Fiddled while Rome burned


neroI mentioned the Roman emperor Nero in yesterday’s post. Who doesn’t know the expression Nero fiddled while Rome burned? The statement itself is said to paraphrase Nero’s ineffectual rule from 54 to 68AD.

We know about Nero’s life and personality by the writings of two historians of the time: Tacitus and Suetonius. Their works are considered primary sources history-wise. We know Suetonius by The Twelve Caesars, a work of no little size that covers the life of Julius Caesar and eleven other Caesars before and after. And we know Tacitus by what remains of two surviving works — the Annals and the Histories. According to Tacitus, a senator as well as historian, Emperor Nero was a despot and an exceptionally cruel man. According to Suetonius, he was worse. However he was, Nero would be forever tied to a tragic event nearly two thousand years ago — On this day 1950 years ago Rome burned.

I’ll paint you a picture…

That hot July day in 64 AD was the sort Quo_Vadis,_Nero_burning_Romewhere dry gusts of wind blew the dust to stick on sweaty skin. The fire was said to have started in the market that sprawled alongside the circus, that open arena where sports of all kinds played out. The wind intensified and the fire spread and burned out of control for six days.

Of Rome’s 14 districts, only four escaped damage, but a more spectacular Rome was built upon the ashes of the ruined city. Before the fire, malaria-ridden marshes surrounded the city proper. The fire debris was used as fill. Marble and stone replaced charred wood wide streets for fire breaks and pedestrian arcades replaced the cramped merchant stalls and corridors.  Above all there was now an ample supply of water through the Roman aqueducts: Aqua Appia, Aqua Virgo, Aqua Alexandrina, Aqua Anio Novus, and Aqua Alsietina. Rome was determined not to burn to the ground again.

Tacitus was there during the fire and later wrote this:

“…Now started the most terrible and destructive fire which Rome had ever experienced. It began in the Circus, where it adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills. Breaking out in shops selling inflammable goods, and fanned by the wind, the conflagration instantly grew and swept the whole length of the Circus. There were no walled mansions or temples, or any other obstructions, which could arrest it. First, the fire swept violently over the level spaces. Then it climbed the hills – but returned to ravage the lower ground again. It outstripped every counter-measure. The ancient city’s narrow winding streets and irregular blocks encouraged its progress.

Terrified, shrieking women, helpless old and young, people intent on their own safety, people unselfishly supporting invalids or waiting for them, fugitives and lingerers alike – all heightened the confusion. When people looked back, menacing flames sprang up before them or outflanked them. When they escaped to a neighboring quarter, the fire followed – even districts believed remote proved to be involved. Finally, with no idea where or what to flee, they crowded on to the country roads, or lay in the fields. Some who had lost everything – even their food for the day – could have escaped, but preferred to die. So did others, who had failed to rescue their loved ones. Nobody dared fight the flames. Attempts to do so were prevented by menacing gangs. Torches, too, were openly thrown in, by men crying that they acted under orders. Perhaps they had received orders. Or they may just have wanted to plunder unhampered.

Nero was at Antium. He returned to the city only when the fire was approaching the mansion he had built to link the Gardens of Maecenas to the Palatine. The flames could not be prevented from overwhelming the whole of the Palatine, including his palace. Nevertheless, for the relief of the homeless, fugitive masses he threw open the Field of Mars, including Agrippa’s public buildings, and even his own Gardens. Nero also constructed emergency accommodation for the destitute multitude. Food was brought from Ostia and neighboring towns, and the price of corn was cut to less than ¼ sesterce a pound. Yet these measures, for all their popular character, earned no gratitude. For a rumor had spread that, while the city was burning, Nero had gone on his private stage and, comparing modern calamities with ancient, had sung of the destruction of Troy.

By the sixth day enormous demolitions had confronted the raging flames with bare ground and open sky, and the fire was finally stamped out at the foot of the Esquiline Hill. But before panic had subsided, or hope revived, flames broke out again in the more open regions of the city. Here there were fewer casualties; but the destruction of temples and pleasure arcades was even worse. This new conflagration caused additional ill-feeling because it started on Tigellinus’ estate in the Aemilian district. For people believed that Nero was ambitious to found a new city to be called after himself.

