A Close Look at Beowulf-Era Helmets & Swords, Courtesy of the British Museum

Even if a stu­dent assigned Beowulf is, at first, dis­mayed by its lan­guage, that same stu­dent may well be cap­ti­vat­ed by its set­ting. While that myth­i­cal but some­how both glo­ri­ous­ly and dankly real­is­tic realm of kings and drag­ons, mead halls and bog mon­sters may feel famil­iar to fan­ta­sy enthu­si­asts, it’s also strange on a deep­er lev­el; this sto­ry, any mod­ern read­er will feel, is in no sense a prod­uct of our own time. In order to con­crete­ly envi­sion both the action of that epic and the cul­ture that gave rise to it, it helps to exam­ine arti­facts from around the same place and time in his­to­ry. To find such things, we need look no fur­ther than Sut­ton Hoo.

Beowulf is set in the fifth and sixth cen­turies; Sut­ton Hoo is an archae­o­log­i­cal site whose con­tents date from the sixth to sev­enth cen­turies. Locat­ed “in the east­ern part of Eng­land, in a coun­ty called Suf­folk, which at that time was part of the East Anglian king­dom in Anglo-Sax­on Eng­land,” it con­sists of “a grave made in the mid­dle of a 27-meter-long ship that was buried beneath a gigan­tic earth mound, and inside a bur­ial cham­ber that was placed in the mid­dle of the ship were laid out some amaz­ing trea­sures drawn from all over the known world at that time.” So says Sue Brun­ning, cura­tor of the Euro­pean ear­ly medieval col­lec­tions at the British Muse­um, in one Cura­tor’s Cor­ner videos that pro­vide close-up views and expla­na­tions of a cou­ple of par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant Sut­ton Hoo arti­facts.

This hel­met and sword (with oth­er Anglo-Sax­on swords also brought out for com­par­i­son) are asso­ci­at­ed with King Ræd­wald of East Anglia. Beowulf, you’ll remem­ber, opens with the funer­al of the Dan­ish king Scyld Scef­ing, and takes place entire­ly in Scan­di­navia. But the sim­i­lar­i­ty between the elab­o­rate orna­men­ta­tion on the Sut­ton Hoo arti­facts and that on com­pa­ra­ble objects unearthed in east­ern Swe­den sug­gests a con­nec­tion between those regions in that era, and Beowulf itself may have been com­posed in East Anglia. It takes some imag­i­na­tion to pic­ture this sev­en­teen-cen­tu­ry-old hel­met and sword intact and in their prime, but how­ev­er they looked, one sure­ly would­n’t have turned down the extra con­fi­dence they’d have pro­vid­ed in a show­down with Gren­del.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Vin­tage Short Film about the Samu­rai Sword, Nar­rat­ed by George Takei (1969)

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er a 2,000-Year-Old Roman Glass Bowl in Per­fect Con­di­tion

An Artist Vis­its Stone­henge in 1573 and Paints a Charm­ing Water­col­or Paint­ing of the Ancient Ruins

Bronze Age Britons Turned Bones of Dead Rel­a­tives into Musi­cal Instru­ments & Orna­ments

Hear Beowulf and Gawain and the Green Knight Read in Their Orig­i­nal Old and Mid­dle Eng­lish by an MIT Medieval­ist

The British Muse­um Puts 1.9 Mil­lion Works of Art Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Thousands of Pablo Picasso’s Works Now Available in a New Digital Archive

If you want to immerse your­self in the world of Pablo Picas­so, you might start at the Museo Picas­so Mála­ga, locat­ed in the artist’s Span­ish birth­place. But to under­stand how his work devel­oped through­out his life, you’ll have to get out of Spain — which is just what Picas­so did to accel­er­ate that devel­op­ment in the first place. At the turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, an ambi­tious young Euro­pean painter had to go to Paris, the con­ti­nen­t’s art cap­i­tal. Picas­so end­ed up spend­ing much of his life there, mak­ing it the most suit­able loca­tion for the Musée Picas­so, home to the sin­gle largest col­lec­tion of his art­works, from paint­ings and sculp­tures to draw­ings and engrav­ings, as well as an even larg­er archive of pho­tographs, papers, and cor­re­spon­dence.

