10 Heart-Warming Tales from the Worst Places on Earth

In this day and age, it’s easy to get depressed. Turn on the TV or switch on your iPad and you’ll be bombarded with stories of death, destruction and mayhem. Whether it’s extremists waging brutal war in our streets, the country self-destructing over the rights of gay people, or news of our drones blowing another distant wedding party to pieces; each passing day seems to bring yet more misery. But sometimes, hope can take hold in the most unlikely of places. As an antidote to all the recent nastiness, here are 10 heart-warming stories of humanity from the most-inhuman places on Earth:

 

10

The Oklahoma Dog

 

Last week a tornado touched down in Oklahoma, reducing the town of Monroe to rubble. Homes were destroyed, families separated and 24 people killed. In other words, it was a catastrophe—and, within hours, news sites were awash with images of misery, devastation and more misery. Because this is the internet after all, the most-shared photo quickly became one of a mournful collie standing watch over a demolished house. The story went that ‘Susie’ was guarding her owner’s body, and our hearts collectively broke like a bunch of hormonal tweens watching the last installment of Twilight. By any sane reckoning, that image was sadness personified: where would the adorable little mutt go now?

How about home to her owner? In the sort of twist that would be mawkish in a Spielberg movie but is awesome in real life, it turned out Susie’s owner was not only alive—he was scouring the devastated town, desperate to find his dog. Because sometimes the internet really does have its uses, his sister spotted Susie’s picture on Facebook and alerted the sheriff’s; leading to a touching reunion. If that wasn’t enough ‘awww’ factor for one entry, here’s proof that Susie and her owner weren’t the only ones.

 

9

Lovers Survive a Concentration Camp

 

Of all the unlikely settings for a heart-warming tale, ‘Nazi forced labour camp’ should be pretty high on the list. But try telling that to Luigi Pedutto and Mokryna Yurzuk. In 1944, they were both interred in an Austrian concentration camp—he as an Italian prisoner of war, she because you can add ‘Ukrainians’ to the list of people Hitler hated for no reason. For a year they toiled together in conditions most of us can’t even imagine, until they eventually fell in love—at which point the camp was liberated and the Soviets carted Mokryna back behind the iron curtain. Because 20th century politics sucked, Pedutto was refused a Visa and they remained separated for 60 years.

Then, in 2004, Pedutto decided to try his luck again. In a final argument for reality TV being not totally-awful, he wrote in to a Russian TV show, which tracked down Mokryna and reunited them live on air. The two have now resumed a courtship that survived Hitler, Stalin, the Cold War, reunification and six decades—because sometimes, true love isn’t just a cliché.

 

8

North Korea’s Hidden Romances

 

North Korea is a dark place; both metaphorically and literally. Satellite images taken at night show an empty space hemmed in by the burning light of a thousand South Korean and Chinese cities. Thanks to an economically incompetent and inhuman regime, the only city in the country that gets electricity is the capital Pyongyang—everywhere else festers in darkness. And, if you’re a dirt-poor adolescent that’s fantastic news.

In her book ‘Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea’, Barbara Demick reveals how even the most-brutal regime on Earth has failed to quash romance. Across the country, teenagers use the lightless nights to plan trysts, meet partners and generally do what kids across the world do when they’re young and shy and in love. Because there’s no electricity, party snoops who would otherwise stop them are flying blind: meaning the kids have the night to themselves. And boy do they use it well: at the bottom of this page is a heart-warming tale of one girl’s illegal romance with a boy from another village. In other words, even in the most tightly-controlled environment on Earth, love has still managed to find a way.

 

7

The Humanitarian U-Boat

 

During the Second World War, the German U-Boat submarines became notorious among sailors. So when a Greek crew realized one was on their tail in 1939, they decided to abandon ship. No sooner were they overboard than it became clear this was a dumb idea: the sea was stormy, there was still a German U-Boat nearby and their lifeboats sucked something bad. How bad? Well, they were barely clear of the doomed ship when one capsized, throwing the sailors into the water. By all rights, this should have been game over for the Greeks—had the U-Boat captain not had a sudden attack of humanity.

Giving orders to surface, he brought the 28 Greeks aboard and had his crew carry them to neutral Ireland. Once there, he deposited them on the beach, before sailing back into the war. Let me repeat that: a Nazi officer in the middle of one of the most brutal wars in history quietly saved 28 lives for no other reason than he was a decent guy. There is a word for people like that, and that word is ‘awesome’.

 

6

Revolutionary Egypt Nails Solidarity

 

If you only ever heard about the world through newspapers and blogs, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were at the epicenter of an epic battle between East and West. The idea goes that Islam and Christianity are incompatible and we all just want each other dead. Well, try telling that to Egypt.

In 2011, a bunch of extremists attacked a church in Alexandria, killing 21 Coptic Christians. Upon hearing that it was ‘open season’ on their Christian neighbors, Egypt’s Muslim majority ran out their houses, found the nearest church . . . and acted as human shields. Yeah: they surrounded the churches, risking their own lives to keep their countrymen safe. As fantastic as this is, we’re not done yet—not by a long shot. See, in the midst of a violent revolution, stopping to pray to Mecca five times a day can leave you a little vulnerable. Unless, that is, you have a heck-load of Christians ready to repay a favor and stand guard around you, ready to fight to the death. So yeah, everyone came to each other’s aid when they needed it most. What was that about ‘incompatibility’ again?

 

5

Somalia’s Musicians Beat Extremism

 

In America, if you write a rap ‘dissing’ a politician you’ll either get ignored or become a viral sensation for the wrong reasons. Not so in Somalia. Since the government collapsed in the ’90s, most of the country has been controlled by vicious warlords. In 2006, a terrorist group that took over most of the south even banned listening to music on pain of death. So you can imagine the sort of courage you’d need to insult these guys. Well, meet the man with the largest testicles in the world.

In 2004, Shiine Akhyaar Ali founded Waayaha Cusub a Somali group that made a name for itself singing anti-jihad songs and mocking local warlords. Determined to get their pro-peace message out whatever the cost, they kept on making music even after militants shot Shiine five times in 2007. And guess what? They won: two years ago the militants were driven from the capital, Mogadishu, and Waayaha Cusub got busy organizing music festivals. They’re currently using their music and workshops to give kids who’ve lived all their lives with violence a peaceful outlet, and to sweep away the last traces of extremism. Maybe Kanye should just think about that for a second next time he compares himself to the Messiah.

 

4

Syria’s Most-Awesome Brother

 

The Syrian civil war has thrown up its fair share of horrific moments. But, even in the midst of the worst depravity imaginable, good deeds sometimes still happen.

After a rocket attack left his younger brother Abdulrahman in need of an amputation, 24 year old Omar decided no relative was going to die on his watch. Only problem being: they were in the middle of a warzone, with his brother now incapable of walking. How the hell was he going to get him to safety?

Simple: acting like the older brother we all wish we’d had, Omar strapped his younger sibling to his back and literally walked to Turkey. Chew on that for a second. In recent weeks, the conflict has spilled over into Turkish towns; the border has become effectively lawless and crossing it more dangerous than juggling hand grenades. Yet Omar not only crossed it, he did it with his injured brother strapped to his back. So, in short, 11 year old Abdulrahman is now alive, thanks to his big brother being the humanitarian equivalent of the Terminator.

 

3

The Couple Who Said ‘No’ to Genocide

 

In the 1990s, Rwanda suffered one of the worst genocides in modern history. Over the course of 100 days, the country lost nearly 20 percent of its population—thanks to a murderous rampage by Hutu extremists. In the middle of all this barbarity, Rwanburindi Enoch and his wife took one look and said ‘not today’.

