Carl Friedrich Philip Von Martius’s Daring Explorations In Brazil

Men undertake explorations and great journeys for many reasons.  Some expeditions–such as those undertaken by Denham, Burton, Burckhardt, and others like them–are primarily focused on expanding geographical knowledge, commercial information, and ethnographic data.  Others, such as those of Humboldt, Rondon, Lewis and Clark, and von Barth, are more interested in the collection of scientific information about the natural world.  The Brazilian explorations of Carl Friedrich von Martius falls into the latter category.

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The Wrath Of Least Persistence

Everyone has heard the tired phrase, “path of least resistance.”  It represents a principle that I have no objection to.  Of course there is no reason to make more work for oneself without good reason.  No one is arguing with this idea.  All things being equal, the shortest path to a goal is usually the best.  But it occurred to me today to take this phrase and modify it a bit to create another principle, one perhaps equally valid, yet one far less frequently discussed.  Let us consider this new phrase:  the wrath of least persistence.  What do I mean by this?

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John Lewis Burckhardt’s Travels And Explorations In Nubia

J.L. Burckhardt’s intensity and determination clearly show in this engraving.

In a previous article we have sketched the life of John Lewis Burckhardt.  He was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1784 of a prominent family.  At the age of 16 his father moved the family to Leipzig; and four years after this they moved again to  Göttingen.  His family was staunchly opposed to the new Napoleonic government that had taken power in France, so he moved to London in July 1806 to seek employment prospects there.  At some point, and possibly influenced by the daring men he had contact with there, he decided on a career in exploration.

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David Mamet’s Film “Redbelt” (2008) (Podcast)

In this podcast we discuss David Mamet’s 2008 film Redbelt.  This is a great movie, and a worthy addition to his long line of films that explore the moral and ethical problems that men face as they try to reconcile their personal creeds with the world’s corrupting influences.  How we resolve this struggle will define what kind of man we are.  Mamet instinctively understands the necessity of masculine virtus in a world characterized by shifting loyalties, fair-weather friends, and moral corruption; this makes him, in a sense, the most “virtuous” filmmaker today.

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The Boar And The Wolf Of Sant’ Antonio

I will turn again to Biondo Flavio’s geographical compendium of Italy called Italia Illustrata, which was published in 1453.  Flavio traveled all over the Italian peninsula and recorded historical information, anecdota, and local customs of the Italian countryside in the late medieval period.  During his tour of Tuscany, he found himself in the region near the city of Petriolo.  Here there was a remote monastery dedicated to Sant’ Angelo named the Eremo di Sant’ Antonio in Val d’Aspra.  Flavio describes the place as being at the top of an irregular road threading through forested hills.  It was also an austere place, not lavish at all in its construction (ut ad parum sumptuose et minus laute aedificatum te conferas monasterium).

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What Were A Medieval Serf’s Feudal Obligations?

Sometimes I think historians have exaggerated the misery of the medieval serf in Europe.  I would not want to exchange my lot for his, of course, but it is a useful exercise to examine in detail just what his feudal obligations were.  There is no strict definition of “feudalism,” as it varied in time and place; but it found its fullest expression in medieval France.  To understand why it developed, we must appreciate the profound insecurity and chaos that most of Europe was plunged into after the fall of the western Roman Empire.  At that time, security and peace mattered more to the common man than his freedom; and the system worked well considering the environment of the times.

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The Painted Books Of The Maya: Surviving By A Hair

Sometimes the precious things of this world survive by just a hair.  Just a hair.  The difference between victory and defeat, between survival and ruin, between conquest and destruction, between glory and despair:  these are not differences of tremendous magnitude.  They are fine-line distinctions.  And when I say fine-line, I mean very fine.  Fortune loves to play games with us, and when she casts her dice to predict our fate, the outcome often hangs by a hair.  By such threads does the fate of man so perilously hang.

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