Now, you don’t actu­al­ly have to make the trip to Paris to see these col­lec­tions, or at least an increas­ing­ly large por­tion of their hold­ings. As Sarah Kuta reports at Smithsonian.com, thou­sands of Picas­so’s art­works are “now acces­si­ble from any­where with an inter­net con­nec­tion, thanks to a new online archive cre­at­ed by the Picas­so Muse­um. The muse­um has dig­i­tized thou­sands of Picasso’s art­works, essays, poems, inter­views and oth­er mem­o­ra­bil­ia, includ­ing items that have nev­er been seen by the pub­lic before.” The project began last year, with the dig­i­ti­za­tion of “around 19,000 pho­tos”; if all goes accord­ing to plan, the muse­um will even­tu­al­ly make “an addi­tion­al 200,000 doc­u­ments” avail­able online.

Browse the Musée Picas­so’s online archive and you’ll find many works that, assum­ing you haven’t yet achieved full Picas­so immer­sion, you won’t have seen before: Femme couchée lisant from 1953, seen at the top of the post, for instance, or the ear­li­er Mas­sacre en Corée just above. (Despite liv­ing in Korea myself, I had no idea that Picas­so paint­ed a Kore­an War-themed pic­ture, much less an episode of his­to­ry that took place in the very neigh­bor­hood where I used to live.) Not every­thing is by Picas­so, a good deal hav­ing been made by artists with whom he was asso­ci­at­ed, like Man Ray, who took this 1937 pho­to­graph of Picas­so and his His­pano-Suiza car. You can find much more of inter­est in the archive’s themed sec­tions, like “Féminin / Mas­culin” and “Picas­so iconophage,” which are nav­i­ga­ble only in French — a lan­guage that, in any case, every Picas­sophile should learn. Enter the dig­i­tal archive here.

via Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed con­tent:

Pablo Picasso’s Mas­ter­ful Child­hood Paint­ings: Pre­co­cious Works Paint­ed Between the Ages of 8 and 15

14 Self-Por­traits by Pablo Picas­so Show the Evo­lu­tion of His Style: See Self-Por­traits Mov­ing from Ages 15 to 90

The Mys­tery of Picas­so: Land­mark Film of a Leg­endary Artist at Work, by Hen­ri-Georges Clouzot

A 3D Tour of Picasso’s Guer­ni­ca

Watch Picas­so Cre­ate a Mas­ter­piece in Just Five Min­utes (1955)

The Louvre’s Entire Col­lec­tion Goes Online: View and Down­load 480,00 Works of Art

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

See Albert Camus’ Historic Lecture, “The Human Crisis,” Performed by Actor Viggo Mortensen

Back in 2016, New York City staged a month-long fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing Albert Camus’ his­toric vis­it to NYC in 1946. One event in the fes­ti­val fea­tured actor Vig­go Mortensen giv­ing a read­ing of Camus’ lec­ture,“La Crise de l’homme” (“The Human Cri­sis”) at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty–the very same place where Camus deliv­ered the lec­ture 70 years earlier–down to the very day (March 28, 1946). The read­ing was ini­tial­ly cap­tured on a cell phone, and broad­cast live using Face­book live video. But then came a more pol­ished record­ing, cour­tesy of Columbi­a’s Mai­son Française. Note that Mortensen takes the stage around the 11:45 mark. You can read a tran­script of “The Human Cri­sis” here.

