The Contextual Guide and Internet Index to Western Civilization
Most of the individual figures and objects in the graphic
below are linked to profiles which have been assembled here into
this document. Their sources include various Grid Lists and Historical and Period Essays from the program. Three of
the figures shown below (Jesus of Nazareth, Charlemagne and Elizabeth I) are linked to their respective Historical Essays
which are included among the samples shown on this website. In the case of several other figures (Alexander the Great,
William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, and Queen Victoria) who have separate essays in the program (but not included
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Key to Figures and
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(items in bold text link to separate sample essays)
Jacob -- Homer -- Apollo -- Aphrodite (Venus) -- Parthenon -- Alexander the Great -- Julius Caesar -- Jesus
Cleopatra -- Caesar Augustus -- Charlemagne -- Petrarch -- Boccaccio -- William Shakespeare -- Elizabeth I
Horatio Nelson -- Thomas Jefferson -- Thomas Gainsborough -- Napoleon -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Charles Darwin -- Queen Victoria -- Nicholas II -- Brancusi -- Picasso -- Giacometti
Homer, a contemporary of Amos, the first Biblical writing prophet, was a shadowy figure about whom we know almost nothing other than that, according to Herodotus, he was a Greek from Ionia on the west coast of Asia Minor. What we do know is that the two great epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are attributed to an author named Homer, traditionally depicted as a blind minstrel, i.e., a bard or poet-performer who wandered from place to place singing tales that had come down to him from a very old oral tradition. These tales, which took shape over a long period of time, were about a joyous, conquering people, their victories, their trials, their courage, their heroes and their gods. They are the first and the greatest epics of our civilization. Suffice it to say, the Iliad and the Odyssey are also the first of Encyclopedia Britannica's "Great Books of the Western World."
Writing in the Greek alphabet probably began c.750 B.C. (The earliest surviving words in the Greek alphabet are graffiti inscribed on rocks and pots (i.e., ceramic jars, etc.) dating from c.750 B.C.) If Homer was a writer (and this is by no means certain), perhaps he was so impressed with the new possibilities for language that he decided to put his tales into a more permanent form. In any event, nothing like the originals have come down to us.
The Iliad and Odyssey as we know them today (though they show many signs of an oral ancestry) are based on texts edited in the 6th century B.C. for use in Athens and further edited by Zenodotus of Ephesus in the 3rd century B.C.; Zenodotus was the first to divide each epic into 24 books. Some scholars even argue that the Iliad and Odyssey were written by different authors. [The arguments seem long and fruitless, especially given the paucity of evidence. But Aristotle believed they were both written by one Homer, and Aristotle shouldn't be ignored lightly!]
THE TROJAN WAR
Both the Iliad and the Odyssey are epic poems dealing with legends about the Trojan War between the Achaeans (i.e., the Greeks) and the Trojans. According to Homer, the war began when Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world and wife of Menelaus, king of Achaea (or Sparta), was taken captive by Paris, the son of king Priam of Troy. [Ilium, i.e., Troy, was supposedly founded by Ilus.] Menelaus, his brother Agamemnon (king of Argos, or Mycenae), and his friends Achilles (a great warrior), Odysseus (warrior prince of Ithaca), Ajax, Diomedes and Nestor rounded up armies, set sail for Troy and began a war that lasted 10 years.
(For more on the Trojan War, see Trojan War reference in Greek History Grid 1.)
In 1870 the great 19th-century archeologist Heinrich Schliemann began excavations near Hissarlik (Turkey) and found the remains of Homer's Troy. Schliemann said the walls were some 16 feet thick in places. Though some have suggested that there never was a Trojan War, most scholars believe that a battle of some sort did take place in Troy around 1200 B.C. Herodotus said that Troy fell in 1250 B.C., but recent scholarship suggests a later date, agreeing with Eratosthenes, who thought the date was 1184 B.C.
(For more on ancient Troy, see the Heinrich Schliemann profile.)
Homer's favorite meter was dactylic hexameter. (Dactylic refers to 1 long and 2 short syllables, hexameter refers to a line of verse having six metrical feet.) And what use he makes of language with his famous verbal repetitions, e.g., "wine-dark sea," "rosy-fingered dawn," "fleet-footed Achilles," "Zeus the cloud-gatherer," "much-enduring Odysseus."
A 24-book epic in dactylic hexameters. In the Iliad the main protagonists are Achilles, the paradigm tragic hero representing the Greek ideal of bravery, and Hector, the Trojan hero and son of king Priam of Troy slain by Achilles. The Iliad, which covers only a few months during the tenth year of the Trojan War, opens with a violent quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles over war booty involving a woman. Owing to his hurt pride, Achilles sulkingly refuses to help the Achaean war effort. Indeed, the consequences of Achilles' terrible pride, temper and uncontrollable anger are felt by everyone in the story.
Eventually his best friend Patroclus convinces Achilles to join the fray and, in the ensuing battle, Hector slays Patroclus. A big mistake! Achilles' revenge is terrible. He kills Hector, ties his corpse to a chariot and drags him about by the feet until the grieving Priam comes to beg for his son's body. His iron heart finally moved to compassion by a father's love, Achilles relents and agrees to give up Hector's corpse for burial in the most moving moment in the epic. The Iliad ends with Hector's funeral.