First, they refused to partake in the violence—at a time when moderate Hutus were getting murdered as much as the Tutsis. Second, Enoch opened the doors of their house to injured Tutsis, giving them shelter even as local Hutu Power types threatened him with death. Third—and most-awesomely of all—when he ran out of his space in his house, he built another one on his property specifically for Tutsis to hide in. When asked why he was endangering himself and his family, he said he couldn’t turn his back on a fellow Christian. In the end, Enoch saved many lives, despite it costing him his reputation, his money and nearly everything. Because sometimes, you just gotta do the right thing and consequences be damned.

 

2

Saving Sarajevo’s Past

 

You may have heard of the Sarajevo siege. For four years, Serb forces kept the Muslim-majority city pinned down under sniper fire. But for Enver Imamovic, the biggest worry wasn’t that he’d lose his life. It was that a single book might be destroyed by the invading forces.

Let’s back up a little: Imamovic was the director of the national museum—the most prized possession of which is the 660 year old Haggadah, a medieval book telling the Jewish story of Exodus. It’s currently insured for a billion dollars, but that evidently didn’t matter much in the midst of genocide. Fearing the Yugoslav’s People’s army would wipe out the oldest tangible trace of Bosnian Jewish culture, Imamovic literally risked his life to save it. And it was a risk: his story involves bribing police officers, dodging bullets and nearly being obliterated by a mortar. Yet he managed it: thanks to his efforts, this fragment of his city’s past survived the longest siege in modern history. The best part? Imamovic wasn’t even Jewish—he was Muslim. That’s right: even as his entire country was splitting along ethnic lines, Imamovic still gave enough of a damn about solidarity to risk his life for a symbol of their shared heritage.

 

1

An Auschwitz Sacrifice

 

Simply put, there has never been anywhere as horrific as Auschwitz. All the cruelty, sadism, indifference and psychopathy that our species is capable of reached its fullest expression between its walls, where 1.5 million people died pointlessly. Yet, even in the midst of this inferno, there were moments of humanity.

In 1941, three prisoners managed to escape the camp and consequently the deputy commander ordered ten prisoners to be starved to death in retaliation. When one of the randomly-selected men began to cry for his wife and children, another prisoner called Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take his place.

Read that sentence again: in the middle of the most-notorious murder machine that’s ever existed, Kolbe was so moved by pity he volunteered to die in place of another man. And when the Nazis acquiesced and sent him into a bunker with the nine others, his spirit didn’t break. By all accounts, he spent the last two weeks of his life comforting the others with his Catholic faith and accepted his end with a dignity that should have been impossible in the circumstances. Nor was it a useless gesture: the man whose place he took—Franciszek Gajowniczek—lived another 53 years.

10 Infrequently Suspected Deadly or Vicious Animals

The dangers presented by a tiger or Great White Shark are immediately apparent to humans, and contributes to the persecution and decline of these species. However, we must look far beyond the obvious, for a host of unlikely, strange or lesser known creatures offer equally unexpected harm, and even death. Learn about the fish that may stab you to death, Ahab’s nemesis in real life, and a lethal forest rodent, or just how dangerous a Polar Bear or Elk may be. WARNING: This list contains an image of a spider.

 

10

Needlefish

 

When wading cautiously into the ocean, any apprehension we experience likely forms the mental image of a shark, and the possibility of being bitten. However, a more bizarre danger lurks. Growing up to 3 feet in length, Needlefish are exceedingly thin hunters with an almost heron like bill. Needlefish may swim at speeds of over 30 knots, and may cause fatal collisions with humans. In 1977, a child was pierced by a needlefish in Hawaii, while fishermen in the Philippines fear them above sharks. Several other exceedingly disturbing deaths have followed, including one swimmer whose eye was pierced, causing a fatal brain injury. Needlefish beaks may break off inside a person.

 

9

Common Adder

 

Although its lethality does not compare to the Cobra or Rattlesnake, the presence of a venomous and potentially deadly viper in Britain may come as a surprise. While nearly all venomous snakes occur closer to the equator, the Common Adder inhabits the hedgerows, meadows and moors of the English country side, and frequently bites humans when it enters gardens. Deaths are rare, so the snake is not considered especially dangerous, but over 10 fatalities have occurred in the past 100 years, and death is always a possibility when bitten by this English snake. Puff Adders grow up to a meter in length, and may feed on rodents and birds.

 

8

Sperm Whale

 

Moby Dick may not have been a subject of pure legend, after all. Growing to lengths of 20 meters, Sperm Whales are the largest toothed animal on the planet, and are capable of killing the largest of Giant Squid in spectacular, depth diving battles that rage thousands of meters below the surface. Humans once hunted the whales for their spermaceti for use in oil lamps, but narratives suggest the tables were sometimes turned. In 1820, the Essex and an auxiliary vessel were rammed by a Sperm whale, resulting in the death of crew members. More recently, a Sperm Whale rammed a small boat in Japan, resulting in one drowning.

 

7

White-footed Deermouse

 

The scourge of Bubonic Plague is a thing of the past, but in the forests of Canada and the Northern United States, the exceedingly cute White-footed Deermouse patrols the leaf litter and seeks out sheltered tree stumps. Disturbingly, these rodents carry a deadly infectious agent known as the Hantavirus, which may kill up to 40 percent of those exposed to the virus, which is often contained in the rodent’s droppings. Deaths may occur when campers sweep a cabin floor where the mice have left droppings, causing the fine dust to become airborne. The virus may then attack the lungs. In one particular serious case, 4 campers died in California’s Yosemite National Park after deer mouse exposure.

 

6

Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula

 

Tarantulas, especially the recently discovered giant species are frequently stereotyped as deadly animals, along with relatively benign boas and wolves. While their bite is in fact less serious than often believed, Tarantulas are by no means harmless, and present far more insidious threat to humans. Porcupines do not in fact shoot their quills, but the Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula is covered with fine and razor sharp “guard hairs” which it may shoot with great force towards a perceived threat. While death is unlikely, permanent vision loss may result if a pet handler or hiker approaches a Tarantula too closely, provoking hundreds of quills to be shot into their face, where they may lodge in the eyes.

 

5

Giant Wolf Fish

 

With a name like “Wolf Fish”, it should become immediately apparent that Hoplias aimara offers good reason to avoid stepping into the waters of the Amazon. With thick gray scales and lobed fins, the Wolf Fish may weigh over 80 pounds, and reach over a meter in length. What they lack in length, they make up in sheer width and strength. Using their massive jaws studded with dog like teeth, Wolf Fish hunt as lunge predators, and in several cases were reported to have seized humans who entered the water. The death of a dog was also attributed to this fish with both nature and the weapons needed to ravage its victims. The closely related Atlantic Wolfish, this species’ ocean going equivalent, is equally dangerous, and “may attack objects in the water with its powerful teeth” according to angler warnings.

 

4

American Bison

 

The American Bison is a common symbol of the Wild West, but its identify as a provoker of deadly duels between man and animal is lesser known. Weighing over 2,000 pounds and armed with deadly horns, the American Bison, which is technically not a true buffalo may trample or gore to death any human who finds its way into defended territory. In the early days of settlement, the Bison or “Buffalo” was considered a fearsome killer, on par with the highly respected Grizzly Bear. The Bison’s strength and speed in battering ram charges in response to a threat could pulverize a human victim, and ward off large predators, while a blow from the hoofs could also prove lethal.

