The childhood of Romulus and Remus.
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.
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.
via History of Rome – Lonely Planet
As a child, she was called Mnesarete (Greek for “virtue”), but because she was born with sallow skin, she was called Phryne (Greek for “toad”).
Still, Phryne became the most successful and sought-after courtesan in ancient Greece, commanding 100 times the going rate.
Supposedly, she was even the model for the sculpture called Aphrodite of Cnidus, one of the most famous works of Greek art.
Lust Rewards: Phryne became incredibly rich thanks to her liaisons with powerful men in Athens.
According to legend, she even offered to pay to rebuild the city walls of Thebes, which had been destroyed by Alexander the Great in 336 BC, but there was a condition: the new wall had to contain the inscription
“Destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan.” Her offer was declined.
Around 340 BC, Phryne was accused of affronting the gods by appearing nude during a religious ceremony.
At her trial, the orator Hyyperides -her defender and also one of her lovers- ripped open Phryne’s robe and exposed her to the court. Why?
He considered it a legitimate defense. She was, after all, the most beautiful woman in Athens, and someone that gorgeous must be on good terms with Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, no matter what codes of conduct she appeared to have broken.
It worked. The judges ruled in Phryne’s favor.
The Battle of Zama by Henri-Paul Motti. Public domain illustration
Without elephants, the ancient Library of Alexandria might not have existed.
By 275 BCE, Alexandria was the largest, most beautiful city in the world.
Its buildings were made of limestone and marble, imported from places worlds away. Its relatively temperate climate meant that flowers were almost always in bloom, impressing foreigners both from warmer and cooler climes.
Scholars from around the world came to study and work at the Museum and Library. Life in the city was good.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Just seven years earlier, when Ptolemy Philadelphos (second of the rulers of the Ptolemaic dynasty) took the throne, Alexandria was but another city on the Mediterranean.
In less than one hundred years, it went from a small seaside town founded by Alexander the Great to the city you learned about in your high school world history classes, with its famous lighthouse and library.
All because of elephants.
The stegosaurus is one of the more well-known dinosaurs out there, appearing in more forms of media than almost any of its lizardy brethren with the exception of the T-Rex and possible that dinosaur with wings on its legs.
Interestingly, it’s also one of the dumbest.
We say this not because we have anything against the stegosaurus, because that couldn’t be further from the truth, we love the stegosaurus because how could we not love a dinosaur with an in-built Mohawk?
No, the reason we’re saying that the stegosaurus is probably one of the dumbest dinosaurs to have existed is because it literally had one of the smallest brains we’re aware of.
As noted here, the stegosaurus had a brain no bigger than a lime, although this is bigger than people initially thought, since it used to be believed that the stegosaurus’ brain was no bigger than a walnut, it still means that the dinosaur had statistically, the smallest brain of any dinosaur we’re currently aware of.
We should make it clear that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, a stegosaurus didn’t need to contemplate philosophy or do long division in its head because it’s life was, overall, pretty good.
However, in the early days of palaeontology, people examining the skulls of stegosaurus remains couldn’t accept that a creature of such immense size and girth could survive with such a tiny brain, so it was theorised that the creature must have had a second brain, in its arse.
The actual reasoning behind the theory isn’t as stupid as that, but it is is painfully close.
To explain, palaeontologists back in the day noticed that the stegosaurus had a weird cavity in the booty area of its spine.
This cavity was larger than the cranial cavity that housed the dinosaur’s brain so it was simply assumed that it must have contained a second brain of some sort.
That was literally it.
This theory persisted for decades because what else could that cavity be for? As it so happens, no one really knows what the cavity is for.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, the important thing to remember here is that at one point in time, it was literally believed that stegosaurus’ had a second brain in it’s arse.
An area known as the Twin Megaliths at the Yonaguni Monument -Vincent Lou, Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0
In 1986, a diver looking for a good spot to watch hammerhead sharks off the coast of the Ryukyu Islands in Japan came across an extraordinary underwater landscape.
The area reportedly looked like an ancient submerged village, with steps, holes, and triangles seemingly carved into the rocks.
Ever since it was first discovered, controversy has surrounded the site that’s become known as the Yonaguni Monument, with some researchers—such as marine geologist Masaaki Kimura—arguing it is a clearly manmade environment, perhaps a city thousands of years old and sunk in one of the earthquakes that plagues the region.
Others believe it’s a natural geological phenomenon reflecting the stratigraphy (layers) of sandstone in an area with tectonic activity. The area is open to scuba divers, so the really curious can strap on air tanks and decide for themselves.
Photograph by Emgaol/Wikimedia Commons
Llangernyw, a lush, 4,000-year-old yew tree, was inducted into a list of 50 Great British Trees by the United Kingdom Tree Council in 2002, which, as far as tree honors are concerned, is a pretty big deal.
Llangernyw was planted in what is now a North Wales churchyard way back when the Egyptian Pyramids were still considered a new development.
See more old trees via 6 of the Oldest Trees in the World | Mental Floss
One summer a few years ago I stayed in student rooms in Trinity College. Although the accommodation was rather spartan with the traditional blue tack scars on the walls, it was so atmospheric to be able to wander around the old buildings of the Dublin university long after all the tourists had gone.
Best of all was the chance to visit the Book of Kells as many times as I wanted. (The Library displays a different page each day.) These illuminated manuscripts are one of the wonders of medieval Europe.
Imagine the monks in their stone huts, battered by sea winds, bent over their painstaking work. Strictly speaking, rather than The Book of Kells, named after a town in County Meath, it should be called the Book of Iona, as it’s thought that it was monks on that remote Scottish island who were the original artists.
They were inhabitants of a monastery founded there in the 6th Century by the Irish monk Columba, or Colm Cille as he’s known in Irish. In fact, for many centuries the manuscript was believed to be the great Gospel of Columba.
But scholars now place the book in a later period and think it was completed by 800 AD. I find it extraordinary that in such a wild place with limited materials that these men were able to create a work of art that is so delicate and ornate.
You can imagine the monks inside their beehive-shaped stone huts, battered by sea winds with squawking gulls outside, bent over their painstaking work.
I’ve visited another early settlement on Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry in the Atlantic and it is hard to express how bleak and remote those lives were.
The library at Trinity College, Dublin displays a different page from The Book of Kells each day (Image Credit: Photograph by Alamy).
But it wasn’t just forces of nature with which the monks had to contend. The monastery, like many early Christian communities, came under the threat of Viking raids. In 806, following a raid that left 68 of the community dead, the Columban monks took refuge in a newly-founded monastery at Kells in County Meath in Ireland to keep them safe.
The most likely theory is that the monks took the manuscript with them. Amazingly since they were written, the majority of the pages have been passed down through the generations with just 60 pages missing. But medieval sources do record that an illuminated manuscript was stolen from the stone church of Kells in 1006 which is likely to have been the Book of Kells.
According to the Annals of Ulster it was found “two months and twenty days” later “under a sod.” After fighting in the Cromwellian period, the church at Kells lay in ruins, and in 1653 the book was sent to Dublin by the governor of Kells for safekeeping.
A few years later it reached Trinity College where it remains today. Light of the dark ages
The scale and ambition of The Book of Kells is incredible. Written on vellum, it is estimated that the skins of 185 calves were needed for the project. Practically all of the 680 pages are decorated in some way or another. On some pages every corner is filled with the most detailed and beautiful Celtic designs.
This is a description thought by many to be of the Book of Kells by the 12th Century writer Gerald of Wales: You might say that all this were the work of an angel, and not of a man – Gerald of Wales.
“This book contains the harmony of the Four Evangelists according to Jerome, where for almost every page there are different designs, distinguished by varied colours.
Here you may see the face of majesty, divinely drawn, here the mystic symbols of the Evangelists, each with wings, now six, now four, now two; here the eagle, there the calf, here the man and there the lion, and other forms almost infinite.
Look at them superficially with the ordinary glance, and you would think it is an erasure, and not tracery.
Fine craftsmanship is all about you, but you might not notice it.
Look more keenly at it and you will penetrate to the very shrine of art. You will make out intricacies, so delicate and so subtle, so full of knots and links, with colours so fresh and vivid, that you might say that all this were the work of an angel, and not of a man.”