Thoughts To Live By…

Archive for the ‘History/Origin’ Category

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Hitler, one of history's biggest liars, takes the podium

According to myth, a young George Washington confessed to cutting down a cherry tree by proclaiming, “I cannot tell a lie.” The story is testament to how much respect Americans have for their cherished first president and honesty in general. Unfortunately, in the annals of history it seems there are 10 dishonest scoundrels for every honorable hero like Washington.

Supposedly, the truth can set you free. But for many, deceit holds the key to money, fame, revenge or power, and these prove all too tempting. In history, this has often resulted in elaborate hoaxes, perjuries, and forgeries that had enormous ripple effects.

In the following pages, we’ll go over some of the most colossal and significant lies in history. Although such a list can’t be comprehensive, we sought to include a variety of lies that influenced politics, science and even art. As a result of these, lives were lost, life-savings destroyed, legitimate research hampered and — most of all — faith in our fellow man shattered.

Without further ado, let’s delve into one of the oldest and most successful lies on record.

10. The Trojan Horse

If all is fair in love and ­war, this might be the most forgivable of the big lies. When the Trojan Paris absconded with Helen, wife of the Spartan king, war exploded. It had been raging for 10 long years when the Trojans believed they had finally overcome the Greeks. Little did they know, the Greeks had another trick up their sleeves.

In a stroke of genius, the Greeks built an enormous wooden horse with a hollow belly in which men could hide. After the Greeks convinced their foes that this structure was a peace offering, the Trojans happily accepted it and brought the horse within their fortified city. That night, as the Trojans slept, Greeks hidden inside snuck out the trap door. Then, they proceeded to slaughter and decisively defeat the Trojans.

This was unquestionably one of the biggest and most successful tricks known to history — that is, if it’s true. Homer mentions the occurrence in “The Iliad,” and Virgil extrapolates the story in “The Aeneid.” Evidence suggests that Troy itself existed, giving some validity to Homer’s tales, and scholars have long been investigating how historically accurate these details are. One theory behind the Trojan horse comes from historian Michael Wood, who proposes that it was merely a battering ram in the shape of a horse that infiltrated the city .

In any case, the story has won a permanent place in the Western imagination as a warning to beware of enemies bearing gifts.

9. Han van Meegeren’s Vermeer Forgeries

This lie re­sulted from a classic case of wanting to please the critics. Han van Meegeren was an artist who felt underappreciated and thought he could trick art experts into admitting his genius.

In the early 20th century, scholars were squabbling about whether the great Vermeer had painted a series of works depicting biblical scenes. Van Meegeren pounced on this opportunity and set to work carefully forging one such disputed work, “The Disciples at Emmaus.” With tireless attention to detail, he faked the cracks and aged hardness of a centuries-old painting. He intentionally played on the confirmation bias of critics who wanted to believe that Vermeer painted these scenes. It worked: Experts hailed the painting as authentic, and van Meegeren made out like a bandit producing and selling more fake Vermeers. Greed apparently overcame his desire for praise, as he decided not to out himself.

However, van Meegeren, who was working in the 1930s and ’40s, made one major mistake. He sold a painting to a prominent member of the Nazi party in Germany. After the war, Allies considered him a conspirator for selling a “national treasure” to the enemy . In a curious change of events, van Meegeren had to paint for his freedom. In order to help prove that the painting was no national treasure, he forged another in the presence of authorities.

He escaped with a light sentence of one year in prison, but van Meegeren died of a heart attack two months after his trial.

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By Raul Pangalangan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:09:00 05/22/2009


Granada, the last Moorish capital in Spain, was taken by the Catholic monarchs in 1492, the most glorious year of the Reconquista when Granada’s last Muslim ruler, Boabdil, surrendered his kingdom to the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile (supposedly the potent union of the pious Isabel and the Machiavellian Ferdinand). Thus ended seven centuries of Muslim rule over virtually the entire Iberian peninsula, which they called Al-Andalus, with cities that boasted of palaces, mosques, gardens, universities, public baths and bustling markets. Historians have spoken of their “courts of justice, central administration, respect for citizens’ private life” that placed Al-Andalus centuries ahead of the rest of Europe of that time. In 1212, the reigning emir built a palace complex called the Alhambra, “al-kalat al-Hamrá” (or “the castle built of red earth,” after the reddish clay found in the Granada valley), which today stands as a fitting reminder of the sophisticated civilization that thrived in Moorish Spain.

