October 26, 2015

The Dead is Rising: Beware of the Draugar

Draugar (being plural of draug) possess superhuman strength, can increase their size at will, and carry the unmistakable stench of decay. "The appearance of a draugr was that of a dead body: swollen, blackened and generally hideous to look at." They are undead figures from Norse and Icelandic mythology that appear to retain some semblance of intelligence. They exist to guard their treasure, wreak havoc on living beings, or torment those who had wronged them in life. The draugr's ability to increase its size also increased its weight, and the body of the draugr was described as being extremely heavy. While land-draugar was simply undead with numerous magical abilities, sea-draugar was fishermen who had drowned at sea, thus being denied the privilege of being buried. Draugar are depicted as having either pitch black or pale white skin.
Draugar are noted for having numerous magical abilities, such as shape-shifting, controlling the weather, and seeing into the future. Among the creatures that a draugr may turn into are a seal, a great flayed bull, a grey horse with a broken back but no ears or tail, and a cat that would sit upon a sleeper's chest and grow steadily heavier until the victim suffocated.
Draugar are extremely powerful undead and have little to no weaknesses. They are immune to all sorts of conventional weapons. A Draugr must be wrestled into its mound by force, but even then may arise again. The only way to ensure a draugr doesn't come back to a living form is to sever the head from the neck, burn the body and dump the ashes into the sea. For this reason, many Norse warriors were buried at sea on a ship which was burned while sailing forth so their spirits could not come back. The mound would then be opened to "purifying" sunlight.
A Tale of Draugr
Prince Asmund
Long ago, Prince Asmund of Iceland lost his way in a storm while hunting. He would have died, were it not for the kind intervention of Prince Aswid, who took him back to the hall of King Bjorn. To show his gratitude, they became blood brothers and quested to destroy all of those who worked evil. They fought beside each other for many years, until Aswid sickened and died mysteriously. Asmund, respecting his promise, insisted on being buried with Aswid to safeguard his journey to the next life.
Several hundred years later, with Viking society on the brink of collapse, a raiding party decided to raid the mound for the gold within. Lowering down their bravest warrior to the depths of the pit, they fled in terror as Asmund was raised out. He told them that Aswid had risen as a Draugr and came back. He devoured his horse, and his hound before turning on Asmund. Asmund showed them the scars he had sustained at his old friend's hands. They had battled for centuries, Asmund holding him off with his sword, but the distraction of the warrior's arrival meant that Asmund could finally slay Aswid. Tale finished, he collapsed and was reburied by the raiding party, who left the treasures in the mound. Aswid they took out, hacked apart, burnt and scattered his ashes.
The more recent creatures are associated with the sea rather than land. These undead beings were once people who have drowned at sea and have risen from the deep being composed entirely of seaweed. Some have described them as being headless fisherman sailing half a boat or in the form of a living corpse.
To prevent the return of dead Vikings, scissors were placed on their chests along with bits of twigs hidden in their clothing. Their big toes were tied together and needles were driven through their feet to keep them from walking again once dead. 
To prevent the dead from rising people would drag a dead body feet first surrounded by a thick crowd so that the dead corpse did not know where it was going. Once placed in a coffin a special door was bolted on to prevent a return visit. This tradition of burying started in Denmark and spread across Scandinavian Europe. 

October 21, 2015

The Dead is rising

As the veils between the world of the living and the dead weaken around this time. Let's remember the monsters and ghouls that scare the crap out of us and the heroes who conquer them. 

In Norse religion the einherjar were spirits of warriors who had died bravely in battle. The name is Old Norse for "one-army-ers" (singular would be einheri). It is often interpreted as "outstanding fighter", but might also signify "those who are all in one army", because when alive on earth they were in many armies and bands, but now they are all in the Army of Asgard. Einherjar warriors are personally trained by the ruler of Asgard and are tasked with protecting Asgard.
After they die, the Valkyries escort half of the slain from the battlefield to Valhalla (these are the "einherjar"), which is part of Asgard (commonly described as the "Norse Heaven"); the other half went to Fólkvangr (Freyja's hall). The Grímnismál describes Valhalla as having five hundred and forty doors, and through each of them, eight hundred could march abreast (a hundred, hundrað, in Old Norse could mean either 100 or 120), indicating the size of the hall and the numbers of the einherjar.
Every day the Einherjar are awakened by Gullinkambi, a rooster, and march out to the great field of Idavoll in the heart of Asgard to fight against each other in merry (and mortal) combat. The einherjar prepare daily for the events of Ragnarök, when they will advance for an immense battle at the field of Vígríðr. Heimdall occasionally returned the best of Einherjar to Midgard or Jotunheim with the purpose of killing giants, but they were forbidden to talk with the living.
At dusk, when they are all cut to pieces, save perhaps a few, they are miraculously healed, and march back into Valhalla, where Andhrímnir, the cook of the gods, has prepared a meal for them from the pork of Sæhrímnir, a pig that is reborn every day, and the mead milked from Heiðrún, a goat feeding on the leaves of Yggdrasil. The einherjar then spend the evening and night in feast, served by lovely Valkyries, until they all fall asleep, solidly drunk. And yet, they never experience hangovers or other mishaps from this daily inebriation.
The einherjar will stand with the forces of the Æsir at Ragnarök, when Odin will call them up to fight the forces of Hel and the giants.  For the Norn (Goddesses of Fate) and seers claim Odin’s death will come at the fangs of the great wolf Fenrir, and like anyone

October 1, 2015

Seven Wonders of Ancient World: Great Lighthouse of Alexandria

In the fall of 1994 a team of archaeological divers leaded by the archeologist Jean Yves Empereur donned scuba equipment and entered the waters off of Alexandria, Egypt. Working beneath the surface, they searched the bottom of the sea for artifacts.
Ironically, these scientists were using some of the most high-tech devices available at the end of the 20th century to try and sort out the ruins of one of the most advanced technological achievements of the 3rd century, B.C... It was the Pharos, the great lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria worked by 15 centuries and it was the last of the six lost wonders of the ancient world that disappeared. It was one of the greatest architectural feats of the antiquity.
Besides, the Lighthouse was the only wonder that was constructed with practical purposes; since it helped seafaring ships to find the harbor safely. The lighthouse served also as a military lookout for approaching enemy ships and a tourist balcony, because it had two observation platforms.

Founding of Alexandria

The story of the Pharos starts with the founding of the city of Alexandria by the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great in 332 B.C... Alexander started at least 17 cities named Alexandria at different locations in his vast domain (big ego huh?). Most of them disappeared, but Alexandria in Egypt thrived for many centuries, served as Egypt’s capital for Ptolemy Dynasty, and is prosperous even today.
Alexander the Great chose the location of his new city carefully. Instead of building it on the Nile delta, he selected a site some twenty miles to the west, so that the silt and mud carried by the river would not block the city harbor. South of the city was the marshy Lake Mareotis. After a canal was constructed between the lake and the Nile, the city had two harbors: one for Nile River traffic, and the other for Mediterranean Sea trade. Both harbors would remain deep and clear and the activity they allowed made the city very wealthy.

Alexander died in 323 B.C. and the city was completed by Ptolemy Soter, the new ruler of Egypt. Under Ptolemy the city became rich and prosperous. However, it needed both a symbol and a mechanism to guide the many trade ships into its busy harbor. Ptolemy authorized the building of the Pharos in 290 B.C. The lighthouse was built on the island of Pharos and soon the building itself acquired that name. The connection of the name with the function became so strong that the word "Pharos" became the root of the word "lighthouse" in the French, Italian, Spanish and Romanian languages.
The design was unlike the slim single column of most modern lighthouses, but more like the structure of an early twentieth century skyscraper. There were three stages, each built on top of one other. The building material was stone faced with white marble blocks cemented together with lead mortar. The lowest level of the building, which sat on a 20 foot (6m) high stone platform, was probably about 240 feet (73m) in height and 100 feet (30m) square at the base, shaped like a massive box. The door to this section of the building wasn't at the bottom of the structure, but part way up and reached by a 600 foot (183m) long ramp supported by massive arches. Inside this portion of the structure was a large spiral ramp that allowed materials to be pulled to the top in animal-drawn carts.
On top of that first section was an eight-sided tower which was probably about 115 feet (35m) in height. On top of the tower was a cylinder that extended up another 60 feet (18m) to an open cupola where the fire that provided the light burned. On the roof of the cupola was a large statue, probably of the god of the sea, Poseidon.
When it was completed some twenty years later, it was the first lighthouse in the world and the tallest building in existence, with the exception of the Great Pyramid. The construction cost was said to have been 800 talents, an amount equal today to about three million dollars.

Destruction of the Lighthouse

During its three first centuries the Lighthouse was used mainly with practical purposes. By the first century AD in the Roman time the Lighthouse served mainly as a landmark or day beacon.
In 796 the Lighthouse would have lost its upper storey and 100 years later the sultan Toulun (868-884) built a domed mosque on the summit. By 950 several cracks began to appear in the walls of the tower.
The Lighthouse dominated the Harbor during many centuries, in 1183 the Muslim traveler Ibn Jubayr visited Alexandria and described the Lighthouse thus: “Description of it falls short, the eyes fail to comprehend it, and words are inadequate, so vast is the spectacle”.
Unfortunately two major earthquakes in 1303 and 1323 damaged seriously the tower; according to the Arab traveler Ibn Battuta, in this time, it could not enter into the ruins of the Lighthouse. In 1480 the remains of the Lighthouse finally disappeared, since the Sultan of Egypt Qaitbay, used several stones of the Pharos to build a fort, therefore several stone blocks of the Lighthouse can be seen in the walls of the Fort Qaitbey, these stone blocks are clearly visible because of their big size compare to the other blocks of the walls.

September 24, 2015

Seven Wonders of the World: Colossus of Rhodes

Travelers to the New York City harbor see a marvelous sight. Standing on a small island in the harbor is an immense statue of a robed woman, holding a book and lifting a torch to the sky. It is sometimes referred to as the "Modern Colossus," but more often called the Statue of Liberty. This awe-inspiring statue was a gift from France to America and is easily recognized by people around the world. What many visitors to this shrine to freedom don't know is that the statue, the "Modern Colossus," is the echo of another statue, the original colossus, which stood over two thousand years ago at the entrance to another busy harbor on the Island of Rhodes.
In the late 4th century BC, Rhodes, allied with Ptolemy I of Egypt, prevented a massive invasion staged by their common enemy, Antigonus I Monophthalmus and his son Demetrius. In 304 BC a relief force of ships sent by Ptolemy arrived, and Antigonus's army abandoned the siege, leaving most of their siege equipment. The siege of Rhodes lasted a year and ended in 304 BC when Demetrius, meeting with obstinate resistance, was obliged to make a peace treaty upon the terms that the people of Rhodes would build ships for Antigonus and aid him against any enemy except for Ptolemy, on whom they bestowed the title Soter (savior) for his aid during the lengthy siege.
The people of Rhodes saw the end of conflict differently, however. To celebrate their victory and freedom, the people of Rhodes decided to build a giant statue of their patron god Helios.
Helios: God of the Sun 
Helios is the Titan God of the Sun.  Helios‘s duty of driving the sun chariot and shine sunlight to the world. Helios is the son of Hyperion and Theia, brother of Selene, the moon, and Eos, the dawn. He is married to Rhodes, a nymph daughter of Poseidon. His Roman counterpart is Sol.

The chief seat of the worship of Helios was the island of Rhodes, which according to the following myth was his special territory. At the time of the Titanomachy, when the gods were dividing the world by lot, Helios happened to be absent, and consequently received no share. He therefore complained to Zeus, who proposed to have a new allotment, but Helios would not allow this, saying that as he pursued his daily journey, his penetrating eye had beheld a lovely, fertile island lying beneath the waves of the ocean, and that if the immortals would swear to give him the undisturbed possession of this spot, he would be content to accept it as his share of the universe. The gods took the oath, whereupon the island of Rhodes immediately rose above the surface of the waters.
The people of Rhodes melted down bronze from the many war machines Demetrius left behind for the exterior of the figure and the super siege tower became the scaffolding for the project. Although some reportedly place the start of construction as early as 304 BC it is more likely the work started in 292 BC. According to Pliny, a historian who lived several centuries after the Colossus was built, construction took 12 years.
The statue was one hundred and ten feet high and stood upon a fifty-foot pedestal near the harbor entrance perhaps on a breakwater. Although the statue has sometimes been popularly depicted with its legs spanning the harbor entrance so that ships could pass beneath, it was actually posed in a more traditional Greek manner. Historians believe the figure was nude or semi-nude with a cloak over its left arm or shoulder. Some think it was wearing a spiked crown, shading its eyes from the rising sun with its right hand, or possibly using that hand to hold a torch aloft in a pose similar to one later given to the Statue of Liberty.
No ancient account mentions the harbor-spanning pose and it seems unlikely the Greeks would have depicted one of their gods in such an awkward manner. In addition, such a pose would mean shutting down the harbor during the construction, something not economically feasible.
The Colossus stood proudly at the harbor entrance for some fifty-six years. Each morning the sun must have caught its polished bronze surface and made the god's figure shine. Then an earthquake hit Rhodes in 226 BC and the statue collapsed. Huge pieces of the figure lay along the harbor for centuries. It is said that the Egyptian king, Ptolemy III, offered to pay for its reconstruction, but the people of Rhodes refused his help. They had consulted the Oracle of Delphi and feared that somehow the statue had offended the god Helios, who used the earthquake to throw it down. This make it the shortest time for the wonder.

September 20, 2015

Seven Wonders of Ancient World: Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

In 377 B.C., the city of Halicarnassus was the capitol of a small kingdom along the Mediterranean coast of Asia Minor. It was in that year the ruler of this land, Hecatomnus of Mylasa, died and left control of the kingdom to his son, Mausolus. Hecatomnus, a local satrap (vassal king) to the Persians, had been ambitious and had taken control of several of the neighboring cities and districts. Then Mausolus during his reign extended the territory even further so that it eventually included most of southwestern Asia Minor.
Mausolus, with his queen Artemisia, ruled over Halicarnassus and the surrounding territory for 24 years. Though he was descended from the local people, Mausolus spoke Greek and admired the Greek way of life and government. He founded many cities of Greek design along the coast and encouraged Greek democratic traditions.

Mausolus's Death
Then in 353 B.C. Mausolus died, leaving his queen Artemisia, who was also his sister, broken-hearted (It was the custom in Caria for rulers to marry their own sisters). As a tribute to him, she decided to build him the most splendid tomb in the known world. It became a structure so famous that Mausolus's name is now associated with all stately tombs throughout the world through the word mausoleum. The building, rich with statuary and carvings in relief, was so beautiful and unique it became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Artemisia decided that no expense was to be spared in the building of the tomb. She sent messengers to Greece to find the most talented artists of the time. These included architects Satyros and Pytheos who designed the overall shape of the tomb. Other famous sculptors invited to contribute to the project were Bryaxis, Leochares, Timotheus and Scopas of Paros (who was responsible for rebuilding the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, another of the wonders). According to the historian Pliny Bryaxis, Leochares, Timotheus and Scopas each took one side of the tomb to decorate. Joining these sculptors were also hundreds of other workmen and craftsmen. Together they finished the building in the styles of three different cultures: Egyptian, Greek and Lycian.

The tomb was erected on a hill overlooking the city. The whole structure sat in the center of an enclosed courtyard on a stone platform. A staircase, flanked by stone lions, led to the top of this platform. Along the outer wall of the courtyard were many statues depicting gods and goddesses. At each corner stone warriors, mounted on horseback, guarded the tomb.
At the center of the platform was the tomb itself. Made mostly of marble, the structure rose as a square, tapering block to about one-third of the Mausoleum's 140 foot height. This section was covered with relief sculpture showing action scenes from Greek myth/history. One part showed the battle of the Centaurs with the Lapiths. Another depicted Greeks in combat with the Amazons, a race of warrior women. On top of this section of the tomb thirty-six slim columns rose for another third of the height. Standing in between each column was another statue. Behind the columns was a solid block that carried the weight of the tomb's massive roof.
The roof, which comprised most of the final third of the height, was in the form of a stepped pyramid with 24 levels. Perched on top was the tomb's penultimate work of sculpture craved by Pytheos: Four massive horses pulling a chariot in which images of Mausolus and Artemisia rode.
Artemisia lived for only two years after the death of her husband. Both would be buried in the yet unfinished tomb. According to Pliny, the craftsmen decided to stay and finish the work after their patron died "considering that it was at once a memorial of their own fame and of the sculptor's art."
The Mausoleum overlooked the city of Halicarnassus for many centuries. It was untouched when the city fell to Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. and was still undamaged after attacks by pirates in 62 and 58 B.C. It stood above the city ruins for some 17 centuries. Then a series of earthquakes in the 13th century shattered the columns and sent the stone chariot crashing to the ground. By 1404 A.D. only the very base of the Mausoleum was still recognizable.

Destruction by the Crusaders

Crusaders, who had little respect for ancient culture, occupied the city from the thirteen century onward and recycled much of the building stone into their own structures. In 1522 rumors of a Turkish invasion caused Crusaders to strengthen the castle at Halicarnassus (which was by then known as Bodrum) and some of the remaining portions of the tomb were broken up and used within the castle walls. Indeed, sections of polished marble from the tomb can still be seen there today.
At this time a party of knights entered the base of the monument and discovered the room containing a great coffin. Deciding it was too late to open it that day, the party returned the next morning to find the tomb, and any treasure it may have contained, plundered. The bodies of Mausolus and Artemisia were missing, too. The Knights claimed that Moslem villagers were responsible for the theft, but it is more likely that some of the Crusaders themselves plundered the graves.
Before grounding much of the remaining sculpture of the Mausoleum into lime for plaster, the Knights removed several of the best works and mounted them in the Bodrum castle. There they stayed for three centuries. At that time the British ambassador obtained several of the statutes from the castle, which now reside in the British Museum.

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