2nd Century: Dodecahedron

DodecahedronThe following entry appears in the 1849 catalog of the miscellaneous collections of the Society of Antiquaries of London:

A singular object of bronze, in form of a hollow dodecahedron…with a ball attached to each angle; each of its pentagonal sides is pierced with a circular opening, the diameters of these perforations increasing gradually from six-tenths to about 1 ½ inch. Each side measures, in diameter, 2 1/5 inches. It was found in May, 1768, at a depth of about 8 feet, on the north side of St. Peter’s Church, Carmarthen. Several pieces of copper, curiously laid in flag-bricks, were found at the same time, but they crumbled to dust….A similar bronze dodecahedron, found with copper coins at Aston, in Hertfordshire, in a field called Hagdale, was exhibited to the Society by Mr. North, June 28, 1739….A third, resembling these, but of smaller size, and without balls at the angles, found near Fishguard, was sent by the Rev. Edward Harries of Llandysilio, Pembrokeshire, March 12, 1846.

Since Mr. North’s 1739 discovery, 116 pieces of similar dodecahedra have been found across Europe. They date generally to the Roman Empire—the second, third, and fourth centuries AD. They have been found in riverbeds, military camps, public baths, a theater, a tomb, a hoard, a temple, and in a filled well

Although dozens of theories have been put forth regarding the purpose and use of these objects, there is nothing close to a consensus. The dodecahedron has been seen as an amulet; the head of a mace or scepter; a measuring device; a rangefinder; a calibration gauge; an astronomical or fortune-telling device; a candle-holder; a military symbol; a toy; and a magical item. Evidence points away from some of these theories: they are not standard sizes and bear no signs or numbers, so it seems unlikely they were measuring devices; they do not roll well due to the soldered-on knobs, so they were not dice.

Scholars find no mention of them in ancient texts, and even precise dating is difficult since most of them were not found in archaeological excavations.

It is notable that, although found as far north as Hadrian’s Wall and as far east as Szőny in Hungary, none have been found in other parts of the Roman Empire—Italy, Africa, or present-day Spain.

The one pictured is housed in the Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland.

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1928: Damaged

Walker Evans - [Workers Loading Neon _Damaged_ Sign into Truck, West Eleventh Street, New York City] (1928-1930)

Walker Evans: [Workers Loading Neon “Damaged” Sign into Truck, West Eleventh Street, New York City] (1928-1930)

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19th Century: Provenance Unknown

American School (maybe) - A Child holding a Lizard (19th-20th Century)

Portrait of a child holding a lizard. Nineteenth or twentieth century, maybe American.

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1390: And the Books Were Opened

Jacobello Alberegno - Polyptych of the Apocalypse (c 1390) [detail]

Jacobello Alberegno’s polyptych of the Apocalypse was originally part of a much larger set of artworks in the church of the Benedictine convent of San Giovanni Evangelista on the Venetian island of Torcello; it is now on display in the Gallerie dell’Accademia. The five panels depict scenes from the Book of Revelations:

Jacobello Alberegno - Polyptych of the Apocalypse (c 1390)

The panels include the chapter number of the scene depicted:

XVII: I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

XX: And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

IV: behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

XIV: And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

XIX: And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.

“Him that sat on the horse” refers to an earlier passage: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.”

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1889: Artist-in-Residence

Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World - Courier Litho. Co., Buffalo, N.Y. (c 1896) small

Nathalie Micas and Rosa Bonheur (1864)The celebrated 19th century French painter and sculptor Rosa Bonheur was known for wearing men’s pants, shirts, and ties, as well as participating in traditionally masculine activities such as hunting and smoking. She lived with her lifelong partner, Nathalie Micas (left in photo), for over 40 years, eventually in a castle near Fontainebleau that she had purchased with her earnings as a painter.  They lived with a menagerie of farm animals, dogs, cats, and birds—as well as a tamed lioness named Fathma.

Micas’s death in June 1889 coincided with the arrival of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in Paris, as part of the Exposition Universelle, an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille and featuring the debut of the Eiffel Tower. In an effort to distract her from the tragedy of her partner’s death, Bonheur’s art dealer arranged for her to visit the event. At the time, Bonheur was likely the most famous living painter in Europe.

The American showman William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody had founded Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1883. The show featured a large company of performers—including many Native Americans and famous historical western figures like Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane —who would demonstrate horseback riding and sharpshooting skills, as well as staging simulations of “wild west” scenes like the riding of the Pony Express, Native American attacks on wagon trains, and stagecoach robberies.

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1961: A Song Bob Dylan Never Wrote

Bob Dylan typing

From Dylan’s Chronicles Volume One (2004):

I can’t say when it occurred to me to write my own songs. I couldn’t have come up with anything comparable or halfway close to the folk song lyrics I was singing to define the way I felt about the world. I guess it happens to you by degrees. You just don’t wake up one day and decide that you need to write songs, especially if you’re a singer who has plenty of them and you’re learning more every day. Opportunities may come along for you to convert something—something that exists into something that didn’t yet. That might be the beginning of it. Sometimes you just want to do things your way, want to see for yourself what lies behind the misty curtain. It’s not like you see songs approaching and invite them in. It’s not that easy. You want to write songs that are bigger than life. You want to say something about strange things that have happened to you, strange things you have seen. You have to know and understand something and then go past the vernacular. The chilling precision that these old-timers used in coming up with their songs was no small thing. Sometimes you could hear a song and your mind jumps ahead. You see similar patterns in the ways that you were thinking about things. I never looked at songs as either “good” or “bad,” only different kinds of good ones.