The Alhambra was a government center, fortress, and royal residence combined. Built atop a hill, its walled garden, the Generalife, was intended to be a preview of paradise. Its palaces have been described as “ennobled with sublimity and splendor,” the walls and ceilings covered with Islamic verses and adorned with the most intricate ornamentation. Indeed some modern scientists detect a mathematical complexity in the symmetry of the ceramic tile-work, and it is said that the Dutch artist Maurits Escher’s strange geometric drawings were inspired by the Alhambra’s designs. The columns that lined its courtyards were positioned to serve as markers on a sundial, and the rooms were aligned to make the most of the sun in winter and of the shade in summer.

The most distinctive element in the Alhambra is its use of water in reflective pools and fountains, where it is said, even the sound of falling water was intended to be part of the design. It had baths with hot and cold water. It coursed the cold waters flowing from the mountains underneath the floors for “ambient” cooling. And it had lavatories flushed with water, with separate wash basins and ventilation.

I have just left Granada as I write this and I am still awestruck by what I have seen. The past days have been disorienting. Watching Spanish TV, I saw an advertisement for Agujeros de Filipinos, some sort of a chocolate biscuit. The movies showing in town are “Angeles y Demonios” and “Noche en el Museo 2.” It makes me regret that I don’t remember anything from my 12 units of Spanish in college—and I will definitely watch those movies in their English-language original.

And now I understand better why our Spanish colonizers really had this thing about the Moros in Mindanao. I can imagine them, having triumphed at Granada in 1492 and then colonizing our islands in the mid-1500s. They sailed to the outer edge of the known universe, and who do they find? The local comrades of their Moorish protagonists back home! I suppose, for them, this was no local insurgency. It was not as if they had to subdue merely some troublesome natives. They were replaying the centuries-long Reconquista, and securing their triumph from fresh threats in the New World. Thus the urge not just to put down the recalcitrant Moros but to put down their religion as well. And that latter urge is even more compelling, because the conquistadores were up against a religion, nay an Islamic civilization, that had put much of Europe to shame for all of seven centuries.

But historical perspective can teach us yet other lessons. The triumph of the Reconquista, after the initial flush of magnanimity to Muslims and Jews, actually heightened the Inquisition. At around 1492 and soon after, the Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada expelled 200,000 Jews and persecuted the Muslims through forced baptisms, the burning of Islamic books and a ban on the Arabic language—all this from a faith that taught us to love others as God loved us.

I am convinced that religious wars, deep down, are never really about faith and spirituality. They are about power, plain and simple. Religious causes are merely proxies for the truer, more earthly causes of human strife, and religion just provides the ideological cover and the inspiring call to arms. The sooner we separate the true issues from the false, the better for us all. We could have had a fuller debate on the aborted peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which was struck down as unconstitutional. Sadly, in doing so, we merely replaced the obscurantism of religious debate with the self-righteousness of the local brand of constitutionalism. Either way, we never really cut to the real issues: health, shelter, and education for Mindanao’s youth, by securing for them their just share of Mindanao’s wealth.

Conversely, this should also chastise Muslims here and abroad. Take the Alhambra and what it says about the lofty achievements of Islamic culture. Then contrast that to the dominant news that we encounter today. The worldwide death warrant against the writer Salman Rushdie. The Talibans and their bizarre practices. The terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid, and Bali. And, of late, the Abu Sayyaf as nothing but a kidnap-for-ransom gang. Filipino Muslims, especially, should dissociate themselves publicly and categorically from wayward elements that bring dishonor to an enduring religion that deserves better champions.

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Comments to passionforreason@gmail.com

Introduction to How Valentine’s Day Works

Esther Howland, the woman who produced the first commercial American valentines in the 1840s, sold a then mind-boggling $5,000 in cards during her first year of business. The valentine industry in the United States has been booming ever since. Today, over 1 billion valentine cards are sent in this country each year — second in number only to Christmas cards, according to the Greeting Card Association. (The happy day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia.)

