Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Tears of the Indians, 1656

It's that time of year again. Turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and a side of pondering the oppression of native peoples. Also sometimes there's pumpkin pie!

Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566) wrote this happy little book. It's about Spain's mistreatment and eventual genocide of Indians in Central America and the Caribbean. His father accompanied Columbus on two of his trips to the New World, bringing back Bartolomé a Taino slave, which was nice for him. He and his father immigrated to Hispanola in 1502, where his witnessed firsthand how much it sucked to be a native in the Caribbean. He felt super-bad about all the genociding, so he became a priest and an advocate for abolishing the enslavement of Indians. He was sort of successful, but when Spain was all like, "but we need people to work for us and we don't want to pay them!" de las Casas came up with the perfect solution . . . African slaves! Because they don't count. Everybody thought this was a racist abominable hypocritical great idea.

So while he's pretty cool for being nice to Indians, he totally sucks for contributing to one of humanity's greatest horrors -- black slavery in the New World. Even-Steven? Not really, no. So happy Thanksgiving and American Indian Heritage Month, with respective apologies to Turkeys and Indians.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Seaman's Secrets, 1626

John Davis (c.1550-1605) was a successful explorer during the reign of Elizabeth I. He discovered the Falkland Islands, where his crew killed like 100,000 penguins and the meat spoiled and most of the sailors died of worms, and the Davis Straight, which he named after himself. Basically, he sailed all over the place (maybe even with Raleigh!). Then he invented some sort of quadrant called the Backstaff that was pretty cool. Anyway, he published The Seaman's Secrets, a navigation guide, in 1594.

Tragically, he was killed by Japanese pirates off of Sumatra in 1605. RIP, John Davis. Maybe if you REALLY knew how to navigate properly you would've made it to someplace cool like Atlantis or something.

What is the next necessary thing to be learned?

ps -- Do you know what a Googlewhack is? Because apparently this website has one! With two amazing words, I might add:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chirologia, or the Naturall Language of the Hand, 1644

John Bulwer was a medical practitioner and, essentially, an early linguistic theorist who explored the idea of the physical human body as a medium of communication. With Chirologia, Bulwer created one of the first English books on deafness and the education of deaf-mutes. Chirologia comprehensively catalogs the meanings of hand gestures and emphasizes the value of manual gestures for speech, oration, and acting. His catalog of gestures is not based on a set "sign language," but rather his own observations and other classical texts. However, Bulwer did advocate for special schools for the deaf, although he was really more interested in devising ways of teaching the deaf to speak than in designing, describing, or using any sign language they might have of their own. [source, source]
Bulwer argued that gestural language was universal and primary, while spoken language is just one more tool in the complex scheme of communication. His idea related to the contemporary interest in the notion of universal languages, as well as supporting what would later be known as the gestural theory, which proposes all language evolved from gesture.

You can find more information on the book at the
Folger Shakespeare Library and an you can check out an excerpt included in the 2001 book Imagining Language: An Anthology, which is a collection of writings that "demonstrate the continuum of creative conjecture on language from antiquity to the present." So apparently, what I first thought of as funny Renaissance gang signs turned out to be a pretty important step for the instruction of the deaf and a prescient take on linguistic evolution. This makes me feel slightly bad for making a handjob joke.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Description of a Monstrous Pig, 1562

Good God, WHERE IS ITS FACE? This is the most awful picture I've ever seen, and I've seen some gross pig pictures in my day. This one comes courtesy of Robert Martin, a London farmer who had a sow that gave birth to seven normal piglets and one horribly deformed monster, "more monstrous than any that hath bene seene before this time, as you may see by this picture." I'm inclined to agree.

According to the text, the piglet "hath a head contrary to all other of that kynd, it hath a face without a nose or eyes, saving a hole standing directly betwen the two eares which eares be broad and long, lyke the eares of a bloude hound, and a monstrous body, lyke vnto a thing that were lean, without heare. It hath feet very monstrous, with ye endes of them turning vpwards, lyke vnto forked endes." It died two hours after birth.

Fortunately, there was a reason for its disfigurement and death: "let vs be assured that these straunge monstrous sightes do foreshew vnto vs, that [God's] heavy indignation wyl shortly come vpon vs for our monstrous livyng."

I think the same logic can be applied to swine flu, don't you? God's just trying to tell us that unless we clean up our polluted and diseased minds, we will probably die from an incurable virus. Thanks, Renaissance. Glad we cleared that up.

(And thanks to Geoff at Michigan State University for pretty much this entire post. Well done.)