Of Rome’s fourteen districts only four remained intact. Three were leveled to the ground. The other seven were reduced to a few scorched and mangled ruins.”
“The Burning of Rome, 64 AD,” EyeWitness to History, w ww.eyewitnesstohistory. com (1999).

suetoniusSuetonius mentions how the fire devastated the Roman economy and blamed sadistic Nero as the arsonist who personally set fire to the market so that he might find a scapegoat and hold public punishments. He also said Nero played the lyre and sang the Sack of Ilium while the fires blazed out of control. I believe this is where that Nero fiddled while Rome burned comes from.  A severe take on Nero as told by Suetonius

Tacitus has a different opinion. He writes that Nero was not actually in tacitusRome at the time. But after the fire, Nero did find his scapegoat. He blamed the Christians and held great spectacles to kill them off. Before the fire, the Christians were just another Jewish sect with little attention paid to them.  Tacitus’ Annals: A portion of his take on Nero.

This is interesting~

More~
Did Nero really fiddle? The fiddle had yet to be invented!

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100Things.logoFor 100 days, I’ll post something from my chosen topic: Clichés. There are 67 entries to come.

Here’s a cliché for today:

Fit as a fiddle

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I scream you scream


McHenry Riverwalk - Wirtz6My husband and I took a walk last night.  That crazy polar vortex has us experiencing cooler temperatures than normal for July so the night was quite pleasant.

We didn’t walk here, you’d be down a pint of blood or two if you did. Instead, we drove to a town where a boardwalk was built along a smaller river tributary. They obviously do mosquito abatement there. Poisoning bugs of all sorts is occurring in all the towns around where we live. I see the point. Mosquitoes are nasty vectors to some pretty terrible diseases. But the flip side is — those poisons don’t kill the mosquito and pass on the butterfly or bee. Unless the chemical is species specific, they all die. I can count the butterflies I’ve seen this summer on one hand, and frankly that scares me.

While visiting friends recently, we left our car windows down. The trucks came out to fog and not only did that poison get inside our car for our drive home, the parents in that neighborhood didn’t have enough sense to get their kids inside. Roughly 50 years ago my own parents didn’t have the sense to do that. My entire neighborhood of kids stayed outside when the trucks came to spray DDT for the Dutch elm disease deforesting the city in the 1960′s. I wonder how that will come back to bite us all in the butt one day. Perhaps it manifested as my array of auto immune issues. Blah…

Where was I going with this? lol Oh, yeah. We had gelato last night. Along the boardwalk were several cafes and curious shops. There’s a new gelato shop among them. If you don’t know, gelato is Italian for ice cream. (from the word gelare –to freeze and that’s from the Medieval Latin word gelātina)

Comparatively speaking, gelato is a creamier GelatoINT01version of the ice cream we’re all used to. I’ve heard both — gelato has less fat than ice cream, and more fat. I’ve had gelato before. Very nice. This was his first time and he was interested in knowing the differences because not only was it creamier, the portion we were served was a curl smaller than a golf ball and the price for it was rather high. It turns out it’s all about air. American ice cream has roughly 50% air stirred in. (In the land of downsize and bogus packaging, somehow that doesn’t surprise me) Gelato contains about half as much air. Now I know why homemade ice cream is richer tasting. The machine just stirs, it doesn’t increase volume by pumping in air. We both had pistachio. As rich as it was, we found it a perfect, albeit pricey, serving.

It’s National Ice Cream Month?

I was surprised to discover that this morning. Yes there is such an observance. In 1984, then President Ronald Reagan declared, with a presidential proclamation no less, that July would be the National Ice Cream Month. Here’s a little ice cream history.

greek-runner-small1I once read that the Roman emperor Nero had runners sent into the mountains to bring back ice for his table. He had a thing for iced fruit desserts.  The funniest thing came to mind when I read that — an old clip from the Three Stooges. I thought of it again this morning and laughed when I watched it. You know, you can find just about anything on youtube if you know how to search for it. This clip does pertain to ice cream if you plan to make your own.  You’ll need ice. Have a laugh on me.  :D

 

More~
Here’s a recipe for 10 minute ice cream — no machinery required.

