fears in the United States that refusal to decolonize could provide political and military openings to communists. Refusal to decolonize also created public relations problems, as maintaining colonies seemed opposed to the principles of democracy and state sovereignty supported by the US, Britain, and France.


Egypt was of interest to the Soviet Union during this era because of the Suez Canal and its location on the Mediterranean. More generally, the Soviet Union wished to improve relations in the Arab world, and Egypt was considered the most modernized Arab state. In 1955, an arms deal was made between Egypt and the Soviet Union, run through Czechoslovakia. Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, made the deal after approaching the United States for weaponry. When the US did not offer a desirable deal, the Soviets jumped at the chance to befriend Egypt as an opportunity to gain a toehold in the Middle East. Israel, the newest nation-state in the region, was firmly allied with the West, making Egypt the desired partner of the USSR.


July 1956: Egypt Nationalizes the Suez Canal

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An aerial view of the Suez Canal in the 1950s, via the National Army Museum, London


In July 1952, a coup overthrew king Faruk I of Egypt, and one of the main plotters was a young man named Gamal Abdel Nasser. Three years later, Nasser was Egypt’s undisputed leader and positioned his country as one of the leading nonaligned states, meaning it was neither a formal ally of the United States nor the Soviet Union. However, Nasser was not a true Marxist and focused more on Arab nationalism and decolonization than socialism. On July 26, 1956, he announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal. This violated a 1954 agreement that said the Suez Canal Company would not be transferred to Egyptian control before 1968.


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A map of the Suez Crisis of 1956, via Harvard University


Immediately, diplomats went to work to avoid armed conflict. The United States, despite being staunch World War II allies of Britain and France, did not support the possibility of war in the Middle East. An American proposal was to give 18 of the world’s leading maritime powers and Egypt equal ownership stakes in the canal, but this consortium idea was rejected. Between August and October, Britain and France held secret talks with Israel about a military invasion of Egypt, as Israel considered Egypt a military threat to its sovereignty.


Israel Invades Egypt

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A photo of Israeli paratroopers in Egypt in 1956, via the Jewish Virtual Library


On October 29, 1956, Israel began its invasion of Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula and defeated opposing Egyptian forces. The Israelis advanced toward the Suez Canal from the west using ground forces. This conflict between Israel and Egypt was not shocking, as Egypt had been one of the several Arab states to fight against Israel in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. The United Nation’s creation of a new Jewish territory in November 1947, using the land of British Palestine, was seen as an encroachment on Arab sovereignty. In May 1948, just as the new nation of Israel declared its independence, war broke out between it and neighboring Arab states.


Israel won its war for independence, but intense hostility lingered. Egypt prevented Israel from using the Suez Canal, motivating Israel to wrest the canal from Egyptian control. As Israeli forces pushed toward the canal in autumn of 1956, a trap was sprung by Britain and France against the Egyptians. Having plotted ahead of time with the Israelis, Britain and France called for a cease-fire by both sides in the growing war. When Nasser rejected this cease-fire, as was anticipated, Britain and France had an excuse to engage militarily.


Britain & France Invade Egypt

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A photo of a British Royal Navy jet preparing for action against Egypt on an aircraft carrier during the Suez Crisis, via The National Interest


With Egypt having rejected the cease-fire, British and French bombing of Egyptian targets began on October 31. For a few days, the European powers focused on neutralizing the Egyptian air force, planning to establish control of the skies. On November 5, both Britain and France began landing paratroopers at airfields and ports. An amphibious invasion occurred simultaneously, with Royal Marines coming ashore with tanks and other armor. Some Royal Marines arrived via helicopter, marking a first in warfare.


Supported by armor, the British took the Suez Canal with virtually no opposition. However, Nasser limited the effectiveness of the Europeans seizing the canal by blocking it with sunken ships. Egyptian forces also destroyed some oil production in Iraq, which had been under British domination since World War II. The blockage of the canal and Egyptian attempts to destroy oil bound for Europe threatened to greatly worsen an ongoing oil shortage. Altogether, however, the combined Anglo-French invasion of Egypt had been a swift military success.


America Responds Negatively to France & Britain

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A photo of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower (center) with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (left) in the early 1950s, via the American Foreign Service Association


Despite their military victory, Britain and France found themselves surprised at a diplomatic firestorm. The United States, led by president Dwight D. Eisenhower, condemned the invasion. The US believed the war would push Arab states into alliances with the Soviet Union, especially if American forces were needed to back up the British and French. Additionally, the US did not want to be seen supporting two aggressive colonial powers in an age of decolonization and also did not want to appear hypocritical after having just condemned the Soviet Union for its intervention in Hungary.


In a surprise move, the United States publicly criticized its two World War II allies in the United Nations. The US also promoted the use of UN peacekeepers, as opposed to troops from allied nations, to secure the canal. Although these moves created tensions between the US and its two European allies, they likely bought much goodwill from Arab states and prevented them from pursuing close alliances with the Soviet Union.


Britain & France Forced to Withdraw

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A photo of protesters in Britain criticizing the nation’s intervention against Egypt during the Suez Crisis, via the National Army Museum, London


The Anglo-French invasion was criticized not only by the United States but also by the international community and many domestic protestors. Soviet diplomats issued vague threats, such as sending volunteers to assist the Egyptians if Britain, France, and Israel did not agree to a UN-backed cease-fire. Although there was no indication that the Soviet Union planned to engage militarily, the possibility of Soviet volunteers in Egypt coming under fire could risk expanding the war greatly. However, the biggest threat to the Anglo-French alliance in Egypt was financial.


In 1956, the value of the British pound was falling. Faced with oil shortages from the Middle East, Britain needed to buy oil from the United States during the Suez Crisis. Eisenhower refused to sell unless Britain accepted a cease-fire. The US also threatened to sell its holding of British pounds, flooding the foreign exchange market and reducing their value. Faced with a financial crisis, Britain had no choice but to agree to the UN cease-fire. Britain quickly pulled its troops from Egypt, followed soon thereafter by France and Israel. In exchange for having its troops out of Egypt by December 22, Britain was allowed access to a large loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


Aftermath: US Now Undisputed Leader of Western Bloc

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A photo of an American flag, via Tufts University


The humiliation of the Anglo-French alliance during the Suez Crisis shifted power dynamics in the West. Britain could no longer count on its “special relationship” with the United States to guarantee unwavering support in foreign affairs. In the era of decolonization, Britain and France were unlikely to find many international allies when trying to impose their will on other countries. The Suez Crisis generated international goodwill for the United States, which played peacemaker instead of joining its historic allies for an easy military victory.


Financially, the Suez Crisis revealed America’s trump card in foreign affairs. Only the United States had enough wealth and economic output to pursue such unilateral military aggression so far from its borders. Britain had been unable to hold onto India, and France had failed to hold onto Indochina. Needing America’s strength to protect from potential Soviet aggression in Europe, Britain and France had little choice but to defer to the US in terms of foreign policy. The Suez Crisis ended the heydays of Britain and France as unilateral world powers.

<![CDATA[The British in Sudan & The Revolt that Almost Ended British Rule]]> 2023-07-01T12:11:52 Greg Beyer


How the British took complete control over Sudan is a long and complex tale spanning centuries. Many conflicts and political dealings brought Britain to the unassailable position of being the colonial master of this piece of land south of Egypt.


The process involved much struggle and strife and produced stories that captured the imagination of the British people but also shielded them from the horrific realities of what was really happening in that dusty corner of Africa, far away from the romantic views of the average Victorian citizen living in England.


Background to British Presence in Sudan

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The pasha of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, via Encyclopaedia Britannica


The history of Sudan in colonial times is intrinsically tied to the actions of Egypt and stretches back to 1805 with the accession of Muhammad Ali to the governorship of Egypt, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire. Although technically answerable to the Ottoman authorities, they had little control over him, and Ali ruled Egypt as a de facto independent state. He was originally sent to recover Egypt after Napoleon’s withdrawal in 1805, but Ali had different plans for Egypt and wanted it to supplant the Ottoman Empire as the dominant power in the region. To do this, he wanted a slave army, and Sudan was the perfect source.


In 1820, Muhammad Ali’s army left Egypt and began the invasion. The conquest was long and studded with many battles, but after four years, the conquest was complete. Egyptian rule was harsh in the beginning as it sought to quell unrest. During this time, the biggest economic enterprise was slavery. The region was highly volatile throughout the entirety of Egyptian rule.


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The Black Watch at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, 1882, by Henri Louis Dupray, c. 1900, via National Army Museum, London


As far as the British were concerned, their lifeline to India was the Suez Canal, and as a result, the British sought more control over Egyptian politics. The British Empire and other European powers engineered financial crises in Egypt. After the abdication of Khedive Ismail Pasha, and the accession of Tawfiq, who was more favorable to European intervention, the British took over Egypt’s fiscal affairs and, importantly, were allowed to administer Sudan.


Charles Gordon: 1873 to 1880

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Major-General Charles George Gordon, Governor General of Sudan, via Encyclopaedia Britannica


In 1873, Charles George Gordon entered the service of the Khedive of Egypt with the backing of the British government. He was later made governor General of Sudan. Gordon was highly experienced and had worked in many areas of the world, such as the Danube, China, and the Great Lakes region in Africa. Although working as an official for the Ottoman Empire, Gordon found their laws unnecessarily cruel. After his appointment, he worked tirelessly to end slavery, torture, and public flogging.


His task was almost insurmountable as he was hampered by corrupt bureaucrats, both British and Egyptian bureaucrats, who ignored his orders whenever there was an opportunity to make money. As such, Charles Gordon, known for his honesty and incorruptibility, took on extra administrative duties himself. He traveled on camel throughout the entire region, engaging in diplomacy with local tribes, and personally led operations to intercept slave traders. His efforts garnered much positive attention from the locals, who cheered whenever he arrived at a town or village, and he gained the reputation of being a saintly man.


He was also known for his bravery. An insurrection led by Rahama Zobeir, known as the “King of Slavers,” broke out in 1877. Dressed in full regalia, Charles Gordon rode with a tiny retinue to confront the slavers. Unarmed, he convinced Zobeir and his chiefs to lay down their arms.


Gordon was imprisoned during a diplomatic mission to the hostile state of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). After his release, he returned to Cairo and terminated his appointment as governor-general. Despite his best efforts to reform the systems, he was a broken man, utterly defeated by the fact that so few people in power shared his desire for justice and an end to slavery. Instead, many of them actively worked against him.


The Mahdist War Begins & the Return of Charles Gordon

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“Mahdi” Muhammad Ahmad, who led the Mahdist forces against the Anglo-Egyptians, via Welt


In Sudan, there was much discontent with the Egyptian Ottoman rule. Ethnic Sudanese people were under the influence of Muhammad Ahmad, who had declared himself Mahdi (Arabic for “guided one”) and preached an end to the lax religious law of the Ottomans and liberation for Sudan.


In August 1881, war broke out between the followers of Ahmad, known as the Mahdists, and Egypt. The Battle of Aba was a decisive victory for the Mahdists. Following the victory, the Mahdist army swelled in numbers and became a massive threat to Anglo-British interests.


The Egyptians, now effectively under British control, were ill-equipped to deal with the popular uprising. Managing to raise little more than 8,000 badly equipped and poorly trained local soldiers, they marched to Khartoum under the command of retired Indian Staff Corps William Hicks. He knew there was little hope for victory, but he offered battle anyway against a force of 40,000 Mahdists, and the Anglo-Egyptian army was utterly crushed. The Battle of El-Obeid (also called the Battle of Shaykan) saw only around 500 Egyptians survive.


After this defeat, it was decided that Egypt had neither the financial nor military capability to effectively resist the Mahdist forces, and thus the Egyptians withdrew from Sudan. It would not be an easy task, and chaos could easily break out, leading to immense loss of life. So Charles Gordon was asked to return to Sudan to coordinate the evacuation.


On February 18, 1884, Gordon arrived in Khartoum and became immediately aware of the difficulty of the situation. Egypt’s garrisons were scattered across wide portions of Sudan, and three of the garrisons were already under siege. Reluctant to evacuate Khartoum while Egyptian soldiers were still in the field, Gordon remained in Khartoum longer than was pragmatically sensible.


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General Gordon’s Last Stand by George W. Joy, via Leeds City Council


Sudanese locals north of Khartoum rose in support of the Mahdi and surrounded Khartoum, cutting communication and supply lines, effectively trapping all those within. The Siege of Khartoum followed when the Mahdi’s army of 50,000 soldiers arrived. Initially, the Anglo-Egyptian defenders were in a good position with plenty of supplies, ammunition, and the belief that they would hold out long enough to be relieved. Gordon made several requests, suggesting a breakout, requesting the assistance of Muslim regiments from India, requesting several thousand Turkish troops, and even suggesting he meet with the Mahdi to discuss terms. All these requests were vetoed by his British superiors.


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A British square at the Battle of Abu Klea painted by William Barnes Wollen, via British Battles


By the time an expedition of British soldiers was put together, it was too late. Despite winning the Battle of Abu Klea, the relief force could not reach Khartoum in time. After 313 days, the city fell, and General Charles Gordon was killed.


Another British expedition was sent to northeastern Sudan to the port city of Suakin. Although they defeated the enemy, it made no difference to the military situation overall, and Britain decided to abandon Sudan.


Muhammad Ahmad died on June 22, 1885, and was succeeded by Khalifa Abdallahi ibn Muhammad who proved to be a ruthless and effective leader.


Mahdists Defeated

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Captain McLean’s company of 1st Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders at Atbara on April 8th, 1898, via British Battles


Over the next few years, Anglo-Egyptian efforts were spent fixing Egypt’s dire financial situation and upgrading the military. At the same time, the Italians entered the conflict and inflicted a series of significant defeats on the Mahdists. In 1896, however, the Italians suffered a major defeat against the Ethiopians in the Battle of Adwa. With their position severely weakened in East Africa, the Mahdists became bolder. Britain felt compelled to intervene. By 1897, this compulsion turned into a full invasion.


The Battle of Omdurman by A. Sutherland, c. 1890–99, from the Wellcome Collection, London


This time, the British were led by Herbert Kitchener and were outfitted with the latest technology involving Maxim guns. The advance was slow and methodical, and the superior technology proved highly effective against the poorly equipped Mahdists. The Mahdists enjoyed numerical superiority in the field, but it only served to increase their casualty rate, as the British ordnance proved devastatingly effective.


After winning the battles of Abu Hamed and Atbara, the British met the bulk of the Mahdist forces at Omdurman, the Mahdist capital. On September 2, 1898, a total of 8,200 British soldiers, along with 17,600 Sudanese and Egyptians, were attacked by an army of 52,000 Mahdist warriors. The resulting battle saw 47 Anglo-Egyptian soldiers killed, while 12,000 Mahdists were killed.


Anglo-Egyptian Sudan After the Mahdist Defeat

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Lord Herbert Kitchener, who led the Anglo-Egyptian forces to victory in the reconquest of Sudan, via RR Auction


In 1899, Sudan was once again under the control of Anglo-Egyptian forces, and it was administered as a British colony. The government was modernized, and the British instituted economic reforms. Mahdist uprisings continued during the first decade of renewed British rule but were easily crushed.


On the western border, the territory of Darfur, which had not been recovered in the 1898 offensive, was declared for the Ottoman Empire in World War I. With this pretext, the British annexed the territory in 1916.


Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the British favored indirect rule and ruled Sudan through tribal leaders. At the same time, the British administered the south of Sudan as a separate state and barred people from the rest of Sudan from entering. This would have significant effects decades later as the south developed separately and sought independence from the rest of Sudan.


The rise in Sudanese nationalism that started after World War I continued through the decades and was spurred by Egypt’s declaration of independence in 1922. Sudan was still ruled as a co-dominion of Egypt and Britain. Many Sudanese nationalists were divided as to whether Sudan should seek full independence or a merger with Egypt.


During the Second World War, the Sudanese enjoyed success against the Italians and provided much-needed support to the British Eighth Army.


After the war, nationalism was on the rise again, and the Sudanese demanded more representation in the civil service. Recognizing the severity of the situation, Britain was willing to relinquish control of Sudan. Egypt, however, declared its reigning monarch, King Farouk, to be the King of Sudan. In 1952, the monarchy was deposed, and Colonel Muhammad Naguib took control over Egypt. He signed the Anglo-Egyptian Accord, which stipulated a three-year transition period whereby Sudan would be granted independence.


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British soldiers before the Battle of Omdurman, via the National Army Museum, London


The effects of the territory of Sudan on British consciousness were severe. As colonial attitudes changed, the heroes of yesteryear, such as Kitchener, became seen as villains in the eyes of their own compatriots. And considering the efforts undertaken to control Sudan, the benefits of the colonial enterprise come into question.


Despite the practicalities, the British presence in Sudan made for inspirational tales of heroism that were loved by the British public. Through its rule by the Ottoman Egyptians, the Mahdists, and the Anglo-Egyptians, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan is a story of strife and a lesson on the troubles brought by colonists and empire builders.

<![CDATA[What Are the Most Surprising Facts About Mother Teresa?]]> 2023-07-01T10:11:22 Rosie Lesso


Mother Teresa is widely recognized today for her charitable work; through the Order of Missionaries she offered help to the ill, the poor, the starving and the dying. Among her hundreds of achievements and accolades are a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and the canonization into sainthood by Pope Francis in 2016. Yet since the 1990s she has also been a polemical figure, facing criticism for the validity of her values and her charity. We take a closer look at the life of this notable and controversial public figure with a series of surprising facts about Mother Teresa’s life and work.


Mother Teresa Had Multiple Nationalities

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Mother Teresa as a young woman with her parents in Albania


While much of Mother Teresa’s charitable work began in India, she considered herself to have multiple nationalities. Her family was of Albanian descent, and she was born in Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Skopje, which, at the time of her birth, was in the Ottoman Empire in 1910. Following her charitable work in India, she adopted Indian citizenship. When asked to describe her nationality, she said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, I am Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus.”


Mother Teresa Devoted Her Life to Religion from the Age of Just 12

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A rare photograph of Mother Teresa as a young woman


Mother Teresa’s Biblical calling came early – she had already decided to devote her life to God from the tender age of 12. Having been raised in a devout Catholic home, and witnessed her mother’s acts of kindness to those less fortunate, Mother Teresa chose to dedicate her life to helping others, led by the strength of her Catholic faith.


