Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Through History with the Monday Quiz in Exile: The 1450s

As we continue to gear up for the gargantuan beast that is Blaugust, we're proud to bring you the latest edition of the Monday Quiz, the brainchild of the Leaflocker's spiritual blogmother, Michael5000. As usual, the quiz is a closed book exam of historical knowledge, focusing this week on the 1450s.

1. The above image depicts the close of a siege that would end a political entity that had existed for almost 1500 years, if you count generously. The year is 1453, which Empire is falling?

2. Also in 1453, the battle of Castillion was the final action in which war, a conflict that had been waged (on and off) since 1337?
3. Built in the 1450's but abandoned less than a century later and not known to the outside world until the 1910's, what is the name of this royal Estate?

4. The 1450's saw the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, conflicts between the rival Lancastrian and Yorkish factions for the English throne. Henry VI, who held the throne at the beginning of the wars, was of which House?
5. The first significant mass-produced movable type book was produced in the 1450's in Mainz, modern day Germany. In which language was the Gutenberg Bible printed?

6. Debre Berhan was founded by Zara Yaqob as a shortlived permanent capital for his Empire that would soon be abandoned by his son in favour of returning to a movable encampment. Debre Berhan was supposedly named after a which 'miraculous' light seen in the sky over Ethiopia in 1456?

7. Ōta Dōkan wrote the following words about which fortress (ruined but still partially extant today) that he designed and built starting in 1457?
The abode of mine
Adjoins a pine grove
Sitting on the blue sea
And from its humble eaves
Commands a view of soaring Fuji.
8. According to Antarctic ice records, at some point in the 1450's there was enormous volcanic activity somewhere on Earth, the second largest volcanic activity in recorded history. Exactly where is a matter of contention, but one of the most likely candidates is Kuwae, which used to connect Epi and Tongoa prior to its collapse. In which modern day Pacific nation is Kuwae situated?

9. 1451 saw the birth of the Portugese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, first European recorded to have achieved which feat of navigation?

10. The below is an extract from 1452's Dum Diversas, seen as one of the most important documents in the history of African slavery. Can you name the author or recipient of the document?
We grant to you full and free power... to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens and pagans,other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods... and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude, and to apply and appropriate ... goods of this kind to you and your use and your successors.
Please leave your answers in the comments below. Thanks for playing and for dropping by, and I hope to see you (and visit your blog) during Blaugust 2017.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

I'm the Head Cook Now

Well, it's already July 2017, so this 'week' is well on track to be the worst 'week' ever in the history of book deals, maybe ever. I am determined to renegotiate terms, though, and since Blaugust is fast approaching it's time to get back on the bandwagon. It feels right to get really stuck in to the weekly readings again after a long absence, and I can feel it doing me good. Except maybe in the case of Euclid.

This 'Week':

Elements by Euclid
Books VI & VII

I don't think it'll be a surprise to anyone that the readings from the elements are without doubt the most time-intensive part of the weekly reading project, and that simple the fear of them is largely responsible for how long a week takes around here. That said, once I actually knuckle down to it, the Elements are never as bad as I make them out to be.

Book six proved to be a pretty elementary study of the proportions of various geometrical shapes, most of which I would naturally have intuited, and none of the proofs were particularly compelling. Book seven was a complete change of tack and dived straight into number theory, and it's clear that this section is on much shakier ground, which makes sense, as I know that there weren't axioms for number theory until about 2300 years after this text was first written.

I love how critically Plutarch looks at these myths. He'll delight in telling you the story about Romulus and Remus were raised by a she-wolf, and then he'll mention that probably actually that's not a thing and by 'she-wolf' the Romans probably originally meant 'prostitute'.
 Jacques-Louis David ~ The Intervention of the Sabine Women

To be honest, I don't find this account particularly compelling. The finest part of it is undoubtedly the rape and intervention of the Sabine women that played such an important part in the early formation of Rome as a regional power, stories that I keenly look forward to stumbling across again as we read other Roman histories. As for the rest of it, without the grounding in what other historians of the time had already said, it was difficult indeed to get into the meat.

Romulus himself seems to be a considerably cannier politician than Theseus, performing just as many nefarious deeds but mostly doing them for the good of the Romans rather than for his own selfish ends, so Plutarch seems to like him a lot more than he does Theseus, and I can certainly get behind him on that.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
Books VII-IX

Holy moley. Maybe it's the antiquated translation, but reading Augustine was a real labour of love this time around, as it felt like these three chapters took and awfully long time. Many a bus trip was spent with my nose to my Kindle, which at least made it easy to highlight all the memorable phrases, of which there were many. Most notably, of course, was an appearance of the famous line "Give me chastity and continency, only not yet", but a couple of others will undoubtedly make their way into my quotes sidebar in the near future too.