Mythological events occurring between the Iliad and Odyssey :
After a long stalemate, owing to Troy's impenetrable walls, Odysseus had the bright idea of building an enormous hollow wooden horse filled with Greek soldiers. The Trojans were happy with the colossal gift and brought the horse into the city. Under the cover of darkness, the Greek soldiers emerged and signaled waiting ships to bring back the rest of their soldiers. Troy fell to the Greeks (hence the expression, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts") and Helen was reunited with her husband Menelaus. The story of the Trojan Horse, only referred to in the Odyssey, originated in the Epic Cycle and gets a full treatment by Virgil in his Aeneid, where Odysseus is called by his Latin name, Ulysses.
A 24-book epic in dactylic hexameters. In the Odyssey, the main protagonist is the unconquerable and amazingly resourceful Greek warrior Odysseus (later called Ulysses by the Romans), heir to the throne of Ithaca who, after ten years fighting in the Trojan war, spent another ten years sailing back home to his wife, Penelope, his son Telemachus and his father Laertes, the aged king of Ithaca. During Odysseus' ten-year voyage back to his home in Ithaca he lost all of his comrades and ships and had to return disguised as a beggar. It is a remarkable tale of man's triumph over adversity.
The Odyssey opens on the island of Ogygia where an assertive and amorous nymph/goddess named Calypso (the daughter of Atlas) had detained Odysseus as a prisoner/lover for 7 years until Zeus ordered her to release him. Not even Calypso's promises of immortality and eternal youth prove enough of an enticement for Odysseus to forget his family. After leaving for home, the Greek hero experiences a series of amazing adventures. On one occasion, a party of Odysseus' men go ashore on the island of the lotus eaters, eat the lotus plants and promptly give up all thoughts of wanting to return home; Odysseus has them dragged back to the ships.
Another time, the men arrive on the island of the Cyclops, fierce one-eyed giants who were the sons of Poseidon. Odysseus and 12 men enter the cave of Polyphemus, the most ferocious of the Cyclops, where the monster eats 6 of the Greeks before Odysseus burns out the giant's eye after getting him drunk on wine.
Boulder-hurling cannibals, Circe (an enchantress who changed Odysseus' men into swine), a trip to Hades (where he met Achilles, who had been slain by Hector's brother Paris), seductive sirens, Scylla and Charybdis (the monster guardians of the narrow Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily; Scylla was a 6-headed sea monster whose tentacles could grab sailors from their decks and Charybdis was a terrifying whirlpool that sucked everything down to the bottom of the sea), horrific winds and terrible storms (summoned up by Poseidon in revenge for the death of his son Polyphemus) make up the wonderful tales that have burned themselves into Western civilization's collective memory.
Homer has a wonderful power to move us through the struggle of his heroes against their foes and destiny itself. The unsurpassed classical scholar Michael Grant writes,
Alexander the Great carried the Iliad with him in a jeweled casket and is said to have memorized all the passages that refer to his hero Achilles.
There are over 30 English translations of the Iliad and Odyssey to choose from. The famous verse translations by Chapman and Pope are works of art in their own right. The modern verse translations by Robert Fitzgerald and Richmond Lattimore are perhaps the most highly regarded today, but the prose version of the Odyssey by Walter Shewring is also excellent. To be sure, a lot is always lost in translation, but a terrific story remains a terrific story!
A Companion to Homer (1962) by Alan Wace and Frank Stubbings is recommended. W.B. Stanford's The Ulysses Theme (1954) traces Odysseus' appearances in later works. Jasper Griffin's Homer (1980), Homer on Life and Death (1980) and Homer: The Odyssey (1987) are simply wonderful. [Jasper Griffin is a true British national treasure.]
Apollo (= Roman Apollo), god of the sun and patron of prophesy, medicine, truth, reason, law, order, poetry, music and archery, was the son of Zeus. His wisdom produced the two basic tenets of Greece: "Know thyself" and "Nothing in excess," known as the Golden Mean. He created the Oracle of Delphi that gave both good and bad prophesies to the Greeks.
Aphrodite (= Roman Venus) was the goddess of love and beauty. She presided over "rapture, embraces and caresses," according to the poet Hesiod. Her footsteps produced flowers and she was followed by a bevy of sparrows and doves. Ares, the god of war, was her lover. Several children were born to them, among whom were Fear and Terror. She is reputed to have put temptation in Zeus' way on many occasions, causing him to be unfaithful to his wife and sister, Hera.
The Parthenon, built c. 440 B.C. by Callicrates and Ictinus, is greatest of all Doric temples. Successively altered and finally partially destroyed in the 17th century, fragments of the sculptures were saved by Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin, a British diplomat, who removed them to London. The Greek government is demanding their return. The principal architect to Pericles on this Acropolis project was Ictinus working in perfect harmony with Callicrates.
The Parthenon is a regular Doric temple, differing from its predecessors in having eight rather than six columns across the front, and seventeen rather than thirteen across each side. The columns are also higher in proportion to their thickness than their predecessors, lending a sense of grace and lightness to the structure. The stylobate, or upper platform, rises several inches in the centre to eliminate the sense of sagging, and the columns are placed closer together and lean inward as we approach the corners. The east and west pedimenta, or cornices, are filled with larger-than-life-sized statues; the ninety-two metopes, or slabs between the protruding stone beams, were sculpted in high relief, and a continuous frieze ran right around the building for a total length of 550 feet.