“The Human Cri­sis” will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in April, 2016.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Albert Camus on the Respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Artist: To “Cre­ate Dan­ger­ous­ly” (1957)

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Albert Camus’ Exis­ten­tial­ism, a Phi­los­o­phy Mak­ing a Come­back in Our Dys­func­tion­al Times

What is Albert Camus’ The Plague About? An Intro­duc­tion

Hear Albert Camus Read the Famous Open­ing Pas­sage of The Stranger (1947)

Enter a Huge Archive of Amazing Stories, the World’s First Science Fiction Magazine, Launched in 1926

If you haven’t heard of Hugo Gerns­back, you’ve sure­ly heard of the Hugo Award. Next to the Neb­u­la, it’s the most pres­ti­gious of sci­ence fic­tion prizes, bring­ing togeth­er in its ranks of win­ners such ven­er­a­ble authors as Ursu­la K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Hein­lein, Neil Gaiman, Isaac Asi­mov, and just about every oth­er sci-fi and fan­ta­sy lumi­nary you could think of. It is indeed fit­ting that such an hon­or should be named for Gerns­back, the Lux­em­bour­gian-Amer­i­can inven­tor who, in April of 1926, began pub­lish­ing “the first and longest-run­ning Eng­lish-lan­guage mag­a­zine ded­i­cat­ed to what was then not quite yet called ‘sci­ence fic­tion,’” notes Uni­ver­si­ty of Virginia’s Andrew Fer­gu­son at The Pulp Mag­a­zines Project. Amaz­ing Sto­ries pro­vid­ed an “exclu­sive out­let” for what Gerns­back first called “sci­en­tific­tion,” a genre he would “for bet­ter and for worse, define for the mod­ern era.” You can read and down­load hun­dreds of Amaz­ing Sto­ries issues, from the first year of its pub­li­ca­tion to the last, at the Inter­net Archive.

Like the exten­sive list of Hugo Award win­ners, the back cat­a­log of Amaz­ing Sto­ries encom­pass­es a host of genius­es: Le Guin, Asi­mov, H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Bal­lard, and many hun­dreds of less­er-known writ­ers. But the mag­a­zine “was slow to devel­op,” writes Scott Van Wyns­berghe. Its lurid cov­ers lured some read­ers in, but its “first two years were dom­i­nat­ed by preprint­ed mate­r­i­al,” and Gerns­back devel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for finan­cial dodgi­ness and for not pay­ing his writ­ers well or at all.

By 1929, he sold the mag­a­zine and moved on to oth­er ven­tures, none of them par­tic­u­lar­ly suc­cess­ful. Amaz­ing Sto­ries sol­diered on, under a series of edi­tors and with wide­ly vary­ing read­er­ships until it final­ly suc­cumbed in 2005, after almost eighty years of pub­li­ca­tion. But that is no small feat in such an often unpop­u­lar field, with a pub­li­ca­tion, writes Fer­gu­son, that was very often per­ceived as “gar­ish and non­lit­er­ary.”

In hind­sight, how­ev­er, we can see Amaz­ing Sto­ries as a sci-fi time cap­sule and almost essen­tial fea­ture of the genre’s his­to­ry, even if some of its con­tent tend­ed more toward the young adult adven­ture sto­ry than seri­ous adult fic­tion. Its flashy cov­ers set the bar for pulp mag­a­zines and com­ic books, espe­cial­ly in its run up to the fifties. After 1955, the year of the first Hugo Award, the mag­a­zine reached its peak under the edi­tor­ship of Cele Gold­smith, who took over in 1959. Gone was much of the eye­pop­ping B‑movie imagery of the ear­li­er cov­ers. Amaz­ing Sto­ries acquired a new lev­el of rel­a­tive pol­ish and sophis­ti­ca­tion, and pub­lished many more “lit­er­ary” writ­ers, as in the 1959 issue above, which fea­tured a “Book-Length Nov­el by Robert Bloch.”

