Old Thoughts, Bad Thoughts – WIF Myth and Legend

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Odd Things

People Used

to Believe

Humans have believed all kinds of strange things throughout our short time on this planet. This is, in part, because humans (and our evolutionary ancestors) love stories. We gather around campfires and invent entire mediums, industries, and technologies to aid in their telling. But on the other hand, humans have always had a deep need to understand the world we inhabit, and the combination of these qualities can lead to very uninformed people believing some very strange things.

10. The Sun is Actually Really Cold

He believed that the sun wasn’t hot, that it was actually very cold, but that its outer layers were of a luminous material, or an extremely reflective ocean. The discovery of sunspots had him reeling with possible ideas, suggesting that these were either momentary glimpses at the surface beneath the atmosphere or great mountain peaks that were being exposed by the tides of a vast ocean.

Obviously, these theories were laughed out of scientific circles by a host of polymaths, and Herschel’s ideas never caught on. The sun isn’t cold, and those sunspots are actually produced by the sun’s magnetic field.

9. Isaac Newton’s Future

Isaac Newton may have been known for his scientific exploits, but he was also absolutely obsessed with Alchemy, going so far as to construct his own furnaces to produce alchemical experiments. He wrote about these things extensively, using code to hide his theories from prying eyes, believing that anything could be transformed into anything else (something we know now is very wrong). If these texts were observed by anyone from modern times, they would be seen as occult or religious tracts. He was so obsessed with Alchemy and the supernatural that it might be considered that his interest in science was his real hobby.

To Newton, the philosopher’s stone was a real thing, which he was constantly searching for.

Newton was also fiercely religious and believed that the Bible should be taken literally. He spent much of his time attempting to uncover a secret code created by the authors of the Bible, something left by God that would redeem humanity before His inevitable return.

After studying Biblical texts extensively, he concluded that the world as we know it would end in 2060 and that it would be preceded by an apocalypse.

8. Bloodletting

All the way up until the start of the 1900s, the practice of applying leeches or cutting parts of a person’s body open to drain them of their blood was not only common, it was a thriving industry. The practice comes from the erroneous belief that all illness comes from the body having too much blood in it and that to cure that illness, the excess blood needs to be drained from the patient.

This is, of course, false, and while the practice of bloodletting fell and rose throughout history, it was perhaps never more popular than in the 1800s. It was a common practice for leeches to be imported for this purpose, and it’s estimated that in France alone, 42 million leeches were imported each year. These leeches were used to drain the blood from patients, cared for by barbers (yes, you read that correctly). A patient could have as many as 100 leeches applied to them. Barbers and caregivers would coat the part of the body they wished to apply the leech to with sugar-water, milk, or blood to entice the tiny critters to start sucking. This industry caused leeches to become fairly scarce, driving the cost of them up by 300%, and forcing “care-givers” to find inventive ways to extend the life of a leech.

The first physician didn’t come out against bloodletting until 1828.

7. Lambs Grew on Trees

During the Middle Ages, it was a common belief that the cotton being imported from India came from a vegetable that had a lamb attached to it by umbilical. This inaccuracy was reported by Sir John Mandeville in the 1300s. Mandeville wrote that in Tartary (the part of the map we know of as Russia and Mongolia today) a strange plant that produced gourds containing tiny lambs was a common sight.

It turns out that much of what Mandeville wrote about his travels were either outright lies or based on notes from other travelers.

Another version of this myth suggests that these vegetable lambs would die once they ran out of food surrounding their pod if they weren’t killed by their natural predator (wolves).

Other writers would go on to claim to have seen these vegetable lambs, and the belief would not start to crumble until the 1600s.

6. Women’s Orgasms Were A Sign of Insanity

As late as the early 20th century, it was believed that women did not experience sexual desire and that the female orgasm was something that needed to be solved, rather than a thing which could be beneficial to a woman’s mental and physical health.

Sigmund Freud was one of the physicians who proposed the idea that clitoral stimulation could lead to psychosis in women, a “theory” which saw quite a few women institutionalized as a result. Women who had difficulty or could not have a vaginal orgasm were labeled as lesbians (which was also thought to be a mental illness), imbalanced, and masculine.

History has had a bad habit of demonizing the female orgasm. The vibrator was originally invented so that doctors could relieve “hysteria” (known as sexual frustration today) in women, and it was generally not believed that women were capable of experiencing sexual desire and were merely receptacles for male anatomy.

Today, we know that the female orgasm is beneficial not only to a woman’s mental health but also to her physical health as well.

5. Cosmic Ice Theory

In 1912 Hanns Hörbiger attempted to challenge the scientific community by introducing a controversial theory which suggested that humanity, the stars, and the planets were all made of… ice. Hanns and his partner, Philip Fauth, argued that the formation of the Milky Way was caused by the collision of a massive star with a dead star filled with water. This collision resulted in the formation of the Milky Way galaxy and dozens of other solar systems—all made of ice produced from the collision. When these ideas were challenged for not making any mathematical sense and for there not being any physical evidence for it, Hanns said “Calculation can only lead you astray,” and, “Either you believe in me and learn, or you will be treated as the enemy.”

This ridiculous theory didn’t catch on with mainstream science at the time, not until the conclusion of World War I at least, when Hanns decided to take his theories into the public sphere, where they might be better appreciated.

His rationale was that if the general public grew to accept the theory that they were in-fact made of ice, then the scientific community would have to accept it as well (we mean, isn’t that how science works?). While serious scientists did not accept his theory, many socialist thinkers at the time did, concluding that it was superior to theories invented by Jews.

And you are probably guessing where this is leading. Hitler, Himmler, and all of his cronies also adopted these ideas as well, along with a whole bunch of other horrifying things.

4. Doctors Didn’t Need to Wash their Hands

Before the advent of germ theory, medical professionals would go from examining dead bodies to performing live births on mothers, which as you can imagine, caused all manner of infections and a high mortality rate among patients they cared for. It wasn’t until 1840, when Ignaz Semmelweis, a 19th-century Hungarian doctor observed that one of his fellow surgeons died after cutting his finger during an autopsy.

Semmelweis surmised that because many of the doctors in his hospital often operated on corpses before treating live patients, they were inadvertently spreading “cadaveric matter.” And when he instituted the policy that all of his doctors were to wash their hands between patients, the mortality rate at his hospital dramatically dropped. Naturally, he wanted to spread this discovery with the rest of the medical world.

There was quite a bit of resistance to this idea, though, mostly because Semmelweis’ publication on the matter was barely coherent, and handwashing wouldn’t be strongly advocated for until 1860 by famous nurse Florence Nightingale. And it wouldn’t be until the discovery of germ theory that handwashing would become a staple in hospitals around the world.

3. Sexual Energy Controls the Universe

Wilhelm Reich went from being the enemy of Fascist Europe to being the enemy of the US Government, from psychoanalyst to the founder of sexual liberty in the West. Reich believed that orgasms were caused by a mysterious energy in the atmosphere called “orgone” and that this energy permeated and moved the entire universe. He suggested that a good orgasm could liberate a man or woman, and a bad orgasm could make them a prisoner.

Sexual liberation was not exactly in vogue in Hitler’s Germany at the time, so Reich was forced to flee to New York, where his ideas would be embraced by the disenfranchised left. Reich even “invented” a device that he claimed could “energize” a person with orgone. The device, called an “Orgone Energy Accumulator,”  was feared by conservatives and revered by left-leaning individuals, and some even swear by its power today. Reich’s ideas got him labeled as a communist sympathizer in the 50s, and eventually, the FDA would come after him for selling his Orgone Accumulators, demanding that they be destroyed along with all literature pertaining to them.

Reich would be arrested for violating this order and sent to Federal prison, where he would die alone in 1957.

2. Women’s Bodies were not Designed to Handle Train Rides

The resistance we’re seeing to the rise of artificial intelligence and 5G internet is nothing new, it’s age-old. When the first locomotive was unveiled, men feared that its immense speed (top speed getting up to 50 miles per hour, or 80 kilometers per hour) would cause a woman’s uterus to fly from her body.

A companion to this fear was that the human body, male or female, might melt if brought to similar speeds.

Cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell suggests that this revulsion to new and developing technologies results from a kind of “moral panic” that a society experiences when an invention threatens to alter how we perceive time and space. Put more simply, we humans hate changes to the status quo, and we’ll kick and scream until that change either goes away or we realize it really isn’t so bad after all.

1. The Earth was the Center of the Solar System

Up until the end of the 2nd Century AD, it was thought that the Earth was the center of the universe. Although this notion is ridiculous to the vast majority of us who accept the clearly superior Heliocentric model (which purports that all bodies in the solar system revolve around the sun), to humans observing the skies in the 2nd Century, it did seem like the sun, stars, and the moon all revolved around the Earth.

Beyond famous Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Ptolemy, early Christianity taught that God had placed the Earth at the center of the universe, thereby making it unique.

Though recently, conspiracy theorists have begun a movement bordering on cult-like proportions suggesting that the Heliocentric model is a huge hoax perpetrated by world governments and that the Earth is actually flat, we don’t have to tell you that this is bullocks, do we?

The Geocentric model of the universe was so pervasive in human history, that it would remain the scientific rule until being invalidated in the 16th Century AD.


Old Thoughts, Bad Thoughts

WIF Myth and Legend

The Rise and Fall of Civilizations – WIF Into History

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Unsolved Mysteries

of

Ancient Civilizations

Archaeology has uncovered many secrets from the ancient world. But the Earth has a bad habit of eroding the past, making it difficult to piece together the stories of our ancestors. In the past couple of centuries, we’ve discovered Roman artifacts in the Americas, found ancient Greek cities in what was once thought to be the backwater of Ancient Greece, puzzled over the success of the Incan economy, and have long searched for the core of history’s first true empire.

These mysteries prove that humanity needs to keep digging to uncover the truth, lest we repeat our past mistakes.

10. The Romans May Have Discovered the New World

But the recent discovery of certain artifacts around the Americas has been putting this idea into question. We’re talking about Roman artifacts discovered both on the continent and in her waters, such as a sunken Roman ship in Brazil’s Guanabara Bay, terracotta amorphae, and tall jars clearly made during the Roman Empire’s rule.

The jars themselves date back to the 1st or 3rd century BC. Wine, grains, and olive oil were stored inside these types of jars and transported all over the Roman Empire.

Just outside Mexico City, another terracotta artifact thought to belong to the ancient Roman Empire was found. The artifact is a carved head, and experts say it’s a depiction of a Roman during the Hellenistic period, dating all the way back to 200 AD.

Finally, the discovery of several caches of Roman coins have been found buried throughout North America, and date back to the 16th century. Though some doubt has been raised as to the legitimacy of the coins, many archaeologists have seriously begun to consider the possibility that Roman settlers discovered the Americas in the ancient past.

Though, who, how, and why is still a mystery.

9. Ancient Roman Cults

Cults in the ancient Roman Empire have baffled archaeologists and historians alike because the evidence of their writings and artifacts have been poorly preserved. A mystery religion is defined by historians and archaeologists as one that offers individuals a religious experience not practiced officially by the state. The Mithraic cult, which historians seem to agree existed sometime before Christianity began to take over Rome as the primary religion, had most of its writings and artifacts destroyed after Christianity took hold. Though most scholars agree that before this, the Roman government tolerated the Mithraic cult, as its views supported the government at the time.

For every Roman god, there was probably one or two cults devoted to them, most of them starting as a family or a divergent version of the official state religion taken on by a clan. These cults would persist until the state absorbed them. Most of them featured an initiation ritual (just like today’s cults) and were typically performed inside a large sanctuary.

Just how many of these cults existed in the ancient world, and what they believed, however, remains a mystery.

8. The Lost City of Paititi

The Lost City of Paititi and the quest to find it has claimed many explorer’s lives. The legend even inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World.” This lost city of gold has eluded every treasure hunter, archaeologist, and would-be explorer who have gone searching for it. Finding this city would inform much about the ancient Inca civilization which thrived between 1400 and 1533 AD, extending across western South America.

After the discovery of a letter to the pope in the Vatican archives from a missionary named Andres Lopez concerning the location of a large city rich with gold, silver, and jewels, the search for the city was renewed. Lopez’s letter claimed the city was located in the middle of the jungle and called Paititi by the local indigenous tribes. The pope and the Vatican kept the location secret for decades, but in 2016 a new expedition was set in motion. While that expedition turned up questionable artifacts in a site which is still being disputed today, the discovery of previously hidden cities throughout the Amazon (thanks to a combination of ground-penetrating radar and illegal logging and deforestation) has helped to keep the renewed fervor for the lost city alive.

