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Saturday, May 11, 2019

May 12 is the birthday of Victorian poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti

One of many self-portraits
The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.
~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti ("The Blessed Damozel," st. 1) 
If you paint as well as you write you may be a rich man, or at all events, if you do not wish to be rich, may get leisure enough to cultivate your writing.  But I need hardly tell you that poetry, even the best... is not a thing for a man to live upon while he is in the flesh, however immortal it may render him in spirit. 
~ Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) (letter to Rossetti, March 1848) 

He produced several versions of Proserpine (wiki) (sometimes Proserpina), the Roman goddess who lives in the underworld during Winter, using Jane Morris* (wife of his friend and fellow pre-Raphaelite William Morris) as model. On the top right his sonnet, in Italian, is inscribed by the artist - the same sonnet in English is inscribed on the frame (see below).
The final of several iterations of Proserpine, the Roman
 goddess who lives in the underworld during Winter,
with Jane Morris as model.
Per Rossetti, on Perserpine: 

"She is represented in a gloomy corridor of her palace, with the fatal fruit in her hand. As she passes, a gleam strikes on the wall behind her from some inlet suddenly opened, and admitting for a moment the sight of the upper world; and she glances furtively towards it, immersed in thought."

The sonnet:

Afar away the light that brings cold cheer
Unto this wall, – one instant and no more
Admitted at my distant palace-door
Afar the flowers of Enna from this drear
Dire fruit, which, tasted once, must thrall me here.

Afar those skies from this Tartarean grey
That chills me: and afar how far away,
The nights that shall become the days that were.
Afar from mine own self I seem, and wing
Strange ways in thought, and listen for a sign:
And still some heart unto some soul doth pine,
(Whose sounds mine inner sense in fain to bring,
Continually together murmuring) —
'Woe me for thee, unhappy Proserpine'.

~ D. G. Rossetti

* Rossetti stayed with his lover Jane Morris, wife of William Morris, at Kelmscott Manor during the summer months each year - in winter she returned to stay with William Morris, thus paralleling, at least from Rosetti's point of view, Proserpine's freedom during summer.
Blue Gazebo - larger version here. Note the medieval millefleur
("thousand flowers") style background - characteristic of the pre-
Raphaelites in general, although less so of Rossetti in particular.
May 12 is the anniversary of the birth of English poet and pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (wiki) (1828-1882).  Born in London, Rossetti founded the "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" (wiki) in 1848 with Holman Hunt, John Millais, and others to protest low standards in British art - the Pre-Raphaelite movement sought to revitalize British art by returning to the spiritual qualities of medieval painting, with an emphasis on detailed observation of the natural world and the use of pictorial narrative to convey "truth". Some of his best paintings were done under the patronage of John Ruskin and the influence of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, all of whom Rossetti befriended early in his life.  

In both his paintings and his poetry (such as "The Blessed Damozel"), Rossetti presented idealized portrayals of womanhood. He was also a prolific translator of early Italian verse from Dante's circle - leading Ruskin to describe him as "a great Italian lost in the inferno of London."

Here's an archive of his art works and one of his poetry.

I'm a huge fan of pre-Raphaelite art, and, back in the 70s when I was into fantasy, I read everything William Morris ever wrote. About them as a group, though, and their weird interactions - I've run into a little bit as part of other articles, but every time I run into more I realize, once again, how weird they were. Here's a bit on insight into that:

On Dante Gabriel Rossetti and wombats. (London Review of Books) (There is a book on this, by the way: Rossetti's Wombat: Pre-Raphaelites and Australian Animals in Victorian Londonin case you're interested. I'm not that interested.): an excerpt from the article is is below, but read the whole thing.
He had two, one named Top after William Morris, whose nickname ‘Topsy’ came from his head of tight curls. In September 1869, Rossetti wrote in a letter that the wombat had successfully interrupted a seemingly uninterruptable monologue by John Ruskin by burrowing its nose between the critic’s waistcoat and jacket. Rossetti drew the wombats repeatedly; he sketched his mistress – William Morris’s wife, Jane – walking one on a leash. In the image, both Jane and the wombat look irate. Both wear halos.

Rossetti's sister, Christina Rossetti (wiki) (1830-1894), who lived much of her life as a virtual recluse, is also remembered as a major Victorian lyric poet. Here's one of the illustrations he did for her poem "The Goblin Market" (wiki) (full poem online) - note all of the wombats:

Parts of the text above are adapted from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email - leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list. Ed is the author of Hunters and Killers: Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Hunters and Killers: Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Friday links

The Flying Winnebago: For some reason the heli-camper never really caught on.

How Leonardo da Vinci Drew an Accurate Satellite Map of an Italian City in 1502.

It's Fred Astaire's birthday - here are clips of some of his best dancing.

What Is Going On With UFOs And The Department Of Defense?

