Category Archives: Europe

Those wyr the best dayes of mie lyf

 

Sumer is Icumen In!

By Danièle Cybulskie

When I hear people talk about the Middle Ages, I get the impression that most people picture it as a time of mud and dreariness, in which people slogged miserably through their daily lives. While mud would certainly have been a big part of reality, there was also beauty, liveliness, and entertainment.

One of the most famous pieces of music that has survived is a Middle English song about summer: “Sumer is Icumen In”. Like us, medieval people were overjoyed at the coming of warm weather, and all of the loveliness that comes with it. Here are the lyrics (in Middle English, and in my own translation):

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteþ after lomb
Lhouþ after calue cu
Bulluc sterteþ bucke uerteþ
Murie sing cuccu
Cuccu cuccu
Wel singes þu cuccu
Ne swik þu nauer nu

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Summer has come in!
Loudly sing “Cuckoo!”
The seeds are growing, the meadow is blowing,
And the wood is springing newly.
Sing, “Cuckoo!”

The ewe is bleating after the lamb,
The cow is lowing after the calf,
The young bull is jumping, the buck is farting,
Merrily sing, “Cuckoo!
Cuckoo! Cuckoo!”
You sing well, “Cuckoo!”
Don’t ever stop now!

Sing, “Cuckoo!” now, sing “Cuckoo!”
Sing, “Cuckoo!” Sing, “Cuckoo” now!

Now, I do wonder if the whole “farting” thing might have been supposed to be more like “snorting”, but medieval people did like their fart jokes (just watch or read one of their plays, and you can see for yourself!).

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‘If’- Rudyard Kipling’s Benghazi Moment

Here is the remarkable story behind ‘If’. Original source

Kipling was inspired by a failed British raid against the Boers in 1895

Empire building

… the unlikely truth is that [‘If’ was] composed by the Indian-born Kipling to celebrate the achievements of a man betrayed and imprisoned by the British Government – the Scots-born colonial adventurer Dr Leander Starr Jameson.

Although it may not seem so to the millions who can recite its famous first line (‘If you can keep your head when all about you’), If is also a bitter condemnation of the British Government led by Lord Salisbury, and the duplicity of its Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, for covertly supporting Dr Jameson’s raid against the Boers in South Africa’s Transvaal in 1896, only to condemn him when the raid failed.

Kipling was a friend of Jameson and was introduced to him, so scholars believe, by another colonial friend and adventurer: Cecil Rhodes, the financier and statesman who extracted a vast fortune from Britain’s burgeoning African empire by taking substantial stakes in both diamond and gold mines in southern Africa.

In Kipling’s autobiography, Something Of Myself, published in 1937, the year after his death at the age of 70, he acknowledges the inspiration for If in a single reference: ‘Among the verses in Rewards was one set called If – they were drawn from Jameson’s character, and contained counsels of perfection most easy to give.’

But to explain the nature of Kipling’s admiration for Jameson, we need to return to the veldt of southern Africa in the last years of the 19th century.

What was to become South Africa was divided into two British colonies (the Cape Colony and Natal) and two Boer republics (the Orange Free State and Transvaal). Transvaal contained 30,000 white male voters, of Dutch descent, and 60,000 white male ‘Uitlanders’, primarily British expatriates, whom the Boers had disenfranchised from voting.

Rhodes, then Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, wanted to encourage the disgruntled Uitlanders to rebel against the Transvaal government. He believed that if he sent a force of armed men to overrun Johannesburg, an uprising would follow. By Christmas 1895, the force of 600 armed men was placed under the command of Rhodes’s old friend, Dr Jameson.

Cecil RhodesCecil Rhodes, left, in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1896

Back in Britain, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, had encouraged Rhodes’s plan.

But when he heard the raid was to be launched, he panicked and changed his mind, remarking: ‘If this succeeds, it will ruin me. I’m going up to London to crush it.’

Chamberlain ordered the Governor General of the Cape Colony to condemn the ‘Jameson Raid’ and Rhodes for planning it. He also instructed every British worker in Transvaal not to support it.

That was behind the scenes. On the Transvaal border, the impetuous Jameson was growing frustrated by the politicking between London and Cape Town, and decided to go ahead regardless.

