Going from house to house singing Christmas carols is a long-held tradition. But what if the wassailers turn up with a goat or a horse’s head? And what if they take you with them?
1500 CE until 1800 CE
In the 18th century, a new pirate crew would come together to elect a captain and quartermaster, and agree on a shared code of conduct: what we today call the pirate code.
Around 1730 a German secret society recorded their initiation rituals in an encrypted manuscript. In 2011, that cipher was finally decoded.
Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse led a French scientific expedition around the Pacific; in 1788 it disappeared without a trace. A young Napoléon Bonaparte almost went with him.
Neither Aladdin nor Ali Baba were in the original Thousand and One Nights (aka the Arabian Nights). The tales first appeared in the French translation, probably from a Syrian Christian storyteller named Hanna Diyab who lived in Paris from 1708 to 1710.
The famed Baroque artist Caravaggio painted his masterwork while on the run from Rome, as an accused murderer and a Knight of Malta. When the knights expelled him from the order, they did so beneath that same painting.
The Mimizuka monument in Kyoto, Japan, is full of Korean noses. It is a hanazuka, a nose tomb.
Music notation gives you a record of exactly how to play a piece of music. But how do you write a record of a dance?
The famous legal phrase caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) entered common law because of a 17th century dispute over a magic bezoar stone.
Behold the fabulous creatures of myth and legend! The dragon, the phoenix, the basilisk, the roc, the unicorn… and the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary?
The Tsar Bell in Moscow is the largest extant bell in the world – but it has never been rung.
Some of the first public schools in North America were founded explicitly to counteract “that old deluder, Satan.”
The solfège system teaches Western music scales: do re mi fa sol la ti do. But who is “do”?
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.