 

3

Wapiti

While the concept of an angry bull may be well embedded in the human psyche, the Wapiti, or Common Elk is a lesser known but very really threat in the forest. Weighing up to 1,000 pounds, territorial male Wapiti possess a massive rack of antlers, while females are armed with equally heavy hooves and a highly protective attitude. During the rut and breeding season, human intruders face the risk of being gored to death or trampled by these giant deer. In one case, a snarling ungulate attacked a sledder, and he was only able to save himself by firing flares at the magnificent, yet beast. In one case, a farmer was killed by supposedly domesticated Elk. Perhaps Colorado’s Estes is a disaster waiting to happen.

 

2

Polar Bear

 

The Polar Bear, unlike some entries on this list is a well-known animal. But fame may be followed by misperceptions, and the cute, fluffy and often sad looking icon of the anti-climate change movement is actually a grave threat to human life as it stalks arctic communities. Polar bears are technically classified as a marine mammal, but they are also the largest carnivores to walk on land at over 1500 pounds. Capable of running at over 40 kilometers an hour, Polar bears are capable of rapidly killing any prey item they select. In some cases, Polar Bears have even torn into tents to extract human prey. A number of deaths have occurred over the years, but attacks are still uncommon due to environmental isolation.

 

1

Dingo

 

Legends such as Red Riding Hood give us the largely unfounded fear we bestow on wolves, the ancestors of domestic dogs. However, while wolves are unlikely to kill humans, a number of maulings and fatal attacks, largely targeting children have occurred in Australia, where the Dingo roams free. As Australia’s equivalent to the wolf, the 40-70 pound dingo is an apex predator with a bone crushing bite, and the ability to bring prey down in packs. Compared to a Gray Wolf, an aggressive Dingo may pose a greater threat to humans due to its increased habituation to man’s presence and opportunism. Territorial defense may have played a role in some fatal attacks.

10 Historical Books With Far Reaching Effects

You wouldn’t know it from the way they’re treated today, but books used to be a pretty big deal in the cultural landscape. And not just your Bibles and Manifestos and Mein Kampfs, either—there are plenty of under-the-radar works that had a significant effect on something, somewhere. Sometimes lots of things, and lots of wheres. Here are ten books from back in the day that didn’t change history, but at least deserve to be noted in it.

 

10

The Pilgrim’s Progress
John Bunyan

 

John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come” is the story of the subtly-named Christian, a man who leaves the City of Destruction to find the Celestial City on Mt. Zion. In other words, it’s an allegory about the religious journey from Earth to Heaven, which was the kind of thing people liked to read about in 1678, when the book was published. Interestingly, Bunyan wrote a lot of the book from prison, having spent a total of 12 years there for preaching without a license. Doing this via literature wasn’t against the law, though, and his book became an instant hit, and won him widespread fame. “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is notable for being translated into over 200 languages—more than any other book save the Bible—and being one of the most-read books in English. As for Bunyan, apparently his fellow Puritans begged to be buried next to him when they died (and not, for some reason, the actual Mt. Zion).

 

9

Bruges-la-morte
Georges Rodenbach

 

“The Dead Bruges,” as it could be called in English, is a short novel published by the writer Georges Rodenbach in 1892. It takes place in the Belgian city of Bruges, where a man named Hugues Viane moves after his wife dies. He is absolutely stricken with grief, despite his cool new city, and lives in despair for a while amidst the relics and possessions of his late love. Eventually he meets another girl, but—spoiler alert—ends up strangling her because she’s not enough like his dead wife. The book received a fair amount of success upon its release, but is most notable for a few different reasons—most importantly, “Bruges-la-morte” was the first work of fiction to ever be illustrated with photographs (mostly shots of the city). It was also quite possibly the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, another classic, as well as being one of the most significant Symbolist novels ever written (which basically just means that very little happened in it).

 

8

The Songs of Bilitis
Pierre Louÿs

 

Here’s another one written in French, this time by an actual French writer (as is probably evident by his name). Pierre Louÿs’ “Les Chansons de Bilitis” is an 1894 book of erotic poems, which he claimed in the foreword were written by an Ancient Greek woman named Bilitis. This actually fooled a lot of scholars for quite a while, because the poems expertly echoed the writing of the Greek poet Sappho, of whom Louÿs claimed Bilitis was a contemporary. Of course, the poems were actually written by Louÿs himself—and, given that the name he gave the fictional discoverer of Bilitis’ poems was the equivalent of “Mr. S. Ecret,” you’d think the scholars would have realized that immediately. In any case, the collection is most significant for its acceptance of lesbians (such as Bilitis and Sappho), who weren’t treated as equally in 1894 as they are today. In fact, the book inspired the propagation of gay rights, as well as the name for the Daughters of Bilitis—the first lesbian civil and political rights group in the United States.

 

7

The “I Ching”
Fu Xi

 

Fu Xi is said to have reigned over Ancient China during the 29th century B.C., but he was also said to have lived to 197 and made people out of clay, so take that with a grain of salt. Regardless, the “I Ching”—which Fu Xi is reputed to have written—has existed since at least 1000 B.C., making it one of the oldest classic Chinese texts in existence. The book, sometimes called the “Book of Changes,” contains oracles represented by series of binary lines called hexagrams. The idea was to somehow cast these hexagrams (by burning a turtle shell and interpreting the cracks, for example), and read the resulting interpretation in the “I Ching” so as to divine the answer to a question. Today we have Magic 8 Balls for this type of thing, but for a few thousand years it was a pretty big deal. The philosophies in the book, divination aside, have proved pretty resilient too (the lines in the hexagrams represent ‘yin’ and ‘yang’). Pictures of trigrams—half hexagrams—can still be found all over the place, from the flag of South Korea to the DHARMA Initiative.

 

6

The Bhagavad Gita

 

The Bhagavad Gita, commonly referred to as simply the Gita, is an important scripture contained within the ancient, larger Hindu epic Mahabharata (‘larger’ as in ridiculously larger, as in almost two million words). The verses of the Gita, arguably the most important part of the Mahabharata, relate the philosophical and theological wisdom of Lord Krishna to the protagonist, Arjuna. This sounds a little dry in theory, but the work is notable for influencing so many significant people throughout the years, religious and non-religious types alike—people like Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, and Carl Jung, who all praised the work. And J. Robert Oppenheimer, who headed up the Manhattan Project during WWII, famously quoted the Gita after the first successful atomic bomb test: “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” Most significantly, perhaps, was Mahatma Gandhi’s appreciation of the book—he called the Gita his “spiritual dictionary.”

 

5

The Golden Ass
Apuleius

 

But enough about philosophy and spiritual fulfillment already—let’s talk about asses. The “Metamorphoses” was published by the Latin writer Apuleius around the late 2nd century A.D., but it’s more famously known as “The Golden Ass,” which is what we’re going to call it (don’t worry, we’ll cover a different “Metamorphoses” later on in the list). It’s a humorous account of a guy named Lucius, who tries to turn himself into a bird and ends up becoming a donkey instead. He then has to go on a journey to free himself from his corporeal prison, which he accomplishes through the timeless fashion of joining a cult. The book is important for a couple of reasons—for one, it was one of the first ever picaresque novels (which chronicle the outlandish journeys of lovable misfits, like Dickens’ earlier works did), and for two, “The Golden Ass” is the only Latin novel to survive in full (so now you have no excuse not to read it).

 

4

The “Novum Organum”
Francis Bacon

 

Francis Bacon is one of the most famous English philosophers (not to mention all his other jobs), and was knighted with good reason back in 1603. At the top of his list of accomplishments, perhaps, is the writing of his “Novum Organum” in 1620—in English, “New Instrument.” The book is a treatise on natural philosophy, a subject that today we generally refer to as ‘science.’ In the work, Bacon outlines a system for conducting it properly, which he believed was superior to the traditional, Aristotelian ways of doing things. The rest of the world thought so too—the Baconian method, as it came to be known, has led to Bacon being hailed the ‘father of empiricism,’ and more importantly to the kind of revolutionary ideas science has been churning out ever since. You’re familiar with the Baconian method yourself, if you’ve ever taken a science class—it’s the precursor to the modern scientific method.

 

3

Confessions of a Thug
Philip Meadows Taylor

 

For a while there back in history—up until India gained its independence in 1947—the British decided they were in control of it. This British India was the setting of Philip Meadows Taylor’s highly influential novel, “Confessions of a Thug.” In 1839, when the book was published, the westernized idea of India was pretty remarkably racist. The British Taylor’s open-mindedness (and actual interest in realism) set new standards for the depiction of the east, and elevated the novel past being just another faraway adventure story. The protagonist, Ameer Ali, was a mass-murdering member of the very real Thuggee cult, and purportedly based on a Thug friend of the author’s. The revolutionary book went on to become a bestseller and influence the likes of Rudyard Kipling (best known for “The Jungle Book”). As the icing on the cake, the book allegedly introduced the word ‘thug’ to the English language, in much the same way that I’m about to introduce the word ‘swestering.’

 

2

Children’s and Household Tales
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

 

Odds are, you recognize the name Grimm (NBC certainly hopes so). Which is good—that just means it’s a good fit for the list. The first collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, as they’re now more commonly known, was published in 1812 under the unassuming title “Children’s and Household Tales,” in two volumes. All told, the two brothers put together over 200 German stories that were famously unsuitable for children, what with all the violence and sex and being interesting (See: Grimm, Tuesdays on NBC). Despite that, or almost certainly because of it, the collection has been pretty much a smash hit ever since—this is what rocketed the likes of Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Snow White into the cultural zeitgeist, after all (See: Once Upon a Time, Sundays on ABC. Or any Disney movie ever).

 

1

The “Metamorphoses”
Ovid

 

And here we have another collection of myths, this time from Ancient Rome and probably a little less well-known. The poet Ovid’s magnum opus, the “Metamorphoses,” is his own epically-presented account of over 250 myths, all of them having something to do with (you guessed it) metamorphosis. It was completed around A.D. 8, the same year Ovid was exiled from Rome for some of his other, less tasteful poetry. His myths, sharply-presented as they were, have lived on through a whole slew of famous authors—John Milton, Dante, and Geoffrey Chaucer, to name a few. Oh, and a relatively obscure guy named William Shakespeare, who not only based “Romeo & Juliet” on Ovid’s myth of “Pyramus & Thisbe,” but actually references it and others in several of his plays. In fact, it’s been claimed that the “Metamorphoses” has had more literary influence than any other work save for those of Shakespeare himself (and the Bible). Which kind of reflects poorly on the last 2000 years, actually. Come on, writers. Time to step up the game.

10 Studies That Reveal Depressing Facts About Humanity

Hopefully, many of our readers still think that humanity, at its core, is a good thing. We share that same belief; but every now and again, researchers come up with results that reveal rather unsettling facts about our species. For example:

 

10

People Love Dogs More Than Charity

 

If you happened upon a lost wallet full of cash, would you return it? That’s the question researchers in Edinburgh wanted to answer—but they added a few extra conditions, to make it more interesting. As part of the experiment, they left a whole bunch of wallets lying around the city, complete with the address of the fictional owner who’d lost it. And along with this information, the researchers put a picture into the wallet to see what was most likely to ensure its safe return.

The pictures ranged from new-born babies to cute little puppies and adorable old couples. In the interest of science, they also left out some control wallets that contained no pictures, as well as a few wallets that contained evidence that the owner frequently gave money to charity.

The results were reported by the wider media with the information that having a baby picture in your wallet was the best way to encourage strangers to return it. But the results also found that wallets containing evidence of charity donations were returned less often than all of the others (with the single exception of the control wallets, which contained nothing).

The wallets which suggested that the owner was a keen supporter of charity were only returned in twenty percent of cases, while the wallets containing a picture of a dog were returned in fifty-three percent of cases. For comparison’s sake, the control wallets which contained nothing but money were returned fifteen percent of the time. So according to this data, you’re thirty-three percent more likely to have someone return your wallet if you advertise that you love dogs, rather than charity. And speaking of charity:

 

9

We Give To Charity To Please Ourselves

 

Giving to charity is always a good thing, unless it’s a charity for eugenics or something—but for the most part, sticking your hand in your pocket and giving some of your hard-earned money to a needy cause is something you should be applauded for.

But when some researchers at the university of Kent decided to find out what actually motivated people to donate money to charity, their results were surprising. They found that people were naturally inclined to donate to charity purely based on their own views and tastes; one person donated to dog charities, for example, purely because they hated cats.

It was also discovered that people were likely to automatically justify not donating to an objectively important charity simply because it conflicted with their own personal views, regardless of how informed such views were. One interviewee refused to send any money overseas—for example to the Sri Lankan Tsunami victims— because such money went to “supporting Mugabe and people like that.”

Of course, giving to charity is generally a very good thing—but you have to admit that it’s a little disheartening to learn that one of the most selfless things a person can do, is so easily affected by a person’s own self-oriented interests and views.

 

8

People Swerve To Hit Animals

 

The chances are that on any given day, you’ll walk past the kind of person who would intentionally run over an animal on the side of the road. In an experiment conducted by Mark Rober, an engineer for NASA, a bunch of rubber snakes, tarantulas, and turtles were placed by the side of a highway, just to see what would happen. Apparently NASA wasn’t busy that day.

Rober found that out of one thousand passing cars documented, as many as sixty went out of their way to squash them. The drivers made a conscious decision to swerve beyond the roadside boundaries in an attempt to kill the rubber animals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, eighty-nine percent of such cases involved SUVs.

On the flip side, a good number of people did pull up in an attempt to help the animal—but that doesn’t change the fact that when presented with a innocent little snake just trying to go about its business, more than one in twenty people risked their own lives to destroy it.

 

7

Safety Doesn’t Come In Numbers

 

And it now seems that this effect is so strong, we’ll even risk our own lives to conform to it.

In a joint experiment by members of the universities of Columbia and New York, subjects were placed into a room under the assumption that they had to fill in a questionnaire. After the subject had been in the room for a pre-determined amount of time, thick smoke was pumped through an air-vent. Astonishingly—and despite the very real threat of other people and themselves burning to death—the more people who were present in the room, the less likely anyone was to report it.

In some cases, people actually sat and completed their questionnaire while the smoke was making them cough and wipe their eyes in discomfort. When later asked about their reasons for staying silent, it appeared that many people had reasoned that it probably wasn’t a fire—and some had even assumed that the smoke was more likely to be “truth gas.”

 

6

Paying Volunteers Makes Them Work Less

 

Volunteer work, like charity, is something that should be rewarded. But apparently it shouldn’t be rewarded with money.

Researchers tested people’s willingness to volunteer their time for a cause, if they were paid for doing so. Amazingly, when the person was given a monetary incentive to complete the work, the amount of time they volunteered plummeted.

Though this may suggest that people are more likely to do something nice when there’s no question of financial reward, it also means that the ability of organizations to increase volunteers is largely limited to whether or not people feel like volunteering. You only need to refer to the second item on this list to know why that’s a kind of a bad thing.