On December 29, 1895, he led his men across the Transvaal border, planning to race to Johannesburg in three days – but the raid failed, miserably.

The Boer government’s troops tracked Jameson’s force from the moment it crossed the border and attacked it in a series of minor skirmishes that cost the raiders vital supplies, horses and indeed the lives of a handful of men, until on the morning of January 2, Jameson was confronted by a major Boer force.

After seeing the Boers kill 30 of his men, Jameson surrendered, and he and the surviving raiders were taken to jail in Pretoria. The raiders never reached Johannesburg and there was no uprising among the Uitlanders.

The Boer government handed the prisoners, including Jameson, over to the London government for trial. A few days after the raid, the German Kaiser sent a telegram congratulating President Kruger’s Transvaal government on its success in suppressing the uprising.

When this was disclosed in the British Press, a storm of anti-German feeling was stirred and Jameson found himself lionised by London society. Fierce anti-Boer and anti-German feelings were inflamed, which soon became known as ‘jingoism’.

Jameson was sentenced to 15 months for leading the raid, and the Transvaal government was paid almost £1million in compensation by the British South Africa Company. Cecil Rhodes was forced to step down as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.

Jameson never revealed the extent of the British Government’s support for the raid. This has led a string of Kipling scholars to point out that the poem’s lines ‘If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you’ were designed specifically to pay tribute to the courage and dignity of Jameson’s silence.

Typical of his spirit, Jameson was not broken by his imprisonment. He decided to return to South Africa after his release and rose to become Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1904, leaving office before the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

His stoicism in the face of adversity and his determination not to be deterred from his task are reflected in the lines: ‘If you can make a heap of all your winnings / And risk it at one turn of pitch and toss / And lose, and start again from your beginnings / And never breathe a word about your loss . . .’

As Kipling’s biographer, Andrew Lycett, puts it: ‘In a sense, the poem is a valedictory to Jameson, the politician.’

All in all, an impressive hero for Kipling’s son, John. ‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute/ With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run/ Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it/ And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!’

But Kipling’s anger at Jameson’s treatment by the British establishment never abated.

Even though the poet had become the first English-speaking recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, he refused a knighthood and the Order of Merit from the British Government and the King, just as he refused the posts of Poet Laureate and Companion of Honour.

The tragedy was that Kipling’s only son, Lieutenant John Kipling, was to die in World War I at the Battle of Loos in 1915, only a handful of years after his father’s most famous poem first appeared. His body was never found.

It was a shock from which Kipling never fully recovered. But his son’s spirit, as well as that of Leander Starr Jameson, lives on in the lines of the poem that continues to inspire millions.

As Andrew Lycett told the Daily Mail: ‘In these straitened times, the old-fashioned virtues of fortitude, responsibilities and resolution, as articulated in If, become ever more important.’

Long may they remain so.

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New Photos of the Trenches of WWI

Life and death in the trenches
Never-before-published images show daily life for soldiers during World War I

Soon enough, the front lines became home to millions of soldiers from France, Germany, Russia, the U.S., and many other nations. For the next four years, soldiers slept, ate, bathed, prayed, and died on these front lines.

And now, thanks to a collection of never-before-seen photographs released by Reuters Pictures, we can witness those everyday actions as they unfold in muddy trenches, at camp sites, and across the dried out fields tragically peppered with freshly dug graves. Hundreds of glass plates were reportedly left behind by a viscount who was entrenched with the Armoured Cavalry Branch of the French Army at the time. That the specifics of the photographer and the dates go unknown make the bleak scenes all the more powerful.

