Monthly Archives: June 2014

You can count me OUT!

Many operas such as Mozart’s Idomeneo used to be written for a part played by a male soprano. Since there are no male sopranos performing now (I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out what used to be done to some unfortunate young boys to make them male sopranos), today’s performances use one of two options. One is to cast the part as a male tenor who sings the part one octave lower than how the part was written or they can use a female soprano who play the male part.

(The Great Courses – The Operas of Mozart)

The Greek Dark Ages

Around 2100 BCE the Minoan civilization on Crete was forming. The Mycenaean civilization in mainland Greece was forming around 1500 BCE. It appears that the Mycenaean’s took over the Minoans in the next couple hundred years. But somewhere around 1300 BCE there was a massive disruption of all the palaces in both locations and the Greek Dark Ages occurred. During this period writing was ‘lost’ and not rediscovered or implemented until the end of these dark ages at around 750 BCE. The larger political organizations do not seem to have existed during this period. It also appears that there was a considerable loss of population. It is still not understood what happened to cause this period of disruption in the social/political situation and no specific outside influence or climate change has been discovered.

(The Great Courses – The Origin of Civilization)

The One and Only

In the mid 7th century CE a young girl was brought in the harem of the current Chinese emperor. A year later he died and all the members of the harem are automatically ‘retired’ to a type of nunnery. The new emperor met the young girl and fell in love with her and eventually brought her to his court and eventually made her the favorite wife. When he died one of his nephews took the throne but then in 690 CE Wu Zetian became the one and only female ruler of China. She ruled for 15 yeas before abdicating (peacefully) to one of the nephews she had taken over from. Later chroniclers of Chinese history have described her reign in bad terms but it appears to current historians that they just did not approve of a woman ruler. Her rule seems to have been peaceful and of no great significance good or bad.

(The Great Courses – From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History)

What do traffic jams in Europe and New Jersey have in common?

When President Nixon visited Rome in 1971 he visited Italy’s officials and the Pope. The people of Rome are used to high officials visiting all the time and so there were no large crowds for the visit. Eric Halderman, who was responsible for the press was not happy at the lack of photo-ops so he decided to create one. He had the Presidential motorcade take Mrs. Nixon through the center of Rome which caused a huge traffic jam and a large amount of people gathered. This made for a great photo for the press showing the crowds for Nixon’s visit. While in Belgrade, Halderman took the Presidential limo off the normal route and into downstown Belgrade which also created a traffic jam and allowed Nixon to get out and wave to the now large crowds.

(Book – White House Years – Henry Kissinger)

In the west the Roman empire was at its height

The early Han dynasty ruled China from 202 BCE to 9 CE (common era). There was a short break in this dynasty when it was ruled by Wang Mang. Then the later Han dynasty ruled from 23 CE to 220 CE and this was followed by a 45 year period known as the three kingdoms. The three kingdoms period is known as a romantic and adventurous period by the Chinese. Recreations of stories from this period are still very popular on Chinese television today.

(The Great Courses – From Tao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History)

Is it a typo?

When Gutenberg invented the printing press he had different bins for the capital letters and small letters. He kept the capital in the upper part of his cabinet and the small letters in the lower part, hence the terms upper-case and lower-case letters. When the first printers would print pages they may occasionally run out of a letter and one ‘trick’ was to use another letter in its place. If you ran out of an ‘n’ you could use an upside down ‘u’. There is scholarly debate about whether this happened in Shakespeare’s Othello. One of the last lines is “Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe”.  Some scholars contend this is correct and that he is referring to the newly discovered American Indians. Other scholars contend that it was originally written “Iundian” which would be a Jewish reference and also makes sense to scholars.

(The Great Courses – Turning Points in Medieval History)

Can you imagine sailing on the water in 10,000 BCE?

Small villages and towns appear on Crete, Cyprus and the Aegean islands around 3000 BCE which is around the time of the formation of civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia. However it appears that there was some settling of people on these islands as far back as 10,000 BCE which means that people did have some navigation skills that early in prehistory.

(The Great Courses – The Origin of Civilization)

The ‘other’ event in 1215

In 1215 which is the year the King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta, the Fourth Lateran Council was held. While the Magna Carta is considered to be a huge event today it did not affect the lives of the general population in Europe while the Fourth Lateran Council was a HUGE event during contemporary times. This was this council which vastly transformed the Catholic Church into the Church as it is today. Some of the decrees issued at the council were: Participation in mass on a regular basis was now a requirement. Taking communion and going to confession were required at least once a year. The doctrine of Transubstantiation which declares that the bread and wine of communion become the actual body and blood of Christ is declared. Marriage became a sacrament instead of just an economic arrangement. Priestly celibacy was deemed a good thing at the Second Lateran Council but now it became a requirement to enter the priesthood.

(The Great Courses – Turning Points in medieval History)

What happened that we don’t know about

In 1970 Chile held a Presidential election. The popular current President was Eduardo Frei who was supported by the United States but who could not run for another consecutive term. Salvador Allende was the communist candidate and the main opponent was Jorge Alessandri. There was also a major third party candidate which assured that the winner would not get a majority vote. This meant that the Congress would decide between the top two candidates and it was almost assured that the top vote getting candidate would become the President. The United States has spent money in previous elections to help assure the communists would not win. Everyone in the United States government did not want the communists to win but the State Department also did not want to support Alessandri because it was felt that he was too ‘conservative’. The early polls also showed that Allende would not win and the State Department kept money from flowing to the non-communist candidates. However as the election got closer it appeared that the election was too close to call but by the time Nixon and Kissinger found out (they were busy with the Middle East) it was too late to spend enough money or participate in covert operations to influence the election. The American company ITT also offered to pay $1 million to help keep the communists from power, but that was rejected by Kissinger who only objected to a private US company giving the money, but not to the idea of money to influence the election. While Salvador Allende only got 36.2 % of the vote and Alessandri  came in second which meant that Allende would almost surely be named President. The United States government now proceeded to try and ‘do something’. They looked in a variety of options to prevent Allende from taking over. They tried to persuade the Chilean Congress to vote for Alessandri who would then resign. This change of government would then allow Frie to run for President in a new election since there had been an intervening government. When that looked like it would not work the US let the military know that the US would not be opposed to a military takeover. A kidnapping plot against a military official was considered but finally rejected. In the end Allende did take over as the first Communist government to be elected into office by a democracy. Kissinger defends the actions of the US government to influence the election with monetary and convert operations saying that the Communist takeover in Chile would pose a major security problem for the United States.

(Book – White House Years – Henry Kissinger)

What is IX times LXXIV?

Leonardo Pisano is best know for Fibonacci numbers in math. The sequence is obtained by adding the two previous numbers in the sequence to obtain the next number. The sequence starts 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc… Leonardo and his father went to Bugia in North Africa where Leonardo’s father was sent to be a customs official for the merchants of Pisa. It was there that Leonardo learned the Arabic number system. In 1202 he wrote a book describing the system which uses our modern numbering system instead of the Roman numerals which were still used in Europe.  Multiplication and other mathematical computations were difficult using Roman numerals and merchants and bankers in Europe quickly saw the advantage of the new system and it was quickly adopted.

(The Great Courses – Turning Points in Medieval History)