Random facts of the day: some traditional measurements!

https://sites.google.com/a/wrps.net/lhschemistry/_/rsrc/1461015140094/unit-3-labs/units-of-measurement/Us%20Survey%20units.jpg?height=251&width=400

Random piece of general knowledge (many thanks to The Old Farmers Almanac):

1 league = 3 miles = 24 furlongs

In other words, there are eight furlongs to a mile. So how long is a furlong? 660 feet, or 40 rods (one rod being 5 ½ yards). Seen another way, a furlong is equal to one eighth of a mile: equivalent to 660 feet, 220 yards, 40 rods (1 rod = 5 1/2 feet), or 10 chains (one chain, therefore, being equal to 66 feet).

Originally, it was the length of the furrow in one acre of a ploughed field – thus, the name: one “furrow long” – in the old open-field system of medieval England, in which acres were usually long and narrow, and was the distance a team of oxen could plough without resting. From there, it passed into the British Imperial and U.S. customary system of measurements. An acre was reckoned as one furlong in length (naturally), and one chain in width, and was considered to be the amount of land one man, behind one ox, could plough in one day.

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Other oxen-derived measurements include an oxgang (from the same root as our contemporary word “going,” with the implication of walking *), the amount of land tillable by one ox in a ploughing season (an area which could vary from village to village, but was typically around 15 acres), a virgate, the amount of land tillable by two oxen in one ploughing season (thus, two oxgangs), and a carucate, the amount of land that could be tilled by eight oxen in a ploughing season: equal, naturally, to 8 oxgangs or 4 virgates. Thus, these measurements were not random or arbitrary, they described what could be done on them, in a way that was very useful and informative for an agricultural society!

*  That derivation still exists, though somewhat concealed by changes in the language, and our understanding: a “gang” is a group of people who go (walk) around together. And the archaic English word “gangly” refers to a person or (usually young) animal who appears to be “all legs,” and therefore seems made for walking! Also, a “chain-gang” is not just a group of people joined by a chain; they are chain-gang: that is to say, they are walking chained, rather than free.

On a related note, the furlong was historically considered to be equivalent to the Roman stade (from which we get “stadium”), itself derived from the Greek stadion ~ and it was, although approximately: the old Roman measurement was actually 625 feet. The Romans reckoned eight stadia to the mile, and (as remains the case in our English measurement, albeit using furlongs) three miles to the league. Thus, the Roman mile was a little shorter than ours is. A league was considered to be the distance a man could walk in one hour, and the mile (from mille, meaning “thousand”) consisted of 1,000 passi (paces: five feet, or two single steps of two-and-a-half feet each).

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Now you know probably more than you ever wanted to about ancient land-measurements!

(Additional information gleaned from Wikipedia, and from my own knowledge of things medieval!)

Some reasons to read Beowulf | The Wordhoard

Image result for beginning of beowulf

“Here are just a few reasons why you might want to read Beowulf.”

Source: Some reasons to read Beowulf | The Wordhoard

There are many reasons you may wish to read Beowulf, the classic Old English epic – which has, of course, been translated into modern English many times. Among the reasons cited by this blogger:

“First, it is a famous example of literature from the Early Middle Ages. Second, it represents English-language literature in its infancy. Third, it has had impacted modern literature since its rediscovery.”

All true, of course! But I am convinced that the best reason is that it’s a rousing good story, created, recited, and later written and read, by and for our forebears – at least, the ancestors of those of us who are of English heritage, by blood, language and culture!

Here is a modern-English translation, and one that grasps the rhythms and richness of the great original. And here is a recitation of the opening stanzas, in the original language:

I like this one, because it’s set up in such a way that one can follow along in both Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and modern English!

 

Sword of St. Michael | Aleteia

7 sanctuaries united by a straight line: the legendary Sword of St. Michael

Source: Sword of St. Michael | Aleteia

“A mysterious imaginary line links seven monasteries, from Ireland to Israel. Is it just a coincidence? These seven sanctuaries are very far from each other, and yet they are perfectly aligned… The Sacred Line of Saint Michael the Archangel represents, according to legend, the blow the [holy Archangel] inflicted on the Devil, sending him to hell.”

Most interesting!

The largest ever Bronze Age hoard in London has been discovered | HeritageDaily – Archaeology News

The largest ever Bronze Age hoard to be discovered in London, the third largest of its kind in the UK, has been unearthed in Havering.

Source: The largest ever Bronze Age hoard in London has been discovered – HeritageDaily – Archaeology News

“A total of 453 bronze objects dating between c.900 and c.800 BC have been uncovered during a planned archaeological investigation, with weapons and tools including axe heads, spearheads, fragments of swords, daggers and knives found alongside some other unusual objects, which are rarely found in the UK.”

Fascinating! Unfortunately, not much (if anything) is said about the “unusual objects, which are rarely found in the UK.” Hope more information is revealed, as the project continues!

Glories of the West: Ancient Minoan Crete – “Ancient tablets may reveal what destroyed Minoan civilization”

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The mystery of what happened to the Minoan civilization has tormented archaeologists for over a century, and the tale has now taken a new twist.

