Apr 23, 2008

Famous Swords: Durendal

Roland was a legendary figure in medieval Europe. He was popular amongst minstrels who turned his life into an epic tale of the noble Christian killed by Islamic forces. In French Medieval literature, Roland was the chief official in Charlemagne’s court, and may have been Charlemagne’s nephew. According to Ludovico Ariosto's poem, Orlando Furioso, Roland’s unbreakable sword Durendal (enchanted by various Christian relics) once belonged to Hector of Troy, and was given to Roland by Maugris.

The sword is said to contain within its hilt a tooth of Saint Peter, blood of Saint Basil, hair of Saint Denis, and a piece of holy clothing belonging to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In order to prevent it from being captured by the ambushing Saracens, Count Roland attempted to destroy the sword by beating it against rocks high in the mountains. Durendal proved indestructible, however, and he ended up cutting a narrow mountain pass in the Pyrenees now called La Brèche de Roland. When this attempt to destroy the sword failed, Roland hurled it into a poisoned stream.

Roland was later killed in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, in 778, when the Basques ambushed Charlemagne’s war party returning from victory in Spain. Local folklore claims Durendal still exists, preserved in Rocamadour, France.

Wild's Maxims

During the 18th century, Jonathan Wild (1682-1725) was perhaps the most famous criminal of Great Britain. While he was the nation’s leading policeman, he organized a gang of theives to steal valuables and return them as ‘recovered items’ after the stories broke and rewards were offered. Wild would collect these rewards, and cut in the theives for a portion of the profits. Wild also made common practice of arresting members of rival gangs as theives. He manipulated the press and the nation's fears to become the most loved public figure of the 1720s – but this love turned to hate when his villainy was exposed. He was convicted and hanged in 1725.

Here are some of the maxims that guided the notorious Jonathan Wild:
  • Never do more mischief than is absolutely necessary for success.
  • Never forgive an enemy.
  • Foment [Promote] jealousies in your gang.
  • A good man, like money, must be risked in speculation.
  • Keep hatred concealed in the heart, but wear the face of a friend.
  • Know no distinction, but let self-interest be the one principle of action.
  • Counterfeit virtues are as good as real ones, for few know paste from diamonds.

Apr 11, 2008

Famous Swords: Naegling

In the Old English epic poem by the same name, Beowulf, a hero of Geatland (what is now southern Sweden), battles three antagonists: Grendel, Grendel's mother and later in life (after returning to Geatland and becoming a king) a dragon. He is mortally wounded in the final battle, and after his death his body is returned to Geatland for burial.

Naegling is the name of one of the swords used by Beowulf, and the name may well stem from jeweled nails on its hilt. Beowulf wins the sword from a fight between the Geats and Frisians. The sword does not survive Beowulf's final encounter with the dragon, but instead snaps in two. An important note is that the sword breaks not because of the dragon's strength, but rather the force the hero himself puts behind it.

Apr 3, 2008

Ancient Greek Hand Measures

In today's world of laser levels and tape measures, it's a wonder how the ancients were able to build anything, let alone complete some of the greatest architectual acheivements in history. So how did they do it? With standard measurements, of course! But how do you measure something without a yardstick or a ruler? Well, you use what you got...

Ancient Greek Hand Measures

4 fingers.........................1 palm
12 fingers........................1 span
16 fingers........................1 foot
24 fingers........................1 cubit

Coincidentally, a "finger" measured 0.76 inches.