Ice cream fun facts.

To feel good about your ice cream choices there’s always Ben & Jerry’s. I prefer vanilla ice cream, plain ol’ vanilla, so Ben & Jerry’s array of flavors was never a huge draw for me.  However I do know people who reach for Ben & Jerry’s every time they buy ice cream. It may not be for me, but you gotta love this company’s fair trade practices and environmentally forward thinking. They even have a foundation that gives grants for grassroots efforts for social change.  Bravo Ben and Jerry. I just might buy some of your salted caramel ice cream. That’s the vanilla kind with a caramel ribbon.

Here are three versions of the origin of the ice cream sundae.
(As a former Chicagoan, I’d always believed it came from the neighboring village of Evanston Illinois)
http://inventors.about.com/od/foodrelatedinventions/a/Sundae.htm

Fun :D

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Here’s a cliché for today:

Cream of the crop

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Shooting for the moon


remembering_apollo_11_moon_mission_640_66Today I’m having a mostly Wordless Wednesday. Forty-five years ago today, the USA launched a Saturn V rocket and on the very tip sat the Apollo 11 crew: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. They were headed to the moon. There are many adjectives to describe the mission and those men in the astronaut program — extraordinary, genius, staggering, determined, hopeful, outrageous, and above all, incredibly brave. 

I remember the moon landing and moonwalk that took place five days later. We were listening to the details of the landing on a transistor radio at a picnic and I was  in the process of getting a terrible sunburn that would make me sick for several days. I remember the far away sound to the voice coming from newly staked out Tranquility Base. It said, “The eagle has landed.” The next day, that astronaut, Neil Armstrong, would take a walk and become the first human to set foot on the surface of the moon. They’d leave a flag and footprints behind. By far, this endeavor ranks as one of the greatest achievements of mankind.
Enjoy the memories.

astroMore~
http://www.history.com/topics/apollo-11
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/apollo11.html

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Here’s a cliché for today:

Shooting for the moon

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Written in Stone


rosettaIn yesterday’s post I mentioned the spark that started the French Revolution. Today’s post starts there too. While the sun was setting on the Sun King’s grandson, Louis XVI, a new star was on the rise — Napoleon Bonaparte. With the concept in mind that Egypt would make a fine French colony, and with Vive la République! simmering in their blood, they also had the vague idea to liberate the native peoples from the Marmluke caste (soldier slaves). Napoleon headed there.

In the town of Raschid lay a discovery that would change how we viewed Ancient Egypt — the Rosetta Stone. (Raschid was also called Rosetta) Today, July 15th, marks the anniversary of that discovery 215 years ago.

My morning research turned up several details on the discovery so I won’t put anything on my blog as a fact unless there are sources to back up the fact. Here are two versions:

A. French soldiers found just lying on the ground.
B. French soldiers were extending the walls of Fort Julien and found it then.

However it was found, the person who did the finding that July in 1799 was Pierre Francois-Xavier Bouchard, Napoleon’s officer of engineers. He sent the slab to the Institut d’Egypte in Cairo along with other antiquities turning up now and again. After Admiral Nelson won the day in the Battle of Aboukir Bay, better known as the Battle of the Nile, France left Egypt in defeat and the Rosetta Stone made its way to London in 1802.

What is the Rosetta Stone? 

The Rosetta Stone is a stone slab, a piece of a larger stele, inscribed with a decree from the time of King Ptolemy V (196 B.C.E.). The inscription was obviously meant for everyone living in Egypt at the time because the same CartouchesAmenhotepIIinformation was written in three languages – Demotic (discovered to be a common document script), Greek (that every university student knew), and Hieroglyphic (a total mystery).  By comparing all three languages and leaning heavily on the understandable Greek, scholars realized the Egyptian pictures went in bunches or cartouches. These cartouches basically amounted to words. What made this an amazing find is up to that point, Egyptian hieroglyphs were seen as just a bunch of decorative pictures.

