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keepvid mp3 downloader of “The myth behind the Chinese zodiac”

What’s your sign? In Western astrology, it’s a constellation determined by when your birthday falls in the calendar. But according to the Chinese zodiac, or shēngxiào, it’s your shǔxiàng, meaning the animal assigned to your birth year.

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The myth behind the Chinese zodiac

And of the many myths explaining these animal signs and their arrangement, the most enduring one is that of the Great Race. As the story goes, Yù Dì, or Jade Emperor, Ruler of the Heavens, wanted to devise a way to measure time, so he organized a race. The first twelve animals to make it across the river would earn a spot on the zodiac calendar in the order they arrived.

The rat rose with the sun to get an early start, but on the way to the river, he met the horse, the tiger, and the ox. Because the rat was small and couldn’t swim very well, he asked the bigger animals for help. While the tiger and horse refused, the kind-hearted ox agreed to carry the rat across. Yet, just as they were about to reach the other side, the rat jumped off the ox’s head and secured first place.

The ox came in second, with the powerful tiger right behind him. The rabbit, too small to battle the current, nimbly hopped across stones and logs to come in fourth. Next came the dragon, who could have flown directly across, but stopped to help some creatures she had encountered on the way. After her came the horse, galloping across the river.

But just as she got across, the snake slithered by. The startled horse reared back, letting the snake sneak into sixth place. The Jade Emperor looked out at the river and spotted the sheep, the monkey, and the rooster all atop a raft, working together to push it through the weeds.

When they made it across, the trio agreed to give eighth place to the sheep, who had been the most comforting and harmonious of them, followed by the monkey and the rooster. Next came the dog, scrambling onto the shore. He was a great swimmer, but frolicked in the water for so long that he only managed to come in eleventh. The final spot was claimed by the pig, who had gotten hungry and stopped to eat and nap before finally waddling across the finish line.

And so, each year is associated with one of the animals in this order, with the cycle starting over every 60 years. Why 60 and not twelve? Well, the traditional Chinese calendar is made up of two overlapping systems. The animals of the zodiac are associated with what’s called the Twelve Earthly Branches, or shí’èrzhī.

Another system, the Ten Heavenly Stems, or tiāngān, is linked with the five classical elements of metal, xīn, wood, mù, water, shuǐ, fire, huǒ, and earth, tǔ. Each element is assigned yīn or yáng, creating a ten-year cycle. When the twelve animals of the Earthly Branches are matched with the five elements plus the yīn or the yáng of the Heavenly Stems, it creates 60 years of different combinations, known as a sexagenary cycle, or gānzhī.

So someone born in 1980 would have the sign of yáng metal monkey, while someone born in 2007 would be yīn fire pig. In fact, you can also have an inner animal based on your birth month, a true animal based on your birth date, and a secret animal based on your birth hour. It was the great race that supposedly determined which animals were enshrined in the Chinese zodiac, but as the system spread through Asia, other cultures made changes to reflect their communities.

So if you consult the Vietnamese zodiac, you may discover that you’re a cat, not a rabbit, and if you’re in Thailand, a mythical snake called a Naga replaces the dragon. So whether or not you place stock in what the zodiac says about you as an individual, it certainly reveals much about the culture it comes from.

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keepvid mp3 downloader of “History vs. Cleopatra”

“Order, order. So who do we have here?” “Your Honor, this is Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen whose lurid affairs destroyed two of Rome’s finest generals and brought the end of the Republic.

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History vs. Cleopatra

” “Your Honor, this is Cleopatra, one of the most powerful women in history whose reign brought Egypt nearly 22 years of stability and prosperity.” “Uh, why don’t we even know what she looked like?” “Most of the art and descriptions came long after her lifetime in the first century BCE, just like most of the things written about her.” “So what do we actually know? Cleopatra VII was the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Macedonian Greek family that governed Egypt after its conquest by Alexander the Great.

She ruled jointly in Alexandria with her brother- to whom she was also married- until he had her exiled.” “But what does all this have to do with Rome?” “Egypt had long been a Roman client state, and Cleopatra’s father incurred large debts to the Republic. After being defeated by Julius Caesar in Rome’s civil war, the General Pompey sought refuge in Egypt but was executed by Cleopatra’s brother instead.

