Saturday, May 21, 2022

Playing the Lute

A Lady And A Gentleman Playing Lutes by Louis de Caullery

Elegant Lady Playing the Lute at a Window by Philip van Dyck

The Lute Player by Sir Peter Lely

As a teenage queen, Henrietta Maria learned to play the lute. From Toni Mount at History...the Interesting Bits:

I learned the correct terminology: they’re not called ‘strings’, they’re ‘courses’ and come in pairs except for the single course at the bottom, known as the ‘chanterelle’, yes, just like the mushroom. Basic lutes have 6 or sometimes 8 courses but some can have quite a few more, may be up to 12. For Seb, I thought 6 was enough. The main body of the lute, the sound-box, is known as the ‘bowl’ and it should rest on your right thigh. The bowl has a central cut-out design, the ‘rose’, to let the sound out and this can be ornate and beautiful. The thin part is the ‘neck’ with frets for fingering, ending in the ‘peg-box’ with pegs to tune the courses. (Read more.)


The Commoditization of Man

 From Crisis:

When one becomes a commodity, one becomes a means to an end, a container of goods that are to be extracted by hook or by crook. Ever since the fall, man has been drawn to things like greed, corruption, and empire building in various attempts at making life more comfortable. In the past, people who fit this mold might have consisted of the slick salesman, or the corrupt government official, or the mobster, or the local warlord. While all of these still exist in one way or another, technology has brought our ability to devalue others to a whole other level, making us numbers rather than people to some.  

Much can be said today about the effects of big data on our lives. Any material thing can be bought and sold given the right buyer and seller. While in the past this might have consisted of an ad in a newspaper or in a window, now big tech companies count and track clicks, and at times use AIs like Alexa to listen in on our conversations, giving us targeted adds in an attempt to sway us in one way or another. (Read more.)


The Painted People

 From Historic Mysteries:

The Roman Imperial period saw one of the most aggressively expansionist policies ever adopted on a large scale. The Romans launched themselves into an all-or-nothing attempt to conquer the entirely of western Europe, leaving the stamp of Roman architecture and Roman culture on lands as far apart as Turkey and Scotland.During their centuries of growth the Romans encountered many other cultures whom they dismissively referred to as “barbarians” (as in “blah blah, we don’t understand what they are saying”). Many of these were exotic, but almost all of those weaker than the mighty armies of Rome were ultimately conquered, subsumed and absorbed into the empire.

However, this is not to say that the Romans did not encounter “problematic” barbarians who did not relish the opportunity to become Roman. Britain, protected by treacherous seas and full of hairy natives, was a particular problem.

Although Britain did eventually fall to the Romans, in the far north was Scotland, full of an enigmatic and even hairier people. And here the Romans finally met their match. Despairing of ever dealing with these strange peoples, the Romans were forced instead to build a huge wall across northern England to keep them out. (Read more.)


Friday, May 20, 2022

The Northman (2022)

 I have no idea how anyone could see The Northman as a white supremacist film, but it seems some people do. If anything, it makes white people, especially Vikings, look really bad. Yet it is probably one of the most accurate depictions of pagan Norsemen ever filmed. The violence and superstition of life at that time and place are set in the magnificence of Iceland. It is well-acted but painful to watch, at least for me. From Vox:

In the 12th century or thereabouts, a fellow we know today as Saxo Grammaticus sat down to write a history of Denmark, a chronicle of its mythology, history, and conquests. I doubt he knew that his work would inspire generations of adaptations. But, as fate would have it, two of his 16 books told a rollicking tale of Amleth, grandson of a king. Amleth’s father was murdered by his brother, Amleth’s uncle, who then married Amleth’s mother. Amleth feigned madness to escape his uncle’s sword, but eventually, he took his revenge.

Historians believe Saxo Grammaticus’s account of Amleth was itself an adaptation, based on older Icelandic poems. But it would be far from the final retelling of the tale. Most famously, a few centuries later, an English playwright used Amleth’s tale as the inspiration for the story of a Danish prince who avenged his own father’s death at the hand of his uncle-cum-stepfather. He titled it The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

And now — in a time when medieval legends seem to be increasingly sparking filmmakers’ imaginations — The Northman, a bone-crunching Viking epic from detail-obsessed director Robert Eggers, is based on Amleth’s legend as well. (To put it another way: if you feel while watching The Northman like you’re watching a Shakespeare adaptation, you are wrong, but only kind of.)  (Read more.)