The Parthenon was painted with details of bright blue and red with ornaments of metal. Its magnificent array of sculptures was produced in only 12 years. It is believed that all were created under the supervision of Phidias. The two surviving statues represent the Birth of Athena and the Contest Between Athena and Poseidon. Compositions were not symmetrically organised but were arranged to support the action, which came to its climax towards the center.
The Three Goddesses who reclined in a group on the cornice of the east pediment represent a shift in stylistic emphasis from the past, being endowed with an energy resulting from the swirls of drapery which reveal rather than conceal the elements of the figures. Battle scenes, with the combatants being grouped by two's, show an incredible richness of invention. Once inside the east entrance the observer stood in the awesome presence of Phidias' 40-foot high statue of Athena. Ivory and gold were used in the construction; all fleshy parts were ivory and all draperies were gold. In Athena's right hand stood a 6-foot figure of Victory.
Famous Roman general, statesman, scholar, historian and poet assassinated on the Ides (15th) of March 44 B.C. On his return from a successful governorship of Spain in 60 B.C. Caesar made an informal alliance with Pompey and Crassus, usually called the First Triumvirate. In 58 B.C. he assumed the governorship of Illyricum (Yugoslavia), Cisalpine Gaul (modern northern Italy) and the southern part of Cisalpine Gaul (modern France) and spent the next 8 years conquering the rest of Gaul. In 51 B.C. having finally subjugated the whole of France, Caesar wrote brilliantly of his triumphs in his Commentarii de bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War, aka Gallic War), the only writings of his that survive complete.
The Commentaries on the Gallic War, covering the period from 58 to 52 B.C., were published in 51 B.C. in 7 books, each of which covers the campaigns of a single year. (An 8th book was written by Caesar's lieutenant, Aulus Hirtius.) Caesar tells of subduing German and Belgian tribes and of crossing the Rhine and invading Britain. The first invasion of Britain (55 B.C.) went badly and Caesar withdrew, only to attack again, successfully, with larger forces.
After further revolts by the Gauls, Caesar finally subdued it completely by 52 B.C. and wrote the famous words every Latin student knows, "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" ("All Gaul is divided into three parts").
Commentarii de bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War, aka Gallic War) are 3 books of memoirs on Caesar's civil war against Pompey. The first 2 books cover the events of 49 B.C. and the 3rd those of 48 B.C. After the death of Crassus in 53 B.C. Pompey and Caesar became joint heads of state. But in 49 B.C., partly through Pompey's influence, Caesar was ordered by the senate to disband his army and specifically instructed not to cross the Rubicon (i.e., the little river separating Cisalpine Gaul and Italy proper). Caesar did not disband his army, he did cross the Rubicon (on 10 January 49 B.C.) and the Civil War was launched. Caesar rapidly overran Italy but he failed to prevent Pompey's escape to Greece. (Plutarch reports that Caesar said, "Iacta alea est" ("The die is cast") when he crossed the Rubicon.)
Caesar defeated Pompey's forces at Pharsalus and pursued him to Egypt (in what is known as the Alexandrian War). Caesar arrived 3 days after Pompey was murdered (48 B.C.) by an officer of King Ptolemy and proceeded to reinstate his mistress Cleopatra as queen of Egypt. Caesar then proceeded to Asia Minor and defeated Pharnaces of Bosporus at Zela in a battle that occasioned (according to both Plutarch and Suetonius) his famous boast, "Veni, vidi, vici" ("I came, I saw, I conquered"). In 46 B.C. Cleopatra followed Caesar to Rome, but returned to Egypt after his murder. (In 41 B.C. she met Marc Antony, but that is another story.)
Cassius and Brutus joined in a conspiracy against Caesar and stabbed him to death in the senate house on 15 March 44 B.C. (Suetonius reports that Caesar said "Et tu, Brute?" ["You too, Brutus?"] when he was murdered.) [Dante in the Inferno, put Cassius and Brutus together with Judas Iscariot in the lowest circle of Hell.]
The superb Classical scholar Moses Hadas (A History of Latin Literature) says, "Caesar claims a place in literature in his own right as a man of letters." The great German historian Theodor Mommsen called Caesar "the sole creative genius ever produced by Rome." Most scholars give Caesar high marks for objectivity, notwithstanding his desire to justify his own behavior in the events he so ably described. Pride and blame are held to a minimum, though Caesar never fails to praise the loyalty and bravery of his own soldiers. He also emphasized that he always kept within the limits of the law of the Republic. Caesar's masterful, forceful and vivid descriptions of warfare have been studied by military men ever since. [Napoleon studied the Commentaries in his last year on St. Helena.]
The splendid Classical historian Michael Grant writes, "Caesar, like very few men (except perhaps Sir Winston Churchill), wrote about his times so ably as he dominated them." Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra are almost essential reading.
H.J. Edwards' Gallic War (1917) and A.G. Peskett's Civil War (1914) are available in the estimable "Loeb Classical Library," as are almost all important Classical texts. S.A. Handford's Caesar: The Conquest of Gaul (1951) and J.F. Mitchell's Caesar: The Civil War (1967) are also reliable editions. J.P.V.D. Balsdon's Julius Caesar (1967), Matthias Gelzer's Caesar, Politician and Statesman (1968), Michael Grant's Julius Caesar (1972), Peter B. Ellis' Caesar's Invasion of Britain (1978), John Buchan's Julius Caesar (1980) and Roger Bruns' Julius Caesar (1987) are recommended. F.E. Adcock's Caesar as Man of Letters (1936) is still useful.
Italian poet laureate (crowned in Rome in 1341 -- Petrarch was very keen on public acclaim!), classical scholar and diplomat. Most scholars agree that Petrarch was the first important humanist, enlisting the almost worshipful young Boccaccio in his interest in and enthusiasm for classical (i.e., Greek and Latin) letters. After his crowning with the laurel wreath as poet laureate, Petrarch became a European celebrity. Owing to his wide travel in the service of rulers and wealthy patrons (e.g., working for such noble houses as the Carrara at Padua, the Malatesta at Rimini, the Este at Ferrara, the Visconti at Milan and the Gonzaga at Mantua), Petrarch was able to track down and assemble a library of ancient Latin MSS (e.g., orations and letters of Cicero, Virgil, Quintilian, Livy, etc.).
His only acquaintance with Greek literature was through Latin translations, though he studied Greek with Calabrian Barlaam (c.1290-c.1350), an Italo-Greek monk and humanist who influenced the study of Greek culture in Florence. In 1366 Boccaccio presented Petrarch with a Latin translation of Homer. Leontius Pilatus, Boccaccio's Greek teacher, also studied with Barlaam.
On 6 April 1327 Petrarch first set eyes on Laura in the church of Santa Clara at Avignon; he was never the same. Laura became the object of his poetic life. Her real identity is unknown, though some scholars identify her as Laure de Noves, wife of Hugues de Sade of Avignon (they married in 1325 and had 11 children). Laura died of the Black Death on 6 April 1348, the very day he first saw her 21 years before!
Petrarch's unrequited love and passion for his Laura, the personification of his concepts of beauty and womanhood, was the inspiration of his life and became the central theme of his greatest work, the 366 Italian poems known as the Canzoniere (Songbook). Also called his Rima sparse or Scattered Lyrics, these Italian poems include 317 sonnets, 29 odes, 9 sestine, 7 ballate and 4 madrigals, most of which are dedicated to the unattainable Laura.
Vergine bella, an ode to the Virgin Mary set by many later composers (e.g., Dufay, Palestrina), was called by Macaulay "perhaps the finest hymn in the world." With this collection Petrarch made the sonnet popular and influenced such diverse later poets as Boccaccio, Chaucer, Wyatt, Henry Howard (Early of Surrey), du Bellay, Ronsard, Spenser, Sidney and Shakespeare.
Like Dante's Beatrice, Laura is a symbol for and guide toward heavenly love. But while Dante's love of Beatrice is idealized, Petrarch's passion, though only expressed in his writing, was far more human, running the whole gamut of a lover's emotions, except for the joy of intercourse itself.
(mostly written and/or revised after the death of Laura in 1348)
E.H. Wilkins, The Life of Petrarch (1961) is a good source.
The first great Italian prose writer and humanist. Boccaccio spent most of his life (after 1340) as a prolific man of letters in Florence, where he was a friend and great admirer of Petrarch, whom he met in 1350. From 1328 to 1350, living alternately in Florence and Naples, he wrote novels, tales and poems. After meeting Petrarch in 1350 Boccaccio became a Florentine diplomat and devoted himself to the cause of new learning or humanism.
His home became an important center of classical studies in Florence. Boccaccio encouraged the study of Greek and was even [incorrectly] said to have been the first modern Western European to have learned Greek. [Boccaccio's Greek teacher was Leontius, a pupil of Calabrian Barlaam. Boccaccio arranged for Leontius Pilatus, who translated Homer and some Aristophanes and Aristotle, to teach Greek at the University of Florence in the early 1360s.]
Boccaccio was also the first to deliver a series of public lectures on Dante's Divine Comedy. After living a life of hefty carnal indulgence, Boccaccio had a change of heart after a spiritual crisis and rejected all vernacular (i.e., Italian in his case) writing as sinful. In later life he was sorry for his coarser, lustier early days and, as a recluse and penitent, wrote a recantation of his former behavior and writings. His later works, scholarly tomes written in Latin with an interest in classical antiquity, were important in the growth and advance of humanism. But as literature they can't hold a candle to his masterpiece, the Decameron.
V. Branca, Boccaccio: the Man and His Works (1976) is a good source.
Third president of the United States (1801-1809), principal author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776), governor of Virginia (1779-1781), U.S. minister to France (1785-1793), first U.S. secretary of state (1790-1793), vice-president of the United States (1797-1801) and founding president and architect of the University of Virginia. Notwithstanding so stunning a curriculum vitae, Jefferson said he wanted only three things written on his tombstone. His own inscription recounts merely that he was "Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia."
A brilliant and leaned man of extraordinary and wide ranging interests, Jefferson was also a philosopher (he served as president of the American Philosophical Society from 1797 to 1815), scholar (his 10,000-volume library became the nucleus of the Library of Congress), linguist (Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish and American Indian languages), architect (his designs for the capitol at Richmond, the original buildings of the University of Virginia and his own Monticello, one of the most beautiful historic homes in America, stimulated the classical revival in U.S. architecture), farmer (he introduced the threshing machine into the United States) and naturalist (he was one of the first Americans to employ crop rotation and his Notes of the State of Virginia [1784, Paris] remains a valuable source of information about the natural history of Virginia). Many regard Jefferson as the most versatile intellectual of all U.S. presidents.
A wealthy Virginia farmer and the son of one, Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, studied law with George Wythe and began his political career as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses (1769-1775). [A trip to the fabulously restored and preserved Colonial Williamsburg is in order for all those who love American history.] In 1770 Jefferson began building his magnificent Monticello on land inherited from his father. He achieved some fame with an anti-British political pamphlet, A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), in which he argued that "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."
Jefferson was sent to Philadelphia as a member of the Virginia delegation to the Second Continental Congress in 1775 and was asked to chair a committee of five (Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman) which would draft the Declaration of Independence. Its adoption by the Second Continental Congress on 4 July 1776 is considered the birthday of the United States of America. The work is almost entirely Jefferson's, with a few minor alterations by Franklin, John Adams and a few others.
Though Jefferson's ideas were based on the natural-rights theory of government derived from John Locke's On Civil Government (1690), his choice of words and turns of phrase have inspired and thrilled everyone committed to freedom and opposed to tyranny.
Jefferson returned to Virginia in 1776 and served until 1779 in the House of Delegates. His bill on religious liberty, which touched off a quarrel that lasted for 8 years, stated that "all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions on matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." Considered by many to be an attack on Christianity, it did not pass until 1786, and then only with the help of James Madison, who would later serve as President Jefferson's secretary of state.
Succeeding Patrick Henry, Jefferson served as governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781 (he moved the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond) and returned to the Continental Congress from 1783 to 1785. His Notes on the Establishment of a Money Unit and of a Coinage for the United States recommended the use of a decimal system and the adoption (1792) of the dollar rather than the pound as the basic monetary unit of the new nation. Though a slaveowner himself, Jefferson proposed that slavery should be excluded from all the new western territories, believing that slavery was an evil that should not be permitted to spread. Congress eventually agreed with him and the Ordinance of 1787 establishing the Northwest Territory prohibited slavery there after 1800.
Jefferson was sent to France in 1784 with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Jefferson served as U.S. minister to France from 1785 to 1789, succeeding Franklin. In those heady days of the French Revolution, Jefferson sympathized with the moderate reformers. He disliked the later violence and imperialism of Napoleon.
George Washington appointed Jefferson the first U.S. secretary of state in 1789 but he resigned in 1793 owing to his disagreements with the pro-British Alexander Hamilton. (Hamilton, much more of a federalist, clashed with Jefferson's strong views on states' rights.) After Washington decided not to run for a third term in 1796, Jefferson became the reluctant presidential candidate of the Democratic-Republican party and lost in a narrow electoral college vote (71 to 68) to John Adams; as runner-up, Jefferson became vice-president (1797-1801) under the system then in effect.
In the election of 1800 Jefferson and Aaron Burr both ran for president against the Federalist John Adams. Jefferson's Democratic-Republican party, as the Liberals were then called, won the election but both the party's candidates were considered to be running for president and the one who garnered the most votes became president and the other vice-president. Jefferson tied with Burr in electoral votes and the election was shifted to the House of Representatives, where, with Hamilton's help (Hamilton considered him the lesser of two evils), the tie was resolved in Jefferson's favor. He was the first president inaugurated in Washington, D.C., a city he helped plan. Jefferson's election to a second term was much less difficult.
Most scholars regard the Louisiana Purchase (1803), which nearly doubled the land area of the United States, and the commissioning of the Lewis and Clark expedition as Jefferson's main presidential achievements, though he is also admired for championing freedom of the press, even when he was the subject of vicious attacks. "The public judgment will correct false reasonings and opinions, on a full hearing of all parties; and no other definite line can be drawn between the inestimable liberty of the press and its demoralizing licentiousness."
Jefferson described himself as a Christian but opposed what he regarded as corruptions committed by the church. His devotion to the separation of church and state earned him denunciations from New England clergymen who called him an atheist. Jefferson's The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth remained unpublished until the 20th century.
After his retirement from public life, Jefferson devoted himself to reading the classics in the original (e.g., Thucydides and Tacitus) and the establishment and design of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville which he founded. (Chartered in 1819, it opened in 1825.)
Thomas Jefferson died at his beloved Monticello on 4 July 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. His old friend and political rival, John Adams, died on the same day! The classical revival Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. is one of the most beautiful sights in that city, especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom!
Dumas Malone's 6-volume Thomas Jefferson and His Time (1948-1981) is the standard biography. Daniel Boorstin's The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (1948), Merrill Peterson's Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography (1970), Lally Weymouth, ed., Thomas Jefferson: The Man, His World, His Influence (1973), Fawn Brodie's Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (1974), Henry Steele Commager's Jefferson, Nationalism and the Enlightenment (1975), Page Smith's Jefferson: A Revealing Biography (1976), Noble Cunningham's In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson (1987) and Willard Randall's Thomas Jefferson: A Life (1993) are recommended. Nathan Schachner's 2-volume Thomas Jefferson: A Biography (1951) remains a good popular biography and Bernard Mayo's edition, Jefferson Himself (1942) is an excellent selection of writings.
The most influential English painter of the 18th century, Gainsborough painted portraits in the tradition of Van Dyck and was also a landscape painter. His full-figure portraits are magnificently garbed in Rococo dress: The Blue Boy, Mary Countess Howe and The Honourable Mrs Graham (c.1775). The portraits were meant to decorate the grand staircases of fashionable town houses and country homes. Gainsborough was fond of using sumptuous landscape to enhance his portraits. "The Age of Sensibility" was a transitional time in England and Romantic "naturalness" was put above the surfaceness of the Rococo, as in the portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan (c.1785). The Market Cart (1787) shows the "naturalness" introduced to his work.
