Cinema made us fearful of William Blake’s formidable watercolor series, depicting the Great Red Dragon in various scenes from the Book of Revelation.
But Blake’s works and the biblical tale are terrifying enough on their own:
Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.
Mummy case hands in the “Handbook of archaeology, Egyptian – Greek – Etruscan – Roman” (1867) (via Internet Archive Book Images)
by Dolly Stolze
In October of 2000, Pakistani authorities heard that a Karachi resident was trying to sell a mummy on the black market for $11 million.
When the police interrogated the seller, he told them he got the mummy from an Iranian man, who supposedly found it after an earthquake, and the two agreed to sell it and split the profits.
The seller eventually led them to where he was storing the mummy, a region that borders Iran and Afghanistan.
Pakistani authorities brought the mummy to the National Museum in Karachi, where museum officials inspected the remains and its sarcophagus. Museum officials announced that a mummy wrapped in an Egyptian style had been recovered in a wooden sarcophagus with cuneiform inscriptions, the written language of ancient Persia, and carvings of Ahura Mazda, a Zoroastrian deity.
The mummy had a golden crown, mask, and a breastplate that proclaimed, “I am the daughter of the great King Xerxes. Mazereka protect me. I am Rhodugune, I am.”
This meant that this mummified body potentially belonged to a Persian princess and was 2,600 years old.
The mummy of the Persian Princess generated a lot of international interest because no remains of the Persian royal family had ever been found and mummies are not generally found in Iran.
At one point the mummy caused diplomatic tensions between Iran and Pakistan because both countries claimed ownership. But months later, after examinations by experts in ancient Persian script, CT scans, chemical testing, and carbon dating, the mummy was not only declared a fraud, but there was also evidence that she may have been a modern murder victim.
Scholars grew suspicious of the mummy’s authenticity when experts in ancient cuneiform examined the mummy’s breastplate and determined that someone “not well familiar with Iranian script,” had carved the inscription.
This mummy hoax began to unravel after subsequent testing.
Flemish Mask Designs in the Grotesque Style (1555)
A selection of stunning mask designs from the hand of Flemish engraver Frans Huys, rooted in the “grotesque” style and composed of shapes inspired from creaturely and vegetative forms (forming a style that would later become known as “auricular”). Huys apparently based these prints on original designs by the sculptor and architect Cornelis Floris (1514-1575), who is credited with inventing this particular Flemish version of the grotesque style in about 1541.
The prints come from a set published in 1555 by Hans Liefrinck (about 1518-1573), an important Antwerp publisher and print-seller.
The volume – bearing the full title of “Pourtraicture ingenieuse de plusieurs façons de masques, forts utile aulx painctres, orseures, taillieurs de pierres, voirriers, & tailleurs d’images” – is thought to have contained at least 18 images and, as the title suggests, seems to have been intended as a kind of sourcebook for craftsmen and artists looking for inspiration/templates.
It is the evening of 23 October 1783, and in a secluded spot on the King’s highway John Austin and an accomplice are mercilessly beating and robbing a stranger.
This act of brutality marked the beginning of the end, not only for Austin, but for an ancient ritual that had been enacted since the 16th century. Having been sentenced to death, he became the last man to be taken in procession from Newgate Prison to the gallows at Tyburn.
For 300 years, doomed convicts had made the journey from where the Old Bailey now stands to the place of their demise, near the site of Marble Arch.
These processions, which occurred only eight times a year, were held to be among the capital’s most exciting events.
Raucous crowds gathered on the roads and in the windows of houses with a view; a clergyman accompanied the condemned; cheering and shouting vied with preaching and jeering, and during the three hours it took to cover the two miles, the spectacle of impending death would unite the metropolis in an outpouring of heightened emotion.
The spectators themselves are dead and buried, and the buildings that lined the way long since leveled. But beneath the stratum of 18th century bricks and bones, millions still trace the same path today, albeit for different reasons.
For between St Paul’s station and Marble Arch, the Central Line follows the last journey of John Austin and his innumerable doomed predecessors almost exactly.
For those hoping to evoke the procession, the modern topography of London is wonderfully supportive. Despite the devastating zeal of the Victorians, who laid waste to many of the capital’s ancient streets, the conduit that flowed from Newgate to Tyburn remains largely intact.
Newgate itself is gone, replaced by the Old Bailey, but the Church of St Sepulchre remains.
From here a clergyman would make his way through a tunnel connecting the two buildings, and ring the bell that signalled the beginning of the great event. A visit to the church reveals that the artefact itself survives, silently encased in glass.
It is perhaps the most evocative remaining fragment of a ritual characterised by its cacophony of sounds as much as its spectacle
An illustration of a bloodletting, circa 1675. Wellcome Library.
In the shadow of India’s largest mosque, the gutters run red with blood.It’s a bizarre scene, if you’ve never seen a modern-day bloodletting. First, men wrap patients’ arms and legs with straps as tourniquets, to control the blood flow.
Then they use razor blades to make tiny pricks in the hands and feet, and blood trickles into a concrete trough stained red with the day’s work.
The bleeding people look pretty happy, though. After all, they’ve paid for the service.
They come to be cured of everything from arthritis to cancer.
But why? How has the bloodletting business, which many doctors today would rank along with reading bumps on the head as olde timey quackery, managed not to dry up? The appeal seems to be in its simple logic.
Muhammad Gayas runs his bloodletting business in the garden of the Jama Masjid mosque in Old Delhi.
He says pain and illness happen “when the blood goes bad,” which is pretty much the same basic premise that bloodletters have sold the public since Hippocrates advocated balancing the four humors—blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm—more than 2,000 years ago.
Bloodletting has been practiced around the world even longer than that, tracing at least 3,000 years ago to the Egyptians.
It remained an obsession among many Western doctors through the 19th century, and was still a recommended treatment for pneumonia in a 1942 medical textbook—lest you think it went out after the Middle Ages along with the laying on of leeches.