From Den of Geek:

When we spoke to Eggers about the film, he noted the story of Amleth was a larger inspiration for him to chase his own Berserker ghosts. The filmmaker wanted to use that basic framework of familiarity to keep the audience keyed in to what is happening, even when weird things like Bjork as a supernatural Seer appears, compelling Amleth to stop his raiding ways and seek a righteous revenge instead.

Even so, there are more than a few elements of The Northman lifted directly from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (and not Amleth), only now with a modern subtext.

For instance, in Hamlet, the Danish prince discovers a gravedigger excavating a burial site, only to find the skull of his father’s court jester. The Danish prince becomes melancholic recalling poor Yorick and the merry memories of kissing his lips and laughing at his japes. Well, that court jester is a major character in The Northman, played here by Willem Dafoe. As Heimir the Fool, Dafoe portrays perhaps the one person Hawke’s King Aurvandil shows genuine affection toward. He is allowed to tease what he sees to be the wandering eye of Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), and he is shown indoctrinating young Amleth into the Viking customs and superstitions of his father.

When Amleth infiltrates Iceland some decades later, feigning to be a Slavic slave, a He-Witch (Ingvar Sigurdsson) manifests to reveal the decapitated remains of Dafoe’s fool. Apparently after Claes Bang’s Uncle Fjölnir assumed the throne he stole, one of his first acts was to torture and behead Heimir. “Alas,” says the He-Witch to Amleth. Yet after the new king’s torturers removed the fool’s tongue and eyes, and later his head, a pagan witch retrieved the remains, restoring the skull to ghastly shape. And now it’s been brought to Iceland in order for Amleth to commune with the dead… much as Hamlet wished to do with poor, poor Yorick. (Read more.)


From The Wrap:

 Kidman rarely gets the credit she deserves for going out on a limb and seeking opportunities to work with envelope-pushing directors. Like Catherine Deneuve, Kidman embraces eccentric characterizations guided by filmmakers working outside the mainstream, and she often reaps the benefits with indelible supporting roles like this one that enhance her reputation as an unpredictable and engrossing performer, a movie star who’s always a character actress at heart.

“The Northman” is the best kind of multi-quadrant movie. Without abandoning his arthouse credentials, Eggers has made a rousingly rough, extreme action saga that has the potential of attracting the kind of viewers who might have found his previous work impenetrable. It’s a vision of futility and fury, of a clash between nature and humanity where violence is both the means and the consequence, and an ancient revenge fantasy that speaks with terrible truth to this moment and to the historical lessons we never seem to learn. (Read more.)


Why European Children Are Less Noisy Than American Children

 From Intellectual Takeout:

European parents’ discipline about not shouting at their kids was all the more impressive since they also almost never followed their children from apparatus to apparatus, as is the habit of most of us hovering American parents. These parents sat at the edges of the sprawling playground, reading books, drinking coffee, and letting their tots explore on their own. When they had to talk to their kids, they got up and walked close enough that they could use a normal voice.

I was baffled at first, and I’d snicker with my fellow expats about the harsh disciplinary measures and lack of spirit that must explain the bizarre quiet. Yet now, nearly eight years later, I’ve come to see a logic behind our different cultures, and understand why Americans’ reputation for being loud and boorish and the continental Europeans’ reputation for being cold and standoffish exist, but are ultimately incomplete.

A root cause, it seems to me, is the very different roles that public spaces play in our lives and communities. Americans are less likely to live in apartments and generally have bigger homes and yards than Europeans do. That means American children typically play in backyards and parents enjoy quiet and a bit of nature on their own properties. So when Americans seek out a playground, we are looking for company. Our children go to find other kids, and we parents are often also looking for conversation, rather than just an opportunity to sit peacefully under a tree. For city dwelling Europeans, the parks and playgrounds are their backyards. They go there to let their kids run around, but also to enjoy a natural setting themselves.

The differences in the use of public spaces explain behaviors outside of the playground too. Americans find it jarring when they are sitting at a European café or restaurant and someone takes the empty seat at their table. If someone is sharing our space, we assume we have to interact. Europeans presume that they and others will enjoy privacy even in close quarters. Just as American parents teach their children to look people in the eye and politely greet them, European children are taught how to interact quietly to avoid bothering people around them.

We learn these skills from a young age. My daughter’s 5th grade class (at a public school in Berlin, Germany) practices what they call their “one meter” voices: students are expected to sit with a partner and engage in quiet conversation. They are supposed to be able to hear each other, but not be heard more than one meter away. This allows other conversations to take place around them, creating an expectation of privacy and personal space in a crowded room.