So many precious artifacts were plundered from ancient sites around the world by the people who occupied them in centuries past. Needless to say, Egypt wants it back.

More~
http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geology/rosetta-stone.htm

The Rosetta Stone: translation of the demotic text

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Here’s a cliché for today:

Written in Stone

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The fuse to the powder keg


weatherUnbelievable but true — the polar vortex is back. It doesn’t bother me half as much as it did during 2013-14 also known as the longest winter of my life. I think it safe to say people have watched the weather since people first walked the earth. As we never want to be out in bad conditions, it’s important to know what’s what to the best of your ability. Weather can influence many things for the good or bad.


Notable weather watchers
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance to Louis XIV urged the construction of the Paris Astronomical Observatory.  The idea behind it was to facilitate global exploration by studying weather. Completed in 1671, this Observatory has been keeping track of weather a long time. Here are some particularly interesting details of weather recorded in France in the late 1780′s:

April to July 1788~
The  growing season that year saw a ridge of high pressure throughout the region and with it a hot and dry period of drought. I should note that at this time the French peasant farmers were still farming using the same poor practices in use during the Middle 807437759Ages. Crop production was looking pretty bleak. By mid-July, the harvest of the meager corn had begun. (corn in this case was barley, oats, wheat, or rye).

The Paris Astronomical Observatory recorded that a devastating thunderstorm passed through the region. An observer to the day was Lord Dorset, the British Ambassador to France. Here’s what he had to say:

“About 9 o’clock in the morning, the darkness at Paris was very great… The hailstones that fell were of a size and weight never heard of before in this country, some of them measuring sixteen inches … and in some places even larger. Two men were found dead upon the road … all the corn and vines destroyed, windows broken and even houses beaten down … It is confidently said that from four to five hundred villages are reduced to such great distress the inhabitants must unavoidably perish”.

Holy cow — Sixteen-inch hail! 

I should add here that at this time 90% of the population of France was trapped in a feudal system that required them to pay dues to the nobility and the Church. If they went hungry doing it, so be it. It didn’t help that King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, and the rest of the French nobility they rubbed elbows with, continued living their lavish lifestyles.  It also didn’t help  that France had already bled the populace dry from supplying the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution. A side note: Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake” upon learning the peasants had no bread.  The phrase most likely came from the mind of Jean-Jacques Rousseau the philosopher.

Winter 1788-89~
That following winter was one of the harshest winters ever recorded in Europe. Thomas APRIL 03Jefferson, the American minister to Paris at the time, wrote this:

“there came a winter of such severe cold as without example … the mercury was at times 50 F below freezing … Great fires at all the cross roads around which the people gathered in crowds to avoid perishing with cold”.

Spring and summer 1789~
Food was scarce that spring and the high cost of what was available created panic throughout the population. Riots were common — 300 between April and July. This time came to be called “the Great Fear of 1789″
. The  stark reality of starvation melded with the seething resentment of the uncaring nobility. It lit a fuse on a powder keg that July.

The angry mob
On the morning of July 14, an angry peasant -French-Revolution-Delacroixmob stormed the Bastille. At first they were met with canon and artillery fire, but after several hours of this cooler heads prevailed. They organized and united and called themselves the National Constituent Assembly. They seized the weapons there and use them on the king’s soldiers. The storming of the Bastille was the beginning of the Reign of Terror. In the ten years that followed, thousands died by the expedient killing machine — the guillotine.

July 14th ~ Happy Bastille Day ~ the start of a French Republic

redA macabre addition to this tale~
Following the executions of the aristocracy and insanity of the Reign of Terror, the bourgeois population made light of it all. Women cut their hair short (as was done to those getting their heads chopped off) and everywhere people tied red ribbons around their throats and on their clothing to commemorate and trivialize that violence. The Victim Ball was a popular party theme conceived by those in mourning for headless friends and family. They often consisted of funeral-style banquets served on top of a coffins and dished up on black dishes.  Weird stuff.

