Leonardo Da Vinci was, literally and figuratively, the ultimate Renaissance Man.
Famed as one of the greatest of all painters, he was also an inventor, scientist, architect and mathematician.
His famous illustration of Vitruvian Man, named after the Roman architect who inspired him, describes the ideal human proportions (note how the outstretched arms are as wide as the man is tall), which both men believed should influence the design of buildings.
It also shows his attempts to “square the circle” – drawing a circle and square of the same area.
Standing 16 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing 20 tons, Paraceratherium was one of the largest mammals to ever walk the Earth.
That may seem pretty puny by dinosaurian standards, but, at the American Museum of Natural History and other institutions that house reconstructions of the 34-23 million year old animal, the hornless rhino towers over every other beast. Only a few extinct elephants have come close to its impressive stature.
As is often the case with the large and fossiliferous, though, it’s too easy to get wrapped up in the nature of the beast and forget the history that assembled the creature before us. University of Manchester historian Chris Manias recounts the tale in a new paper.
In the case of Paraceratherium, the great rhino only emerged after years of toil, study, and, most importantly, collaboration between researchers who were independently drawn to the remains of the same giant.
Before the rhino could get a name or start casting shade over museum halls, the titan had to be discovered. The British paleontologist Clive Forster-Cooper had the honor.
Curious about fossils regularly found by England’s Indian Geological Survey among the Bugti Hills of Baluchistan, Foster-Cooper organized a 1910-1911 expedition to see the fossils for himself.
The work was more difficult than Forster-Cooper had hoped. In the age of imperial paleontology, he took the traditional route of hiring unskilled local workers who he frequently groused about to his esteemed colleagues elsewhere.
Not only were the local Nawab people suspicious of the paleontologist’s true motives – who would be travel all the way out there for old bones? – but Forster-Cooper complained that he had to fire three workers for “idleness and insubordination” and did not trust the remaining three with anything more than rudimentary digging around.
In a monastery in the mountains of northern Spain, 700 years after the Book of Revelations was written, a monk set down to illustrate a collection of writings he had compiled about this most vivid and apocalyptic of the New Testament books.
Throughout the next few centuries his depictions of multi-headed beasts, decapitated sinners, and trumpet blowing angels, would be copied over and over again in various versions of the manuscript.
John Williams, author of The Illustrated Beatus, introduces Beatus of Liébana and his Commentary on the Apocalypse.
The Vision of the Lamb (Apoc. 4: 6 – V: 6-8), in Maius’ Morgana Beatus, Pierpont Morgan Library M644, fol. 87r
Towards the end of the eighth century Beatus, a monk in the monastery of San Martin de Turieno, near present day Santander, compiled a Commentary on the Book of Revelation, or Apocalypse, from the writings dedicated to the topic by such patristic authors as Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose and Irenaeus.
Recognition of Beatus of Liébana has survived to our time thanks to his decision to illustrate the sixty-eight sections into which he divided the text of the Book of Revelation.
It was a decision that could not easily have been anticipated, for it is not at all clear that Beatus had ever seen an illustrated book, and it is almost certain these illustrations were invented by him or an assistant.
The pictures would remain integral to the many – some twenty-six – copies of the Commentary that have survived.
And the fifth Angel sounded the trumpet: and I saw a star fall from heaven upon the earth, and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit (Apoc:9 – V:1-11) – in the Beatus de Facunda.
Gregorio Lazzarini (1655—1730). Oil on canvas. Early 1700s. Saint-Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum.
Romulus and Remus were born to the vestal virgin Rhea Silva after she’d been seduced, some say raped, by Mars.
At their birth they were immediately sentenced to death by their great-uncle Amulius, who had previously stolen the throne of Alba Longa from his brother, and Rhea Silva’s father, Numitor.
Fortunately, though, the sentence was never carried out.
A royal servant took pity on the twins and instead of killing them abandoned them in a basket on the banks of the River Tiber. In the floods that followed, the basket ended up under a fig tree on the northwestern summit of the Palatino.
Here the babies were found and suckled by a she-wolf (in some versions of the story the wolf was sent by Mars to save them) until discovered by a shepherd, Faustulus.
Faustulus took the brothers in and, with his wife Acca Larentia, brought them up.
Faustulus the Shepherd
The twins grew up to be a high-spirited, if somewhat unruly, pair and it wasn’t long before they were in trouble.
Remus was arrested for attacking some shepherds on the Aventino and carted off to face the king. Hearing the news, Faustulus told Romulus about the circumstances surrounding his birth and asked him to save Remus.
Romulus immediately set off for the Alban palace, where he not only freed his brother but also killed Amulius and reinstated his grandfather Numitor to the throne.
To celebrate, the twins decided to found a city on the site where they’d originally been saved. But as they didn’t know where this was they consulted the omens. Remus, on the Aventino, saw six vultures; his brother over on the Palatino saw 12.
The meaning was clear and Romulus began building his new city walls. In a fit of anger Remus is said to have jumped over the unfinished walls, shouting that if they couldn’t keep him out how were they going to keep invaders out.
Romulus, by now in a rage himself, killed his brother.
Romulus continued building and soon had a city, albeit one with no citizens.
To populate it he created a refuge on the Campidoglio, Aventino, Celio and Quirinale hills, to which a ragtag population of criminals, ex-slaves and outlaws soon decamped. However, Romulus still needed women.
His solution was as audacious as it was devious. In one of history’s first recorded sting operations, he invited everyone in the surrounding country to celebrate the Festival of Consus (21 August).
As the spectators watched the games he’d organised, he and his men pounced and abducted all the women.
Known as the Rape of the Sabine Women, the attack understandably angered the Sabine king Titus Tatius, who promptly marched on Rome. Fate, however, was against him, and after warnings from Juno and Jupiter,
Romulus repulsed the attack.
But Sabine feelings soon calmed – thanks, it’s said, to their women begging for an end to the fighting. Peace was made, and Romulus and Titus ruled jointly until Titus died shortly afterwards.
Romulus himself lived to 717 BC when he died aged 54.
In 54 A.D. Nero became emperor of Rome after the death of Claudius, who was thought to have been poisoned by his wife Agrippina, who also happened to be Nero’s mother.
Nero’s real name was Lucius, but his mother decided that Nero Claudius Caesar was more suitable so she got him to change it. Agrippina was always plotting in the background.
As a wife of a former emperor and mother to the current one, she saw herself as a new version of Livia.
Nero was only a teenager when he came to power, just seventeen years old. Having been under the influence of his mother all his life, he now saw an opportunity to do what he wanted instead.
Within the first year of his reign he had made it obvious to her that she was not going to be sharing his power. When an Armenian ambassador visited Rome, Nero did not let Agrippina sit next to him to receive the guest.
During the following months, mother and son quarrelled openly about his affair with an ex-slave-girl called Acte. He was already married to Octavia, daulghter of Claudius.
Agrippina did not approve of this liaison and at this point started to get closer with Britannicus, Claudius’s son with the unfortunate Messalina.
When Nero saw this he realised this could be a threat to his reign, so he had Britannicus poisoned and forced Agrippina to move out of the palace, took her bodyguard away and slapped a lawsuit on her.