May 282020

The eclipse of Thales was a solar eclipse that was, according to Histories of Herodotus, accurately predicted by the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus. If Herodotus’ account is accurate, this eclipse is the earliest recorded as being known in advance of its occurrence. Many historians believe that the predicted eclipse was the solar eclipse of 28 May 585 BCE. How exactly Thales predicted the eclipse remains uncertain; some scholars assert the eclipse was never predicted at all. Others have argued for different dates, but only the eclipse of 28 May 585 BCE matches the conditions of visibility necessary to explain the historical event. I have mentioned this eclipse before but in that post I was more interested in eclipses in general as ways of dating ancient events.

Herodotus’ Histories 1.73-74 states that a war started in the period between the Medes and the Lydians. There were two reasons for the war: the two sides had clashing interests in Anatolia, but also there was a motive of vengeance: some Scythian hunters employed by the Medes who once returned empty-handed were insulted by king Cyaxares. In revenge the hunters slaughtered one of his sons and served him to the Medes. The hunters then fled to Sardis, the capital of the Lydians. When Cyaxares asked for the Scythians to be returned to him, Alyattes refused to hand them over; in response, the Medes invaded.

Afterwards, on the refusal of Alyattes to give up his suppliants when Cyaxares sent to demand them of him, war broke out between the Lydians and the Medes, and continued for five years, with various success. In the course of it the Medes gained many victories over the Lydians, and the Lydians also gained many victories over the Medes. Among their other battles there was one night engagement. As, however, the balance had not inclined in favor of either nation, another combat took place in the sixth year, in the course of which, just as the battle was growing warm, day was on a sudden changed into night. This event had been foretold by Thales, the Milesian, who forewarned the Ionians of it, fixing for it the very year in which it actually took place. The Medes and Lydians, when they observed the change, ceased fighting, and were alike anxious to have terms of peace agreed on. [Histories 1:74]

As part of the terms of the peace agreement, Alyattes’ daughter Aryenis was married to Cyaxares’ son Astyages, and the Halys River (now known as the Kızılırmak River) was declared to be the border of the two warring nations.

An alternate hypothesis regarding the date of the battle argues that Herodotus was carelessly recounting events that he did not personally witness, and that the solar eclipse story is a misinterpretation of his text. According to this view, what happened could have been a lunar eclipse right before moonrise, at dusk. If the warriors had planned their battle activities expecting a full moon as in the previous few days, it would have been quite a shock to have dusk fall suddenly as an occluded moon rose. If this hypothesis is correct, the battle’s date would be not 585 BCE (date given by Pliny based on the date of solar eclipse), but possibly 3 September 609 BCE or 4 July 587 BCE, dates when such dusk-time lunar eclipses did occur. Generally speaking, I find this argument unconvincing. It is hard to confuse lunar and solar eclipses, and their effects on armies would have been radically different.

While doubt has been cast on the truth of the story, there are other accounts of it besides that of Herodotus. Diogenes Laërtius says that Xenophanes, who lived in the same century as Thales, was impressed with the prediction, and he also gives additional testimonies from the pre-Socratics, Democritus and Heraclitus. At the time of Thales’ purported prediction it was not yet known that eclipses were caused by the Moon coming between the Earth and the Sun, a fact that would not be discovered until over a century later by either Anaxagoras or Empedocles.

If the account is true, it has been suggested that Thales would have had to calculate the timing of any eclipse by recognizing patterns in the periodicities of eclipses. It has been postulated that Thales may have used the Saros cycle in his determination, or that he may have had some knowledge of Babylonian astronomy. However, Babylonians were far from being able to predict the local conditions of solar eclipses at that point, which makes this hypothesis highly unlikely. In fact, there is no known cycle that can be reliably used to predict an eclipse for a given location and, therefore, any accurate prediction would have been pure luck.

The eclipse peaked over the Atlantic Ocean at 37.9°N 46.2°W and the umbral path reached south-western Anatolia in the evening hours, and the Halys River is just within the error margin for delta-T provided.

On the whole, I do not think that emulating the Scythians’ dish of serving up the king’s son on a platter would be a suitable way to celebrate the day, but there are alternatives.  One is mare’s milk cheese.  The Scythians were noted for this cheese by Herodotus:

Now the Scythians blind all their slaves, because of the milk they drink; and this is how they get it: taking tubes of bone very much like flutes, they insert these into the genitalia of the mares and blow into them, some blowing while others milk. According to them, their reason for doing this is that blowing makes the mare’s veins swell and her udder drop. When done milking, they pour the milk into deep wooden buckets, and make their slaves stand around the buckets and shake the milk; they draw off what stands on the surface and value this most; what lies at the bottom is less valued. This is why the Scythians blind all prisoners whom they take: for they do not cultivate the soil, but are nomads.

Herodotus Histories 4:2

The author of the Hippocratic treatise On Generation, On the Nature of the Child and Diseases IV (which dates to the end of the 5th century BCE or the beginning of the 4th) compares the physiological process whereby a bad humor is heated and agitated in the human body to the making of mare’s cheese by the Scythians:

If the man is not purged, as the humor is stirred, there is produced an amount that is excessive. This is similar to what the Scythians make with mare’s milk. For they pour the milk into wooden bowls and shake it. As it is stirred, it foams up and separates. The fatty part, which they call butter, as it is light rises to the surface; the heavy and thick portion sinks to the bottom; they separate it and dry it. When it has become firm and dry, they call it ‘hippakē’. The whey of the milk is in the middle. Similarly in the case of man: when all the humour in his body is stirred, all the humours are separated by the principles I have mentioned: the bile rises to the top, as it is lightest; then comes the blood; third the phlegm; and the water, as it is the heaviest of the humours. (Diseases 4.51, 7.584 Littré)

Mare’s milk is fairly commonly available in central Asia (even in supermarkets) and I was offered it several times when I was in Kyrgyzstan 2 years ago.  Kyrgyz nomads are also known for making cheese from mare’s milk although the process is a bit tricky because the milk will not coagulate using cow rennet.  You can use camel rennet and maybe yak rennet also.  But there are other processes that can be employed as well, as in the above quote.  I doubt you will find mare’s milk cheese outside of central Asia, but give it a try.  It is a little reminiscent of goat’s milk cheese.  If not, maybe you can find mare’s milk.  It is normally called kumis (Russian term).

