The solfège system teaches Western music scales: do re mi fa sol la ti do. But who is “do”?
1500 CE until 1800 CE
The famed Romantic poet Thomas Gray wrote a verse about his friend’s cat drowning in a goldfish bowl. [2 of 2]
Cat poetry has a long history: Christopher Smart wrote a Romantic religious poem featuring his cat Jeoffry while confined in a mental asylum in the 1760s. [1 of 2]
“Gaudeamus igitur” is a solemn Latin song commonly sung at Western graduation ceremonies. Two hundred and fifty years ago, it was a bawdy student drinking song.
Poisoned potions of immortality caused the death of up to seven Chinese emperors – the last less than three centuries ago.
A Portuguese mercenary stole the largest working bell in history from Shwedagon Pagoda, and then lost it in the waters of the Yangon River.
John Newton was a press-ganged sailor, a slave, a slave-ship captain, an Anglican priest, an abolitionist, and the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
How about that time that the Egyptian Mamluks, with secret support from Venice, battled the Portuguese in the sea off the coast of India?
Take a log, paint it black, and make sure your enemy can see it. The “quaker guns” were a key piece of strategic deception in the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
In 1836 a missionary in New Zealand learned of a strange artefact that had been in Māori possession for several generations: a bronze bell with an unfamiliar script. The script was Tamil, the bell came from Sri Lanka, and it was hundreds of years old.
From the 15th to the 19th century CE, the Akan used sets of ornate statues as a measurement system for weighing gold dust, but also encoding and reinforcing cultural knowledge at the same time.
In 1687 Ottoman-controlled Athens, the Venetians blew up the Parthenon. The Ottomans built a mosque from its ruins.
When a samurai received a new katana, the sharpness of the sword could be tested by attacking a random civilian or (after that was banned) by slicing a criminal or corpse.
The body of famed astronomer Tycho Brahe was dug up twice (in 1901 and 2010) to find out what killed him. The conclusion: he died of excessive politeness.
Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a seminal text on education and raising children. He also abandoned five of his own children soon after their births.
The national canal network of Britain powered its Industrial Revolution, then fell into disuse, and then rose again in the late 20th century.