After Leaving Home at 18, She Never Saw Her Mother Again

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Mother Teresa left her family home in Skopje at the age of 18 to join the Sisters of Loretto, an Irish community of nuns, who sent missionaries to India. She trained for several months in Ireland, before being sent to India to carry out teaching work in an impoverished community. Sadly, this meant she never saw her mother, or her sisters ever again.


In Her First Teaching Job Mother Teresa Had Few Supplies


During her first missionary post at St Mary’s High School in Calcutta, Mother Teresa was tasked with teaching young children. However, she was given no supplies or equipment. Instead, she taught her pupils by writing in the mud with wooden sticks, making use of what little resources she could get her hands on.


She Once Had to Beg for Food

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During her early missionary work in India Mother Teresa had no income and little access to food. This meant she was constantly hungry, and was forced to beg for food from strangers on the street. The experience gave her a first-hand understanding of the suffering experienced by the many poor, destitute and dying people who slept rough on the streets of India.


She Has Received More Than 120 Honors and Awards

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Mother Teresa after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979


Mother Teresa has been awarded more than 120 different accolades and awards, some during her lifetime, and others after. These include the Padma Shri in 1962, the Ramon Magsaysay Peace Prize in 1962, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1969, the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize in 1971, the Pacem in Terris Award in 1976, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.


Mother Teresa Has Faced Judgements and Criticisms

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Mother Teresa photographed with rosary beads, via The Estate of Yousuf Karsh


Like many high-profile public figures, Mother Teresa has often faced judgements and criticisms. Some have accused her of glorifying a life of poverty by relating it to the suffering of Christ. Others have called her a religious Evangelist whose main intention was to promote her dogmatic spiritual views, particularly in reference to hot topics including abortion, divorce and contraception. The harshest critics have even accused her of deliberately keeping the poor in a deprived state inside her institutions, with a 1994 documentary by Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali titled Hell’s Angel calling her an “ally of the status-quo.” Meanwhile, her charity has faced accusations of financial mismanagement and the misuse of funds. Opinions are still divided on Mother Teresa today, but there is no denying that she was a public figure of great power, persuasion, and influence.

<![CDATA[Cottingley Fairies Hoax: A Scandal in the British Countryside]]> 2023-07-01T06:11:00 Kelsey Spicuzza


The early 20th century saw a massive wave of spiritualism across Europe. What had begun as parlor games and theater made a sharp turn during and in the wake of World War I, during which 6% of all adult men in England were killed. Suddenly, a lot more Victorians were interested in communicating with ghosts.


At the same time, a brand-new religion was taking root in Victorian England. Theosophy was less concerned with the spirit world, focusing instead on eastern mysticism, divine knowledge, and the hidden secrets of the universe. Among these alleged secrets were teleportation, telekinesis, reincarnation, and “sub-human orders of beings” — also known as fairies.


Playing in the Garden

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Iris and the Gnome by Frances Griffiths, 1917, via Biblio


In the summer of 1917, nine-year-old Frances Griffiths and her mother moved into the Yorkshire home of Frances’ cousin, sixteen-year-old Elsie Wright. Frances’ father was a soldier stationed in France during World War I, prior to which the family had lived in South Africa.


Despite their age difference, the girls got along well, often playing down near the ravine at the back of the Wright family’s garden in the village of Cottingley. It wasn’t until the girls came home one too many times with wet and muddy clothing that the adults in the household thought to ask what the girls were doing down in the garden. Their answer? Playing with fairies.


Rather than dismiss the girls out of hand, Elsie’s father lent them his camera. The two returned shortly, and Arthur took the plates into his darkroom. When the two photographs indeed appeared to depict fairy-like creatures upon being developed, Mr. Wright was dismissive, albeit amused. His wife had a different reaction.


She took the photos along to a lecture on fairies being held at the local branch of the Theosophical Society, setting in motion a series of events that would cause a national sensation.


The Most Important Thing in the World

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Arthur Conan Doyle, Unknown Photographer, 1927, via the Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia


Also in attendance that evening was Edward Gardner, a leader in the local theosophical community. Fascinated by the photographs, he took it upon himself to investigate.


Gardner had the photos enlarged and the negatives examined by multiple professional photographers, all of whom (he claimed) determined the photographs to be genuine. It would later be revealed that one photographer refused to examine the photos due to the fairies’ “elaborate and Parisian coiffures,” while another declined based on the photos’ “theatrical” properties.


With the permission of the girls’ family, Gardner began to use the Cottingley Fairies photos while presenting his own lectures on the existence of fairies and sent them to various spiritualist publications. There, they would catch the eye of none other than Arthur Conan Doyle.


In addition to being the famed author of the Sherlock Holmes detective novels, Arthur Conan Doyle was a sincere and devoted spiritualist. Born into a Catholic family in Scotland, he was sent away to be educated at a Jesuit boarding school at the age of nine. Upon graduating, he went on to earn a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh.


Despite his strict Catholic upbringing and scientific education, Conan Doyle began expressing an interest in spiritualism as far back as the 1880s. Though admittedly dubious at first, he would later go on to call it “the most important thing in the world.” By the outbreak of the First World War (during which Doyle would lose his firstborn son, Kingsley), Arthur Conan Doyle was one of spiritualism’s greatest and most fervent champions.



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Alice and the Leaping Fairy by Elsie Wright, 1920, via Art Institute Chicago


Doyle had been asked to write a piece about fairies for The Strand Magazine’s December 1920 edition and hoped to feature Frances and Elsie’s photographs in it. He also hoped for more photographs. He personally gifted each girl an expensive Cameo camera in the hopes that they might capture another elusive creature on film.


He didn’t have long to wait; the girls promptly provided three more photographs.


With the publication of the Strand Magazine piece, “Fairies Photographed,” the press (and public) went wild over the Cottingley Fairies. Just over a month after the photographs were published in Doyle’s piece, The Guardian reported a crowd of press standing outside an already packed theater where Edward Gardners was giving another lecture. The names of the girls and the location of their home had wisely been changed for the article.


Conan Doyle, meanwhile, got to work on a book about the phenomenon; he published The Coming of the Fairies in 1922. He wrote that the photographs were “either the most elaborate and ingenious hoax ever played upon the public, or else they constitute an event in human history which may in the future appear to have been epoch-making in its character.”


The Debate Rages On

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Fairy Offering Flowers to Iris by Frances Griffiths, 1920, via Burnside Rare Books


Of course, not everyone was so quick to believe that the photos were genuine. A newspaper in California published an article in November of 1922 titled “Poor Sherlock Holmes – Hopelessly Crazy?”.


Major John Hall-Edwards, a fellow British physician, was more scathing in his response. He published a rebuttal stating, “as a medical man, I believe that the inculcation of such absurd ideas into the minds of children will result in later life in manifestations of nervous disorder and mental disturbances.” He further revealed that Elsie Wright, the elder of the two girls, had once worked as an apprentice to a local photographer.


Conan Doyle doubled down on his convictions in The Coming of the Fairies, reprinting what criticisms the photos had received and responding to each individually. The debate grew heated.


Meanwhile, Frances and Elsie (having enjoyed relative anonymity throughout the debacle) grew up and moved on with their lives. Elsie traveled first to America and later to India, where she lived with her husband until 1949.


Frances Griffiths married a soldier (like her father) and also spent a great deal of time abroad, most prominently in Egypt. Eventually, both girls returned to England, by which time the hubbub over fairies had mostly settled down. Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930 at the age of 71.


A Decades-Long Mystery Solved

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Untitled Illustration by Claude A. Shepperson, 1914, via University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Early Literature for Children Initiative


It wasn’t until the 1980s that the story made headlines again. British journalist Geoffrey Crawley published an article in the British Journal of Photography confirming the photos had been faked. He was soon surprised to receive a letter from one of the original photographers, Elsie Wright.


Well into her eighties at the time of writing, Elsie thanked the journalist for understanding the “pickle” she and Frances had gotten themselves into with the photos. She explained that the photos had been her idea, as a “practical joke” on the family that swiftly got out of hand when her mother brought the photographs to Edward Gardner.


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Alice and the Fairies by Elsie Wright, 1917, via The Times UK


To create the fairies in the photograph, Elsie copied the diaphanous fairy illustrations from Princess Mary’s Gift Book, and the girls set them up to be photographed using hatpins.


By the time The Coming of the Fairies was published, the girls were in over their heads and afraid to come forward with the truth. Frances was being teased at school for the scandal, and Elsie felt too guilty to confess. She had seen and heard the vitriolic criticism Arthur Conan Doyle was receiving in his staunch defense of their photographs and didn’t want to see him shamed.


Real Fairies?

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Fairy Sunbath, Elves, etc. by Elsie Wright or Frances Griffiths, 1920, via Daily Mail


After Elsie came forward, Frances also changed her tune. “I can’t understand to this day why people were taken in,” she told the BBC. “They wanted to be taken in.”


However, Frances also maintained until her death that one of the photographs, Fairy Sunbath, the fifth and final taken by the girls, actually did depict real fairies.


Spiritualism in the United Kingdom experienced a gradual decline over the course of the 20th century, particularly following the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which made pretending to contact the dead for profit both illegal and punishable. The act was repealed in 1980, however, and both spiritualism and theosophy are practiced to this day.


The Cottingley Fairies hoax remains one of the most famous in modern history.

<![CDATA[Why Did Teddy Roosevelt Remove “In God We Trust” from US Currency?]]> 2023-06-30T18:11:16 Amy Hayes


Inscriptions referencing the American belief in God began to appear on US coinage as early as colonial times. The foundation of the nation was ultimately built on the belief in God, as most of the first English to permanently settle in North America were Puritans, Anglicans, and Quakers, among other Christian denominations. When President Theodore Roosevelt was elected into office in 1904, he decided to remove the inscription “In God We Trust” from American coinage. He thought that putting this motto on the coins was atrocious. Roosevelt received a great deal of backlash for his rejection of the nation’s motto on coinage, which led to new legislation requiring the motto to be inscribed on certain coins.


History of “In God We Trust” on Money

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The obverse and reverse sides of the 1694 Carolina cent, via Professional Coin Grading Services


The motto “In God We Trust” on money was created based on a number of derivatives that appeared on American coinage long before the US Mint was established in 1792. In colonial America, various coinage from foreign countries circulated since it was newly established. People were using British pounds, Spanish milled dollars, and some colonies eventually created their own currency. Following the American Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation authorized states to produce their own coinage and decide their value.


Since Christianity was the dominant religion in colonial America, colonial coins bore inscriptions that recognized the Christian faith. For example, the Carolina cent produced in 1694 included the inscription “God preserve Carolina and the Lords proprietors” on the reverse side. The 1767 Louisiana cent bore the Latin inscription Sit Nomen Domini Benedictum, which translates to “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” The Christian faith was also incorporated in important documents, such as the First Charter of Virginia of 1606, the Mayflower Compact of 1620, and the Declaration of Independence.


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The obverse sides of 1864 and 1865 circulated two-cent coins displaying “In God We Trust” on the banner, via


The idea of placing a religious sentiment on official US coinage came during the early years of the American Civil War. One of the first official requests to recognize the Christian faith or God on coinage came from Reverend M.R. Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pennsylvania. Reverend Watkinson wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase on November 13, 1861 and requested the “Almighty God in some form” be recognized on US coinage. At Reverend Watkinson’s request, Chase contacted the Director of the Mint, James Pollock, on November 20 to prepare a motto to be used on the coins. However, an Act of Congress passed in January 1837 defined what mottos and devices should be placed on American coinage. Before a new motto could be introduced, the current legislation had to be amended.


In April 1864, Congress passed legislation that would allow adjustments to be made to the one-cent piece and authorized the creation of a two-cent bronze coin. The Director of the Mint was allowed to determine different mottos, devices, and shapes of the coinage, so long as the Secretary of the Treasury approved it. The 1864 bronze two-cent piece was the first coin to bore the inscription “In God We Trust.” In March 1865, Congress authorized the Director of the Mint, with the Secretary of the Treasury’s approval, to place “In God We Trust” on gold and silver coins. As a result, the motto appeared on the eagle, double eagle, half eagle, dollar, half dollar, and quarter dollar coins. Later legislation would involve more specifics as to what devices should be on different coins and additional inscriptions and features were added.


Teddy Roosevelt’s Plans to Redesign American Coinage

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Letter from President Theodore Roosevelt to Secretary of the Treasury Leslie M. Shaw on the redesign of American coinage, 1904, via Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University


Teddy Roosevelt was first sworn into presidency following the assassination of President William McKinley in September 1901. Roosevelt ran for president in the 1904 election and won. Teddy Roosevelt decided to focus some of his attention on changing the designs on US coinage. On December 27, 1907, Roosevelt wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, Leslie Mortier Shaw, describing the current US coinage as “artistically of atrocious hideousness.” Teddy Roosevelt commissioned American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design his inaugural medal. Roosevelt was very pleased with the design Saint-Gaudens had created for his inaugural coin.


During a dinner at the White House in 1905, Roosevelt asked Saint-Gaudens if he’d be interested in creating new US coinage designs like the intricate Greek coins. Saint-Gaudens agreed that he could create new designs for the one-cent, eagle, and double eagle coins. The process of introducing new designs to American coinage was done somewhat secretively. In the letter to Secretary Shaw, Roosevelt had inquired if he would be able to create new designs and produce new coinage without the permission of Congress. After getting approval from Secretary Shaw, Roosevelt began coordinating with Saint-Gaudens on creating the designs. The initial plan was to quickly get the designs completed and approved by the US Mint before Congress reconvened. This would allow at least some of the coins to enter circulation before Congress could potentially shut it down if they didn’t approve of the new coins.


Teddy Roosevelt Removes “In God We Trust” on Money

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Observe and reverse sides of the 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle coin, via Professional Coin Grading Services


President Teddy Roosevelt didn’t purposely remove “In God We Trust” on money. However, he did approve the idea, which was originally suggested by Saint-Gaudens. Including the inscription “In God We Trust,” as Saint-Gaudens suggested, would detract from the artistry on the coins. Roosevelt sought legal advice on the matter to ensure that the motto wasn’t mandatory. No law existed at the time that prohibited the removal of “In God We Trust,” so Roosevelt agreed with Saint-Gaudens that it should be removed.


The ten-dollar eagle piece included Lady Liberty wearing a Native American headdress on one side and an eagle standing on the other side. The twenty-dollar double eagle coin had Lady Liberty standing, holding a torch in one hand and an oak branch in another, along with the year it was produced and the word Liberty bannered across the top. Stars were lined around the rim and the US Capitol was placed in the background. On the reverse side, the coin had a flying eagle with a partial sun in the background and “United States of America Twenty Dollars” located at the top.


Difficulties in Redesigning the Coinage

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Portrait of American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens by George C. Cox, via National Park Service


Roosevelt ran into numerous problems throughout the process of redesigning the new coins. US Mint officials weren’t happy with Roosevelt’s decision to redesign the coins because it infringed upon American tradition. Nevertheless, Roosevelt managed to convince Mint officials to go along with the new designs as long as they met certain criteria for production. Another issue that slowed down the design process was Saint-Gaudens deterioration of health. In 1900, Saint-Gaudens was diagnosed with colon cancer, which ultimately hindered him from producing the designs as quickly as Roosevelt wanted. The design for the one-cent piece was ultimately abandoned due to his declining health so he could focus on the eagle and double eagle coins.


Saint-Gaudens died in August 1907, and his assistant Henry Hering took over the coin redesign project. The new eagle and double eagle coins were released by the US Mint in November. Congress was scheduled to reconvene in December, which allowed only a month for the coins to begin circulating. The 1907 double eagle coin had multiple variations because the relief needed to be reduced to make production easier. The first two variations included a 34-mm version and 27-mm version, which were extremely high relief. The relief was reduced on the third variation and 12,000 made it out of production. The final variation was produced in December 1907, which was a low-relief 34-mm version. By the time these adjustments had been made, the public agitation of the removal of the motto “In God We Trust” was boiling over.


Controversy Erupts Over Removal of the Motto

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New York Times article discussing Roosevelt’s response to the removal of “In God We Trust” on money, 1907, via The New York Times


President Roosevelt expected some opposition to the redesign of the coins, but he didn’t anticipate that it would reach so far as to cause a public outcry for the restoration of the traditional designs. Several groups organized to protest the removal of the motto and express their distaste of the artwork on the coins. Several media outlets, including The New York Sun and The Bookman journal, criticized Roosevelt for changing the coins’ mottos and devices. Although the public was disgruntled with the new artwork, the main focus was on the removal of the motto.


Some saw the removal of “In God We Trust” on money as an attack on the Christian religion, which the foundation of America had been built on. Others claimed that Roosevelt showed complete disregard for the religious sentiments that many Americans valued. The release of the coins and the public backlash also came at an unfortunate time for Roosevelt, as the Panic of 1907 put the country in a financial crisis. Roosevelt’s critics tried to place the blame of the crisis on him for being so harsh on big business practices that gave him his “trust buster” nickname. A number of religious organizations, such as the Presbyterian Brotherhood of America and the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, protested and sent Congress and the Secretary of the Treasury signed petitions to have “In God We Trust” on money restored.


“In God We Trust” on Money is Permanently Restored

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Public Law 84-851 establishing “In God We Trust” as the national motto of the US, via US Government Publishing Office


President Teddy Roosevelt responded to the backlash by giving a statement naming his reasons for the motto’s removal. He stated that placing the motto on coinage “not only does no good, but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege.” Although Roosevelt did state that he would accept the new legislation if Congress decided to make the motto on coinage mandatory, the public didn’t respond well to his message. Congress reconvened on December 2, 1907 and immediately addressed the concerns over the removal of the motto.


The Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures established a subcommittee, which was responsible for investigating and reviewing all the petitions that flooded in to restore the motto. Chairman of the committee, William Brown McKinley, introduced a bill that would require the inscription of “In God We Trust” on select coins. The McKinley Bill reached the House of Representatives in March 1908 and passed almost unanimously, with only two representatives opposing the bill.