7. The Economy of the Incas

Most historians agree that the Incan economy was one of the most successful in the ancient world, but perplexingly, they did not use money or gold, and only seemed to trade with outsiders. A lot of what we know of the Incas comes from the Spanish conquistadors who crushed their armies (after unleashing a plague of smallpox upon them, wiping out 90% of their population), so, much of how the Incas functioned as a society has been lost to time.

Still, the question remains how the Incas were able to create such a thriving economy without currency or even trade. Some historians believe that the secret to their great wealth came from the unique tax system they used, which required every Incan citizen to pay labor to the state. Strangely, wealthy Inca who passed away were able to continue owning property, and some historians jest that it’s almost as though they invented the idea of corporations-as-people without ever creating a market economy.

Because of the difficult terrain and harsh environment of the Amazon, much of the Incas way of life was dictated by a need to keep their people from starving, rather than developing markets and traditional forms of economics. At least, that’s what historians believe based on the little evidence that survives of the Incan civilization. Much of it still remains a mystery.

6. The Lost City of Tenea

The Lost City of Tenea was said to have been founded by prisoners of the legendary Trojan War, but it’s thought that the city was abandoned some time in the 4th century BC. Archaeologists have been on the hunt for signs of the legendary city since a sarcophagus was discovered in the Greek village of Chiliomodi in 1984.

More recently, though, archaeologists claim that the city has finally been discovered. An archaeological effort in the modern village of Chiliomodi began in 2013, leading to excavators of the site there to proclaim that proof of the legendary city was at last discovered after a series of rare coins, seven graves, and carefully constructed structures composed of clay, stone walls, and marble floors were unearthed.

Whether or not the Trojan War actually happened is up for debate, but the things learned in Tenea may provide a clue, especially if proof is found that shows that the city was indeed settled by those fleeing from their defeat in the Trojan War. Whether this was at the hands of legendary Odysseus or not, remains to be seen, and the city itself holds many mysteries which archaeologists are eager to uncover.

5. The Mystery of Teotihuacan

The ancient city of Teotihuacan stretches out for 20 square kilometers, contains nearly 2,000 single-story structures which appear to have been homes, and various impressive buildings like pyramids. The discovery of Teotihuacan may have been a major archaeological find, but its existence poses some problems for scholars, as it’s unknown who exactly built it. Originally, it was thought that the Toltec civilization must have built the city, but this was refuted when it was discovered that Teotihuacan peaked long after the Toltecs vanished.

Other theories range from the Totonacs having built the city, or immigrants fleeing the eruption of a volcano, but no conclusive theory has emerged. The city contains the hints of Mayan, Mixtec, and Zapotec cultures, further adding to the mystery.

Whoever built the city, scholars are certain Teotihuacan was originally founded in 400 BC, with the largest structures seeing their completion by 300 AD, and the city and culture reaching its peak nearly 100 years later with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants.

4. The Mystery of the Origin of the Sumerian Language

The Sumerian language appeared as early as 4000 BC and dominated Sumerian civilization for nearly 1,000 years, before being mostly replaced by Akkadian. The language was pictographic (or cuneiform) meaning that individual images represented whole words, phrases, or sentences, (much like Egyptian hieroglyphs, or later logographic languages like Chinese and Japanese).

This language is quite mysterious because beyond Akkadian there are no known ancestral forms of communication connected to it. Although some linguists think that Sumerian could be related to the Uralic languages such as Finnish and Hungarian, this view isn’t shared throughout the academic community.

Scholars suggest that, if the Sumerian people did not originate from the area of Mesopotamia, then it’s possible that their language could have been influenced by an older, still undiscovered language, but this is just a hypothesis.

3. The Fall of the Akkadian Empire

The Sumerian empire eventually fell to Sargon the Great, who established one of history’s first empires. The Akkadian Empire was ruled from Sargon’s city of Akkad. The Akkadians would succeed in nearly stamping out the Sumerian language and Sargon would be succeeded by several other rulers after his death. But sometime after Shar-Kali-Sharri took rule of the Akkadian empire, things took a turn for the worse, and eventually, what was once the world’s first true empire would collapse in 2154 BC.

What caused it, though, is a bit of a mystery.

Historians present three theories for the fall of Akkadia.

The first is that the invasion of the Gutians (a people who dwelled in the mountains) proved to be too much for the disorganized Shar-Kali-Sharri, who was already having difficulty maintaining order in the wake of his father’s death. He also waged a seemingly indefinite war with the Elamites and the Amorites at the same time the mountain people were invading.

The second is that a combination of a poor harvest, a great famine, and a great drought may have contributed or caused the collapse outright. In 2019, a study of fossil coral records from Oman provided evidence that winter dust storms, along with a longer winter than usual may have sealed the Akkadian Empire’s fate.

The third possibility is that a meteor collision with the Earth set in motion drastic changes to the Earth’s weather, causing the climate to change around an already struggling empire.

2. The Lost Ruins of Vlochos

In 2015, archaeologists uncovered what appeared to have been the site of a Greek village called Vlochos. At the time, they wrote the discovery off as of no importance, thinking that the remains atop the hill were nothing more than the remains of a Greek village. That was until they discovered the remnants of towers, gates, and a city grid which hinted at there being a deeper story to the ruins. With new information, the site is now considered to have been the center of a Greek city, one which flourished sometime during the 4th century BC, and was abandoned in the 3rd century BC.

Why it was abandoned, though, remains a bit of a mystery. Archaeologists and scholars think that a likely candidate is the invasion of Roman forces. Using ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists hope to uncover more of the lost city’s secrets.

What is interesting about this site is that this area of Greece was previously thought to have been a backwater of the Ancient Greek world, so archaeologists and scholars haven’t really paid much attention to it.

Who knows what other mysteries lie in wait for them?

1. The City of Akkad

No one knows where the city of Akkad was located. We know a great deal about the man who supposedly built it, Sargon the Great, and the empire he ruled, but the capitol city itself has long eluded scholars and archaeologists.

It has been told that Sargon the Great built the city along the bank of the western Euphrates River, possibly between the cities of Kish and Sippar, though Mari and Babylon have been offered as other potential possibilities as well.

There are a number of excavation sites which scholars think could be candidates for the City of Akkad. Most of these places are situated east of the Tigris, which is part of the Euphrates, but there is much debate as to which of these might be the true site of the capital of the Akkadian Empire.

How the city fell and where it was located is almost as great a mystery as to how the Akkadian Empire fell.


The Rise and Fall of Civilizations

WIF Into History

Odd Ruler Dudes – WIF Into History

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History’s Strangest

Ancient Rulers

The word strange is barely adequate for some of the ancient leaders described here, if the tales told of them are true. The ancient world had no shortage of outright butchers who practiced patricide, matricide, fratricide, and mass murders to consolidate and secure their positions at the head of their societies. They used brutal, though inventive methods to kill their perceived enemies and rivals, and exhibited a lust for blood and inflicting pain. Some of them appear on this list, including Commodus and Caligula.

Others exhibited downright weird behavior, on their own and at the expense of others for their personal satisfaction and comfort. Alcohol was a common denominator for some, with excessive consumption of wine and other beverages featured. The pursuit of sexual satisfaction is another. Vanity to the point of narcissism is still another. Some though, were just plainly bizarre, in their beliefs, their activities, and their behaviors. Here are 10 of the strangest, with the possible omission  of a couple recent American leaders.

10. Pharaoh Pepi II used honey covered slaves as walking flytraps

Pepi II was a pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, reigning more than 2,000 years before the Common Era. He became pharaoh at the age of 6, following the death of Merenre I. Throughout his reign the power of the pharaoh declined; the dynastic Old Kingdom, also known as the Age of the Pyramid Builders, collapsed within decades of his death, after lasting five centuries. While still a child, Pepi sent an expedition to Nubia to trade ivory and other goods. When the leader of the expedition, Harkhuf, one of his governors, informed the young King he had captured a pygmy, the excited young man promised substantial rewards should the prisoner arrive at his court alive. The pharaoh wanted it as a plaything. The letter to Harkhuf survives, inscribed on the governor’s tomb.

Using a pygmy as a toy is strange enough, but not the only strange behavior attributed to Pepi II. The pharaoh detested flies. Using slaves to wave fans of feathers to shoo them away was not enough, in his estimation. Aware that flies were attracted to honey, Pepi covered slaves with the substance, and stationed them around him when he was at court and when walking or riding through his dominions. Flies swarmed to the honey-swathed slaves, and thus away from him. Some claim Pepi II held the longest reign of any ruler in human history, though that is debated among Egyptologists. His pyramid lies in ruins in Saqqara.

9. Caligula named a horse as a priest of Rome

The name of the third man to hold the title of Emperor of Rome is synonymous with corruption, cruelty, brutality, sadism, and unbridled sexual indulgence and depredation. His reign as Emperor was short, as was his life, dying through assassination at the age of 28. He held the throne from 37 – 41 AD. According to most scholars, the first few months of his reign were promising, though he soon embarked on a pattern of indulging his every whim, building luxurious residences for himself. An illness during the first year of his reign – some say poisoning – transformed his personality and his attitude towards his subjects and his perceived enemies.

Several ancient historians claimed Caligula falsely accused wealthy subjects of crimes, had them executed without benefit of trial, and claimed their estates. He claimed divinity, and frequently dressed in the costumes of several Roman gods, including Mercury, Apollo, and Venus. He had the heads of various gods removed from statues throughout the empire, and replaced them with likenesses of his own. Roman historians Suetonius and Cassius Dio claimed the emperor planned to name his favorite horse, Incitatus, a consul of Rome. He did not. Instead, he appointed the horse as a priest of Rome.

8. Emperor Zhou Xin of China created a lake of wine, and swam in it

Zhou Xin is a pejorative name given to Di Xin, following his death in 1046 BCE. The records of his life and reign were deliberately falsified and exaggerated by succeeding dynasties, according to most scholars, and separating fact from fiction regarding his extravagances is difficult. During his reign he abandoned any concept of morality, hosted massive orgies, and indulged heavily in his favorite beverage, wine. He was completely enamored with wine. To the point he created a lake filled with wine, surrounded by a forest of meat trees. Constructed on the palace grounds, the lake accommodated several boats.

The meat trees surrounding the lake were real trees, from which cooked meat suspended from the branches. Zhou Xin used the lake for canoeing, bathing, consorting with his concubines, and of course, drinking. Following his defeat at the hands of King Wu of Zhou, he retreated to a pavilion at the lake, with his jewelry and other symbols of his wealth, and had it set afire, killing himself in the flames. His death marked the end of the Shang dynasty in China, and introduced the Zhou Dynasty. Recent excavations confirm the existence of the lake, and nearby water wells established the lake was not built as a water reservoir as some argued, legitimizing the tales of the lake of wine.

7. Chinese Emperor Wu used goats to decide which of his more than 5,000 concubines he should visit

Emperor Wu of Jin was the first emperor of the Jin Dynasty, reigning from 266 to 290, CE. In 280 he defeated the forces of Eastern Wu, and became emperor of a unified China. The conquest of Eastern Wu increased his domains, his prestige, his personal wealth, and most importantly to him, the number of his concubines. Beginning in 273 he banned marriages until he had personally examined women, and either taken them for his own or rejected them. The conquest of Eastern Wu awarded him another 5,000 concubines from the palaces of his defeated enemies. From that point Wu focused his energies on gluttony, drinking, and visiting his concubines.

Decisive in battle, Wu was the opposite when selecting which concubine, or concubines, to visit. Or maybe the sheer number of women at his disposal intimidated him when it became time to choose. So, he left the decision to goats. He had a small cart fashioned, pulled by goats. He rode in the cart, and wherever the goats stopped when wandering the palace grounds occupied by the concubines, the lustful Emperor in tow, he went in. Some claim women desirous of the Emperor’s attentions placed bamboo and salt outside their rooms to entice the goats to stop. Wu died in 290 of an unknown illness, which one may surmise was exhaustion.

6. Byzantine Emperor Justin II liked to bite his courtiers and visitors

Justin II held the throne of the Eastern Roman Empire from 565 until he abdicated in 574, four years before his death. In 572 he exhibited growing signs of insanity, or at the least, strange behavior. John of Ephesus, a leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church and an historian, left written accounts of the Emperor’s increasingly strange actions in the last years of his reign. He demanded organ music played in his presence around the clock. Those who approached the Emperor found him likely to bite them. Not just a nip. Justin bit and held the bite, snarling like a wild animal, sometimes biting several times. At others he bit and chewed, organ music swirling in the background.