Source: Ancient tablets may reveal what destroyed Minoan civilization – Archaeology – Haaretz.com

Fascinating! I have long been interested in the Minoan civilization – and my folks got to visit Knossos during their tour of the Holy Land and Greek isles – but it has been a long time since I’ve taken a course in ancient Mediterranean archaeology, and much of this is new to me. As I say, most interesting!

“According to historians, Knossos was Europe’s oldest proper city, established between 2000 to 1900 B.C.E. Its palace had features considered very advanced for the time, for instance monumental architecture, stone-built storm drains and sewers, and lavatories” – nearly two millennia before the birth of Christ. There are places in the world that don’t have these yet, if they haven’t been brought in from other, more advanced areas!

Ancient Minoan Crete was, in fact, one of the Glories of the West in its time: “In the golden age of the Minoan civilization,” the linked article notes, “they traded with Egypt, the Levant, the Aegean, Asia Minor and less so beyond Italy and Sicily, and possibly as far as Spain and up the Atlantic coast. But,” it continues, “all things come to an end.” Nonetheless: “More than a thousand years later, the Greeks remained impressed by the Cretan achievement.” That is an accomplishment, by any standards!

Sad news, though, for those who think the Minoans came from lost Atlantis, or perhaps even the stars: “archaeologists had once thought the Minoans must have ‘come from somewhere else’ because of their advancement compared with the surroundings. But genetic analyses in 2017 concluded that both the Minoans and Mycenaeans descended from the stone-age farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean, plus smidgens of heritage from the Caucasus and Iran.” Pesky darned genetics!

H.V. Morton on the Decline of Civilization

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Ruins of the Temple of Artemis at Sardis, in Asia Minor (Turkey).
color view of reconstructed model of Temple of Artemis, at Miniatürk Park, Istanbul, Turkey
A modern re-creation of what the Temple might have looked like, in its glory.

“Politicians of Western nations ought not to be eligible for election until they have travelled the ancient world. All the cities of the Graeco-Roman world have become slums. That pride which made Asia-Minor, in the words of Theodore Mommsen, “the promised land of municipal vanity” vanished with the Muslim conquest. Politicians should be made to see how easy it is for the constant sea of savagery, which flows forever around the small island of civilisation, to break in and destroy.

“Asia Minor was once as highly organised as Europe is today: a land of large cities whose libraries and public monuments were so splendid that when we today retrieve fragments of this lost world we think it worth while to build museums to house them. Yet a few centuries of occupation by a static race have seen the highest pillars fall to earth, have witnessed the destruction of aqueducts that carried life-giving water from afar, and have seen the silting up of harbours that once sheltered the proudest navies of the ancient world. I cannot understand how any traveller can stand unmoved at the graveside of the civilisation from which our own world springs, or can see Corinthian capitals lying in the mud, without feeling that such things hold a lesson and a warning and, perhaps, a prophesy.

— H.V. Morton: In the Steps of St. Paul (1936), p.56-7.

Let us say the situation has not improved dramatically since 1936. Sadly, rather the reverse…

 

The feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea | Holy Smokes

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 August 1st is the feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea in the United states (July 31 in the east). His story is one of mystery and tradition…

Source: Holy Smokes: The feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

— William Blake, “And did those feet in ancient time? (Jerusalem)

Today is the commemoration of St. Joseph of Arimathea (as found in “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 1963,” approved for use in the UECNA), who is best known from the Gospel accounts as the one who gave his tomb to be the burial place of our Lord, Jesus Christ, following his crucifixion. The Collect for this day reads:

O MERCIFUL God, by whose servant Joseph the body of our Lord and Saviour was committed to the grave with reverence and godly fear: Grant, we beseech thee, to thy faithful people grace and courage to serve and love Jesus with unfeigned devotion all the days of their life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

He – Joseph of Armimathea – may have another significance, too, especially for those of us who are of the English tradition. There is a persistent legend that Joseph was not only the recoverer of Jesus’ body, but his uncle, and a tin-merchant with trading contacts as far afield as Cornwall, in what was then the Roman Province of Britannia; and that he took the young Jesus with him on a trip there during the so-called “lost years” of Jesus’ life.

There is even a tradition that when Joseph thrust his thornwood staff into the ground, it took root, flowered, and blossomed, becoming the famous Glastonbury Thorn that survives to this day near the old Abbey of Glastonbury. It is, at any rate, this legendary trip (which cannot be conclusively proven – nor for that matter, disproven) which serves as the inspiration for the lines from the poet William Blake, quoted above, which became the well-known hymn, “Jerusalem”:

Personally, I tend to believe this pious legend – or at least give it the benefit of the doubt – and to consider that there is at least a good chance that “those feet in ancient times” did indeed “walk upon England’s mountains green”! Britain was in ancient and medieval times known as a particularly holy island, and what better reason for that, than that our Saviour did indeed grace “England’s green and pleasant land” with His sacred footsteps?

In any case, wishing you a blessed Feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea!