Saturday, January 2, 2010

Smithsonian Magazine on a Mission!

Whoa! December's Smithsonian Magazine is on a mission to knock down two - well, not sure exactly what to call them, I'll settle for phenomenon - that have been garnering a lot of popular attention the past several years. First, Colin Woodard takes aim at and does a total number on claims by amateur archaeologist Sam Osmanagich that 12,000 years ago, early Europeans built "the greatest pyramidal complex" on earth, in Bosnia. Read The Mystery of Bosnia's Ancient Pyramids, December 2009. Next, who/what/where/when/how is explored regarding the creation of crop circles: Crop Circles: The Art of the Hoax , by Rob Irving and Peter Brookesmith,, December 15, 2009.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Peach of Immortality

(Image: The God of Longevity or Sau, is probably the most popular deity out of the three star Gods Fuk Luk Sau. He represents good health, longevity and a quality and smooth life. He is depicted carrying the Peach of Immortality, itself an auspicious symbol for long life and excellent health. The God of Longevity is also seen carrying a Dragon staff with a Wu Lou. The Wu Lou is believed to be filled with nectar of immortality.)
Many cultures have stories about a magic elixir or a fruit, the drinking or eating of which can reverse aging and grant eternal life to the partaker. Xi Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West in ancient Chinese mythology, lives far to the west (from ancient Chinese capitals in the east), high in the mountains, in a hidden garden where she grows peaches that give eternal life. Although the exact location of Xi Wang Mu's sanctuary/fortress is unknown, I think it is somewhere in the mountains ringing the Tarim Basin where there was west-east contact more than 4,500 years ago. Xi Wang Mu predates Daoist thought (under which she became 'civilized') and was originally a fierce tiger-goddess, a creator and destroyer of life. In that way, she resembles many other original goddesses whose origins reach back in the mists of time, long before writing, long before "history" as we think of it today.
The Silk Road was responsible for introducing the peach, a native of China, to other areas of the world, notably ancient Persia, in the earliest days of trade between those two countries. From Wikipedia: The scientific name persica, along with the word "peach" itself and its cognates in many European languages, derives from an early European belief that peaches were native to Persia (now Iran). The modern botanical consensus is that they originate in China, and were introduced to Persia and the Mediterranean region along the Silk Road before Christian times.
Ironic, isn't it. China introduced the peach to the rest of the world, although it was accepted "history" that the peach was introduced into China from Persia. Accepted history was WRONG. Today, westerners (laypeople and scholars alike), are generally uninformed when it comes to ancient Chinese sources that talk about early chess. The problem is further compounded by translation issues - not only are those ancient Chinese sources not translated into other languages, Chinese scholars have problems translating the archaic Chinese into modern idiom. The equivalent is a little like me attempting to read Beowulf in its original "English " -- which doesn't seem like English at all!
One has to wonder - what if historians are wrong about the way chess was transmitted, too? According to most of them, chess came to China from Persia, after Persia got it from Hind (formerly northwest India, today part of Pakistan). But what if, just like peaches, chess came into Persia from China and was then introduced to Hind via Persia?
Here is what Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets has to say about peaches:
Female genital symbol, in China regarded as the source of the ambrosia of life which game gods their immortality; corresponding to the apple in western Europe. Great Mother Hsi Wang Mu ruled the magic peach gardn in the west, where the gods were reborn.(1)
Peach Blossom meant a virgin in Taoist symbolism, while the fruit stood for a mature woman whose juices were essential to man's health. China's patron saint of longevity Shou Lou was an old man with a high bulging forehead, bursting with "yhin juice" he had absorbed and sent up to his head through sexual coupling with many woman To reveal his mystical secret, Shou Lou always held up a peach with one of his fingers stuck into its cleft.(2)
Chinese wizards made magic wands from peach twigs. These might be compared to magic wands made in the west from other woods sacred to the Goddess, such as witch hazel, witch-willow, apple boughs, or holly.(3)
Western writers sometimes confused the Oriental peach with the apricot, because abricot was once a European word for the vulva. Sculptures from the pagan period at Nimes showed examples of this fruit in conjunction with phalli.(4)
(1) Larousse, 382.
(2) Rawson, E. A., 234.
(3) de Lys, 397.
(4) Knight, D. W. P., 136, pls. XV, XVI.

