Some babies shake rattles and others shake up kingdoms. We hear many stories of the unhappy lives and ends of child rulers. Most recently, in 1908, Puyi became the last emperor of China at only two years old. As the crowning ceremony began, the frightened little emperor had to be carried to the throne by his father as he cried, kicked, and clawed – desperately trying to escape. But he had no choice. A child though he was, he had to rule an empire.
Every culture had strong influences on each other and their legends. A minor example of this can be seen in something as simple as a body armor – Ancient India’s Karna’s kawach (“armour”) has been compared with that of Ancient Greek’s Achilles’ Styx-coated body and with Ancient Irish warrior Ferdiad’s horny skin that could not be pierced.
We would often see her images and, perhaps just as often, forget her name. In paintings, she is a beautiful tragic figure, looking up helplessly towards a Roman soldier standing over her. However, in 16th century Europe, there was no other ancient name that fuels an artist’s imagination like “Lucretia”.
Chinese mythology and cosmology rest on the concept that the universe is shaped and maintained by two fundamental forces called yin and yang. They are opposites yet complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system where the whole is greater than the assembled parts.
The concept of the afterlife in the ancient world is more varied and somewhat more complicated. Unlike travelling to hell, which seems to be a much quicker process, a soul’s journey to heaven consists of various tests and layers before it could reach its final resting place.
The people of ancient Rome knew of a tragic hero Drusus (Drusus the Elder), the younger brother of Tiberius who died in a campaign. But there was another, younger and lesser known, Drusus in Tiberius’ family. He was Nero Claudius Drusus (Drusus the Younger, nicknamed Castor), the only son of Tiberius. The elder Drusus may have been a hero, but Castor seemed to be mostly overlooked first by his own family, as well as future historians.
In mythology, the fox usually has a positive connotation. In early Mesopotamian mythology, the fox is one of the sacred animals and a messenger of the goddess Ninhursag. Then in Asia, the fox became cynical.
Although the subject of strong women in history is always fascinating, it is a widely recognized but often forgotten fact that the greatness of a queen could not have occurred without the positive support of the male population, just as the king’s power could be maintained only because women also supported them. No power would survive for long against the apathy or opposition of half of the population. Therefore, although sons, brothers and grandsons were the only ones with an officially recognized right to inherit power, the ancient East also knew many female leaders who were successful rulers of kingdoms. In fact, Islamic history is riddled with crises that threatened to destroy a number of dynasties had it not been for the intervention of women.
Despite the numerous charges against him by ancient writers, there are also evidence that Nero enjoyed some level of popular support. A poem dated about two centuries after Nero’s death proclaims Nero a man “equal to the gods,”
Pan’s nature was always one of paradox: an uncivilized god in a civilized world. His first role was that of the shepherd, the guardian between civilization and the wild. Much like the goat, which could never truly be domesticated, Pan has always retained a bit of his feral nature. He was among the most popular of the ancient Greek gods, yet his cult never had the far-reaching impact enjoyed by the cults of Dionysus, Athena, and Apollo. Pan is also famous for his unfettered sexuality, yet was rarely successful in his courting.
The Matrikas have existed from as early as the Indus Valley civilization (3300–1700 BCE). The Rigveda (c. 1700–1100 BCE) merely refers to them a group of seven mothers who control the preparation of soma (the drink of the gods).
In one of the shrines of the Thanumalayan temple in Kanyakumari district, India, is the stone sculpture of a four-armed deity sitting cross-legged in Sukhasana (“easy pose” – similar to sitting in a simple cross-legged position) holding a battle-axe, a large shell, a vase and a staff around which the deity entwines a long trunk. At first glance, one would think that this is the famous elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha except that this deity is clearly female.