Tuesday, April 5, 2016

History in the News

So I was all set with another post in my 1810 series when I ran across three awesome historical news stories that I just had to share...so instead of the Duke of Cumberland, today you’re getting ancient Egyptian tailoring, Henry VIII's head injuries, and Sir Walter Scott’s sock puppetry. Ready?

The world’s oldest dress:  Archaeologists have carbon-dated this linen dress (yes, it looks like a shirt but the bottom half is missing, based on other younger examples that have been found) with elegant pleated yoke and sleeves and a v-neck found in an Egyptian tomb to somewhere between 5,100 and 5,400 years old, making it the oldest known piece of tailored, sewn clothing. The garment’s story is a fascinating one: originally found in a tomb at the cemetery at Tarkhan, it was sent to the Petrie Museum at the University College of London entwined in a bunch of rags and ignored for decades...until conservators got around to examining it in 1977.  Hmm...now if only there were fashion magazines from ancient Egypt. Ahkenaton’s Repository, anyone?  ☺ (photo Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London)

Henry VIII needed better head gear:  Dr. Arash Salardini and colleagues at Yale’s School of Medicine have speculated in an article in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience that Henry VIII’s famously bad temper and tyrannical behavior in his later years may have been due to repeated traumatic brain injuries in his youth.

Famously fit and athletic as a young man, Henry was an avid jouster among other things, and suffered some spectacular falls and plenty of being thumped about as a result...just like today’s football players. In his later years, Henry went from being the ideal Renaissance prince, cultured and courtly, to a cruel, capricious tyrant, suffering blinding headaches and sudden, unexplained rages. Historians have attributed this change to many things: tertiary syphilis, chronic infection, diabetes, and kidney disease...but this new diagnosis makes bunches more sense.

Oh Sir Walter, you tricksy fellow: It seems that sock puppetry is not a modern phenomenon. Two hundred years ago, a well-known author was engaging in practices that today would have gotten him banned by Amazon.

Sir Walter Scott, whose poems and books helped birth the Highland Revival, was also an important writer and reviewer for the Quarterly Review, an important and widely read journal of the day. His reviews of such books as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jane Austen’s Emma, and Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage helped launch their popularity. But he also used his position as a respected reviewer to thoroughly (and anonymously) lambaste one of his own books, a short story collection called Tales of My Landlord, which he’d published under the pseudonym Jedediah Cleishbotham.  But he didn’t stop there; after calling the work unoriginal and lame, he speculated about the identity of the author of the Tales, going so far as to suggest not only himself ("the author of Waverley"), but his own brother Thomas.  The result? Huge sales, because everyone wanted to see just how bad the book was and if they could guess who the author was. 

Naughty, naughty! ☺

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