Yorkshire Moors Give Up a Big Secret

This is a "wow" article! (Aerial photograph, from article) From the Moors give up ancient secret Published Date: 31 December 2009 By John Ritchie ARCHAEOLOGISTS have snapped the first picture of an ancient monument on the North York Moors near Scarborough which could date back more than 4,500 years to neolithic times. Aerial surveyors from English Heritage recently flew two sorties over moorland near Goathland after a wildfire swept across 62 acres revealing the full extent of a prehistoric stone enclosure and multiple stone cairns. The blaze struck in early October, but caused no lasting damage to the environment. However, it gave experts their first view of the scheduled monument which measures about 485ft by 246ft.The area has been managed sensitively for wild red grouse, preserving the site for future generations. Although the site was previously plotted on maps, remarkably little information existed about its date or purpose because it has been concealed by a protective blanket of heather. Now some of its secrets could be unlocked. David MacLeod, senior investigator with English Heritage’'s aerial survey team, said: “It’s always exciting to see something like this clearly for first time. “We were called in by the North York Moors National Park Authority to capture aerial views before the site is recovered by vegetation. “We saw at least 20 cairns of varying size, taking pictures from various angles allowing us to set the site in a wider landscape context. “Establishing what the monument was used for is a tricky question.“The walls are low now but could have been much higher so possibly it had an agricultural purpose acting as a pen to keep cattle or sheep. “We can’t rule out a ritual significance – perhaps we are looking at a graveyard? “Whatever its origins, it stands as reminder that the history of North Yorkshire is far from done and dusted, but is still being written.” Spurred on by the aerial images, the National Park commissioned experts from Wessex Archaeo- logy to undertake a ground survey to plot the various features. Their report is due in the new year.Graham Lee, North York Moors National Park Authority archaeologist, added: “Dating the site is fraught with difficulty, but it’s just possible it could be 4,500 years old, or date back even further. “To put this into context that’s before the pyramids and Stonehenge were built. “The site shows signs of later activity too, notably in the Bronze Age and also in the 20th century, with some evidence of stone removal. “A similar site has been recorded on Fylingdales Moor, which was also revealed after a much larger moorland fire in 2003. This is also thought to possibly be neolithic in date. ”The New Stone Age (neolithic period) lasted from around 4,000BC to about 2,500BC, during which the population increased and early forms of agriculture began to be adopted. “These early farmers were the first to destroy the forest cover of the moors. “They grew crops, kept animals, made pottery and were highly skilled at making stone implements. However, little is known about their beliefs as no language or written evidence survives. “It’s possible the cairns at the site near Goathland could be ‘gravestones’ for the ashes of folk who died thousands of years ago.”The full article contains 58 words and appears in Scarborough Evening News newspaper.-->

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! This image was put together by Don as a celebration of Goddesschess' 10th anniversary and our trip to New York to celebrate it.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our Year in Review

Greetings from some of the "Goddesseses" from Goddesschess :) Isis, Michelle and yours truly, taken at Battery Park during our May, 2009 visit to New York for Goddesschess' 10th Anniversary!!! We're so gorgeous! Here is a look back at Goddesschess' 2009. Wow - going over it again in this format really brings it home. Every year since our founding, our goal has been to reach just a few more people and touch them in some chessly way. This year, we outdid ourselves! Happy New Year blessings to everyone, and here's a toast to you (sip sip sip). Ahhhh, that's good wine... 2009 saw us celebrating Goddesschess' 10th anniversary online -- May 6, 1999 saw the debut of our first website! We made our second visit to New York City - and that reminds me, I never did finish the travelogue of our anniversary visit. Well, I finally managed to restore internet connection to my old laptop upstairs, so perhaps I will take a turn tomorrow at finishing that article -- after I finish some touch-up painting of windows and complete the clean-up of the basement windows that Mr. Don started before he had to leave. Mr. Don and I were in New York from May 12 - 19, 2009, and we had a wonderful time! I blogged from New York on my little Acer netbook and published lots of photos. Isis and Michelle joined us a few days later, after Michelle finished her final exams at UNLV. We all got to see the Statue of Liberty up close and personal. We also visited the 9/11 building site, which was a beehive of reconstruction activity. We spent most of two afternoons exploring lower Manhattan, Wall Street and Battery Park. We visited the Met, the Brooklyn Museum, the Asia Institute and - my memory fails me. We took buses and the subway for the first time. We ate off street vendors' carts. The weather was great! Applejack's Diner is still the same, as is Joey's in the basement of the Da Vinci Hotel, and we had excellent meals at both places. I can't wait to get back to Manhattan. Here are links to various photos from our New York adventures: 2009 saw our largest financial commitment for sponsorships yet to various chess events. We started out the year sponsoring prizes for the chess femmes in the Hales Corners Chess Challenge IX in late April. We finished out the year sponsoring prizes for the chess femmes (including special prizes furnished by current Women's World Chess Champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk) in October for the Hales Corners Chess Challenge X. Since 2007, Goddesschess has sponsored a special prize for the U.S. Women's Chess Championship, and we did so again this year in October, when the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis hosted the Championship for the very first time, and also sponsored the largest prize purse ever for the Women's Championship. Goddesschess' $500 prize this year was awarded to IM Anna Zatonskih after her outstanding performance in winning the Championship with 8.5/9, taking clear first. GM Susan Polgar once again agreed to select the winner of the Goddesschess prize. Normally, funding the prize of the U.S. Women's Championship is our largest financial commitment, but this year we went the extra mile and committed to assisting in obtaining the appearance of a WGM at the Montreal Open Chess Championships held in September, as well as sponsoring class prizes for the chess femmes who played in the Championship. We thus had the pleasure of meeting WGM Melia Salome of Georgia, who won the Women's Title and very nearly won the overall title. This was Salome's first trip to Canada. She fell in love with Montreal and Montreal (at least, the chess-playing part) fell in love with her! Since the event was held in Mr. Don's hometown, he was on-site during the entire event, filming video and taking lots of photographs, many of which were published here and the entire tournament captured in video and photos reported on at Goddesschess. All of us Goddesschess folks wish you and yours a healthy, happy, safe and prosperous 2010. The best is yet to come - that's our heartfelt belief.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tomb of Cao Cao Unearthed in China: Follow-Up