May 232020

Today is the birthday of Sir Charles Barry FRS RA (1795 – 1860) who is not exactly a household name these days, but it ought to be if for no other reason than that he designed many landmarks in London that are now iconic (including the tower that houses Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament).  As such we can say that he rivals Christopher Wren in his legacy. He was also notable for designing numerous other buildings and gardens around England. He is applauded by cognoscenti for his major contribution to the use of Italianate architecture in Britain, especially the use of the Palazzo as the basis for the design of country houses, city mansions and public buildings. He also developed the Italian Renaissance garden style for the many gardens he designed around country houses.

Barry’s first commissions were churches in neo-Gothic style:


After that he was commissioned to design public buildings in urban settings:

Eventually he was involved in numerous projects in London – more than the Houses of Parliament.  He redesigned Trafalgar Square, for example, so that how it appears today is mostly attributable to Barry.

Barry was also celebrated for his designs of country houses including Cliveden which was very close to where I went to school as a teenager, and where I occasionally took walks.

Mrs Beeton is called for when it comes to a suitable recipe, and I spotted this quote as I was thumbing through (incidental homage to Trafalgar and the Houses of Parliament):

The ministers of the Crown have had a custom, for many years, of having a “whitebait dinner” just before the close of the session. It is invariably the precursor of the prorogation of Parliament, and the repast is provided by the proprietor of the “Trafalgar”

So . . . fried whitebait it is.  Mrs Beeton continues:

WHITEBAIT.—This highly-esteemed little fish appears in innumerable multitudes in the river Thames, near Greenwich and Blackwall, during the month of July, when it forms, served with lemon and brown bread and butter, a tempting dish to vast numbers of Londoners, who flock to the various taverns of these places, in order to gratify their appetites. The fish has been supposed be the fry of the shad, the sprat, the smelt, or the bleak. Mr. Yarrell, however, maintains that it is a species in itself, distinct from every other fish. When fried with flour, it is esteemed a great delicacy.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—A little flour, hot lard, seasoning of salt.

Mode.—This fish should be put into iced water as soon as bought, unless they are cooked immediately. Drain them from the water in a colander, and have ready a nice clean dry cloth, over which put 2 good handfuls of flour. Toss in the whitebait, shake them lightly in the cloth, and put them in a wicker sieve to take away the superfluous flour. Throw them into a pan of boiling lard, very few at a time, and let them fry till of a whitey-brown colour. Directly they are done, they must he taken out, and laid before the fire for a minute or two on a sieve reversed, covered with blotting-paper to absorb the fat. Dish them on a hot napkin, arrange the fish very high in the centre, and sprinkle a little salt over the whole.

May 212020

Today is the birthday of Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744), considered one of the greatest English poets, and the foremost poet of the early eighteenth century. He is best known for his satirical and discursive poetry, including The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism, as well as for his translation of Homer. After Shakespeare, Pope is the second-most quoted writer in the English language, as per The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations some of his verses having even become popular idioms in common parlance.

Pope’s poetic career testifies to his persistence in the face of disadvantages, of health and of circumstance. He and his family were Catholics and thus fell subject to the Test Acts, prohibitive measures which severely hampered the prosperity of Catholics after the abdication of James II. Catholics were banned from living within ten miles of London, and from attending public schools or universities. For this reason, except for a few spurious Catholic schools, Pope was largely self-educated. He was taught to read by his aunt and became a lover of books. He learned French, Italian, Latin, and Greek by himself, and discovered Homer at the age of six. As a child Pope survived being once trampled by a cow, but when he was 12 began struggling with tuberculosis of the spine (Pott disease), along with fits of crippling headaches which troubled him throughout his life.

In the year 1709, Pope showcased his precocious metrical skill with the publication of Pastorals, his first major poems. They earned him instant fame. By the time he was 23 he had written An Essay on Criticism, released in 1711. A kind of poetic manifesto in the vein of Horace’s Ars Poetica, the essay was met with enthusiastic attention and won Pope a wider circle of prominent friends, most notably Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, who had recently started collaborating on the influential The Spectator. The critic John Dennis, having located an ironic and veiled portrait of himself, was outraged by what he considered the impudence of the younger author. Dennis hated Pope for the rest of his life, and, save for a temporary reconciliation, dedicated his efforts to insulting him in print, to which Pope retaliated in kind, making Dennis the butt of much satire.

The Rape of the Lock, perhaps the poet’s most famous poem, appeared first in 1712, followed by a revised and enlarged version in 1714. When Lord Petre forcibly snipped off a lock from Miss Arabella Fermor’s head (the “Belinda” of the poem), the incident gave rise to a high-society quarrel between the families. With the idea of allaying this, Pope treated the subject in a playful and witty mock-heroic epic. The narrative poem brings into focus the onset of acquisitive individualism and conspicuous consumption, where purchased goods assume dominance over moral agency.

A folio comprising a collection of his poems appeared in 1717, together with two new ones written about the passion of love. These were Verses to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady and the famous proto-romantic poem Eloisa to Abelard. Though Pope never married, about this time he became strongly attached to Lady M. Montagu, whom he indirectly referenced in the popular poem Eloisa to Abelard, and to Martha Blount, with whom his friendship continued throughout his life.

