The year 1386 was the worst year of Geoffrey Chaucer’s life. But this was also the year where he made the best decision in his life. After a long period of going through every kind of worldly and professional upheaval, he set out to write his Canterbury Tales.
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.
Born in Arezzo in 1492, Aretino amassed considerable wealth and influence through his clever, astutely observed satirical writings and verse. He was forced to flee Rome after his sonetti lussuriosi (“Lustful Sonnets”), describing the sixteen positions depicted in Raimondi’s erotic engravings, scandalised society
The two major Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, still appear widely in popular folk drama, tales and art all over Southeast Asia with slight adaptations in all the myriad cultures of the region. Scenes from the epics are illustrated in the relief sculptures of temples such as the Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Rama temple in Malaysia, and mural painting in Vat Oup Moung, a Buddhist monastery in Vientiane, Laos. The five Pandava brothers of Mahabharata especially became blue prints in many traditional cultures of the south and southeast Asia as the perfect heroes. Kings claim descendants of the brothers, and their names are used for temples and streets even to this day.
Antonin Dvorak’s opera Rusalka, based on Slavic folklore, was first performed in Prague on March 31, 1901, and went on to become one of the most successful Czech operas. The opera’s Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém (“Song to the Moon”) is frequently performed in concert and has been recorded separately to this day.
in all of Greek Mythology, no siblings seem to hold a worse grudge against one another than the two war deities. The Ancient Greek society, in turn, did not hesitate to pit them against one another in their belief, their stories and their worships.
Mesopotamia was in turmoil during the third millennium BCE. The conquest of Sargon the Great resulted in the formation of the world’s first great empire. Akkad grew to be one of the world’s largest cities, and northern and southern Mesopotamia were united for the first time in history. Enheduanna, Sargo of Akkad’s daughter, is a fascinating character in this historical setting.
The word ‘shaman’ conjures up images of medicine men smoking peace pipes, dancing in a trance to drumming around a fire or African sangomas, adorned with leopard skin, throwing dollose bones and shells to divine and drinking beer from calabash. This is far removed from the concept of sophisticated, regal shaman queens of the East in China, Japan and Korea who used their talent and connection with the ‘Otherworld’ to the benefit of their kingdoms and populace. Later this feminine healing power was suppressed and persecuted by religious men, who regarded it as a threat to their faith.
Courtly love was sensual love for an unattainable, idealised lady, but it was essentially pure, which prohibited physical consummation – imagine all of the angst, desire, and jealousy that could incite passion if there was no physical release. That was the theory, at least.
Fredegund (545 – 597 CE), the queen consort of Chilperic I – the Merovingian Frankish king of Soissons, has a reputation of being one of the most bloodthirsty and sadistic women in history. Accounts by Gregory, the Bishop of Tours (539 – 594 CE), depict her as a murderous lady who achieved power through her husband and used it to keep his kingdom in a state of war for more than forty years. She was also known as an early exponent of dirty warfare who relied heavily on poison and other covert operations
Sword dancing has found its place in many different cultures. In Asia, the sword dance is often used for plot descriptions and characterization in Chinese opera. In Pakistan and Nepal, military dances are still commonly performed for weddings and other occasions. In India, the Paika Akhada (“warrior school”) previously used to train Odisha warriors, is performed in the streets during festivals. Sword dances are also performed all over Europe, particularly in areas corresponding to the boundaries of what used to be the Holy Roman Empire.
One of the most famous Roman antiquity inscriptions comes from Vindolanda, a fort along Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain. This is Claudia Severa’s so-called “birthday letter,” which she wrote to her friend Sulpicia Lepidina around 100 CE. Severa dictated to a scribe on a small wooden tablet the invitation to her friend for a birthday celebration on September 11th, as well as well wishes in her own handwriting.