Report from The Daily Mail on December 29, 2009 - with some photograph's of the tomb's interior. The tomb was evidently discovered about a year ago but not reported, and has been extensively looted in the meantime. Some locals were arrested with artifacts that alerted authorities to the tomb's existence, and archaeologists presume they were taken from 'this' tomb. The article contained this image of 'agate decorations.' It's difficult to say from the photograph, but perhaps the round items are beads from a necklace, as it looks as if at least two of them might have dirt-filled holes drilled in them. The flat disc - a gaming piece possibly? (Liubo image: from Wikipedia Commons, taken at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art: A pair of seated earthenware figures playing on a model Liubo board game, made during the 1st century in the Chinese Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD).) At first glance I thought the round objects were game pieces, but I do not believe the Chinese of the late Han played marbles. It is possible, I suppose, that they are gaming pieces but the only pieces I've seen from Chinese games of the period are flatish discs used in wei qi (an indigenous game) and the Chinese version of backgammon (imported from ancient Persia no later than the late 3rd century BCE according to Murray), and small rectangular or square pieces and throwing sticks for liubo. Also sometimes mentioned in liubo are the existence of two "fish" pieces that were placed in the central "water" area - that, as far as I can tell, were flatish circular discs. It is a shame so much was lost from the tomb. Will we hear more about discoveries from this tomb in the future? For more information on liubo: BabelStone blog (by Andrew West): The Lost Game of Liubo BabelStone blog (by Andrew West): The Lost Game of Liubo Part 2 : Pictures of People playing Liubo Louis Cazeaux - Liubo Cultural China - Liubo Wapedia (Wiki) - Liubo

The Lost World of Old Europe

Female Figurine, Fired Clay, Cucuteni, Drăguşeni, 4050–3900 BC Botoşani County Museum, Botoşani: 7558 Photo: Marius Amarie Well, I guess Mr. Don and I are going to have to go back to New York just to visit this university museum! Female Figurine, Fired Clay, Hamangia, Baïa, 5000–4600 BC National History Museum of Romania, Bucharest: 11662 Photo: Marius Amarie New York University Institute for the Study of the Ancient World The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000 – 3500 BC November 11, 2009 – April 25, 2010 Open: Tues – Sun 11-6, Fri 11-8, Closed Monday Free admission The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU 15 East 84th Street New York, NY 10028 Please visit the Lost World of Old Europe Exhibition Website for complete information, images of items in the exhibition, a full public programming schedule (lectures, film series, musical performances) and more! The Lost World of Old Europe brings to the United States for the first time more than 160 objects recovered by archaeologists from the graves, towns, and villages of Old Europe, a cycle of related cultures that achieved a precocious peak of sophistication and creativity in what is now southeastern Europe between 5000 and 4000 BC, and then mysteriously collapsed by 3500 BC. Long before Egypt or Mesopotamia rose to an equivalent level of achievement, Old Europe was among the most sophisticated places that humans inhabited. Some of its towns grew to city-like sizes. Potters developed striking designs, and the ubiquitous goddess figurines found in houses and shrines have triggered intense debates about women’s roles in Old European society. Old European copper-smiths were, in their day, the most advanced metal artisans in the world. Their intense interest in acquiring copper, gold, Aegean shells, and other rare valuables created networks of negotiation that reached surprisingly far, permitting some of their chiefs to be buried with pounds of gold and copper in funerals without parallel in the Near East or Egypt at the time. The exhibition, arranged through loan agreements with 20 museums in three countries (Romania, The Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Moldova), brings the exuberant art, enigmatic goddess cults, and precocious metal ornaments and weapons of Old Europe to American audiences.