Around 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to cards, there are millions of boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses purchased (mostly by men) for the February 14 holiday.

When did the Valentine’s Day frenzy begin? Scholars tell slightly different versions of the history of this popular holiday. In this article, we’ll look at that history, with its Roman and Christian roots, as well as holiday traditions that have developed over the years. We’ll also check out some old valentines and some new ones.

Origins of the Day of Love

The origins of Valentine’s Day are shrouded in mystery. According to University of Notre Dame Professor Lawrence Cunningham, scholars have two main theories to explain how February 14 became synonymous with romance:

  • Roman Feast of Lupercalia – This ancient pagan fertility celebration, which honored Juno, queen of the Roman gods and goddesses and goddess of women and marriage, was held on February 14, the day before the feast began. During festival time, women would write love letters, also known as billets, and leave them in a large urn. The men of Rome would then draw a note from the urn and ardently pursue the woman who wrote the message they had chosen. (Apparently, the custom of lottery drawings to select valentines continued into the 18th century, coming to an end when people decided they’d rather choose — sight seen! — their valentines.)
  • The Birds and the Bees? – In the Middle Ages, people began to send love letters on Valentine’s Day. Medieval Europeans believed that birds began to mate on February 14.

There’s also some controversy regarding Saint Valentine, for whom the famous day is named. Archaeologists, who unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine, are not sure if there was one Valentine or more. Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred on February 14 — at least two of those in Italy during the 3rd century. The most popular candidate for St. Valentine was a 3rd century Roman priest who practiced Christianity and performed secret marriages against direct orders from Emperor Claudius II, who believed single soldiers were more likely to join his army. Legend has it that Valentine sent a friend (the jailer’s daughter) a note signed “From Your Valentine” before he was executed on February 14 in 270 A.D. (That phrase is still used prominently on today’s cards!)

Early Christians were happier with the idea of a holiday honoring the saint of romantic causes than with one recognizing a pagan festival. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius named February 14 in honor of St. Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. In 1969, Pope Paul VI dropped it from the calendar. However, the blend of Roman festival and Christian martyrdom had caught on, and Valentine’s Day was here to stay.

The First Written Valentines

Verbal and singing valentines began to be replaced by written missives in Europe in the 15th century. The first written valentine is usually attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415. He reportedly passed the time by writing romantic verses for his wife. By the 16th century, written valentines were commonplace.

What were early valentines like?
Early valentines were made by hand, using colored paper, watercolors and colored inks. These valentine styles, some still made today, included:

  • Pinprick valentines – Made by pricking tiny holes in paper with a pin to resemble the look of lace
  • Cutout valentines– Lace-look cards made by folding paper several times and cutting out a lace design with small, sharp scissors
  • Acrostic valentines – Verses in which the first letters in the lines spelled out the beloved’s name
  • Rebus valentines – Verses in which small pictures took the place of some of the words (for example, an eye instead of I)

Cards decorated with black and white pictures painted by factory workers began to be created in the early 1800s; by the end of the century, valentines were being made entirely by machine. Sociologists theorize that printed cards began to take the place of letters, particularly in Great Britain, because they were an easy way for people to express their feelings in a time when direct expression of emotions was not fashionable.

Manufactured cards notwithstanding, increasingly beautiful handmade Valentines were often small works of art, richly decorated with silk, satin or lace, flowers or feathers and even gold leaf. And many featured Cupid, the cherubic, be-winged son of Venus, and a natural Valentine’s Day “mascot.” (If you’d like to read more about Cupid, take a look at Holidays.net: Cupid.)

Some of the more unusual valentines were created by lonely sailors during the Victorian era — they used seashells of various sizes to create hearts, flowers and other designs or to cover heart-shaped boxes.

Valentine Symbols

It’s not difficult to figure out the connection between the heart and Valentine’s Day. The heart, after all, was thought in ancient times to be the source of all emotions. It later came to be associated only with the emotion of love. (Today, we know that the heart is, basically, the pump that keeps blood flowing through our bodies.)

It’s not clear when the valentine heart shape became the symbol for the heart. Some scholars speculate that the heart symbol as we use it to signify romance or love came from early attempts by people to draw an organ they’d never seen. Anyway, here are some of the other valentine symbols and their origins:

  • Red roses were said to be the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Also, red is a color that signifies strong feelings.
  • Lace has long been used to make women’s handkerchiefs. Hundreds of years ago, if a woman dropped her handkerchief, a man might pick it up for her. Sometimes, if she had her eye on the right man, a woman might intentionally drop her handkerchief to encourage him. So, people began to think of romance when they thought of lace.
  • Love knots have series of winding and interlacing loops with no beginning and no end. A symbol of everlasting love, love knots were made from ribbon or drawn on paper.
  • Lovebirds, colorful birds found in Africa, are so named because they sit closely together in pairs — like sweethearts do. Doves are symbols of loyalty and love, because they mate for life and share the care of their babies.

How about the “X” sign representing a kiss? This tradition started with the Medieval practice of allowing those who could not write to sign documents with an “X”. This was done before witnesses, and the signer placed a kiss upon the “X” to show sincerity. This is how the kiss came to be synonymous with the letter “X”, and how the “X” came to be commonly used at the end of letters as kiss symbols. (Some believed “X” was chosen as a variation on the cross symbol, while others believe it might have been a pledge in the name of Christ, since the “X” — or Chi symbol — is the twenty-second letter of the Greek alphabet and has been used in church history to represent Christ.)

It became easier to mail valentines in the mid 1800s, when the modern postal service implemented the penny post. Until then, postage was so pricey that most cards were delivered by hand.

Esther Howland struck gold with the first commercial American valentines. Today, there are nearly 2,000 greeting card publishers in the United States.

Other Valentine Traditions

A variety of interesting Valentine’s Day traditions developed over time. For example, hundreds of years ago in England, children dressed up as adults on Valentine’s Day and went singing holiday verses from door to door. In Wales, wooden love spoons, carved with key, keyhole and heart designs, were given as gifts.

The gift of flowers on Valentine’s Day probably dates to the early 1700s when Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art called “the language of flowers” to Europe. Throughout the 18th century, floral lexicons were published, allowing secrets to be exchanged with a lily or lilac, and entire conversations to take place in a bouquet of flowers. The more popular the flower, the more traditions and meanings have been associated with it.

The rose, representing love, is probably the only flower with a meaning that is universally understood. The red rose remains the most popular flower bought by men in the United States for their sweethearts. In more recent years, people have sent their sweethearts their favorite flowers, rather than automatically opting for roses. Also making the list of valentine favorites are tulips, lilies, daisies and carnations.

Among early valentine gifts were candies, usually chocolates, in heart-shaped boxes. Companies like Godiva Chocolatiers have made high quality chocolate in artistic designs and elegant wrappings a traditional Valentine’s gift.

Today, just about anything goes for a Valentine’s Day gift, depending on the recepient’s tastes. If you’re trying to move away from the flowers and candy, you can always check out our gift guide for a range of ideas from stuffed animals to the latest gadgets.

What’s New with Valentines?

Apparently, gifts of chocolates and flowers haven’t replaced carefully chosen cards on Valentine’s Day. Since 1915, Hallmark, the undisputed leader of the greeting card industry, has manufactured cards to be mailed in envelopes. Founder Joyce Hall started selling greeting postcards from two shoe boxes as early as 1910. The Norfolk, Nebraska, teenager with the big ideas built a Kansas City business and global empire. Today, Hallmark makes a tremendously diverse range of cards in 30 languages and sells them in more than 100 countries.

Some people still make their own valentines. Most parents think these are the best kind.

The modern valentine card has become increasingly sophisticated, keeping pace with popular technological advances. For example, there are cards that let you record a romantic message, “scratch-and-sniff” cards and cards that play romantic music.

And of course, you can send e-mail valentines. Some sites even offer free personal use of their illustrations or cards. Other technology allows you to send a romantic fax or videotape with a personal valentine message. But choose your valentine carefully — some people find fax and e-mail missives too impersonal and not private enough for this holiday of love. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest!


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