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include the anniversary of V.E. Day (when World War 2 ended in Europe), how the 1969 “Paul McCartney is Dead” hoax came about, a 1911 trans-Saharan ostrich heist, and the 1973 Turkish Captain America movie in which he teams up with a Mexican wrestler to fight evil Spiderman (who murders people with, among other things, shower nozzles and guinea pigs).

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Five medieval toothpaste recipes, plus more medieval dental advice

In general, being a grandma, I tend to think that old ways are always the best. Medicine (including dentistry) is a definite exception. Medieval dentistry is something that most of us probably don't want to think about in any depth, but apparently there are those who do so. Some of the toothpaste recipes below are from a 2004 article in Nature by Trevor Anderson -  the full article (PDF) is here, Here's an excerpt:
John of Gaddesden wrote the Rosa Anglica in Latin around 1314AD... John’s section on toothache includes many prayers and charms. He mentions that anyone who prays to St Apollonia (wiki) on her feast day (February 9th) will be cured of toothache. St Apollonia (d.c.249AD) was an elderly deaconess of Alexandria who was martyred by having all her teeth extracted and was then burnt alive.
One charm involved repeatedly drawing three vertical lines on parchment (to represent running water) while touching the painful tooth with one’s finger. He also mentions that, ‘some say that the beak of a magpie hung from the neck cures pain in the teeth’. Apparently, he is not convinced by this particular charm. He also states that you should prick a ‘many footed worm which rolls up in a ball when you touch it’, with a needle. You then touch the aching tooth with the same needle and, ‘the pain will be eased’. Obviously, a reference to pain transference from tooth worm to the worm-like centipede.
Other recipes are from The Trotula (wiki), a set of medieval texts on women's medicine.

1. According to Gilbertus Anglicus’ Compendium of Medicine, it is important to rub your teeth and gums with a cloth after eating, because it is important to ensure that “no corrupte mater abyde amonge þe teeþ” (“no corrupt matter abides among the teeth,”) Anderson, p.421). 

You can also munch on a paste of pepper and salt for that lovely scratchy feeling, and old-fashioned taste. Gilbertus advises, “chewe þid poudir a good while in [your] mooþ, and then swolle it down” (“chew this powder a good while in [your] mouth and then swallow it down”, Anderson, p.421). As a side benefit, you’re likely to clear your sinuses while you’re at it.

2. From one part of The Trotula, one of the most famous books of medieval remedies and beauty tips for women, comes a recipe “For Black Teeth”:

… take walnut shells well cleaned of the interior rind, which is green, and … rub the teeth three times a day, and when they have been well rubbed … wash the mouth with warm wine, and with salt mixed in if desired. (p.102)

I’m not sure how much anyone would desire mixing salt with the wine, but there you have it: black teeth whitened.

3. This second tooth-whitening recipe from The Trotula may work even better, since it requires wiping the teeth after swishing the wine, preventing unsightly wine stains on the teeth. This recipe requires a bit more effort:
Take burnt white marble and burnt date pits, and white natron, a red tile, salt, and pumice. From all of these make a powder in which damp wool has been wrapped in a fine linen cloth. Rub the teeth inside and out. (p.122)
After that, be sure to do the wine rinse again, “with very good wine” (p.122), then “dry” and “wipe” the teeth “with a new white cloth” (p.122). Perhaps the white cloth helps you find all the wine stains. Finally, finish by chewing on “fennel or lovage or parsley” (p.122) for good oral health and fresh breath.

4. Need to take your toothpaste on the road? No problem. The Physicians of Myddfai have got your back. You can either scrub “briskly” with just one herb – “elecampane” (Anderson, p.420) – or you can make handy powder balls to bring with you:

Take the leaves of sage (Salvia officinalis), powder with as much again of salt, and make it into balls. Bake them till they are burnt and powder. Let your teeth be rubbed frequently therewith. It will render the teeth clean, white, and sweet. (Anderson, p.420)

Who could ask for anything more?

5. This last recipe from The Trotula is for people who are rich and want their teeth to show it. The writer does say this one “works the best”, so, naturally, I’ve saved it for last.

Take some each of cinnamon, clove, spikenard, mastic, frankincense, grain, wormwood, crab foot, date pits, and olives. Grind all of these and reduce them to a powder, then rub the affected places. (p.112)

Your breath, with its mix of frankincense and crab foot, will let everyone know just how wealthy you are. (You’re welcome.)

More on medieval tooth-whitening in particular and medieval dentistry in particular:

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wednesday links

Today is V.E. Day: on May 8, 1945, World War 2 ended in Europe.

How the 1969 “Paul McCartney is Dead” Hoax Started at an American College Newspaper and Went Viral.

The recent release of Avenger's: Engame brings to mind another Captain America movie - the 1973 Turkish version in which he teams up with a Mexican wrestler and fights evil Spiderman (who murders people with, among other things, shower nozzles and guinea pigs).

Why The Concorde Is Such a Badass Plane.