English poet, philosopher (see Coleridge profile in Romantic Religion/Philosophy Essay) and critic best known for his 3 poems, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798), "Kubla Khan" (1797, pub. 1816) and "Christabel" (1797, pub. 1816), and his Biographia Literaria (1817), a major work of literary criticism. Coleridge, Wordsworth (whom he met in 1795) and Robert Southey (whom he met in 1794) are known as the "Lake Poets," living as they did in the Lake District in England.
In 1800 Coleridge and his wife, Southey's sister-in-law, settled in Keswick, near Wordsworth in the Lake District. He proceeded to fall in love with Sara Hutchinson, a sister of Wordsworth's wife-to-be. In 1802 Coleridge's domestic unhappiness led to "Dejection: An Ode," originally a verse-letter to Sara Hutchinson. Much of Coleridge's life was a disaster.
In their early years, Coleridge, Wordsworth and Southey were idealists and enthusiasts for the French Revolution and its promise of liberty. Coleridge and Southey, who collaborated on a worthless verse-drama, The Fall of Robespierre (1794), were both disgusted with the conservatism of England and planned to found a utopian agricultural society where everyone would be equal, a "Pantisocracy," on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania (chosen for its romantic sound). The project collapsed for lack of funds.
Like Wordsworth, Coleridge attended Cambridge University, visited Germany, fell in love with the Lake District and turned his back on the idealism of his youth, dying a Tory (i.e., conservative.) Coleridge expressed his bitter disillusionment with the repressive French Revolutionary government in a poem entitled "France, An Ode" (1798). An annuity from the brothers Thomas and Josiah Wedgwood enabled him to pursue his literary career.
On his German visit in 1798, Coleridge became a student of German literature and philosophy, especially taken with the thought of Kant, Lessing, Schiller and Schelling. On his return to England he became the most influential English interpreter and champion of German Romanticism.
In 1798 Coleridge and Wordsworth collaborated on the publication of Lyrical Ballads, a collection mostly written by Wordsworth, but which opened with Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." The Lyrical Ballads consciously broke with 18th-century traditions and helped launch the English Romantic movement in literature, with Wordsworth's Preface to the 2nd edition (1800) becoming the esthetic manifesto of the new movement.
Wordsworth and Coleridge agreed that Coleridge's "endeavors should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith."
A few of Coleridge's other poems written in 1798 are from his top drawer, e.g., Fire, Famine, and Slaughter, a bitter attack on William Pitt, the beautiful Frost at Midnight, about a loving father [Coleridge] musing beside the cradle of his child [Hartley], and The Nightingale, a paean to friendship.
Coleridge began taking opium to relieve neuralgia and rheumatic pains in his 20s. He became addicted to the drug and had a tendency to daydream. (For years he ingested 2 quarts of laudanum [an alcoholic extract of poppy seeds] a week. De Quincey, another opium addict and friend, assisted Coleridge financially.) The effects of the drug apparently didn't harm his imagination, as his 3 dream poems ("The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Kubla Khan" and "Christabel") are considered masterpieces.
"The Ancient Mariner" deals with the nightmare voyage of a superstitious, guilt-ridden sailor tormented after he kills an albatross. The other members of the crew die in agonies of thirst while the mariner lives a "life-in-death" until he blesses some water snakes and is absolved of his guilt. He spent the rest of his life wandering the globe recommending a life spent in communion with nature.
The unfinished "Kubla Khan," which he said came to him in a dream during an opium-induced sleep after reading Purchas his Pilgrimage (1613), describes the fabulous pleasure gardens constructed in Xanadu by the 13th-century Mongol king of China, Kublai Khan. Upon waking, he began to write down the poem but was interrupted by a "person on business from Porlock," and thereafter couldn't recall the rest of the poem. [Many critics think the interruptive "person from Porlock" was a reflection of his own inner disorder.]
"Christabel," also unfinished, involves a pure maiden, an evil enchantress and spiritual seduction set in a medieval castle. In all 3 poems Coleridge successfully achieved "that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith."
In 1817 Coleridge published his greatest prose piece, the Biographia Literaria; Or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions, a major work of literary criticism in which he analyzes the nature of poetry and offers his "principles in Politics, Religion, and Philosophy, and an application of the rules, deduced from philosophical principles, to poetry and criticism." The work includes an extended critique of Wordsworth's poems.
Coleridge's main esthetic principles are the union of emotion and thought which produce imagination, the importance of integrating the universal with the particular, the necessity for "organic unity" and the "reconciliation of opposites." He wisely wrote, "No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher." As a literary critic, especially of the Romantic school, he has no peer. Some scholars regard Coleridge as a great Shakespeare critic, while others are not so impressed. [In my opinion, his critical essays provide some profound insights despite the fact that they are not overly orderly or methodical.]
After 1817, Coleridge devoted himself mainly to religion and philosophy. His friend Charles Lamb described him as "an archangel -- a little damaged." Stopford Brooke, an influential 19th-century critic, wrote, "All that he did excellently might be bound up in twenty pages, but it should be bound up in pure gold." In 1810 when he learned that Wordsworth had recently described him as a "nuisance" and denounced his drug addiction Coleridge broke off their close friendship. The breach was never healed. Even so, on Coleridge's death in 1834 Wordsworth said he was "the most wonderful man that he had ever known."