” “Caesar must have liked that.” “Actually, he found the murder unseemly and demanded repayment of Egypt’s debt. He could have annexed Egypt, but Cleopatra convinced him to restore her to the throne instead.

” “We hear she was quite convincing.” “And why not? Cleopatra was a fascinating woman. She commanded armies at 21, spoke several languages, and was educated in a city with the world’s finest library and some of the greatest scholars of the time.” “Hmm.

” “She kept Caesar lounging in Egypt for months when Rome needed him.” “Caesar did more than lounge. He was fascinated by Egypt’s culture and knowledge, and he learned much during his time there. When he returned to Rome, he reformed the calendar, commissioned a census, made plans for a public library, and proposed many new infrastructure projects.

” “Yes, all very ambitious, exactly what got him assassinated.” “Don’t blame the Queen for Rome’s strange politics. Her job was ruling Egypt, and she did it well. She stabilized the economy, managed the vast bureaucracy, and curbed corruption by priests and officials.

When drought hit, she opened the granaries to the public and passed a tax amnesty, all while preserving her kingdom’s stability and independence with no revolts during the rest of her reign.” “So what went wrong?” “After Caesar’s death, this foreign Queen couldn’t stop meddling in Roman matters.” “Actually, it was the Roman factions who came demanding her aid. And of course she had no choice but to support Octavian and Marc Antony in avenging Caesar, if only for the sake of their son.

” “And again, she provided her particular kind of support to Marc Antony.” “Why does that matter? Why doesn’t anyone seem to care about Caesar or Antony’s countless other affairs? Why do we assume she instigated the relationships? And why are only powerful women defined by their sexuality?” “Order.” “Cleopatra and Antony were a disaster.

They offended the Republic with their ridiculous celebrations sitting on golden thrones and dressing up as gods until Octavian had all of Rome convinced of their megalomania.” “And yet Octavian was the one who attacked Antony, annexed Egypt, and declared himself Emperor. It was the Roman’s fear of a woman in power that ended their Republic, not the woman herself.

” “How ironic.” Cleopatra’s story survived mainly in the accounts of her enemies in Rome, and later writers filled the gaps with rumors and stereotypes. We may never know the full truth of her life and her reign, but we can separate fact from rumor by putting history on trial.

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keepvid mp3 downloader of “The exceptional life of Benjamin Banneker”

Sometime in the early 1750s, a 22-year-old man named Benjamin Banneker sat industriously carving cogs and gears out of wood. He pieced the parts together to create the complex inner working of a striking clock that would, hopefully, chime every hour.

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The exceptional life of Benjamin Banneker

All he had to help him was a pocket watch for inspiration and his own calculations. And yet, his careful engineering worked. Striking clocks had already been around for hundreds of years, but Banneker’s may have been the first created in America, and it drew fascinated visitors from across the country. In a show of his brilliance, the clock continued to chime for the rest of Banneker’s life.

Born in 1731 to freed slaves on a farm in Baltimore, Maryland, from his earliest days, the young Banneker was obsessed with math and science. And his appetite for knowledge only grew as he taught himself astronomy, mathematics, engineering, and the study of the natural world. As an adult, he used astronomy to accurately predict lunar and solar events, like the solar eclipse of 1789, and even applied his mathematical skills to land use planning.

These talents caught the eye of a local Baltimore businessman, Andrew Ellicott, who was also the Surveyor General of the United States. Recognizing Banneker’s skills in 1791, Ellicott appointed him as an assistant to work on a prestigious new project, planning the layout of the nation’s capitol. Meanwhile, Banneker turned his brilliant mind to farming.

He used his scientific expertise to pioneer new agricultural methods on his family’s tobacco farm. His fascination with the natural world also led to a study on the plague life cycle of locusts. Then in 1792, Banneker began publishing almanacs. These provided detailed annual information on moon and sun cycles, weather forecasts, and planting and tidal time tables.