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Standing portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt in his office by Levin C. Handy, via Library of Congress, Washington DC


The US Senate reviewed the bill in May and passed it unanimously. President Roosevelt signed the bill less than a week later. “In God We Trust” reappeared on all gold and silver coins, the half dollar, and quarter dollar coins produced after July 1, 1908. Nearly 50 years later, “In God We Trust” was made the official national motto upon the passage of a Joint Resolution approved by the 84th Congress and President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 30, 1956.

<![CDATA[Christie’s Auctions Big Names But Fails Expectations]]> 2023-06-30T16:00:10 Angela Davic Christie's
Christie’s American branch at Rockefeller Center in New York. Via Wikipedia


Christie’s held its night London auction, two days ago. Overall, the auction house collected $81 million, which was a fine result. However, there is one problem. The auction did not meet all expectations: everything sold, but many works of art went for less than the estimated price. The auction’s “big names” also failed to correct the situation.


Christie’s Successes and Failures

20th/21st Century London Evening Sale at Christies, London, June 28, 2023. The auction house’s courtesy.


When comparing the two biggest auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’sSotheby’s managed to set a few records. The main focus was on Klimt’s painting, which set the highest art record in Europe. Christie’s strategy was If “everything must go”. This means the result of pieces selling for the lowest prices was satisfactory, since the final goal was to sell everything.


The auction house had 66 lots, and managed to sell 61 or 92%. But, the auction house did not have the “main lot”. A little over one-fourth of the pieces sold for less than the minimum projection. Some of them are Alberto Burri, Cy Twombly, and Louise Bourgeois.  Also, Gerhard Richter’s rare landscape work Grünes Feld did not find a buyer. Its projected value was $5 million to $7.4 million.


Christie’s in King Street, St James’s, via Wikimedia Commons


However, pieces by Edgar Degas, Damien Hirst, and David Hockney sold beyond its highest projection value. The auction houses’ London representative Keith Gill projected the institution’s plan of “presenting the right works at the right estimates and trying to present works that our clients had not seen at auction before”. The sales event placed a strong emphasis on portraits.


An Intense Bidding for Basquiat’s Untitled (Pablo Picasso)

The French Auction Market
Christie’s Paris sale room of the Hubert de Givenchy collection. Photo: © Nina Slavcheva. Courtesy of Christie’s.


Although the focus was on portraits, they were not the best sellers. The top figure of the bidding came in from Signac‘s oil on canvas, Calanque-des-Canoubiers-Pointe-de-Bamer-Saint-Tropez (1896). The estimate was $7 million–$10.1 million. One of the 13 pieces with external assurances, the pointillist scenery sold for an ultimate closing cost of ($8.5 million, or $10.1 million with fees).


There was also Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1984 Untitled (Pablo Picasso). A protracted bidding conflict between two within the room participants ultimately emerged. First was New York collector Alex Acquavella, who ultimately lost the item to a front-row buyer for $6.8 million ($5.35 million) at the hammer price. The auction house highlighted as a component of the portrait-themed sale.


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Kings of Egypt II by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988, via Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam


Wednesday’s auction followed the pre-pandemic pattern; in contrast, the June selling of the previous two years merged with the Paris sales and were referred to as the “London to Paris” auction. “Market correction—what we are witnessing now—is not a bad thing, after all. Certainly it will do good to the careers of younger artists, who will be able to develop in a calmer environment, and it will clear the field for more serious collectors and not just speculators”, the auction house stated.

<![CDATA[6 Books by C.S. Lewis You Must Read]]> 2023-06-30T12:11:34 Catherine Dent


As well as being an Oxford don, C.S. Lewis was also a prolific writer of non-fiction (including works of Christian philosophy and academic literary criticism) and fiction for readers of all ages. It is for his Chronicles of Narnia that he is perhaps best known today. However, here we will take a tour through Lewis’ body of work, exploring some of his best-known books – as well as some that deserve rediscovering…


1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 1950

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Movie poster for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 2005, via IMDb


To this day, C.S. Lewis is best known and most loved for his children’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia – and the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950 marked the beginning of that beloved series of seven books. Though it can be considered the second book in the series in the narrative’s chronology, it remains the best-known Narnia novel.


The novel centers around the exploits of four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie) who have been evacuated to a house in the country during the Second World War. Here, Lucy discovers a wardrobe that doubles as a portal to the magical land of Narnia, where (on her third visit) she brings her three siblings. Together, they embark on a quest to save Narnia from the clutches of the evil White Witch and, in doing so, fulfill an ancient prophecy.


Not only is the novel’s main character named after Lucy Barfield (daughter of fellow Inkling Owen Barfield and Lewis’ goddaughter), but it is also dedicated to her. By the time The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published, however, she was fifteen years old and, Lewis feared, “already too old for fairy tales,” writing in his dedication: “I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books.”


He hoped, nonetheless, that she would enjoy the story when she became “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” After being hospitalized with Multiple Sclerosis in her later life, she did indeed enjoy having her younger brother Geoffrey (whom her parents had fostered) read The Chronicles of Narnia aloud to her. Likewise, Lucy Barfield’s enjoyment of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is shared by readers of all ages around the world.


2. The Problem of Pain, 1940

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Photograph of a young C.S. Lewis, via With Both Hands


Published in 1940, The Problem of Pain sees Lewis grapple with the philosophical question of how we can square the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God with the pain and suffering endured by humans and animals. Though Lewis was a committed Christian by the time he wrote The Problem of Pain, he had been an atheist for many years, meaning he is perhaps ideally suited to tackle this most weighty of subjects.


Beginning with his atheism, he outlines his former pessimistic view of both the state of the world and the likelihood of God’s existence, while in the remainder of the book, he argues that neither pain nor hell are valid reasons for rejecting the belief in the existence of a benevolent, almighty God. That is to say, the existence of suffering does not contradict the existence of God.


In order to argue this position, Lewis questions the meanings we attach to such concepts as happiness and goodness, suggesting that human suffering might, in the end, lead us to greater happiness and to an acceptance of God’s existence. As Lewis himself states, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”


Lewis also accepts the notion that humans have free will, which they can exercise to cause suffering for themselves and others. Though the Fall of Man constitutes the greatest abuse of free will within the Judeo-Christian tradition, Lewis rejects the doctrine of total depravity, according to which every human being is naturally predisposed to sin following original sin unless they are saved by either irresistible or prevenient grace. Eschewing doctrinal cant, The Problem of Pain is an insightful and compassionate meditation on faith and suffering, written by an enquiring and informed mind.


3. The Screwtape Letters, 1942

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Photograph of J.R.R. Tolkien in military uniform during the First World War, via World War 1 Centennial


Originally published in 1942, The Screwtape Letters is dedicated to Lewis’ friend, colleague, and fellow Inkling, J.R.R. Tolkien, who was instrumental in converting Lewis from atheism to Christianity. It is therefore fitting that The Screwtape Letters is a Christian apologetic novel.


Written as an epistolary novel, the demon Screwtape corresponds with his nephew, Wormwood, writing in the capacity of the younger demon’s mentor. Across 31 letters, he advises Wormwood on how best to tempt “the Patient” to sin and stray from God’s teachings. Within this, Screwtape’s letters afford Lewis ample space in which to observe human nature and human morality, covering such topics as war, love, sex, and pride, among many others.


Despite the apparently weighty subject matter and the fact that Lewis claimed that it had not been a fun experience writing The Screwtape Letters, it is also a humorous, satirical novel. Indeed, Lewis includes two epigraphs, quoting both the Catholic Saint Thomas More and the Protestant Martin Luther, both of whom state that the devil cannot stand being mocked. These pronouncements therefore give Lewis a comedic carte blanche in The Screwtape Letters, and the result is a wildly funny and original work of fiction.


And though Lewis claimed not to have exactly enjoyed writing the novel and vowed never to write another “Letter,” he did write a follow-up article entitled “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” which was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1959. Here, Lewis takes up a more political stance than he does in The Screwtape Letters, criticizing recent trends and developments within British society and state schools. Aside from his own sequel, The Screwtape Letters has inspired myriad sequels from other writers since its publication.


4. The Great Divorce, 1936

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Modern-day Photograph of Magdalen College, Oxford University, where Lewis taught English Literature, via Oxford University


As well as being a writer, Lewis was also a professor of English Literature at Oxford University, and in 1936 he published The Allegory of Love, a seminal study of the allegorical tradition in relation to the treatment of courtly love in Medieval and Renaissance literature. A bona fide expert in allegory, he then went on to write The Great Divorce, a work of Christian allegory about a bus journey from hell to heaven, which was published in 1945. Here, Lewis ponders the existence of heaven and hell (and whether the one can exist without the other), as well as the true spiritual and moral cost of our day-to-day behavior.


The Great Divorce begins in “the grey town,” a drab and dreary city that symbolizes hell or purgatory – depending on how long a character remains there. There is, however, an opportunity for the narrator to board a bus that takes inhabitants of “the grey town” to heaven. The narrator embarks on the journey, during which he and his fellow passengers lose their earthly physical forms and become vaporous and ghost-like as the bus ascends into the clouds.


The ghostly figures of those they knew in life appear and urge them to repent, though most of the passengers choose to return to “the grey town” instead. The narrator, however, journeys on and is met by the author and Christian minister George MacDonald, who becomes his guide (echoing Virgil’s role in Dante’s Divine Comedy). The allegory is then largely explained by MacDonald, and he encourages the narrator to write of his journey and to present it as though it were a dream vision – a genre popular in the Medieval period and one with which Lewis would have been intimately familiar.


5. The Four Loves, 1960

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Photograph of C.S. Lewis, via ThoughtCo


In The Four Loves, published in 1960, Lewis examines love through a Christian, philosophical perspective, distinguishing four categories of love: affection, friendship, eros, and charity. The Four Loves might therefore be considered to have been in keeping with the counter-cultural revolution taking place in the 1960s, though it was based on a series of radio broadcasts Lewis made in 1958, which had sparked controversy due to their treatment of sexual matters.


Having divided love into these categories, Lewis stipulates that “the highest does not stand without the lowest.” The highest, however, is charity, without which, Lewis argues, all other loves can become bitter, twisted – and potentially harmful. Charity, for Lewis, designates the selfless and unconditional love of God.


The Four Loves is a work of philosophy heavily inflected by Lewis’ Christian faith. For a fictional treatment of the same themes explored in The Four Loves, however, Lewis also wrote (in collaboration with his wife, Joy Davidman) Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (1956), which is a novelistic reimagining of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, as told by Apuleius in The Golden Ass.


6. A Grief Observed, 1961

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Photograph of Joy Davidman Gresham and C.S. Lewis, via Literary Hub


Inspired by the loss of his wife Joy Davidman to cancer in 1960, A Grief Observed was published in 1961 under the pseudonym N.W. Clark. Due to the personal nature of the book’s subject matter, Lewis refers to his late wife as “H” (Joy’s first name was Helen, though she seldom used it) throughout the book and chose not to use his own name.


A Grief Observed is a tender, honest, and moving account of one man’s grief and of his struggle to reconcile his faith in God with his loss – returning once again to the issue at the heart of The Problem of Pain. Ultimately, however, Lewis comes to feel gratitude towards God for having allowed him to love and be loved, even if it has caused him such pain.


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Photograph of C.S. Lewis, via IMDb


Lewis, however, died just two years after A Grief Observed was published. In June 1961 (the same year the book was published), he experienced symptoms of nephritis, which graduated to blood poisoning. By 1963, he was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure, from which he died on November 22nd at his home. As the books mentioned here attest, however, he left behind a rich legacy as a writer of fiction for all ages and of Christian philosophy that endures to this day.

<![CDATA[Sotheby’s New Tradition – a Dutch Auction Model]]> 2023-06-30T10:56:27 Angela Davic Sotheby's 2023 Auction
Sotheby’s, NY, photo by Ajay Suresh via Flickr


Sotheby’s, just as any influential institution, sticks to some traditions. For this auction house, it is the English auction system. The bidders in that scheme challenge each other to raise pricing or secure a transaction if there’s minimal interest. Now, with the change in the economy, and the development of a new NFT program (Gen Art), the auction house is turning to the Dutch model.


Vera Molnar to Create Digital Art for Sotheby’s

Sotheby's 2023 Auction, Magritte Surrealism
Sotheby’s auctioneer during the March 2 ‘Now’ Evening sale in London


In a Dutch bidding, the auctioneer states the item’s maximum possible value prior to gradually lowering it. This goes on until the piece on auction reaches its lowest price, or someone bids. Sotheby’s chose Vera Molnar, an innovator of early generative art, who is 99 years old, to launch the fresh endeavor. She started using digital programs to create art in 1960s.


Throughout the NFT mining boom of 2021, Molnar discovered a fresh audience. This enabled her to show her work at the Venice Biennale in 2022. Sotheby’s also displaying her work “Themes and Variations”, which you can acquire from July 26, on the Sotheby’s digital art website. Through a new Gen Art Program, a few artists per year will get a chance to present their work.


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The First 5000 Days by Beeple, 2021, via Christie’s


Art Blocks teams created the platform and Web3 software. By employing the software, buyers will be capable of to purchasing pieces totally on-chain in addition to using a Dutch auction mechanism. Sotheby’s gave Art Blocks recognition for inspiring them to try out the Dutch bidding format, which they now use in their personal arena.


Could the Dutch System Be Better?

Donald Trump
Clark Mitchell, Trump Digital Trading Card.


Michael Bouhanna, Sotheby’s Head of Digital Art & NFTs said: “Art Blocks built a whole new ecosystem with a new type of collector who are passionate about generative art. Collectors are also very used to the process in which they purchase these type of artworks, which is the Dutch auction model that has been a very successful format for Art Blocks and generative art sales.


In the summer of 2021, Art Blocks’ creator and CEO, Erick Calderon, first started adopting the Dutch auction concept to quell the hysterical bid that took place on his site. “This originally came into play when we would have editions of 500 or 1000. Also, we’d have 20,000 people in our Discord on the day of a drop asking questions”, Calderon said.


Clark Mitchell
Clark Mitchell, Trump Digital Trading Card.


“While not everybody from that Discord community was there to purchase artwork, there’s a clear imbalance between the supply of art and potential demand”, he also added. Only experienced collectors were likely to participate because the highest offered was made clear to collectors in advance. Furthermore, although appearing contradictory, Dutch auctions often produce better sales.


<![CDATA[What Was the Black Arts Movement?]]> 2023-06-30T10:11:27 Rosie Lesso


The Black Arts Movement (BAM) was a powerful movement of the 1960s and 1970s led by African Americans who examined the complex identity politics of being black in American society. Ideas expanded across drama, poetry, music, art, literature and academia, and merged elements of activism and political protest with creative expression, often with a direct, militant form of communication that sometimes veered into violence. While there was no one house style, poets and playwrights played with language in direct and uncompromising ways, while many black artists associated with the movement worked with collage, appropriation, photography and printing. We take a brief look at the evolution of the movement.


The Black Arts Movement Began in 1965

black arts movement repertory theater harlem
Members of the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem, New York, during the 1960s


Several significant events triggered the advent of the Black Arts Movement. Following the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Patrick Lumumba, black citizens and students mobilized and staged a series of uprisings in opposition to the ongoing issues surrounding racial discrimination and civil rights. Protestors also looked to the revolutions in China and Cuba, along with the independence movements in Asia and Africa for messages of hope and empowerment. Poet Le Roi Jones – who renamed himself Imamu Amiri Baraka – founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem, which became a busy hub which organised poetry, playwriting, painting and musical workshops and events. As such, Baraka became a father figure for the entire movement, which began in New York, and later spread throughout Chicago, Illinois, San Francisco, Detroit, Michigan and California.


The Movement Centered Around Poetry and Theatre

dudley randall broadside press black arts movement
Left: Dudley Randall, founder of Broadside Press in Detroit, photograph by Andrew Sacks. | Right: Song of the Son by Jean Toomer; Published by Broadside Press, Detroit, 1967; Designer unknown; offset lithograph.


Poetry and theatre were the most potent and impactful aspects of the Black Arts Movement. Many poets had their work published through the black oriented publishing houses which celebrated both the work of older black writers and emergent talent. They included Negro Digest in Chicago, Third World Press in Chicago, and Lotus Press and Broadside Press in Detroit. Poetry was also popular because it could be performed during rallies and events, and their attention-grabbing, rhythmic approach has gone on to influence many performers and rappers since. Meanwhile in Baraka’s theatre and other similarly socially engaged spaces free events were staged where playwrights and performers could expose their ideas to an audience.


Art and Academia

the black scholar black arts movement
Front cover from The Black Scholar Vol 10 No 3-4 by Chrisman, Robert, Ed – 1978


Both art and academia were important elements of the Black Arts Movement. Some of the major artists of the movement include Benny Andrews, Jeff Donaldson, Ben Hazard, Carolyn Lawrence and Dinga McCannon. In 1969, the first scholarly journal associated with the movement, titled The Black Scholar, was founded by Robert Chrisman and Nathan Hare.


The Black Arts Movement Was a Powerful Means of Black Expression

barbara jones hogu unite first state
Unite (First State), 1969, by Barbara Jones-Hogu


In essence the Black Arts Movement was a means of empowerment for black people, in line with its political sister, the Black Power movement. Poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti wrote, “And the mission is how do we become a whole people, and how do we begin to essentially tell our narrative, while at the same time move toward a level of success in this country and in the world? And we can do that. I know we can do that.” However, their message of freedom fighting sometimes veered into violence, and some members of the movement were regarded to be racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and sexist, promoting an aggressive form of black male sexuality, meaning certain aspects of the movement are still shrouded in controversy. 


The Movement Peaked During the 1970s

Black Arts Movement pioneer Imamu Amiri Baraka
Black Arts Movement pioneer Imamu Amiri Baraka


The 1970s were the pivotal era for the Black Arts Movement, when it gained traction across much of the United States. But as the troublesome elements of the movement began to take hold, many of the group’s leading members, including Baraka, had moved away from black nationalism towards Marxism by the middle of the decade.