In his career as a satirist, Pope made his share of enemies as the critics, politicians, and certain other prominent figures felt the sting of his sharp-witted satires. Some were so virulent, that Pope even carried pistols at one point while walking his dog. After 1738, Pope composed relatively little. He toyed with the idea of writing a patriotic epic called Brutus. He mainly revised and expanded his masterpiece The Dunciad. Book Four appeared in 1742, and a complete revision of the whole poem in the following year. In this version, he replaced Lewis Theobald with the Poet Laureate Colley Cibber, as “king of dunces”. However, his real target in the poem is the Whig politician Robert Walpole. By now Pope’s health was failing, and when told by his physician, on the morning of his death, that he was better, Pope replied: “Here am I, dying of a hundred good symptoms”.

Here are some memorable lines:

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

If you want to know what God thinks about money just look at the people He gives it to.

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is Man.

A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

To err is human, to forgive, divine.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast

Man never thinks himself happy, but when he enjoys those things which others want or desire.

The more you read Pope, the more you realize how profoundly he influenced common rhetoric.

For my recipe today I have chosen Orange Fool from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) by Hannah Glasse. I chose it because I like the recipe but also because a YouTube video of the recipe (below) caused great indignation from Trump supporters because they were convinced it was making fun of Trump.  Pope would be laughing his heart out at that idiocy.

Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool.
But you yourself may prove to show it,
Every fool is not a poet.

A fool is a fruit dessert popular since the 16th century.  The word “fool” in this case may be a cognate of the Arabic “ful” which is made of mashed beans (an old fav of mine).  The original is as follows:

Take the Juice of six Oranges and Six Eggs well beaten, a Pint of Cream, a quarter of a Pound of Sugar, a little Cinnamon and Nutmeg; mix all together, and keep stirring over a slow Fire, till it is thick, then put in a little Piece of Butter, and keep stirring till cold, and dish it up.

Not hard to replicate.  You would be best served using a double boiler to avoid turning the mixture to scrambled eggs.  Or . . . you can follow this video:

May 202020

On this date in 325 the First Council of Nicaea (Νίκαια), the first of many ecumenical (lit. “the whole world”) councils of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey) The council was called by Constantine I, the first nominally Christian Roman emperor, to establish doctrinal unity in the empire. Its main accomplishments were (temporary) settlement of the Christological issue of the divine nature of God the Son and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first version of the Nicene Creed, establishing uniform observance of the date of Easter, and promulgation of early canon law.

This is the kind of theological history I have been teaching for years, and was part of my recent foray into early church history at a theological college in Phnom Penh.  Therefore, I could go on and on and on about the Council.  But I will spare you.  The Byzantine recipe for a fluffy omelet is much more interesting.  The thing is that I hate doctrine with a passion.  I was bored with it when I studied theology at Oxford in the 1970s and I am still bored with it.  It is meaningless – except to sticklers who insist on making logical sense out of pronouncements in the Greek Bible that are contradictory and simply cannot be reconciled logically.  The Christological problem is a great example.

Because John’s gospel starts by saying that Jesus of Galilee was the eternal creative word of God (the Logos) made flesh, subsequent scholars tried to make sense out of who this Jesus really was.  Mark’s gospel is a lot simpler.  He casts Jesus as the Jewish messiah, a “king” come to save the people of Judah from oppression.  The fact that he was a spiritual rather than earthly king took a little explaining, but he did not make the claim that Jesus was God – simply using the cryptic Son of Man (from the book of Daniel) as his title.  John’s claim is much more all-encompassing, and very difficult to integrate with the facts on the ground.  How can Jesus be the eternal God and a man at the same time?  This is the Christological Problem.

At the time there were two conflicting viewpoints: (1) Jesus was fully God and fully human, and was co-eternal from all time with God the Father, and (2) Jesus was the Word of God incarnate, but was created by God the Father.  The latter opinion was promulgated by Arius (Ἄρειος) a Libyan presbyter and ascetic, and priest in Baucalis in Alexandria in Egypt. His point of view – known as Arianism – was widespread in the 3rd and 4th centuries.  The Council of Nicaea spent the bulk of its time debating positions #1 and #2.  Arius was present and defended his position vigorously. At one point (so it is said), St Nicholas of Myra ( ) – yup, Santa Claus – got so enraged with Arius’s rhetoric that he got up and slapped him in the face.

The Nicene Creed that developed during the deliberations of the Council accepted position #1 and rejected Arianism.  So if you are Christian and sing carols at Christmas you will recall from O Come All Ye Faithful, the line “begotten not created” (if you pay any attention to words).  That is, Jesus (the Word), was not created: he is co-eternal with the Father.  If this kind of theology floats your boat I pity you.  I did have to assent to it at my ordination, but I do not find it significant in my Christian life.

The Council also fixed on a date for Easter to be observed through all Christendom – and, most especially, wanted to distinguish it from Passover, even though the two are indelibly related.  This they (sort of) achieved, setting up calendric problems that lasted for over 15 centuries – requiring eventually a move from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

Nicaea, and later İznik, was, and is, famous for a kind of fluffy omelet called sphongia. Here is a recipe in Byzantine Latin:

ova quattuor, lactis heminam, olei unciam in se dissolvis, ita ut unum corpus facias. in patellam subtilem adicies olei modicum, facies ut bulliat, et adicies impensam quam parasti. una parte cum fuerit coctum, in disco vertes, melle perfundis, piper adspargis et inferes.

 The Latin is a little obscure but my (very) rough translation is as follows:

Four eggs, one cup (half a pint) of milk and an ounce of oil well beaten, to make a mixture. In a pan put a little oil, heat, and add the egg mixture. When it is cooked on one side, place on a dish, pour over honey, add pepper, and serve.

The addition of honey and pepper makes for an interesting dish.  Here is a modern interpretation:


Feb 232020

Today is the birthday (1633) of Samuel Pepys PRS, an administrator of the navy of England, Member of Parliament, and president of the Royal Society, who is most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. Pepys had no maritime experience, but he rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both Charles II and James II through patronage, hard work, and his talent for administration. His influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the development of a professional and efficient Royal Navy. The detailed private diary that Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 was first published in the 19th century and is one of the most important primary sources for the Restoration period. It provides personal insights and revelations as well as eyewitness accounts of famous events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London.

The diary is of rare importance because, in the days before photography, video, internet, social media, and so forth, it opens a window for us on to the way a citizen viewed life in London in the 17th century. He was, admittedly, a well-connected citizen, and was also, in many respects, an unusual man. It is a grave mistake to generalize from Pepys to all bourgeois Englishmen of the period, as it is with all diaries in all periods (a mistake that social historians are prone to repeatedly). It is also a grave mistake to believe that now that we have so many forms of documentation at our disposal, we no longer need to record events and feelings in personal diaries. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Pepys’s diary is a reasonably accurate record of his inner monologue, and there is no substitute for such. I will give you some brief biographical information and then spend the bulk of the post in quotes from the diary.

Pepys was born in Salisbury Court off Fleet Street in London. To a prosperous upper-middle class family. He was the fifth of eleven children, but because child mortality was high, he was soon the oldest survivor. He was baptized at St Bride’s Church on 3rd March 1633. He attended Huntingdon Grammar School before being educated at St Paul’s School in London, c. 1646-1650. In 1650, he went to the University of Cambridge, having received two exhibitions from St Paul’s School and a grant from the Mercers’ Company. In October, he was admitted as a sizar to Magdalene College; he moved there in March 1651 and took his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1654. Later in 1654 or early in 1655, he entered the household of one of his father’s cousins, Sir Edward Montagu, who was later created the 1st Earl of Sandwich. Pepys married fourteen-year-old Elisabeth de St Michel, a descendant of French Huguenot immigrants, first in a religious ceremony on 10th October 1655 and later in a civil ceremony on 1st December 1655 at St Margaret’s, Westminster.

On January 1st 1659/1660, Pepys began his diary. January 1st was not officially New Year’s Day in the 17th century; March 25th was. But many people, including Pepys, considered January 1st to be the beginning of a new year and Pepys decided to put pen to paper to mark a new beginning in his life and in the year. He notes in his entry that January 1st is the Feast of the Circumcision (the 8th day after the birth of Jesus when circumcision was prescribed for newborns). Otherwise, it was a pretty average Sunday:

Jan. 1st (Lord’s day). This morning (we living lately in the garret,) I rose, put on my suit with great skirts, having not lately worn any other, clothes but them. Went to Mr. Gunning’s chapel at Exeter House, where he made a very good sermon upon these words:–“That in the fulness of time God sent his Son, made of a woman,” &c.; showing, that, by “made under the law,” is meant his circumcision, which is solemnized this day. Dined at home in the garret, where my wife dressed the remains of a turkey, and in the doing of it she burned her hand. I staid at home all the afternoon, looking over my accounts; then went with my wife to my father’s, and in going observed the greatposts which the City have set up at the Conduit in Fleet-street. Supt at my father’s, where in came Mrs. The. Turner and Madam Morrice, and supt with us. After that my wife and I went home with them, and so to our own home.

Pepys wrote the diary using a version of shorthand that would make it unreadable to the casual eye, and he had no intention of making it public during his lifetime. He did, however, take care to have it bound and preserved for posterity. It was not published until the early 19th century, and even then it was heavily expurgated because of crude language and frequent references to sex. It is now available online in its entirety —   Here are some quotes I find appealing:

But Lord! To see the absurd nature of Englishmen that cannot forbear laughing and jeering at everything that looks strange.

Mighty proud I am that I am able to have a spare bed for my friends.

But it is pretty to see what money will do.

Thanks be to God, since my leaving drinking of wine, I do find myself much better, and do mind my business better, and do spend less money, and less time lost in idle company.

And it is a wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done as to periwigs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire for fear of the infection that it had been cut off the heads of people dead of the plague.

I do still see that my nature is not to be quite conquered, but will esteem pleasure above all things, though yet in the middle of it, it has reluctances after my business, which is neglected by my following my pleasure. However musique and women I cannot but give way to, whatever my business is.

Unlike God the artist does not start with nothing and make something of it. He starts with himself as nothing and makes something of the nothing with the things at hand. 

The truth is, I do indulge myself a little the more in pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it; and, out of my observation that most men that do thrive in the world do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate, but reserve that till they have got one, and then it is too late for them to enjoy it.

I went out to Charing Cross to see Major General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition.

Fight the good fight; and always call to mind that it is not you who are mortal, but this body of ours. For your true being is not discerned by perceiving your physical appearance. But ‘what a man’s mind is, that is what he is’ not that individual human shape that we identify through our senses.

Pepys frequently notes what he ate at meals, and it is quite evident that venison was his favorite meat, and that venison pies or pasties appealed to him greatly. He does, however, quite often note that the venison at a dinner was not up to his standards. In this case the dinner was all right, but the venison pasty was, in fact, beef:

I went home and took my wife and went to my Cosen Tho. Pepys’s and found them just sat down to dinner, which was very good; only the venison pasty was palpable beef, which was not handsome.