Soldiers maneuver a cannon on the rear guard near an unknown front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Officers inspect trenches on the Argonne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Artillery officers relay instructions via telephone on how to adjust cannon fire in a trench. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

A soldier aims an anti-aircraft machine gun from his post in a trench at Perthes les Hurlus, in eastern France. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Carcasses of animals await cooking by soldiers on the Champagne front, in eastern France. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Troops from the rear guard pause to eat lunch near Arras, in northern France. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

A soldier pauses after taking a shower, next to a placard which reads: “Thermal complex of the Poilu, showers, massages, chiropodist, manicurist. Free massages for women.” | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Soldiers attend an entertainment show at Suippes, on the Champagne Front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

A priest conducts mass for French soldiers on the Champagne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Soldiers pose outside their shack, which they called, “The Chalet,” at la Sapiniere, near Lachalade on the Argonne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

An officer stands near a cemetery of recently dug graves, at Saint-Jean-sur-Tourbe, on the Champagne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

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Honor thy Father, Michelangelo

http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/deja_vu/2013/07/family-matters.php

 

1521: Even after sculpting David and painting the Sistine Chapel’s famous ceiling, Michelangelo was still a slave to filial piety. In this letter, excerpted in our Family issue, the artist implores his father to recognize the ways in which he has been an exemplary son and caretaker:

I’m certain that never, from the day I was born till now, have I thought of doing anything, great or small, to harm you; and always all the toils I’ve endured, I’ve endured them for your sake. And since I came back to Florence from Rome, I’ve always looked after you, and you know I confirmed that all I have is yours; and indeed it’s only a few days ago, when you were ill, that I told you and promised that I would do my best never to fail you as long as I live, and this I confirm. Now I’m amazed that you’ve forgotten everything so soon. Yet you’ve tried me out these thirty years, you and your sons, and you know I’ve always thought about you and helped you whenever I could. How can you go around saying that I turned you out? Don’t you see what a reputation you’re giving me when they can say I turned you out? That’s all I needed, on top of my worries about other things, and all for your sake! A nice way you have of thanking me!

 

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Aethelstan, Anglo-Saxon King of England

find the story here

Aethelstan was the first King of Wessex to bring together all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England. He was well educated, very pious and a collector of saints relics and manuscripts. He was also a formidable warrior. We have considerably more information about Aethelstan’s reign than other Anglo-Saxon kings due to the survival of many charters dating from his time as king and there are references to Aethelstan in foreign sources.

Aethelstan was born sometime between 893 and 895 AD. His father was King Edward the Elder, the oldest son of King Alfred the Great. His mother was named Ecgwynn and very little is known about her. There is no record of Edward and Ecgwynn being married and Aethelstan’s legitimacy was questioned during his lifetime. It is possible they were married in secret but she did live at court. She also had a daughter whose name we do not know but who would play a role in Aethelstan’s conquest of the island. Aethelstan may have been his grandfather’s favorite because Alfred gave him a scarlet cloak, a belt set with precious stones and a Saxon sword with a gilded scabbard sometime before he died. At the very least, Alfred was making a gesture marking Aethelstan as throne worthy.

Aethelstan is described as being handsome, of medium height and slim. The chronicler William of Malmesbury recorded he had seen Aethelstan’s remains and describes his hair as flaxen with gold threads. King Alfred died in 899 and Edward the Elder became King of Wessex. Either Ecgwynn died or was put aside so Edward could make a more prestigious marriage. He married a woman named Aelflaed. Aethelstan was sent to be educated at the court of his aunt Aethelflaed and uncle Aethelred in Mercia, possibly to avoid conflicts with his stepmother and her children. It is also possible Aethelstan was being chosen as the heir to the kingdom of Mercia.

Not only was Aethelstan educated in Mercia but he was trained in arms and the study of military tactics and warfare by his aunt and uncle who were both experts. He assisted them in the subjugation of the Danes and the building and defending of burhs throughout Mercia. Aethelred died in 911 and Aethelflaed ruled as virtual queen of Mercia until her death in 918. It is possible Aethelflaed expected her daughter Ӕlfwynn to succeed her. But Edward the Elder took control of Mercia upon his sister’s death and expelled Ӕlfwynn. Aethelstan may have served as an underking for his father between the exile of Ӕlfwynn and Edward’s death in 924.

When King Edward died on July 17, 924, it is unclear what exactly happened next. Aethelstan was elected king of the Mercians and the council of Wessex elected Aethelstan’s half-brother Aelfweard king. But Aelfweard died within a month of his father and Aethelstan may have had to fight a civil war to gain the Wessex throne. Aethelstan would have been the preferred candidate to succeed his father as he was in the prime of this life and well-versed in warfare. His surviving stepbrothers were very young. What we do know is Aethelstan finally prevailed in claiming the thrones of Mercia and Wessex and his coronation took place on September 4, 925 at Kingston-on-Thames.