Which of his courtiers came up with the idea of amusing and distracting the biting Emperor with a wheeled throne is unreported. John of Ephesus recorded the Emperor’s chair had wheels installed, and Justin delighted in being rolled about in his chair. It often served to distract him sufficiently that he forgot to bite visitors or servants. In 574 he accepted the suggestion of his wife, Sophia and adopted Tiberius, a general, as his son and his designated heir, and abdicated the Byzantine throne. Sophia and Tiberius ruled as regents until Justin’s death, when Tiberius ascended to the throne as Tiberius II Constantine.

5. Korean Prince Sado required a presentation of 30 outfits to choose from before dressing

Prince Sado, the second son of Korean King Yeongjo, never served as the leader of his people, though he became the presumed heir to the throne following the death of his elder half-brother. Sado was not an ancient either, being born in 1735 CE, but in a pre-modern society and culture. Sado’s palace included eunuchs, concubines, and ladies-in-waiting, the latter of whom he frequently beat and raped. He once beheaded one of the eunuchs and carried the head to his wife and her ladies-in-waiting, forcing them to look at it as he held it in his bloodied hands.

Whenever His Highness desired to dress, which was several times per day as the mood struck him, servants were forced to display up to 30 different sets of clothing from which he chose. Those which displeased him he often burnt. He reported seeing ghosts in the palace, and outfits which he believed would upset the ghosts were similarly burnt. Servants required to dress him trembled as they did so, fearful of an act which would anger the prince and lead to their punishment, or even death. In 1762 his father had enough of his bizarre and violent son, and had him executed by placing him in a rice chest until he died.

4. Chinese Emperor Zhou Houshao had an invisible friend as an alter-ego

Born Zhou Houshao, he ascended to the throne as Emperor Zhengde at the age of 14. Zhengde meant “rectification of virtue.” When applied to his reign the term is very much a misnomer. The eleventh Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, his reign ended when he contracted an illness after falling into the Yellow River. Some say it was the Grand Canal. He was drunk, a common occurrence during his reign. During the fifteen years he held the throne he preferred the company of his eunuchs. He expressed interest in work only when preparing actions against those who displeased him, including against his own adoptive son, whom he had jailed. He was later executed.

To entertain himself, the Zhengde Emperor invented invisible friends, and his own fictional alter-ego, which he forced his ministers to accept. He spent much of his time playing outside of the palace, frustrating his ministers and advisors. He preferred the company of Muslim men and women in his sexual trysts as an adult, and enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. His banning the slaughter of pigs and preference for Muslim company led to speculation that he converted to Islam, though he did not adopt that religion’s views on the consumption of alcohol. Throughout his life he continued to act like a child, with imaginary friends, and a penchant for playing childish games.

3. Herod the Great kept his wife’s body preserved in honey

King Herod the Great achieved infamy in the New Testament, after the visitation of the Magi informed him of the birth of a Jewish King. Most of the details of his life appear in The Antiquities of the Jews, by the historian Josephus. His reign as King of Judea as a client of Rome is debated due to differences in religious sources and those of historians. It is known that Herod executed numerous members of his immediate family during his reign, including his wife Mariamne I. Even that event is disputed, the Talmud claims she committed suicide, while Josephus reports her execution after trial in 29 BCE.

The Talmud is also the source of the story of Herod’s expansive grief over the death of his wife, and that he ordered her body preserved by placing it in a casket filled with honey. The Talmud refers to the implied saving of the body for sexual gratification one of the “deeds of Herod.” Josephus is silent on the honey story, and recounts Herod tried to overcome his grief through manly pursuits such as hunting, and through feasting and drinking copiously.

2. Commodus declared himself the reincarnation of Hercules

Commodus became one of the better-known Roman Emperors through the release of the film Gladiator in 2000. Joaquin Phoenix portrayed the corrupt and amoral son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius memorably, though in truth the real Commodus makes the fictional depiction an Eagle Scout in comparison. Commodus served as co-Emperor with his father for three years, became sole Emperor when Aurelius died in 180 CE, and reigned for another 12 years. Throughout his reign, his government became more chaotic. He suspected everyone, fought in the arena with “gladiators” who were in fact partially disabled men, their disabilities disguised, and did the same with wild beasts.

He had statues placed around the empire depicting him in the guise of Hercules, and later announced he was the reincarnation of the Roman god. His claim to be Hercules allowed him to claim direct descent from Jupiter, the head of the Roman hierarchy of gods. As a god he claimed immortality, a fact proved untrue when his wrestling partner, Narcissus, strangled him to death in his bath, at the behest of conspirators which included his mistress, Marcia. Following his death, the statues of the god-Emperor across the empire were destroyed.

1. Mithridates VI took poison daily to build up tolerance against assassination attempts

Mithridates VI of Pontus ruled Pontus and Armenia Minor as King from sometime in the second century BCE until 63 BCE. His father Mithridates V, was murdered via poison during a banquet. The death of his father gave the son a lifelong fear of suffering the same fate. Mithridates, at some point in his youth, began to immunize himself from poisons by taking them, in increasing doses. He did so while in hiding in the years immediately following the death of his father. During the time in hiding his mother, Laodice, and his brother, Chrestus, ruled the kingdom. When Mithridates returned he overthrew his mother and brother, assumed the throne, and had both imprisoned, where they died (some say executed). He gave them both royal funerals, after which he married his sixteen year-old sister, also named Laodice.

The Mithridatic Wars against the Romans and their puppet states did not go well for the king for whom they were named. After his final defeat at the hands of the Romans under Pompey, Mithridates fled to the region of the Black Sea, at first hoping to raise another army and continue the war. When the local populace rebelled against him, he opted for suicide over capture and execution by Pompey. He tried to kill himself with poison, but his efforts to build up a tolerance for poisons had been too successful. The poison didn’t kill him. Nor could be bring himself to use a sword to end his own life. It took some of his followers to kill him with swords and spears. Pompey had him buried in his ancestral grounds.


Odd Ruler Dudes

WIF Into History

A Pessimist’s View of Ancient Legends – WIF Myths and Legends

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Ancient Places

of Legend

That May

Never Existed

History books tell us of ancient places with amazing architecture, and world wonders long past. Archaeological discovery has learned much about the world before us. The idea of many of these locations has inspired imaginations for many years. However, the truth is that history gets distorted over time both through constant re-telling and sometimes through historical records that were actually just fanciful stories written after the fact. Many of the most famous locations may not have existed at all. Many of those that did, were much different than most people usually imagine.

The Holy Bible is a source of stories that Believers will never dismiss as fiction.

10. The Legend of El Dorado Didn’t Start Out About a City

The City of El Dorado, also known as the City of Gold, was popularized in myth. Fairly recently, it was retold in a very shiny and colorful Disney movie. The myth claims that there was a city of gold, told of by the South American natives. Many explorers went searching for it in the hopes of finding amazing riches. However, the original legend was actually about a person, not a city. It morphed into a city that needed to be searched for, because many of the natives were happy to lead the explorers on a wild chase.

The original legend told of an ancient leader who was so rich, that every morning he would be doused in gold dust. Then every evening, he would bathe in sacred waters, washing the dust off again. This was an example of his absolutely ridiculous wealth. However, while the legend is based on this, it isn’t actually true either. Archaeologists have discovered that the original story began because of the Musica people who would perform a similar ritual when anointing a new king. But they certainly weren’t wasting that kind of gold every day. It was for very special occasions.

9. The City of Troy May Not Be At All Like People Think

The City of Troy has captured people’s imaginations ever since The Iliad and The Odyssey. More recently, there have been very visually stunning movies that have helped rekindle modern interest in the ancient city. Many people assume the city and the famous siege that took place may have been similar to how it was described in Homer’s work, or in the movies. But the issue of Troy is extremely complicated.

To begin with, much of Homer’s original work that would complete the two famous stories is missing, and may never be found. This makes it difficult to understand how much of his work was fact, and how much was fiction. Also, for some time historians weren’t sure the city of Troy existed at all. Now they have found an archaeological site that they believe may contain the city, but that has only made the problem even more complicated. The site has several layers built on top of each other, which means that even if Troy was once there, figuring out which layer was the Troy described in Homer’s epic would be incredibly difficult.

Archaeologists also have good reason to believe at this point that the siege described in Homer’s work actually took place over the course of many years. There also may have actually been more than one siege, of more than one Troy, over the course of history — all on the same spot. For this reason, trying to get a historically accurate picture of Troy may be next to impossible.

8. The Lost City of Atlantis Was Probably a Myth, Or Just a Regular Destroyed Island

The Lost City of Atlantis has been popularized in myth for millennia. The idea of a lost city of prosperous people, who perhaps had interesting knowledge or technology is a fascinating idea. Some myths even go so far as to suggest that the people of Atlantis somehow continued to survive underneath the ocean. Wilder myths even suggest they are responsible for the Bermuda triangle — bringing down anything that gets too close to the truth of their hidden existence.

However, in all likelihood if Atlantis did exist, it was just an ordinary island struck by natural disaster. The first references to such a place were in an allegory by Plato about the suddenness that something could disappear, and about the hubris of not being prepared for danger. Many people are convinced this is the truth, and that there was no Atlantis. But, people often write about what they know. There is evidence that a prosperous island fairly near Plato was swallowed up almost instantly by a volcano, so he could have been making a reference to that event. Either way, there was nothing particularly special about the city Plato was referencing.

7. The Fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon Were Probably Not That Advanced

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the wonders of the ancient world. They also probably never existed at all. Many people have an idea from artwork of a huge city of mostly sandstone, with beautiful terraced gardens throughout, despite being in the middle of the desert. It certainly captures the imagination, but the first references to such a place were not written until hundreds of years after the city of Babylon was gone, greatly calling into doubt their existence.

The site of Babylon was only recently found, and wasn’t exactly where archaeologists expected, either. It turns out it was closer to a neighboring city known as Nineveh. The people of Nineveh had taken over the Babylonian culture through war. But they liked to assimilate the enemies’ names into their own cities, making archaeological identification difficult at first.

Archaeologists have not yet been able to prove the existence of any kind of hanging gardens or super advanced irrigation system. But even if they had, it wouldn’t have been that impressive to begin with. It turns out that the actual site of Babylon is not particularly arid, and would be quite useable for growing vegetation.

6. The Bermuda Triangle Is A Modern Myth, Not An Ancient Danger For Mariners

The Bermuda Triangle is a place that will cause many people to short circuit the logic part of their brain. They’ll start talking about the silliest paranoid conspiracy theories imaginable. Nearly everyone knows a mysterious story or two about the area. While most people would agree it is a natural phenomenon, the average person is convinced that something is going on there.

However, the truth is that there is no such thing as the Bermuda Triangle in the first place. What we mean by this is that there is no map in the world that has ever considered that particular region to be anything special to avoid or not. The entire idea of the triangle was made up by folklore.

Statistics show that there are no more accidents or disappearances of boats and planes in the triangle than anywhere else in the ocean. In other words, you could draw a triangle anywhere in the ocean and you would be just as likely to find a similar set of mysterious disappearances. This is because weather can cause ships and boats to go under, and the ocean is incredibly vast. Any part of the ocean can be dangerous. But there’s no evidence that particular area is any more dangerous than any other.

5. The Garden Of Eden Was Probably Philosophical, Not Physical

The Garden of Eden is a subject that has caused some controversy for many years. Certain Christians are convinced that the Garden of Eden was once a physical location somewhere on the globe, and have done a lot of research to suggest various possible locations. Most of them are somewhere in the Middle East, fairly near the locations mentioned in the early days of the bible.

Interestingly though, the Jewish faith never believed in the Garden of Eden as a physical place to begin with, but as a state of being. When men were first created, in their view, they were in a state of perfect harmony. The sin of man broke that harmony and they were no longer in the Garden of Eden, but harshly viewing the world as it actually was — alone, in the desert to fend for themselves. Many Christian scholars have increasingly taken up a similar viewpoint over the years.

4. The Tower of Babel was Probably Just an Unfinished Building

The legend in the bible says that after the great flood, many people who spoke the same language came together and arrogantly forgot about God. They planned to build a tower to reach the heavens. Partway through their building, God struck them with confusion. Now, they had many languages, and they scattered across the globe. Some people dismiss the entire thing as just a story, and some people have looked for archaeological evidence. The truth is a little more complicated.

There is no evidence to support the biblical story itself. However, there is evidence of a great Ziggurat that could fit the description of the tower that existed in the Babylonian Empire while the Hebrews were their slaves. The Ziggurat was unfinished during that time. Despite being quite grand, multiple attempts had been made to finish it. Some historians believe that the Jewish writers of the time, looking for allegories to teach important lessons, were inspired by the unfinished Ziggurat nearby.

3. Ponce De Leon was Probably Never Actually Searching for a Fountain Of Youth

We already know there was no actual fountain of youth. The idea of a magical fountain that could restore the vitality to anyone who bathed in it is quite ridiculous. However, while no one today really believes the story, some assume that the people of a few hundred years ago would have been stupid enough to believe it.