Venison pies and pasties are frequently mentioned in 17th century dinner menus and they were obviously popular. They were large enough to serve a whole table and were often elaborately decorated. If they were to be given as gifts, the pastry was construction grade and might not even be particularly edible. Served for a normal dinner, the pastry was more likely to be a standard mix of flour, butter, and eggs. It was common to cook the venison for many hours, and to pound it into a paste with wine and spices before filling the pie. Here is a recipe for a stew of venison from The English and French Cook of 1674. With a little imagination you could convert the stew to a pie filling and, using either slack paste or shortcrust pastry, make a finished pie. I’ll leave that part to you.

Potage of Venison.

Take a Haunch of Venison, and cut it into six pieces, and place them in the bottom of a Pan or Pot, then put in no more Water than will cover it, let it boil, then scum it, after that add to it a good quantity of whole Pepper; when it is half boiled, put in four whole Onions, Cloves, and large Mace, some sliced Ginger, Nutmeg, three or four faggots of sweet Herbs, let it boil till the Venison be very tender, and a good part of the broth be wasted; after this pour out the broth from the meat into a Pipkin, keep your Venison hot in the same Pot by adding other hot broth unto it; then take a couple of red-Beet roots, having very well parboil’d them before, cut them into square pieces as big as a shilling, and put them into the broth which is in your Pipkin, and let them boil till they are very tender, add unto the boiling four Anchovies minced, then dish up your Venison on Sippets of French-bread, then pour on your broth, so much as will near-upon fill the Dish, then take your roots by themselves, and toss them in a little drawn Butter, and lay them all over the Venison; if the Beets be good, it will make the broth red enough, which you must have visible round about the Dish sides, but if it prove pale, put to it some Saunders: This is a very savory Potage.


Dec 162019

The Bill of Rights 1689 is a landmark Act in the constitutional law of England that sets out certain basic civil rights and clarifies who would be next to inherit the Crown. It received the Royal Assent on this date in 1689 and is a restatement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William III and Mary II in February 1689, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. The Bill of Rights lays down limits on the powers of the monarch and sets out the rights of Parliament, including the requirement for regular parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament. It sets out certain rights of individuals including the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and reestablished the right of Protestants to have arms for their defense within the rule of law. It also includes no right of taxation without Parliament’s agreement. Furthermore, the Bill of Rights described and condemned several misdeeds of James II of England.

These ideas reflected the political views of John Locke and they quickly became popular in England. The Bill also sets out – or, in the view of its drafters, restates – certain constitutional requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people, as represented in Parliament. In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 as some of the basic documents of the uncodified British constitution. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act 1689, applies in Scotland. The Bill of Rights 1689 was one of the models for the United States Bill of Rights of 1789 (including the notorious 2nd Amendment), the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950.

Here is a recipe for rich meat broth from A True Gentlewomans Delight of 1653 that is not only contemporary with the English Bill of Rights, but also puts me in mind of classic Christmas recipes, such as mincemeat.  Although it is a recipe for meat broth to be served as a savory dish, it contains currants, raisins, and prunes and spiced with mace, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It also has a great deal of sugar.  The recipe calls for Saunders which is red sandalwood (giving a yellowish-red tint).  If you do replicate this dish, you might want to reduce the quantities.

DESCRIPTION: How to make a rich broth of lamb or beef

To make stewed Broth.

Take a neck of Mutton, or a rump of Beef, let it boyle, and scum your pot clean, thicken your pot with grated bread, and put in some beaten Spice, as Mace, nutmegs, Cinnamon, and a little Pepper, put in a pound of Currans, a pound and a half of Raisins of the Sun, two pounds of Prunes last of all, then when it is stewed, to season put in a quart of Claret, and a pint of Sack, and some Saunders to colour it, and a pound of Sugar to sweeten it, or more if need be, you must seeth some whole Spice to garnish your dish with all, and a few whole Prunes out of your pot.

Dec 132019

Today is the birthday of Phillips Brooks (1835–1893), an Episcopal priest, who, when he was rector of Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia wrote the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He was inspired by visiting the village of Bethlehem in Israel in 1865. Three years later, he wrote the poem for his church, and his organist Lewis Redner (1831-1908) added the music.

Redner’s tune, “St. Louis”, is the tune used most often for this carol in the United States. Redner recounted the story of its composition:

As Christmas of 1868 approached, Mr. Brooks told me that he had written a simple little carol for the Christmas Sunday-school service, and he asked me to write the tune to it. The simple music was written in great haste and under great pressure. We were to practice it on the following Sunday. Mr. Brooks came to me on Friday, and said, ‘Redner, have you ground out that music yet to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”? I replied, ‘No,’ but that he should have it by Sunday. On the Saturday night previous my brain was all confused about the tune. I thought more about my Sunday-school lesson than I did about the music. But I was roused from sleep late in the night hearing an angel-strain whispering in my ear, and seizing a piece of music paper I jotted down the treble of the tune as we now have it, and on Sunday morning before going to church I filled in the harmony. Neither Mr. Brooks nor I ever thought the carol or the music to it would live beyond that Christmas of 1868.

 My recollection is that Richard McCauley, who then had a bookstore on Chestnut Street west of Thirteenth Street, printed it on leaflets for sale. Rev. Dr. Huntington, rector of All Saints’ Church, Worcester, Mass., asked permission to print it in his Sunday-school hymn and tune book, called The Church Porch, and it was he who christened the music ‘Saint Louis.’

Growing up in England, I knew a completely different tune, which I – mistakenly – thought was the original (because I thought it was an English carol). I am well used to favorite carols having different tunes in England and the US.  I actually prefer the English tune which was composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and based on an English folk ballad called “The Ploughboy’s Dream” which he had collected from a Mr. Garman of Forest Green, Surrey in 1903. Henry Garman was born in 1830 in Sussex, and in the 1901 census was living in Ockley, Surrey. Vaughan Williams’ manuscript notes he was a “labourer of Forest Green near Ockley – Surrey. (Aged about 60?)”, although Mr Garman would have been nearer 73 when he sang the tune. It is called “Forest Green” now.