I continue to be pleasantly astonished by Augustine's constant praise, the book reads like an extended psalm at points, but it does mean that he takes a lot longer to actually get around to progressing the story, which in these three chapters essentially boils down to "I finally got to grips with the whole soul thing, decided to become a Christian, so I quit my job and moved in with some mates to study together. And my mum died." His version is more fun to read than mine, though, and it's wonderous to me that so many of the stages along his journey were so similar to mine, despite the 1600 years between us.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Book Seven: Chapters V-VII

Pretty much the first time during my read through Les Mis that I've finished my weekly reading and thought 'well, I bet that they skipped all that in the revised edition'. The conflict going on inside Valjean's head between his internal angels and demons as played out along the road is a bit of a giggle, but for the most part, these chapters aren't adding a whole lot.

Understandably, they're missing from the musical.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Chapters XIII-XVI

The first couple of these chapters are some of my favourites of the whole novel, because John and his world-view come into stark conflict with the priorities of the Brave New World in a tangible way, first with Lenina and then with Linda, rather than the reader just being force-fed the plot by way of exposition. If the whole of the novel was like this, showing the actual outcomes of the world of conditioning and emotional manipulation instead of pontificating about it, I'd have a lot more time for it and wouldn't spend any where near as much of my time here whining about how lazy Huxley is.

Then we come at last to the lead-up to the inevitable conclusion, and it ends as it always had to with a great deal of the exposition that I had been greatly enjoying getting away from just a few pages before. The Controller gets some great lines, but as much as I enjoy a good quote that's still not enough to, you know, make me actually like the book.

The Stats:

This week we skated past 800 pages in English-language texts and a combined 1000 pages in other languages. To take a phenomenally inaccurate guess, if we assume the ludicrous 750 words a page that the GGWW tomes use as our average word count (not a completely stupid assumption given that I take most of my page counts straight from the GGWW itself), then that's just a shade under 1.3 million words read so far in the duration of the project, as many as there are in Marcel Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time', the longest novel ever written. To put this in perspective, though, that novel is just one of the 350-odd texts that we haven't even touched on that we hope to complete before the end of the project.


Pages last week: 127
Pages so far: 1856

Week XVII:

It's been a while since we tamed that Shrew, but it's time to get back to Shakespeare with Julius Caesar. We've also got a little history by way of Lucian, a touch of philosophy by way of Bacon, and of course more of our ongoing readings of Euclid, Augustine, Hugo and Huxley. It's a pretty jam-packed week on the reading list, but with Augustine and Huxley coming to an end soon we've got different, if not greener, pastures to look forward to.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#new #not_gbww #fiction #english
Chapters 17-18 (11 pages)

Here we are at the end of Brave New World. While I'm enjoying the departure from the tone of some of the heavier works in recent times, I can't honestly say that I'll be sad to see the end of Huxley.

Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
#gbww #autobiography #latin
Book X (22 pages)

We've got quite a lot on our plate this week, so we only have a single chapter of Augustine to get through. That said, this one is a bit of a monster of a chapter, so I doubt that it's going to be a walk in the park. I suspect we're in for some serious theologising, so I hope you're all feeling up for that. I admit to not really feeling like it right now, but Augustine has been surprising so far, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Elements by Euclid
#gbww #mathematics #greek
Book VIII (21 pages)

Because we were enjoying it so much, what we all need in life is more number theory. It's just as well that I have actually found applications for my Euclidian studies since I started reading the elements, or there's no way I'd have kept on slogging with it.

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
#new #gbww #play #english
(27 pages)

Good ol' JC may well be the Shakespeare play with the greatest cultural relevance, even if it's not the one your brain leaps to when you hear the name Shakespeare. I've only ever seen it in live the Dutch, as part of the epic adaption that is Roman Tragedies, but even in a foreign language famous quote after famous quote just force themselves into your brain. It's been a long time since I've read it, so I'm looking forward to revisiting this old friend.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book Seven Chapters VIII-XI (17 pages) 

In weeks of heavy reading in the past, I've taken leave of Les Mis to give the other works room to breathe, but I just can't bring myself to do that this week, so I've left it in, leading to a very heavy week indeed. Let us not be put off by the assize of the task ahead of us, but soak instead in the bath of Hugonic prose for a while. #punachieved

Of Adversity by Francis Bacon
#new #ggb #bitesized #philosophy #english
 (1 page)

At least Bacon has the common decency to keep his contributions to the discussion short and sweet. I've been very impressed with Bacon so far, and adversity seems like a good little topic, so I think we're probably in for a real barn-burner here.