But seriously, WHERE IS ITS FUCKING FACE? It looks like it imploded! Pigs are messed up.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Walter Raleigh was on The Simpsons!

I don't normally tune in to The Simpsons, but last night I was flipping through and saw that the first 5 minute vignette of this episode was about Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh! Homer is Raleigh and Marge is Elizabeth Throckmorton. It was fantastic! Here's the episode:

The Simpsons 2020 - Four Great Women and a Manicure
I have always pictured King Phillip of Spain that way. Also, he had the best lines, like this one:

"Guard, take him away and put things inside of him."
"Nice things?"
"No, not nice things!"

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A true relation of the admirable voiage and trauell of William Bush, 1607

Full title: A true relation of the admirable voiage and trauell of William Bush gentleman who with his owne handes without any other mans helpe, made a pynace, in which he past by ayre, land, and water: from Lamborne, in Barkshire, to the custome house key in Londen.

So, this pamphlet (written by Anthony Nixon) chronicles Bush's party trick of traveling by water, land, and air in a boat. Wait . . . what? This calls for research!

According to The Folger Library: Two Decades of Growth, An Informal Account (1968), by Louis B. Wright, the document is "important as one of the earliest examples of journalistic reporting." He describes the image as, "Mr. Bush guiding his pinnace down a rope contraption from the top of the tower, to give it the appearance of a flying machine. His stunt in traveling by air, land, and water created a sensation at the time, and Nixon's book is a landmark in the history of reporting" (57).

The actual text is in black letter and is pretty hard to read, but I gather that Bush's trick was pretty impressive. It strikes me as kind of lame though, like this was something he did on a dare to show up some other gentleman. It has a certain aren't-I-clever vibe, don't you think?

Anyway, apparently if you're a journalist you should be glad that Mr. Bush made a "flying" ship and Nixon wrote about it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

Today is William Shakespeare's birthday! And death day! Party at my house -- we'll hold a feast in great solemnity.

I sort of love Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence. It makes me feel better about reading and critiquing poetry, mostly because it gives me a reason for being snarky and calling things "derivative." I especially like calling everything derivative of early modern poetry, which is the best poetry ever. In all honesty, Shakespeare the poet is the specter that haunted everybody's work (especially Keats') for the next 200 years, and he's still causing poets plenty of anxiety today. Bloom initially said that influence was not an issue for Shakespeare, but later he admitted that Shakespeare was working through his own anxieties caused by the success of Christopher Marlowe.

In other news, did you know that Shakespeare is SUPER SEXY AND HOT now? Well, he is. Happy 445th birthday!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sir Francis Drake Revived, 1653

Sir Francis Drake is interesting to me. Not because he defeated the Spanish Armada, or because he circumnavigated the globe or anything boring like that. He interests me because he is one of Queen Elizabeth's 4 main boyfriends--which is so scandalous!! I've dealt with the famous Essex before, and of course Robert Dudley was her first love. However, she definitely went through an "exciting world explorers" phase, which featured Drake (he's kind of hot, isn't he? He's no Essex, but not bad) and my personal favorite and most crush-worthy royal boyfriend, Sir Walter Raleigh . Incidentally, when I'm not writing copious important notes, I am drawing beautifully nuanced and sophisticated portraits like this in my notebook:

I am a very good artist.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Life and Death of Griffin Flood, 1623

Griffin Flood was a rogue, con-man and informer who scammed a bunch of people out of their money (and was a tattletale). He specialized in targeting foreigners and apprentices. He is characterized as being "churlish" and loud-mouthed quite often in the pamphlet. Eventually he stabs a constable and a vintner, is caught, and because he won't admit his guilt is sentenced to peine forte et dure, which equates to death by pressing. Apparently the guy didn't even have any property to save, so I guess his refusal to plead was just more churlishness. Luckily, Newgate Prison had it's own "Pressing Yard" for just such occasions. He even wrote his own epitath:
"Here lyeth Griffin Flood full low in his grave,
Who lived a Rascall and died a Knave."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mars in his field, or, the exercise of arms, 1625

No you fucking don't. He'll cut you so bad you'll wish he didn't cut you.

By the way, if you are presenting your drawn sword higher than your face (as appeareth) you are doing it totally wrong. Where did you take swashbuckling lessons, anyway? Just look at how intimidating you'd look if you knew how to exercise your arms properly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Vermiculars destroyed, 1690

The full title is: Vermiculars destroyed with an historical account of worms, collected from the best authors as well ancient as modern, proved by that admirable invention of the microscope: with directions for the taking those most famous medicines, intituled Pulvis Benedictus, etc.: also diagnostick signs of worms and signs of health in children, with the various causes of vermiculars.