Banneker sent a handwritten copy of his first almanac to Virginia’s Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. This was a decade before Jefferson became president. Banneker included a letter imploring Jefferson to “embrace every opportunity to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions” that caused prejudice against black people.

Jefferson read the almanac and wrote back in praise of Banneker’s work. Banneker’s correspondence with the future president is now considered to be one of the first documented examples of a civil rights protest letter in America. For the rest of his life, he fought for this cause, sharing his opposition to slavery through his writing.

In 1806 at the age of 75, Banneker died after a lifetime of study and activism. On the day of his funeral, his house mysteriously burned down, and the majority of his life’s work, including his striking clock, was destroyed. But still, his legacy lives on.

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keepvid mp3 downloader of “Where do superstitions come from”

Are you afraid of black cats? Would you open an umbrella indoors? And how do you feel about the number thirteen? Whether or not you believe in them, you’re probably familiar with a few of these superstitions. So how did it happen that people all over the world knock on wood, or avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks? Well, although they have no basis in science, many of these weirdly specific beliefs and practices do have equally weird and specific origins.

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Where do superstitions come from

Because they involve supernatural causes, it’s no surprise that many superstitions are based in religion. For example. the number thirteen was associated with the biblical Last Supper, where Jesus Christ dined with his twelve disciples just before being arrested and crucified. The resulting idea that having thirteen people at a table was bad luck eventually expanded into thirteen being an unlucky number in general.

Now, this fear of the number thirteen, called triskaidekaphobia, is so common that many buildings around the world skip the thirteenth floor, with the numbers going straight from twelve to fourteen. Of course, many people consider the story of the Last Supper to be true but other superstitions come from religious traditions that few people believe in or even remember. Knocking on wood is thought to come from the folklore of the ancient Indo-Europeans or possibly people who predated them who believed that trees were home to various spirits. Touching a tree would invoke the protection or blessing of the spirit within.

And somehow, this tradition survived long after belief in these spirits had faded away. Many superstitions common today in countries from Russia to Ireland are thought to be remnants of the pagan religions that Christianity replaced. But not all superstitions are religious.

Some are just based on unfortunate coincidences and associations. For example, many Italians fear the number 17 because the Roman numeral XVII can be rearranged to form the word vixi, meaning my life had ended. Similarly, the word for the number four sounds almost identical to the word for death in Cantonese, as well as languages like Japanese and Korean that have borrowed Chinese numerals. And since the number one also sounds like the word for must, the number fourteen sounds like the phrase must die.

That’s a lot of numbers for elevators and international hotels to avoid. And believe it or not, some superstitions actually make sense, or at least they did until we forgot their original purpose. For example, theater scenery used to consist of large painted backdrops, raised and lowered by stagehands who would whistle to signal each other. Absentminded whistles from other people could cause an accident.

But the taboo against whistling backstage still exists today, long after the stagehands started using radio headsets. Along the same lines, lighting three cigarettes from the same match really could cause bad luck if you were a soldier in a foxhole where keeping a match lit too long could draw attention from an enemy sniper. Most smokers no longer have to worry about snipers, but the superstition lives on. So why do people cling to these bits of forgotten religions, coincidences, and outdated advice? Aren’t they being totally irrational? Well, yes, but for many people, superstitions are based more on cultural habit than conscious belief.

After all, no one is born knowing to avoid walking under ladders or whistling indoors, but if you grow up being told by your family to avoid these things, chances are they’ll make you uncomfortable, even after you logically understand that nothing bad will happen. And since doing something like knocking on wood doesn’t require much effort, following the superstition is often easier than consciously resisting it. Besides, superstitions often do seem to work. Maybe you remember hitting a home run while wearing your lucky socks.

This is just our psychological bias at work. You’re far less likely to remember all the times you struck out while wearing the same socks. But believing that they work could actually make you play better by giving you the illusion of having greater control over events.

So in situations where that confidence can make a difference, like sports, those crazy superstitions might not be so crazy after all.

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keepvid youtube downloader of “The history of tea”

During a long day spent roaming the forest in search of edible grains and herbs, the weary divine farmer Shennong accidentally poisoned himself 72 times. But before the poisons could end his life, a leaf drifted into his mouth.