9 Queens

Reported at Chess Life Online and Alexandra Kosteniuk's blog: Kosteniuk Spreads Holiday Cheer in Tucson December 22, 2009 Move over Santa! Women's World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk spread holiday cheer for 9 Queens students in Tucson, Arizona with her goodwill simultaneous exhibition on December 20. (Image: Three of the young participants in the Kosteniuk simul, by Jeff Smith). What a wonderful thing for GM Kosteniuk to do, and what a boost for the good work 9 Queens is doing. As Jean Hoffman, co-founder and Executive Director of 9 Queens noted in her email letter today to friends and donors, [s]ince 2007, 9 Queens has grown from a single after-school chess club in Tucson, Arizona into a national nonprofit organization serving thousands of at-risk children and women annually.The success of 9 Queens speaks not only to the strength of our organization but also to the need for our programs. From Parkersburg, West Virginia to Brooklyn, New York principals, teachers, and parents from throughout the country have contacted 9 Queens in need of our support. Currently there are over 25 schools, libraries and after-school centers on the 9 Queens waiting list. Here is an article about the work 9 Queens is doing in Tucson, as reported on December 24th in The New York Times: In Tucson, Women and Girls Are Finding a Place at the Chessboard By DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN Published: December 24, 2009 Becca Kinsey, a 39-year-old stage manager in Tucson, has three children, a husband and very little free time. But nearly every Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to noon, she goes to the Coffee X Change at Grant Road and Campbell Avenue to meet a group of women and play chess. “I never had an interest,” Mrs. Kinsey said of the game. “It always gave me headaches.” That changed a few months ago, when she finally learned to play. Now, she said, “people will say, ‘Come do this,’ and I’ll say: ‘I can’t go to that. I am going to chess on Wednesdays.’ ” Mrs. Kinsey’s chess group has 16 members, all of them women and most of them beginners. They all share an enthusiasm for chess that borders on obsession. The group is an outgrowth of a nonprofit organization in Tucson called 9 Queens, started in 2007 by Jean Hoffman, 29, and Jennifer Shahade, 28, a two-time United States women’s chess champion. The group’s name comes from the maximum number of queens that one player can have on the board. (While theoretically possible, it has never been known to happen.) Ms. Hoffman, who lives in Tucson, said the goal of 9 Queens was to encourage more girls and women, as well as students from low-income families, to take up chess. Girls make up a small fraction of the children who play in chess tournaments, and women competitors are even rarer. Bill Hall, executive director of the United States Chess Federation, estimated that fewer than 5 percent of the federation’s members are women over 21. “My dad, my grandfather, my brother played,” Mrs. Kinsey said, “and it was something that the girls never did.” To help achieve its goal, 9 Queens began holding monthly workshops limited to girls and women to create a more nurturing environment. “In the chess clubs that I have that are coed, the boys will be screaming out the right answer, and they will be fighting,” Ms. Hoffman said. The instructors are, with one exception, also women. In her effort to publicize the workshops, Ms. Hoffman asked Margo Burwell, 60, a retired college art instructor, to design a poster. Ms. Burwell used a picture of Marcel Duchamp, the Dada artist who was a passionate chess player, and a quotation from him: “I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art — and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position.” After she was done, Ms. Burwell, whose son played chess but who did not play herself, decided to go to a workshop. “It was good enough for Marcel, so perhaps it was good for me,” she said. At the first workshop Ms. Burwell attended, girls and women were taught the rules and then paired up to play. Ms. Burwell found herself opposite a 5-year-old girl. “At one point, she captured my queen, and she laughed and laughed, and I thought, ‘I better buckle down,’ ” Ms. Burwell said. After 45 minutes, she won. Ms. Burwell found that playing every month was not enough. She asked some women if they would be interested in meeting once a week. The women have different reasons for joining. Mrs. Kinsey wanted to be able to play with her 8-year-old daughter, Angela, who competes in chess tournaments. “I wanted to learn myself so I can be more of a support system for her,” she said. “I wanted to actually be able to play a game with her and actually be competitive.” Mrs. Kinsey said the Wednesday group had not just helped her improve her game. “I really like the ladies,” she said. “Some of the ladies have kids that play tournaments, and we’ll talk about how hard do you push them. It’s sort of like a support group.” Martha Underwood, 47, an assistant professor of education at the University of Arizona, said that even her children, Aiya, 11, and Zack, 9, who compete in scholastic chess tournaments, are startled by their mother’s newfound zeal for the game. “They are kind of annoyed with me because they are like, ‘That is all you do,’ ” Ms. Underwood said. She said that she and the rest of the group hoped that playing chess would have benefits. “We all talk about how we want to do this to stave off Alzheimer’s, instead of The New York Times crossword puzzle,” she said. While the women are collegial, they are also competitive. Ms. Underwood has played in two tournaments, including one run by 9 Queens. Ann Price, an architect newly laid off from her firm, said she had been a black belt in tae kwon do, but had to give it up after injuring her back five years ago. Chess, she said, was a good substitute. “One of the things that I missed about tae kwon do was the strategic way of thinking,” Ms. Price said. “The problem-solving is something that I did in my profession.” Sometimes, men at the Coffee X Change ask to play chess with the women and are welcomed. But there are no plans to make them a formal part of the group. Some members of the group say that learning chess with women who have become friends has given them a confidence that seems to spill over into the rest of their lives. “I tend to be talkative,” Ms. Underwood said. “I’m trying to be more thoughtful instead.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wepwawet - Sacred "Opener of the Way"