There are three editions of Vermiculars destroyed, which is initially made up of accounts about various worms people saw coming out of various body parts. But it's also an excellent example of how the microscope made everybody paranoid about invisible worms (or "vermiculars") that could be crawling around on everything you touch giving you the plague. It's actually pretty interesting, because the author (a doctor) goes through a number of experiments in which he looks at rotting substances at different stages and sees these "vermiculars." Then he goes on to write about people who have had vermiculars inside of them and how they were cured of the disease or vermicular infestation (much of the science is still based in humoral theory, though). Then he gets really paranoid about getting vermiculars on or in him, and presents us with the "Causes of Worms," which seem to consist of everything:

Yes, it seems that all food and drink and also air and imagination and oversleeping and emotion and God will give you worms. I especially like how he admits to some opposition about the "supernatural causes," but a Bible quote proves that God totally gives you worms.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Anatomy of Human Bodies Epitomized, 1697

Thomas Gibson (1647-1722) wrote this anatomy book, and I choose this particular heart for my valentine because a.) it's a pretty good drawing of a heart, and b.) he used the heart of a "10 year old boy" as a model for the drawing.

First published anonymously in 1682, The Anatomy of Human Bodies Epitomiz’d was probably the most successful English anatomical textbook published to date – it was ultimately issued in eight editions. Gibson, the Physician-General to the English army, based his comprehensive text on Alexander Read’s Manual of Anatomy. However, the content was so extensively revised and supplemented Gibson claimed authorship. Gibson listed his principal sources (some 33 titles by 27 authors) which was an uncommon practice at the time.[source]

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Guystarde and Sygysmonde, 1532

This is the english translation of Boccaccio's Decameron's day 4, tale 1, in which Tancredi, Prince of Salerno and father of Ghismonda, slays his daughter's lover, Guiscardo, and sends her his heart in a golden cup: she pours upon it a poisonous distillation, which she drinks and dies. C'est l'amour.

I've dealt with the cutting out of hearts before, so pick the one you like and send it to your valentine. They'll love the message of sacrificing your life for the thing you most desire.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mikrokosmographia, 1615

"The fruit which it [the gallows] produces,
Doth seldom serve for profitable uses:
Except the skillful Surgeon’s industry
Do make Dissection of Anatomy…
That what it bears, are dead commodities."
--John Taylor, “The Description of Tyburn” (1630)

You know, I did my thesis on the social and political place of the dead/executed body in early modern society--specifically in Jacobean drama and printed materials. I discussed the anatomy theaters at length, so I'm going to learn you up good about this so you get the joke:

A body’s use in an anatomy lesson was frequently the final chapter of a tragedy that began at the public gallows. In 1540, Henry VIII allowed the Barber-Surgeons’ Company access to four corpses of executed criminals each year, and in 1565 Elizabeth did the same for the College of Physicians. By 1583, Physicians’ Hall began hosting official anatomy lectures that could be attended with a special invitation, and the same practice soon followed at the Barbers-Surgeons’ Company. Initially, the public anatomies were held in the large hall of the company, and temporary seating was built to accommodate the growing number of spectators. The gory spectacle that the viewers confronted was reminiscent of both public executions and the bloodier aspects Jacobean theater (so of course it was super popular).

The lectures were held four times a year, undoubtedly occurring after the quarterly assizes but also creating the equivalent of an “anatomy season” when bodies were available. The anatomical subject was at the center of a set of commercial relations that defined the body of the criminal as a consumable object, inspiring John Taylor’s characterization of the bodies at the gallows as “dead commodities.” There was a lot of corpse-stealing going on as well (but in the name of SCIENCE! Don't feel bad about it).

Anyway, there was a problem with the whole "desecration of a corpse" thing that the medical schools appeased by only dissecting criminals (who were lost causes anyway). Issue: circumvented! Take that, church!

Would you like to read further on this? Probably you do!:
Jonathan Sawday’s The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body explores the connections between the new science of anatomy, a curiosity about the workings of the human body, and the poetic and rhetorical tropes associated with discovery. Hillary M. Nunn’s recent study, Staging Anatomies: Dissection and Tragedy in Early Stuart Drama, builds on Sawday’s assertions, and approaches the issue of anatomy’s influence on the early Stuart stage. She traces the role of public dissection in London’s anatomy theaters and the representations of dissected bodies on stage. These studies provide insight into the way the body of a criminal was viewed.

Now you know...and knowing is half the battle.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

President Rochester, 2009

President Wilmot would probably spend all our tax money on booze and hookers, but that's not too far removed from what most politicians do anyway. In fact, I think he'd have to come up with some new deplorable behaviors to even register on the CNN ticker...maybe like texting sexual messages to his young male intern while doing crystal meth and auto-erotically asphixiating himself in an airport bathroom as he waits to sell senate seats on the black market.

I don't even know what's scandalous anymore. In the 17th century all you had to do was write a funny epigram.

Internet Rochester, 2009

Internet Fad Rochester
Build your own Blingee

YES! This is the best picture ever.

Awhile ago I started a series called Rochester Through the Ages, but this trumps it. Big time. It was so fun that I'm going to start another series in which Rochester embodies abstract ideas or states of being, but for now I think we should just enjoy this. Needless to say Internet Rochester would have the blingest myspace page ever.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A statute for swearers and drunkards, 1624

The moral of this ballad is that you shouldn't get sloppy-ass drunk and say dirty words, which is pretty standard stuff on the early-modern moral front.

I think what makes it special is that the guy, even though it's a pretty crude woodcut, really does look sloppy-ass drunk. He's got his booze and his pipe and his nagging wife, and I can't tell if that's supposed to be a fashionable kerchief or vomit running down his front (I'm going with vomit). Also, is he straddling a chamber pot? If so, that's kind of awesome.

But then that wife of his is coming in all like, "quit drinking!" and harshing his buzz and making threats. Party-pooper. She used to be cool.

Actually, the more I look at it, maybe that's not a ladle, but another pipe, and the wife's pissed because her husband smoked her stash. This is a very complicated picture.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A New Voyage Round the World, 1697

The explorer William Dampier made this map, but it's pretty useless without all my notes and insider tips. That's probably why Dampier was kicked out of the Navy...the whole story about dropping some guy he didn't like off in a Brazilian prison is just a red herring.

(p.s.-- I did two sweet Literary Makeovers you should probably check out.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ouer-throw of an Irish rebell, 1608

If there was ever a contest for "most pwned race in history," I think the Irish might win.

This pamphlet tells the story of Sir Cahir O'Doughterty, an Irish lord who resisted the English presence in Ireland. O'Dougherty is offended when George Paulett, the English Governor of Derry, punches him in the face and threatens him with a death sentence. So O'Dougherty sneaks into Derry, kills Paulett and almost everybody else, and destroys the settlement. Then he marches with rebel forces to a few more English plantations and fortresses and burns them down in a fairly rash and unorganized rebellion. Finally, he gets shot, and the English stick his head on a pike. The End.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Renaissance, you're so gross!

We all know the Renaissance had its share of perverts and dirty messages, but I think my delicate sensibilities have finally been tested in this initial installment of "Renaissance, you're so gross!" I give you the following images of early modern ass kissing.

The first image comes from Strange Nevvs from Newgate and the Old-Baily: or The Proofs, examinations, declarations, indictments, conviction, and confessions of I. Collins and T. Reeve (1651). The pamphlet describes crimes of two clergymen (and others) accused of blasphemy and partying too hard on Sundays. I've included the accompanying text that describes the terrible (actually it's pretty funny) blasphemy above the image of the two men engaged in such "uncivil behavior as the kissing of one another's breeches, more lively represented by this figure:"

Wow. I don't know what's worse, the ass kissing or the whole thing about drinking the Blood of Christ and then pissing out God.

The pamphlet is full of descriptions of blasphemous and sexual acts, but the author certainly seems to revel in telling us all the dirty details for, uh, "educational purposes."

The next image is from A letter to Mr. Marriot from a friend of his: wherein his name is redeemed form that detraction G.F. Gent. hath indeavoured to fasten upon him, by a scandalous and defamatory libell, intituled "The great eater of Grayes Inne, or, the life of Mr. Marriot the cormorant" (1652). John Ben Marriott was a lawyer known as "the great eater" who's name became a by-word for gluttony. He was the subject of several coarse pamphlets like The Great Eater of Grayes Inne, which described at length how he ate a banquet set for 20 men, stole dogs and other strange things to cook, and concludes with a few gross recipes. Basically, he was a fatty. Here's the frontispiece of A Letter, his answer to the attacks:

Burn! That'll show 'em.

I especially like how the publisher felt he could show a picture of an ass, but not spell out the word "arse". Because that would just be crude.

For good measure, I'll include one more dirty thing from the 17th century-- the best "long s" ever published:

Whew! I'm officially grossed out.