<![CDATA[The American Revolution Museum Faces Criticism]]> 2023-06-30T09:56:10 Angela Davic The American Revolution Museum
The Museum of the American Revolution. Via WIkipedia


The American Revolution Museum plans to welcome Moms for Liberty group, which advocated against LGBTQ+ rights. Because of this, many historians work on stopping the museum’s hosting of this extremist organization. Even though the public sees Moms for Liberty as a conservative group, they see themselves in a different way. They are protecting child rights.

The American Revolution Museum Under Protest for Deciding to Welcome Moms for Liberty

The American Revolution Museum
People participate in a protest against Moms for Liberty outside the museum. Photograph: Hannah Beier/Reuters


The anti-hate watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the group as extremist, anti-government. The organization is hosting an event in Philadelphia with some public figures, including Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. The summit caught an attention os some, so the ARM made a decision on welcoming Moms for Liberty on Thursday. Many people, on the other side, are not happy with the museum’s decision.


Moms for Liberty says they are advocating children rights and better education, but other civil and non-profit organizations describe Moms for Liberty as an “oppressive and racist” organization. They forbid school discussions on race, sexual preferences, gender and are banning books focused of these topics.


Washington's tent
Washington’s tent on display at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Via Wikipedia


“Moms for Liberty claims to be a grassroots organization, but its founders and founding chapter have strong ties to high-ranking elected officials and national anti-LGBTQ groups including the Heritage Foundation”, GLAAD notes on its website. Also, the American Historical Association (AHA) wrote a letter to the museum’s president R Scott Stephenson, and expressed their protest against the museum’s decision to host Moms for Liberty.


An Outrage: A Normalization of Extremist Groups

Moms for Liberty
The AMR, Philadelphia. Via Philly Voice


The AHA’s letter reads: “As the largest professional organization of US historians in the country, the OAH expresses, unequivocally, the organization’s opposition to the actions of M4L and groups like it that seek to distort history and historical practice. There are multiple harms at the center of the agenda of these groups: harm to accurate and inclusive history, harm to the work undertaken everyday by our community of historians, and harm to individual historians—especially in the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities”.


They also added: “We condemn these groups that threaten by word and action the ability of teachers to teach, students to learn, scholars to produce and amplify histories of systemic discrimination, and the safety of individuals for whom that discrimination still reverberates today. The increasing normalization of these groups in the national public discourse is an outrage”.


Continental Currency
Continental Currency (1776), from the museum’s collection. Wikipedia


The association and the director of the association, James Grossman, told the museum that it is not about politics, but about an organization that distorts the past and makes the work of historians difficult. The association also invited the museum to consider whether the presentation of Moms for Liberty is necessary.


<![CDATA[Giorgio Agamben’s Aesthetics and Philosophy of Language]]> 2023-06-30T06:11:46 Luke Dunne


How do the demands of creative expression and the demands of philosophy intersect? This article summarizes Giorgio Agamben’s answers to that question. This article begins by identifying the three core elements of Agamben’s aesthetics. It then moves to discuss Agamben’s theory of the modern which grounds his aesthetics. Several of Agamben’s poetic interlocutors — from the Troubadours to modern Italian poets — are introduced, and Agamben’s theory of the relationship between art (especially poetry) and philosophy is developed. The article concludes with an interpretation of Agamben’s claim that philosophy has failed to “elaborate a language,” and what reversing this failure might involve.


Giorgio Agamben’s Aesthetics and Its Relationship to the Philosophy of Language

allegory of poetry sueur
An Allegory of Poetry by Eustache Le Sueur, mid-17th century, via Sotheby’s.


Agamben’s aesthetics and his philosophy of language are inseparably intertwined. Following Catherine Mills, an Agamben scholar (among other things), we can begin by summarizing three elements of Agamben’s aesthetics and language.


First, there is the question of pure communication and whether language can be separated from the unsaid. Second, there is the question of founding new forms of experience on language, rather than other forms of experience. There is a subsidiary issue here of the relationship between experience and language, the relationship between linguistic and non-linguistic forms of experience. Last, there is the issue of the relationship between poetry and philosophy, and whether it is possible to reverse the traditional opposition between these two forms of expression.


Agamben diagnoses contemporary life as a life without experience, or rather as a life where the facts which govern it (facts about the scientific-technological advances which have come to govern our lives) are at odds with our ordinary awareness of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.


agamben photo
Giorgio Agamben, via Ferrater Mora Chair


Agamben’s solution to this problem lies in language, and the possibility of learning to use language in new ways in order to fulfill the role that other forms of non-linguistic knowledge or experience once did. There is an approximate distinction between the elements of our mental life which are articulated — which have a linguistic corollary — and those which are not or cannot be. Agamben’s aesthetics is governed by his conception of the role of language in modern life, and the importance of linguistic developments which meet the challenge posed by the destruction of experience.


In Search of Language

furini poetry painting
Poetry by Francesco Furini, 1633, via Art UK.


Agamben believes that there is a tendency in Western philosophy to predicate language on a “negative” foundation. What is a negative foundation in this context? If, for instance, I were to argue that language is in some way based on that which cannot be said — perhaps language is what we cannot not say, what we are incapable of not saying, or alternatively that language is the absence of ineffability — then that would constitute an argument for language having a negative foundation.


Agamben is interested in forms of language that do not rest on such a foundation. In other words, on forms of language that proceed from language taking place on its own, or where language is prior to non-language, the unspeakable. One potential problem with this is that language evidently doesn’t emerge from nothing — how can we avoid there being a negative ground of language?


dante botticelli
Portrait of Dante by Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1495, via the Web Gallery of Art.


The analogy Agamben uses is that of infancy — a state of pre-linguistic existence that is not negatively related to language.  Agamben looks to poetry in search of this new language, or new use of language. In doing so, Agamben revolts against an opposition between poetry and philosophy which can be traced at least back to Plato, who claimed that the poets were masters of appearance, whereas only philosophy would allow human beings access to unaltered reality in itself.


Agamben’s aesthetics are continuous with his poetics, his philosophy of language, and his philosophical project as a whole. Understanding Agamben’s aesthetics relies on our being able to move back and forth between each element of this theoretical structure. Agamben looks to poetry for a kind of linguistic limit experience, the exception that defines the rule, and a kind of originality and force in which the source of a new way of speaking could be found. Agamben returns again and again to the 12th century and the emergence of modern European poetry in Provence and Italy, followed then by the distinctly Italian reaction of the Stil Novo (new style) poets, of whom Dante is the most famous.


Enter the Troubadours 

troubadours german painting
Troubadours, author unknown (German), 14th century, via Wikimedia Commons.


The “Troubadour” poets are of interest to Agamben in part because they seem to posit a conception of language that is founded, above all, on a “union of knowledge and love.” Yet ultimately, the Troubadours still grounded language on negativity, because it was conventional to conceive of love as basically unattainable. Language is still seen as being in a position of failure, of impotence.


Given this fixation on linguistic failure as the starting point for language, it is no surprise that Agamben is also interested in the idea of the “dead language.” He is especially fascinated by one of the most famous and significant language deaths, that of Latin between the 14th and 15th centuries. Dante was one of the foremost “murderers” of Latin, and his essay in defense of writing in the vernacular (i.e, what would become modern-day Italian) was extremely influential.


As Agamben notes, the killing of Latin is inseparable from the birth of Italian, and perhaps this is true for the creation of any language. That a given language has precursors necessitates its negative foundation. Agamben sometimes refers to his “dream” of a language, which is “human speech that is univocal.” Agamben is dreaming of an end to bilingualism, of a time before the fall of the Tower of Babel.


The Tower of Babel

tower of babel bruegel
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1568, via Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.


One of Agamben’s more modern poetic interests is in the Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli. Pascoli thought that poetry relied on a certain kind of negativity — that the language of poetry is a dead language.


Before going further, it is worth dwelling on how right Pascoli is. Modern-day poetry, while it is in many formal senses hyper-modern, is far less concerned with making itself appear contemporary than modern fiction or drama. Even the formal fluidity of modern poetry has not made certain formal structures obsolete — it is still possible to write sonnets today, but it is not possible to write plays that follow Shakespeare’s formal strictures. In other words, poetry is aware of itself as an anachronism, or at least as heavily burdened with its own history. Novelists still have pretensions about creating mass media in a way poets largely do not.


Pascoli’s poetry, in Agamben’s view, is defined by its attempt to force the separation of sound and sense in poetry to its absolute limit, to force us to confront poetry as a form of linguistic death. Agamben, however, turns the climax of negativity on its head when he claims that this opposition between sound and sense, or the semiotic and the semantic, leads to a collapse, to silence, which amounts to language communicating itself, unmediated by anything else.


Giorgio Agamben on the History of Philosophy Repeating Itself

aristotle marble statue
Bust of Aristotle by Lysippos, 330BC, via Wikimedia Commons.


Agamben is, in this regard, rather like a surgeon who claims that our experience of the body is at its most direct when we have taken it apart — when the body as a whole dissolves into the body as a composite of organs and bones. All of this is to say that Agamben finds promise in poetry, in philosophy, in yet-to-be-discovered experiments in silence.


At the same time, disappointment pervades Agamben’s aesthetics: “philosophy has failed to elaborate a proper language… and poetry has developed neither a method nor self-consciousness.” The failure of philosophy to elaborate language can be understood in various ways. In part, the long-running antipathy between philosophical language and ordinary language (despite attempts at a reconciliation) might be a hindrance. The value of experimenting with language is limited if the language one begins with is so technical, so specialized, and so alien to non-philosophers that the results of whatever linguistic experiment you undertake lack significance for the vast majority of people. Yet the problem might seem to run deeper than this.


poetry garden
Reciting Poetry in a Garden, first quarter 17th century, Iran, Via the Met Museum.


The fact that philosophy’s attempts at defining “proper language” have historically focused on an attempt to conflate language and logic, and to reduce or refine language within the confines of logical languages (which cannot, by their very nature, be spoken) might seem to reassert the negative basis for language.


If this tendency in philosophy is part of its failure to elaborate a proper language, then it is a tendency that goes back to Aristotle at least. Yet, philosophy is a self-consciously “canonical” discipline: the major figures in the philosophical canon are subject to endless reappraisal, but their importance within it is rarely placed in doubt. Perhaps Agamben’s call for philosophy to elaborate language is, in a sense, a call for philosophy to come to terms with its history, and to recognize that the way in which it metabolizes that history hinders truly radical philosophical projects.

<![CDATA[Was the Holocaust Legal? Agamben on Ethics, Law, and Genocide]]> 2023-06-29T18:11:34 Luke Dunne


What would an ethics which doesn’t take a legal framework as its model or legal concepts as its basis look like? Giorgio Agamben’s ethics constitutes one of the most serious attempts at such a project.


That Agamben’s politics structures his ethics is one of the first and most important interpretative positions taken here, and because of this, this article begins with a discussion of Agamben’s politics. It then moves on to analyze Agamben’s theory of testimony and bearing witness and his analysis of the Holocaust and its implications. This article concludes with a discussion of the human and the non-human, and how Agamben uses this distinction to approach ethics outside of a legalistic framework.


Agamben Views Ethics as an Extension of Politics 

benjamin black white photograph
Photograph of Walter Benjamin, 1928, via University of Bern.


It is often observed that Agamben’s ethics proceeds from elements of his politics. Since this article is focused squarely on his ethics, we shall have to summarize these political elements succinctly. Perhaps the most important of these is the idea of the “state of exception.” Agamben borrows this idea from Walter Benjamin. The basic premise is that it is in the very nature of the modern state to break its own putative laws, to posit that the circumstances being what they are (i.e, exceptional), certain extraordinary measures must be taken.


Think, for instance, of the War on Terror and the suspension of civil liberties (torture, detainment without trial, mass surveillance) justified with reference to it. Benjamin and Agamben hold that the state of exception is constant, forever being reaffirmed and firmed up with further excuses. Agamben finds the ultimate example of this tendency in the Nazi state and the ever more incredible excuses that were used to justify mass killings. The effect of the state of exception on Agamben’s ethics is to incite a focus on non-legalistic ethics — ethics with no reference to law. It might interest us to note that a similar project has been at the forefront of various Anglophonic ethical projects, though for very different reasons.


The Importance of The Relationship Between Testimony and Ethics

adolf hitler colorized photograph
Colorized photograph of Adolf Hitler, 1938, via Wikimedia Commons.


Agamben is particularly interested in testimony and bearing witness as they relate to ethics. What are the ethical implications of the disjunction between fact (we might say, “bare fact”) and truth?


We find that Agamben, growing up in post-Fascist Italy immediately after the Second World War, develops his ethics in light of the Holocaust as much as he does his politics. One of the more famous examples he uses is that of the “Muselmann,” literally meaning the “Muslim man.” This was the name used in the concentration camps to refer to those prisoners who were in a state of physical degradation so severe as to be almost comatose, in other words, on the borders of life and death. It does not, to be clear, refer to actual Muslims, and the origins of this label are contested (it is unclear, for instance, whether it was invented by the Nazi guards or the prisoners, and it is equally unclear if and how derogatory it was).


Part of what makes the Muselmann important for Agamben is how this figure illustrates the absence of a clear distinction between the human and the no longer human, between the living human being and the dead. Agamben’s ethical project can be conceived in part as an attempt to investigate the possibility of describing humanity beyond a purely biological definition.


The Controversy of Agamben’s Theory

Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender, by Stephen E. Korpanty, 1945, via Naval History and Heritage Command.


There is much that is “radical” in Agamben’s ethical theory, meaning both at odds with much of the tradition of philosophical ethics and at odds with how we often speak or think about our ethical obligations, rights, and responsibilities. Indeed, Agamben sets himself against the very idea of ethical responsibility as such. In contrast to the intellectual impunity often ascribed to academics and their flights of fancy, Agamben’s work has received severe criticism.


Agamben’s characterization of the Holocaust is extremely controversial. By locating in the Holocaust not an exception, but a hidden tendency of Western political culture, Agamben has — critics argue — cheapened the significance of a singular event.


Indeed, whether a philosophical perspective is the correct one to analyze the Holocaust from is an open question. There is a certain sense in which philosophy — with its abstractions, its technicality, its sheer otherness from ordinary life — can feel like a luxury, not the field which we should turn to when seeking answers to the most urgent questions. Yet those taking this view should ponder the fact that the Nazis saw the value of philosophy — indeed, they went to great lengths to develop a philosophical ground for their political worldview.


The Holocaust as a Paradigm

giorgio agamben
Photo of Giorgio Agamben, via the Bard College Hannah Arendt Center.


Still, there is something to these criticisms of Agamben, and he does, at certain points, seem to miss what is singular about the Holocaust in the service of the broadest possible political analysis. That said, it is an oversimplification to characterize Agamben as likening the Holocaust to banal elements of modern life.


Agamben is rather using the Holocaust as a “paradigm,” which he defines as “an example which defines the intelligibility of the set to which it belongs and which it at the same time constitutes.” The relationship between the paradigmatic example and its analogies is non-inductive — we do not proceed from one paradigm to another by way of a list of observed features that they share. It is instead an explanatory relation — the paradigm example makes the class of related cases intelligible, or understandable.


Here, Agamben follows Foucault and uses undoubtedly the most famous Foucauldian example in doing so — that of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. This example is worth explaining more fully.


bentham portrait oil painting
Portrait of Jeremy Bentham by Henry William Pickersgill, 1829, via National Portrait Gallery.


The Panopticon was an imaginary, ideal prison dreamt up by the utilitarian philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham. The spatial structure of the Panopticon was a large, central (rotating) guard tower encircled by the prisoners in their individual cells, isolated from one another. The point of the Panopticon was that it would allow the guards to observe any of the prisoners at any given time, and would not allow the prisoners to determine whether or not they were being observed at a given time. As such, the prisoners would know that they might be being observed at any moment.


Foucault uses the Panopticon example as a paradigm in Agamben’s sense. That is, Foucault uses the Panopticon not merely as an instance of a tendency — he doesn’t simply say, “this is an example of what I’m talking about,” but he rather attempts to explain his theory using the Panopticon as a kind of diagram, or guide. Foucault himself doesn’t call the Panopticon an example, but rather is in itself the “principle” of disciplinary power.


Agamben goes further than Foucault in decoupling concepts from their concrete instances. Foucault was a historian, and unwilling to set aside the inductive elements of analysis as Agamben did (and with it, presumably, almost anything like history and the empirical humanities as we know them). Agamben follows concepts, not events. When he finds a concept that is also a tendency in our political culture, he is disinclined from viewing it as in any way accidental. With a collection of concepts, the failure of one often amounts to a failure of the whole set. Certainly, the relationship between them is likely to change. The same is not true in the same way for historical events.


Agamben’s Vision for Ethics

heidegger bronze plaque
Bronze plaque of Martin Heidegger, 1978, via Wikimedia Commons.


Agamben argues against a legalistic or juridical conception of ethics. What this means is the jettisoning of certain ethical concepts which are often taken to be extremely intuitive or basic moral goods. For Agamben, responsibility and dignity are fundamentally tied to conceptions of the law and, therefore, the state. Given what has been revealed about the tendencies of our political culture after the Holocaust, Agamben thinks these conceptions need to be overcome.


He finds that the human and the non-human elements of human beings are run together closely – whatever we are in virtue of our humanity can be defined and understood only against elements of non-humanity. This idea is a result Agamben draws from a distinction he borrows from the German philosopher Martin Heidegger — the distinction between the human being as a speaking being and a living being. This seems at least analogous to the distinction between the human being as an animal, and the human being as distinct from animals.


rembrandt moses tablets painting
Moses with the tablets of the law, by Rembrandt van Reijn, 1659, via The Yorck Project


Indeed, for both Heidegger and Agamben, what separates human beings from animals is a major concern. Agamben, unlike most moral philosophers, does not dwell on delineating different ethical concepts or tendencies, but on dissolving the difference between them in the service of a description of human life as a whole. This holistic approach to ethics is reminiscent of that pursued by modern virtue ethicists, who also happened to respond to the demand for non-legalistic ethics. It is always worth paying close attention when theorists from very different philosophical traditions approach a similar intellectual project in the same way.