Aethelstan had a very busy first year as king. In the new year of 926, he travelled north to Tamworth and met with the Norse king of York, Sihtric. Sihtric swore fealty to Aethelstan and was married to Aethelstan’s full sister whose name we do not know. Sihtric died shortly after the marriage. Sihtric’s brother Guthfrith came from Dublin to claim his brother’s throne in the name of his nephew Olaf. Aethelstan led his army north and evicted Guthfrith so quickly he couldn’t make it back to Dublin and fled to Scotland.

Aethelstan called together a summit of various leaders of Britain. They included from Wales, Hywel of the West Welsh and Owain of Gwent, along with King Constantine of the Scots and from the northern kingdom based in Bamburgh, Ealdred, son of Eadwulf. They met at Eamont Bridge near Penrith on July 12, 927. These leaders acknowledged Aethelstan as overlord by swearing allegiance. They also promised not to support Guthfrith or other Vikings and to suppress paganism. Guthfrith was eventually captured. Aethelstan entertained him lavishly and then exiled him to Dublin. Aethelstan proceeded to raze the Norse defenses to the ground.

Aethelstan wanted to expand and widen his kingdom so he next turned to the west. He subdued some of the Welsh leaders, forcing them to swear allegiance, pay tribute and agree to boundaries. During Aethelstan’s reign, Welsh leaders were frequent visitors at his court and he treated them with great respect. After dealing with the Welsh, Aethelstan went into Cornwall where there appears to have been an uprising. He now ruled a multi-national kingdom that stretched from the Channel to the Scots border. After this there was relative peace in the kingdom for the next seven years.

Aethelstan’s court was constantly on the move according to where the food supplies were and for the most part stayed within Wessex. The court and the Witan (council) grew much bigger than the small group of advisors to his grandfather Alfred. This was inevitable due to the expansion of the kingdom. The form of universal education begun under Alfred was beginning to pay off by the time of Aethelstan and literacy was quite common. He formed a court school or chapel comparable to his grandfather’s. This school was in contact with the continent and began producing manuscripts and training scholars. This led to many charters which still survive, giving us insight into the reign of Aethelstan and into Anglo-Saxon life in general.

Six different law codes date from his reign. He also attempted to reform the coinage of the realm. There was to be one coinage and they were minted only in specific towns. Aethelstan was very devout and generous with his gifts to religious foundations. The one contemporary portrayal of him depicts him giving a copy of Bede’s “Lives of St. Cuthbert” to Saint Cuthbert himself. He was an avid collector of saints’ relics and books and a patron of poets at his court. Aethelstan loved hunting, falconry and practicing his skillfulness with the sword.

Many European leaders tried to cultivate good relations with Aethelstan. Aethelstan married several of his sisters to continental rulers. Harold Fairhair, the first King of Norway is said to have sent an embassy in friendship to Aethelstan, along with a beautifully decked out ship. The German king Henry the Fowler, who married one of Aethelstan’s sisters, sent him many gifts. They included perfumes, jewels, (especially emeralds), many horses with trappings, an alabaster vase, the Sword of Constantine and the spear of Charlemagne. Many European leaders sent him saints’ relics as he was a renowned collector.

Among others Aethelstan fostered his exiled nephew Louis d’Outremer of Francia, Count Alain, son of Matuedoi of Phor in Brittany and the son of King Constantine of the Scots who was brought back as a hostage from the campaign in 934. He possibly fostered Haakon, the son of Harold Fairhair. Aethelstan gave Louis limited help in reclaiming his throne in 936. He also helped Alain drive the Vikings out of Brittany.

Aethelstan promised his half-brothers the throne as his successors. After Aelfweard died, his brother Edwin survived from King Edward’s second wife. Edwin was to die in mysterious circumstances, apparently drowning at sea in 933. Whether this was by order of Aethelstan or an accident we will never know. Aethelstan had two much younger half- brothers by Edward’s third wife, Edmund and Eadred who actually did succeed him. He showed great affection for these young men and brought them up lovingly at court. His promise to his stepbrothers is sometimes given as a reason for him never marrying. Aethelstan may have also wanted to live a life of chastity.

Interactions with Scotland had deteriorated in 934 for unknown reasons and Aethelstan went north on a well-organized campaign by land and by sea. He was successful in quelling the rebellion but King Constantine went in search of allies to retaliate. The result was the Battle of Brunanburh in 937. King Aethelstan and his brother Edmund along with West Saxons, Mercians, Danes and the Welsh fought against the combined forces of Olaf Guthfrithson, Norse king of Dublin, King Constantine II of the Scots, and Owen I, King of Strathclyde. The battle is mentioned in many sources, including Old English, Middle English, Latin, Welsh, Irish and Icelandic. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle includes a contemporary poem in Old English called “Battle of Brunanburh”.

The battle was very bloody and lasted all day. Most of the combined forces and their leaders were killed. It was a resounding victory for Aethelstan and his men. The exact location of the battle is unknown but the best guess is it happened somewhere in the Wirral Peninsula.

For the last two years of Aethelstan’s reign, he enjoyed immense power. No one dared to challenge him. He was a most effective ruler both at home and abroad. He was to die suddenly, possibly at Gloucester, on October 27, 939 around the age of forty-five. At his own request, his body was taken to Malmesbury and buried there. His death caused a revolt in York which spread to the Danelaw before Edmund could stop it. Aethelstan’s English kingdom broke apart until it was permanently reunited in 954.

20130720-081154.jpg

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Orwell explains 1984

Read Orwell on Orwell as he clarifies the meaning of ‘1984’.

Following is an excerpt from a letter from George Orwell to Dwight Macdonald, written in December 1946, soon after the publication of Animal Farm in the US. According to the editor of the letters, Peter Davison, who also supplied the footnotes, Macdonald wrote Orwell that

anti-Stalinist intellectuals of his acquaintance claimed that the parable of Animal Farm meant that revolution always ended badly for the underdog, “hence to hell with it and hail the status quo.” He himself read the book as applying solely to Russia and not making any larger statement about the philosophy of revolution. “I’ve been impressed with how many leftists I know make this criticism quite independently of each other—impressed because it didn’t occur to me when reading the book and still doesn’t seem correct to me. Which view would you say comes closer to you own intentions?”

Orwell’s reply will appear in George Orwell: Life in Letters, to be published by Liveright in August.


Re. your query about Animal Farm. Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution. But I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves (Kronstadt).1 If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been all right. If people think I am defending the status quo, that is, I think, because they have grown pessimistic and assume that there is no alternative except dictatorship orlaissez-faire capitalism. In the case of Trotskyists, there is the added complication that they feel responsible for events in the USSR up to about 1926 and have to assume that a sudden degeneration took place about that date. Whereas I think the whole process was foreseeable—and was foreseen by a few people, eg. Bertrand Russell—from the very nature of the Bolshevik party. What I was trying to say was, “You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictat[or]ship.2

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The aesthetic Einstein

Einstein wasn’t just a theoretical physicist. Read about Einstein and the world of his day here

einstein violin

 

Peter Forbes: rereading Einstein’s collected papers

For a supposed ivory-tower scientist, Albert Einstein had an impressive record of social and political engagement. And as the latest volume of his collected papers shows, he also had a way with fridges

Albert Einstein, his secretary and his daughter take the oath of US citizenship
Hands up … Albert Einstein, his secretary Helen Dukas (left) and his daughter Margaret take the oath of US citizenship Photograph: American Stock/Getty Images

Japan and gyroscopes, refrigerators and impressionistic travel writing – these are not topics one would associate with Albert Einstein. Nor does the following sound like the master of time and space: “The prospect of a downright normal, natural life in tranquillity, connected with the welcome practical employment in the factory, enchants me. Add to that the wonderful countryside, sailing – enviable.” This was a response to the offer by Einstein’s friend, the inventor and businessman Hermann Anschütz-Kaempfe, of work and a home in Kiel, away from pressures that plagued him in Berlin after the first world war.

The joy of the Collected Papers, which has now reached the 13th volume and the year 1922, is that it reveals these lesser known facets of this extraordinary man, allowing us to go beyond the famous mask. “Mild, intoxicating air. Steel-colored sea. Italian suggestion of solid ground diffusely cloudy. Japanese woman crawling about with children. They look rosy and bedazzled, almost as if (schematic) stylised. Black-eyed, black-haired, large-headed, pattering.” This is from the lengthy travel diary of 1922/3, and presents an unfamiliar figure, to say the least: an Einstein who sounds more like a painter taking notes for a composition.

As Kevin Jackson has pointed out in Constellation of Genius, 1922 was Modernism Year One; both The Waste Land and Ulysses were published that year. Scientific and artistic modernism were more or less contemporaneous, although on the Jackson principle, Modernist Science Year One would have to be 1905, Einstein’s annus mirabilis when, in the space of three and a half months, he wrote three epochal papers, one of which won him the Nobel prize, one confirmed beyond all doubt the existence and size of atoms, and the other introduced the mind, space and time-bending concept of special relativity.

The label Modernism Year One sits uneasily on Germany in 1922, where the reaction against all things modern, Jewish and left-wing was beginning to congeal into the horror that would emerge as Nazism. Einstein, the man who, just as much as Picasso or Stravinsky, ushered in modernism, knew this only too well.

The German republic, formed after Germany’s defeat and the Kaiser’s abdication in 1918, faced enormous economic and political problems, as the war’s victors sought unfeasibly large reparations. Hitler had already been installed as leader of the Nazi party in Munich in the summer of 1921. On 24 June 1922, in a portent of what was to come, the foreign minister Walter Rathenau was assassinated by right-wing extremists. Rathenau was Jewish and had just signed the Rapallo treaty with communist Russia. Einstein was friendly with Rathenau and was deeply affected by the killing. As a lifelong pacifist and self-proclaimed “international person”, he had been horrified at the extreme nationalistic mania engendered by the war even among scientific colleagues.

In October 1914, 93 leading German intellectuals, including some of Einstein’s closest colleagues such as Max Planck, signed a declaration, “Call to the Civilised World”, popularly known as the “Manifesto of the 93”, which denied all allegations of German atrocities in the invasion of Belgium in 1914. Einstein was involved in a counter manifesto, approaching various Prussian Academy luminaries for support, and was completely unsuccessful, lamenting: “Only men of extraordinary independence of character seem able to resist the pressure of prevailing opinion. There does not seem one single man of that calibre in the Academy.”

After the experimental vindication of Relativity in 1919, science itself had become a battleground, with some German physicists, led by Philipp Lenard, rejecting Relativity in favour of “sound German spirit”. In 1921 Lenard had written a book, Ether and Unether, expressing these views, and Hitler had written an article stating: “Science, once our greatest pride, is today being taught by Hebrews, for whom … science is only a means towards a deliberate, systematic poisoning of our nation’s soul.” Lenard was to become Hitler’s “Chief of Aryan Science”.

For a supposed ivory-tower scientist, Einstein had an impressive record of social and political engagement. Later, in 1933, soon after arriving in America as an exile from Nazism, he instigated the foundation of theInternational Rescue Committee, still flourishing and soon to be headed by David Miliband. He also worked hard to help establish the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1921 he toured America with Chaim Weizmann (later to be Israel’s first president), drumming up support for such Zionist causes. But he had reservations, writing to his great friend the Dutch physicist Paul Ehrenfest: “The Zionists are shameless and importunate; I have a hard time adopting the appropriate position in each instance, considering that I am, of course, well-disposed to the cause.” Einstein could not escape being regarded as a figurehead for world Jewry, but he did reject the post of President of Israel when it was offered in 1952.

In 1922, Einstein’s peace activism took the form of joining the League of Nations committee on intellectual cooperation, but he knew he did not possess the negotiation skills essential to political life, and all his attempts at such intervention led to frustration. He resigned from the committee in July, only to rejoin and then leave for good in March 1923. Of this first resignation he wrote to Marie Curie: “I perceived that very strong anti-Semitism prevails among those I to some extent have to represent at the League of Nations; and generally there is a mentality that makes me unsuited to be the representing and intermediary person.”

When he was warned, following Rathenau’s murder, that his own life might be in danger, he decided that, whatever his long-term plans, he would spend some time away from Germany. From October 1922 to March 1923 he toured, principally in Japan at the invitation of his Japanese publisher. Japan might seem an unlikely home-from-home for a German Jew, but Einstein was entranced by the delicacy of Japanese art and architecture, the grace of the people, the social cohesion.

He believed in a culture of aesthetic and moral harmony that clearly did not exist in Germany. He found Japanese music somewhat wanting, because the element of harmony that coursed through and gave impetus to western music was missing, but the people, the architecture and the social climate he found enchanting, declaring: “For the first time I have seen a healthy human society whose members are absorbed in it.” All of this would, within a decade, curdle, and a brutalised Japan would become an ally of Nazi Germany. But this does not invalidate Einstein’s verdict on the culture he observed.

The journey also took in brief visits to Barcelona, Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, ending in Palestine. He found the voyage, during which he was free of the many pressures of Germany, stimulating for his science, and the procession of scenes from so many un-Germanic places brought out the aesthete in him. So absorbing was the experience that the award of the Nobel prize, the ceremony for which he missed because of the trip, went unmentioned in his diary.

Einstein was a man of broad culture: music was always vital to him, and even in the hurly-burly of his early fame, when, as he said, “the great crowd seized possession of me”, he managed to arrange to play his violin in string quartets with musical friends. Fame meant that he could try to advance causes he believed in, such as international scholarly and scientific collaboration. But left to himself, he valued above all his circle of friends, mostly from his days in Switzerland.

He was a theorist, who did his greatest work while a patent clerk with no access to a laboratory. He is famous for his thought experiments, not hard, bench-top, real-time experiments. So he has become the epitome of the unpractical thinker. His pacifism and physical appearance reinforced the image of an idealist dreamer. But Einstein was deeply interested in machines. In the 1950s he wrote: “I … never ceased to concern myself with technical matters. This was of benefit also to my scientific research.”

Einstein worked with Anschütz-Kaempfe on improved designs for ships’ gyrocompasses as a co-patentee. He also took out other patents, notably for a design of refrigerator (co-patentee Leó Szilárd, later to be the key founder of the Manhattan project to produce the atom bomb). The invention of fluorocarbons in 1928 meant that the Einstein-Szilárd fridge never caught on, but it is curious to contemplate that the theorist of relativity might well also have had an appliance in every kitchen.

In the 1922 papers we see the practical Einstein at work with Anschütz-Kaempfe in a patent dispute with the American Elmer Sperry concerning the gyroscope; Einstein gives expert witness in the patent hearings. Given his background in patents this is not so surprising, but it gives a frisson to hear him switch from debating space-time to urging Anschütz-Kaempfe to “plate the aluminium sphere with a more precious metal” or to find a means of “applying a layer of graphite”. This is trial-and-error work, as far removed as possible from contemplating whether or not “God plays dice”. Anschütz-Kaempfe wrote to Einstein’s colleague Arnold Sommerfeld, stating that “weary of Berlin and everything connected with it”, Einstein “wants to go into technology”.

One technology he never went into, although popular myth suggests otherwise, is nuclear fission. The equation E=mc2 proposes the enormous energetic potential of matter, but only in the most general way. Einstein’s scientific biographer wrote that “to say that this made possible the construction of nuclear weapons is like saying that the invention of the alphabet caused the Bible to be written”. What Einstein did do was use his influence to alert President Roosevelt to the danger that Germany would acquire an atom bomb.

Einstein’s genius didn’t lie in one over-developed faculty – as the crass researchers who stole his brain for analysis believed – but in a broader-than-usual range of competencies. He was mathematician, physicist, engineer, philosopher, musician and social and political activist, and he had a highly developed visual artistic sense. He attributed his findings to his intense “curiosity, obsession, and sheer perseverance”, claiming: “I myself have no special talents”. And he attributed his elucidation of relativity to his slow development, asking questions as an adult that children might toy with only to abandon as they grow up (he was 16 when he had the first intuition of the relativity paradoxes). Einstein is the classic example of a man who “hears a different drummer”. And he remained true to this: he stepped to the music he heard “however measured or far away”. And far away for him included the deepest recesses of space-time, a place no one before even knew existed.

• Nanoscience: Giants of the Infinitesimal by Peter Forbes and Tom Grimsey will be published in October.

• This article was amended on 24 June 2013. The original referred to Einstein’s journey ending in Israel. This has been corrected to Palestine.

 

 

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The aesthetic Führer

An ardent patron of the arts, Hitler drew around him men with an aesthetic bent. (Speer was an architect; Goering, an art collector. Alfred Rosenberg had studied architecture; Goebbels had written plays and a novel.) He insisted that artists were as crucial to society as mathematicians and men of science.

– Maureen Mullarkey

Read the article, Aesthetic Drive

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5 Minutes in the Middle Ages

Enjoy Anthony Esolen’s sketch of the Middle Ages.

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Ancient cave art in Mexico

see website here

Discovered: A Cave Art Complex That Could Be the Lascaux of Mexico

Mexican National Institute of Anthropology

In 1940, an 18-year-old apprentice mechanic named Marcel Ravidat was walking with three friends and a dog named Robot in the woods near Montignac, France. Ravidat happened upon a hole that happened to lead, Alice in Wonderland-like, to an underground cave. And that cave, it happened, was the home of some 600 paintings and 1,500 engravings, the work of humans who lived some 17,000 years ago. The caves’ walls were the craggy canvases for humanity’s oldest known experiments with art.

We may have another Lascaux on our hands. Only this one is set in Mexico. Archaeologists just announced that they’ve uncovered nearly 5,000 cave paintings at 11 different sites in the Sierra de San Carlos, a mountain range in the state of Tamaulipas. The paintings, which are striking in their vividness, are thought to be the work of hunter-gatherers who traveled the area in their wanderings. The artwork has not yet been dated, but the Tamaulipas region overall, archaeologists believe, was occupied by nomadic tribes as early as 6000 BC — so there’s a chance the paintings could be some 8,000 years old.

Mexican National Institute of Anthropology

The paintings depict humans, as well as animals (deer and lizards and, delightfully, centipedes). They depict weapons used in the hunt. They depict seemingly abstract scenes. They depict skyscapes. They hint at their painters’ concepts of religion and astronomy. And they do all this in bright shades of red and yellow and black and white — the products of organic dyes and minerals that have proven remarkably long-lasting. “The paintings,” io9’s George Dvorsky put it, “are offering an unprecedented glimpse into [Mexico’s] pre-Hispanic culture and life, including depictions of hunting, fishing, and gathering.”

Indeed. One cave alone contains some 1,550 different scenes.

The paintings, archaeologists say, were likely produced by at least three distinct groups of hunter-gatherers in the region. Which is a remarkable estimation on its own, since, prior to their discovery, archaeologists didn’t believe that pre-Hispanic people would have lived in the mountainous area. “Before it was said that there was nothing,” archaeologist Gustavo Ramírez, of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, said of the region, “when in fact it was inhabited by one or more cultures.”

Mexican National Institute of Anthropology

The paintings should offer valuable insight into those cultures — in part because they seem to be the only evidence that the cultures have left behind. “We have not found any ancient objects linked to the context,” Ramírez explained: the pottery and bones and other objects that form the detritus of civilization are, in this case, missing. “And because the paintings are on ravine walls and in the rainy season the sediments are washed away, all we have is gravel.”

Gravel, that is, and awesome, vaguely impressionistic cave paintings. And also, just as importantly, we have the dyes and minerals used to make the paint itself. Now that the discovery of the caves has been announced, the archaeologists will perform a chemical analysis to determine the exact components of the colors that cling to the rocks. And from there, they hope, they’ll be able to figure out just how long ago it was that some ancient human, roaming the mountains of Mexico, took sight of a centipede and decided to turn it into art.

Mexican National Institute of Anthropology

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