Americans often hear about how much more sophisticated Europe is: women nurse their babies openly, and people change their clothes in public parks or by swimming pools because they don’t have our hang-ups about nudity. It may be that Europeans are just more comfortable with nudity, but this different relationship with public spaces also comes into play. In Europe, I may be in a public setting but the space around me is mine. I know that my neighbors at the playground, café, beach, or bus stop are going to do their best to ignore me entirely and give me whatever privacy I may want or need.

At first, I mistook these customs—the failure to make eye contact or smile while passing on the street, the utter lack of chit-chat that’s the background buzz of American waiting rooms and checkout lines—as evidence of a core coldness. Yet I’ve come to see it not as a lack of friendliness or compassion, but an outgrowth of the Europeans’ respect for privacy in the public sphere. (Read more.)


Finding a Lost Chinese-Norse Civilization in Canada

 From Ancient Origins:

The considerable skepticism about the Chinese voyages seemed to be primarily because the idea of massive Chinese ships, as suggested by Menzies and Hudson was thoroughly doubted. Unfortunately, one could not appeal to China because that country has retained no information as to the design of such massive ships - no models, no sketches, no descriptions. Curious genetic and ancestral stories of the Beothuck People led to an informal survey that revealed mtDNA of Celtic, Norse, and other Scandinavian/Baltic origin, leading to speculation that all of the people were descendants of the Norse from the time of the Viking Sagas. However, that speculation was disabused by research reports to the effect that (a) Newfoundland Island had had several waves of occupation, and (b) there is a genetic discontinuity between the maternal lineages of the various occupation groups. Moreover, historical reports indicate that whoever was on the island were substantially, or completely, killed off by some blight or combination thereof (plague, typhus, smallpox) between 1402 and 1404, which meant that as of that later date the island was effectively empty. If that were true, then it meant that the Norse ancestors of the contemporary Beothuck must have colonized at least part of the island sometime after 1404 AD. That led to a consideration of the story of the disappearance of the people of Greenland in the early 15th Century. There is no record of the people of Greenland going east, as some experts have speculated. According to Catholic Church records, there had been as many as 5000 people in Greenland circa 1409. That's a lot of people to account for. (Read more.)


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Three Ways Cleopatra Contributed to Science and Medicine

 From Discover:

If the Romans had their way, we would remember Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt as a depraved and power-hungry woman. Her lavish tastes and promiscuous lures corrupted the highest rungs of Roman leadership. Cleopatra first paired off with Roman Dictator Gaius Julius Caesar, who helped her return from exile and ascend to the throne. After Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C., Marcus Antonius (a.k.a. Marc Antony) became one of three Roman Republic rulers, and Cleopatra’s next ally and love interest.

The Romans weren’t ready for a powerful woman, and biographers and historians smeared her legacy. They failed to note that Cleopatra was a serious scholar. She spoke at least seven languages and was interested in science and medicine. She researched, conducted experiments (albeit cruel and unethical ones) and wrote about her findings. In her time, she was an expert in gynecology, pharmacology and aesthetics.

Cleopatra supported advancements in science and medicine. She also contributed to The Great Library of Alexandria, which was eventually destroyed after Cleopatra’s death during the Roman occupation. Arabic-language texts note her legacy as a scientist and a scholar. Here are three documented examples of Cleopatra’s scientific prowess. (Read more.)


There's Always More Research to Be Done

 From Crime Reads:

Every writer I know has a finely honed system for avoiding writing. Some develop a sudden need to deep-clean their houses when they’re on deadline. Others (fantasy writers, in particular) convince themselves that they can’t write the story until they’ve fully developed the monetary system and international trade patterns of the world they’ve imagined.

For most writers of historical fiction? It’s research.

I’m guilty. Oh, am I guilty. For anyone working in the Gilded Age, research is a marvelously effective means of procrastination. There’s just so much fascinating historical minutia available from the period. Photographs, letters, dinner menus, personal diaries, and even telephone directories are all there for the perusing. I sit down to write, then convince myself that I desperately need to locate and study an antique transit map or check the newspaper headlines for a particular week. Before I know it, hours have gone by and I haven’t written a word.

But even though it lowers my wordcount, I can’t say I regret the time I’ve spent immersed in the history of Gilded Age New York City. After all, I wouldn’t write in the period if I didn’t love it. And it may make me a slower writer, but I also believe it’s made me a better one. I’m proud of the level of historically accurate detail I include in my novels (hopefully without detracting from the story). And the research I do frequently gives me new plot ideas. (Read more.)