I'm continuing research into the association of dogs with goddesses and gods, which I find of interest because, at least in parts of the ancient Middle East and also in ancient Greece, gaming pieces were often referred to as "dogs." For an overview of the dog's association with goddesses and gods in many cultures, see Dog as Diety, Ancestor and Royal Animal, by Paul Kekai Manansala. Here is more information about the ancient (pre-dynastic) Egyptian wolf-god, Wepwawet, called "The Opener of the Way" (hieroglphyic rendering of Wepwawet - wpwAwt, from Ancient Egypt Online - Wepwawet). "Opener of the Ways." Egyptian jackal god. [Wepwawet was also depicted as a wolf with jackal's head and a man with a wolf's head or jackal's head; in whatever form he took, he was usually depicted with grey or greyish-white fur, attesting to his lupine origins.] (Image from Late Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt, by Francesco Raffaele). Wepwawet had a dual role as a god of war and of the funerary cult, and could be said to "open the way" both for the armies of the pharaoh [as a scout and stealthy hunter/killer] and for the spirits of the dead. He originated as a god of Upper Egypt [that is, southern Egypt on a map], but his cult had spread throughout Egypt by the time of the Old Kingdom. Depicted as a jackal or in human form with the head of a jackal, often holding the 'shedshed', a standard which led the pharaoh to victory in war and on which the pharaoh was said to ascend into the sky after death. [There were four royal standards that were carried ahead of and led processions of Pharaoh. Here is one of the earliest depictions of the Royal Standards of which I am aware, from the Narmer Palette, c. 3500 BCE. The standard closest to Pharaoh carries the King's magical double (a/k/a his Twin), the linen-wrapped placenta (after-birth) from his birth. The second standard features a standing, alert Wepwawet. I also found this information from a Tour Egypt article: Wepwawet's image is generally portrayed with a uraeus and a hieroglyph that has been described as representing the king's placenta, surmounting a standard known as a shedshed. Thus, in later incarnations of the Royal Standards, an image of Wepwawet was substituted for the royal placenta, which by that time was no doubt judged as too valuable and too sacred to be exposed to the public and all the dangers that might entail. In still later times, two trailing ribbons substituted for the placenta.] Despite his origin in Upper Egypt, one inscription said that he was born in the sanctuary of the goddess Wadjet at Buto in the Nile delta. Another inscription identified him with Horus and thus by extension with the pharaoh. Wepwawet also symbolized the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. In his capacity as a funerary deity he used his adze to break open the mouth of the deceased in the "opening of the mouth' ceremony which ensured that the person would have the enjoyment of all his faculties in the afterlife. At Abydos the 'procession of Wepwawet' initiated the mysteries of Osiris as a god of the dead. See: World Mythology - Egyptian Mythology, Wepwawet, at Thinkquest Egyptian Dreams, Wepwawet Crystal Links, Wepwawet (citing Budge's The Gods of the Egyptians) Tour Egypt, Wepwawet, the Jackal God of Abydos, by Taylor Ray Ellison Ancient Egypt Online, Wepwawet There is now quite a bit of information available online about the ancient practice of identifying a placenta with a newborn's "twin" or magical double - a belief not confined to predynastic Egypt. I remember hearing of "old wive's tales" of women burying the afterbirth (placenta and umbilical cord) of a newborn in secret in the dead of night to prevent it's being "captured" by the Devil or witches or - name your evil entity - and then used to control or even kill the newborn child - and this was in Europe thousands of years after the pharaohs had passed into herstory. If you are interested, try searches under pharaoh and placenta.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sad Cinderella

