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  • Queen Victoria Drinks Blood from a Skull in Tibet March 2, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern
    Queen Victoria Drinks Blood from a Skull in Tibet

    Leaders who think that they are gods are par for the course: the ancient Egyptians, the Persians, the medieval Japanese, Idi Amin… The insidious eastern idea of divine rulers even leapfrogged the Levant and seeped into Greece and Rome in antiquity. Alexander encountered and enjoyed the privileges of divinity as he pushed his armies east, having his […]

    Josephus’ Armies in the Sky February 28, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Josephus' Armies in the Sky

    One of the most celebrated reports from antiquity of bizarre goings on in the sky appears in Josephus, History of the Wars relating to c. 65 AD. Besides these, a few days after that feast [of the unleavened bread], on the twenty first day of the month of Artemisius, a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon […]

    Review: Lost Worlds February 23, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Review: Lost Worlds

      Beachcombing has, on several occasions, had the experience of justifying (or trying to justify) to a television or publishing company an idea. Essentially you the ‘artist’ are beholden to write on one side of A4, preferably in Times New Roman, a succinct pitch, explaining why the public will go into ecstasy on purchase or […]

    Flat-earthing: the Destruction of Knowledge February 22, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Flat-earthing: the Destruction of Knowledge

    **Note that this has become a controversial post – read to the bottom for important riders and arguments** Beachcombing is at heart a whig, at least in historical terms: he sees the sunlit uplands off on the horizon and believes, perhaps stupidly, that humanity is gradually evolving and moving towards a happier, freer future. However, […]

    Flexible Glass in Tiberius’ Rome February 20, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Flexible Glass in Tiberius' Rome

    Beachcombing has never understood the irrational pleasure of glass. Holding a wine glass in our hands – whatever the content – is surely one of the house’s hidden joys and conversely having a chipped glass or one with any line of imperfection is strangely irritating. It was while contemplating one such imperfect glass yesterday in Beachcombing’s favourite […]

    Third-Century Indian Coins in Twentieth-Century Ethiopia February 17, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Third-Century Indian Coins in Twentieth-Century Ethiopia

      In 1940 a thrilling discovery was made at the Ethiopian monastery of Dabra-Dammo in northern Ethiopia. In the remains of a gold encrusted box in the holy house 104 Indian coins were identified. The coins were extremely valuable: the possibility that a practical joker – perhaps an Italian squaddie – brought these across in […]

    Prospero the Etruscan and Lying Historians February 13, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern
    Prospero the Etruscan and Lying Historians

    Liars and history go together like a horse and carriage. Beachcombing gave a chance reference to Herodotus as ‘Father of Lies’ in yesterday’s post. ‘Pseudo-‘ and ‘Mythic-History’, typically found in tribal societies, are porkies by modern standards. But most interestingly, at least for Beachcombing, are the scholars/antiquarians who betray the very rules that they claim themselves to […]

    Total Eclipse February 12, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Modern
    Total Eclipse

      A reader – Moonman to friends – has written in to remind Beachcombing of the old ‘cover thy face’ trick whereby ‘the civilised’ with knowledge of an eclipse, show their power over the elements by ‘ordering’ the sun to disappear in the presence of the unenlightened. Beachcombing knows this trick from Hergé’s Prisoners of […]

    Diodorus’ Island February 10, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Diodorus' Island

    Perhaps next to Forgotten Kingdoms Beachcombing should set up a tag on Invisible Kingdoms: realms that very likely only ever existed in the imagination of ancient and medieval writers. There would be Atlantis, of course, the land of Prester John, the Seven Cities of Gold and El Dorado. And to these it would be a cinch […]

    Review: Myth or Legend? February 9, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Review: Myth or Legend?

    C.E. Daniel et alii, Myth or Legend? (New York/London 1956) What is the difference between myth and a legend? Well, according to this little BBC miscellany from the 1950s a myth is ‘invention and fancy’, while legend is ‘some kind of history’. This distinction gets right at our main concerns with so many of those […]

    Atlantean ‘Flying Boats’ February 7, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern
    Atlantean 'Flying Boats'

    Beachcombing sometimes likes to jot down contents lists for books that he will never write: a further rather melancholy contribution to his Invisible Library collection. He has recently been playing around with Old Atlantis: A Miscellany of Atlantean Madness. The work would have three parts: a bibliography of every book every written on the lost Continent – […]

    Sex Life of Unicorns February 5, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Sex Life of Unicorns

    Unicorns have a claim, in Beachcombing’s mind, to be the most interesting of all mythical creatures. There is, after all, a fascinating combination of the mundane – the unicorn is surely based on the rhinoceros? – and the fantastic: think of all that nonsense about a dilating horn and floating hooves. Then there is the […]

    Human Sacrifice and the Athenians January 29, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    Human Sacrifice and the Athenians

      Human sacrifice does survive in literate cultures – the Aztecs, various medieval Indian states… But in Europe, at least, it melted away at about the time of the first extensive surviving texts. The result is that Greeks or Romans or Gaels or Germanic types rarely end up putting a knife into a sacrificial victim: […]

    Irish Werewolf Cub-Scouts from Hell? January 26, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Irish Werewolf Cub-Scouts from Hell?

    Irish werewolf cub-scouts from hell… Sounds like a bad slasher film doesn’t it? But actually Beachcombing is about to introduce a genuine all singing, all dancing early medieval Irish institution. His first reading is from the  Annals of Ulster for AD 847 ‘the sack of the island of Loch Muinremair by Mael Sechnaill [Irish High King] […]

    The Werewolf of Temesa January 25, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
    The Werewolf of Temesa

    A painfully short post tonight but Tiny Miss B is screaming next to the keyboard, Mrs B is out looking for a school for the elder daughter and Little Miss B is making the au pair’s life an inferno downstairs. So in dereliction of parental duty another part of the soon-to-end werewolf series: let’s hope […]

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