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Merger

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For those of you who are wondering if this blog has died, I’m here to reassure you it has not.  I love history!  However, I’m gradually migrating this blog to my eponymous blog, Stephanie Huesler; that means that for all intents and purposes, this blog is eventually merging into that one and will be phased out.  Please join the party over yonder!

Bring a good wine; I’ll provide the cheese.

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The Tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin

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pied-piper-of-hamelinMost people in western cultures have heard the tale of the Pied Piper; but was it true, or simply a fable or an urban legend that grew into epic myth proportions, such as Robin Hood’s fame?

The earliest appearance of the story is connected with the stained glass window of the church of Hamelin, Germany, ca. 1300, which means that the events on which it is based happened some time before that – enough of an event to commemorate with a stained glass window.  Though it was destroyed in 1660, it had been described and recorded in numerous accounts.  Town records in 1384 state that it was “100 years since the event”.

There are several theories as to what could have actually happened:  Perhaps the piper represented Death, and the children were carried off by him through a plague; considering the prominence of rats in the story, it’s quite plausible.  It could have also been deaths caused by famine other disease, which might have arisen as a result of fewer adults to sow and harvest crops (if there had previously been a plague and killed off part of the adult population).  Another theory is to do with emigration – either forced (such as slavery or inscription to the military), or voluntary (such as might happen due to a shortage of land, and the eldest son inheriting the family properties).  For more information on this fascinating historical tale, click here.  The German text on the early 20th century postcard is as follows, with translation:

Wandern, ach wandern,  (Wandering, oh wandering,)

weit in die Fern’,  (far, far away,)

Wandern, ach wandern,  (Wandering, oh wandering,)

T(h)u ich so gern. (I do it gladly.)

Rastlos durcheilen T(h)äler und Höh’n,   (Restless rushing through valleys and heights,)

Welt, ach so weit,   (World, oh so wide,)

wie bist Du so schön.  (How beautiful you are.)

Mir ward keine Liebe,   (For me was no love,)

kein heimat(h)lich Land,   (No home land,)

Stets weiter nur eilen,   (Always only rushing farther,)

von Niemand gekannt.   (Known by no one.)

Sie Sorgen und Grillen,   (Their cares and moods)

die kannte ich nie,   (I did not know,)

Sang und Spiel scheuchten,    (Songs and games avoided,)

spät sie und früh.  (both early and late)

Ein fahrender Sänger,    (A travelling singer,)

von Niemand gekannt,    (Known by no one,)

Ein Rattenfänger,  (A rat-catcher,)

Das ist mein Stand. (That is my rank.)

Here be Dragons!

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Recently, my husband and I had a discussion about dragons (as one does).  I had just read Job 41, in which God describes fire-breathing dragons to Job as a rhetorical example of something that Job cannot control, but that God does (vss. 10-11).  Here’s a snippet (vss. 12-34):

“I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs, its strength and its graceful form.  Who can strip off its outer coat?  Who can penetrate its double coat of armour?  Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth?  Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together;  each is so close to the next that no air can pass between.  They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted.  Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn.  Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fire shoot out.  Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.  Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth.  Strength resides in its neck; dismay goes before it.  The folds of its flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable.  Its chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone.  When it rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before its thrashing. The sword that reaches it has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.  Iron it treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood.  Arrows do not make it flee; slingstones are like chaff to it.  A club seems to it but a piece of straw; it laughs at the rattling of the lance.  Its undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.  It makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.  It leaves a glistening wake behind it; one would think the deep had white hair.  Nothing on earth is its equal — a creature without fear.  It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud.”

Some Bible commentators have tried to pass this off as a hippo, or even crocodile; but I have yet to hear of a crocodile that sneezes flames.  As recently as the 17th century, scholars and scientists wrote about dragons as though they were scientific fact, yet modern science seems to steer clear of them as much as they might dismiss stories about big foot and the Loch Ness Monster.  Yet for all that, there is a rich treasure trove of historical evidence for the existence of dragons.

Just seen in the light of historical literary references, it is undeniable that such creatures as we would describe as dragons existed; from Native America, throughout Europe and into China records abound. Some literary sources are as follows:  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (two mentions); the Epic of Gilgamesh (written 2000 BC); the ancient historian Josephus; the third century historian Gaius Solinus; the Greek researcher Herodotus; the historian Gesner; the Italian historian Aldrovandus; the first century Greek historian Strabo; and the list goes on and on.

Historical pictorial references also abound:  Of the 12 animals depicted on the Chinese zodiac, the dragon is the only one that is no longer alive today; it is also the only one that is often considered mythical – but does it seem logical that they would include one non-existent animal, when all the others are real?  Botanists, meticulous recorders of natural history, fauna and wildlife, and men who were renowned historians all make references to and descriptions of dragons.  Like the Cambodian Stegosaurus, what seems out of place to modern man might simply have been a known creature at the time of the creation of the document or the artwork construction, but unknown today.

For an excellent article on the topic, with historical references galore, please click on the image below.

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Furry Therapists

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It’s long been accepted that animals play an integral role in the overall well-being of humans.  One would be tempted to say that the significance of animal-human interaction is a modern discovery, and it may well be in the sense of measurable data, as science can monitor the changes in a heart rate (if you want a really science-y report, click here), though anyone who owns a cat can tell you that stroking a purring cat is calming.  But from the time that man domesticated wild dogs and wolves to become a vital part of their daily lives in hunting, protection and companionship, animals have been prevalent.   However, as hunting and gathering gave way to farming homesteads, which gave way eventually to urban development as the predominant habitation of modern man (particularly in western societies), we began to lose touch with just how important animals are to us.

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1956:  Three little boys reaching into a water bin of baby ducks as one of the hospital’s methods of using therapy with animals. Source:  Time Magazine

Now, hospitals, nursing homes, universities, and even prisons have begun to rediscover the rehabilitating effects of furry therapists.  More recently, a VA hospital in Los Angeles, California has recognised the effects of animals on PTSD sufferers; yet they’ve gone a step farther:  They’ve paired PTSD birds with their human counterparts.

Please click on the links to watch videos of amazing work being done with and for animals; that both species benefit from the interaction is more than evident, and will make you smile!

Leader Dogs trained in Prison

Villa Helios

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For decades this old mansion was decaying under our watchful eyes; our family holiday flat looks out over this building (from the image below, our flat would be behind the dome) on the shores of Lake Lugano, Switzerland.  A few years ago someone began renovating it, and over the years we’ve watched the progress.  I’ve been watching it as a writer, and have developed a novel around it, so its progress is especially interesting to me!

Last week, we were again there on holiday, and saw that at least one of the flats is now occupied; most of the windows are still boarded over, or shuttered with a air of permanence – at least until they are sold and renovation on them can thus be completed.  By that I mean that, until a flat is to be lived in, there’s no point in finishing it; when we bought our own flat in a small town outside of Zürich, the building had been completed and the other flats occupied four years before we came along; for that time, our flat was just a concrete shell, so that we as the new owners could choose the flooring and other fixtures such as tiles and cabinets and stairs; likely the same principle is being applied to the flats in Helios.

To learn something about the history of the building, please click here.

 

Odd Jobs of Bygone Days: Catalogue Assembly

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It’s hard to imagine an assembly line of human page pushers in this automated age, when books are printed on demand and most cumbersome mail-order catalogues have gone the way of the dinosaur in lieu of online shopping; but in 1942, here’s proof that Sears, Roebuck & Co. was doing their fair share of employing.  The first catalogue was published in 1888.  To read more about the history of Sears, click here.

Sears Roebuck Catalogue Assembly Line, 1942

The Extraordinary Life of Zitkala-Ša

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What makes this person worthy of notice is not simply the accomplishments of their life as a writer, author, musician, composer, editor, teacher, and successful political activist, as well as having the honours of both being buried in the Arlington National Cemetery and having a Venusian crater named in their honour (Bonnin), but the fact that this person was a Native American woman born in a time when American indigenous peoples were still being trampled down, forced into assimilation, ignored, exploited and abused by the insurgents to their lands – the palefaces – and a time when even white women in general had no say in public life.

Born in 1876 as Zitkala-Ša (Sioux for Red Bird) in South Dakota, before the age of seven her family and tribe were driven by white men from their lands “like a herd of buffalo”; her uncle and younger sister (among many others in the tribe at the time) were sick, and died on the way or on arrival at their new territory1.  Her father died shortly thereafter.  She was taken from her mother at the age of eight to be educated in a Quaker school for three years.  Throughout her life she showed spirit, defying the prevailing trends of the dominant white culture which tried to suppress, supplant or kill off any signs of independent, indigenous cultures (she was also given a white name, Gertrude Simmons-Bonnin – the latter being the name given to her future husband, a Yankton Indian by the name of Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin).  Not all of her education was a misery, however:  She learned to speak publicly, to read, write, and to appreciate a variety of musical styles; in 1891 she returned to white man’s education, studying the piano and violin, and began teaching music; by 1895 she was setting her mark, when she gave a speech about women’s inequality.  She earned her first diploma in that year, and began gathering native American legends and stories, translating them first to Latin, then English.

Zitkala-Ša, Credit - Charcoal by S Campos, Flickr

Credit:  Charcoal by S Campos, Flickr

 

From 1897 to 1899 she played violin with Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music.  Eventually she returned to the reservation where her mother still lived, and the poverty and gradual encroachment of white settlers on Indian allotted lands dismayed her, reminding her of the chasm between who she was, and the world around her.  She joined the Society of American Indians in 1911; it was dedicated to preserving the Native American way of life, while at the same time (ironically) fighting for full American citizenship.  Eventually she saw fruits of her political efforts, through the congressional passing of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934; she continued to work toward civil rights and equality until her death in 1938.

To read more about her fascinating life, click on the following links:

Wikipedia:  Zitkala-Ša

Amazon Kindle: Zitkala-Ša

1 American Indian Stories, by Zitkala-Ša

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