When I was a pastor, I frequently sang this as a duet with my late wife at Christmas (with me singing the bass line).

There are also two tunes by H. Walford Davies, called “Wengen”, and “Christmas carol.” “Wengen” was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1922, meanwhile “Christmas Carol” is usually performed only by choirs rather than as a congregational hymn. This is because the first two verses are for treble voices with organ accompaniment, with only the final verse as a chorale/refrain harmony. This setting includes a recitative from the Gospel of Luke at the beginning, and cuts verses 2 and 4 of the original 5-verse carol. This version is often performed at the service of Nine Lessons and Carols in Kings College, Cambridge.

Here is a Christmas recipe from my own YouTube channel, Juan’s Whirled (so you can hear my voice if this blog is the only way you know me).  It’s my take on mincemeat pie with actual meat in it – as might be prepared centuries ago.  Please subscribe to the channel if you are new to it.


Dec 092019

Today is the feast of St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, also known as Juan Diego (1474–1548), a native of Mexico, and the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas. He is said to have been granted an apparition of the Virgin Mary (the Virgin of Guadalupe) on four separate occasions in December 1531 at the hill of Tepeyac, then a rural area but now within the borders of Mexico City. Juan Diego’s historicity and that of the alleged apparitions have been repeatedly questioned, but the Catholic church considers the matter settled in favor of Juan Diego.

The basilica of Guadalupe, located at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, claims to possess Juan Diego’s mantle or cloak (known as a tilma) on which an image of the Virgin is said to have been impressed by a miracle as a pledge of the authenticity of the apparitions. These apparitions and the imparting of the miraculous image (together known as the Guadalupe event, “el acontecimiento Guadalupano”) are the basis of the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is ubiquitous in Mexico, prevalent throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas, and increasingly widespread beyond. As a result, the basilica of Guadalupe is now the world’s most visited pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics, receiving 22 million visitors in 2010.

According to some sources, Juan Diego was an Aztec born in 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, and at the time of the apparitions he lived there or in Tolpetlac. He was supposedly respectful and gracious towards the Virgin Mary when first converted. He and his wife, María Lucía, were among the first to be baptized after the arrival of the main group of twelve Franciscan missionaries in Mexico in 1524. His wife died two years before the apparitions, although one source (Luis Becerra Tanco) claims she died two years after them. There is no firm tradition as to their marital relations. It is variously reported that (a) after their baptism he and his wife were inspired by a sermon on chastity to live celibately; alternatively (b) that they lived celibately throughout their marriage; and in further alternative (c) that both of them lived and died as virgins. Alternatives (a) and (b) may not necessarily conflict with other reports that Juan Diego (possibly by another wife) had a son. Intrinsic to the narrative is Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino; but beyond him, María Lucía, and Juan Diego’s putative son, no other family members are mentioned in the tradition. At least two 18th-century nuns claimed to be descended from Juan Diego. After the apparitions, Juan Diego was permitted to live next to the hermitage erected at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, and he dedicated the rest of his life to serving the Virgin Mary at the shrine erected in accordance with her wishes. The date of death (in his 74th year) is given as 1548.

The earliest notices of an apparition of the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac to an Indian are to be found in various annals which are regarded by Miguel León-Portilla, one of the leading Mexican scholars in this field, as demonstrating “that effectively many people were already flocking to the chapel of Tepeyac long before 1556, and that the tradition of Juan Diego and the apparitions of Tonantzin (Guadalupe) had already spread.” Others (including leading Nahuatl and Guadalupe scholars in the USA) go only as far as saying that such notices “are few, brief, ambiguous and themselves posterior by many years”. If correctly dated to the 16th century, the Codex Escalada – which portrays one of the apparitions and states that Juan Diego (identified by his indigenous name) died “worthily” in 1548 – must be accounted among the earliest and clearest of such notices.

Sánchez (1648) has a few scattered sentences noting Juan Diego’s uneventful life at the hermitage in the sixteen years from the apparitions to his death. The Huei tlamahuiçoltica (1649), at the start of the Nican Mopohua and at the end of the section known as the Nican Mopectana, there is some information concerning Juan Diego’s life before and after the apparitions, giving many instances of his sanctity of life. Becerra Tanco (1666 and 1675) gives Juan Diego’s town of origin, place of residence at the date of the apparitions, and the name of his wife as well as a listing of his heroic virtues, plus other biographical information. Chapter 18 of Francisco de la Florencia’s Estrella de el norte de México (1688) contains the first systematic account of Juan Diego’s life, with attention given to some divergent strands in the tradition.

The following account is based on that given in the Nican Mopohua which was first published in Nahuatl in 1649. No part of that work was available in Spanish until 1895 when, as part of the celebrations for the coronation of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in that year, there was published a translation of the Nican Mopohua dating from the 18th century. This translation, however, was made from an incomplete copy of the original. Nor was any part of the Huei tlamahuiçoltica republished until 1929, when a facsimile of the original was published by Primo Feliciano Velásquez together with a full translation into Spanish (including the first full translation of the Nican Mopohua), since then the Nican Mopohua, in its various translations and redactions, has supplanted all other versions as the narrative of preference. The precise dates in December 1531 (as given below) were not recorded in the Nican Mopohua, but are taken from the chronology first established by Mateo de la Cruz in 1660.

Juan Diego, as a devout neophyte, was in the habit of regularly walking from his home to the Franciscan mission station at Tlatelolco for religious instruction and to perform his religious duties. His route passed by the hill at Tepeyac.