#new #ggb #oneshot #treatise #greek
(20 pages)

I read the first page or so of this just to try and get a little sense of what we were getting ourselves in for with Lucian, and I had a good little giggle at his savage wit. Clocking in at 20 pages, it's pretty long for an essay, but if it keeps on how it starts it should be good for a laugh, if nothing else.

Happy reading, everyone. Do pick something and read along, as knowing that I've got company will really help me to keep on track with this project. I'd love to finish my 7 years of reading before I die.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Through History with the Monday Quiz in Exile: the 1440s

Longtime Leaflocker readers may well recall that our own Wednesday Quiz, the first and most consistent regular feature of this little corner of the internet, began as a response to demise of the original Wednesday Quiz over at the home of our spiritual blogmother Michael5000. It this day it remains undoubtedly the finest hour of this blog to have contributed to the revival of that much-loved feature.

Having recently attained a lifetime of 10 years of almost-daily posting, the Infinite Art Tournament has finally discontinued all non-double-elimination-bracket content in favour of a well-deserved retirement and dotage, and thus Michael's current quiz feature, a decade-by-decade exploration of history that is just too good to die, needs to find a new home.

Thus, I am shamelessly stealing the idea, and am proud to present part one, Through History with the Monday Quiz in Exile: the 1440's, a closed-book quiz of general knowledge with a historical theme, undoubtedly a little bit inferior and a little bit less arty and a little bit more europhile than Michael's incarnation. It's in Exile not just from Michael's blog, but also from Mondays, because Wednesday is the new Monday, dontcherknow?

1. This painting of St. Jerome was completed by the workshop of one of the most prominent painters of the 1430's and leading light of the Northern Renaissance after the artist's death in 1441. Which artist? 

2. In the early 1440's, Lorenza Valla, an expert in Latin stylistics, analyzed the text of the Donation of Constantine, proving that it was a forgery probably written hundreds of years after Constantine's death. What did(n't) Constantine I donate, and to whom?

3. After a successful but reluctant miltary career, in 1444 Sultan Murad II abdicated his throne in favour of his twelve-year old son Mehmed II, and retired to a quiet life in the country. It didn't stick, and by 1446 his son had been deposed, and Murad was again sultan over which swiftly-growing Empire?

4. The history of the Kingdom of Naples is all over the place in this period. Having been part of the Kingdom of Sicily for a time, it was then transferred to the French, but in 1442 it was conquered by Alfonso V, the King of...where, exactly?

5. 1446 saw the promulgation of Hangul, a new script using significantly simplified characters of which it's originator claimed "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.". Though Hangul gained some popularity with previously illiterate parts of society, it was opposed by the ruling and scholarly classes, and would be suppressed in 1504. Despite this, today Hangul is used by 75 million people. Where?

6. The Blarney Stone, a block of limestone set into the walls of Blarney Castle in 1446, is supposed by legend to convey 'the gift of the gab' to those who kiss it. Tens of thousands of tourists travel to Blarney every year to be lowered from the parapet of the castle in order to give the kiss. Where's Blarney?

7. The 1440's also saw the beginning of what would come to be known as the Age of Discovery, the period in which Europeans began seaborne exploration and colonisation of the wider world, with decidedly mixed results, starting with the west coast of Africa. The first permanent European trading post outside Europe, used mainly for the soon to explode African slave trade, was on the island of Arguin, off the coast of which modern nation?

8. 1448 saw the first reign of Vlad III the Impaler, most commonly known in modern times as Dracula, thanks to Bram Stoker's novel of the same name. Mostly due to the folk tales about his cruelty which would go on to be published all over Europe, Vlad would become the most famous ruler of Wallachia. In which country is Wallachia today?

9. Discovered buried in a farmers field outside modern day Gubbio, Italy in 1444, the Iguvine tablets are a set of 7 bronze tablets inscribed with detailed description of the rites of a group of priests of the early Roman religion from the 3rd to 1st centuries BC. Containing 4000-5000 words, they are by far the largest and most useful extant document written in which ancient language?

10. The 1440's saw the establishment of two still-extant colleges at Cambridge University, King's and Queens' Colleges. Can you name the British king or queen they were named for?

Please submit your answers in the comments. I'll mark them in two weeks time.