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Entries in #history (3)


CSI: Ancient Rome

They found some ancient bodies, most likely casualties of the Justinian plague, and extracted DNA from a tooth that was actually analyzable. Turns out it wasn't quite the same as the medieval Black Death. So cool. Because I am that person who, on my honeymoon in Rome, bought (and read) a book about Justin and the plague that thwarted him. 


"Explosion-Covered People"

Check out this article (and portraits!) from NPR's Picture Show blog, "Voices of the 'Explosion-Covered People.'" It's well worth the five minutes, if only to learn about the elderly woman who has been providing comfort-water to A-bomb victims for decades now. This type of documentation is even more critical given that many of these people didn't feel comfortable talking about their experiences until very recently, towards the ends of their lives.

Tangentially (and I will write about this in more detail soon), the phrases "explosion-covered people" and "comfort-water" enchant me. I don't speak Japanese--never studied it at all beyond the survival basics necessary for a trip to Tokyo once over New Year's--and maybe that's why. I'm convinced that true fluency is indicated only when you are able to appreciate poetry, as poetry depends on deviation from what its readers and listeners expect from a language. If you haven't internalized the expectations, you won't understand what falls outside of them. The bittersweet side of this is that until you're at that point (or at least, it works this way for me), just about everything rings poetic and leads you to consider the what/how/why and the strange beauty of what is being expressed. Once you're able to fully appreciate poetry, that pan-poetic awareness has been lost, necessarily.

And then head on over to Wikipedia, where the sidebar will tell you that today is St. Osgyth's day (as observered by Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox types). Muse on how you've never seen this name before (despite a full year of studying Anglo-Saxon) and check out her life story, circa 700 AD. Take a moment to wonder about what life was like at that point in British history--post-Romans, right? Pre-Normans, for sure; you know that much. Ponder what else might have been going on. Finally, read about her demise: killed by Viking marauders. How very appropriate of her! 

If you do all of this, you have experienced for yourself my lazy Sunday morning browsing.


A Time Before Jet Lag

I've been dipping into this massive tome by Norman Davies, Europe: A History, that a family friend gave us before we left California. This passage jumped out at me this morning:

Imagining the Middle Ages is, indeed, the problem. Historians have to stress not just what the medieval scene contained but also what it lacked. In its physical surroundings, it lacked many of the sights, sounds, and smells that have since become commonplace. There were no factory chimneys, no background traffic noise, no artificial pollutants or deodorants. Tiny isolated settlements existed in an overpowering wilderness of forest and heath, in a stillness where a church bell or the lowing of a cow could carry for miles, amidst a collection of natural but pungent whiffs from the midden and the wood fire. People's' perceptino of those surroundings lacked any strong sense of discrimination between what later times would call the natural and the supernatural, between fact and fuction, between the present and the past. Men and women had few means of verifying the messages of their senses, so all sorts of sensations were given similar credence. Angels, devils, and sprites were as real as one's neighbours. The heroes of yesterday, or of the Bible, were just as present (or as distant) as the kings and queens of one's own country. (432)

When I try to envision this particular neighborhood of the past, it's that isolation that I find most fascinating. It's true that sometimes we tend to overdo it in our conception of those times--genetic analysis, along with archeaology, makes it very clear that people have been moving and mixing for time immemorial--but for an ordinary person, especially if that person was female, life might easily be lived in an area no bigger than a day's travel. Beyond that would all be rumors, fireside stories, and hearsay.

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