<![CDATA[Artsy Decided to Dismiss 35 Employees]]> 2023-06-29T13:07:52 Angela Davic Artsy
Headquarters. Via Wikipedia


Artsy recently laid off 15% of its employees, from different departments. The worsening economic situation and the fear of an even bigger recession influenced the decision of this online auction house. Chief executive Mike Steib called the laid off people to discuss their severance contract. He also suggested ones working in NY, work from home, so that everybody can process the news.


Artsy’s First Decade Fast Growing

The logo
The Artsy logo. ARTSY


Artsy representative confirmed information about dismissed workers: “This decision was not made lightly, but allows us to continue to operate sustainably and support our thousands of gallery partners and the artists they serve”. This online art marketplace is relatively new in the art world. Carter Cleveland founded the institution back in 2009, but went public three years later.


In the ensuing ten years, the company’s business strategy changed significantly. The Art Genome Project was a pilot undertaking, and it took on algorithmic learning to categorize and forecast users’ preferences in artwork. The tool later evolved into a monthly membership assistance, where galleries pay a fee for displaying art on the system.


The H’ART Museum, Via Wikipedia


One financing round in 2017 raised $50 million at a valuation of $275 million. Subsequent phases of funding combined to raise $100 million in investments. It boasted a who’s who of high-profile investors from art and tech, including mega-gallerist Larry Gagosian, art collector and founder of Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art Dasha Zhukova, Twitter and Block founder Jack Dorsey, and art collector Wendi Deng Murdoch.


Changes in Business

pop artist murakami 727 painting
727 by Takashi Murakami, 1996, via MoMA, New York


Artsy declared its first substantial cutbacks in February 2019 and then let go of another 20 staff members from its editing, communications, and curation departments. Before these cutbacks, co-funder Sebastian Cwilich stepped down as president and chief operating officer after a decade, in order to move to the Gagosian gallery. That June, Steib (formerly of XO Group Inc.) joined as CEO.


The 2019 layoffs were a result of the business’s attempts to concentrate on its artistic industry, Simon Warren, senior director of communications said. “A very modest single-digit reduction in our workforce will help support this increased investment in our marketplace…as well as our continued investment in Artsy’s editorial platform”, Warren wrote.


anxiety munch
Anxiety by Edvard Munch, 1894, via Google Arts & Culture.


In 2020, as the coronavirus forced non-essential businesses to shutter, most galleries with money to spare moved their dealings online. Artsy, which bills itself as the art world’s largest digital sales platform with 1.7 million users, controversially raised its monthly membership prices mid-March 2020 by 40%.

<![CDATA[Idi Amin: The Butcher of Uganda (Bio, Death, Facts)]]> 2023-06-29T12:11:49 Greg Beyer


One of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century, Idi Amin ruled over Uganda with an iron fist and a particularly evil sense of humor. His reign was marked by a brutality that earned him the nickname “the Butcher of Uganda.”


His reputation was well earned through his depraved antics, which included, by his own admission, cannibalism. For eight long years, Uganda shivered in fear. Idi Amin was mad, bad, and utterly terrifying.


The Early Life of Idi Amin

idi amin boxer
Idi Amin was an avid boxer, via The Guardian


There are many claims about when and where Idi Amin Dada Oumee was born. The claims range from 1923 to 1928, and he is thought to have been born in the capital, Kampala, or the town of Koboko in the north of Uganda.


Idi Amin was brought up as a Muslim, as his father had converted from Roman Catholicism. At a young age, he was abandoned by his father and raised by his mother, a traditional herbalist. It is claimed that Amin’s father was a member of the Kakwa ethnic group, while his mother was a member of the Lugbara ethnic group.


He went to an Islamic school but dropped out after only 4th grade. He then joined the British colonial army.


Amin’s Army Career

idi amin pointing
Idi Amin in power, via Adam Smith Institute


Idi Amin joined The King’s African Rifles in 1946 and worked as an assistant cook. He also received military training at this time, and in 1947, he was transferred to Kenya as part of the 21st KAR infantry battalion. He served in campaigns against Somali rebels as well as the Mau Maus in Kenya. By 1953, he had been promoted to sergeant.


Amin was an imposing figure. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches, he became the Ugandan light heavyweight boxing champion. He played many other sports and garnered a significant amount of fame.


In 1962, Uganda gained independence from Britain, and Milton Obote was elected prime Minister. Having caught the attention of Obote, Idi Amin rose through the ranks and served in important positions. By 1964, he had been promoted to Commander of the Army.


In 1965, Idi Amin and Prime Minister Milton Obote were accused of attempting to smuggle gold and ivory into Uganda. The Ugandan parliament demanded an investigation, upon which Obote formed a new constitution, abolishing the position of the presidency (which had been largely ceremonial). Idi Amin then led an attack on the presidential palace and forced President Kabaka into exile.


These developments increased Obote’s power and made Idi Amin the second-most powerful man in Uganda.


Idi Amin Seizes Power

uganda milton obote
Milton Obote, deposed in January 1971, via Deutsche Welle


Throughout the latter half of the 1960s, a rift appeared between Idi Amin and Milton Obote. Part of the cause for this was different political affiliations. Obote had moved to the left of the political spectrum, which worried many Western governments that their capitalist interests would be in danger. As a former member of the British Colonial Army, Idi Amin represented an opportunity for Western powers to install a leader loyal to western doctrines. As such, western nations, particularly the United Kingdom, began to support Idi Amin over his potential rival.


In 1970, Idi Amin had been promoted to commander of all the armed forces, but in October of that year, Obote rescinded this command and took control himself. In January of the following year, suspecting that Obote would arrest him for corruption, Idi Amin launched a coup and took control of the government while Obote was in Singapore.


Amin promised that his government would hold free and fair elections to select a new leader as soon as possible when the situation had normalized.


Idi Amin as Dictator

idi amin saluting
Idi Amin, from Jean-Claude Francolon / Gamma-Rapho from Getty Images, via the Telegraph


As soon as he had seized power, Idi Amin acted swiftly to consolidate his position. He entrenched the military as the ruling force in Uganda and surrounded himself with people he could trust. Shortly after he seized power, Idi Amin began to receive military and financial support from Great Britain and Israel. When he asked Israel for advanced military equipment, however, he was refused. As a result, Idi Amin denounced Zionism and sought trade with Libya. Muammar Gaddafi immediately loaned Idi Amin $25 million and promised to continue to support his regime.


In 1972, Ugandan exiles launched a poorly coordinated attempt to overthrow Idi Amin, and as a result, Amin launched a purge of Obote supporters from the armed forces. This purge expanded to include people from all walks of life and all sectors of Ugandan society. People of the Acholi and Lango ethnic groups were primarily targeted in the initial purges. People were murdered at will, and their bodies were dumped wherever it was convenient. Among the important sectors targeted were those with any significant influence. This included bureaucrats, journalists, lawyers, doctors, politicians, judges, religious leaders, and even students.


idi amin asian ugandans
Asian Ugandan refugees arriving in England, from Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images, via New Lines Magazine


This violence continued at the same pace for the entire eight-year tenure of Idi Amin’s dictatorship. It is difficult to determine how many people were killed, but it is estimated that it could be as much as 500,000.


Amin filled the government with ethnic and religious affiliates, mainly from the Kakwa ethnic group and people from South Sudan. Most of his government was made up of Muslims. Along with the preferential treatment of certain ethnic groups and religions, Idi Amin persecuted others. Uganda was home to roughly 80,000 Asians, mainly from the Indian sub-continent, most of whom were born in Uganda. Idi Amin ordered their expulsion and seized their properties. As Asians accounted for 90% of Uganda’s tax revenue, including the vast majority of businesses, the Ugandan economy completely collapsed.


Following the expulsion of Asians, Idi Amin broke all ties with Great Britain and Israel. India then broke ties with Uganda over the mistreatment of Asian Ugandans.


Soviet Support

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Idi Amin was an athletic man who excelled at sports, from the French film General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait, via Janus Films


From 1973 onwards, the Soviet Union began providing arms, armor, and technical assistance to Uganda. It saw Uganda as a key player in counterbalancing Chinese influence in Tanzania and Western influence in Kenya.


This close working partnership also meant that Idi Amin could send many of his advisors to the Eastern Bloc for military and intelligence training. By 1975, the Soviet Union is estimated to have supplied Idi Amin’s regime with $12 million in financial support and $48 million in ordnance.


Idi Amin used these funds and military equipment to build up his army, which he used to threaten his neighbors. Of prime concern was Kenya. Tensions rose in February 1976 when Idi Amin claimed that some regions of Kenya rightfully belonged to Uganda. The tensions dissipated despite Kenya being accused of impounding a shipment of Soviet arms bound for Uganda at the port in Mombasa.


In 1976, Idi Amin further soured relations with the West by hosting a plane that had been hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations, and Revolutionäre Zellen. Amin held the Jewish and other Israeli citizens hostage while allowing the other nationalities to go free. Israeli commandos rescued most of the hostages.


The Downfall of Idi Amin

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Idi Amin with his wife in Berlin, from picture-alliance / dpa, via Die Welt


In the final years of his reign, Idi Amin survived many assassination attempts. His grip on power weakened, and there was a diminished number of those who were loyal to him.


In 1977, he appointed General Mustafa Adrisi as vice president. Adrisi had his own core support within the military and wielded significant power. Amin grew suspicious of him and stripped him of power, angering Adrisi’s military supporters and causing further unrest in the country as Amin purged Adrisi’s supporters.


Soldiers loyal to Adrisi eventually mutinied in 1978. Amin sent soldiers to crush the mutineers, who had fled across the border to Tanzania. Amin ended up accidentally invading Tanzania, and after capturing an area of Tanzania, he declared that the invasion was intentional.


After Tanzania organized a counter-offensive, Idi Amin realized Uganda would probably lose the war, and he tried to save face by offering to settle the conflict in a boxing match between him and Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere. Predictably, the Tanzanian president ignored the message.


On April 11, 1979, Kampala was captured, and after a brief but failed attempt to rally support for his cause, Idi Amin fled the country. The following years saw him find protection in Saudi Arabia. He continued to fund his supporters during the Ugandan Bush War that followed. Many groups of rebels in Uganda fought for Idi Amin’s return, but they eventually failed.


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Idi Amin’s torture chamber in Kampala, via Achieve Global Safaris


In 1989, Amin caused a serious incident by leaving Saudi Arabia without permission and flying to Zaire (today, the Democratic Republic of Congo). He was immediately arrested. Saudi Arabia eventually agreed to allow him back into the country, and Idi Amin spent the rest of his life there.


He became a fruitarian and earned the nickname of Dr. Jaffa for his love of oranges. He died of kidney failure in 2003 and was buried in Ruwais Cemetery in Jeddah.


Idi Amin was a polygamist who had at least six wives. He was charismatic, with a sense of humor that showed through in his public life. He titled himself “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” He also claimed to be the uncrowned King of Scotland.


His behavior was noted as being erratic. He would be happy and laughing in one moment and murderously angry in the next.


He was also a brutal dictator responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

<![CDATA[Who Invented the First Motion Picture Camera?]]> 2023-06-29T10:11:58 Rosie Lesso


Movies and television dominate our lives today, an accessible form of entertainment, documentary and creative expression. But do you know who invented the first motion picture camera? Ever since the invention of photography in the early 20th century, makers began looking for ways to record movement onto film, which could be played back to an eager audience. From Eadweard Muybridge’s spinning zoopraxiscopes to Thomas Edison and William Dickson’s recording camera, we track the ingenious inventors who paved the way for today’s technology with some of the world’s first motion pictures.


Eadweard Muybridge

what is eadweard muybridge best known for
Eadweard Muybridge with his sequential photographs of horses


World-renowned English-American photographer Eadweard Muybridge was one of the very first to find a way of capturing sensations of movement through the practice of photography. He made a series of sequential photographs which documented people and animals with multiple cameras that could take snapshots in a fraction of a second, one after the other. One of his first series’ documented a racehorse caught mid-motion in 1878, and he later moved on to a series of more diverse subjects including athletes, ballet dancers, birds, big cats and even camels.


From here, Muybridge went on to develop the zoopraxiscope, (similar to the zoetrope) a spinning disc device which allowed sequential photographs to be viewed in quick succession through a small slit, conveying the sensation of motion to a dazzled audience. His device was the first example of ‘frame animation’, which went on to become widely influential. Muybridge also developed the zoogyroscope in 1879, a sequential photo projector with which he could present his photos to captivated audiences during his many public lectures.


Etienne-Jules Marey

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Movements in Pole Vaulting by Étienne-Jules Marey, 1885-1895


Concurrently with Muybridge, the French physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey also documented animals in motion, with his own self-designed camera that could snapshot 12 pictures every second, and arrange these moments into a single image, allowing for the observation of the patterns of movement as they happen. He called his technique chrono-photography, and it is still a term used today for producing similar such images. We can compare Marey’s work with today’s time-lapse photography, which similarly ‘grabs’ and puts together actions into a quick-fire sequence. 


Thomas Edison and William Dickson

thomas edison william dickson first motion picture camera
Thomas Edison and William Dickson with their first motion picture camera


American inventor Thomas Edison and his assistant William Dickson unveiled a new type of recording camera which they called a kinetograph in 1890, which is widely recognized as one of the world’s first motion picture cameras. Their ingenious design took a series of photographs of people and objects in motion, with the use of a long roll of celluloid photographic film which moved through the camera taking photographs through the use of a sprocket system.


The fastest camera of its kind, it could take approximately 40 frames per second, on a reel of up to 15 meters long. They also designed a kinetoscope as a means of displaying the processed film, which ran the imagery through a lamp and a magnifying lens inside a wooden cabinet, which viewers could watch through a peephole. They unveiled their ideas to the wider public through a series of ‘Kinetograph Parlors’ in 1894.


Auguste and Louis Lumiere

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Auguste and Louis Lumiere with their first Cinematographe


In 1895, Auguste and Louis Lumiere designed an even more audience-accessible device which they called the Cinematographe, a multi-image projector that could display 16 frames a second. They made a series of films documenting simple activities including a baby eating and a group of workers leaving a factory, which amazed audiences who had never seen such events recorded in motion before. In the next few decades, early filmmakers began to create longer and more sophisticated silent films until the late 1920s, by which point movie-makers had begun to explore ways of incorporating elements of music and other sounds alongside their film.

<![CDATA[The Genius Behind Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in 5 Points]]> 2023-06-29T06:11:00 Antonio Panovski


If you were to ask any historian of philosophy about which thinker caused the most controversy, confusion, and amazement at the same time, they would probably answer “Friedrich Nietzsche.” If you were to ask them about his most controversial, radical, and compelling work, they would probably mention Thus Spoke Zarathustra. 


Thus Spoke Zarathustra contains, without a doubt, Nietzsche’s most significant concepts and ideas, his most radical way of thinking, as well as his hardest rebellion against all of traditional philosophy. Because of that, it is often classified as one of the most challenging books in contemporary philosophy as a whole. But what makes it so challenging, controversial, compelling, and thought-provoking? In the following article, we’ll take a closer look at Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, examine its main ideas and points, and the influence it had, and show its relevance even today.

1. The Beginning of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”: Zarathustra’s Climb Down the Mountain

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Nietzsche in Basel, Switzerland, c. 1875 via Wikimedia commons.


Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, as cited with its full name, is often considered to be Nietzsche’s hardest rebellion against Christianity and democracy, although he touches on these subject matters quite often in his other books as well.


Nietzsche writes in his autobiography Ecce Homo about why he chose that title for the book. He chose Zarathustra because he sees the real Zarathustra (Zoroaster) as being the first one to have created and established a moral system that will eventually grow out to become the Judeo-Christian morality, which Nietzsche attacks in this book. It seems as though it felt fitting for Nietzsche that the fictitious Zarathustra should be the one to break down the moral system that the real Zarathustra developed. Nietzsche also stated one time that it was his favorite of his own books.


The book begins with Zarathustra climbing down alone from the mountains after 10 years spent in solitude. He expresses his love and wisdom and wants to teach humanity about the overman, often also referred to as superhuman (übermensch). On the way, he meets an elderly man that left his hut so that he could find his roots in the forest. This old man tells him that he once loved man and humankind, but got sick from its imperfections and now he only loves God.


19th-century Indian Zoroastrian perception of Zoroaster derived from a figure that appears in a 4th-century sculpture at Taq-e Bostan in South-Western Iran, via Flickr.


Zarathustra tells him about the gift of the overman that he is going to give humanity, and the old man says that humankind does not need such a gift; instead, they need help, he says. They need someone to enlighten them and provide them with empathy. The old man advises Zarathustra not to go to the people, but to go back to the forest, and even to go to the animals instead. After they separate and each head their own way, Zarathustra contemplates their encounter and thinks to himself: “Could it be possible! This old saint in his woods has not yet heard the news that God is dead!” (Nietzsche, 1883).


Through these lines, right at the very beginning of the book, we can see Nietzsche making his first main point. When Nietzsche says that “God is dead” it’s important to remember that he does not reject his existence. His saying that “God is dead” actually refers to the idea that God does not represent the source, basis, and foundation of truth, and therefore, of morality. He does not state that God does not exist (at least, not in this book), but instead that God is not the one that gives meaning and purpose to our existence anymore. If God were the one that gives our lives meaning and purpose, the world and life without God would be meaningless.


That’s why Nietzsche believes that the times we live in are nihilistic – completely free of all moral values, lacking positive and constructive goals. However, Nietzsche does not see this as a negative thing. Instead, this gives man the power to create his own values, meaning, and purpose, Nietzsche states. That’s why he suggests that the basis of morality has to be the overman, whose highest value is the will to power. We’ll take a closer look at the idea of the will to power later on.


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Depiction of Zarathustra (Zoroaster), detail from Raphael’s School of Athens, 1511, via Musei Vaticani.


Zarathustra arrives at the nearest town and says to its citizens that he’s here to give them knowledge and to teach them about the overman. The overman has to be the knowledge and the meaning of existence in this world, he says. The human, says Zarathustra, is just a bridge, a fastened rope over an abyss between the animal and the overman.


The overman is someone that’s free of all prejudice and of the long-lasting morality that seeps through human society, and he’s the one that creates his own values and goals, rejecting the traditional understandings and concepts of morality. But the people do not understand Zarathustra, and it seems like they do not find the knowledge of the overman very interesting. That’s why Zarathustra says that even though it’s still possible to strive to become the overman and cherish his knowledge, humankind has become more and more timid, tame, and obedient. Very soon, humankind will get to witness the last human being.