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100Things.logo
For 100 days, I’ll post something from my chosen topic: Clichés.
There are 71 entries to come.

Here’s a cliché for today:

Like a chicken with his head cut off

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Fun Day Sunday!


funday smileIf you’ve been here before then you know Sundays on my blog are all about wonder and smiles. In honor of mentally kicking back once in a while, Sundays are Fun Days! Each Sunday, visitors will find a fun, interesting, or unusual something here. I’m a nerd with a complex sense of humor and absurd wit. It could literally be anything.

I really love this one. Upon seeing this clip, I realized my dogs are moochie freeloaders.

Want more of this adorable pup? He has his own channel on Youtube

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For 100 days, I’ll post something from my chosen topic: Clichés.
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Here’s a cliché for today:

Work like a dog


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The Thief of Bad Gags


Catchy title, no? A spin taken from Sheherezade’s stories of 1001 Arabian Nights, more accurately called The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night.  This is where we get the tales of Aladdin, Abu the thief of Baghdad, and Alibaba and the 40 Thieves.

Who was Sheherezade?
Scheherazade was the daughter of the vizier, the king’s high-ranking political adviser. She grew up in the palace a free woman and a well educated one at that. With access to the books and writings, she immersed herself in poetry, philosophy, the sciences, and the arts, and knew the history and legends of all the kings of many lands. Of the last, she was said to have collected a thousand books on the topic. Wise, witty, and well read, Scheherazade was also known to be pleasant, sweet, and polite. 

Because the faithless wife whom he had loved deeply had betrayed him, Shahryār, the Persian king, vowed he would not be betrayed again. But the law of the land said he must have a wife. To get around that sticky fact, he married, spent the night with, and then beheaded the next wife. And the one after her. And the next. Story has it that 1000 wives met a similar fate.

Now, Scheherazade knew the boy the king scheherazadehad been and had loved him the whole of her life. It troubled her that he was so unhappy. She was certain that whatever it was that led him to marry and behead 1000 wives must be a deep and unrelenting pain in his heart. So against her father’s wishes, Scheherazade volunteered to become Shahryār’s new wife. However, as intelligent a woman as she was, Scheherazade did not come to this union without a plan.

That night after their wedding, she started telling a story, a farewell story she had written for her sister. And the king was captivated by it. As the sun was rising on the day she was to be beheaded, she ended the storytelling at a suspenseful spot. Needing to know how it ended, the king allowed her to live another day. That night she continued the tale, and come morning she once more left him hanging. This went on for 1001 nights and over the course of that time, Scheherazade’s sweetness and the lessons in her stories encouraged Shahryār’s heart to heal. In fact, he’d fallen in love with Scheherazade and she became a true queen of Persia.

Lost in translation

Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821 – 1890) the famous English geographer and orientalist was known for translating some eastern texts into English. He translated 1001 Arabian Nights and the famous Kama Sutra. With the Kama Sutra he lost the point entirely and made it all about sex. A little known fact: The Kama Sutra has a single chapter on sex and a rather thin one at that. The book was about finding pleasure in the smallest things like creature comforts, perfumed scents, textures of fabrics, and sumptuous foods. But Sir Richard, captivated as he was by the erotic elements of one chapter, introduced the Kama Sutra to the Victorian world — a work taken out of context, thus making it something it never was.

A side note: The Obscene Publications Act of 1857  (Lord Campbell’s Act) was an obscenity law in Great Britain. Seeking to get around all that, in 1882, Sir Richard and his partner, Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, created The Kama Shastra Society –a secretive “educational” society.  They claimed their purpose was to “remove the scales from the eyes of Englishmen who are interested in Oriental literature.” While outwardly appearing scholarly, the Kama Shastra Society was about having access to erotica from the Orient.  But they only read them for the articles. lol

berle_milton_smJust so you know The Thief of Bad Gags was a name given to that joke-stealing comedian and one-time vaudevillian, Milton Berle. Today is Milton Berle Day.  And this was my roundabout way of saying it.  :D

 

Tomorrow ~ Fun Day Sunday!

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Here’s a cliché for today:

To make a long story short

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