Some of them can be true to life cases. I’d been hearing a song around called “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill.” I knew that Joe Hill was real and important. I didn’t know who he was, so I asked Izzy at the Folklore Center. Izzy pulled out some pamphlets on him from the back room and gave them to me to read. What I read could have come out of a mystery novel. Joe Hill was a Swedish immigrant who fought in the Mexican War. He had led a bare and meager life, was a union organizer out West in about 1910, a Messianic figure who wanted to abolish the wage system of capitalism—a mechanic, musician and poet. They called him the workingman’s Robert Bums.

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1965: The Girl Who Took Care of the Turkeys

Turkey


The Girl Who Took Care of the Turkeys

Now we take it up.
(audience)Ye------s indeed.
There were villagers at the Middle Place

and
a girl
had her home 
there
at Wind Place
where she kept a flock of turkeys.
At the Middle Place they were having a Yaaya Dance.
They were having a Yaaya Dance, and
during the first day
this girl
wasn't
drawn to the dance. 
She stayed
with her turkeys 
taking are of them. 
That's the way
she lived:
it seems
she didn't go to the dance on the FIRST day, that day
she fed her turkeys, that's the way
they lived
and so
the dance went on
and she could hear the drum.
When she spoke to her turkeys about this, they said
“If you went
it wouldn't turn out well: who would take tare of us?" her 
        turkeys told her.
She listened to them and they slept through the night.
Then it was the second day
of the dance 
and night came. 
That night 
with the Yaaya Dance half over
she spoke to her big tom turkey:

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1808: Portrait of a Horse’s Ass

Henry Raeburn - George Harley Drummond (ca. 1808–9)

Henry Raeburn: Portrait of George Harley Drummond (ca. 1808–9); “It is curious…that the animal’s hindquarters should be so prominently displayed” says the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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250 BC: Thunder, Perfect Mind

Nag Hammadi Codices

In 1945, near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi, a farmer named Muhammed al-Samman discovered a sealed jar containing thirteen leather-bound papyrus codices. Written in the Coptic language and collectively known as the Nag Hammadi Library, these writings are usually referred to as Christian and Gnostic texts dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries; one of them, however, defies easy categorization: Thunder, Perfect Mind. Scholar and translator George MacRae writes:

In terms of the religious traditions represented in the Nag Hammadi collection, Thunder, Perfect Mind is difficult to classify. It contains no distinctively Christian, Jewish, or gnostic allusions and does not seem clearly to presuppose any particular gnostic myth. There are resemblances to the tone and style of the wisdom hymns in the Biblical and intertestamental wisdom literature, and the self-proclamations are similar to the Isis aretalogy inscriptions. But if the multiple assertions in these works are intended to assert the universality of Isis or of God’s wisdom, perhaps the antithetical assertions of Thunder, Perfect Mind are a way of asserting the totally other-worldly transcendence of the revealer. (source)

Here is MacRae’s translation of this enigmatic text:

I was sent forth from the power,
and I have come to those who reflect upon me,
and I have been found among those who seek after me.
Look upon me, you who reflect upon me,
and you hearers, hear me.
You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves.
And do not banish me from your sight.
And do not make your voice hate me, nor your hearing.
Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time. Be on your guard!
Do not be ignorant of me.
For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am <the mother> and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband
and he is my offspring.
I am the slave of him who prepared me.
I am the ruler of my offspring.
But he is the one who begot me before the time on a birthday.
And he is my offspring in (due) time,
and my power is from him.
I am the staff of his power in his youth,
and he is the rod of my old age.
And whatever he wills happens to me.
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

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1750: First Sleep, Second Sleep

French School - An Allegory of Sleep (mid 18th century)

That dreaming is a less sound species of sleep, appears from the familiar fact, which has probably been observed by every individual; viz. that the first sleep is much freer from it than the second. We retire to rest, fatigued by the exertions of the day, and sleep soundly for five or six hours: we wake, and then fall asleep again towards the morning, and dream the whole time of this second sleep.

— Abraham Rees: The Cyclopædia, Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature (1819)

Until the modern era, up to an hour or more of quiet wakefulness midway through the night interrupted the rest of most Western Europeans….Families rose from their beds to urinate, smoke tobacco, and even visit close neighbors. Remaining abed, many persons also made love, prayed, and, most important, reflected on the dreams that typically preceded waking from their “first sleep.” Not only were these visions unusually vivid, but their images would have intruded far less on conscious thought had sleepers not stirred until dawn. The historical implications of this traditional mode of repose are enormous, especially in light of the significance European households once attached to dreams for their explanatory and predictive powers. In addition to suggesting that consolidated sleep, such as we today experience, is unnatural, segmented slumber afforded the unconscious an expanded avenue to the waking world that has remained closed for most of the Industrial Age.

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