I wondered - why does this Cinderella look so sad in this original graphic from Charles Perrault's volume of fairy tales published in France in 1697 (an engraving by Gustave Doré illustrates the Cinderella tale and captures Louis XIV's France. (Oxford University Press)), when by marrying the prince all her problems will supposedly be over. Or perhaps just beginning??? I mean, this prince is not exactly my dream of a young hunky dude... I did a little research into the Cinderalla tale and was surprised what a long history it has, likely many hundreds of years older than before it was first written down into a form that later became known as a "fairy tale" -- I found this information at the website for the San Jose, California Opera Company: Cinderella Is Older Than She Looks Rossini’s captivating comedy La Cenerentola opens November 14th By Larry Hancock Once upon a time, a long time ago, about 1300 B.C., actually, so, a very, very long time ago, in Egypt, narratives were written that modern scholars have labeled the first fairy tales. Fairy tales have also been found in ancient India and ancient China, and just about every other place where we find a history of human habitation. We also find Cinderella, one of the most recurrent fairy tale themes, in many of these cultures. The oldest of these is thought to be of Greco-Egyptian origin and was recorded by Strabo in the first century B.C. There are now so many versions of the Cinderella story that they can’t possibly be so much as listed here, but if you are interested in doing a little research of your own, Google Cinderella; the movie results alone should keep you busy for quite some time. Among the earliest European versions of this story is "La gatta cenerentola" (The cinder cat), which was published in Naples in 1634 as part of Giambattista Basile’s collection of tales, though there is one even earlier Italian version, published by G.F. Straparola in 1550. It is reported that Basile’s version served as a basis for both Charles Perrault’s (Stories and Tales of Past Times, or Tales of Mother Goose, 1697) and the Grimm brothers’ (Children’s and Household Tales, 1812) versions. There are still more European variants, and among them is one from the Gothic Era by Chaucer (!) and yet another 17th-century version by Baronne d’Aulnoy, published in her 1697 collection (d’Aulnoy, by the way, was the first to use the term fairy tale, conte de fées). Cinderella, as Americans have come to know the story best, is Walt Disney’s variation of the Perrault; Perrault was the one who added a pumpkin and a fairy godmother (I believe Disney introduced the singing mice). No doubt Disney chose the Perrault over the Grimm to avoid the mutilation of the stepsisters’ feet as they trimmed away the bits that wouldn’t fit into the gold slipper (the glass slipper was Perrault’s idea), and the attack of angry birds that rendered those naughty girls blind as well as lame (one wonders if Hitchcock found inspiration here). Our version found its beginning in Rome, two days before the Christmas of 1816, when Rossini, at a very late hour (in more than one sense), was offered the opportunity to compose a Cinderella for Teatro del Valle. He accepted immediately, stretched out in his bed, and went to sleep. The impresario, librettist, and composer had been working late into the night in Rossini’s bedroom trying to think of a subject for a new opera that had been scheduled to open the day after Christmas (I should mention here that, though the opera was completed in a miraculously short time, they didn’t make that deadline). The librettist, Jacopo Ferretti, hurried home and stayed up the rest of the night drinking a reportedly excellent mocha coffee while creating the scenario, which he presented to Rossini in the morning. Ferretti’s work was made easier by the fact that two years earlier an opera on this subject had premiered at La Scala, libretto by Felice Romani and music by Stefano Pavesi. Rossini was in Milan at the time, and Ferretti knew Romani’s libretto. It was Romani who introduced Dandini and Alidoro to the Cinderella story (retained by Ferretti), but Ferretti who came up with bracelets to replace the glass slippers (Rome shuddered at the idea of naked feet on stage, so, no glass slippers). Ferretti’s libretto is an unapologetic plagiarism, but, clearly, time was of the essence—the opera season had to close on February 18, when Lent would begin. Before Rossini started composing he insisted on one thing (for which opera producers have been ever grateful): there was to be no technical "magic" on stage. He distrusted the theatre’s capacity to pull off reliable magic tricks. Rossini would later have a terrible experience producing his Moses in Egypt (also known as Moses and Pharaoh or The Passage Through the Red Sea). I’m sure you can see where this is going: he later obscured the parting of the waters with a ballet so that audiences could stop laughing hysterically at this very dramatic moment. We are grateful that we have not had to figure out a way to turn a pumpkin into a carriage, and we absolutely cringe at the thought of turning mice into horses. When I said the opera was completed in miraculous time, I should have said it was composed in 24 days. Each morning, the librettist handed over whatever he had completed the day before and Rossini set it to music. There was a little outside help from about day twenty, when Rossini solicited the assistance of Luca Agolini to compose an aria for Alidoro and another for Clorinda as well as the introduction to Act II. At the last minute, Rossini decided to use his overture from La Gazzetta, an earlier Rossini opera that was unknown to Rome and whose shelf life had clearly expired. The famous buffo duet between Magnifico and Dandini was composed the night before the opening. I repeat, THE NIGHT BEFORE THE OPENING. With the opera composed, it’s time to worry about the singers, who had to memorize, master, and perform roles, famous for their technical difficulty, in about a week. Opening night told the tale: it was an unhappy occasion. The singers did not complete the Herculean task, were exhausted by the attempt, and the first four performances made that evident. So, though the opening was soundly rejected, after a week, the opera was a resounding success and it achieved more than twenty performances before Lent put an end to it. The opera proved to travel well, and quickly, and it has aged nicely. We are excited to bring this delicious concoction back to San José. For those readers who do not yet know La Cenerentola, much of the above must seem mysterious; who in the world might Dandini, Magnifico, Alidoro, and Clorinda be? It’s time to relate the tale as we find it in Ferretti and Rossini’s 1817 version: Rossini’s La Cenerentola begins in the crumbling mansion of the baron, Don Magnifico, where his two daughters from a previous marriage, Clorinda and Tisbe, are admiring themselves, enormously and erroneously. Angelina, disparagingly called Cinderella, enters with the breakfast tray. Shortly, Alidoro (Goldenwings) enters disguised as a religious pilgrim and asks for food. The girls, shrieking, send him away, but Cinderella hides him and gives him bread and coffee. Out of nowhere, a group of courtiers arrive with the news that the crown prince, Don Ramiro, is on his way to this very house to escort all the daughters to his nearby country estate where he will choose one of them to be his bride. Clorinda and Tisbe lose their minds, and their shouting awakens their late-sleeping father, Don Magnifico, who was having a significant dream. When he discovers that the prince is coming to marry one of his daughters, he finds much of that dream coming true right before his eyes. He directs his two daughters to get beautifully dressed and commands Cinderella to bring him his coffee. With the room empty, Prince Ramiro sneaks in, disguised as a valet. He tells us that his father has commanded him to marry or he will no longer be the heir apparent. He is not pleased at having to marry someone of his father’s choosing and is out searching for a bride he might actually love. Cinderella enters and the two discover one another in a meaningful, promising way just before Ramiro’s valet, Dandini, enters, disporting himself as a crown prince—at least he gives it a good try. He meets the father and two of the daughters and invites everyone to the palace. They assemble to depart when Cinderella asks to go with them. This causes Magnifico to scold her in stunning fashion, but she persists until Alidoro, returning, this time without the disguise, opens a register of births in the region, asks where the third daughter might be. Magnifico tearfully announces that the girl died long ago. Cinderella is stunned to hear that she died and hadn’t even noticed, and everyone but she and Alidoro leave. Alidoro promises that he will take her to the palace, himself. At the palace, Dandini appoints Magnifico as Wine Steward and sends him off to taste all the vintages in the palace so that he can better observe the two daughters. An unknown lady has just arrived, and she turns out to look astonishingly like Cinderella, though much better dressed. Before the night is over, the prince is captivated with her and proposes marriage, but Cinderella tells him that he does not know her and that she will not marry him unless he searches for her. If upon finding her in her usual condition he still wants her, she will then consent. She takes off one of her matching bracelets, gives it to him, and tells him she will still be wearing the other one when he finds her. She leaves him standing there in amazement. Ramiro puts an end to the gathering, having found and then lost his intended bride, and he gathers the troops to search for his departed love. Dandini is put in the awkward position of telling Magnifico that he is no prince, but merely a valet. Everyone departs in some degree of excitement or annoyance. Back at the baron’s mansion, Cinderella has put on her rags to greet her family, while outside a storm rages. Ramiro, Dandini, and Alidoro arrive out of the rain, and, Ramiro notices that the serving girl he met that morning is wearing a very familiar bracelet. He makes his claim and takes his prize back to the palace. The rest of the Magnifico family is stunned. At the palace, Magnifico and his daughters join the assembly to witness the elevation of Cinderella. This is the point at which Magnifico should find himself clapped in chains and thrown into prison for the theft of Cinderella’s dowry. The girls don’t have sense enough to keep an eye out for vagrant birds, and Clorinda is not adjusting at all well to Cinderella’s new situation. But, surprisingly for this family, all is well, as the subtitle of this opera is "The Triumph of Goodness." Cinderella tells them that they are the only family she has, that she loves them, that she has always loved them, and she clasps them in her arms. The opera ends with a bravura aria that rattles off notes like machine gun bullets. Everyone, for the most part, is happy, and especially Ramiro, who gets his true love and his father’s crown. Cinderella, I suppose, is happy also. She certainly sounds happy...

