Friday, April 5, 2019

Michael Estabrook writes


Of everything over the millennia
in the history of the Earth
I would have loved most
to have walked among the dinosaurs
or met Abe Lincoln or Albert Einstein
or witnessed Jesus raising Lazareth
or handed some paints to Michelangelo
for his ceiling or heard Cleopatra’s voice
or watched Mozart conducting Don Giovanni
or acted in the first performance of Hamlet
or kissed Marilyn or helped Dante proof
a canto or two of his Commedia or shook hands
with Julius Caesar or Vincent van Gogh
or helped dig the Panama Canal or . . .
Cistine Chapel, Palatium Apostolicum, Stato della Città del Vaticano


  1. Abraham Lincoln is generally regarded as the greatest American president. He defeated the Confederate States of America, which had seceded from the US, and emancipated the slaves. A noted orator, he authored the Gettysburg address and the 2nd Inaugural, among other important speeches that defined the American political character. He was assassinated a week after the leading Confederate general surrendered his army, effectively ending the American Civil War.

    Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist who received the 1921 Nobel Prize "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect," a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory. He is better known for his theory of relativity, which, with quantum mechanics, is 1 of the 2 bases of modern physics. He also formulated "the world's most famous equation" (E = mc2), a mass–energy equivalence formula. His study of statistical mechanics and quantum theory led to his explanations of particle theory and the motion of molecules, and his investigation of the thermal properties of light provided the foundation for the photon theory.

    Jesus resuscitated Elʿāzār (Lazarus) of Bethany (modern al-Eizariya) 4 days after his death. The miracle was reported to religious authorities in Jerusalem and helped fuel their hostility which led to Jesus' death. Afterwards, according to Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, he spent the last 30 years of his life as the 1st bishop of Kition (modern Larnaka) on Cyprus, appointed by St. Paul. In the Catholic tradition he became the 1st bishop of Massalia (Marseille, France) and was imprisoned and beheaded during the reign of Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus.

  2. In 1447 Nicholaus V razed the fortified place built by the 12th-century pope Eugenius III to erect a new Palatium Apostolicum, the official papal residence. Sixtus IV restored the building's Cappella Magna (Great Chapel) between 1477-1480, and a series of frescos depicting the lives of Moses and Jesus (painted by Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, and others) were finished in 1482. At the same time a series of papal portraits was painted at the lower level of the windows. Iulius II hired Ghirlandaio's student Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni to paint the ceiling of the "Sistine Chapel" between 1508 and 1512. He was supposed to paint Jesus' disciples in the 12 triangular pendentives which support the chapel's vault, but instead Michelangelo painted a dozen men and women who had prophesied that God would send Jesus to save mankind, plus the ancestors of Jesus around the upper parts of the windows, plus 9 pictures showing the creation of the world, God's relationship with mankind, and mankind's fall from grace. Later, Clemens VII hired him to paint the Last Judgment on the altar wall (1535-1541), which he finished under the pontificate of Paulus III. As part of the project Michelangelo obliterated 2 sets of the ancestors he had created as well as several portraits of the popes and 2 scenes from the lives of Moses and Jesus. Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa (later, Paulus IV) objected to the nudity of some of the figures, but the pope, claiming that his jurisdiction did not extend to Hell, refused to intervene. Michaelangelo persuaded Paulus to appoint his young friend Daniele Ricciarelli (Daniele da Volterra) superintendent of the works of the Vatican; he also provided him with drawings that he executed as Jesus' descent from the cross in the Trinità dei Monti, and a David killing Goliath. After Michelangelo's death in 1564, Paulus IV's successor Pius IV had Daniele cover the genitalia in the Last Judgment with vestments and fig leaves, but due to the death of Pius he was unable to paint over the figures in the fresco's lower 1/2 since his scaffolding was removed so the conclave could meet to elect a new pope.

