Historical Perspectives

Man Disposes and God………..(Cross-checks?)

Soon after the Pope declared the Albigenses, members of a catharist religious sect, as heretics(kafirs) and launched a crusade for their extermination, the first significant engagement took place with the siege of Beziers in Southern France in July 1209. When it was over, the papal ligate Arnaud-Amaury, under whose spiritual and military command the crusader army operated, proudly reported back to Pope Innocent(?) 3 : “Today Your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age or sex”. Prior to the engagement, however, Catholic inhabitants of the city were offered the freedom to leave unharmed, but many chose to stay and fight alongside the Cathars. When the crusaders were about to enter the town, Armaud-Amaury, the Cistercian Abbot-Commander is supposed to have been asked how to tell Cathars from Catholics. His reply: “Kill them all, the Lord will recognize His own”.

Czar Peter’s Perestroika.

Peter, Czar of Russia (d. 1725) earned the sobriquet ‘Great’ by virtue of his various accomplishments, not the least of which was the laying of a solid foundation for a future Navy. It can safely be said that the time he spent traveling incognito in Amsterdam and getting trained whilst there in as many as 14 disciplines, including that of a shipwright, was instrumental in large part for the accolades he received in later life. As a Czar, he created an entirely new city, St Petersberg, from scratch in Amsterdam’s image and set up a museum there, the Kunstkamera, based on the Amsterdam Hermitage. One person the young Czar was particularly enamoured of was the Dutch medical practitioner Dr Frederick Ruysch, who was uniquely skilled, amongst other things, in the preparation of anatomical specimens composed of various human and animal body parts and their subsequent preservation as allegorical tableaux in a secret liquor concoction. The Doctor’s entire collection was subsequently purchased in 1717 at a phenomenal sum for onward shipment to Russia’s first public museum in the newly-built city of St Petersberg. While en route from Amsterdam, the ships transporting the specimens supposedly ran short of beer, a commodity the Russian sailors could not do without. Much to their relief, the sailors discovered that these fanciful anatomical preservations were suspended in alcohol. The rest I leave to your imagination. As legend has it, whenever Russians relate the story, they raise their goblets in a toast: “That’s why we drink Vodka today”. These preservations must still have reached the St Petersberg museum intact as it is the only place where these remarkable tableaux can still be seen.

A Timely Reminder of Humility

Roman triumphs in ancient times used to be celebrated with great fanfare. As the light chariot(Biga) of the victorious military commander(Duce) passed by the adoring crowd, the incessant howls of approval were enough to lull any man into a false sense of invincibility and complacency. A trustworthy slave(Auriga), who, while driving the chariot and holding a Laura’s crown over the head of the Dux, was thus charged with constantly whispering ‘Memento Homo’ in the great man’s ear. This reminder of him being only a mortal was a timely one, designed to prevent him from losing his sense of proportion.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Pervaiz Aslam January 22, 2015 at 4:37 PM

    Interesting perspectives!

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