Monthly Archives: September 2015

Imagine Shakespeare without stage direction

Ancient Greek Tragedy in the 5th century BCE for the stage consisted of the chorus of probably around 12 members  and the actor(s). Early drama probably only had one actor and Aeschylus added a second actor. Sophocles is credited with adding a third actor. No other actors were ever added and all the actors were men, even for the roles of women. Only two or three characters were present on stage at any one time with actors leaving the stage and returning as a different character wearing a different mask. Our manuscripts of these plays have NO STAGE DIRECTIONS AT ALL. They do not even tell us who is speaking which parts. All our current knowledge is based on scholars who have managed to deduce which characters would be on stage at any particular time to speak each written dialogue for a particular play.

(The Great Courses – Greek Tragedy)

Broken Glass

At a Jewish wedding when the toast is made and the glass is thrown down and broken it symbolizes the remembering of the destruction of Jerusalem and is not meant to a happy moment.

(The Great Courses – Judaism)

It’s all about money

Hadrian’s Wall in Britain wasn’t really to keep out the barbarians from north of the wall. The previous emperor Trajan had fought some wars that showed that the empire had overreached what it could hold so Hadrian decided to pull back to more manageable borders that weren’t so expensive to keep with massive standing armies. In Britain this wall was more of an effort to control the movement across the area and possibly to tax goods across the land.

(Book – Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome – Anthony Everitt)

Reading the Torah takes EXACTLY one year in a Synagogue

Early Judaism revolved around sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Donations from Judea and from from Jews abroad were used to purchase sacrifices at the Temple according to scripture. While there were some synagogues they were mostly used for reading the Torah and not used for prayer. When the Emperor Titus destroyed the second Temple in 70 CE Judaism and its followers had a problem since there was no Temple. The Jewish religion underwent a reform at this time. Synagogues were now used for prayer and the emphasis went from sacrifice at a single site to a distribution of religious activity to all areas. This is the beginning of the Rabbinic period and new teachers called Rabbis appeared. There is no mention of Rabbis in the Bible but the Jewish religion had to adapt to conditions. A public prayer group only needs 10 people (at first they had to be men) and they can meet anywhere. No Rabbi must be present and no sermon must be performed.

(The Great Courses – Judaism)

A man of many talents

Early in the career of Leonardo da Vinci he lived in Florence and his patron was Lorenzo the Magnificent who sent on on a diplomatic mission to Milan. Leonardo carried a silver lyre as a gift and we believe that he was to play it at the court there as he was considered one of the the best lyre players in Italy. Shortly after this mission Leonardo wrote a letter in which he requested a job in Milan and in his letter he listed his talents which only mentioned painting in passing and at the end of the letter. Leonardo got the job and moved to Milan for the rest of his life.

(The Great Courses: Leonardo da Vinci and the Italian High Renaissance)

A small group of Galaxies

The galaxies in our universe are typically found in clusters with other galaxies. Our ‘Local Group’ consists of about 50 galaxies and is about 50 million light years across. There are only three spiral galaxies in our group. The Andromeda galaxy at 200,000 light years across is slightly larger than the Milky Way. The third spiral galaxy is called the Triangulum Galaxy and is about half the size of the Milky Way. The other galaxies in our Local Group are small irregulars and dwarf elliptical galaxies.

(The Great Courses – A Visual Guide to the Universe)


Jaspar Maskelyne was a British magician and a showman. He was also an inventor who invented the coin operated toilet door. When WWII broke out he offered his services to the military but was relegated to entertaining the troops. Finally a British general realized that there was much more he could do. Maskelyne was allowed to put together a team that went on to trick the Germans. They built fake submarines and Spitfires. They disguised tanks and trucks and successfully ‘hid’ the Suez Canal with a system of revolving mirrors and searchlights. He also helped win the battle of El Alamein by building fake fake tanks and a water pipeline to convince Rommel that an attack was coming from the south instead of the north. When a British double agent named Eddie Chapman (who was a small time crook in Britain before the war and captured by the Germans while in a British prison on an island in the English Channel) in Britain was supposed to blow-up a factory he was employed to create an illusion that the factory was destroyed after an explosion was created. The ruse worked and the double agent was congratulated by the Germans for work ‘well done’. The double agent was then able to continue to feed the Germans with false information supplied by the British Secret Service MI5.

(Book – Agent Zigzag – Ben MacIntyre)