December Histories: The Wild Hunt on Christmas Eve

Peter Nicolai Arbo’s Asgardreien (The Wild Hunt of Odin), 1872, wikipedia.

Dear Reader: this is one of my favorite holiday posts, so I couldn’t resist a repeat for 2022.

Pretend this is the Jeopardy category: Common Bonds. The Wild Hunt, mind control, and the 1871 Polaris disaster. What do they all have in common? Got it? Add in fan fiction, Zwarte Piet, shoemakers, Martin Luther, reliquary theft…. Yes? Norse mythology? Saving girls from prostitution? Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Nast? How about Shadrack, the Black Reindeer?

It will soon be Christmas Eve, after all.

The mythology–the extensive fan fiction, which is what mythology is, isn’t it?–around the legends of Santa Claus and Christmas have roots that go waa-a-a-y beyond the Coca Cola commercial. Although I dug deep into a comparison of Santa and Jesus back in 2021, there are Santa rabbit holes to be discovered. Even if we just talk about Santa and his helpers, there’s plenty that even that Greek scholar and seminarian Clement Moore didn’t envision.

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As we are well into Women’s History Month, accounts abound of wonderful women and their remarkable achievements. I’d like to go straight to the heart of the matter and point out some of the true heroines of Women’s History month: the women historians. We used to say “herstory “back in the ’70s because, often, historians claimed women didn’t do very much. Women have gotten more credit–a whole month now! So I can just use the word to refer to those who write it.

Let’s talk about history by women, who have been writing for nearly as long as the cave paintings. Which might just as likely have been done by women as men, right?

Grand Dames

In fact, the first writer in world literature was a woman. Enheduanna was a priestess in Ur in ancient Sumeria, who composed poems and temple hymns to the goddess Inanna. Not entirely history, but poetry was the way people wrote, and even stories of gods and goddesses are a kind of history.

The first woman formally recognized as a historian was in the 12th century. (There were surely others, but this is the encyclopedia answer to the question.) Princess Anna Comnena, the daughter of Byzantine emperor Alexius I, wrote a 15-volume history about her father’s reign and the era called The Alexiad. She wrote in her spare time, because she also raised four children and administered a 10,000 bed hospital and orphanage in Constantinople. While administering medicine, she became an expert on gout, a disease which pestered her father for years. After Alexius died, Anna plotted to overthrow her newly-crowned brother in favor of herself and her husband, but she lost the fight and her court position as well. Sounds like a series for Showtime to me.

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Our House, Our Capitol

At the Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, the Capitol dome was still under construction. Photo at Wikipedia/ Library of Congress.

Vandals attacked Our House yesterday, but as the aimless barbarians they were, they could do little but pose for idiotic selfies. We can repair the windows; no real damage to the Apotheosis of our Democracy. The walls have been refurbished before. Our House–Our Capitol–has long been a work in progress, changing continuously. After all, it’s built on words.

By Jove

I did not, until today actually understand the distinction between “capitol” and “capital,” which means I’ve probably misused them for years. I thought “capitol” meant the governmental head of something whereas “capital” meant money or referred to a good idea. Actually, the “capitol” is the building, and the “capital” is the place. “Capital” can also refer to a size of a letter or wealth, i.e. the source of wealth.

Jefferson invented the specific idea of the “Capitol,” or rather he stole borrowed it from Rome. The original architect for the Capitol building–and we’ll get to architects in a minute–wanted to call it the “Congress House,” to be distinguished from the “President’s House” or executive mansion, the White House. But Jefferson, always a guy who understood the optics, thought it needed to have classical influences.

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