The legends claim that Ponce De Leon wasted years of his time in Florida searching for this mythical fountain. A fountain, it turned out, that was a trick allegedly played on him by the natives. However, there is no evidence in his writings he was searching for any such thing. The only source for his alleged search was a fanciful account written by a suspect source, trying to gain political favor with his views. It is more than likely the entire legend was a complete fabrication from beginning to end.

2. Jericho Was Probably Just Built on a Fault Line

Many people have heard the story of the fabled Wall of Jericho. Jericho was an ancient city in biblical days, held under siege. God was to help bring down the city, but needed the help of His chosen. The army was to blow their trumpets and march around the city continuously, and He would bring the city walls down for them. After several days, the walls came down, and the people of God were victorious.

Now, while the city of Jericho was real, many historians believe this story was far stranger than many people first realized. The city was actually in an area that would have been prone to earthquake activity. With armies using up nearby waters during a siege, it could increase the risk. Some historians would say that the army got lucky. Or, that someone knew the earthquake activity in the area and hoped to use it to their advantage. Believers would suggest that perhaps God chose that moment to activate an earthquake along that particular fault-line. No one will ever know.

1. Roswell is Really Just Home to an Old, Unused Air Force Base

We know the military presence at Roswell was hardly anything ancient. But with the belief many people have in ancient aliens, and their connection to Area 51 and the US government, it brings the entire thing full circle. Now, we aren’t saying that the town of Roswell, New Mexico doesn’t exist. But we are saying that there is a lot of confusion over what exactly Roswell is. Most people know that it’s the town where there was an alleged crash of a UFO. The Air Force would later claim it was just a weather balloon. Over time, most secret government projects have been associated with Area 51. Somehow the two places — Roswell and Area 51 — have often become conflated in the popular mindset.

While there was an Air Force Base located at Roswell, it has not been functioning for many years now. And it was never used for highly secret projects. In fact, Walker Air Force Base was a fairly generic and unimportant military post. When budget cuts came near the end of Vietnam, it was one of the first bases to close up shop. There’s a museum celebrating the legacy of the base, but what is left now serves commercial purposes. And no, there are no aliens there.


A Pessimist’s View of Ancient Legends

WIF Myth and Legend

We’re Only Human – WIF Anthropology

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Moments That

Shaped Modern

Human Life

The evolution of our species has been… eventful, to say the least. While some form of semi-bipedal hominids and apes have existed for millions of years, our march toward modern civilization began relatively recently. In a short period of time, our species has gone through many monumental changes that gradually gave shape to everything we see around us today.

While some of these crucial historical moments are intuitive and well known, others aren’t that obvious. Almost all of them, though, are only apparent in hindsight…

9. The Possibility of Life On Other Planets

That we are alone in the Great Expanse is a frightening thought. After all, if Earthlings are the most advanced beings in the Universe… well that just cannot be, can it? Still, it is a distinct possibility and if that is the case, we won’t be meeting any aliens anytime soon.

BUT, and is a BIG but, most of us have the sneaking suspicion that our government know more than they are letting on. What aren’t they telling us about Area 51? And then there are those Air Force pilots that report seeing (UFO) Flying Objects that speed away faster than you can say, “Did you see that?”.

No one really knows (that we know of) for sure that there is intelligent life on other planets or that we have been visited by them. That very possibility gives us hope that someone smarter than us is out there somewhere… Got to be someone smarter!

8. When We Stood Up On Two Feet

If we get down to the basics, there aren’t many differences between our closest, four-legged ancestors: the intelligent apes. Apart from minor differences and some chance mutations, we may never have never been able to stray too far from that lineage. Then, some forward-thinking ape – or a group of them – around two to four million years ago decided that standing up was a way better way to live, and we’ve not looked back since.

The decision to stand up on two feet instead of four may seem to be insignificant and intuitive to most, though if you think about it, it’s an unprecedented trait in the tree of life. Humans are the only creatures that have ever evolved to walk on two feet, even if its immediate evolutionary advantages aren’t clear to science. Regardless, bipedalism freed our hands to be able to make more complicated tools, setting the stage for everything to come, making it one of the most important steps in the evolution of early humans.

7. The Domestication Of The Horse

We have a long history of domesticating animals for our needs. From sheep to cows to our best friends, the dogs, the animal kingdom is full of examples of animals that we have tamed and modified, and that have played important roles in the rise of our civilization.

One domesticated species, however, has been so important for humanity that we’ve written entire books and historical journals on the topic: the horse. First domesticated some time around 3000 BC in the Central Asian steppes, the horse initially served as a good source of meat and fur, much like other livestock animals at the time. Soon, however, people realized that it could be used for movement across large distances like no other animal we’ve ever been able to tame. They may not have realized it at the time, but that realization would become one of humanity’s most pivotal. The histories of all the earliest and biggest Eurasian civilizations perfectly coincide with the history of horse domestication in their respective regions. The horse finally allowed us to step out of our limited range and inhabit far off regions.

Not just that, but it also played an important role in the militaries of almost all major armies until the invention of gunpowder. Horse cavalry was often the most powerful unit in major ancient and medieval armies, often deciding the course of a battle entirely on its own.

6. The Rise Of Homo Sapiens

Even if most of us may not realize this, humans weren’t always the only hominid species on the planet. We’re only one of the many different branches of humans to evolve out of intelligent apes, some of whom we may not yet even know about. Moreover, it wasn’t always obvious that we’d be the last ones standing, either. In fact, the exact circumstances that led us to emerge as the ultimate victors of the early hominid race aren’t that clear. Neanderthals, for example, were much stronger than our homo sapiens ancestors, and may even have been capable of designing tools as advanced as us.

Despite the mystery surrounding our early days, it’s clear that the evolutionary domination of homo sapiens over other hominid species was one of our most crucial early steps. It eliminated the only challenge to our hegemony on the planet – other humans – and directly paved the way for all of the biggest moments in our history since.

5. The Age Of Revolutions

While most of this list deals with evolutionary and technological developments, the story of humanity is incomplete without its political and cultural milestones. Where bigger brains and opposable thumbs gave us the physical tools to win the Darwinian race, our decisions with organizing our society, economy and politics have been equally influential in shaping up our civilization.

In that respect, the events in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries are perhaps some of the most important in our social history. For the most part, the majority of humanity has lived in rigidly structured, hierarchical societies controlled by a handful of people with power.

That changed in the 17th century beginning with the French Revolution, and eventually spread to the rest of Europe and the world. The Industrial Revolution – an important moment in its own right – led to people demanding better rights and living conditions, culminating in the massive revolts seen across European workplaces in the late 17th and 18th centuries, including the colonies.

This period laid the foundation for the largely liberal, democratic and developed part of the world today, where the majority of the population is free from the threat of hunger or conflict. The revolutions such as the French Revolution, American Revolution, and the 1848 wave of Revolutions in western Europe triggered the the rearrangement of the society, economy, and political structure away from Feudalism and in the favor of the individual, giving way to all of our modern ideas of human rights, liberty, freedom of faith and so on.

4. Islamic Golden Age

While Europe was the birthplace of some of the biggest social and political changes of the early modern era, the scientific revolution had already happened centuries before in a completely different region of the world.

The Golden Age of Islam – from seventh to the 13th century – was when we took the biggest leap forward in our scientific understanding of the world. Some of the earliest versions of most modern fields of science – such as medicine, flight, chemistry, astronomy, etc. – first developed in that region, thanks to scholars from around the world who were encouraged by the caliph and other local rulers. The period was so influential that, throughout that era, Arabic was the global language of science. That fact is evident in the vestiges of Arabic still found in much of our modern scientific lexicon; for example, algebra, alchemy, algorithm, and so on.

Unfortunately, all of that came to an abrupt end with the Mongol siege of Baghdad. Its library – the biggest in the world at the time – was burned to the ground. Regardless, the knowledge we gained from that period set the stage for some of our biggest scientific achievements since, such as the European age of exploration, industrial age, and steam engine.

3. The Great Leap Forward

For most people, it would probably come as a surprise that for the most part of our history, absolutely nothing was happening. Of course, there was that existential struggle with the other humans we mentioned above, though other than deciding the existential, yes/no fate of humanity, it didn’t do anything nuanced for the human race. For millions of years, homo sapiens and other human species had almost no major scientific breakthroughs. That was, however, until something happened around 60,000 years ago, when everything changed.

Archaeologists still find clear evidence of a massive leap in tool making technology, societal structure, language, art, and many other fields around that time, and have called it the Great Leap Forward. It’s possible that it may have been thanks to a language based mutation in our brains at the time, though for all we know for sure, it could have been something random, too. What we do know, however, is that the Great Leap Forward is a clear line separating us from the relatively primitive early men, and the species set to conquer the moon in the distant future.

2. Writing

While many people would consider the development of language to be a pretty important development in our history – and it absolutely is – it’s difficult to decide on a singular definition of ‘language’. Many ancient cultures communicated with systems of language that would be barely recognizable to us, but fulfilled all the criteria of what a language is supposed to be. People have been using some form of language to talk to each other for as long as we can remember.

Writing, however, can be considered to be a clear marker, as we can precisely tell when and where it first originated. It independently arose – at different points in history – in the Near East, China and Mesoamerica. All writing systems of today trace their roots to those first languages, as well as most cultures.

Writing gave a boost to human progress like nothing else, allowing us – for the first time in our history – to reliably record, manipulate, store and disseminate information. For example, generals could now write down the details of their battles, allowing future commanders to use that information in their own battles. Rulers could reliably send out their edicts without the risk of manipulation, and so on. Writing provided us with a way to use information like never before, and formed the basis for all of history’s most influential civilizations.

1. The Agricultural Revolution

While many historians and archaeologists take the view that the decision to settle down into farming societies – as opposed to hunter gatherer bands – was an obvious next step in human evolution. The early farmers would have had to undergo many massive changes in their everyday lives – like in diet, housing, societal structure, etc. – to stick to their new lifestyle. It wasn’t a clearly beneficial deal, and more and more experts are starting to question why we did it at all.

Its evolutionary benefits notwithstanding, the agricultural revolution was still a pivotal moment in human history. Because of farming, we could finally live longer, grow our population, and – most importantly – free a large part of the population from food production.

Experts in other fields – like artists, bureaucrats, philosophers, military generals – made a way to even bigger, more successful civilizations, directly influencing how societies are structured even today.


We’re Only Human

WIF Anthropology

Monuments to Something – WIF Landmark Travel

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Mysterious

World Landmarks

The world is filled with ancient monuments built by master craftsmen in order to honor everything from kings and presidents to religious figures. And although most of these landmarks have been carefully studied and researched by scientists and historians, some are simply so old, incomplete, or obscure that we still don’t know very much about why they were built or what purpose they served. The following are 10 world landmarks that, whether by intention or simply due to the passage of time, continue to baffle the people who study them.

10. The Cahokia Mounds


Cahokia is the name given to an Indian settlement that exists outside of Collinsville, Illinois. Archaeologists estimate that the city was founded sometime around 650 AD, and its complex network of burial grounds and sophisticated landscaping prove that it was once a thriving community. It has been estimated that at its peak the city was home to as many as 40,000 people, which would have made it the most populous settlement in America prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The most notable aspect of Cahokia today are the 80 mounds of earth, some as high as 100 feet, which dot the 2,200-acre site. These helped create a network of plazas throughout the city, and it is believed that important buildings, like the home of the settlement’s chief, were built on top of them. The site also features a series of wooden posts that archaeologists have dubbed “woodhenge.” The posts are said to mark the solstices and equinoxes, and supposedly figured prominently in the community’s astronomical mythology.

The Mystery
Although scientists are constantly discovering new information about the Cohokia community, the biggest mystery that remains is which modern Indian tribe is descended from the residents of the ancient city, as well as just what it was that caused them to abandon their settlement.

9. Newgrange


Considered to be the oldest and most famous prehistoric site in all of Ireland, Newgrange is a tomb that was built from earth, wood, clay, and stone around 3100 BC, some 1000 years before the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. It consists of a long passage that leads to a cross-shaped chamber that was apparently used as a tomb, as it contains stone basins filled with cremated remains. The most unique feature of Newgrange is its careful and sturdy design, which has helped the structure remain completely waterproof to this day. Most amazing of all, the entrance to the tomb was positioned relative to the sun in such a way that on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the rays from the sun are channeled through the opening and down the nearly 60 foot passageway, where they illuminate the floor of the monument’s central room.

The Mystery
Archaeologists know Newgrange was used as a tomb, but why and for who still remains a mystery. The painstaking design needed to guarantee that the yearly solstice event occurs suggests that the site was held in high regard, but other than the obvious hypothesis that the sun featured prominently in the mythology of the builders, scientists are at a loss to describe the true reason for Newgrange’s construction.

8. The Yonaguni Monument


Of all the famous monuments in Japan, perhaps none is more perplexing than Yonaguni, an underwater rock formation that lies off the coast of the Ryuku Islands. It was discovered in 1987 by a group of divers who were there to observe Hammerhead sharks, and it immediately sparked a huge amount of debate in the Japanese scientific community. The monument is made up of a series of striking rock formations including massive platforms, carved steps, and huge stone pillars that lie at depths of 5-40 meters. There is a triangular formation that has become known as “the turtle” for its unique shape, as well as a long, straight wall that borders one of the larger platforms. The currents in the area are known for being particularly treacherous, but this has not stopped the Yonaguni monument from becoming one of the most popular diving locations in all of Japan.

The Mystery
The ongoing debate surrounding Yonaguni centers on one key subject: is the monument a natural phenomenon, or is it man-made? Scientists have long argued that millennia of strong currents and erosion have carved the formations out of the ocean floor, and they point to the fact that the monument is all one piece of solid rock as proof that it was not assembled by a builder. Others, though, point to the many straight edges, square corners and 90-degree angles of the formation as proof that it’s artificial. They often cite one formation in particular, a section of rock that resembles a crude carving of a human face, as evidence. If they are right, then an even more interesting mystery presents itself: who constructed the Yonaguni Monument, and for what purpose?

7. The Nazca Lines


The Nazca lines are a series of designs and pictographs carved into the ground in the Nazca Desert, a dry plateau located in Peru. They cover an area of some 50 miles, and were supposedly created between 200 BC and 700 AD by the Nazca Indians, who designed them by scraping away the copper colored rocks of the desert floor to expose the lighter-colored earth beneath. The lines have managed to remain intact for hundreds of years thanks to the region’s arid climate, which sees it receive little rain or wind throughout the year. Some of the lines span distances of 600 feet, and they depict everything from simple designs and shapes to characterizations of plants, insects, and animals.

The Mystery
Scientists know who made the Nazca Lines and how they did it, but they still don’t know why. The most popular and reasonable hypothesis is that the lines must have figured in the Nazca people’s religious beliefs, and that they made the designs as offerings to the gods, who would’ve been able to see them from the heavens. Still, other scientists argue that the lines are evidence of massive looms that the Nazcas used to make textiles, and one investigator has even made the preposterous claim that they are the remnants of ancient airfields used by a vanished, technologically advanced society.

6. Goseck Circle


One of the most mysterious landmarks in Germany is the Goseck Circle, a monument made out of earth, gravel, and wooden palisades that is regarded as the earliest example of a primitive “solar observatory.” The circle consists of a series of circular ditches surrounded by palisade walls (which have since been reconstructed) that house a raised mound of dirt in the center. The palisades have three openings, or gates, that point southeast, southwest, and north. It is believed that the monument was built around 4900 BC by Neolithic peoples, and that the three openings correspond to the direction from which the sun rises on the winter solstice.

The Mystery
The monument’s careful construction has led many scientists to believe that the Goseck Circle was built to serve as some kind of primitive solar or lunar calendar, but its exact use is still a source of debate. Evidence has shown that a so-called “solar cult” was widespread in ancient Europe. This has led to speculation that the Circle was used in some kind of ritual, perhaps even in conjunction with human sacrifice. This hypothesis has yet to be proven, but archaeologists have uncovered several human bones, including a headless skeleton, just outside the palisade walls.

5. Sacsayhuaman


Not far from the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu lies Sacsayhuaman, a strange embankment of stone walls located just outside of Cuzco. The series of three walls was assembled from massive 200-ton blocks of rock and limestone, and they are arranged in a zigzag pattern along the hillside. The longest is roughly 1000 feet in length and each stands some fifteen feet tall. The monument is in astonishingly good condition for its age, especially considering the region’s propensity for earthquakes, but the tops of the walls are somewhat demolished, as the monument was plundered by the Spanish to build churches in Cuzco. The area surrounding the monument has been found to be the source of several underground catacombs called chincanas, which were supposedly used as connecting passageways to other Inca structures in the area.

The Mystery
Most scientists agree that Sacsayhuaman served as a kind of fortress of barrier wall, but this has been disputed. The strange shape and angles of the wall have led some speculate that it may have had a more symbolic function, one example being that the wall, when seen next to Cuzco from above, forms the shape of the head of a Cougar. Even more mysterious than the monument’s use, though, are the methods that were used in its construction. Like most Inca stone works, Sacsayhuaman was built with large stones that fit together so perfectly that not even a sheet of paper can be placed in the gaps between them. Just how the Incas managed such expert placements, or, for that matter, how they managed to transport and lift the heavy hunks of stone, is still not fully known.

4. The Easter Island Moai


One of the most iconic series of monuments in the Pacific islands is the Moai, a group of huge statues of exaggerated human figures that are found only on the small, isolated island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. The Moai were carved sometime between 1250 and 1500 AD by the island’s earliest inhabitants, and are believed to depict the people’s ancestors, who in their culture were held in the same regard as deities. The Moai were chiseled and carved from tuff, a volcanic rock that is prevalent on the island, and they all feature the same characteristics of an oversized head, broad nose, and a mysterious, indecipherable facial expression. Scientists have determined that as many as 887 of the statues were originally carved, but years of infighting among the island’s clans led to many being destroyed. Today, only 394 are still standing, the largest of which is 30 feet tall and weighs over 70 tons.

The Mystery
While there is a fairly solid consensus on why the Moai were erected, how the islanders did it is still up for debate. The average Moai weighs several tons, and for years scientists were at a loss to describe how the monuments were transported from Rano Raraku, where most of them were constructed, to their various locations around the island. In recent years, the most popular theory is that the builders used wooden sleds and log rollers to move the Moai, an answer that would also explain how the once verdant island became almost totally barren due to deforestation.

3. The Georgia Guidestones


While most of the mysterious monuments on this list only became that way as centuries passed, the Georgia Guidestones, also known as American Stonehenge, are one landmark that was always intended to be an enigma. The monument, which consists of four monolithic slabs of granite that support a single capstone, was commissioned in 1979 by a man who went by the pseudonym of R.C. Christian. A local mason carefully crafted it so that one slot in the stones is aligned with the sun on the solstices and equinoxes, and one small hole is always pointed in the direction of the North Star. Most interesting, though, are the inscriptions on the slabs, which an accompanying plaque describes as “the guidestones to an Age of Reason.” In eight different languages, the slabs offer a strange ten-point plan to ensure peace on Earth that includes vague proclamations like “prize truth–beauty–love–seeking harmony with the infinite,” to very specific commands like “maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.” Comments like this one have made the Guidestones one of the most controversial landmarks in the United States, and they have long been protested and even vandalized by groups that would like to see them demolished.

The Mystery
For all their controversy, very little is known about who built the Guidestones or what their true purpose is. R.C. Christian claimed he represented an independent organization when he commissioned the landmark, but neither he nor his group has spoken up since its construction. Since the monument was built during the height of the Cold War, one popular theory about the group’s intentions is that the Guidestones were to serve as a primer for how to rebuild society in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.

2. The Great Sphinx of Giza


Sphinxes are massive stone statues that depict the body of a reclining lion with the head and face of a human. The figures are found all over the world in different forms, but they are most commonly linked with Egypt, which features the most famous example in the form of the Great Sphinx of Giza. Incredibly, the statue is carved out of one monolithic piece of rock, and at 240 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 66 feet tall, it is considered to be the biggest monument of its kind in the world. Historians largely accept the function of the Sphinx to have been that of a symbolic guardian, since the statues were strategically placed around important structures like temples, tombs, and pyramids. The Great Sphinx of Giza appears to be no different. It stands adjacent to the pyramid of the pharaoh Khafra, and most archaeologists believe that it is his face that is depicted on that of the statue.

The Mystery
Despite its reputation as one of the most famous monuments of antiquity, there is still very little known about the Great Sphinx of Giza. Egyptologists might have a small understanding of why the statue was built, but when, how, and by who is still shrouded in mystery. The pharaoh Khafra is the main suspect, which would date the structure back to around 2500 BC, but other scientists have argued that evidence of water erosion of the statue suggests that it is much older and perhaps even predated the dynastic era of the Egyptians. This theory has few modern adherents, but if true it would mean the Great Sphinx of Giza is even more mysterious than previously believed.

1. Stonehenge


Of all the world’s famous monuments, none has gained as much of a reputation for pure, simple mystery as Stonehenge. Stonehenge has been inspiring debate among scholars, scientists, and historians since the Middle Ages. Located in the English countryside, the landmark is believed to date back to 2500 BC, and consists of several mammoth pieces of rock arranged and piled on top of one another in what appears at first to be a random design. The site is surrounded by a small, circular ditch, and is flanked by burial mounds on all sides. Although the rock formations that still remain are undoubtedly impressive, it is thought that the modern version of Stonehenge is only a small remnant of a much larger monument that was damaged with the passing of time, and it is largely believed that the building process was so extensive that it could have lasted on and off for anywhere from 1500 to 7000 years.

The Mystery
Stonehenge has become renowned for puzzling even the most brilliant researchers, and over the years the many gaps in the history of its construction, the nature of its use, and the true identity of its builders have become known as “The Mystery of Stonehenge.” The Neolithic people who built the monument left behind no written records, so scientists can only base their theories on the meager evidence that exists at the site. This has led to wild speculation that the monument was left by aliens, or that it was built by some eons-old society of technologically advanced super-humans. All craziness aside, the most common explanation remains that Stonehenge served as some kind of graveyard monument that played a role in the builders’ version of the afterlife, a claim that is backed up by its proximity to several hundred burial mounds. Yet another theory suggests that the site was a place for spiritual healing and the worship of long dead ancestors.


Monuments to Something

WIF Landmark Travel

Getting Sphinx-y W/You – WIF Like an Egyptian

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Mysteries of Egypt’s

Great Sphinx

of Giza

When the soldiers of Rome first encountered the Sphinx they gazed upon an ancient structure which was already older than the ruins of the ancient Roman Empire are today. Staring with mouths no doubt agape in wonder, they likely formulated questions which for over two millennia have remained largely unanswered. What was it? Who built it? Why? The great head which appeared before them (the body of the Sphinx was buried in the desert sands, unseen for hundreds of years before and after the Romans visited) may have retained the colors applied by its builders, adding to the mystery which stood before them. Or they may have already been scoured away by the sands of the desert and of time.

Since its rediscovery the Sphinx has added to its mysteries, with every proposed answer and theory leading to others, yet more secretive. It has left impressions upon its visitors throughout time. Napoleon gazed upon it in awe. Archaeologists, explorers, historians, and tourists have attempted to understand and explain its purpose, its meaning to those who built it and to those who followed. Yet it remains among the most mysterious artifacts of the ancient world. Why it was built, how it was built, what it represented, and what it continues to represent remain matters of speculation, mysteries unsolved, further enshrouded by the passage of time. Here are some of the mysteries of the Sphinx, the eternal lion of the Egyptian desert, silent guardian of the Pyramids.

10. Who built it?

The short answer, and one which has changed frequently over the centuries, is nobody knows. At least not to a certainty. Theories have abounded, with differing views presented based on science, religion, and even the study of extraterrestrials. It has been called a device representing astronomical configurations. It has been called a tribute to the dead. The bulk of the evidence regarding its origin is circumstantial, and its construction has been described to support other theories regarding ancient Egypt, each of questionable accuracy on their own. Some believe the statue to predate the nearby pyramids, others posit that it was added later. Today, the consensus is that the face of the statue represents the pharaoh Khafre, though some maintain that earlier known images of Khafre bear little likeness to the face on the statue.

Khafre is regarded as the builder of the second pyramid at Giza, and the theory that he built, or rather had built, the Sphinx is supported by those who believe that a statue in his likeness was included in the Sphinx Temple, part of the overall complex which was built as a funerary. Other Egyptologists of past years disputed Khafre’s contribution to the construction, claiming it to predate his reign by centuries. Accurately dating the construction is difficult, as there are no references to the statue, at least not by name, in any contemporaneous documentation yet discovered. A causeway near the statue, generally believed to have been built during Khafre’s reign, is believed by some to have been designed with the existing statue in mind, rather than as a part of the construction of the statue itself. Who built the Sphinx remains one of its riddles, to date unanswered, and to many unanswerable given the existing evidence.

