Nonfiction is the new black
When Julius Caesar took control of the Roman government, he decided to reform the calendar. Because it was a lunar calendar—based on complete cycles of the moon—it had fluctuated widely for centuries. Some years had as few as 355 days while others nudged 380, often seemingly by whim. After lengthy consultations with the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar established a calendar that is virtually the same one we use today. The lengths of the months alternated between 30 and 31 days, except February which had 29. The new calendar came into effect on January 1, 45 BCE (Before the Common Era). A grateful Roman Senate immediately changed the name of the month of Quintilis—Julius Caesar’s birth month—to July in his honor. As is the case today, it had 31 days. Caesar had only one year to enjoy “his” month, as he was assassinated the following March.
His successor was his grand-nephew Octavian, who took the name of Augustus Caesar when he officially became the first Roman emperor. In 8 BCE the Senate decided that he also deserved a month. Because several noteworthy events during Augustus’s reign had occurred in Sextilis, the month following July, they chose it. Big problem. Sextillis had only 30 days. No way would the Senate allow Augustus to be “inferior” to his great-uncle in any way. So it took a day from February and tacked it on at the end of August. That created another problem. Three consecutive months—July, August, and September—were now 31 days long. The fix was simple: the Senate simply flipped the lengths of the remaining four months. September and November went from 31 days to 30, while October and December bulked up to 31.
The Senate wasn’t finished with its tinkering. Nearly 70 years later, it honored the notorious emperor Nero by changing Aprilis to Neronius. The new name never gained traction. Nero. who had murdered his brother, mother, and wife, committed suicide in 68 CE (Common Era). The Senate—undoubtedly relieved at his demise—hastily returned Neronius to its original name.
Here is Jim's biography of Julius Caesar, who became a very successful military commander who added more than 200,000 square miles to the territories under Rome’s control. But his triumphs created powerful enemies in Rome. Eventually he was assassinated in the Roman Senate.
MLA 8 CItation
Whiting, Jim. "July, August and Neronius." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/july-august-and-neronius.
Nonfiction is the new black
During much of the sixteenth century, England was wracked by violence between Catholics and Protestants. Hundreds of Protestants were executed during the reign of Queen Mary (1553–1558), earning her the nickname of “Bloody Mary.” Her Protestant successor, Queen Elizabeth (1558–1603) returned the favor by persecuting and killing Catholics. She was followed by James I, whose Catholic mother had been executed. James’s wife had recently converted to Catholicism.
English Catholics therefore hoped he would be more tolerant than Elizabeth. While the number of executions dropped off, James ordered Catholic priests to leave England and said that Protestantism was the one true faith. Despairing Catholics decided on a desperate measure. They would assassinate James and install his nine-old-daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic monarch.
The plotters secreted three dozen barrels of gunpowder in the basement beneath the House of Lords a few days before the opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605. Guy Fawkes, one of the plotters, planned to ignite a fuse when King James entered the chamber and then scurry to safety. With most members of Parliament and other high officials dead in the explosion, the resulting chaos would make it easier for the schemers to seize control of the government.
However, some of the conspirators realized that this plan would kill a lot of innocent people, including Catholics. So in late October, one of them sent an anonymous warning letter to a Catholic Member of Parliament. He passed along the message to the king’s guardians. Shortly after midnight on November 5, a search party discovered Fawkes and the concealed gunpowder. He was tortured for several days to reveal the names of the other conspirators and then executed. His body was hacked into several pieces. The grisly chunks were displayed in several parts of England as a warning to would-be traitors.
In celebration of the king’s salvation, many people lit bonfires on the night of the discovery. That began a tradition that continues to this day in what is known as Bonfire Night. Tonight in nations of the British Empire, revelers, many wearing Guy Fawkes apparel, are shooting off fireworks and building huge bonfires to burn effigies of the man regarded as England’s most notorious traitor.
Happy Guy Fawkes Day!
