03 March 2009

Historical Gems

I spent part of today reading The Mental Floss History of the World, which (so far) is a very digestible 400-page jaunt through 62,007 years of history. I have a hard time comprehending history, because I can't fathom thousands of years and I struggle to line up historical events around the world. The idea that Genghis Khan's marauding and Notre Dame Cathedral's construction occurred in the same era makes my head hurt. The whole shifting geography thing doesn't help. We need more songs like Istanbul (Not Constantinople) to help those of us who are already geography impaired keep track of shifting empires.

It's a shame that I won't remember most of the history I'm reading, so I'm noting down some of the wisdom that has been imparted to me today.

1. In the 2004 movie King Arthur (which I watched because it's full of pretty British men), Keira Knightley wears almost nothing into battle, and as I watched, I kept thinking, Battle seems like the very BEST time to cover up. Those arrows are pokey, so now is not the time to show off the abs. However, according to my book, the ancient Celts fought completely naked, donning blue war paint and nothing else for battles. So Keira was just following in the tradition of her people.

2. The Greeks referred to European invaders as "barbarians" because the Europeans' language sounded like "bar-bar-bar" to them.

3. The wedding tradition of carrying a bride across the threshold may come from a third-century Germanic practice of abducting brides from nearby villages and carrying them home.

4. Attila the Hun died of a nosebleed.

5. The werewolf legend may originate with Berserkers, Viking warriors who were said to take on the spirit of a bear or wolf and developed superhuman strength in battle.

Check out the Mental Floss trivia pages if you need more fascinating conversation starters. Because nothing makes people want to be friends with you more than knowing they can come to you to learn that Magellan was eaten by the natives of the Philippines.

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