HE TRIED TO BE A GOOD PERSON, BUT JUST COULDN’T DO IT. —Roland Vikre

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Philanthropy, meaning “humanity loving,” is a word whose origins can be traced to ancient Greece and playwright Aeschylus’ description of Prometheus in his play Prometheus Bound.

By the 1700’s English lexicographer, Samuel Johnson added to the definition by defining philanthropy as, “Having a good-natured love of mankind.”

This good-natured aspect was made manifest during The Scottish Enlightenment when the act of becoming philanthropic was perceived as a “fitness” or, as a way of living in harmony with nature and one’s circumstances. Doing good deeds was proposed as an essential key to human happiness, and helped to build a commonwealth community. Thus, volunteering became a popular pastime among the wealthy, and societies, gentleman clubs, and mutual associations began to flourish.

In the above painting, the morally out-of-shape gentleman, however, whose philanthropic fitness has been woefully unrealized, laments: HE TRIED TO BE A GOOD PERSON, BUT JUST COULDN’T DO IT.

 

WHO’S THAT TAPPING AT MY DOOR? —Roland Vikre

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The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, tapping at my chamber door—
Only this, and nothing more.”
In this painting, reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s famously gloomy narrative poem  “The Raven” (1845), we see a striking resemblance to the artist himself in the role of Poe’s protagonist.

Poe’s story begins, on a bleak December evening with a young student attempting to bury his sorrows in the pages of an old book after the death of his girlfriend, Lenore. As he begins to nod off, he is startled awake by a late night tapping at his chamber door. Believing it to be a visitor and nothing more who has awaked him, he goes to the door but finds no one.

Troubled by the silence and once again longing for his lost Lenore, he whispers her name into the shadows only to be answered by the echo of his voice. This puzzling occurrence makes him increasingly fearful, but he tells himself it is probably the wind and nothing more.

As he returns to his chamber, he hears yet another tap, this time at the window, and louder than before.

With his heart racing, he runs to the window, opens the shutters, and watches as an ebony bird with a grave and stern demeanor flies in and perches above his chamber door.

“Tell me what thy lordly name is?” The student asks.

“NEVERMORE,” the bird responds.

“ No, really, what’s your name?

“NEVERMORE,” the bird says again.

“Will I meet Lenore in Paradise?”

“NEVERMORE.”

” All right then, when will you be leaving?”

“NEVERMORE.”

“ I mean how long will your shadow be thrown upon the floor?”

“NEVERMORE, NEVERMORE, NEVERMORE!”

Poe himself said the raven was meant to symbolize “mournful and never-ending remembrance.” Still, when you’re feeling downhearted and looking for an intelligent response to life’s questions, you might do better than to ask a bird.

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A PERSONAL FRIEND OF THE GREAT CARUSO —Roland Vikre

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Heralded as one of the most famous opera singers of all time, Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) rose from obscurity as an impoverished street singer to perform in virtually every major opera house in the world. A big guy with a hot temper, and a reputation as a perfectionist and a stickler for order, “The Great Caruso” had his greatness put to the test in a tragic real-life opera. With a cast of thousands and an improvised libretto, he was given a role for which he could not prepare.

On 18 April 1906, while visiting San Francisco for a celebrated series of concerts with the Metropolitan Opera, Caruso was rudely awakened at 5:12 in the morning by a violent jolt. A substantial amount of shaking and plaster falling followed and it became apparent that his was no ordinary nightmare. As the day’s drama unfolded, Caruso realized (as did all of San Francisco) that he had been significantly upstaged by California’s San Andreas fault!

Nerves rattled; he was escorted from his fifth-floor suite at The Palace Hotel by his devoted valet. With 54 steamer trunks full of costumes, memento’s, and self-portraits in tow, his valet trudged through the mayhem of Market Street. Able after some time, to commandeer a horse and cart to get The Maestro and his luggage ferried safely out of the city.

And so it was that the “Great” Caruso was made greater still by escaping the great San Francisco earthquake with a great amount of luggage, and the help of his great and loyal valet!
Bravo!

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“HE DIED FOR HIS COUNTRY, BUT NO ONE NOTICED.” Roland Vikre

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For all intents and purposes, medieval warfare was a grueling, gruesome, dysentery provoking pastime for the common foot soldier. But for the mounted, more well-to-do, sometimes noble knight, it could be an opportunity to increase land holdings, do some social climbing, cash in on ransomed prisoners, and enjoy the genteel accoutrements of a pillaged village.

Of course, there were drawbacks to being a mounted knight as well. For instance, at Agincourt, in 1415 (think Shakespeare’s Henry V), the English defeated a French army five times its size. Due in part, to the poor judgment of a good number of acquisitive French equestrians who could hardly wait to get their hands on the cream of English nobility and ransom them to the highest bidder.

Wearing heavy, steel, state-of-the-art armor in what must have seemed like a “shock and awe” moment; the French raced on horseback through the narrow, muddy swamp. French foot soldiers felled by the famous English longbow turned the constricted battlefield into an outright bottleneck. Undeterred, the ransom-hungry equestrians galloped on over their broken bodies—in many cases, drowning their fellow Frenchmen in the mud. Though English arrows were no match for their fancy French steel; the knights failed to appreciate (with disastrous consequences) that their horses could still be shot out from under them. (When you fall from your horse into the mud wearing 66-110 lb’s of steel, suffice to say, it’s not easy to get up no matter how good you look!)
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IMHOTEP SHOWING PHARAOH HIS PYRAMID DESIGN (THE GOD HORUS STANDS BY) —Roland Vikre

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Imhotep, meaning: “The one who comes in peace” (2655-2600 BC.), served under Egypt’s Third Dynasty, King Djoser, and is considered to be the worlds first architect and engineer. In addition to being responsible for the famous step Pyramid of Djoser—oldest wonder of the Seven Wonders of the World—he was able to pad his resume with such titles as: doctor, poet, philosopher, priest; scribe, sage, astrologer, interpreter of dreams, chief minister, and inventor of the papyrus scroll.

His own tomb remains unknown despite efforts to find it, and is believed to contain an assortment of sophisticated medical treatises that would, undoubtedly, blow our modern minds! As if we weren’t already impressed!

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“EIRIK’S FJORD” —Roland Vikre

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In 983 or so, after killing a couple of his neighbors, banished Norseman Erik the Red sailed west of Iceland and came upon a chilly island with a Fiord in the middle.
Not surprisingly, he named the Fiord after himself.
Then, in an attempt to make a very cold place sound better than it was and more hospitable to settlement, he named the island “Greenland”. Sadly, things did not go well for the Vikings on Greenland, and they disappeared by the 16th century.

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