 

5

We Assume That Strangers Are Male

 

Gender inequality is certainly a hot topic—and since you’re reading this online, you’re presumably already aware of how divisive the issue can be. In spite of the general enlightenment concerning sexism, it appears that gender discrimination is so ingrained in our heads that we’ll generally assume an unknown figure is a man—regardless of what the evidence tells us.

In an experiment published last year, it was found that when presented with computer simulated images of a human body, the majority of people assumed these images were of a man—even when the images shown depicted a female body or silhouette.

If you’re wondering why this is important, think of all the times you’ve seen God—who supposedly lies beyond our imaginations—portrayed as a male. And think of all the times you’ve assumed that a doctor is going to be a man. Our habit of automatic male identification goes partway to explaining why that may be the case; and it presents a problem for anyone who values gender equality.

 

4

We’re Easily Persuaded By Authority

 

If you’ve ever heard of Milgram’s experiments, you’re probably already aware of the concept of submission to authority.

The really surprising thing is how little actual authority a person needs in order to persuade people to do evil things. In one of Milgram’s most famous experiments, for example, participants were asked to administer tiny doses of electricity to another human being from a remote location, as part of a study. As the voltage increased, the actor being “electrocuted”—who had originally given his consent—began to beg for the experiment to stop.

The ordinary people involved in the experiment expressed doubts about the safety of the person they were electrocuting; but all that was needed to make them continue was a man in a lab coat.

If you’re wondering if this weird obedience is exclusively reserved for men in lab coats, it’s not: hustlers in the UK informally tested this theory of social compliance, and figured out that masquerading as an authority figure can be as simple as putting on a fluorescent jacket.

 

3

We’re Not Born Equal

 

“Practice makes perfect” is one of the oldest sayings out there. But in 2013, someone tested whether or not this were actually the case. And as it turns out—it isn’t.

In an experiment aimed at finding out how quickly people were able to grasp the skills behind chess and music, it was found that thousands of hours of practice didn’t necessarily mean that a person would become an expert. In other words, practice alone isn’t enough to learn a skill fully; innate ability and natural talent play a far bigger role than many of us like to think.

Though the researchers stressed that practice does allow a person to become fairly adept at a given skill, the difference between “good and great” doesn’t come down to much you practice—instead, it’s determined by whether or not you as a person are predisposed to have a natural affinity for that skill. Think about what that means: a good many of the kids out there, practicing guitar in the hope of emulating their idol, will never achieve their goal.

 

2

We Lie and Cheat When We Feel Bad

 

Feeling sad, or having otherwise low self-esteem, makes us more likely to do bad things—or at the very least, to justify them more easily.

One of the more famous experiments relating to this theory involved giving a bunch of students a small boost to their self-esteem in the form of a personality test, quickly followed by another experiment in which they’d be presented with an opportunity to cheat another student to earn money.

The results found that students who’d been given positive feedback on their personality tests were far less likely to cheat than those who’d been given bad feedback—for example by being told the test revealed that they were uninteresting. Just think of how often insults much worse than that are thrown around online.

So what was responsible for the correlation? Well, the research concluded that the phenomenon was due to something they dubbed “self-esteem dissonance.” Basically, a person with a high opinion of themselves found it much harder to justify an immoral action, as it clashed more strongly with the way they perceived themselves. It’s easier to justify lying to someone when you have the mindset that no one cares what you do.

 

1

We Feel Less Empathy For Other Races

 

As part of an Italian study on pain relief, both black and white people were asked to watch a short clip of hands being pricked with needles, while scientists monitored the observers’ brain activity and heart rates. Importantly, some of the pricked hands were black, and others were white.

It was noted that both the black and white participants reacted more strongly when they saw a hand of their own race being pricked. To eliminate the possibility that the participants were merely imagining their own hands, the researchers also showed clips of a bright purple hand being pricked. Both the black and white participants had a stronger emotional reaction to the pricking of the purple hand, than to the pricking of the hand belonging to the other race.

Though the experiment was mostly conducted to gauge whether doctors would have more trouble identifying the pain of a patient of a different race, it inadvertently found that we subconsciously draw a distinction between races in our emotional responses.

10 Non Superhero Graphic Novels You Should Read

The term “graphic novel” was first used in 1964 and it would be popularized within the Comics community after the publication of the great Will Eisner‘s A Contract with God in the late 1970s. Nowadays, and after the Book Industry Study Group added “graphic novel” as a category in book stores, this term has gone mainstream.

As one understands from the title, this list won’t be your average fare when it comes to comic books. No superheroes are hiding under uniforms and masks, no aliens with super powers, and no big guns and mutants in any of these more realistic and very funny stories. These are ten of the very best graphic novels of the past 25-30 years that don’t involve superheroes.

10 Blankets (2003)

 

Think of every moment of heartbreak, alienation, confusion, growth, and hope you experienced between the ages of seven to eighteen. Now imagine all those experiences condensed into a riveting, beautifully written and drawn two-hour read. That’s what Craig Thompson has done in this staggering work, compressing those crucial years of adolescent experience into a novel of exquisite detail. He doesn’t hit a false note anywhere in this depiction of a young man dealing with faith, confusion and romance.

This is not light, casual reading that we would recommend to anyone—there are very disturbing and deeply sad moments in Blankets that aren’t easily forgotten, though they are more than counterbalanced by gorgeous images of freedom and hope.

Blankets was widely acclaimed, with Time magazine ranking it #1 in its 2003 Best Comics list, and #8 in its Best Comics of the previous decade.

9 Paying for it (2011)

 

Paying for It is another autobiographical comic book written by the master of the medium, Chester Brown. Chester is exploring an important era in his later life: his experience as a “john”, or frequent customer of prostitutes, and the profound philosophical questions that experience raised for him.

The fact that he is sharing such a personal moment with us in such a beautiful and strangely romantic way in this book should not be understated. This is an all time classic piece of work.

8 Logicomix (2009)

 

Logicomix is a story about passionate people with bright ideas who, in their efforts to seek the truth, teeter between logic and paranoia. This is a very interesting and pleasant comic book and probably one of the most unique on its own way.

Basically it is the story of Bertrand Russell, following him from childhood up to when he was about 60 years old, and how he was driven to find the truth about mathematics and logic.

Though it may sound dry, the wise choice to combine the issue raised in the workshop, with the world of drawing and comics, makes it even more interesting and fascinating. The work is beautifully clean, full of intense lines, lovely sketches and brilliant color.

The book made it to #1 on the New York Times Graphic Novel Best Seller list; the first Greek and one of the very few European comic books in history to do so.

7 Red Eye, Black Eye (2007)

 

Shortly after 9/11, Thor Jensen’s prospects in New York dried up. In response, he buys a Greyhound Ameripass and travels from sea to shining sea (and back again) with nothing but a few bucks in his bank account and whatever he could cram into a backpack. Just like Kerouac’s On The Road (written shortly after World War II), Red Eye, Black Eye is a true celebration of the underbelly of America.

At each stop-over point on his Greyhound Journey, there are peculiarities unique to that location and its culture. And Mr. Jensen lends his creative talents to retelling some of the everyday stories recounted to him by folks who put him up for the night—folks he doesn’t really know at all, but is eager to learn about. We hear twisted dating stories, freaky co-workers, random bizarre encounters with the lunatic fringe, and several other memorable tales from the people along the way. Unique, strange, and never dull, Red Eye, Black Eye is not to be missed.

6 32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics (1998)

 

Adrian Tomine is amongst the best independent comic book writers, and this collection displays some of his best work. This book is dedicated to anyone who went through the pain and agony of high school and life itself.