SOME MEMORABLE LINES
H.M. Margoliouth's Wordsworth and Coleridge (1953), Richard Fogle's Idea of Coleridge's Criticism (1962), Walter Jackson Bate's Coleridge (1968), Thomas McFarland's Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition (1969), Stephen Prickett's Coleridge and Wordsworth: The Poetry of Growth (1970), A.S. Bryatt's Wordsworth and Coleridge in Their Time (1973), Oswald Doughty's Perturbed Spirit: The Life and Personality of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1981), Richard Holmes' Coleridge (1982), Owen Barfield's What Coleridge Thought (1983), Paul Hamilton's Coleridge's Poetics (1983), H.J. Jackson's Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1985), Harold Bloom's Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1986), A.H. Tak's Coleridge and Modern Criticism (1986), Paul Magnuson's Coleridge and Wordsworth: A Lyrical Dialogue (1988) and Nicholas Row's Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years (1988) are recommended. I.A. Richards' Coleridge on Imagination (1934) is a classic in criticism well worth reading and John Livingston Lowes' The Road to Xanadu (1927) is still useful. A. Cobban's Edmund Burke and the Revolt against the Eighteenth Century: A Study of the Political and Social Thinking of Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, 2nd ed (1960) is very instructive.
Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865 -- The 16th President of the United States and a master of eloquent and persuasive language, best exemplified in the Gettysburg Address, delivered at the dedication of a national cemetery at Gettysburg, PA on 19 November 1863. Its ringing and majestic phrases are immortal: "We here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Lincoln's other memorable words appear in his antislavery Cooper Union Address (1860), Farewell Address (1861), on leaving Springfield, IL, First Inaugural Address (1861), Emancipation Proclamation (1862) and Second Inaugural Address (1865), delivered 6 weeks before his assassination and containing the splendid words, "With malice toward none; with charity for all, let us strive on to finish the work we are in." [Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait sets several majestic phrases.] (See Abraham Lincoln in the Romantic History Grids for more info and WWW links.)
Czar Nicholas II r.1894-1917
Romanian sculptor who lived in Paris most of his career. Influenced by Rodin in his early years, Brancusi later eliminated naturalistic detail and references to Rodin in his work. Representation is lost entirely and the work takes on primordial, embryonic form. The extended oval -- the ovum, the nucleus -- was considered by Brancusi to be the most natural shape. His work is true to the modern art doctrines that demand "truth to the material." Marble and metal, polished and re-polished. were his favorite media. His famous Bird in Space (c.1929), in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, exemplifies Brancusi's aesthetic. Form and movement are suggested by the elongated ovid shape, not unlike aerodynamic industrial shapes of the day.
Picasso was the 20th century's greatest artist and was the consummate 20th-century "Renaissance man" -- he could do everything and did it all well. As a draftsman and painter, he had no rival and for sheer versatility and energy he was in a class all his own. Picasso moved from one style to another with the facility and ease of a gifted dancer, managing his own business affairs and creating a swirl of activity around his personal life wherever he went.
Born in Malaga, Spain, Picasso spent most of his life in France, but never forgot the country of his birth. His father was the Castilian art teacher Jose Ruiz Blases and his mother was Maria Picasso, an Andalusian. He grew up with the wonderful folklore of the Spanish countryside, early on feeding a temperament that was destined to be special. His artistic talent was prodigious from a very early age and he drew and painted with remarkable ease when studying at the Barcelona Academy of Art. His pictorial visualization was most notable along with his curiosity and need to experiment. During his long career, Picasso's body of work encompassed all of the trends in modern art of the late 19th and 20th centuries. He was the most influential force in modern art.
When examining Picasso's oeuvre, we see that he was a draftsman, painter, sculptor, ceramist, printmaker, illustrator and theater set/costume designer. His career can be broken down, for discussion, into "periods" or "styles." As a teenager, he travelled in the Spanish bohemian art circles. Picasso arrived on the scene in Paris in 1900, at which point his work was characterized by painterly cafe scenes and scenes of street life, in the vein of Toulouse-Lautrec. Seventy-five of his paintings were exhibited by the dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1901. Picasso was never affected by the French establishment and, although he spent most of his life in France, remained outside the Parisian tradition in art.
Picasso's melancholy "Blue Period" followed (1901-1905) and is typified by his images of the poor, the indigent, the unfortunate souls of Paris: Frugal Repast (1904). The works truly conveyed a pessimistic mood and a preoccupation with death, prevalent at the turn of the century: The Tragedy (1903) [both in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.].
The artists who interested Picasso, at this point, were Munch, Gauguin and van Gogh. He was also moved by writers; both in Spain and in Paris, Picasso travelled in literary circles. Gertrude Stein and Guillaume Apollinaire were among his closest friends and his Paris studio had the nickname (1905), "le rendezvous des poetes."
From the "Blue Period," Picasso entered a softer, "Rose Period" (1904-1906). Pinks and greys dominate his palette, and the subject matter ranges from circus performers, Family of Saltambiques (1905), to reflective landscapes. Picasso was a humanitarian and his work reflects his respect for the human condition and the dignity of man. He progressed to the study of Cezanne (analyzing forms into planes, using strong contours, etc.), the art of Oceania, African (particularly masks and sculpture) and Primitive art. The influence of the non-Western organizational elements and broken planes greatly affected Picasso's painting (Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906). The work progresses from Realism into a realm of its own, independent of academic references. He experiment with devices from different traditions.
Picasso's painting Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (1907) is the start of a new phase in his painting. Not only is it an experiment, but it is the forerunner of Cubism, the turning point where he renounced naturalism and sought a new idiom. European traditions had not been influenced by ritualistic tribal art prior to Picasso's liberated vision in Demoiselles.
Between 1907 and 1914 Picasso joined with Braque in founding Cubism. The two men had joined in an investigative experiment with visual analysis and the works of Cezanne. Cubism is the single most important sensibility developed in 20th-century art and effected all 20th-century developments that followed. Cubism was erroneously, but aptly, named by an art critic who was referring to the "geometrical" forms in the works. Picasso produced one brilliant Cubist canvas after another during the years between 1910 and the early 1920s. His early portraiture of the art dealers Vollard, Uhde and Kahnweiler (1910) are brilliant examples of Analytical Cubism. These are followed by Accordionist (1911), Card Players (1914) and Harlequin (1915).
Picasso introduced collage ("papiers colles") elements to his work in 1912 (Green Still Life, 1914). Collage was a device used by other artists in the 20th century. Cubism sought to explore shifting viewpoints; to present the total reality of forms in space and simultaneity of viewpoints became an element explored by both Braque and Picasso. One critic from the New York Times said of the Cubists, they "are making insanity pay." Ironically, at the same time Picasso was experimenting with the dislocated Cubist imagery he was also producing Ingres-like pencil drawings. The art establishment, as we know, is not always receptive to challenging new trends in the arts. Picasso managed to baffle everyone with his versatility.
In 1917 Picasso designed sets and costumes for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. In 1918 he married the Russian dancer Olga Koklova and produced revolutionary portraits of women. Trips to Naples and Pompeii influenced his Greco-Roman style (1920-1921) and the classically rendered Three Women at the Fountain (1921). Late Synthetic Cubism is seen in Three Musicians (1921) and Three Dancers (1925). Picasso entered into a still life series in the 1920s which included Red Tablecloth and Mandolin and Guitar (both 1924).
The Dance (1925) leads to Picasso's personal form of inventive Expressionism. Surrealism was also on the scene at this time and Picasso contributed to Surrealist exhibitions and magazines, although he never fully embraced the medium. Experiments with invented anatomy can be seen in Seated Bather (1930). Sculpture also entered Picasso's repertoire. With the technical help of sculptor Julio Gonzales (1931), he moved to the south of France, setting up an atelier where he produced iron configurations and carved and plaster heads. Picasso, at this time, was also illustrating the works of Balzac, Ovid and Bouffon.
The unique form of Expressionism developed by Picasso was profoundly released by political events during the Spanish Civil War. The Dream and Lie of Franco series of etchings (1936) expressed his reaction to the inhumanity existing in Spain.
The obliteration of the Basque capitol of Guernica inspired Picasso to produce the mural Guernica (1937). The enormous piece, an explosion of emotion, is considered by many to be Picasso's masterpiece. It was exhibited in the pavilion of the Spanish Republic at the 1937 Universal Exposition in Paris. Its black and white newspaper headline colors, contorted animals, dismembered bodies and weeping women made Guernica a bold indictment against the brutality of war. It unifies many of Picasso's symbolic and allegorical images from the 1920s and 1930s. A series of Weeping Women followed Guernica, as did his Seated Women (1937-44). Picasso stayed in occupied-France during World War II and produced sculpture and etchings. After the war he experimented successfully with lithography and almost single-handedly revived the art pottery industry. Picasso always seemed to concurrently work in several media.
Picasso moved to the south of France in 1945. With the birth of his children (late in life), Claude and Poloma, Picasso painted delightful portraits of children. For the UNESCO Building in Paris (1957) he painted La Baignade (Fall of Icarus).
In the 1950s Picasso concentrated on sculpture, some dealing with found-objects: She Goat (1950). In the 1960s, sheet iron sculpture, some of it painted, was produced. Sand-blasted concrete was another sculptural medium he tried. Many of these sculptures are in the United States. The Princeton University Art Museum in Princeton, N.J. has an outdoor piece, Large Head. The late 1960s yielded Picasso's Artist and his Model engravings. The mature master culminates a life's experience with wit and sensuality and no artist working this century produced a body of work of such incredible diversity. A major retrospective of Picasso's art was held in 1980 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Swiss painter, draftsman and sculptor, taught by his father, painter Giovanni Giacometti. Alberto studied further in Geneva and Italy before moving to Paris. He developed his own style, being influenced by Cycladic idols. Painting and sculpture were produced equally until the late 1930s when he began developing his own idiom for the human figure.
The plight of 20th-century man is Giacometti's subject. His figures are fragile, skeletal stick figures. Associated with Existentialism, Giacometti said, "I make pictures and sculptures in order to attack reality, in order to defend myself, to resist death, and be as free as possible." The Palace at 4 am (1932) is the most famous of Giacometti's works. His plaster and wire sculptures, dating from the late 1940s, are the wraith-like images, most of them associated with the themes of loneliness, fragility, vulnerability and alienation. The works take on a grander scale in the 1960s.
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