The Strange Tale of the Great 1911 Trans-Saharan Ostrich Heist.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the dark origins of Snow White, plastic surgeons sculpting belly fat into chiseled six-packs, the history and invention of Jell-O, and, for Oliver Cromwell's birthday, his excellent (and evergreen) speech throwing out the corrupt Parliament (plus the posthumous travels of his head).

Monday, May 6, 2019

V.E. Day: on May 8, 1945, World War 2 ended in Europe

May 8th is the anniversary of V.E. Day (for "Victory in Europe") (wikiBBC) in 1945, which saw the German surrender and the end of World War II in the European theater
The beaten foe emerged.
Winston Churchill waves to crowds London on V-E Day.
All over the broad Atlantic, wherever they had been working or lying hid, the U-boats surfaced, confessing the war's end. A few of them, prompted by determination or struck by guilt, scuttled or destroyed themselves, or ran for shelter, not knowing that there was none; but mostly they did what they had been told to do, mostly they hoisted their black surrender flags, and stayed where they were, and waited for orders. 
They rose, dripping and silent, in the Irish Sea, and at the mouth of the Clyde, and off the Lizard in the English Channel, at the top of the Minches where the tides raced; they rose near Iceland, where Compass Rose was sunk and off the north-west tip of Ireland, and close to the Faeroes, and on the Gibraltar run where the sunk ships lay so thick, and near St. Johns and Halifax and in the deep of the Atlantic, with three thousand fathoms of water beneath their keel. 
They surfaced in secret places, betraying themselves and their frustrated plans: they rose within sight of land, they rose far away in mortal waters, where on the map of the battle, the crosses that were the sunken ships were etched so many and so close that the ink ran together. They surfaced above their handiwork, in hatred or in fear, sometimes snarling their continued rage, sometimes accepting thankfully a truce they had never offered to other ships, other sailors.
They rose, and lay wherever they were on the battlefield, waiting for the victors to claim their victory. 
~ Nicolas Monsarrat ("V.E. Day," from The Cruel Sea)

May 8th is the anniversary of V.E. Day (for "Victory in Europe") (wiki, BBC) in 1945, and commemorates the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied forces, ending World War II in Europe.*

With Adolf Hitler dead by his own hand, German military leaders signed surrender documents at several locations in Europe on May 7, capitulating to each of their victorious foes. Germany’s partner in fascism, Italy, had switched sides in 1943, though many Italians continued to fight alongside their German comrades in Italy.

Upon entering the war in December 1941, the United States had agreed on a “Europe first” strategy: concentrate on defeating Germany, Italy and their satellites rather than focusing the bulk of men and resources on the war in the Pacific. V-E Day, therefore, marked a major milestone for the Allies but did not end the war, as Allied governments pointedly reminded their citizens. Attention turned to finishing the war against Imperial Japan. More on that here:
It's V-J Day, the anniversary of the date of Japan's surrender in 1945 and the end of WWII.
* N.B. It's referred to as "Victory Day" in Russia and is celebrated on May 9th.

People dance in the streets of London on
VE Day, 8 May 1945
English novelist Nicolas Monsarrat (1910-1979) was born in Liverpool and earned a law degree at Cambridge. With the outbreak of World War II, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and served on the North Atlantic convoys for several years. This experience led to his crafting perhaps the most highly regarded novel about modern naval warfare yet written - The Cruel Sea - which appeared in 1951 while its author was serving as a British diplomat in South Africa. An equally esteemed motion picture, starring Jack Hawkins, was made of the book two years later, and it remains a classic today. Several other Monsarrat novels followed, but none ever gained the stature of The Cruel Sea.

Below is a generous theatrical trailer for The Cruel Sea, which actually shows some of the best bits.

Here's the Youtube description:
The novel The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monserrat was an unflinching portrayal of life at sea during WWII on a boat tasked with protecting convoys and seeking and destroying U-boats. A runaway success, the novel had already sold over 4 million copies in just 2 years when Ealing decided to make the film version. Filmed aboard an actual Royal Navy corvette, The Cruel Sea tells the story of the sailors aboard the HMS Compass Rose: the bonds that form between them, the daily pressures they face and their epic struggle to overcome the enemy. Nominated for a BAFTA for Best British Film, The Cruel Sea stars Jack Hawkins, Sir Donald Sinden and Stanley Clarke, and is a gripping insight into the lives of unsung heroes at sea during the war, and the agonizing decisions and incredible peril they faced on a daily basis.

And a brief documentary:

Related posts:

It's V-J Day, the anniversary of the date of Japan's surrender in 1945 and the end of WWII.

Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches...we shall never surrender" speech: the evacuation of Dunkirk by a flotilla of small boats.

June 6 is D-Day: quotes, videos (footage, FDR's and Reagan's speeches), lots of links.

March 5 is the anniversary of Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain speech.

Before there was Laffer: Churchill on the fiscal cliff.

Parts of the text above are based on Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email - leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list. Ed is the author of Hunters and Killers: Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Hunters and Killers: Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943.