Jim Whiting has written more than a hundred books on many subjects. His is a very interesting person. Check out his website on Amazon.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Let's Blow Up the King!" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 6 Nov. 2017, http://www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/lets-blow-up-the-king.
Nonfiction is the new black
You’ve probably heard of Marco Polo, who left his hometown of Venice, Italy in 1271 as a teenager and traveled for the next 24 years. He spent most of his time in China, where he became an advisor to the country’s ruler Kublai Khan. He published The Travels of Marco Polo in 1300 and it became an instant best-seller.
Four years later Ibn Battuta, who became known as the “Muslim Marco Polo,” was born in Tangier, Morocco.
When he was about 21 he undertook the hajj, the trip to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. During the month he stayed there following a two-year journey, he heard fascinating tales of far-flung lands from his fellow pilgrims. Rather than returning home to the career as a lawyer that awaited him, Ibn Battuta decided to see those lands.
He joined a camel caravan to Persia. From there he went to Africa, then to Asia. He crossed hot deserts and snow-covered mountain passes. He survived bandit attacks and voyages on stormy and pirate-infested seas. He enjoyed long periods of living in luxury, as well as other periods of soul-crushing poverty.
He finally returned home to discover that his parents were dead. So he crossed the Straits of Gibraltar to visit the remnants of Islamic Spain. Then, at the “request” of the sultan of Morocco, who wanted to establish trade relations with the mighty Muslim empire of Mali, West Africa, Ibn Battuta toured that region for nearly three years. He came back to Morocco for good in 1354, ending 29 years of traveling. During that time, he covered about 75,000 miles. By contrast, Marco Polo’s journeys encompassed roughly 15,000 miles over a 24-year period.
Like Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta published an account of his travels, A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling, more commonly called the Rihla (or “Journey”). He spent his remaining years before his death in 1368 as a judge—finally involved with the legal career he had avoided so many years earlier.
If you would like to learn a lot more about Ibn Battuta, click here to go to a website that includes student activities.
And, if you would like to learn more about author Jim Whiting, click here to go to his website. He has a great new series on the NFL Today, with a book about each of the teams.
Celebrating the History of Science and the Science behind History
King Louis XIV (1638 –1715) was a famous king of France. In the year 1685, when he was at the height of his reign, his butt started to hurt. A lot. His royal physicians tried all kinds of treatments, trying to shrink the swelling, but finally, after months of suffering on everyone’s part, they called for a surgeon. This was a big deal.
Surgeons at the time were not considered respectable. They ranked many notches below physicians, on the level of barbers (in fact, most were barbers). The Church forbade doctors to cut into a living body. But the king and his physicians were desperate.
His butt problem was diagnosed as something called an anal fistula. If you think it sounds bad, you’re right. It’s a condition where a new channel opens up leading from the bowel to the outside of the body, but that is not the anus—the channel through which waste is supposed to leave the body. We won’t speculate as to how the king developed his fistula, although we do know that the king ate enormous quantities of food, and his diet was probably not what we would consider healthy today. Also, his hygiene was not good. He often ordered windows to be opened when he entered a room, so that his courtiers would not be overcome by his smell.
The surgeon, Charles Francois Félix de Tassy, requested to wait six months before operating. He practiced on a bunch of peasants, none of whom actually had anal fistulae. Some of them even died.
The king’s fistula operation was performed on November 18th 1686. Sources reported that the king was calm. The surgeon was not. Félix had designed a “royally curved” scalpel especially for that purpose, inserting it into the fistula with the help of a retractor.
The operation was a success. The king was sitting up in bed within a month. It became fashionable for courtiers to admit they had a fistula, too, in hopes of being able to walk around Versailles with their butts swaddled like the king’s.
Why is this story important? By operating successfully on the king, Félix raised the profession of surgery to a more prestigious level. Félix was knighted and given money and land. But he was said to be so traumatized that he never again touched a scalpel.
(c) Sarah Albee 2014
MLA 8 Citation
Albee, Sarah. "The King's Butt." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 19 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/the-kings-butt.