32 Stories was written when Tomine was still a teenager, but does not fail to excite us just as much as his later work. The stories are slight, and preoccupied with slacker angst, but still a great jumping off point for Tomine’s work.

His artistry is efficient and minimalist in its approach, while the stories also serve perfectly as prototypes for the later, more sophisticated Optic Nerve comics that Drawn & Quarterly would release. It was, after all, the beginning of something genius.

5 The Poor Bastard (1996)

Joe Matt is the author of the autobiographical comic Peepshow, in which he examines his deficient social skills, his addiction to porn and his lack of manners.

But The Poor Bastard is probably Matt’s best work to this day. The book follows Matt’s relationships as they crumble around him due to his selfish nature and ridiculously high standards for women. The title tries desperately to evoke some sympathy for the book’s main character, but since his problems are of his own doing, it’s hard to really help or sympathize.

Joe Matt has some serious issues, yet he works them out in full public view, inviting us closer to him. The aftermath of this pathetically believable behavior can be found in Spent, which is his last work.

4 SCHIZO (1994-2006)

 

When Ivan Brunetti sent a sample of SCHIZO #1 for feedback, the response he got from the legendary Robert Crumb wasn’t exactly what Brunetti was expecting: Mr. Crumb, without any sign of sensitivity, suggested to Ivan Brunetti to stop writing comics immediately and get on Prozac as soon as possible.

Fortunately, the above tip didn’t discourage the eccentric artist. SCHIZO is indeed a very unique graphic novel; everything you need to understand is evident after the first couple of pages. The black humor is deadly, suicidal and endless—funny with an uncompromising and raw brutality. The only certain thing is that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you can take some quite disturbing thoughts and images, and want to read something quite unique and charming in the darkest possible way, then SCHIZO is the right book for you.

3 It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken (1996)

 

If you have read Joe Matt’s pathetic confession Peep Show, you might remember his friend Seth‘s words: “I’m working on an autobiographical comic book, but it’s not finished yet…”.

Now here comes the comic, but in a very different and classier style from his friend Joe.

The story traces the life of an old cartoonist Kalo while wrapping around Seth’s own life. We can see the trace of Kalo and old cartoonists not only in the story, but on Seth’s joyful drawing touch on rain, trains, trees, hairs, wires, a kite, a bog roll, and even the smoke of cigarette. This comic is about how our thoughts move when we draw lines. Don’t stick at a single frame or single sentiment in the depressed monologue—Feel how the sequence of frames and lines are traveling with the sentiment traveling, and you will notice that here is a new form of travelogue. It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken was ranked at #52 on the list of the “100 Best Comics of the 20th Century” compiled by The Comics Journal.

2 Buddy Does Seattle (1990-1994)

 

Buddy Does Seattle is a compilation of the Buddy Bradley stories from Hate Comics #1-15, published by Fantagraphics Books during the early 1990’s. The comic book follows Buddy Bradley, an alcoholic loser in his mid 20’s who is a bookstore employee and a band manager wannabe, among many other things. His adventures with bad roommates, comics, and crazy women are probably the highlights of this novel.

This is an all-time classic graphic novel and totally representative of the specific decade (90’s) that will have you rolling on the floor with laughter. Peter Bagge has a wonderful, cartoony art style that makes things even more interesting. Everything looks dirty and gritty, but always well composed and easy to read. A must-read that we suggest without any second thoughts, especially for the ones who are missing the 90′s with nostalgia.

1 Black Hole (1995)

 

Black Hole is one of the creepiest comics ever made, and the author, Charles Black, is a true genius.

In an alternate reality version of Seattle sometime in the late 1970s, a new disease has broken out that causes grotesque physical mutations. It’s spread through sexual contact, and the outbreak zone is a group of teenage kids. Combining classic fears of adulthood with an incredible horror noir vibe, Charles Burns‘ dark, detailed artwork perfectly conveys the permanently malformed kids’ sense of hopelessness.

Back Hole is pitch-perfect in tone, pacing, and characterization. There’s just a touch of nostalgia, though Burns never allows himself to fall into the trap of romanticizing the mid-seventies. Simply the best graphic horror novel ever written.

Top 10 Lesser Known “What If?” Scenarios

Counterfactual history is a literary genre that focuses on how history might change if one or more key events gone differently. Authors have presented numerous alternate histories of such famous events as the Napoleonic Wars, American Civil War, and World Wars. To that end, many authors have asked, “What if Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar lived longer?” or “Could Napoleon or the Axis Powers have won their respective wars?”

And yet, a whole host of events of possible consequences have been ignored. This list presents ten lesser know “What If?” scenarios in chronological order.

10 The Proposed Marriage of Cyrus the Great and Tomyris (530 BC)

Tomyris

Cyrus the Great, one of history’s greatest military commanders, is credited with founding the Achaemenid Persian Empire. At its height, the Persian Empire stretched onto three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe. Tomyris, one of history’s greatest warriors, ruled over the much smaller Massagetae of Central Asia. Cyrus had hoped to marry her, but she declined and instead they fought a bloody war in which Tomyris lost a son and Cyrus lost his life. Tomyris even plunged Cyrus’s head into a wineskin filled with human blood, shouting “I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood.”

Given these strong personalities, one is left to wonder what they might have achieved together, or just considering what Cyrus had accomplished by the time of his death, what more he might have achieved for the Persian Empire had it included the lands of the Massagetae.

9The Proposed Marriage of Charlemagne and Irene the Athenian (AD 802)

Charlagmane

Charlemagne, known as the father of Europe, was the greatest king of the European Middle Ages and is credited with starting the Carolingian Renaissance. About two years after the pope crowned Charlemagne Emperor on Christmas AD 800, some evidence suggests that a potential marriage alliance between the then unmarried Charlemagne and the widowed empress of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire, Irene. Such a plan was not to be, as Irene was overthrown and exiled to Lesbos where she died a year later.

Had the two married, a potential reunification of the Roman Empire could have occurred under one dynasty that could have meant a more united front of Christian Europe against Pagan Viking and Muslim Arab invaders. Or, consider the fact that Charlemagne’s empire collapsed when his grandsons divided it into thirds, and imagine them dividing a much larger empire that would’ve include the Greek East. In either scenario, the effects on subsequent Medieval history would have been considerable.

8 Henry VI’s Planned Crusade (AD 1197)

Crusades

Not all plans to reunite the two halves of Europe were as peaceful as a marriage alliance. Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI died while planning a Crusade to avenge the deposition of a Byzantine emperor and thereby take Constantinople. Instead, the Fourth Crusade that followed Henry’s death was not led by an emperor, but by an infamous collection of crusaders who did indeed successfully take Constantinople and briefly dismember the Byzantine Empire among themselves, even establishing a Latin Empire in its place.

Had Henry not succumbed to Malaria and led this Crusade (thereby becoming simultaneously Holy Roman Emperor and Latin Emperor out of the ashes of Byzantium) could this have resulted in a rejuvenated, more united Christendom during this critical moment in the Crusades? With a Holy Roman Emperor in charge in the East, could a reunification of the Christian churches (Catholic and Orthodox) been possible?

7 Timur’s Planned Conquest of China (AD 1405)

Timur

Timur the Lame considered himself an heir to Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan. At the height of Timur’s power, and towards the end of his life, he appeared to be recognized as “Great Khan” by the remnants of the Mongol Empire in Central Asia, particularly the Chagatai Khanate, the Ilkhanate, the Golden Horde, and the Northern Yuan Dynasty. In establishing this dominance, Timur conducted cruel campaigns of conquest that killed millions of Asians—but he was far from satisfied. In the last years of his life, he intended on recreating practically all of Genghis and his successor’s empire by crushing the Ming Dynasty in China. But it was not to be: Timur died en route to China in 1405.

