Tag Archives: bbc history magazine

Celts Vs. Romans?

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Asterix (L) and Obelix (R)

In The Adventures of Asterix, a popular Franco-Belgian comic strip whose protagonists Asterix and his friend Obelix in a village of Gauls during the Roman occupation in 50 BC outwitted their Roman colonialists with Druidic magic potion and spontaneous ingenuity laced with Celtic sense of humor and and mysticism, the Gauls were constantly at war with the Romans in the reign of Julian Caesar, who was bent on subjugating the culture of the colonials, let alone the recalcitrant Celtic spirit, to that of the empire. But it wasn’t always like that, pace popular conception of the Roman ruling of the Gauls and the Britons as widely portrayed in popular culture. The relationship between the Romans and the Celts was quite peaceful and even surprisingly symbiotically beneficial – that is, at least prior to the emergence of Caesar and Claudius.

The Romans and the Celts were in Apollonian co-existence bound by flourishing trade and cultural exchange between the two peoples. There was a long period of peaceful trading between the Mediterranean Romans and the Celts of Gaul inhibiting modern-day France with exports and imports particular to each of the regions. To illustrate, the Gauls were known for their penchant for diluted Mediterranean wine that was transported by boat on the sea and wagon in land from the Peninsular. The Romans received in return Celtic slaves who never seemed to be short of a supply because there was a surplus of slaves in Gaul where frequent raiding among the tribes was the sine qua non of such abundance of exploited manpower to be used to tend the Roman vineyards and other aristocratic estates. Gaulish chieftains offloaded excessive number of newly acquired slaves by trading them off for proverbial Roman wine to distribute it to his followers as an ostentatious display of their wealth and prowess in their tribes. In fact, the Gauls’ love of the Roman wine was so undeniably famous that among the Romans the stereotypical image of the Gauls as drunkards slurping wine through their long, drooping mustaches was widely circulated in the empire.

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Asterix and Obelix in the Roman Army

Olive oil, tableware, jewelry, and other luxuriant goods were among the popular Roman exports, however expensively they were sold by canny Roman traders, who then bought metals, cured hams, beer, and hunting dogs from the Celts at low prices. Notwithstanding such discontentment in terms of fair trade, the prosperous bartering of the goods between the colonials and the colonialists brought the grist to the mill of effective management of the colonies in the context of regarding economic and political stability that could/would have been otherwise in turmoil as a result of despotic constraints on the preexisting native social and political structures characteristic of colonialism. This favorable symbiotic relationship between the Romans and the Celts (the Gauls in France and the Britons in Britain) greased the wheel of the cultural and political expansion of the empire by egging the Celts on to adopt Roman-style systems of government and the young ones on to enlist in the Roman army as auxiliaries.

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Julius Caesar

However, the pacific era of the Roman-Celtic relationship saw cataclysmic waves of change that would punctuate the stability of the status quo as destabilizing forces loomed large in Western Europe: Firstly, the prospect of Germans occupying the Alps was a cause of concern to the Roman Elite. Secondly, Julius Caesar, the ambitious Roman ruler who was seeking for a popular acclaim to fortify his rulership in the empire as well as booty enough to get himself out of debts, determined to impose his despotic rules on the peoples of the conquered lands as portrayed in The Adventures of Asterix. Then later, there came Claudius, the lame and slightly deaf emperor who was spared of his life by his nephew Caligula perhaps on account of such physical defects. Claudius launched a campaign of conquest in northern Europe to attain military prowess in the region and thus enforced totalitarian policy on the management of the colonial systems, discouraging autonomous trading and social and cultural exchanging between the colonial and the colonialist.

In light of the above, the relationship between the colonialist and the colonial sometimes begets unexpectedly mutual benefits in terms of cultural exchanges between the two peoples counter-intuitive byproducts, such as attested in the case of the Romans and the Celts, which could lead to diversification of native cultures, enriching the wealth of cultural legacies that would become another mode of new culture. If the Celts had been vehemently resisted against the cultural influences of the Romans as a result of the conquest of their lands, the cultures and history of Western Europe would and could have become very different from what we have known today, such as the English language, architectural and other historical artifacts, and political systems. In my opinion, sometimes, the colonial regime is not altogether downright evil in the sense that it somehow results in amalgamation of cultures favorable to both of the ruling and the ruled, not out of the benevolence of the former for sure but of the necessity of governing the conquered in the most effective way in order that the conqueror may quell the social and political dissonance arising out of the inept administration of the colonial affairs. In point of view as held by Ancient Athenian historian Thucydides, one must listen to the other less popular side of the story to transcend the subjectivity of times and to test the validity of truth. In this regard, I opine that however adamantly one may object to the benefits derived from the Roman-Celtic relationship, it attests to the fact that it enriched the cultures of both of the peoples and helped them reshape their ideas of epicurean ways of life that has passed on to the present progeny.

 

Author’s Note: The inspiration of this essay comes from my reading of “Traders to Invaders,” written by Barry Cunliffe, formerly professor of European archeology at the University of Oxford, from December 2018 issue of BBC History Magazine.

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Who’s the Real Ripper of Whitechapel?

My Review of  9/1/2018 BBC History Magazine article of “The Ripper of our Nightmare”

It was a diabolical killing spree of the late 19th century that made the residents of Victorian capital shudder with visceral fear, and swivel their heads in incredulity. No one dared to venture the nightly labyrinthine streets of Whitechapel in London’s East End between August and November 1888 when five women were found dead and grotesquely mutilated with surgical precision in a ritualistic fashion. The unfortunate victims of this heinous crime were all prostitutes in the slums of the East End into the bargain. With the evasive killer still forever on the run in the wings of imaginations of many to this date, the stupendousness of the crime and its phantasmal committer still egg the inquisitive minds on coming up with zany theories as presented herein.

The turpitude of the extraordinary epochal net murder case has gripped the minds of many with journalistic bent who often go to extremes in search of novelty in what is established now as its own field of study. They are called “Ripperologist,” the individuals, as it were, with mission to provide the most feasible cue on who-done-it. Naturally, these Ripperologists have often looked for their suspects in a group of outsiders in the time of the era who were regarded as misfits, introverts, loners with hints of eccentricity because they are easy to be gorged out of the melee without much strains of their cognitive faculties and mental exertions. Yet, out of a pile of idiosyncratic mugshots of their suspects come some profiles I think are worth the noting by sheer dint of ingenious entertainment .

The Likely Suspects

  • Francis Thompson: A poet with radical religious views was posited as the killer on account of the fact that all of the crimes were committed on Catholic saints’ days. However, this theory is hamstrung by the fact that those days are the feast days of the particular martyrs in celebration of their sacrifice of their lives to the Faith.

 

  • A Mad Midwife: In 1939, a certain author named William Stewart posited that the killer was most likely a bloodthirsty deranged midwife. But then anterior to Mr. Stewart’s theory, Frederick Abberline, an inspector investigating the kills, had also suggested that it could also be a woman’s act of crime on account of a witness who had seen a female figure leaving one of the victims. Yet, the inspector later concluded that it’s more likely that the killer was a man dressed in a woman’s clothing as a way of quelling his potential victims.

 

  • Lewis Carroll: Of all other suspects, I think this eminent writer of Alice in Wonderland stands all alone in his prodigality of literary fame and notability. In 1996, an author named Richard Wallace suggested that the Ripper was, in fact, none other than this famous writer and Anglican deacon into the bargain on the ground of the anagrams in his novels which indicated the carnival of killings in 1888. Surely, positing Carroll as the Ripper may be regarded as ludicrous and beyond the pale and even defamatory. However, Wallace must have exerted himself on interpreting the anagrams to decode the messages that Carroll had left as an act of contrition for his mortal sin. Otherwise, he would not have published his theory, knowing that doing so without any factual grounds might have incriminated one of the most renowned English writers and his descendants.

It is always interesting to see how people become fascinated with crimes and criminals of the most wicked and bestial beyond the pale. Maybe it’s because of the ignoble, recalcitrant horse that we have in the soul, always inclining to a raw, precarious stimuli to our senses, spurring the other noble, reasonable horse toward such pleasure. But why not so when our minds wonder when they spur our imaginations on devising brilliant theories such as the aforesaid? The theories will only remain possible in the domain of poetic justice and in the wings of our imaginations so long as no substantive facts surface out of the mists of the eerie past. And I defy any of the Ripperologists not to come up with any such ingenious theories to that end – all for the Truth of who-done-it in deference to the victims.

Kill or Cure? – on Medieval Medical Practice

RE: September 1, 2018 issue of BBC History Magazine article by Elma Brenner

The grace of health is conspicuous only by its absence when we fall into sickness unexpectedly in the course of our earthly lives. Throughout the history of human civilizations, there have been many interesting ways of curing illnesses peculiar to different wells in sound body,” went to Temple of Aesculapius, the demigod born into Apollo and Coronis, a beautiful mortal, later raised by the wise and kindly old centaur named Chiron, in eager hope of seeing the demigod in their dreams to listen to his prescriptions for the maladies, primarily consisting of a mixture of herbs and cooling potions followed by divine incantations. In this regard, the people in the Middles Ages were not more different than their ancient pagan Mediterranean counterparts. Moreover, their medieval attitudes toward sickness and a general well-being was no less incongruent than those of ours as Brenner takes us to the time period in this scintillating article.

Pace our prevalent perception of backwardness of its culture and science in the tenebrous reign of the Church, there was a multitude of practical treatments for maladies as well as preventive health cares that appeared to produce efficacy to certain desirable extents. Just like their 21st century progeny, medieval physicians emphasized on the importance of preventive health cares, such as “Rapid stair climbing” for 3 or 4 times a week to strengthen cardiovascular endurance, a moderate diet, good sleep, and other types of physical exercise to promote general health of the medieval folks. In fact, it seems to me that such measures may seem as a wise way of preventing an individual from falling into a serious type of sickness that might have required of a physician a diagnosis of which he would not have yet known at that time,  or even if he had known it, he would not have known the cure.

It is also very interesting to know that during this period of time, a physician was to diagnose causes of ailments and then referred a patient deemed necessary for a surgery to a surgeon whose status was considered less than a physician’s by dint of the nature of the physical exertions that involved unpleasant sensory aspects, such as bloodletting, collecting urine, and most dreadful of all, cries and screams of the patients under the surgeries without anesthesia. All of these physical “drudgery” or “legwork” was strictly undertaken by a surgeon under the guideline of a physician who offered prevention medicinal advice based upon a patient’s case-history, observation of pulse, urine, and blood. Thenceforth, at the instruction of a physician it was an apothecary, a modern day equivalent of a pharmacist you see in Duane Reade or Rite Aide, who completed the physician’s job by supplying the prescribed medicine to the patient.

Since the medieval times was undeniably under the aegis of the Church that functioned as the Divine Terrestrial Office with its authority imprinted in all aspects of life, a spiritual application of supernatural agency in the cure of sickness was de rigueur for a medicinal procedure. For example, the Church instructed the agnus dei to see a priest prior to visiting a physician who also often had some degree of medical knowledge. Moreover, in the practice of Couching, which was a cataract surgical procedure by which a surgeon moved the cloudy lens on the iris of the patient to the bottom of the eye with a gold/or silver needle, 4 recitations of Pater Nostra –  the Lord’s Prayer-  were administered.

In view of the above, it seems to me that except for the absences of antibiotics, surgical methods, and anesthesia, some of the practices are still existent, such as the use of uroscopy, which is the examination of urine to determine a patient’s conditions, a general medical procedure involving the trinity of physician, surgeon, and pharmacist, and the advocate of preventive health cares are very much similar to those of the 21st century counterparts. Hence, I am in agreement with Brenner that it would be our fallacy of human ego to flatly deride or discredit the medieval medical practices as backward or ludicrously primitive or even barbarous and proclaim our modern superiority. For were we pitchforked backward in the Middle Ages, perhaps we would understand their ways of working the cure apropos the medieval epoch. But then the prospect of going through  a surgery minus anesthesia – not even a dosage of Vailum – makes me thank God for the fact that I wasn’t born in that time.