Napoleon’s birthday fell on 15 August. How better to celebrate than by creating a new saint – one ‘Neopolus’ – and using the theatre to emphasise his links to historical kings and emperors?
Ancient Egypt’s bureaucratic society depended on an army of scribes. To get ahead, you had to be able to write – but that didn’t necessarily mean mastering hieroglyphs.
During the 1770s there emerged a new type of fashionable fellow: the Macaroni, whose style was frequently and easily lampooned by cartoonists and the media.
In 17th-century England, talking about Islam was a way of criticising the powers that be. When an introduction to the first translation of the Quran described a ‘leader of a band of fugitives’, was it aimed at the Prophet or Oliver Cromwell?
King Minos and the Minotaur remain shrouded in mystery and mythology, yet evidence of a Bronze Age ‘Bull Cult’ at the Minoan palaces abounds. Were bulls merely for entertainment or did they have a deeper significance?
‘Lady burglars’ – as they were primly named by the late-Victorian press – had an almost mythical status. That nocturnal robberies were committed by women was often too much to countenance.
There are many ways to visit Ruritania, although the country doesn’t exist. Anthony Hope’s bucolic kingdom – replete with chocolate-box royalty and swashbuckling adventure – has a long cultural history.
Historical facts about the Druids are few, yet this very lack of tangible evidence has allowed their image to be reworked and appropriated by the English, Irish, Scots and Welsh for over 500 years.
One in every four soldiers surrendered at some point during the American Civil War. It was an honourable way of accepting defeat – provided it was done under the right circumstances.
No other creature has embodied so many attributes: magic spirit, vermin, guardian of holy men, symbol of mother India, an incarnation of evil yet also its vanquisher.