Monday, June 30, 2008

Captain Cook and Captain Bligh

William Bligh,of Mutiny on the Bounty fame,was sailing master on the last voyage of James Cook,who discovered New Zealand,Hawaii,and many Pacific islands.Bligh was on ship when Cook was killed by natives on Hawaii.Later,the idea was had by the British to sail to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit saplings to take to British-held islands in the Carribean to plant as a foodsource for populations working the plantations.The story is known of the Bounty,and how Bligh and some non-mutineers were cast adrift on the open ocean and survived to return to England.The men who took the Bounty found an uncharted island,Pitcairn Island,and burned the ship.Finally after 30 years after the mutiny an American whaling ship stumbled upon Pitcairn Island and found one man from the original mutineers,John Adams.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lewis and Clark

In 1804,the U.S. concluded the Louisiana Purchase from France.President Jefferson sent his private secretary,Meriwether Lewis,who was also an active-duty officer in the U.S. Army,along with 20 some U.S. soldiers and co-leader William Clark,to explore this huge addition to the young nation.Little known is that Lewis suffered from depression,and was probably an alcoholic.After returning from the great trip to the Pacific and back,Lewis fell into debt,and on a journey to Washington to clear up questions about his finances,died under murky cicumstances in a Tennessee cabin where he stopped for the night.Eyewitness accounts say Lewis acted oddly before a pistol shot was heard in his cabin.He probably commited suicide.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Marco Polo

Most people know Marco Polo journeyed to China and back to Europe.But little known is that his book,The Travels of Marco Polo,was written by a fellow prisoner dictated to him by Polo while both were in a Genoese jail.In 1298,Venice,of which Polo was a citizen,and Genoa had a naval battle,in which Venice was defeated.Polo was among the prisoners.To escape the tedium of jail,Polo told his story to Rusticiano,who recorded the fantastic tale.In 1260,young Marco was living with his two uncles in Constantinople,where the uncles were among many Venetian merchants.These 2 uncles went to the Crimea on a trade trip,then to Kazan,then to Bokhara,where they fell in with a party of envoys from Kublai Khan in China to his brother Hulagu in persia.These envoys pressed them to return with them to China,for the Great Khan had never seen men of the "Latin" peoples.They agreed,and met the Great Khan,who they interested greatly in the civilization of Christendom.The Khan requested they go back to Europe and return with "intelligent men acquainted with the Seven Arts."The two uncles,Nicolo and Maffeo,returned to Constantinople,and with Marco and 2 Dominican priests returned to China.The 2 priests lost heart and returned less than halfway into the journey.The Polos stayed 16 years in China and got homesick.Seeking a reason to leave,for the Great Khan grew extremely fond of the 3 Italians,they saw an opportunity when Argon,King of Persia,and grandson of Hulagu,the Great Khan's brother,lost his Mongol wife,and on her death-bed Argon promised her he would only remarry a Mongol woman from her own tribe.Argon sent ambassadors to Peking,and the Great Khan selected a young maiden from that tribe.She needed an escort to Persia,and the Polos knew the way.After 2 years,the Polos safely delivered the Mongol princess to Argon's son,for Argon had died,and she married Argon's son.So the 3 Polos got back to Venice,where they were refused entrance to their own house.It took some doing to establish their identity,so they held a feast,at which they brought out their old padded suits in which they traveled home and ripped them open,from which poured out rubies,sapphires,carbuncles,emeralds,and diamonds.Even after this,Marco's accounts of the huge size and riches of China earned him the nickname "Il Milione"because he was always speaking of millions of people and millions of ducats.

Hannibal of Carthage

Hamilcar was the King in ancient Carthage,and he waged war against the Romans.He died in 228 B.C.,and was followed by his son in law Hasdrubal,who was assassinated in 221 B.C.Hamilcar's son Hannibal then became King of the Carthaginians at the age of 26.Hannibal led an army from the homeland of Carthage,North Africa,into Spain.He marched through Gaul,modern France,and crossed the Alps into Italy in 218 B.C.His story for the next 15 years is a history of the most brilliant raid in military annals.Whenever he met Roman armies he defeated them.In 216 B.C. he was attacked by a vastly superior Roman army at Cannae and utterly destroyed it.Hannibal roamed throughout Italy at will but could not capture Rome for lack of siege equipment.Finally forced into the heel of Italy,he had no forces left for operations of any magnitude and he returned to Carthage,where he met his first defeat by Romans.Rome imposed a harsh peace on Carthage,making her give up Spain,give up her war fleet except 10 vessels,making her pay 10,000 talents,($100 million dollars today),and have to agree not to wage any war without the permission of Rome.Finally,they dictated that Hannibal should be surrendered to Rome.Hannibal saved his countrymen this humiliation by fleeing to Greece,but the Roman Senate so feared him they sent soldiers to hunt him wherever he went.Finally,in 183 B.C.,close to being captured,Hannibal took his own life,by poison.Then Rome utterly destroyed Carthage,took the city,killing all but 50,ooo out of a population of 500,000,selling the survivors into slavery,burning the city,ploughing the ruins,spreading salt on the earth,and invoking a curse with great solemnity on anyone who might attempt to bebuild it.

The Cat is in the bag

The origin of the saying "The Cat is in the bag"has it's origin with the British Royal Navy.In the 1700s,flogging on Royal Navy ships was common for disciplinary purposes or at the whim of the captain,who wielded absolute power.The instrument used to administer flogging,or whipping,was a whip 3 to 6 feet in length containing 9 strands of leather about the size of a thick shoestring.This whip was called the "Cat 'o Nine Tails".Knots were made at the ends of the leather strands,and even 10 lashes would draw blood from a seaman's back.Some captains have been recorded as ordering hundreds of lashes.The officer who would administer floggings kept his Cat 'o Nine in a leather or canvas bag to protect it from the elements.Hence,low ranking sailors coined the thankful expression "The Cat's in the Bag."Conversely,a seaman who comitted a disgression or who drew his captain's ire must have surely felt ill hearing his shipmates say "The Cat's out of the Bag!"

Legend of Atlantis

Quite a large number of people are persuaded that there is evidence of a great civilized state that existed 3,000 years ago in the Atlantic beyond the Straits of Gibraltar.Ancient Greek literature mentions it.Some experts now think the legend might refer to a lost civilization in the region of the Caucasus.We now know that waters have spread and receded over the south of Russia and Central Asia within the human period so that what are deserts were once seas,and where there is now hardly vegetation enough to sustain life there were once dense forests.The coast of the Black Sea may have been flooded out in some catastrophic manner at some date before the southward movement of the Aryan peoples,of which the ancient Greeks were a part.A rise of only 50 feet in sea-level would join the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea today.It is difficult for us to imagine the geographic vagueness of even the best-informed people 3,000 years ago.Wonder stories about a lost country to which one once went by sea through the Dardanelles,might easily get changed,as the Greek and Phonecian traders opened up the western end of the Mediterranean,into wonder stories about the same legendary land transplanted now to beyond the new found Straits of Gibraltar.The Caucasus is a region where many Greek fables and legends concentrate.It was the land of the Golden Fleece,and there Prometheus was chained to the Rock with vultures gnawing at his vitals.