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  • Why Did the Axis Fight the US? June 7, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Why Did the Axis Fight the US?

    One of the neatest sentences about the Second World War is that the Allies won their victory because of ‘Soviet blood, British time and American resources’. This is an approximation, of course, to truth but a pretty effective one. The Soviets lost perhaps 26 million, enough dead to damn the river of German invasion. The […]

    The Cuckold’s Horns May 16, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    The Cuckold's Horns

    ***Thanks to Ricardo and Neil for help with this post*** The cuckold’s horns is a sign, usually indicated by two fingers placed over the head, of a man whose wife has been unfaithful. In many countries – not least the UK, see photo – the actual symbolism has been forgotten and only the offence remains. […]

    11 Burning Libraries: Book Lovers Beware April 29, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    11 Burning Libraries: Book Lovers Beware

    This blog has pioneered a series of burning libraries: books that didn’t make it (23 to date)… But what about real burning libraries? Libraries that, at some point in Antiquity or the Middle Ages, were gutted by fire, accidental or deliberate. I have included here a list of eleven devastatingly bad ‘burning libraries’ or ‘burning […]

    Fiume under D’Annunzio: An Incubator of Evil April 17, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Fiume under D'Annunzio: An Incubator of Evil

    ***Dedicated to Ray G*** Everyone has dreamed of walking through Kublai Khan’s ice palaces or straying into the outer reaches of Dante’s paradise (after St Bernard has spoken) or, for those with a rural bent, strolling through the wood of Keats’ nightingale. But one early twentieth-century community spent the best part of eighteen months in […]

    A Medieval Brass Robot and the Unutterable Name of God April 12, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    A Medieval Brass Robot and the Unutterable Name of God

    This account is given by William of Malmesbury in one of his histories. It is interesting for many reasons, not least because it supposedly came from a doctor in his monastery, who told it to William, when the future historian was a boy. When I [William’s informant] was seven years old despising the mean circumstances […]

    Love Goddess #8: Simonetta Vespucci March 30, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Love Goddess #8: Simonetta Vespucci

    Our latest in the love goddess series (for a full list see below) is Simonetta Vespucci (obit 1476), a woman that had the reputation for being the most outstanding beauty of Florence at the apogee of that city’s golden age. We know that she came from Genova (her maiden name was Cattaneo de Candia), we […]

    Totalitarian Leaders, Urban Legends and Motorbikes March 29, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Totalitarian Leaders, Urban Legends and Motorbikes

    Totalitarian states put their leaders at the very heart of civic life as symbol and reality of fascism/Nazism/communism (or whatever other nightmare a country has fallen into). One of the consequences of the popular focus on the duce/fuhrer/stalin is that the individual citizen comes to feel a special warmth for the head that they might […]

    Declaring War in WW2: National Styles March 23, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Declaring War in WW2: National Styles

    The characters of countries are reflected in their cuisines, their clothes, and their soap operas, so why not in their declarations of war? Thought it might be fun to see whether this notion stands up and so this morning ran through every WW2 declaration of war that I could find from 1 September 1939 through […]

    Unofficial Law and Order March 16, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Unofficial Law and Order

    Beach has recently been researching out in the bogs of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland so far beyond the pale that children are occasionally incinerated as changelings and there is one alleged case of a legal agent being stoned to death! This was a traditional rural society ruled over as much by priests as by the […]

    The Myth of Unbloody Zagonora February 26, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    The Myth of Unbloody Zagonora

    One of the least bloody periods in the history of warfare came in early fifteenth-century Italy. The Italian city states had become a good deal less violent than a century before, and warfare was farmed out to mercenary captains, who proved themselves both greedy and all too often endearingly effete. These mercenary captains were in […]

    Tomatoes and Poison: Humanity’s Innate Conservatism February 17, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Tomatoes and Poison: Humanity's Innate Conservatism

    Tomatoes are one of the fundamentals of modern cuisine in all continents. Yet just five hundred years ago they were a practically unknown Andean plant of the nightshade family that, when grown in New England or French or Italian gardens, were labelled as ‘ornamentals’: i.e. no one put a tomato near their mouth. Why were […]

    Review: Good Italy Bad Italy February 4, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Review: Good Italy Bad Italy

    Italy is a total maverick: a country of extremes that breaks all the rules of how a modern western democracy should work and yet that does work and, in many respects, works quite well. Observers from other countries, particularly from the English-speaking world have long  been fascinated by this anomaly. On the one hand, they […]

    How To Create A Golden Age: Instructions for Use January 27, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    How To Create A Golden Age: Instructions for Use

    There are grey moments in history and there are black moments and, then, every so often there are wonderful conflagarations as the very paper that the past is written upon catches fire. Think the sheer brilliant evenescence of Athens in the fifth-century B.C.; Baghdad in the ninth century; or, indeed, Florence in the fourteenth and […]

    More, Good Digestion and a Prayer December 31, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval
    More, Good Digestion and a Prayer

    Beach, in the tradition of rather straitened New Years Day posts wishes his readers the best of 2014 with this little prayer that was sent in by a friend. As always replace ‘Lord’ with ‘Allah’, ‘First Contact’, ‘the Universe’, ‘Historical Materialism’ till your tastes are satisified… Give me a good digestion, Lord, And also something […]

    Montanelli and the Martyrs of Spielberg December 20, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Montanelli and the Martyrs of Spielberg

    A wonderful story that could probably only come out of Italy. First, some necessary background. Indro Montanelli was perhaps the finest Italian journalist of the twentieth century: he was able to interview and work with Andreotti, Berlusconi, Hitler, John-Paul II, Mussolini and many other notables whose deeds changed the peninsula and Europe (mostly, being notable, […]

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