    Kleopatra VII Philopatora (Glory of her Father + Goddess Who Loves her Father) was the last independent ruler of Egypt. She was renowned for her romantic liaisons with Iulius Ceaser and Marcus Antonius, the subject of later plays by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.

  3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began composing at 5 and performing at 6. Before his death at 34 he wrote more than 600 symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral works. In 1787 he composed "Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni" (The Libertine Punished, namely Don Giovanni), based on the legend of Don Juan. The piece was supposed to premier on 14 October to mark the visit to Praha by future empress Maria Theresa and her new husband, but Mozart did not finish the score until 28 or 29 October, the day before its 1st performance. He revised it in the following year.

    William Shakespeare wrote "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" sometime between 1599 and 1602, based on François de Belleforest's adaptation of Saxo Grammaticus' 13th-century story of Amieth. A no-longer-extant version staged in 1587 may have been written by Shakespeare or Thomas Kyd.

    Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri made Tuscan the literary language of Italia, though he borrowed from other dialects and coined words of his own, via his "Comedia" written between ca. 1308 and 1320. (The "Inferno" section was published by 1317; the "Paradiso" perhaps after his death in 1321.

    Vincent van Gogh created over 2,100 artworks in just over a decade, including about 860 oil paintings, mostly in the last 2 years of his life before he killed himself at 37. "Vigne Rouge" (Red Vineyard), painted in 1888 on a piece of burlap, is the only 1 he sold in his lifetime. It was bought by Anna Bloch, the sister of Vincent's friend Eugène, for 400 francs.

    Marilyn Monroe was an iconic American actress noted for her marriages to New York Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller as well as her affairs with president John F. Kennedy (and possibly his brother attorney general Robert), comedians Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, and Georgie Jessel, director Elia Kazan, crooners Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Mel Torme, mob boss Sam Giancana, millionaire Howard Hughes, actor Marlon Brando, actresses Betty Grable, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Brigitte Bardot, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Russell, Greta Garbo, and many others. As photographer/paramour Sam Shaw remarked, "If Marilyn slept with every guy that claims he was with her, she would have never had time to make any movies.”

  4. Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla traveled to Colombia in 1884 to manage part of Ferdinand de Lesseps's effort to construct a canal through the province of Panamá, but the company went bankrupt in 1888. Bunau-Varilla returned to France and bought shares in the reorganized company. In 1899-1902 Colombia political factions waged a civil war, largely fought in Panamá. Bunau-Varilla traveled to the US and lobbied for the passage of the 1902 Spooner Act, which would buy out de Lesseps' company for $40 million. US secretary of state John M. Hay and Tomás Herrán y Mosquera, the Colombian chargé d'affaires in the US, signed a 1903 treaty for the US to lease a 6-mi-wide strip for $10 million and an annual payment of $250,000, but Colombia refused to ratify it. Bunau-Varilla told Roosevelt and Hay then sought support for a separatist revolt led by José Agustín Arango, Tomás Arias, and Federico Augusto Boyd López. On 2 November 1903, US warships blocked sea lanes to prevent Colombian troops from putting down the rebellion, and Panamá declared its independence on 3 November. The US unofficially recognized the new nation on 6 and 7 November and formally recognized it on 13 November. Bunau-Varilla bought the right to represent Panamá diplomatically, though he was French and had not lived in Panamá for 17 years. On 18 November he signed a treaty with Hay; the US agreed to buy out the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama for $40 million, and Panamá granted the US the right to construct and operate the canal in exchange for $10,000,000 plus another $250,000 a year, beginning 9 years after the canal began operations. Arango, Arias, and Boyd formed a provisional junta. The US officially took possession of the French property on 4 May 1904. Roosevelt appointed major George Washington Goethals as chief engineer in February 1907. He completed the canal in 1914 and served as the Canal zone's civil governor until 1916. Colombia did not recognize Panamanian independence until 1909, after receiving a $500,000 concession.


Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?