Dogs in Myth and Legend

In addition to what I've previously posted about the close association of dogs and the Goddess (do a site search under "dog" using our search feature) I came across the following today in Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets:

Dog-faced Furies of the Earth Mother Demeter, giving rise to the Latin name of the same Goddess, Ceres. Like most other versions of the Great Goddess's death-hounds, the Keres visited battlefields and ate the dead to carry their souls to glory. They were another aspect of the frightening female psychopomps otherwise called Valkyries, dakins, harpies, Nekhbet-vultures, she-wolves, or sacred bitches.(1)

(1) Larousse, 166.

"Moon-Dog," firstborn wolf-son of Angurboda, the Danish death-goddess called Hag of the Iron Wood, mother of Hel. Managarm and his brother wolves carried the bodies of the dead to Valhalla - by eating them.

Update on Miracle Baby Who Survived Tsunami

From The Malaysian Star December 27, 2009 Miracle baby still basking in fame SHE was named after a sacred plant, an incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, and her parents hope that S. Thulaasi would grow up bringing joy to those around her. When she was just 22 days old, Thulaasi achieved fame as a “miracle baby” when she survived the tsunami that destroyed her family’s wooden cafe at the Miami Beach in Batu Ferringhi, Penang. She was sleeping on a mattress when the waves came at 1.15pm on Dec 26, 2004. The mattress with the baby on it was washed out to sea, and washed ashore again by a second wave – with the baby still intact, and in sweet slumber! Since then, the media have kept track of the child’s progress every anniversary of the tsunami. Thulaasi is five years old now and is still basking in the limelight. She has become a hit among tourists who visit her family’s cafe after being told by taxi drivers of the “miracle baby”. Her mother L. Annalmary, 47, says her daughter was named after the tulasi herb (basil). “The Goddess Lakshmi transformed herself into the basil bush to help the people as this plant has many medicinal properties. Perhaps Thulaasi will one day help many people too,” she says, looking fondly at her daughter. Annalmary hopes Thulaasi, who is now attending kindergarten, will become either a lecturer or a scientist who will dedicate herself to helping people. “I really believe she was saved by God for a reason,” she says. Thulaasi’s father, A. Suppiah, 60, says his daughter is “wise beyond her years”.

Tomb of Cao Cao Unearthed in China

Tomb of legendary general Cao Cao unearthed in central China 2009-12-27 22:58:08 BEIJING, Dec. 27 (Xinhua) -- The tomb of Cao Cao, a renowned warlord and politician in the third century, was unearthed in Anyang City of central China's Henan Province, archaeologists said Sunday. Cao Cao (155-220 A.D.), who built the strongest and most prosperous state during the Three Kingdom period (208-280 A.D.), is remembered for his outstanding military and political talents. Cao Cao is also known for his poems that reflected his strong character. Some of the poems are included in China's middle school textbooks. Three ancient corpses, one man and two women, were found in the two-chamber tomb in Xigaoxue village of Anyang. The man was found to have died in his sixties, which coincides the age of Cao Cao when he died, Liu Qingzhu, director of the academic committee of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told a press conference in Beijing. More than 250 articles, made of gold, silver, pottery and etc, were unearthed from the 740-square-meter tomb, a size appropriate for a king. Archaeologists also found 59 engraved stone plates logging the name and amount of the articles buried in the tomb. Seven of the plates logged weapons "often used by the king of Wei", or Cao Cao, Liu said. Also unearthed were a large amount of paintings drawn on stone plates, Liu added. Cao Cao wrote in his will that his burial place should be simple, which corresponds to the fact that the walls of the tome were not painted and few precious articles were found, said Hao Benxing, head of Henan's Institute of Archaeology. The position of the tomb is in line with historical recordings and ancient books from Cao Cao's time, Hao added. Although further excavations are yet to be carried out, current evidences are adequate to prove this is Cao Cao's tomb, said Guan Qiang, director of the archaeology department of China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage. The tomb had been raided for several times before archaeologists started to excavate it in Dec. 2008, Guan said. The police are working to retrieve the stolen articles, he added. The governments of Henan and Anyang are planning to display the tomb to the public, Hao said.

Is Cleopatra Really Buried Here?

Hmmm... Threshold to Cleopatra's mausoleum discovered off Alexandria coast • Threshold to massive door found off Alexandria • Queen's mausoleum part of sunken palace complex Helena Smith in Athens, Wednesday 23 December 2009 22.10 GMT They were one of the world's most famous couples, who lived lives of power and glory – but who spent their last hours in despair and confusion. Now, more than 2,000 years since Antony and Cleopatra walked the earth, historians believe they may finally have solved the riddle of their last hours together. A team of Greek marine archaeologists who have spent years conducting underwater excavations off the coast of Alexandria in Egypt have unearthed a giant granite threshold to a door that they believe was once the entrance to a magnificent mausoleum that Cleopatra VII, queen of the Egyptians, had built for herself shortly before her death. They believe the 15-tonne antiquity would have held a seven metre-high door so heavy that it would have prevented the queen from consoling her Roman lover before he died, reputedly in 30BC. "As soon as I saw it, I thought we are in the presence of a very special piece of a very special door," Harry Tzalas, the historian who heads the Greek mission, said. "There was no way that such a heavy piece, with fittings for double hinges and double doors, could have moved with the waves so there was no doubt in my mind that it belonged to the mausoleum. Like Macedonian tomb doors, when it closed, it closed for good." Tzalas believes the discovery of the threshold sheds new light on an element of the couple's dying hours which has long eluded historians. In the first century AD the Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Mark Antony, after being wrongly informed that Cleopatra had killed herself, had tried to take his own life. When the dying general expressed his wish to pass away alongside his mistress, who was hiding inside the mausoleum with her ladies-in-waiting, he was "hoisted with chains and ropes" to the building's upper floor so that he could be brought in to the building through a window. Plutarch wrote, "when closed the [mausoleum's] door mechanism could not open again". The discovery in the Mediterranean Sea of such huge pieces of masonry at the entrance to what is believed to be the mausoleum would explain the historian's line. Tzalas said: "For years, archaeologists have wondered what Plutarch, a very reliable historian, meant by that. And now, finally, I think we have the answer. "Allowing a dying man to be hoisted on ropes was not a very nice, or comforting thing to do, but Cleopatra couldn't do otherwise. She was there only with females and they simply couldn't open such a heavy door." The threshold, part of the sunken palace complex in which Cleopatra is believed to have died, was discovered recently at a depth of eight metres but only revealed this week. It has yet to be brought to the surface. The archaeologists have also recovered a nine-tonne granite block which they believe formed part of a portico belonging to the adjoining temple of Isis Lochias. "We believe it was part of the complex surrounding Cleopatra's palace," said Zahi Hawas, Egypt's top archaeologist. "This is an important part of Alexandria's history and brings us closer to knowing more about the ancient city." According to Plutarch, who based his accounts largely on eyewitness testimonies, Antony died within seconds of laying eyes on his beloved queen and mother of his children. Cleopatra, the most powerful woman of her day and Egypt's most fabled ruler, is believed to have taken her own life just days later, legend has it with the aid of an asp.
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