The year of his death is crucial to subsequent events for a variety of reasons. For one, after his death, his empire largely disintegrated in a manner somewhat reminiscent of how the Hunnic Empire did not survive Attila’s passing, and just as the Macedonian Empire faltered without Alexander. Had Timur lived longer and consolidated his empire, his influence on Asian history would have been even greater than it already is.

Second, with regards to China, the leader of China at the time of Timur’s planned invasion is one of China’s most notable emperors: The Yongle Emperor. His claim to fame stems largely from Zheng He’s famed voyages of explorations. Would these voyages have occurred had Yongle been preoccupied fighting a war against Timur? Perhaps, if Timur had won such a planned war, he might have taken up these voyages of exploration, but instead converted them into voyages of conquest.

6 Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Planned Conquest of China (AD 1592-1593)

Toyotomi

The second of the great unifiers of Japan during the Sengoku period was also the second man who planned a never-realized conquest of Ming China. Although more well-known for his campaigns in Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s ambitions went beyond unifying the Japanese islands to conquering Ming China. His attempted invasion through Korea, however, was met with a lack of enthusiasm by Koreans and ultimately the Ming Dynasty successfully resisted this attempted invasion.

The consequences of a successful Japanese conquest of Ming China would have been enormous. What kind of cultural exchanges would have occurred? What would such a conquest mean for the actual historic establishment of Tokugawa shogun ate in Japan after Hideyoshi’s death and the Manchu conquest of China in the mid-1600s?

5 Planned French Invasions of England (AD 1744 and 1759)

Louis XV

China is hardly the only major civilization threatened by unrealized or unsuccessful invasions during the early modern period. During King Louis XV of France’s long reign, he twice contemplated invasions of his neighbor across the Channel: England. The first plan, which included placing James Francis Edward Stuart on England’s throne as a French client, occurred during the War of the Austrian Succession and was cancelled after stormy weather wrecked the invasion force. France had another opportunity during the next major European war known as the Seven Years’ War, when France readied to transport 100,000 troops to invade England along with Charles Edward Stuart. They hoped for naval assistance from Denmark, Russia, and Sweden, which would include an invasion of Scotland as well. Negotiations with Stuart and the three aforementioned countries were unsuccessful, but France went ahead with its plans anyway—only to see them dashed with England’s great naval victory at the Battle of Quiberon Bay Novermb 1759.

If Charles Edward Stuart had cooperated and instigated a Jacobin uprising, if Sweden invaded Scotland, and Denmark and Russia assisted the French invasion force, could this even more ambitious plan than the 1744 attempt have succeeded? Had these schemes indeed succeeded, then by 1760 perhaps the Jacobite claimant to the English throne would have reigned as James III rather than the actual Hanoverian ruler, George III.

4The Planned Franco-Spanish Invasion of England (AD 1779)

Rock of Gibraltar

Okay, well, if neither Spain nor France could successfully invade England solo, what if they joined forces? They considered doing just that during the American Revolutionary War, which despite its name, was a world war fought in more than just America. The Franco-Spanish Armada consisted of sixty-six ships and 30,000 troops, with 400 transport boats assembling in France to transport an army of 40,000 to England. This Franco-Spanish Armada, however, would fail, just as the more famous joint Franco-Spanish invasion attempted by Napoleon also failed. Despite America winning its independence, America’s allies France and Spain didn’t manage to take Gibraltar and never accomplished their planned invasion of England. These failures had tremendous effects on these countries in the succeeding years.

One must ask what a more triumphant France at the end of the war would have meant for the reign of Louis XVI. Would we have had a French Revolution in the same manner? Would the 1800s be a Pax Gallica rather than a Pax Britannca?

3 Aaron Burr’s Plan to Create His Own Country (early AD 1800s)

Aaron Burr Trial

According to President Thomas Jefferson, former Vice President Aaron Burr of these United States of America schemed with General James Wilkinson to carve out their own independent nation. They intended to use land from some unknown amount of territory in either central or southwestern North America from lands within the Louisiana Territory and/or Mexico. Reportedly using Blennerhasset Island on the Ohio River as their base of operations, the conspirators were ultimately challenged by Ohio’s governor’s militia before Kentucky’s District Attorney brought up charges against Burr. The former vice president was arrested, tried, and acquitted.

If the plot had gained further steam before its unraveling, would it have meant a Civil War of sorts fifty years before America’s actual Civil War? Moreover, if America was embroiled in such a civil war in the early 1800s, how would it have affected the War of 1812?

2 Henri La Fayette Villaume Ducoudray Holstein’s Plan to Create the Boricua Republic out of Puerto Rico (AD 1822)

Puerto Rico

In the early 1820s, Henri La Fayette Villaume Ducoudray Holstein, a Germano-French veteran of the Napoleonic Wars planned to invade Puerto Rico, remove Spanish authorities, and declare an independent republic in its place. Holstein made contacts throughout the old and new worlds alike for economic support and settlers to join his expedition. Nevertheless, despite Spain’s dwindling influence in the Americas by this time, the country managed to maintain control of this colony for the time being and placed Holstein on trial before deporting him.

Had his plan succeeded, it would have added to the number of American colonies liberated from monarchic Spain as a republic during the first half of the nineteenth century. Yet, its potential significance concerns events at the end of the nineteenth century in that Puerto Rico was one of the contested territories fought over during the Spanish-American War. Had this territory achieved its independence in 1822, what would that have meant for the Spanish-American War, let alone the current situation of Puerto Rico, which is now an American commonwealth?

1 The Offer for Frederick William IV of Prussia to become German Emperor (AD 1849)

Germany

In 1848, a wave of revolutions tore through Europe in a manner perhaps foreshadowing the ongoing Arab Spring. Yet, unlike the Arab Spring, these revolutions did not topple as many of Europe’s government governments in quite the same dramatic fashion as we have seen in Egypt, Libya, and potentially in Syria. Yes, France went from monarchy to republic again, but the revolutionaries did not execute the abdicated king a la the Libyans with Muammar Gaddafi. In the lands of the Germanic Confederation, rather than overthrow a monarch, the revolutionaries actually hoped to elevate an existing king to position of German emperor.

Instead of accepting this honor, Frederick William dismissed it as a “crown from the gutter”, thereby denying Germans a chance to unify earlier than they actual would. Whereas Germany could have unified under a Prussian king in 1849, it instead fought a sequence of wars against Denmark, Austria, and France that resulted in thousands of deaths before finally creating a German Empire under a Prussian king anyway in 1871. By unifying through conquest, it put Germany on a more militaristic path and since they took away France’s territories of Alsace-Lorraine, it also helped plant the seeds of World War I.

For the sake of Germany, what would it have accomplished with two more decades to consolidate itself as a unified state? Would we still have experienced the tragedies of the twentieth century that grew, in part, out of the animosities established in the nineteenth century? Alas, as is the case with all these scenarios, for better or worse, we shall never really know.

10 Ways The Bible Was Influenced By Other Religions

If you are among the approximately 32 percent of the world population that considers themselves Christian, you were probably raised to believe that the Bible was written in some sort of historical vacuum—the various authors being inspired by God alone and having no outside influences whatsoever. However, the many books that make up the Bible were, in fact, written by a number of different authors, some of whom are unknown. And these men were influenced in a variety of ways. This is in accordance with historical patterns, and connections to older references can be found in almost any other religious and or historical text. Although this topic has been much debated, it’s commonly accepted by scholars today that the following parts of the Bible may have been influenced by other cultures:

 

10. The story of the Garden of Eden

10

In the Persian scriptures of the Zoroastrians, the Avesta tells the story of how Ormuzd created the world and the first two humans in six days and then rested on the seventh. The names of these two human beings were Adama and Evah. These texts date back as far as the 10th century B.C.

There is also a lot of evidence that the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest recorded texts in human history, had an influence on the biblical creation story. The Epic of Gilgamesh tells the story of a man, Enkidu, who was created from the earth by a god. He lives amongst the animals in a natural paradise until he is tempted by a woman, Shamhat. He accepts food from this woman and is forced to leave the place where he lives after becoming aware of his own nakedness. Later in the epic, he encounters a snake which steals a plant of immortality from him. Obviously, there are a lot of parallels between this story and the Graden of Eden from the Bible.

 

9. The Story of the Great Flood

9

A man is warned of an imminent flood by a god and is instructed to build a large boat in order to survive. The dimensions of the boat are 120 cubits; the building materials are wood, pitch, and reeds; and there are six decks. After the flood, the boat lands on a mountaintop where the man sends out a series of birds to find dry land. He eventually lets all the people and animals free and sacrifices to the god that saved him.

Now although these details sound like they were taken directly from the book of Genesis, you’d find the same information in the story of Utnapishtim, found in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

 

8. The Book of Proverbs

8

There are a large number of striking similarities between the book of Proverbs in the bible and the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope. Though all surviving texts of the Instruction of Amenemope are of a later date, the works are thought to have been composed during the 12th dynasty. There has been much debate on this topic, but modern scholars agree that there is enough compelling evidence to support the originality of the Instruction of Amenemope. Here are a few examples of the parallel verses:

Proverbs 22:17-18: “Incline thy ear, and hear the words of the wise: and apply thy heart to my doctrine. Which shall be beautiful for thee, if thou keep it in thy bowels, and it shall flow in thy lips.”
Amenemope ch1: “Give thine ear, and hear what I say, And apply thine heart to apprehend; It is good for thee to place them in thine heart, let them rest in the casket of thy belly; That they may act as a peg upon thy tongue.”

Proverbs 22:22: “Do no violence to the poor, because he is poor: and do not oppress the needy in the gate.”
Amenemope ch1: “Beware of robbing the poor, and oppressing the afflicted.”

Proverbs 23:1:
“When thou shalt sit to eat with a prince, consider diligently what is set before thy face.”
Amenemope ch23: “Eat not bread in the presence of a ruler, And lunge not forward with thy mouth before a governor. When thou art replenished with that to which thou has no right, It is only a delight to thy spittle. Look upon the dish that is before thee, And let that (alone) supply thy need.”

 

7. The Ten Commandments

7

In the Bible, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and were written on stone tablets, allegedly by the hand of God himself. This was thought to take place around 1490 B.C. However when one examines chapter 125 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead (around 2600 B.C.), it seems he may have had a little help. The Egyptian Book of the Dead reads like the Ten Commandments written in the Negative Confession. Some examples are:

Book of the Dead: “I have not blasphemed.”
Exodus 20:7: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain.”

Book of the Dead:
“I have not committed adultery, I have not lain with men.”
Exodus 20:14: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Book of the Dead: “I have not stolen.”
Exodus 20:15: “Thou shalt not steal.”

There is also some similarity between the story of the Ten Commandments and the Code of Hammurapi, dated around 1772 B.C.

 

6. The Canaanites

6

The origin of the Israelite nation is a little vague since the biblical accounts don’t always agree with archaeological evidence. According to the Bible, the Canaanites were a tribe of people who descended from Ham (the son of Noah). They were thought to be a cursed nation that the Israelites destroyed. However, conquests are never that simple, and it is widely accepted that the Canaanite religion had numerous influences on Judaism. Psalms 29 is a hymn that bears so much similarity to Ulgaritic (the language of the Canaanites) poetry that some believe that it was originally an hymn to Baal. Today scholars agree that the Israelites emerged from a Canaanite civilization in the early part of the second millennium B.C.

 

5. Isaiah

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There is an interesting correlation between the Gathas of Zarathushtra Yasna (the sacred texts of the Zoroastrians) and the chapter of creation and book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. This can be largely attributed to the influence that the Mesopotamians held over the Israelites during the time the Israelites were living in Babylon. Strangely, the book of Yasna asks questions which are answered directly in the book of Isaiah. There are countless other examples of influences from Zoroastrianism, but this one is very compelling. Some examples of these similarities texts are:

Yasna 44.3 :4-5: “who made the routes of the sun and stars? By whom the moon waxes and wanes?”
Isaiah 40:26: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these things: who bringeth out their host by number, and calleth them all by their names: by the greatness of his might, and strength, and power, not one of them was missing.”

Yasna 44.4:1-3: “who fixed the earth below and kept the sky above from falling?”
Isaiah 40:12: “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and weighed the heavens with his palm? Who hath poised with three fingers the bulk of the earth, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?”

 

4. Angels and Demons

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It must be clear by now that there were a number of ways that Judaism and Christianity have been influenced by Zoroastrianism. One of the primary examples is the existence, structure, and hierarchy of the angels and demons. According to scholars, the Zoroastrians were the first to believe in angels, the idea of Satan, and the ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil. Interestingly, Zoroastrian art portrays the prophet Zarathustra as being surrounded by the same halo of light in which Christian figures are often depicted.

 

3. Heaven and Hell

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Along with the idea of good and evil, the concept of Heaven and Hell seem to predate Judaism as well. Once again, we go back Zoroastrianism and Persian influence. The prophet Daniel was the first biblical figure to refer to ideas of resurrection and judgement in Daniel 12:2, and this can be easily attributed to Babylonian influence. The word “paradise” comes directly from the Persian religion of Mithraism. The word “Hell” seems to derive from the Norse word Hel, most certainly a pre-Christian concept. There are countless examples of Hell-like afterlives portrayed in pagan mythology.

In the New Testament, there are four different words used to describe Hell, all of which have been translated into English as “Hell”. They are “Sheol”, which means “place of the dead”; “Hades,” the Greek god of the underworld, “Gehenna,” a kind of garbage dump; and “Tartaro,” which means “to cast” or “throw”.

 

2. The Trinity

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While the New Testament definitely mentions the concepts of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew28:19), it makes no actual mention of the word “trinity,” and there is still some contention as to whether the trinity god-head is a biblical theme. Judaism teaches pure monotheism, while Catholicism favors the trinity concept.

Yet it is clearly a concept that was influenced by pagan religions existing at the time that Christianity came about. Examples of pagan trinities are: Amun, Re, and Ptah of Egyptian Mythology; Anu, Enlil, and Ea of Sumerian Mythology; and Ishtar, Baal, and Tammuz of Babylonian Mythology.

 

1. Aspects of the Messiah

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It is interesting to note the possible influence that other religions in existence at the time of Jesus may have had on his own philosophies. While the pagan aspects of the rituals surrounding Christian celebrations can easily be explained by the fact that these rituals were intended to replace pagan practices, the similarities in philosophy can only be explained through external influence. Although the fundamental aspects of the two religions differ greatly, there are still some remarkable parallels between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Buddha, Mithras, and Zarathustra.

Jesus:
“And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner.” (Luke 6:31)
Buddha: “Consider others as yourself.” (Dhammapada 10:1)

Jesus: “And to him that striketh thee on the one cheek, offer also the other. And him that taketh away from thee thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.” (Luke 6:29)
Buddha: “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words.” (Majjhima Nikaya 21:6)