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The history of tea

He chewed on it and it revived him, and that is how we discovered tea. Or so an ancient legend goes at least. Tea doesn’t actually cure poisonings, but the story of Shennong, the mythical Chinese inventor of agriculture, highlights tea’s importance to ancient China.

Archaeological evidence suggests tea was first cultivated there as early as 6,000 years ago, or 1,500 years before the pharaohs built the Great Pyramids of Giza. That original Chinese tea plant is the same type that’s grown around the world today, yet it was originally consumed very differently. It was eaten as a vegetable or cooked with grain porridge. Tea only shifted from food to drink 1,500 years ago when people realized that a combination of heat and moisture could create a complex and varied taste out of the leafy green.

After hundreds of years of variations to the preparation method, the standard became to heat tea, pack it into portable cakes, grind it into powder, mix with hot water, and create a beverage called muo cha, or matcha. Matcha became so popular that a distinct Chinese tea culture emerged. Tea was the subject of books and poetry, the favorite drink of emperors, and a medium for artists.

They would draw extravagant pictures in the foam of the tea, very much like the espresso art you might see in coffee shops today. In the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty, a Japanese monk brought the first tea plant to Japan. The Japanese eventually developed their own unique rituals around tea, leading to the creation of the Japanese tea ceremony. And in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese emperor shifted the standard from tea pressed into cakes to loose leaf tea.

At that point, China still held a virtual monopoly on the world’s tea trees, making tea one of three essential Chinese export goods, along with porcelain and silk. This gave China a great deal of power and economic influence as tea drinking spread around the world. That spread began in earnest around the early 1600s when Dutch traders brought tea to Europe in large quantities. Many credit Queen Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese noble woman, for making tea popular with the English aristocracy when she married King Charles II in 1661.

At the time, Great Britain was in the midst of expanding its colonial influence and becoming the new dominant world power. And as Great Britain grew, interest in tea spread around the world. By 1700, tea in Europe sold for ten times the price of coffee and the plant was still only grown in China. The tea trade was so lucrative that the world’s fastest sailboat, the clipper ship, was born out of intense competition between Western trading companies.

All were racing to bring their tea back to Europe first to maximize their profits. At first, Britain paid for all this Chinese tea with silver. When that proved too expensive, they suggested trading tea for another substance, opium. This triggered a public health problem within China as people became addicted to the drug.

Then in 1839, a Chinese official ordered his men to destroy massive British shipments of opium as a statement against Britain’s influence over China. This act triggered the First Opium War between the two nations. Fighting raged up and down the Chinese coast until 1842 when the defeated Qing Dynasty ceded the port of Hong Kong to the British and resumed trading on unfavorable terms. The war weakened China’s global standing for over a century.

The British East India company also wanted to be able to grow tea themselves and further control the market. So they commissioned botanist Robert Fortune to steal tea from China in a covert operation. He disguised himself and took a perilous journey through China’s mountainous tea regions, eventually smuggling tea trees and experienced tea workers into Darjeeling, India. From there, the plant spread further still, helping drive tea’s rapid growth as an everyday commodity.

Today, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, and from sugary Turkish Rize tea, to salty Tibetan butter tea, there are almost as many ways of preparing the beverage as there are cultures on the globe.

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keepvid youtube downloader of “The history of chocolate”

If you can’t imagine life without chocolate, you’re lucky you weren’t born before the 16th century. Until then, chocolate only existed in Mesoamerica in a form quite different from what we know.

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The history of chocolate

As far back as 1900 BCE, the people of that region had learned to prepare the beans of the native cacao tree. The earliest records tell us the beans were ground and mixed with cornmeal and chili peppers to create a drink – not a relaxing cup of hot cocoa, but a bitter, invigorating concoction frothing with foam. And if you thought we make a big deal about chocolate today, the Mesoamericans had us beat. They believed that cacao was a heavenly food gifted to humans by a feathered serpent god, known to the Maya as Kukulkan and to the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl.

Aztecs used cacao beans as currency and drank chocolate at royal feasts, gave it to soldiers as a reward for success in battle, and used it in rituals. The first transatlantic chocolate encounter occurred in 1519 when Hernán Cortés visited the court of Moctezuma at Tenochtitlan. As recorded by Cortés’s lieutenant, the king had 50 jugs of the drink brought out and poured into golden cups. When the colonists returned with shipments of the strange new bean, missionaries’ salacious accounts of native customs gave it a reputation as an aphrodisiac.

At first, its bitter taste made it suitable as a medicine for ailments, like upset stomachs, but sweetening it with honey, sugar, or vanilla quickly made chocolate a popular delicacy in the Spanish court. And soon, no aristocratic home was complete without dedicated chocolate ware. The fashionable drink was difficult and time consuming to produce on a large scale. That involved using plantations and imported slave labor in the Caribbean and on islands off the coast of Africa.

The world of chocolate would change forever in 1828 with the introduction of the cocoa press by Coenraad van Houten of Amsterdam. Van Houten’s invention could separate the cocoa’s natural fat, or cocoa butter. This left a powder that could be mixed into a drinkable solution or recombined with the cocoa butter to create the solid chocolate we know today. Not long after, a Swiss chocolatier named Daniel Peter added powdered milk to the mix, thus inventing milk chocolate.

By the 20th century, chocolate was no longer an elite luxury but had become a treat for the public. Meeting the massive demand required more cultivation of cocoa, which can only grow near the equator. Now, instead of African slaves being shipped to South American cocoa plantations, cocoa production itself would shift to West Africa with Cote d’Ivoire providing two-fifths of the world’s cocoa as of 2015. Yet along with the growth of the industry, there have been horrific abuses of human rights.

Many of the plantations throughout West Africa, which supply Western companies, use slave and child labor, with an estimation of more than 2 million children affected. This is a complex problem that persists despite efforts from major chocolate companies to partner with African nations to reduce child and indentured labor practices. Today, chocolate has established itself in the rituals of our modern culture. Due to its colonial association with native cultures, combined with the power of advertising, chocolate retains an aura of something sensual, decadent, and forbidden.

Yet knowing more about its fascinating and often cruel history, as well as its production today, tells us where these associations originate and what they hide. So as you unwrap your next bar of chocolate, take a moment to consider that not everything about chocolate is sweet.

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keepvid youtube downloader of “How Magellan circumnavigated the globe”

On September 6, 1522, the “Victoria” sailed into harbor in southern Spain. The battered vessel and its 18 sailors were all that remained of a fleet that had departed three years before.

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How Magellan circumnavigated the globe

Yet her voyage was considered a success for the “Victoria” had achieved something unprecedented: the first circumnavigation of the globe. But this story really begins in 1494, two years after Columbus’s voyage on behalf of Spain. Columbus’s discovery had prompted the Catholic Spanish rulers to turn to the Pope to preempt any claims by Portugal to the new lands.

The Pope resolved this dispute by drawing an imaginary line on the world map. Spain had the right to claim territories west of the divide, and Portugal to the east. Spain and Portugal, the two major seafaring super powers at the time, agreed to these terms in what came to be called the Treaty of Tordesillas. At the time, these nations had their eyes on the same prize: trade routes to the Spice Islands in today’s Indonesia.

The spices found there, which were used as seasonings, food preservatives, and aphrodisiacs, were worth many times their weight in gold. But because of Portugal’s control over eastern sea routes, Spain’s only viable option was to sail west. So when a Portuguese defector named Ferdinand Magellan claimed that a westward route to the Spice Islands existed, King Charles made him captain of a Spanish armada, and gave him all the resources he would need. Along with a share in the voyage’s profits, he granted Magellan five ships and about 260 men.

The crew included a young slave named Enrique, captured by Magellan on a previous journey to Malacca, and Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian nobleman seeking adventure. On September 20, 1519, the fleet weighed anchor and headed southwest. After making landfall in what is now Brazil, it proceeded along the coast, exploring any water way leading inland. They were looking for the fabled passage linking east and west.

As the weather worsened, the Spaniards resentment at having a Portuguese captain escalated. A full-blown mutiny soon erupted, which Magellan crushed with unspeakable cruelty. But his problems were only just beginning. During a reconnaissance mission, the “Santiago” was wrecked by a storm.

Then while exploring a narrow waterway, the captain of the “San Antonio” took the first opportunity to slip away and sail back home. Magellan pressed forward, and on October 21, he started exploring a navigable sea way. 27 freezing days later, the three remaining ships emerged from what we now call the Strait of Magellan into the Mar Pacifico. The fleet never expected the new ocean to be so vast.

After 98 days at sea, dozens of sailors had succumbed to scurvy and famine. When they finally reached land again, Enrique, the young slave, proved able to communicate with the natives. Their goal couldn’t be far. Sailing further west, Magellan was warmly received by Rajah Humabon of Cebu.

So when the ruler asked him to help subdue and convert the rebellious chief of Mactan, the captain readily agreed. The adventure would be his last. Overconfident and severely outnumbered, Magellan’s force was overwhelmed, and the native’s bamboo spears ended the captain’s life. Yet the voyage had to continue.

Magellan’s will specified that Enrique should be freed, but the expedition still needed an interpreter. With his freedom at stake, Enrique is believed to have plotted with the Rajah to have about 30 of the Spaniards killed at a feast on the beach. Enrique was never heard from again, but if he ever made it back to Malacca, he may have been the first person to actually circumnavigate the globe. Meanwhile, the survivors burned the Concepcion and proceeded onward.

They finally reached the Spice Islands in November of 1521 and loaded up on precious cargo. But they still had to return to Spain. The “Trinidad” sank shortly after being captured by the Portuguese.

The “Victoria” continued west, piloted by Juan Sebastián Elcano, one of the pardoned mutineers. Against all odds, the small vessel made it back to Spain with a full cargo of cloves and cinnamon, enough to cover the expedition and turn a profit. An obsessive chronicler, Pigafetta described the lands and people they encountered.

With the help of a humble slave, he also compiled the world’s first phrase book of native languages. His journal is the reason we can tell this story. Magellan’s legacy lingers. He had galaxies and space programs named after him.

Elcano, too, was celebrated in Spain with a coat of arms and his face on currency and stamps. United by fate, the survivors and the hundreds who sacrificed their lives challenged conventional wisdom and completed a historic journey once thought impossible.

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keepvid youtube downloader of “A brief history of goths”

What do fans of atmospheric post-punk music have in common with ancient barbarians? Not much. So why are both known as goths? Is it a weird coincidence or a deeper connection stretching across the centuries? The story begins in Ancient Rome.

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A brief history of goths

As the Roman Empire expanded, it faced raids and invasions from the semi-nomadic populations along its borders. Among the most powerful were a Germanic people known as Goths who were composed of two tribal groups, the Visigoths and Ostrogoths. While some of the Germanic tribes remained Rome’s enemies, the Empire incorporated others into the imperial army. As the Roman Empire split in two, these tribal armies played larger roles in its defense and internal power struggles.

In the 5th century, a mercenary revolt lead by a soldier named Odoacer captured Rome and deposed the Western Emperor. Odoacer and his Ostrogoth successor Theoderic technically remained under the Eastern Emperor’s authority and maintained Roman traditions. But the Western Empire would never be united again.

Its dominions fragmented into kingdoms ruled by Goths and other Germanic tribes who assimilated into local cultures, though many of their names still mark the map. This was the end of the Classical Period and the beginning of what many call the Dark Ages. Although Roman culture was never fully lost, its influence declined and new art styles arose focused on religious symbolism and allegory rather than proportion and realism.

This shift extended to architecture with the construction of the Abbey of Saint Denis in France in 1137. Pointed arches, flying buttresses, and large windows made the structure more skeletal and ornate. That emphasized its open, luminous interior rather than the sturdy walls and columns of Classical buildings. Over the next few centuries, this became a model for Cathedrals throughout Europe.

But fashions change. With the Italian Renaissance’s renewed admiration for Ancient Greece and Rome, the more recent style began to seem crude and inferior in comparison. Writing in his 1550 book, “Lives of the Artists,” Giorgio Vasari was the first to describe it as Gothic, a derogatory reference to the Barbarians thought to have destroyed Classical civilization. The name stuck, and soon came to describe the Medieval period overall, with its associations of darkness, superstition, and simplicity.

But time marched on, as did what was considered fashionable. In the 1700s, a period called the Enlightenment came about, which valued scientific reason above all else. Reacting against that, Romantic authors like Goethe and Byron sought idealized visions of a past of natural landscapes and mysterious spiritual forces. Here, the word Gothic was repurposed again to describe a literary genre that emerged as a darker strain of Romanticism.

The term was first applied by Horace Walpole to his own 1764 novel, “The Castle of Otranto” as a reference to the plot and general atmosphere. Many of the novel’s elements became genre staples inspiring classics and the countless movies they spawned. The gothic label belonged to literature and film until the 1970s when a new musical scene emerged. Taking cues from artists like The Doors and The Velvet Underground, British post-punk groups, like Joy Division, Bauhaus, and The Cure, combined gloomy lyrics and punk dissonance with imagery inspired by the Victorian era, classic horror, and androgynous glam fashion.

By the early 1980s, similar bands were consistently described as Gothic rock by the music press, and the stye’s popularity brought it out of dimly lit clubs to major labels and MTV. And today, despite occasional negative media attention and stereotypes, Gothic music and fashion continue as a strong underground phenomenon. They’ve also branched into sub-genres, such as cybergoth, gothabilly, gothic metal, and even steampunk. The history of the word gothic is embedded in thousands of years worth of countercultural movements, from invading outsiders becoming kings to towering spires replacing solid columns to artists finding beauty in darkness.

Each step has seen a revolution of sorts and a tendency for civilization to reach into its past to reshape its present.

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Deep inside Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library lies the only copy of a 240-page tome. Recently carbon dated to around 1420, its vellum pages features looping handwriting and hand-drawn images seemingly stolen from a dream.

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The world’s most mysterious book

Real and imaginary plants, floating castles, bathing women, astrology diagrams, zodiac rings, and suns and moons with faces accompany the text. This 24×16 centimeter book is called the Voynich manuscript, and its one of history’s biggest unsolved mysteries. The reason why? No one can figure out what it says. The name comes from Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish bookseller who came across the document at a Jesuit college in Italy in 1912.

He was puzzled. Who wrote it? Where was it made? What do these bizarre words and vibrant drawings represent? What secrets do its pages contain? He purchased the manuscript from the cash-strapped priest at the college, and eventually brought it to the U.S.

, where experts have continued to puzzle over it for more than a century. Cryptologists say the writing has all the characteristics of a real language, just one that no one’s ever seen before. What makes it seem real is that in actual languages, letters and groups of letters appear with consistent frequencies, and the language in the Voynich manuscript has patterns you wouldn’t find from a random letter generator. Other than that, we know little more than what we can see.

The letters are varied in style and height. Some are borrowed from other scripts, but many are unique. The taller letters have been named gallows characters.

The manuscript is highly decorated throughout with scroll-like embellishments. It appears to be written by two or more hands, with the painting done by yet another party. Over the years, three main theories about the manuscript’s text have emerged.

The first is that it’s written in cypher, a secret code deliberately designed to hide secret meaning. The second is that the document is a hoax written in gibberish to make money off a gullible buyer. Some speculate the author was a medieval con man. Others, that it was Voynich himself.

The third theory is that the manuscript is written in an actual language, but in an unknown script. Perhaps medieval scholars were attempting to create an alphabet for a language that was spoken but not yet written. In that case, the Voynich manuscript might be like the rongorongo script invented on Easter Island, now unreadable after the culture that made it collapsed. Though no one can read the Voynich manuscript, that hasn’t stopped people from guessing what it might say.

Those who believe the manuscript was an attempt to create a new form of written language speculate that it might be an encyclopedia containing the knowledge of the culture that produced it. Others believe it was written by the 13th century philosopher Roger Bacon, who attempted to understand the universal laws of grammar, or in the 16th century by the Elizabethan mystic John Dee, who practiced alchemy and divination. More fringe theories that the book was written by a coven of Italian witches, or even by Martians. After 100 years of frustration, scientists have recently shed a little light on the mystery.

The first breakthrough was the carbon dating. Also, contemporary historians have traced the provenance of the manuscript back through Rome and Prague to as early as 1612, when it was perhaps passed from Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to his physician, Jacobus Sinapius. In addition to these historical breakthroughs, linguistic researchers recently proposed the provisional identification of a few of the manuscript’s words. Could the letters beside these seven stars spell Tauran, a name for Taurus, a constellation that includes the seven stars called the Pleiades? Could this word be Centaurun for the Centaurea plant in the picture? Perhaps, but progress is slow. If we can crack its code, what might we find? The dream journal of a 15th-century illustrator? A bunch of nonsense? Or the lost knowledge of a forgotten culture? What do you think it is? .

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A lone priestess walks towards an underground chamber. People line the streets to watch as she proclaims her innocence.

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Who were the Vestal Virgins, and what was their job

It doesn’t matter. She’s already been judged and found guilty. The sentence? Live burial.

The underground chamber contains a portion of bread, water, milk, and oil. She will have a lamp, a bed, and a blanket, but she won’t emerge alive. At the threshold, the priestess pauses, claims her innocence one last time, then enters the chamber never to be seen again by the Roman people. The priestess is one of Rome’s six Vestal Virgins, each carefully selected as children from Rome’s most aristocratic families.

But now with her death, there are only five, and a new priestess must be chosen. The six-year-old Licinia witnessed the spectacle, never suspecting that a few days later, she’d be chosen as the next Vestal Virgin. Her age, her patrician family lineage, and her apparent good health makes her the best candidate to serve the goddess Vesta in the eyes of the Romans.

Her parents are proud that their daughter’s been chosen. Licinia is afraid, but she has no choice in the matter. She must serve the goddess for at least the next 30 years. For the first ten years of Licinia’s service, she’s considered in training, learning how to be a Vestal Virgin.

Her most important duty is keeping vigil over the flame of Vesta, the virgin goddess of the hearth. Vesta doesn’t have a statue like other Roman gods and goddesses. Instead, she’s represented by the flame which burns day and night in her temple located next to the Forum in the center of the city. Like all Vestal priestesses, Licinia spends part of each day on shift, watching and tending to the flame.

The flame represents two things. The first is the continuation of Rome as a power in the world. The Romans believed that if the flame goes out, the city’s in danger. The flame also symbolizes the continuing virginity of Vesta’s priestesses.

For the Romans, a Vestal’s virginity signaled not only her castitas, or modest spirit and body, but also her ritual purity. So Licinia knows she must never let the flame go out. Her life, the lives of her fellow Vestals, and the safety of Rome itself depends upon it.

Licinia learns to collect water each day from a nearby fountain to cleanse the temple. She learns the Fasti, the calendar of sacred rituals and she watches while the senior priestesses conduct sacrifices. By the time Licinia completes her training, she’s 16 years old. Licinia understands that the way she must act is a reflection of the goddess she serves.

When it’s her turn to collect the water, she keeps her eyes lowered to the ground. When she performs sacrifices, she focuses intently on the task. Licinia directs her energy towards being the best priestess she can be. She’s worried that someday the state will claim her life for its own purposes to protect itself from danger.

Licinia could be accused of incestum, meaning unchastity, at any time and be sacrificed whether she’s innocent or guilty. Licinia fully understands now why her predecessor was buried alive. Ten years ago, the flame of Vesta went out.

The priestesses knew that they couldn’t keep it a secret. The future of Rome depended upon it. They went to the chief priest and he opened an investigation to discover why the flame had failed.

Someone came forward and claimed that one of the Vestals was no longer a virgin. That was the beginning of the end. The accused protested her innocence, but it wasn’t enough.

She was tried and found guilty. That Vestal’s death was meant to protect the city, but Licinia weeps for what has been lost and for what she knows now. Her own path was paved by the death of another, and her life could be taken just as easily for something as simple as a flame going out.

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