9. What is the Sphinx?

Whoever built what is now known as the Sphinx aside, it is also unknown by what name the statue was called by its creator or creators. No inscriptions have yet been discovered which describe the statue, refer to it by name, or describe the purpose for which it was intended. The great statue was not referred to as the Sphinx until over 2,000 years after it was built, if the most widely accepted date of construction is used as a point of reference. The term itself is borrowed from the Greek, referring to a mythological being with the body of a lion, wings of eagles, and the head of a woman. Other Egyptian “sphinxes” which have been discovered bear the head of a man, the body of a lion, and lack wings. Even the name Sphinx comes from Greek, meaning (loosely) to squeeze. The term refers to the beast squeezing to death those unfortunates who failed to solve the riddle she presented.

Nearly all known inscriptions connected to the statue refer to it as the “Terrifying One.” It has been linked to the sun-god Ra, as well as the god appearing in the form of a jackal, Anubis. Anubis was the god of the Necropolis, the city of the dead. Over 1,000 years after the generally accepted date of its construction it was excavated and restored for the first time, or rather attempts at such restoration were made. The pharaoh Thutmose IV directed the excavation of the statue (which had been buried in the desert sand over the preceding 1,000 years, only its head showing above ground), though his attempt managed to expose only the front paws. To mark the event, Thutmose had a granite slab placed between the paws. Thutmose inscribed the slab, known as the Dream Stele, on which he linked the statue, already approximately 1,200 years old, with Ra.

8. How was the Sphinx built?

The Sphinx, contrary to common belief, is not a construction but a carving. It was hewn out of the rock of a quarry which also provided the limestone blocks for the construction of the nearby pyramids and the temples and causeways which surround them. The rock appeared in layers, with each layer presenting differing qualities regarding resistance to erosion and the ravages of time. How it was carved is, like all else about the statue, a subject of debate. It may have been hewn by hammer and chisel, shaped with saws, or blasted with water. Water, routed through leather hoses, pressurized by decreasing the diameter of the vessels transporting it, and used to wear away the rock might have been used. But if water was used, what was its source? There are those who believe, as much because they have to believe it to support their theory as for any other reason, that the valley, now arid desert, was once fertile and well-watered.

The theory is given some support through the belief, not fully accepted by the scientific community, much of the erosion which has damaged the statue is the result of rainwater, rather than desert sands driven by the winds. The theory that extensive rainfall damaged the statue furthers the argument that it predates the time of Khafre, during whose reign the region was arid, much as it is today. Nonetheless, by the time of the reign of Thutmose IV the Sphinx was buried up to the neck in the sands of the desert, as has been seen. Climatologists believe that the last period of heavy and persistent rainfall in the region occurred over 4000 years BCE, and the level of erosion, if the theory is accepted, indicates that the statue was built as early as 6000 BCE. The dates alone lead Egyptologists to consider the theory to be a fringe idea, lacking credence and scientific evidence, especially since it conflicts with theories of their own.

7. How was the Sphinx used in Ancient Egypt?

Over time, according to the experts, the significance and use of the Sphinx changed. In ancient Egypt, the lion was symbolic of the sun, and thus it is believed that the statue was used for solar worship more than 2,500 years before Christ. One thousand years later the statue was connected to the worship of the god Harmachis, another god of the sun. The Sphinx was at least one thousand years old when a temple to the god Harmachis was built nearby by the Pharaoh Amenhotep II. Yet the massive statue meant different things to different beholders. The Canaanites, a polytheistic people of many tribes often referred to in the Old Testament of the Hebrews and modern day Christians believed the Sphinx to refer to the god Horon, one of two gods who held sway as lords of the netherworld.

Despite the beliefs of the Canaanites, covered in detail in the Old Testament which describes the many conflicts between them and the monotheistic Israelites, the massive statue is not referred to or otherwise described in the biblical narratives. How it could be overlooked, when it was a focal point of so many of the ancient tribes and cultures, is one of its enduring mysteries (particularly given the large number of Israelites held as slaves by the Egyptians, according to the narrative in Exodus). The Book of Jeremiah does refer to what it calls “…signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,” but a more specific description is lacking. If Moses, or his brother Aaron, or any of the Israelites saw the Sphinx, they evidently did not find it worthy of comment in the books of the Old Testament.

6. Why was the Sphinx vandalized in ancient times?

A fairly well-known feature of the Sphinx is that the massive head is lacking a nose.Instead there is an irregular and roughly textured area of the face where the nose once was displayed. For many centuries it was assumed that the facial feature had fallen to the ravages of the desert and time. In other words, it simply fell off the face. The same fate was assumed to have befallen the beard which once adorned the chin of the statue. A myth developed in the nineteenth century that a cannonball fired by Napoleon’s troops during the Battle of the Pyramids destroyed the nose. In fact, subsequent archaeological research revealed that the nose was deliberately removed, using either lengthy rods or other instruments designed for the purpose, sometime prior to the tenth century of the common era. The unanswered question regarding the act? Why?

One theory is that Islamic peasants prayed to the Sphinx, offering it sacrifices, in the belief that the gods would intervene to ensure a better harvest, a sacrilege which Sufi Muslim leaders could not abide. The statue was thus desecrated to discourage the practice. Other sphinxes throughout the region were similarly defaced during the 13th and 14th century, for similar reasons. The desecration of the statue was also rumored to be the source of retribution, including the Crusade of Alexander in 1365. The status of the beard reputed to once have been a feature of the statue is disputed, with some scholars believing the beard was an original part of the carving. Others believe that it was a later addition, though all are in agreement that the beard is no longer a part of the face, with portions of the stone which formed it recovered from the sands between the beast’s paws.

5. Is the human portion of the statue a man or a woman?

The presence of a beard adorning the chin of the massive head of the statue would lead an observer to assume it depicts the head of a man. But beginning in the 1500s CE, and continuing well into the nineteenth century, visitors regularly described the statue as depicting a woman’s head and upper body melded with the body of a lion. The description of the statue as being that of a woman was reflected in both written form and in sketches and paintings by western artists. The Sphinx was described as having the breasts and neck of a woman, as well as a woman’s face. Traces of coloration which remain around the statue’s eyes and the lower face suggested that the statue at one time presented a garishly multi-colored visage, as that of a woman wearing heavy makeup.

George Sandys, an English poet, translator of the ancient classics, and extensive traveler who chronicled his journeys, described the Sphinx as a harlot. A noted contemporary, German writer Johannes Helferich, described the Sphinx as a “round-breasted woman.” Prior to the French Revolution, the overwhelming majority of images of the statue available in Europe depicted the Sphinx as decidedly feminine in appearance. Only after the French invasion of Egypt led by revolutionary general Napoleon Bonaparte were images of the Sphinx which were more interested in accuracy than romanticism widely available in Europe. Interestingly it was not until 1755 that European drawings of the statue presented the absent nose.

4. Who are the Anunnaki and did they build the Sphinx?

The Anunnaki were the temple gods of the Ancient Sumerians, a trading people who recorded their activities in cuneiforms, and gave to history among other things the twenty-four hour period known as one day, divided into periods of sixty minutes each. An agricultural society, they also left behind a method of preserving grain for consumption in liquid form, a beverage we know today as beer. According to a believer in ancient visitors from alien realms, Zecharia Sitchin, the Anunnaki built the Sphinx, as well as the pyramids, centered in Giza as a port for other visitors. Sitchin’s theories have been dismissed as both pseudoscience and pseudohistory, but his works have sold millions of copies around the world to followers of his beliefs.

Though it is easy to dismiss Sitchin’s work, it is not easy to deny the influence he has over those who believe in extraterrestrial visitations in the ancient world. The seeming impossibility of explaining much of the mystery which surrounds the Sphinx and the ancient peoples who saw it in the background every day, just as modern people see cell towers and giant aircraft soaring overhead, leads some to seek otherworldly explanations. Sitchin’s numerous books and interviews have inspired motion pictures, video games, religious fringe groups, and various clubs and groups who believe that there is no mystery at all to the Sphinx, it is simply evidence of alien visitation, created by the gods of the ancient Sumerians.

3. How has the Sphinx survived for so many thousands of years?

It is no secret that the part of the Sphinx which has had the most difficulty weathering the passage of time is the head and upper torso. There is a simple explanation for that seeming mystery. For most of its existence the majority of the statue has been buried beneath the sands of the desert which filled the quarry in which it was carved. Before it was submerged, evidence of erosion was present (remember the postulation that water was eroding the statue), and the carving was protected by covering the damaged areas with limestone and sandstone blocks, carved for the purpose, as a sort of laminate.

During an excavation in 2010, a wall was discovered surrounding much of the statue, built of mudbrick, which ran for more than 400 feet around the Sphinx. It was determined it was intended to act as a windbreak, erected around the same time that Thutmose installed the Dream Stele between the paws. Most of the statue was still buried in the sand at the time. Not until the 20th century, in a project which began in 1925 and took 11 years to complete, was the entire statue exposed to view, and thus also to the elements. The face on the other hand was exposed continuously throughout the millennia since its completion, as well as being the subject of vandalism, or at the very least religious censorship, since it was first completed at a time still unknown.

2. Is the Sphinx linked to the constellation known as Orion, the Hunter?

According to some theorists (Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock, et al) the Great Pyramids of Giza are aligned in the same manner as the stars which create the “belt” of the constellation Orion, and when considered along with the Sphinx and the nearby Nile River present a model of the relationship of Orion and its position with the Milky Way. According to their calculations, the positions of the stars, if established in relationship to the pyramids and the Sphinx, are depicted as they were 10,500 years ago. That would mean that the Sphinx is part of a model displaying the astronomical positions at that time, and is thus 10,500 years old. To those subscribing to the theory, Giza is a map, presumably for the use of visitors from beyond the stars.

They are undaunted by the fact that no artifacts of any kind supporting such an early appearance of the Sphinx, the Pyramids, or any other man-made structure of the kind have ever been found in the region. They are equally undaunted by the fact that their method of establishing the date has been proven to be inaccurate. While it is possible that the belt of the constellation could have been used as a guide for the layout of the Pyramids (the Sphinx is also laid out in a manner which annually measures the sun’s attitude during the solstices), that in and of itself does not necessarily indicate a link to interstellar visitation. Alien influence in the construction of the Sphinx also does not take into account one important fact about the statue. After surviving thousands of years, through earthquakes, floods, world wars, the rise and fall of empires, and all of the vagaries of human existence, the statue is rapidly crumbling into dust.

1. Can the Sphinx survive the 21st century?

Modern man is destroying the Sphinx. The greatest single culprit is the air pollution emanating from the city of Cairo, as well as high winds and humidity, both of which are increasing and for both of which climate change is a contributing factor. Since 1950 – almost three-quarters of a century – organized efforts to save the statue have been underway. They are failing. Concrete used to reinforce the statue was found to be incompatible with the original stone, and did more damage than good. Chemical injections to help the stone resist the effects of modern pollution failed to do so. Additional limestone blocks were added to reinforce the stone, but they were unable to prevent further erosion of the original structure.

By the 1980s portions of the left shoulder were crumbling, falling to the ground in pieces, and attempts to reattach them, or replace them with modern substitutes, also failed. The structure is crumbling so badly, and its decay accelerating so quickly, that further exploration of the Sphinx has been for the most part set aside in order to concentrate on saving what is left before it is too late. The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities is responsible for protecting and hopefully saving the massive structure, the oldest extant relic of the ancient world, as well as the largest. With them lies the answer to the greatest of all the mysteries of the Sphinx; can a marvel created by ancient man survive the foibles and shortsightedness of their modern successor? As with all of the mysteries of the Sphinx, the answer remains unknown.


Getting Sphinx-y W/You –

WIF Like an Egyptian

Fake History – WIF Myths and Misconceptions

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Historic Myths

and Misconceptions

Even though history is, in theory, a fixed and unchangeable field of study, in practice it evolves all the time. Things and events that we were sure to have happened can be turned on their head by a single archaeological discovery or a reinterpretation based on new facts.

It is after these changes in historical perspective that certain notions, myths, and misconceptions stick around. In other cases, however, it could just be that not so historically accurate movies have created them as such for dramatic effect. Whatever the case may be, we are here to set the records straight for 10 of them…

10. The Viking Name

The Norsemen, more commonly known as the Vikings, were a group of peoples from Northern Europe, particularly the Scandinavian Penninsula, Denmark, and Iceland. They made a name for themselves from the 8th to 11th centuries AD mostly by pillaging, enslaving, but also trading with other European and Middle Eastern peoples.

The most common misconception about the Vikings is in regard to their very name. The term Viking didn’t appear in the English language until the middle of the 19th century. There are several possible origins for the term; the most widely accepted being that it came from vikingr, an Old Norse term meaning to raid or piracy. A similar theory proposes that the term Vikings refers to men rowing in shifts.

What’s more, the Norsemen had different names to the different people they came in contact with. The Germans knew them as the Ascomanni (ashmen), the Irish knew them as Lochlannach (lake people), while the Slavs, Byzantines, and Arabs know them as the Rus. The fact of the matter is that we don’t really know what they called themselves. Nevertheless, the Vikings that ended up living in Ireland began calling themselves Ostmen (east men) at some point.

9. Napoleon Was Short

There’s a common misconception that Napoleon Bonaparte was really short in stature. This myth is so ingrained in today’s collective consciousness that we even have a psychological issue named after it: the Napoleon Complex. This type of inferiority complex manifests itself in some shorter people, particularly men, where they feel the need to overcompensate by exhibiting aggressive and/or domineering social behavior.

As far as the actual Napoleon was concerned, he was 5-foot-2, to be exact. That’s not particularly tall. But the fact of the matter is that he wasn’t shorter than the average Frenchman from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. So, why all the fuss about his height, then? The answer lies in the difference between the measuring systems of France and England at the time. Both nations used inches in their measurements, but the French inch was longer than its British counterpart.

In reality, Napoleon was 5-foot-6 in British inches and 5-foot-2 in French. At some point, a confusion was made, and people started believing that Napoleon was 5-foot-2 in British inches. To make matters worse, Napoleon was often surrounded by taller guards, making him seem smaller by comparison. But the Imperial Guard had height requirements, which account for Napoleon’s by-name of le petit caporal or the little corporal. 

8. Benjamin Franklin Discovered Electricity

Many people around the world are under the misconception that Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity during his famous Kite Experiment. And while Franklin was a renowned scientist of his time with an interest in many areas of study and an inventor of many things, such as bifocal glasses, he did not discover electricity.

In fact, scientists of the 17th century had been experimenting with static electricity. What Benjamin Franklin did, however, was to prove that electricity had both positive and negative elements and that lightning was, in fact, a type of electricity. His initial idea for the experiment was to use a 30-foot rod. But after two years, he decided on the silk kite, instead. Little did he know at the time, however, that a French naturalist by the name Thomas-Francois Dalibard did conduct the experiment as Franklin originally intended — on May 10, 1752, just one month before Franklin. Dalibard concluded that Franklin’s hypothesis was right.

7. Peasants Ignited the French Revolution

Revolutions are almost always idealized as an event in a nation’s history where the lower class people took up arms against a brutish and authoritarian regime. Yet, as history has shown us time and time again, for a revolution to be successful, it oftentimes requires more than just the peasantry. The same thing can also be said about the French Revolution of 1789.

Explaining the actual causes and how the revolution went down is something way beyond the scope of this list. Nevertheless, the common “knowledge” is that impoverished people began the revolution. There were several notable uprisings prior to the revolution, when the people of Paris rebelled against the government. But every time, the middle class prevented things from degenerating further. In 1789, however, things were different. The middle class and lower nobility, themselves — dissatisfied with the high taxes and levels of corruption — joined the commoners. Thus, sealing the fate of the French monarchy.

6. Hernan Cortes and the Aztec Empire

At its height during the early 16th century, the Aztec Empire managed to cover much of what is now central Mexico. It encompassed an area of over 52,000 square miles and a population of around 11 million. Though relatively young, the Mesoamerican nation managed to gather a lot of wealth and expand its reach in a short amount of time. This, however, also attracted a lot of hatred from the people they subjugated, as well as the attention of the Europeans stationed in Cuba.

Hearing reports of strange stone monuments and brightly dressed and golden-covered natives on the mainland, the Spanish Governor of Cuba, Diego Velasquez, organized an expedition comprised of a fleet of 11 ships, 500 soldiers, and 100 sailors. At the head of this expedition was Hernan Cortes. And even though the expedition was later canceled, Cortes sailed to the mainland anyway.

The historical myth surrounding Hernan Cortes is that he, alongside his men, managed to bring the mighty Aztec Empire to its knees all by themselves. Truth be told, they were sporting state-of-the-art weapons such as crossbows, steel swords, guns, pikes, cannons, and full plate armor. They also had horses, something which the natives had never encountered before. All of these weapons made the Spanish hundreds, if not thousands of years ahead technologically, proving their worth time and time again on the battlefield — mainly as morale breakers for the enemy.

Nevertheless, this would not have been enough to bring down an Empire — let alone in a timespan of just three years. It was by employing the help of several subjugated tribes and their armies, as well as smallpox that was introduced several years earlier that managed to do the job — alongside Cortez and his heavily-armed men, of course.

5. Richard the Lionheart was English

Richard I of England, later known as Richard the Lionheart, was born on September 8, 1157 in Oxford. He was the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Second only to Henry VIII, Richard I was among the most famous kings of England. Among his most notable achievements was his involvement during the Third Crusade (1189-1192) alongside Frederick I Barbarossa, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, and Philip II of France.

The campaign was ultimately a failure, with the Crusaders not being able to take the Holy City of Jerusalem. There were, however, several victories along the way, most notably the capture of the city of Messina in Sicily, the capture of the island of Cyprus, the capture of Acre in what is now present-day Israel, and the Battle of Arsuf. Though not able to fulfill its intended objective, the Crusade created a Christian foothold in the Middle Eastern mainland.

Even though he was born in England, Richard the Lionheart became the Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou at age 11 — both in France. Among Richard’s other deeds were two rebellions against his own father, after which he became sole heir of the Kingdom of England, as well as Normandy, Maine, and Aquitaine. He died in 1199, leading a siege at the age of 42, and throughout his life he only set foot in the British Isles twice for a total of six months. He never learned how to speak English and, prior to the crusade, he emptied the Crown’s coffers and sold off many lands and titles in preparation for the campaign.

4. Chivalry

People, by and large, have a fairly idealistic view of history. Many of us like to think that the past was a simpler, nicer, and overall better time. But this is a common misconception so deeply ingrained into our common consciousness that even historians sometimes have trouble distancing themselves from it. Many of us oftentimes forget just how war-ridden the world was or how little access most people had to so many things that we take for granted today.

The purpose of history is, or should be, to examine events and systems in the most objective way possible. To see what worked and what didn’t, and how we can use those things to improve the future. History shouldn’t be about keeping score or grudges, nor should we look at it through a nostalgic lens so as to better fit with our idealistic point of view.

One example of this is chivalry. Popularized by numerous medieval and modern novels, stories, and epic poems, chivalrous knights are often seen as valiant, noble, courteous men, defined by their high-minded consideration, particularly towards women. Yet, the reality is quite different. The origins of the term and concept stem back to the 10th century France. It was introduced by the church as an attempt at regulating the endemic violence in French society. The term comes from chevalier, or knight, which in turn, derives from cheval, or horse.

In reality, these knights were quite violent, with numerous accounts of sacking and pillaging towns, villages, monasteries, as well as regularly committing acts of murder, torture, rape, and so on. In short, chivalry evolved to become somewhat of a code of conduct in warfare and had almost nothing to do with what we now consider chivalrous today.

3. The Infamous Vomitoriums

According to popular culture, a vomitorium was a room in Ancient Rome where Romans would go to purge during feasts so as to continue gorging themselves and make room for more. But while the actual Romans did love their food and drink, the purpose of the vomitorium was a completely different one that had nothing to do with vomiting.

For the actual Romans of old, vomitoriums were the entrances and exits to stadiums, arenas, and theaters. They were dubbed as such by the Roman writer and philosopher Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius in his work entitled Saturnalia. He called them this based on how these exits spewed crowds of people onto the streets.

It was sometime during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the term was reintroduced with its wrong connotations. In his 1923 novel Antic Hay, author Aldous Huxley writes about vomitoriums as literal places for people to vomit.

2. Vincent van Gogh Cut off His Own Ear

Many people around the world have seen Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. He painted it shortly after returning from the hospital in 1889. The official version of the story is that, in a fit of madness, the disturbed Dutch painter severed his left earlobe with a razor blade shortly before Christmas 1888. He then wrapped it in a pieced of newspaper or cloth, walked to a nearby brothel and handed it to a prostitute, who immediately fainted.

He then went back home, went to sleep and almost bled to death before the police found him the next morning in a blood-drenched bed. Being unconscious, he was taken to the hospital. When he woke up, van Gogh asked for his friend, the French artist Paul Gauguin, who refused to see him.

Nevertheless, two German historians have proposed a different version of events. The two argued that, after reviewing numerous witness accounts and letters, the official story had plenty of inconsistencies. Their interpretation points to Paul Gauguin, van Gogh’s friend, who was a keen fencer and, during a heated argument, lopped off his earlobe with a sword. The two made a so-called pact of silence where Gauguin was looking to avoid prosecution while van Gogh wanted to keep his friend, with whom he was infatuated.

A somewhat recent discovery, however, seems to disprove (or at least significantly alter) both the original version and the one proposed by the two German historians. A letter written by Dr. Felix Rey explains in full detail the extent of the wounds. As it turns out, the entire left ear was sliced off, not just the earlobe, as it was previously assumed.

1. Emperor Nero Played the Fiddle as Rome Burned

For an entire week in 64 AD, the citizens of Ancient Rome watched helplessly as their city burned to the ground. As with many similar tragedies, ordinary people who’ve lost everything often look for someone to blame. Old stories say that Nero, himself, set fire to the city, after which he climbed on the city walls and began playing the fiddle and reciting long-lost poems about the destruction of Troy. Truth be told, Emperor Nero was not a particularly good man. Going from cruelty to incest, murder, and the like, Nero is considered by many to be the Biblical Antichrist.

But when it comes to the fire of 64 AD, Nero didn’t sit idly by or play his instrument as the city burned. He was actually at his Palace in Antium when the fire began. When news reached him, Nero rushed back to the city where he personally coordinated the firefighting efforts during the first night. He also opened all public buildings and his own private gardens to act as temporary shelters. In addition, Nero imported grain from all nearby cities and offered it to the citizens at only a fraction of the cost.


Fake History –

WIF Myths and Misconceptions

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 203

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Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 203

…The librarian attempts to explain the inexplicable…

Oconomowoc Public Library

CC and AB thank their Danforth host and take to the back roads into Oconomowoc proper. Hwy 16 bisects the city from east to west, so once you locate that, informational signage will guide you to schools, hospital, or in this case, the library. Their concrete friend, Hwy 67, will take them 3 blocks north to the Oconomowoc Public Library.

Lodged between lakes Labelle and Fowler, the two-story wooden structure is full of books (duh) and one dedicated librarian named Sarah Sauer. Whatever the need, from Dewey D. to F. Scott, she is the go-to gal.

Aramaic

Once given, twice careful, Miss Sauer unfurls the mystery scroll, exposing what she identifies as Aramaic in nature.

“This is a script for exorcising demons. I believe the literal translation would be banishment. There is a reference to Jesus the Christ then the passage, ‘I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations…’.”

Sarah’s delivery surely would cause Doctor Faust to hurtle itself from the shelves of OPL.

“From there, there seems to be a formula as a guide to handle Satan.”

Constance and even the hyperactive Ace are transfixed.

“The medium is lambskin vellum and I would estimate that it is only a few days old, the ink is barely dry.” Sarah was educated at the University of Haifa and is amazed at what she is reading. “Where did you get this? This is ancient text on brand new material. I don’t know why I’m sorry, but I’m sorry, this type of manuscript hasn’t been produced for 800 years.”

She is kilig, in explaining the inexplicable…

“Papyrus replaced this type of parchment around 500 A.D. Chopping down a water plant is easier than killing a lamb. Eventually, mass papermaking started in China and spread from there.”

But the fact remains…

“This parchment is so pristine, so refined, that it is almost beyond human means to produce it.”

The librarian is exhausted by the sheer depth of this experience.


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 171

Conquering a New World – WIF Into History

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Why the Conquistadors

Were in

the New World

When Christopher Columbus arrived at Hispaniola (the island now split down the middle between Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he could hardly believe his eyes. With its extraordinary lushness and biodiversity, mighty rivers flowing with gold, and abundance of honey and spices, it was the embodiment of Heaven on Earth, Paradise, the Garden of Eden especially compared to back home.

Even the human inhabitants went about in the nude, with only leaves to cover their genitals. They were also unusually innocent, being entirely without greed. Appearing to lack any concept of property, they shared freely with their alien arrivals?and were overjoyed to receive old broken pottery fragments in return.

Columbus was astounded. If this wasn’t the biblical Garden, he wrote to the King and Queen of Spain, then it must be somewhere nearby. This wasn’t hyperbole either; he was absolutely certain of his claim: Some 5,000 years after God kicked us out, Man had found his way back to Eden.

His plan? To ruin it.

True to form, Columbus immediately set about plundering Hispaniola for its wealth. He built mines, military forts, cities, and farms no doubt devastating forests in the process. Worse, he enslaved the friendly natives to do it for him, threatening to send many back to Europe in chains.

Although he was eventually arrested by the Spanish for his appalling governance of the island, Columbus was far too powerful to lock up. In any case, it did nothing to change human nature. His treatment of the Tano people proved a horrifying portent of the conquest yet to come. Before long, thousands of Europeans followed him across the Atlantic, every one of them hungry for adventure, wealth, and prestige whatever the human cost.

What’s interesting is that while the conquistadors called this strange new continent the New World, they saw everything in terms of the old filtering their understanding and perceptions through Bible stories, classical myths, and outmoded maps and ideas.

Before he stuck a flag in the Garden of Eden, for example, Columbus thought that Cuba was Japan. He even made his crew take an oath on pain of a hundred lashes and having the tongue slit never to contradict his assertion, so insistent was he on imposing the old world on the new.

Likewise, when he came across Antillean manatees, he saw not an exciting new species to classify but a shoal of legendary mermaids (although he did concede they weren’t half as beautiful as in pictures).

Ferdinand Magellan also appealed to mythology when he called the Tehuelche (A’nikenk) of Patagonia giants. Sure, they may have been taller than average, but his encounter reads like a fairy tale: Seeing the first of them singing and dancing on the shore, he and his crew went up to greet them with gifts, cleverly tricking two of the giants into handcuffs and charting a course back to Europe?only for the specimens to die in terror en route.

According to Antonio Pigafetta, a scholar along for the ride, the giants had deep, booming voices and a fear of their own reflection; and they were so tall that even the tallest among the crew only came up to their waists. These giants were later depicted on maps of the New World, alongside mermaids, sea monsters, dragons, and UFOs even though Sir Francis Drake made it clear that they didn’t exist. Having gone looking for the giants himself, Drake concluded they must be a myth and suggested the Spaniards, who probably did not think that ever any English man would come hither to Patagonia to reprove them, had simply made the whole thing up.

But virtually all the conquistadors?Spanish or not were guilty of fanciful projections, imposing time-worn ideas on every square inch of new land, scrutinizing the wide open Western hemisphere through the old narrow lens of the past. Hence they didn’t see the natives as people, they saw them as savages and monsters; and they didn’t see the Aztecs as civilized but as a blasphemous affront to their God.

Basically, the conquistadors were in a world of their own and an often absurd one at that. For hundreds of years they interacted not so much with reality as with a mythological nowhere realm in which nothing was too extraordinary to believe.

El Dorado

In particular, the idea of rivers flowing with gold and other precious metals and gems became a tantalizing trope for the conquistadors?culminating most famously in their obsession with El Dorado.

Spanish for the golden or gilded one, El Dorado originally referred to a man, a fantastically wealthy ruler covered from head to toe in pure gold. The myth most likely originated with the Muisca tradition of crowning a new leader by covering his body in gold dust and rowing him to the middle of a sacred lake surrounded by fires and priests. For the Muisca, the alluringly shimmering metal was a symbol of spiritual power and their connection to the divine. But the conquistadors weren’t interested in ethnology; they were dazzled by the prospect of gold. Hence the legend of the gilded one quickly turned into a city, and the city became an obsession, inspiring boatloads of Europeans to find it.

Among the first to go looking, in 1529 and then again in 1531, was Ambrosius Ehinger, the ambitious German governor of Venezuela. He was aided in his search by hundreds of men including captured Indians and trailed by pigs and dogs. Together, they crossed marshes, rivers, and mountains deep into unknown territory. But in the end, having no qualms about killing or torturing the natives that he came across, Ehinger was slaughtered in return.

Later, in 1541, Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco de Orellana mounted their own quest from Quito, enslaving natives along the way to help them carry their gear?only to meet with disaster in the end. The same happened to Pedro de Ursa, who was mutinied by his men in 1561.

Even Sir Walter Raleigh was taken in by the myth and twice went in search of the city. Scouring the highlands of Guiana, he ended up battling with the Spanish and losing his son in the process. When he finally returned to England in disgrace, by now an old man, he was beheaded by King James I.

Expeditions for El Dorado were hopelessly open-ended, called off only when they ran out of food (or men) to keep going. After all, they were chasing a mirage across a vast, uncharted continent so there was really no other end in sight. Of course, it didn’t help that any natives they interrogated barely understood what they were looking for, let alone where on Earth it might be, and usually just pointed to the next tribe with a shrug.

Ironically the conquistadors did actually find El Dorado, in one of the first places they looked. In 1536, Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada conquered the Colombian Cundinamarca plateau, home of the Muisca, and drained their sacred lake. Naturally he found plenty of gold religious offerings from generations of priests and new leaders, but not nearly as much as he wanted. So the conquistadors took their search elsewhere, far from the origin of the myth, and continued to pursue El Dorado until at least 1800, when Alexander von Humboldt finally declared it a sham.

The Seven Cities of Gold

But El Dorado wasn’t the only golden city; there were said to be seven more.

Shipwrecked on an expedition to Florida in the late-1530s, two men (of only four survivors) found themselves wandering the wastes of New Mexico. One was the Franciscan friar and missionary Marcos de Niza and the other a North African slave by the name of Estevanico. Having already been captured by natives and escaped (perhaps explaining the distance they covered), they were keen to avoid any further contact until they reached the nearest safe haven.

But something caught their eye.

Situated on the brow of a roundish hill, de Niza claimed, once he’d made it back to Mexico, was a very beautiful city, the best that I have seen in these parts.? In fact, it looked to be made out of gold. But when Estevanico got too close, he was killed by the native inhabitants and de Niza was forced to run.

It was an irresistible tale. For some, it meant only one thing: The long lost Cities of Gold had been found. Unlike El Dorado, however, these were from the folklore of Spain. When King Roderic lost Hispania to the Muslims in 711-712 AD, he is said to have sent seven of his bishops to found a new one. Sailing across the Atlantic to Antillia one of a number of early phantom islands that was probably the American mainland they each built a city to govern. And then they burned their ships and navigational equipment to ensure they could never go home.

Needless to say, if the legend was true and any of these cities remained, the gold would belong to the Spanish. In 1541, the conquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coronado boldly retraced de Niza’s steps back to the site of the city, accompanied by hundreds of other men and backed by some hefty investments.

Unfortunately, it was only a pueblo, an adobe Zuni settlement that, to a distant observer at sunset, might look a little like it had a kind of glow. It definitely wasn’t made out of gold, though. Plus it had only five neighboring settlements?one short of the fabled seven in total.

The expedition had failed and its financial investors were ruined. It did, however, open up a route to the north, since de Coronado and his men pressed on all the way to Kansas before finally giving up on the search.

The Fountain of Youth

De Niza could hardly be blamed. He was primed to see fantastical things. After all, the shipwrecked expedition that stranded him in the desert in the first place had been in search of the Fountain of Youth a wild and ultimately ruinous goose chase led by Pnfilo de Narvez. Evidently, they’d all been taken in by a rumor about Juan Ponce de Len, who never really looked for the Fountain. Instead, the myth is thought to have been spread as a smear against Ponce de Len’s manhood his quest for eternal youth being a search for an impotence cure.

The Fountain was also mentioned by Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, a contemporary Spanish historian who seems to have believed it was real. In his Decades of the New World, he even gave rough directions:

Beyond Veragua the coast bends in a northerly direction, to a point opposite the Pillars of Hercules  Amongst these countries is an island  celebrated for a spring whose waters restore youth to old men.

This placed it somewhere in the Bay of Honduras, on the island of Boinca or Aganeo. Meanwhile, the Ponce de Len smear pointed more toward his own land of Florida. In truth, though, anyone looking for it, wherever they were, was always on the verge of its discovery. Because whenever the natives were asked for the whereabouts of this miraculous restorative spring, they would have just pointed to water.

The Amazons

Place names were another way for the conquistadors to impose their own version of reality onto the New World. Venezuela (Little Venice), for example, got its name because the stilt houses on Lake Maracaibo reminded Amerigo Vespucci of Venice (Venezia). And it was grouped with other proto-countries (like Colombia, from Columbus) under the Viceroyalty of New Granada, after the city in southern Spain. Indeed, all conquered territories in the New World were collectively branded New Spain.

The Amazon, meanwhile was named for the legendary Amazons, the ancient female warriors from Themiscyra in modern-day Turkey.

Why? Because the conquistadors imagined they lived there.

In 1542, having blustered through the rainforest for almost a year looking for El Dorado, Pizarro and de Orellana’s expedition was in shambles. They’d eaten all their pigs and many of their horses and dogs, and were now facing sickness, starvation, and death. They couldn’t ask the natives for help (on account of all the torture they’d put them through), but they could probably steal something to eat. Desperate not to die in the jungle, Pizarro sent de Orellana and 50 of his men along a wide open river they’d discovered, urging them to come back with food.

But they never did. Evidently the men were a little disgruntled with Pizarro and refused to return upriver to save him, especially from a fate that he probably deserved. (It?s unclear whether de Orellana was in agreement, but he made them all sign a declaration to say that he wasn’t and continued downriver regardless.)

On their meandering way to the sea, they continued to seek El Dorado and the natives kept shrugging their shoulders or more often bracing for attack, having had just about enough of the Spaniards and their conquest. In fact, as they pressed on, de Orellana and his men were shocked to find even women firing arrows from the river bank.

Surely these were no ordinary women, they thought; these women could fight! They were also nude, fair-skinned, and exceptionally skilled with a bow and arrow. They were nothing like the women they knew.

So they had to be the legendary Amazons.

De Orellana assumed their capital must be a few days inland and the riverside villages they passed were outlying vassal states. Of course, when he tortured natives for intel, they only confirmed his suspicions?saying just about anything to make him go away.

In any case, de Orellana and his men were in no mood to go trekking through the jungle in search of this mighty queendom, particularly if it meant certain death. So they sailed on to the Atlantic, returned to New Spain, and got royal backing to settle the region by force. Obviously they never found Amazonia, but they gave it the name all the same. Otherwise, it might have been called New Andalusia, after the region in southern Spain.

The Devil and Prester John

The conquistadors were obviously nuts; that much can be said for sure. But they were really just children at heart vicious, out-of-control, lunatic children, but children nevertheless.

Interestingly, many of their fruitless pursuits?be it for mythical warriors, immortality, untold wealth, or even Paradise itself can be traced to just one earlier myth: the legend of Prester John?s kingdom.

Sometime in the 1160s, long before anyone heard of the ?New World,? a mysterious letter arrived at the court of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus. Purporting to be from one Prester John, a descendant of the Three Magi, it described a vast and otherworldly empire with 72 tributary kingdoms and a strange assortment of inhabitants, including vampires and dog-headed men. It also had a Fountain of Youth, which Prester John claimed could revert anyone to the age of 32, no matter how old they were at the time. He himself had supposedly lived for more than half a millennia by drinking from its waters. There was also a tremendous river, filled with gold and precious gems, that flowed directly from the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, this being a Christian empire, it was entirely free of sin and its people had plenty to eat.

Pope Alexander III, seeing in Prester John a formidable ally for the Crusades, dispatched an envoy to seek out this land. At first, it was thought to be in India, then in Central Asia or possibly Africa. For a while, everyone assumed it was Abyssinia (Ethiopia), which was already a Christian country. Europeans even started addressing the Abyssinian ruler by the name of Prester John, despite his attempts to correct them. They also altered maps of the African kingdom to depict various elements from the letter, including Mount Amara, where Prester John?s sons were allegedly held in captivity.

The real location of his kingdom (if it had one) was never found, but there?s every reason to suspect the New World revived these old hopes.

Obviously, the natives weren’t Christians but neither were they thought to be evil?not entirely. Although Hernan Cort’s described one indigenous leader as a Satanic monster: huge, fat, with hands drenched in blood and blackened with smoke, and a striped black-red face with red mouth and teeth, spilling blood,? this wasn’t the general consensus. The Spanish preferred to see the natives as playthings of the Devil as opposed to the Devil himself, or in other words as souls crying out for salvation.

The existence of the Devil in the New World justified its conquest by the Spanish. So it came to be seen as the Devil’s playground, a New World in mockery of the old. It was the world turned upside down,world inverted by the Devil.

Hence the Aztecs were the inverse of the Israelites, as Satans chosen people against Gods. It wasn’t a New World so much as a black mirror for the old one, a bizarro realm where nothing was new, just darkly topsy-turvy.

This doesn’t excuse their behaviour, of course, but it explains the conquistador mindset.


Conquering a New World –

WIF Into History