Through the image of the last human being, Nietzsche tries to paint the final result of nihilism. Lacking any kind of positive beliefs or needs, human beings will tend to reach comfort at all times and fight as little as possible. The last human being is just like the animals. He enjoys the simple pleasures in life, and finds comfort in mediocre things, avoiding everything that seems too extreme or too dangerous. Soon enough, we’ll all become the same – all average and all perfectly satisfied. We’ll “invent happiness” through the elimination of every source of worry and suffering from our lives.


last human on earth
Image via The What If? Show.


The overman is actually the solution for nihilism. The overman faces a world without God in it, but instead of viewing it as meaningless, the overman sees the beauty by giving himself his own meaning and purpose. Giving his life his own values, meaning, and purpose, he revolts against the believers of “the good and the just” and the believers of “true faith,” who have yet to learn that God is dead.


At this point in the book, people in the crowd cheer and ironically shout: “Give us this last human being, oh Zarathustra, make us into these last human beings!” (Nietzsche, 1883). They simply want to go back to their daily lives: they were watching a boy walking on a tightrope at a festival. What happened next was something very unexpected. The tightrope walker falls down to the ground from a tall tower-like height. The crowd panics and they all start running away.


The walker, still alive, lies on the ground, still, when Zarathustra approaches him. He asks Zarathustra whether he’s the devil and has come to take him to hell. Zarathustra consoles him and says that he shouldn’t be afraid of death, because life after death does not exist, and therefore, neither the devil nor the hell exists, after which the boy dies. Zarathustra takes him in his arms and heads to the forest to bury him. On his way to the forest, Zarathustra thinks about the events that just transpired, concluding that he is not meant for this herd of people. He decides not to teach the herd but instead to give the knowledge he has to the ones who want to learn, the ones that want to separate themselves from the herd.


2. Zarathustra’s (And Nietzsche’s) Concept of the Overman

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Friedrich Nietzsche by Edvard Munch, 1906, via Thielska Galleriet.


After this, Zarathustra’s speeches and teachings begin. Through his speech in the first chapter, “On the Three Metamorphoses,” we get to learn what Nietzsche really means by his concept of the overman. The three metamorphoses or the three transformations are: how the spirit becomes a camel, the camel a lion, and finally the lion a child. We can compare these metamorphoses with the process that the creative genius goes through.


Let’s take the artist as an example. In the first phase, he burdens himself and carries baggage like a camel walking through the desert, with long learning and studying about the technical abilities and skills he needs to possess, as well as the life-long history of art. In the next phase, he has to establish his independence and individuality like a lion, becoming a king of his own desert, and distinguishing himself from the other artists. In the end, he has to create his own way and style of expression, creating something totally new and unique.


In this last phase, the artist becomes like a child, giving birth to something totally new because he has integrated a total sense of innocence: all marks and traces of his past sufferings are completely gone, and we only see that which is new and infiltrated.


The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a wheel rolling out of itself, a first movement, a sacred yes-saying. Yes, for the game of creation my brothers a sacred yes-saying is required. The spirit wants its will, the one lost to the world now wins its own world.”
(Nietzsche, 1883).


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Young Nietzsche striking a Napoleon pose, via NY Times


Now we can fully understand why Nietzsche talks so much about war, exercising resistance, coping with the world, and self-overcoming. It’s because these are necessary parts of the phases for becoming the overman. The progression to the overman requires a constant fight in which the new self overcomes the old. Nietzsche often talks about the war and the fight, so much so that he oftentimes gets misinterpreted. However, it’s important to remember that what Nietzsche talks about is an intellectual and internal war with ourselves – constant aspiration and desire for overcoming oneself, and not the literal meaning of war – violence and shedding blood.


He often compares war with the climbing of a mountain. He pictures this comparison most clearly in the chapter “On Reading and Writing,” where Zarathustra talks about the overman as someone standing at the top of the mountain looking down. This looking down from the top of the mountain is meant to picture the superior looking down on the faces of the inferiors. The overman has climbed so high that he can only look down. That’s why he looks down on everything, even in the face of the hardest and the most tragic events with a smile and laughter. Zarathustra points out laughter as an extremely important virtue because the overman has nothing to aspire for, nothing that would be above him, nothing that he considers serious or important. Instead, he lightly accepts everything and enjoys freedom. Freedom, on the other hand, is oftentimes shown through dancing.


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Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, ca. 1818. Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany. Via Wikimedia Commons


We can extend this picture of the overman standing on the top of the mountain as someone that has climbed up so high and take it as a suggestion: every (over)man should find their own peak on the mountain. Zarathustra can talk about the obstacles along the way and the reward at the top, but he cannot lead others climbing the mountain because, after all, he’s only familiar with his own path and his own mountain peak.


Zarathustra is the prophet that gives the concept of the overman to humankind, but he’s not a prophet that wants to have followers, something that he mentions quite often, and it’s what differentiates him from the other prophets. We can ask ourselves as Michael Tanner does in “Nietzsche: A very short introduction”:


How can someone who claims to know the truth not want to have followers?
(Michael Tanner, 2001).


The answer to that question would be that Zarathustra is not really sure if he knows the truth. That’s why he decides to leave the mountain and go down to the city in the first place – this is carefully calculated ambiguity on Nietzsche’s side, Tanner points out. In the last chapter of the first part of the book, “On the Bestowing Virtue,” when Zarathustra is leaving his pupils, he even says to them to completely forget about him, to not praise his teachings, to even be ashamed of him, and to rebel against him. He says that a pupil should not return to the teacher as a pupil. That’s why they have to create their own values and meaning.


3. Nietzsche’s Rebellion Against Christianity

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Christ Healing the Blind by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), ca. 1570, via the Met Museum.


Now let’s dive into Zarathustra’s critique of Christianity a bit deeper. Zarathustra criticizes Christianity, among other things, because of its presupposition of a will that does not challenge the human being, but instead promotes obedience and tameness. According to Zarathustra, this means turning your back to life. Instead of revenge in this life, Christianity promotes suffering and pain, stating that God will establish justice in the afterlife.


The chapter “On a Thousand and One Goals” is named like that because in it Zarathustra talks about how he existed as a thousand and one person, a thousand and one times, each existence with its own concepts of good and evil, each with its own values and goals. He mentions four examples: the Greeks, the Persians, the Jews, and the Germans. In each of these lives, what they consider good is “the voice of their own will to power.” The will to power, Nietzsche says, is the fundamental drive that causes all events, changes, and movements in the universe.


Regarding the concepts of good and evil, it’s important to mention Nietzsche’s distinction between them in his book “On the Genealogy of Morality.” In it he draws a clear line between master morality and slave morality, the latter of which got created and developed within the lower-class people and the priest’s yards. The weak and powerless invented slave morality as a means of revenge towards the aristocratic rulers. The weak despise the power their rulers have and feel resentment for their powerlessness to avenge them. Because they cannot get to them and get revenge in this life, they invented the idea of life after death and the idea of God’s justice that will eventually avenge them in the afterlife.


Tintoretto Allegory morality
Allegory with a portrait of a Venetian senator (Allegory of the morality of earthly things), by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1580s. Via Muzeum Palacu Krola Jana III W Wilanowie.


Therefore, God’s justice is a product of people that are not strong enough to establish justice for themselves. They also invented the concept of evil, which Nietzsche sees as the greatest invention of humankind. The aristocratic rulers, and everything that relates to them: wealth, power, strength, good health, and happiness, were considered evil. On the contrary, the slaves identify good in everything that their ruler is not: being poor, weak, sick, unhappy, and average is good. In fact, it’s themselves that they identify as good. This new morality of the slaves represents a total turn of the old one, the morality of the masters.


Furthermore, Nietzsche comes to recognize that slave morality is mostly present in Christianity, as well as in democracy. The biblical “Sermon on the Mount” found in the Gospel of Matthew is the clearest example of that. In it, Jesus preaches a life of obedience and poverty, completely lacking the wealth and treasures in life. Democracy, on the other hand, lays on the foundation of equality and justice for all, which Nietzsche sees as the rudiments of slave morality. Instead of accepting a world that promotes charity and imposed equality, Nietzsche promotes a world of creative freedom, achieved through the inequality between people. In such a world, every man will be his own starting point, ambition, and goal. While Christian values are undesirable and unpleasant, and at the same time require an external reward to be achieved, Nietzsche’s ideal values for creativity and self-overcoming should be pursued not only because they’re desirable, but also because they are good by nature itself. In such a world, pitying is bad for both the one being pitied and the one that pities.


4. Zarathustra’s Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence

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An ouroboros, representing the idea of eternal recurrence. Via Encyclopedia Britannica.


At the very end of our text, there’s another important idea that needs to be pointed out, and that’s Zarathustra’s doctrine of eternal recurrence and rebirth, at the end of the fourth part of the book in the chapter “The Song of Melancholy.” This idea presupposes that all events and occurrences in the world are going to repeat themselves for eternity.


It’s only the overman that can fully grasp that idea because only he has the power of the will, and the will to power as well, to take full responsibility for every moment of his life, and to not want anything more but the constant repetition of those moments, for eternity. Zarathustra also expresses his anxiety and worry about this idea, as he cannot stand the thought of having the averageness of the herd repeated for all eternity, without any progress.


5. Thus Spoke Zarathustra’s Importance and Further Influence

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A photo of Nietzsche by Hans Olde as part of his series The Ill Nietzsche, via Walker Art Centre.


Thus Spoke Zarathustra covers a major portion of Nietzsche’s adult philosophy, and it’s considered to be one of the strangest books in western philosophy. Its subtitle “A Book for All and None” speaks about the incredibly complex style it’s written in. Nietzsche was an extremely lonely person, and he believed that none of his contemporaries understood his ideas. He knew that his philosophy would not be met with open arms, which is why he stated it’s a book for “none.” On the other hand, the subject matter he writes about concerns the fate of humanity as a whole, and in this sense, Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a book for all. This interpretation is noted by many historians of philosophy.


This crisis of meaning that Nietzsche (along with Ludwig Feuerbach) conceived at the end of the 19th century prompted philosophers to ask themselves the lifelong philosophical question – what is the meaning of life? Out of this renewed engagement with meaning emerged existentialism as a new philosophical doctrine. Considering the struggles of the search for meaning, philosophers put the focus back on the human being and gathered their knowledge in an attempt to answer the most baffling question of all time.


Zarathustra’s critique of Christianity, the concept of the overman, the idea of the will to power, as well as Nietzsche’s philosophy altogether, were all big factors in the emergence of such a renewed focus on this question, and their influence can clearly be seen in the philosophy following. That’s why Thus Spoke Zarathustra remains, to this day, a must-read book for everyone studying the history of philosophy.

<![CDATA[A Who’s Who of the Harlem Renaissance: 6 Important Artists of the Era]]> 2023-06-28T18:11:13 Madison Whipple


The Harlem Renaissance was a Black cultural movement between the two world wars. However, its impact on African American culture is long-lasting, and even today, the scholars and artists at the center of the movement are integral to the culture of Black Americans. Many key players in this movement were the visual and performing artists who came onto the scene. In a concrete visual medium, these artists reclaimed their culture and presented it in a more fastidious light, “uplifting” the role of African Americans in art. Whether through sculpture, painting, or performance, these artists upended how the Black American was portrayed in art. Here are six artists who helped define the cultural shift that was the Harlem Renaissance.


1. Aaron Douglas

aaron douglas portrait
Aaron Douglas photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1933, via Yale University Library


Aaron Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1899. Following high school, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He then taught as a high school art teacher for two years. Douglas was aware of and kept up with the growing Black cultural movement in Harlem, reading magazines published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League. He was recruited by influential leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, including the editors of the aforementioned groups, W.E.B Du Bois and Charles S. Johnson, as they had heard of his talent for painting and were eager to have more Black artists for the movement in New York.


aaron douglas song of the towers
Song of the Towers by Aaron Douglas, 1934, via the New York Public Library


Douglas moved to New York in 1925 and soon began studying under German artist Fritz Winold Reiss with the support of Johnson and Du Bois. Soon after, in 1927, Du Bois hired Douglas as the staff art critic for the NAACP’s publication, The Crisis. It was in the same year that James Weldon Johnson, a poet, asked Douglas to illustrate his book of poetry entitled God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. While the collection itself was Johnson’s masterpiece, so, too, were Douglas’s illustrations. His style, in which he mixed African art with Cubism and Art Deco, became the defining style of the Harlem Renaissance and influenced his later paintings and murals.


aaron douglas gods trombones
Cover art by Aaron Douglass for God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson, via the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC


Douglas was commissioned for several murals throughout his career. In 1934, the Works Progress Administration hired him to paint a mural on the New York Public Library’s 135th street branch. The four-panel mural was entitled Aspects of Negro Life and depicted painted figures representing the Black experience. One figure symbolized escaped enslavement, one symbolized economic hardship, and one played the saxophone, representing the new world of opportunity for African Americans from the art, music, and scholarship of the Harlem Renaissance.


Douglas later moved to Nashville and worked as an art professor at Fisk University until he died in 1979. Today, his art lives forever in synonymy with the Harlem Renaissance.


2. Augusta Savage

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Portrait of Augusta Savage with one of her sculptures, via the Library of Congress


Augusta Christine Fells (later Savage) was born near Jacksonville, Florida, in 1892. From a very young age, she was determined to become a sculptor. She often made figures out of the red clay that surrounded her home and was encouraged in high school to continue her practice. She moved to New York in 1921, where she attended Cooper Union and studied under sculptor George Brewster.


Savage’s first commission was from the New York Public Library on 135th street. They asked her to sculpt a portrait bust of W.E.B. Du Bois, and after she successfully finished her work, many more commissions poured in. Savage was renowned for her style, which depicted African Americans in a more human and neutral light as opposed to the stereotypical images of Black people at the time.


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Gamin, one of Augusta Savage’s famous pieces, 1929, via The Johnson Collection


This realistic and positive representation of African American subjects was a hallmark of Savage’s work and the Harlem Renaissance. She was a staunch critic of the fetishization of the “negro primitive” image, and her work reflected the beauty and elegance of  Black features.


Savage began teaching art in Harlem in 1932 when she founded the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts and later became the first director of Harlem’s Community Arts Center. Her impact on the Harlem Renaissance was profound, as she encouraged her students and the general public, through her work, to learn about African American culture. She embodied the cultural ideal of the Harlem Renaissance in that she encouraged a new view of Black culture devoid of the caricatures that had been made of it in the past.


3. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson

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Portrait of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, via the New York Public Library


Born in Virginia in 1878, Bill Robinson began dancing in saloons at six and performed on a vaudeville circuit two years later. He received the nickname “Bojangles” during this time, which he kept for all his life, even though he was unsure of its origin or meaning. Robinson met his lifelong manager, Marty Forkins, in 1905. Forkins gave Robinson the opportunity to tour as a solo dancer at a time when African American dancers appeared almost exclusively as pairs.


By 1928, Robinson moved to Harlem, where he starred in the all-Black revue Blackbirds of 1928. Produced for white audiences by a white producer, this show made Robinson’s popularity soar. He encapsulated the ideology of the Harlem Renaissance in his ability to subvert preconceived notions of African American culture through dance. While much of Black tap dance until that point was frantic and heavy, Robinson’s tap was precise and graceful. He danced on the tips of his toes with elegance and finesse and, in doing so, turned the idea that Black dance must look a certain way on its head.


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Robinson dancing with a chorus, via The New York Public Library


He defied the stereotypes of the time and helped to solidify dance as a principal art form of the Harlem Renaissance; Robinson was also unpopular with many of his contemporaries. His fame soared because of roles where he portrayed the racist stereotypes the movement aimed to break away from. While he also starred in productions more characteristic of the reality of Black culture, he never garnered as much success from them. Robinson was seemingly a token figure for the white establishment of the time. He was named the Honorary Mayor of Harlem and the mascot of the New York Giants, which many African American leaders perceived as demeaning.


Robinson’s career was controversial, but he embodied the Harlem Renaissance in his ability to break through the mold that the Black artist had been given at that point in time. His breakthrough success, despite the racism of the time, was a massive achievement and cemented his legendary status in the artistic culture of the Harlem Renaissance.


4. Evelyn Preer

harlem renaissance evelyn preer
Portrait of Evelyn Preer, via


Evelyn Preer was born in 1896 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She soon moved to Chicago, where she attended grammar and high school and began performing with her mother in vaudeville and street preaching acts. These performances kick-started Preer’s career in acting, which would span the rest of her life.


In 1919, Preer was cast in Black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux’s first film, Homesteader. Micheaux promoted Preer as his leading actress; she went on publicity campaigns and made personal appearances after her success in her first role. She was, ostensibly, one of the first African American women to become a star in her community. Her success was only heightened by her leading role in Within Our Gates, a 1920 film by Micheaux in which Preer’s character, Sylvia Landry, survives an attempted assault by a white man. This film was considered controversial, as the underlying message was a harsh critique of racial relations in America at the time.


This social commentary through film began to be a trademark of Preer’s performances, as she was known to turn down roles that she felt demeaned the image of African Americans. She found support in this ideology through her membership in an acting troupe, The Lafayette Players, which toured the country and performed plays that had never before been done with an all-Black cast and production team. In protest of theatrical segregation in the Jim Crow South, the Lafayette Players brought legitimate theater to Black audiences. In the North, vaudeville was waning in popularity, and Preer’s troupe brought exciting performances back to spaces where such things were fading into the background.


evelyn preer in homesteader
Evelyn Preer in a scene from The Homesteader, via The New York Public Library


Preer embodied the ideology of the Harlem Renaissance through her courage and conviction in bucking the traditional roles given to Black women and still skyrocketing to fame. She was often called the best actress of her time, and she did it so that she never had to lower herself to give outstanding performances to audiences. She played roles and performed in shows that had never before seen a Black actor, much less an entire troupe. Preer’s fame captured the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, that Black culture and excellence could be widely loved and appreciated by all.


Evelyn Preer died in 1932, months after giving birth to her first child. She was 36 years old. Preer starred in 19 movies within her short lifetime, and she was lauded as a pioneer for Black representation in film, which cemented her as a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance for years to come.


5. Jacob Lawrence

jacob lawrence portrait
Portrait of Jacob Lawrence, via The Library of Congress


Jacob Lawrence, a native of New Jersey, was raised in Harlem from age 13. He was born in 1917 and thus was raised in the culture of the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Migration. His parents, like hundreds of thousands of other Black southerners, had moved North for better access to education and work. Lawrence took advantage of the neighborhood he was raised in and began painting to reflect the experiences of the people who had regaled him with vivid, colorful, and heart-wrenching stories for the entirety of his life.


jacob lawrence painting
This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence, 1943, via the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC


Lawrence enrolled in art classes in the 1930s. By the age of 23, he had produced his first five narrative paintings, capturing the lives of Black leaders, from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman. He painted to reflect Harlem, to show the world the culture he loved. His style combined rigid and geometrical shapes with fanciful colors and patterns, which helped him funnel his message directly to the viewer.


Lawrence’s work was inspired by the Great Migration, combined with songs, Bible stories, and sermons he had heard as a child. His paintings were part expressions, part educational tools that served in their essence to share the culture of the Harlem Renaissance with the world. Lawrence broke barriers as an artist, as he visually depicted the movement of Black freedom and expression.


He was the first Black artist to have pieces acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. His goal in sharing his culture was to fit his heritage into the greater story of American heritage as a whole. Lawrence is quoted as saying, “I do not look upon the story of the Blacks in America as a separate experience to the American culture but as a part of the American heritage and experience as a whole.” His art expressed the Harlem Renaissance by defying the stereotypical understanding of Black culture and fitting it into the country’s history.


Lawrence died at 82 in 2000 from lung cancer. His legacy is the decades of exhibitions and awards his work received and his paving the way for the posterity of Black artists to experience success on a never before seen scale.


6. Paul Robeson 

paul robeson portrait
Portrait of Paul Robeson, via The Library of Congress


Paul Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1898. He was the son of a formerly enslaved father, who had earned a degree from Lincoln University, and made an effort to instill social awareness in Robeson. Robeson went to Rutgers University, only the third African American student to do so, played for the football team, and graduated as valedictorian. He then earned a law degree from Columbia University in 1923.


Robeson practiced law full-time in New York City, occasionally acting in performances at the local YMCA. However, after the rampant racism he experienced in his job as a lawyer, he decided to pursue acting full-time. He began performing in theater and film roles, wherein he garnered roles that had previously been off-limits for Black actors. He continued to star in traditionally white roles, such as the title role in Othello and Joe in Showboat, which provided the example for the singing of “Ol’ Man River” for the rest of the show’s productions. His role in All God’s Chillun Got Wings (1924) took a particularly controversial turn, as it portrayed a relationship between a Black man and a white woman.


paul robeson as othello
Paul Robeson as the title character in Othello, via The Library of Congress


Paul Robeson represented breaking the norms of the time, a key trait in many Harlem Renaissance leaders. Robeson believed that American culture was incomplete without adding African American culture. He broke barriers for other Black actors and performers and is considered one of the greatest actors of the 20th century. He also broke barriers in sports by playing for two teams in the National Football League while earning his law degree. He was artistically lauded worldwide and used this fame to speak against fascism, racism, and colonialism. While this was detrimental to his career at times (he was blacklisted during the Mccarthy Red Scare era), he fought for the things he believed in alongside activists like W.E.B. Du Bois.


Robeson is still a symbol of the Harlem Renaissance because his fame transcended stereotypes of his race. He brought his culture to the masses, and he produced world-class performances. His list of accomplishments, including a Hollywood Walk of Fame star, a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement, and membership in the American Theater Hall of Fame, speak to the success he garnered despite the prejudices of the time. He faced the perils of being a Black performer head-on and thus paved the way for Black actors after him to flourish in their careers. Robeson died in 1979 after a series of strokes and was laid to rest in New York City.

<![CDATA[Climate Activists Protest at the Met Due to Harsh Punishments]]> 2023-06-28T15:09:50 Angela Davic Climate Activists
Protesting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 24, 2023. Photo: Graham MacIndoe.


Climate activists lately started targeting works of art as a way of putting climate problems in focus. This is happening all over the world, all over the internationally famous cultural institutions. The goal is to prevent attacks, so the authorities increased sanctions for environmental activism. Because of this, some protesters gathered at the Met, in sign of protest to these sanctions.


Climate Activists Charges Include Conspiracy

Climate Activists
Members of activist groups Extinction Rebellion and Rise & Resist protesting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 24, 2023. Photo: Graham MacIndoe.


Protesters are members of the Extinction Rebellion and Rise & Resist group. They protested in front of the “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” sculpture, made by Edgar Degas. Climate activists formed a circle and painted their hands and fingers with a red paint. They also had a few signs with different messages: “Earth is a treasure, no art was harmed”, “No art on a dead planet” and others.


This protest was similar to Joanna Smith’s and Tim Martin’s, at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington D.C. The two protesters also used red and black paint, which they threw on the case containing “Little Dancer”. The authorities arrested them. This kind of protest was a first one occurring on American soil, after many protests all across Europe. They did not destroy the sculpture, but they caused a damage worth $2,400.


Climate Protesters
The protesters smeared black and red paint on the case and pedestal of Degas’s sculpture “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” at the National Gallery of Art. COURTESY OF DECLARE EMERGENCY


The state charged them with conspiracy against the U.S. and with an injury to a National Gallery of Art. The maximum penalty for every offense is a five-year jail term and a penalty of up to $250,000. The group protesting said these charges are the highest ever for this kind of action, and are not fair.


An Indictment of Intimidation?

Letzte Generation Österreich on the sceneLetzte Generation Österreich – Twitter


Stu Waldman, an organizer with Rise & Resist said a few words: “If Joanna and Tim had been graffiti artists using fingerpaint to tag plexiglass, they wouldn’t be facing the prospect of lengthy prison sentences. Their indictment is not based on their actions, but on their motivations. It is an indictment of intimidation, rather than a pursuit of justice”.


In addition, protesters at the Met wrapped their lips using black tape that had words such as “Famine,” “Floods,” “Glaciers,” and “Wildlife”, as a representation of the “suppression faced by activists,” according to the release. Officials from the Metropolitan claim that there was no harm caused by the protest. The demonstration is part of a larger #FreeTheDegasTwo campaign.


Extinction Rebellion
Via group Extinction Rebellion and Rise & Resist.


“If our government still possesses any remnants of democracy, it must not permit climate criminals to elude accountability, while simultaneously punishing citizens who dare to challenge their wrongdoing—citizens who themselves are victims of the actions of these climate criminals”, said Georgia B. Smith, a member of Extinction Rebellion.

<![CDATA[Romantic Portrayals of Death in Painting by the Romanticists]]> 2023-06-28T12:11:22 Julia Guillot


The topic of death preoccupies all human thought and by extension all artistic or scientific expression. To explain, analyze, present, or approach death in order to become familiar with it, understand it, and possibly better accept it, the goals can be different. Painting, through different pictorial techniques, gives tangibility to the enigma of death and what it represents for the living. It makes the invisible visible. The Romantic Movement, which aspired to mysterious but attractive topics, made death one of its favorite themes: by representing it in connection with other abstract ideas, romantic paintings emphasized the expression of inner feelings provoked by the idea of death.


Depicting the Beyond in Romantic Paintings

romantic paintings veiled funerary statue cyrene
Hellenistic Cyrenaican funerary statue of a veiled woman, circa 350 B.C.E., via the New York Times


Death is a difficult subject to approach, and even more difficult to represent. It symbolizes nothingness, arouses mystery, and therefore evokes a universal fear, in particular, because of its suddenness and its inevitability. It intrigues and is often feared. We wonder if life is possible in the afterlife if there is another world outside ours, or where the soul would reside.


The French poet Yves Bonnefoy wrote: as much as it was thought of, since the Greeks, death has only been an idea. It is an artist’s challenge to give death a concrete and pictorial form. Rather than brushing off or trying to explain the mysteries of death, an artist applies to the canvas the different feelings inspired by this theme.


Early representations of death date from Antiquity, when the Greco-Romans represented it as a veiled virgin, or more frequently in the form of allegories. Romanticism revolutionized the representation of death and broke up with pictorial tradition by expressing it in an idealized, poetic way, and paradoxically as liberation from life.


The Sublimated and Idealized Romantic Death

romantic paintings vafflard young daughter
Young and His Daughter by Pierre-Auguste Vafflard, 1804, via Wikimedia


In Romantic paintings, death is often depicted as being calming and even liberating. Young and His Daughter, an 1804 painting by Pierre-Auguste Vafflard, shows the 18th-century English poet Edward Young carrying his dead daughter wrapped in a shroud. The painting is centered on the two characters and the scene takes place at night, probably in a cemetery. Vafflard paints the deceased girl like an ancient statue. She has a stone-white face whose texture is reminiscent of marble. She is wrapped in an immaculate white shroud which strongly recalls antique draperies. The figure of the dead is magnified. Enhanced by the pure light of the moon, it is illuminated while the majority of the painting is in shadow. It echoes the ancient beauty expressed in marble statues, representing the sublime despite its macabre essence.


It is a paradoxical and of course fictional representation since the deceased doesn’t really look like a corpse. On the contrary, she appears to be beautiful, peaceful, and faultless. the figure of the deceased girl is symbolically meant to represent death itself as not ugly or disturbing but beautiful and calm.


romantic paintings girodet burial atala
The Burial of Atala by Anne-Louis Girodet, 1808, via Musée du Louvre, Paris


The representation of death is essential, but we must not forget the paradoxical presence of life. In the 1808 Girodet painting The Burial of Atala, the atmosphere resulting from this opposition is contrasting: the two male characters on the sides seem to be plunged into shadow, while Atala, placed in the center, is bathed in intense white light. This breaks with the tradition where life is usually associated with purity and light, while death is represented in dark colors. We almost come to wonder which is better, life or death. While Atala seems rested and fulfilled in her death, her lover Chactas and Father Aubry bend under an invisible weight of life.


The figure of Atala, just like Young’s daughter in the previous painting, doesn’t look dead but peacefully asleep. Her body is not rigid, while the treatment of her skin and the shroud in which she is dressed recalls, once again, the dazzling beauty of ancient statues. Despite the presence of life, the theme of death prevails. The figure of Atala is major and eclipses the other two. The figure of death seems paradoxically more alive than the figures that represent life. Similarly, in his painting, Vafflard paints the figure of Young dressed in a dull gray and black suit. His face is pale, but while the whiteness of his daughter’s complexion recalls the purity of ancient statues, Young’s is cadaverous. His eyes are hollowed out with grief and sadness.


gros sappho leucate
Sappho at Leucate by Antoine-Jean Gros, 1801, via Wikimedia


The Romantics didn’t see death as frightening or negative, but rather as a deliverance and an exaltation. Fascinated by the unknown, they represented it as sublime and made it reassuring and beautiful. In the 1801 work titled Sappho at Leucate, Antoine-Jean Gros shows the tragic heroine and poet Sappho freeing herself from her unhappy condition by throwing herself from the top of a cliff, after her lover’s rejection. Through death, a real catharsis, she forgets her love for Phaon. The glow of the moon through the dark and threatening clouds appears as a sign of hope, heralding the liberation to come.


The painting also carried a political message. The typical Romantic artist was not in tune with his time. He was uncomfortable and unhappy in the context of war and the industrial revolution that agitated the 19th century. It was the evil of the century, as defined by the French poet Alfred de Musset, which fueled Romantic artists with constant melancholy. Death, therefore, appears as a deliverance from a life that feels like a burden and only brings suffering.


In Sappho at Leucate, Gros also incorporated a depiction of spirituality in his decor. Two natural elements, the sky and the sea, fill out the background. The treatment of the sky reveals the divine. The black clouds part to reveal the moon, which is assimilated into divine light. This light reflects into the sea, into which Sappho is about to throw herself. She is, therefore, about to join God. For the Romantics, being reunited with nature means, by extension, being reunited with God. The Divine is indeed, to quote Romantic painter Casper David Friedrich, present everywhere, even in a grain of sand.


The Religious Expression of a Transcendental Beyond

caravaggio entombment christ
The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio, 1603-1604, via Art History Project


The deliverance brought by death is deeply linked to the conscience of religion. It takes on a transcendental and powerfully symbolic dimension that reminds the spectators that their mortal condition is not a fatality and that better times await. For the Romantics, religion makes death sweet and reassuring.


In The Burial of Atala, the position of the deceased Atala recalls the position of Jesus in Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ. She is wrapped in a white shroud, a symbol of purity and virginity. The light emitted by Atala illuminates the bodies of Chactas and Father Aubry, just like the divine figure of Christ. The notion of the celestial, of God, is present in the crucifix firmly held by the dead woman as well as in the cross seen in the background. A verse from the book of Job in the Bible, engraved on the wall of the rock, comments on the scene: I have passed away like a flower, I have withered like the grass in the field.


john everett millais ophelia
Ophelia by John Everett Millais, 1851-1852, via ArtUK


In a typically Romantic enterprise, the divine element is also shown through nature. Although secondary, nature is indeed present in the paintings mentioned earlier and gives them an important spiritual dimension. But none of them feature a prominent spiritual environment more than John Everett Millais’ Ophelia. In this painting, the drowned Shakespearean heroine rests in a peaceful stream, in a tomb of vivid nature. She is surrounded by colorful flowers, each of which holds a very particular meaning. Poppies function as the Christian allegory for Christ’s blood, nettles represent pain, and roses allude to love. There is even a weeping willow tree, a traditional symbol for life after death.


Death in Romantic Paintings and Literature

henry wallis death chatterton
The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis, 1856, via Tate Britain, London


The poetic and lyrical atmosphere of the scenes represented in paintings showing Romantic death echo literary Romanticism. In 1856, Henry Wallis painted the British poet Thomas Chatterton who committed suicide at the age of 17. Described as a tragic hero by the French writer Alfred de Vigny, Chatterton represents youth cut down in its prime. He is the perfect tortured, melancholic character that was favored by the Romantics. Wallis thought of his painting as a critique of the treatment of artists by society. Rejected, the young poet chooses death, which to him seems sweeter than life.


The bright colors of Chatterton’s clothes and his fiery red hair contrast with the pallor of death on his face, accentuating the prematurity of his passing. On the original frame, a quote from Christopher Marlowe’s Tragedy of Doctor Faustus reads: Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight, And burned is Apollo’s laurel bough. The torn sheets of poetry on the floor, the pale light of dawn illuminating the poet’s flesh, and the vial of poison on the floor all contribute to the emotional impact of the scene.


eugene delacroix barque dante
The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix, 1822, via Le Monde


Nevertheless, in most Romantic paintings, it is not the writers themselves that are represented but their literary characters. Girodet drew the subject of The Burial of Atala from a novel written by Chateaubriand in 1801. In Sappho at Leucate, Gros represented the Greek poetess Sappho present in the works of Ovid. Ophelia of course is the tragic Shakespearean heroine from Hamlet. Eugène Delacroix, a key painter of the Romantic movement, also practiced painting literary subjects in 1822 with The Barque of Dante. Inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, the painting depicts Virgil and Dante sailing on the Styx, the river standing between Earth and the underworld.


The importance of literary inspiration in the pictorial depiction of Romantic death culminates with Eros and Thanatos. For the ancient Greeks, Eros was the god of love, while Thanatos was the god of death. This oxymoronic pair has been frequently associated since Sigmund Freud. Indeed, his latest theory of drives linked what he called life drives or love drives (Eros) with death drives (Thanatos). Even though the two types of drives are in conflict, they maintain a very intimate, intricate relationship.


george frederic watts love death
Love and Death by George Frederic Watts, 1875, via Art UK


In Romantic imagery, death and love seem inseparable. In Vafflard’s painting, Edward Young is forced to bury his beloved daughter, which is a real psychological ordeal. The sublimation of the desire for love into the desire for death is very clearly represented in Sappho at Leucate, when Sappho, having been rejected in love, throws herself to death in a tragic impulse. Similarly, Atala, torn between the values of both faith and love, cannot choose. She took a vow of chastity and therefore cannot love Chactas and prefers to die.  Her death is a passionate sacrifice that shows that for the Romantics, love almost undoubtedly leads to death.


Fascinating to the Romantics, death paradoxically appears as an alternative to a life of suffering and disappointment. All these paintings do not show Romantic death as repulsive or frightening. It is linked to love and nature and is shown as poetic and beautiful. Dramatically staged, death is magnified and idealized, painted to be attractive and reassuring. This poetic representation preceded the future movement of Dark Romanticism, which went against the aesthetic approach of these paintings and gave a new face to death.

<![CDATA[What Can You Expect During a Visit to the Taj Mahal?]]> 2023-06-28T10:11:05 Rosie Lesso


One of the modern day seven wonders of the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal in India is a true sightseer’s paradise. Located in the Mughal gardens in the Taj Ganj district of Agra in northern India, its stunning white marble exterior and intricately carved details make it one of the most impressive feats of architecture in the entire world. Despite being built during the 17th century, it remains in pristine condition today, and it is an iconic example of the exquisite craftsmanship of the Mughal Empire. We take a scan through some of the site’s most popular attractions along with some key facts about the building and its surroundings so you can plan ahead for your visit.


The Taj Mahal Has Three Different Entry Gates

western gate taj mahal entrance
The western gate entrance to the Taj Mahal


There are two gates that lead to the Taj Mahal and its surrounding gardens, the eastern gate, southern gate and western gate. Before visiting it is worth planning ahead which gate you would like to enter by. The eastern gate is near several hotels, making it a convenient entrance if you are staying nearby, however it is farther away from the Taj Mahal’s building complex. The western gate is the main entrance but it is by far the busiest, attracting both locals and large busloads of tourists, so queues can be long. However, it is situated near to the main site, making it more convenient for large groups travelling by bus or car. Meanwhile the south gate is the quietest entrance of the three, and it is set up for pedestrians, but it is currently closed for entry at the time of writing due to security concerns. 


The Mausoleum Is Covered with Carving and Calligraphy

Ornate Mughal decorations the Taj Mahal
Ornate Mughal decorations on the exterior of the Taj Mahal


The white mausoleum in the center of the Taj Mahal grounds is adorned with a series of intricate patterned stone carvings and elements of calligraphy that reveal just how highly skilled the people of the Mughal Empire really were. The carved latticework served both a decorative and a practical purpose, allowing for ventilation inside the building during the warmest times of year. Meanwhile the building’s calligraphy, written in the ‘thuluth’ script style, mostly recites verses from the holy book of Quran related to themes of judgement and rewards that await the most faithful and devout Muslims.


There Are Several Buildings on Site

red sandstone mosque the Taj Mahal site
The red sandstone mosque at the Taj Mahal site


While the stunning white Mausoleum is undoubtedly the star attraction of the Taj Mahal complex, there are also a series of further structures and features designed to complement it. The red sandstone mosque stands on the western side of the mausoleum. It was built according to Muslim law, which required any mausoleum to be accompanied by a mosque for religious worship. Situated on the grounds of the Taj Mahal there is also a guesthouse, also known as the ‘rest house’, set on the eastern side of the Taj.


taj mahal gardens
The Taj Mahal gardens


It was designed as a replica of the mosque, mirroring the same elements of balance, symmetry and harmony that adorn the entire site, however, it was never actually used as a working mosque as it doesn’t feature a Mihrab for Muslim prayer, or a Minbar, from where the priest would deliver his sermon. The site also houses a small museum near the western entrance, which was built between 1899 and 1905, and modernized in 1982. There are also extensive grounds designed to complement the Taj Mahal. 


The Taj Mahal Is Closed on Fridays

taj mahal agra
The Taj Mahal mausoleum


The site is closed to general visitors on Fridays, to allow local Muslims to offer prayers at the mosque. This is the only day of the week that Muslims can carry out religious practice on site, a decision which has caused controversy amongst the Muslim communities of India. However, the Supreme Court of India has argued the decision was made in order to preserve the posterity of the historical site.

<![CDATA[The Met Appreciates NY Public School Artwork]]> 2023-06-28T08:18:42 Angela Davic The Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art


The Met hosts its PS Art exhibition, every year. PS Art program and exhibition enables opportunities for kids and students coming from public schools. The goal is for every kid, no matter from which school they come from, to have equal rights to high-art education. The exhibition shows best works of K-12 students.


The Met Exhibitis More Than Hundred Children Works

The Met
Photograph: The Rathkopfs (Anna and Jordan Rathkopf)


Alison Scott-Williams, the president of Studio in a School in NYC, said it was very difficult to choose the best artworks, out of 1200 applications for the program. Out of 1200, 122 made it to the exhibition, hosted by The Metropolitan Museum. “It’s a gift to be able to support young people in this way”, Alison Scott-Williams said, who celebrates children’s creativity for a long time.


Before working at the Studio in a School NYC, she was a vice-president of arts education at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Her first exhibition at the school was “in a very large Zoom room”, as she said. This was the first one after the pandemic. The 2023 PS Art exhibition is her second, not a virtual art exhibition. “On the opening day, it’s just magical”, she said.


PS Art
Photograph: The Rathkopfs (Anna and Jordan Rathkopf)



“We had 300 kids and their parents to see the unveiling. Everyone is so excited, the noise level is up to here, and gleefully so. Everyone is talking together, it’s so joyful. For a lot of  parents, it’s their first time coming to the museum – the child has been the conduit to expand the knowledge base of the family”, she also added.


Chances for Underrepresented Children

PS Art
Photograph: The Rathkopfs (Anna and Jordan Rathkopf)


Studio in a School works with various communities from ten different states, and also with many other cultural institutions: the Brooklyn Museum and the Studio Museum in Harlem. As Scott-Williams puts it, “we serve underrepresented children in under-resourced neighbourhoods”. This means giving a chance to children, whose schools may not have enough finances to devote themselves to them in detail.


In addition to the fact that the program allows children to learn more about art, it also gives them a chance to have their work seen. “To have your artwork in the Met, are you kidding me?”, exclaimed Scott-Williams. “It’s the place, it’s a big deal”. Also, as they participate in the exhibition, The Met keeps their data in its archive. Also, the best 15 high school seniors receive a thousand dollar scholarship.


The Metropolitan
The Metropolitan Museum of Art


The most important work for the organization is celebrating the youth. She lamented that “school is set up to make parents happy about kids getting good grades”, and that there are “not a lot of moments set up to make people celebrate kids’ achievement in school”. She valued the PS Art program because it really does center kids and their creativity.

<![CDATA[D.H. Lawrence: The Man and the Artist]]> 2023-06-28T06:11:30 Catherine Dent


D.H. Lawrence remains something of an enigmatic, complicated figure within literary modernism. While his works were often thematically daring, he was critical of the formal experiments of such high modernists as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and, in his love of the natural world, he was often more closely aligned with the Romantics in his sensibilities. He was also prone to violent outbursts and invective rages, perhaps due to mood swings brought on by his latent tuberculosis. Writing to his one-time love interest Jessie Chambers, he claimed that his self was split into two discrete versions: the man and the artist. In the latter version of himself, he could be cruel and hateful; in the former, pleasant and loving. He lived during extraordinary times, and his own life was similarly remarkable.


D.H. Lawrence’s Early Years: Life in the Midlands

d h lawrence young
Photograph of a young D.H. Lawrence, via the University of Nottingham


David Herbert Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885 in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. He was the fourth child of Arthur John Lawrence, a coal miner employed at Brinsley Colliery, and Lydia Lawrence (née Beardsall), a former pupil-teacher. Eastwood was something of an ambivalent space, being both industrial and rural at the same time. In his youth, Lawrence loved to explore the surrounding countryside, including what remained of the legendary Sherwood Forest. And in his writing, he drew equally on this love of the natural world and on his working-class upbringing within a Midlands mining community.


From 1891 to 1898, he attended Beauvale Board School before winning a county council scholarship to attend Nottingham High School, becoming the first child from the area to win such a scholarship. By 1901, he thought he had left his education behind and took up employment as a junior clerk at Haywood’s surgical appliances factory. After three months, however, he became ill with a serious case of pneumonia and never returned to work. As part of his recovery, he spent a lot of time in the clean air of the countryside and paid regular trips to the Chambers family farm, Hagg’s Farm. He became especially close with Jessie Chambers, the family’s young daughter.


Having recovered his health, between 1902 and 1906, Lawrence worked as a pupil-teacher (just as his mother had done before him) at the British School in Eastwood. He then became a full-time student at University College, Nottingham, earning his teaching certificate in 1908. By this time, however, he had already resolved to become a writer rather than a teacher, having won a short story competition in the Nottinghamshire Guardian one year prior to his graduation.


Moving to London

d h lawrence photograph
Photograph of D.H. Lawrence, via Biography


While Lawrence may have made up his mind to become a full-time writer, he was in no financial position to do so just yet. When he moved to London in 1908, therefore, it was so that he could take up a teaching position at Davidson Road School in Croydon – and, in his spare time, immerse himself in London literary culture.


It was at this time that Jessie Chambers sent a selection of Lawrence’s poetry to Ford Madox Ford, the editor of the English Review. Duly impressed, Ford commissioned Lawrence’s short story “Odour of Chrysanthemums” for the prestigious periodical. Once published, it came to the attention of the publishing house Heinemann, who asked to see more of Lawrence’s work.


In 1910, while he was working on his first novel, The White Peacock, his mother died of cancer. Having always been especially close with his mother, Lawrence was devastated by the loss and came to draw on his feelings of love and grief in writing Sons and Lovers, which was first provisionally titled Paul Morel.


One year later, The White Peacock was published, and Lawrence suffered another severe case of pneumonia. Emboldened by his newfound status as a published novelist and now eager to reduce his workload, he left teaching to become a full-time writer upon his recovery.


Meeting Frieda

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Photograph of Frieda and D.H. Lawrence, New Mexico, 1923, via The Chronicle


March 1912 was to mark a momentous occasion in Lawrence’s life when he met Frieda Weekley (née von Richthofen). Frieda was six years older than Lawrence and was already married to Ernest Weekley, one of his former modern languages professors, with whom she had three young children. All of this notwithstanding, Frieda and Lawrence fell in love and subsequently eloped, traveling to her parent’s home in Metz.


At the time, Metz was officially part of Germany, though it was on the border with France. Once here, Lawrence was arrested on suspicion of being a British spy and was only released after Frieda’s father intervened on his behalf.


Following this mishap, Lawrence moved on to Munich, where he was shortly joined by Frieda. Together, they then made their way across the Alps and into Italy. His time in Italy went on to inform his first travel book, Twilight in Italy, and it was here that he finally finished Sons and Lovers. He had found writing Sons and Lovers to be a lengthy and emotionally arduous task, so when it was finished, he gave Edward Garnett carte blanche to cut a substantial number of pages from the manuscript. Upon its publication in 1913, however, working-class lives were depicted by a working-class writer for arguably the first time in the tradition of the English novel, and many view Sons and Lovers as being among the best novels of the century.


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Photograph of Katherine Mansfield, c. 1913, via The Short Story Project


It was also in 1913 that Lawrence and Frieda returned to the United Kingdom for a brief visit before heading to Bavaria and then returning to Italy. During their stay in the UK, they met the editor John Middleton Murry and the poet and writer of short stories Katherine Mansfield, with whom they struck up a friendship that was tumultuous at times.


Once back in Italy, Lawrence settled down in Fiascherino to work on his next novel, The Rainbow. This novel contains a lesbian love scene (for which it was vilified and banned for obscenity for eleven years after publication) inspired by a homosexual love affair of Katherine Mansfield, which she had confided to Frieda, who in turn reported to Lawrence. Mansfield, needless to say, was not best pleased when she came to read the novel. Mansfield also inspired the character of Gudrun (as, in turn, Murry inspired the character of Gerald) in Lawrence’s novel of 1920, Women in Love.


The Great War & Its Aftermath: Lawrence in Exile

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Photograph of D.H. Lawrence in the Yale University Library Collections, via The Paris Review


Despite these differences, both Mansfield and Murry were invited to Frieda and Lawrence’s wedding in 1914 when Frieda’s divorce was finalized. Not long after their marriage, however, Britain declared war on Germany, thus beginning the First World War. As Frieda was German by birth, the war posed some difficulties for the couple.


They spent some of the war in Cornwall (and were briefly joined by Mansfield and Murry), where, it is thought, Lawrence had an affair with a Cornish farmer named William Henry Hocking from 1916 to 1917. Also during their stay, Lawrence and Frieda were accused of signaling to German submarines off the Cornish coast. In 1917, they were forced to leave Cornwall under the Defence of the Realm Act.


After the war was over, Lawrence went into voluntary exile from the United Kingdom. He traveled to many places, including Mexico, the United States, Australia, Sri Lanka (or Ceylon, as it was then called), and the South of France. First, however, he returned to Italy, and his stay there informed his travel writing, such as Sea and Sardinia, and his fiction, including The Lost Girl, for which he was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.


In 1922, Lawrence and Frieda left Europe to go to the United States. They traveled here somewhat circuitously, heading first to Ceylon and then to Australia, arriving in the United States in September. They then settled in Taos, New Mexico, where several other bohemians had also settled. Here, in exchange for the manuscript of Sons and Lovers, Lawrence and Frieda obtained a 160-acre ranch, now known as the D.H. Lawrence Ranch, in 1924. While in the United States, he published Studies in Classic American Literature, which assisted the revival of Herman Melville’s literary reputation in the early 1920s.


Later Life: Lawrence’s Ill Health

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The front cover of Penguin’s 1961 complete and unabridged edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, via Wales Online


As the aforementioned bouts of pneumonia would suggest, however, Lawrence’s health was never particularly robust. In 1925, Lawrence was diagnosed with tuberculosis, though he had probably been tubercular for around a decade before then (and it is widely thought that it was Lawrence who passed the disease on to Katherine Mansfield, who died of tuberculosis in 1923). As this disease compromised his immune system, in 1925, he also contracted a near-fatal case of malaria while he and Frieda were in Mexico.


Though he recovered from malaria, he was nonetheless considerably weakened, and he and Frieda moved on to the gentler climate of Northern Italy. Here, he worked on the novella The Virgin and the Gipsy and the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Published privately in Italy in 1928 and then in France in 1929, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned for obscenity in the United States, Canada, Japan, India, and Australia.


The uncensored version was not printed in Lawrence’s native Britain until 1960, when it was placed at the center of an obscenity trial. While the novel was objected to on the grounds that it featured explicit descriptions of sexual acts as well as some choice four-letter words, it was also scandalous from a class perspective, depicting a sexual relationship between an upper-class woman and a lower-class man.


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Close-Up (Kiss) by D.H. Lawrence, 1928, with A Holy Family by D.H. Lawrence, 1926, via LitHub


In his later years, Lawrence took up oil painting, and his work was exhibited in June 1929 at the Warren Gallery in London. Though the exhibition could be considered a success inasmuch as it attracted a great many visitors, it was raided by the police, and certain works were confiscated and subsequently banned. Less than a year after the exhibition, Lawrence died on March 2nd, 1930 due to complications from tuberculosis, at the Villa Robermond (now known as the Villa St. Martin) in Vence, Southern France. He was 44 years old.


Upon his death, Lawrence was viewed (within some literary circles) as a naturally talented writer who had squandered his gifts and amounted to little more than a pornographer. The Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial of 1960 helped to rehabilitate this aspect of Lawrence’s reputation, though the rise of feminist theory within literary criticism (in particular, the 1970 publication of Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics) dealt another blow to Lawrence’s literary standing. Certainly, Lawrence was a complicated man whose views on any given topic were often extreme while also seeming to be so contradictory as to make him (at times) ideologically inscrutable. Despite his flaws as a man and, on occasion, as a writer, D.H. Lawrence wrote some of the best novels of the early twentieth century and, in doing so, changed how sex, relationships, and the body could be written in literary fiction.

<![CDATA[History of the United Nations: How Was It Founded?]]> 2023-06-27T18:11:45 Tsira Shvangiradze united nations history how it was founded
A poster for the United Nations in 1943, issued by the United States Office of War Information, by Harry Mayerovitch via The Canadian Encyclopedia


The United Nations (UN) was created on October 25, 1945, based on the voluntary union of sovereign states. It aims to promote and strengthen international peace and security, as well as support the development of cooperation between states. The UN was initiated by the leading states of the Allied States—the United States of America, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union—which sought to avoid future conflicts. The UN Charter, signed on June 26, 1945, established the principles of international cooperation: sovereignty and equality of all members; settlement of international disputes by peaceful means; refusal to threaten or use force in international relations; and non-interference in matters that are essentially within the internal competence of any state.


The History of the United Nation’s Founding


The key motivation behind the founding of the United Nations was to establish a mechanism that would prevent the horrors of previous world wars and the Holocaust from happening again. Leading states recognized the need to establish a new international organization that would safeguard international peace and work to avoid future conflicts.


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On the Wire by Harvey Thomas Dunn, 1918, via Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of American History, Washington DC


Even after the end of World War I, the idea of creating such an institute was conceived at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, which set the peace terms to re-establish world order after the war. As a result, on January 10, 1920, the League of Nations was established as the first intergovernmental organization with the primary goal of preserving peace. Woodrow Wilson, the president of the United States of America, played a significant role in creating the post-World War I international order and the League of Nations; its 14 points became the basis of the new post-war international system. However, the United States itself did not become a member of the League of Nations, given its declared isolationist international policy and domestic opposition, which significantly contributed to its failure.


Additionally, the effectiveness of the League of Nations depended significantly on the determination of member states, especially the victorious countries of World War I (France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan), which ensured the implementation of resolutions, economic sanctions, and the allocation of armed forces. The great powers often delayed the execution of these decisions as they were not aligned with their national interests. For example, the League of Nations failed to stop Japan from attacking China and Italy from invading Ethiopia.


The start of World War II clearly illustrated that the initiative failed and highlighted the need for a reformed and more effective international organization.


To achieve this goal, the international community, led by the United States and Great Britain, launched several initiatives starting in 1941, ultimately leading to the formation of the United Nations Charter in 1945.


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The first session of the Council of the League of Nations with their coat-of-arms, 1920 via Time


Initially, the concept of international peace and security began to develop with the ideas expressed in London at the ancient St. James’ Palace in 1941. Even though the war was not yet over, leaders were already discussing the post-war future beyond the military victory. On June 12, 1941, the representatives of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, and the exiled governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia, as well as France, signed a declaration that stated:


“The only true basis for enduring peace is the willing cooperation of free peoples in a world in which, relieved of the menace of aggression, all may enjoy economic and social security, and that they intend to work together and with other free people, both in war and peace, to this end.”


The need for global cooperation was further highlighted in the Atlantic Charter, signed on August 14, 1941. The Charter was initiated by the president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the prime minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill. They secretly met on August 9, 1941, to discuss pending issues of World War II and outline a postwar international system. The declaration they created, known as the Atlantic Charter, included eight “common principles” of avoiding territorial expansion, liberating international trade, ensuring freedom of the seas, and other economic and welfare issues. The principles also outlined the importance of restoring self-government in all countries occupied during the war and granting the freedom to choose the desired form of government. The declaration also referred to the future “establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security,” paving the way for the establishment of the United Nations and its Charter.


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Declaration by United Nations Issued in Washington, DC, Pledges Struggle against “Hitlerism,” 1942, via National Museum Australia


These developments ultimately led to the creation of the “Declaration by the United Nations” on January 1, 1942. Twenty-six states, including the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China, pledged to commit to the common principles stipulated in the Atlantic Charter. The Declaration included the first official use of the term “United Nations,” elaborated by the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Twenty-one other states later joined the declaration.


During the Moscow Conference from October 18 to November 1, 1943, the idea of establishing an international organization to safeguard world peace was first mentioned in an official document named the Joint Four-Nation Declaration. The United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China signed it.


The declaration stipulated that it was necessary to establish the following:


“a general international organization based on the principle of sovereign equality of all peace-loving states and open to membership by all such states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security.”


Following this announcement, these four nations appointed national committees of experts to work on the draft charter of the future international organization, which would describe and allocate the roles and responsibilities of the United Nations and its agencies.


Establishing the United Nations