Sunday, December 31, 2006

Historical Questions for New Year's Eve

I was out having drinks with my friend Danyal last night, and I was telling her about how earlier this week a news item had declared that a researcher, after combing through the human bones and litter in the basement of an abandoned Tuscan church and then conducting DNA and chemical tests, had conclusively proven that Francesco Medici (and almost certainly his wife too) died of poisoning in the late 16th century---likely at the hands of his brother, Cardinal Fernando. Thus, a more-than-four-centuries-old rumour was confirmed. This led us into a sort of (admittedly somewhat nerdy) parlour game for while in which we thought of different things we would like to find out from history. I was thinking about this again today, and I occurred to me that, given that New Year's Eve is a time for looking back, I should record some of these for your amusement, gentle reader:

What was said in the fifteen-minute conversation between Charlotte Corday and Jean-Paul Marat between the time she was left alone with him while he sat in his bathtub (v. the famous David painting) and when she actually stabbed him to death?

What was the acting of Richard Burbage, David Garrick, Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean and others really like?

Did Jane Austen really talk in the way that she wrote?

What were Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed like, as public speakers? Is it blasphemous to wonder if they used notes?

What did Salome's dance look like?

Why, given that Hannibal, the legendary Carthaginian general, spent about sixteen years in Italy with his army, ravaging the country, did he never in all that time build siege equipment so that he could take the city of Rome?

How sexy really was Cleopatra? If the artists who portrayed her were competent and she had to make up for a none-too-prepossessing appearance, how exactly did she do that? A demonstration, please.

Did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid really die in Bolivia, or did they make it back to the USA?

If we can only see one of all the many lost Greek tragedies, can we please just see the most amazing of them? Is the very best of the Greek tragedies actually one of the extant group?

Was Shakespeare bisexual? Was he Catholic or Protestant?

Who were the dark lady and the fair young man of the sonnets?

What the hell was the book publisher Warburton's cook thinking when she used all those single copies of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays to line her pie pans?

What really did happen to Ambrose Small, the Canadian multi-millionaire owner of the Grand Theatres chain, who one day in Toronto in 1919 simply disappeared off the street in the block or two between his bank (where he had just deposited a check for $1 million) and his office? For that matter, what happened to Ambrose Bierce, the author of "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge" who disappeared in Mexico just a few years earlier? Was someone, after all, just collecting Ambroses?

1 comment:

Shauna Dobbie said...

Vexing questions, to be sure. Here are a few of mine:
What really happened on the Mary Celeste, the cargo ship found drifting, intact, with its seven crew, captain and two passengers missing?
What was the real story of Kaspar Hauser, the German youth who appeared one day in the 19th century with the story he'd lived his life in a cell with almost no human contact, who was brutally murdered just as mysteriously some time later?
What was really behind the Nazca Lines-- those geoglyphs in the Peruvian desert? I can buy that they could be plotted and made without benefit of aerial vision, but it seems like an awfully big job to orchestrate without the ultimate satisfaction of seeing the work, or of being praised by whatever unseen eye it was made for.
Does the pope believe he's infallible?

Beware the desire to know, though; something is lost in the solving of a riddle. Some of my innocence died at the age of 18 when my boyfriend (now husband) explained to me how magic baby bottles (the toy doll bottles that are full of milk or orange juice when upright, but empty out when tipped) work.