First apparition: at dawn on Saturday December 9, 1531 while on his usual journey, he encountered the Virgin Mary who revealed herself as the ever-virgin Mother of God and instructed him to request the bishop to erect a chapel in her honor so that she might relieve the distress of all those who call on her in their need. He delivered the request, but was told by the bishop (Fray Juan Zumárraga) to come back another day after he had had time to reflect upon what Juan Diego had told him.

Second apparition, later the same day: returning to Tepeyac, Juan Diego encountered the Virgin again and announced the failure of his mission, suggesting that because he was “a back-frame, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance” she would do better to recruit someone of greater standing, but she insisted that he was whom she wanted for the task. Juan Diego agreed to return to the bishop to repeat his request. This he did on the morning of Sunday, December 10th when he found the bishop more compliant. The bishop, however, asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was truly of heaven.

Third apparition: Juan Diego returned immediately to Tepeyac and, encountering the Virgin Mary reported the bishop’s request for a sign; she condescended to provide one on the following day (December 11). By Monday, December 11, however, Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen sick and Juan Diego was obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12th Juan Bernardino’s condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out to Tlatelolco to get a priest to hear Juan Bernardino’s confession and minister to him on his death-bed.

Fourth apparition: in order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin and embarrassed at having failed to meet her on the Monday as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around the hill, but the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going; Juan Diego explained what had happened and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event and are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe, she asked: “¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?” (“Am I not here, I who am your mother?”). She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered and she told him to climb the hill and collect flowers growing there. Obeying her, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers unseasonably in bloom on the rocky outcrop where only cactus and scrub normally grew. Using his open mantle as a sack (with the ends still tied around his neck) he returned to the Virgin; she re-arranged the flowers and told him to take them to the bishop. On gaining admission to the bishop in Mexico City later that day, Juan Diego opened his mantle, the flowers poured to the floor, and the bishop saw they had left on the mantle an imprint of the Virgin’s image which he immediately venerated.

Fifth apparition: the next day Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had assured him, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen her, at his bed-side; that she had instructed him to inform the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe. The bishop kept Juan Diego’s mantle first in his private chapel and then in the church on public display where it attracted great attention. On December 26, 1531 a procession formed for taking the miraculous image back to Tepeyac where it was installed in a small hastily erected chapel. In course of this procession, the first miracle was allegedly performed when a follower was mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot by accident during some stylized martial displays executed in honor of the Virgin. In great distress, his companions carried him before the Virgin’s image and pleaded for his life. Upon the arrow being withdrawn, the victim made a full and immediate recovery.

The modern movement for the canonization of Juan Diego (to be distinguished from the process for gaining official approval for the Guadalupe cult, which had begun in 1663 and was realized in 1754) can be said to have arisen in earnest in 1974 during celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the traditional date of his birth,[u] but it was not until January 1984 that the then archbishop of Mexico, cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada, named a Postulator to supervise and coordinate the inquiry, and initiated the formal process for canonization.

The process of beatification was completed in a ceremony presided over by Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Guadalupe on May 6th 1990 when December 9 was declared as the feast day to be held annually in honor of the candidate for sainthood thereafter known as “Blessed Juan Diego Cuauthlatoatzin”. In accordance with the exceptional cases provided for by Urban VIII (1625, 1634) when regulating the procedures for beatification and canonization, the requirement for an authenticating miracle prior to beatification was dispensed with, on the grounds of the antiquity of the cult of Guadalupe.

An Aztec recipe is called for, and I give you a video concerning the antiquity of posole (white hominy) which I have mentioned several times already. Posole is a great favorite of mine – related to Argentine locro, which is also a fav.  This video is mostly in English, and the Spanish sections on Aztec cooking have English subtitles.  The speaker makes some claims about Aztec cannibalism, which are not completely confirmed, but have some confirmation in the early sources.  Aztecs practiced massive festivals of human sacrifice, and reputedly they ate the people who they sacrificed. Some anthropologists, including Marvin Harris and Michael Harner, argue that they ate human flesh because they lacked large domesticated animals as a staple protein source.  Much like the narrative of Juan Diego, this speculation is not thoroughly accepted by academics.

Dec 082019

The Fête des lumières (Festival of Lights) takes place on this date in Lyon in France annually. It expresses gratitude toward the Virgin Mary for saving the city from the plague. This unique Lyonnaise tradition dictates that every house place candles along the outsides of all the windows to produce a spectacular effect throughout the streets. The festival includes other activities based on light and usually lasts four days, with the peak of activity occurring on the 8th. The two main focal points of activity are typically the Basilica of Fourvière which is lit up in different colors, and the Place des Terreaux, which hosts a different light show each year.

The festival ultimately dates to 1643 when Lyon was struck by plague. On September 8th, 1643, the municipal councilors (échevins) promised to pay tribute to Mary if the town was spared. Ever since, a solemn procession makes its way to the Basilica of Fourvière on 8th December (the feast of the Immaculate Conception ) to light candles and give offerings in the name of Mary. In part, the event also commemorates the day Lyon was consecrated to the Virgin Mary.

In 1852, it became a popular festival when a statue of the Virgin Mary was erected next to the Basilica, overlooking the city, Now a focal point of the festival, the statue was created by the renowned sculptor Joseph-Hugues Fabisch and was sponsored by several notable Lyonnais Catholics. The inauguration of the statue was due to take place on September 8th, 1852, the day of celebration of the Nativity of the Virgin. However, the flooding of the Saône prevented the statue from being ready. The archbishop, with the agreement of a committee of lay people, therefore chose to move the date back to the 8th December.

By 1852 in Lyon, December 8th had already been a celebration for the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. Leading up to the inauguration, everything was in place for the festivities. The statue was lit up with flares, fireworks were readied for launching from the top of Fourvière Hill and marching bands were set to play in the streets. The prominent Catholics of the time suggested lighting up the façades of their homes as was traditionally done for major events such as royal processions and military victories.

However, on the morning of the big day, a storm struck Lyon. The master of ceremonies hastily decided to cancel everything and to push back the celebrations once more to the following Sunday. In the end the skies cleared and the people of Lyon, who had been eagerly anticipating the event, spontaneously lit up their windows, descended into the streets and lit flares to illuminate the new statue and the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière, later superseded by the Basilica. The people sang songs and cried “Vive Marie!” until late in the night. This celebration was then repeated from year to year.

Tradition now mandates that many families in Lyon keep, often along with their Christmas decorations, a collection of stained or clear glass in which candles are burnt on windowsills on 8th December. These stout, fluted candles can be found in shops towards the end of November. The city council puts on professionally-run performances. Lyon residents continue to participate as evidenced by numerous façades lit up in the traditional way and by the throngs of people wandering the streets on 8th December.

Lyon’s culinary heritage includes coq au vin, quenelles, gras double, salade lyonnaise (lettuce with bacon, croûtons and a poached egg), and the sausage-based rosette lyonnaise and andouillette. Popular local confections include marron glacé and coussin de Lyon. Cervelle de canut (literally, “silk worker’s brains”) is a cheese spread/dip made of a base of fromage blanc, seasoned with chopped herbs, shallots, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar. Any of these dishes would work as a celebration as long as you also light your house with candles on this date – I do.  I am rather conventional and make Lyonnaise potatoes, a dish of sliced pan-fried potatoes and thinly sliced onions, sautéed in butter with parsley. The potatoes are often parboiled before sautéeing, but can be raw cooked in the pan. Here’s a convenient video (in English for you monoglots):

Oct 172019

Today is the birthday (1760) of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, often referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon, a French political and economic theorist whose writing played a substantial role in the development of political theory, economics, sociology, and the philosophy of science. He created a political and economic ideology known as Saint-Simonianism that argued that the needs of an “industrial class,” which he also referred to as the working class, needed to be recognized and fulfilled to have an effective society and an efficient economy. Unlike  other theorists analyzing industrializing societies who conceived of the working class as manual laborers alone, Saint-Simon included all people in the class who were engaged in productive work that contributed to society, so that he included businesspeople, managers, scientists, bankers, etc. along with manual laborers and others. Saint-Simon argued that the primary threat to the needs of the industrial class was another class he referred to as the idling class, which included able people who preferred to be parasitic and benefit from the work of others while seeking to avoid doing work themselves. Saint-Simon stressed the need for recognition of the merit of the individual and the need for a hierarchy of merit in society and in the economy, such that society had hierarchical merit-based organizations of managers and scientists who were the decision-makers in government. He strongly criticized any expansion of government intervention into the economy beyond ensuring that there were no hindrances to productive work nor to reducing idleness in society, regarding intervention beyond these as too intrusive.

Saint-Simon is sometimes classed as a utopian socialist, which is unjust, but he did influence many who became such.  He also inspired the likes of John Stuart Mill, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Karl Marx.  It may be legitimately claimed that Saint-Simon founded a science of society (i.e. sociology) by being the first philosopher to recognize society as an entity in its own right, separate and separable from the individuals that make it up, and subject to its own laws and principles.

Saint-Simon’s personal life was strange and convoluted.  He was born in Paris as a French aristocrat. His grandfather’s cousin had been the Duke de Saint-Simon. From his youth he was highly ambitious. He ordered his valet to wake him every morning with, “Remember, monsieur le comte, that you have great things to do.” Among his early schemes was one to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans by a canal, and another to construct a canal from Madrid to the sea. During the American Revolution, Saint-Simon fought for a period for the revolutionaries believing that their revolution signaled the beginning of a new era. At the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, he quickly endorsed the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. In the early years of the revolution, he devoted himself to organizing a large industrial structure in order to found a scientific school of improvement. He needed to raise some funds to achieve his objectives, which he did by land speculation. This was only possible in the first few years of the revolution because of the growing instability of the political situation in France, which prevented him from continuing his financial activities and indeed put his life at risk.

Saint-Simon and Talleyrand planned to profiteer during The Terror by buying the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, stripping its roof of metal, and selling the metal for scrap. He was imprisoned on suspicion of engaging in counter-revolution activities. He was released in 1794 at the end of the Reign of Terror. After he recovered his freedom, he discovered he was immensely rich due to currency depreciation, but his fortune was subsequently stolen by his business partner, and he spent most of the rest of his life in dire poverty, being supported sporadically by friends and relatives, and spending some time institutionalized.

In 1823, disappointed by the lack of results of his writing (he had hoped they would guide society towards social improvement), he attempted suicide in despair. Remarkably, he shot himself in the head six times without succeeding in killing himself – only in losing his sight in one eye. Very late in his career, he did link up with a few ardent disciples, but died in 1825. He was buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême was a younger contemporary of Saint-Simon’s and can be claimed to be as much of an innovator in French cuisine as Saint-Simon was in social science. Carême was abandoned by his parents in Paris in 1794 (aged 10) at the height of the French Revolution, and so worked as a kitchen boy at a cheap Parisian chophouse in exchange for room and board. In 1798, he was formally apprenticed to Sylvain Bailly, a famous pâtissier with a shop near the Palais-Royal. From there he went from height to height, being celebrated throughout Paris as the greatest pâtissier of all time.  Engravings of his confections are legendary.  Later in life he established culinary rules that eventually became entrenched in French haute cuisine.  Here’s a gallery for you: