October 12

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Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin takes a pioneering jump

Late in the 18th century the French were fascinated by the globe aérostatiquehot-air ballooning. Since the Montgolfier brothers made the first ascent in 1783, the possibilities for air travel — military, commercial, recreational — tickled the French imagination. Women were among the first passengers and in 1799 Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin (neé Labrosse) became the first woman to fly solo and pilot a lighter-than-air craft when she took a hydrogen balloon aloft.

Mme Garnerin was made of very brave stuff. Her husband André-Jacques Garnerin, who would be named the Official Aeronaut of France, had been the first to jump from a balloon and survive with the aid of a parachute. On October 12, 1799 Jeanne Geneviève took a balloon to an altitude of 900 meters and separated her basket from the balloon, controlling her descent with an attached parachute — the first woman to do so. They later filed a patent for  “a device called a parachute, intended to slow the fall of the basket after the balloon bursts. Its vital organs are a cap of cloth supporting the basket and a circle of wood beneath and outside of the parachute and used to hold it open while climbing: it must perform its task at the moment of separation from the balloon, by maintaining a column of air.”

October 11

Barabino, Nicolo; The Death of Pope Boniface VIII; The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery); http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-death-of-pope-boniface-viii-81675

 

1303 Death of an ambitious pope

Since the middle of the eleventh century, popes had been asserting their power over secular rulers. They claimed that the spiritual authority ordained by God held precedence over mere earthly power. They had deposed kings and emperors and named substitute rulers; they had precipitated civil wars; claimed dominion over entire kingdoms and excommunicated princes right, left and centre. By 1300 they had gutted the power of their chief rival, the Holy Roman Emperor, and begun to quarrel with the new centralized monarchies of western Europe.

Benedetto Caetani, elected Pope Boniface VIII in dubious fashion in 1294, had twice forbidden the kings of England and France from taxing the Church in their countries. The King of France Philip IV “the Fair” responded by cutting off money from the French church to the papacy. Boniface replied by hinting that he might exercise his right of deposing Philip who immediately began a campaign of vilification of the pope including circulating forged documents.

This led Boniface on November 17, 1302 to issue the proclamation Unam Sanctam, which asserted the doctrine of papal monarchy in the most uncompromising terms ever. He asserted (1) there is but one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation; (2) that head is Christ and His representative, the pope who is above, and can direct, all kings; (3) whoever resists the highest power ordained by God resists Himself; and (5) it is necessary for salvation that all humans should be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

Philip the Fair now summoned a kingdom-wide assembly, and before it he accused Boniface of every imaginable crime from murder to black magic to sodomy to keeping a demon as a pet. A small French military force crossed into Italy in 1303 and took Boniface prisoner at his palace at Anagni with the intention of bringing him to France for trial. The French plan failed—local townspeople freed Boniface a couple of days later—but the proud old pope died shortly thereafter, outraged that anyone had dared to lay hands on his sacred person.

This marks the beginning of the waning of medieval papal power. In 1305 the cardinals elected the Frenchman Clement V who submitted to the French king on the question of clerical taxation and publicly burned Unam Sanctam, conceding that Philip the Fair, in accusing Pope Boniface, had shown “praiseworthy zeal.” A few years after his election, Clement moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon in southern France, the start of the period of papal humiliation known as “The Babylonian Captivity”

Who knew Corsicans were so smart?

  • You’re correct, but the goat is mine.
  • He who sleeps cannot catch fish.
  • He who leaves and then returns, had a good trip.
  • A closed mouth catches neither flies nor food.
  • If you own two houses, it is raining in one of them.
  • Company drags a man to the scaffold.
  • He who lives fast goes straight to his death.
  •  Hunger drives the wolf from its den.
  • Theory dominates practice.
  • If a caged bird isn’t singing for love, it’s singing in a rage.
  • An open path never seems long.
  • A fine rain still soaks you to the bone, but no one takes it seriously.
  • What can a cat do if its master is crazy.
  • Words have no bones, but can break bones.
  •  A thin cat and a fat woman are the shame of a household.

— Corsican proverbs

Interesting but, sadly, not true

• In late Victorian times, proper ladies refused to use the word “leg,” so as to avoid mentioning the delicate subject of stilts.

• Pertinax was the first Roman emperor to hop on one foot for more than three hours straight.

• Most Nativity scenes displayed at Christmas are risibly inaccurate, because they leave out the obstetrician.

• All other Russian names that begin with the letter Ч are transliterated with a Ch in English, but Tchaikovsky’s name is transliterated with a Tch. The anomaly is due to the acrimony of Tchaikovsky’s enemies in the English-speaking music press, who wished to make sure that Tchaikovsky’s name would always appear last in alphabetical lists of Russian composers.

— Dr. Boli’s Encyclopedia of Misinformation

October 10

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680 The Battle of Karbala

Though relatively bloodless, few combats in Islamic history have been as consequential as the Battle of Karbala.

When Mohammed died in 632, rulership of the Muslim world fell to a series of four caliphs or “successors”: Abu-Bakr, Mohammed’s father-in-law, Umar, Uthmana and Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law. The turbulence of the time may be seen in the fact that the last three were all assassinated. At the death of Ali in 661, the succession was disputed with a regional governor named Muawiyah winning more support than Ali’s oldest son Hasan. Muawiyah would establish a new dynasty, the Umayyads, and move the capital of the Islamic world from Mecca to Damascus.

Resistance to this new caliphate was led by Husayn, Ali’s second son, whose followers came to be known as Shi’ites. Husayn claimed that in establishing a dynasty the Umayyads had forfeited their right to rule. On October 10, 680 Husayn’s caravan was attacked by Umayyad forces and everyone in it killed or taken prisoner.  This Battle of Karbala became part of Shi’ite sacred history, inspiring further resistance and engendering the annual Ashura period of mourning. The split in the Islamic world between the majority Sunni and minority Shia branches remains unhealed to this day.

Tell me this ain’t true

INFORMATION, we like to tell ourselves, is our most valuable commodity. Yet a cursory glance at the world today will show us that our deeds give the lie to our words. For our purposes we may define “information” as true knowledge of the state of things, and it is clear that we actively despise such knowledge. Has any nation ever gone to war, any hotly contested election been won, any grave question of public policy ever been decided on the basis of information? Certainly not.

No, when we face our most important decisions, the choices that will change our lives forever, MISINFORMATION is what we demand. We reward the purveyors of misinformation with high office and public honor; we punish the bringers of information with scorn and derision, and frequently prison or torture.

— Dr. Boli

October 9

notre-dameDeath of a cephalophoric saint

We expect saints to perform miracles. These days, proof of a miraculous cure or two is one of the ways the Catholic Church decides that an individual has exhibited saintly prowess. We do not routinely expect, however, that saints go about lugging their severed heads, but hagiographies abound in cephalophores (head-carriers) and today we celebrate the first of them: St Denis.

St Denis seems to have been sent from Italy to evangelize Roman-occupied Gaul in the third century. He converted so many in the region of what is now Paris that the authorities were alerted to his presence and he, with two companions, was beheaded on the city’s highest point, Montmartre. This execution does not seem to have deterred Denis from picking up his severed sense organ cluster and walking six miles to his burial site, with the detached head preaching a sermon of repentance all the way.

Other cephalophoric saints include Nicasius of Rheims who was reading a psalm when he was decapitated — his head finished reciting the verse he was on — and St Gemolo who, after his execution, picked up his head mounted a horse and rode off to meet his uncle. St Paul’s head was separated from his body by a sword but, nevertheless, was reputed to have cried out “Jesus Christus” fifty times.

Denis is not to be confused (though he was for centuries) with Dionysius the Areopagite who was converted by Paul in Athens. And of the latter’s imposter, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, we shall remain silent.

Oh, those Bulgars

  • A gentle word opens an iron gate.
  • God promises a safe landing but not a calm passage.
  • If you call a single wolf, you invite the pack.
  • If you can kiss the mistress, never kiss the maid.
  • If you let everyone walk over you, you become a carpet.
  • If you wish to drown, do not torture yourself with shallow water.
  • When the sea turned into honey, the poor man lost his spoon.
  • Even the madman runs away from the drunk.

— Bulgarian proverbs

  • If you meet a Bulgarian in the street, beat him. He will know why.

— Russian proverb

October 8

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Don Larsen’s Perfect Game

It was the fifth game of the 1956 World Series, between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, with both teams having won two games. Yankee Stadium was crammed with 64,519 spectators, watching Brooklyn’s Sal “The Barber” Maglie on the mound for the Bums and Don Larsen pitching for the Bronx Bombers. Maglie had earned his nickname because his high and inside fastballs gave batters a close shave; Larsen was having his best year, with an 11-5 record and a 3.26 ERA.

The Yankee lineup was full of stars such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter, and Billy Martin – but the Dodgers’ lineup was equally stellar: Jim Gilliam leading off, followed by four future Hall of Famers in Peewee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. On this day in 1956 not one of the Brooklynites was able to get a hit; none of them reached base on a walk or an error. Using only 97 pitches, and shunning a windup, Don Larsen retired 27 Dodgers in a row, thus pitching the first, and only, perfect game in World Series history.

October 8

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451 The Council of Chalcedon begins

Nothing troubled Christianity in the years after its legality like the debates over the nature of Christ. The Arian/Athansasian dispute had centred on whether Christ was an inferior creation of God or whether He was a coequal partner with the Father and Holy Spirit in the Trinity. The 325 Council of Nicaea and centuries of politics would decide in favour of the latter position.

Next up to trouble Christendom was the question of how many natures Christ possessed and how they were related. Clearly Jesus had been born a human but he was also the Son of God: how could god and man coexist in a single entity? Nestorius, archbishop of Constantinople proposed an answer that seemed to some to denigrate the deity of Christ, while the Christians of the Levant and Egypt preferred a formula where the divine nature seemed to eclipse the human. Church councils at Ephesus in 431 and 449 had not solved the problem and the Emperor Marcian was anxious that the controversy not weaken the unity of the empire. Thus a council was summoned to Chalcedon in Asia Minor and proceedings began in October 451.

The result was the Chalcedonian definition of the Incarnation:  two natures, which come together into one person and one hypostasis [individual existence].

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

As a way of ensuring unity, the Council of Chalcedon was a dreadful failure. The church leaders of Syria and Egypt refused to accept this definition and stuck to the position known as Monophysitism or miaphysitism wherein the singleness of Christ’s nature is emphasized. These eastern churches, which in two centuries would fall under Muslim rule, would grow apart from Chalcedonian Christianity and remain separate to this day.