As a historian, the truth is that no matter how hard we try, there will always be differences between what one historian says happened and what another historian says. We are constantly reminded that a person’s views, background, and environment have a big impact on how they see history and life in general. Ancient historians can also see that this is true. In fact, the stories of their own lives are almost as interesting as the stories they have written.
Those who are familiar with the Chinese word wuxiá (“martial heroes”) may associate the word with memories of martial arts films and television programs that portray a fanciful depiction of Chinese martial arts to audiences around the world. However, there is more to wuxia than meets the eye. Wuxia is in fact an entire literary genre that depicts the exploits of ancient Chinese martial artists. It has proven to be popular enough to be used in a number of modern cultural media, including Chinese opera, films, television series and video games.
Euripides was not only critical towards religions and ancient legends, he was also considered to be the biggest social critic of all the ancient Greek tragedians. He introduced strong female characters and intelligent slaves, as well as satirizing many of the heroes of Greek mythology.
The Cinderella story is a tale of serendipity and love – both of which are universal themes. These themes are perhaps the reason why the story seems to transcend time itself and became one of the world’s go-to princess tales, recognized all over the world albeit under different names. While there are many variants of the story, they commonly feature a young woman in unjust and oppressive circumstances whose fortune are remarkably and unexpectedly changed with the assistance of divine elements such as magical animals and fairy godmothers (or godfathers).
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.
In “Civilization of China” (1911), Herbert Giles wrote that “for pleasure pure and simple, independent of gains and losses, the theater occupies the warmest place in every Chinaman’s heart”. The fact that the Chinese theater is also known by the name guo cui (“quintessence of the nation”) solidifies its prestige as the most important form of entertainment in China where it has been for centuries.
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.