This trend con­tin­ued into the sev­en­ties, as you can see in the issue above, with a “com­plete short nov­el by Gor­don Eklund” (and ear­ly fic­tion by George R.R. Mar­tin). In 1982, Fer­gu­son writes, Amaz­ing Sto­ries was sold “to Gary Gygax of D&D fame, and would nev­er again regain the promi­nence it had before.” The mag­a­zine large­ly returned to its pulp roots, with cov­ers that resem­bled those of super­mar­ket paper­backs. Great writ­ers con­tin­ued to appear, how­ev­er. And the mag­a­zine remained an impor­tant source for new sci­ence fiction—though much of it only in hind­sight. As for Gerns­back, his rep­u­ta­tion waned con­sid­er­ably after his death in 1967.

“With­in a decade,” writes Van Wyns­berghe, “sci­ence fic­tion pun­dits were debat­ing whether or not he had cre­at­ed a ‘ghet­to’ for hack writ­ers.” In 1986, nov­el­ist Bri­an Ald­iss called Gerns­back “one of the worst dis­as­ters ever to hit the sci­ence fic­tion field.” His 1911 nov­el, the ludi­crous­ly named Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660 is con­sid­ered “one of the worst sci­ence fic­tion nov­els in his­to­ry,” writes Matthew Lasar. It may seem odd that the Oscar of the sci-fi world should be named for such a reviled fig­ure. And yet, despite his pro­nounced lack of lit­er­ary abil­i­ty, Gerns­back was a vision­ary. As a futur­ist, he made some star­tling­ly accu­rate pre­dic­tions, along with some not-so-accu­rate ones. As for his sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to a new form of writ­ing, writes Lasar, “It was in Amaz­ing Sto­ries that Gerns­back first tried to nail down the sci­ence fic­tion idea.” As Ray Brad­bury sup­pos­ed­ly said, “Gerns­back made us fall in love with the future.” Enter the Amaz­ing Sto­ries Inter­net Archive here.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2017.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Down­load Issues of “Weird Tales” (1923–1954): The Pio­neer­ing Pulp Hor­ror Mag­a­zine Fea­tures Orig­i­nal Sto­ries by Love­craft, Brad­bury & Many More

Dis­cov­er the First Hor­ror & Fan­ta­sy Mag­a­zine, Der Orchideen­garten, and Its Bizarre Art­work (1919–1921)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

 

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Watch a Japanese Artisan Hand-Craft a Cello in 6 Months

Cel­lists unwill­ing to set­tle for any but the finest instru­ment must, soon­er or lat­er, make a pil­grim­age to Cre­mona — or rather, to the Cre­monas. One is, of course, the city in Lom­bardy that was home to numer­ous pio­neer­ing mas­ter luthiers, up to and includ­ing Anto­nio Stradi­vari. The oth­er, less­er known Cre­mona is a work­shop in Hiraka­ta, an exurb of Osa­ka. There, a mas­ter luthi­er named Takao Iwai plies his trade, which you can see on detailed dis­play in the ProcessX video above. In just under half an hour, it com­press­es his painstak­ing six-month process of mak­ing a cel­lo whol­ly by hand.

The name of Iwai’s shop evokes a rich his­to­ry of stringed instru­ment-mak­ing, but it also pays trib­ute to the place where he honed his own skills. He did so under the luthi­er Gio Bat­ta Moras­si, described in a trib­ute after his death in 2018 as hav­ing “made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the revival of Cremona’s mod­ern vio­lin-mak­ing,” and indeed hav­ing become “the god­fa­ther of the mod­ern Ital­ian Cre­mona school.”

He seemed to have wel­comed stu­dents no mat­ter their land of ori­gin — France, Chi­na, Rus­sia, and of course Japan — and through them “intro­duced the art of Ital­ian vio­lin mak­ing to the world and raised the lev­el of inter­na­tion­al vio­lin mak­ing.”

Iwai is hard­ly the first ded­i­cat­ed Japan­ese crafts­man we’ve fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, nor even the first ded­i­cat­ed to a Euro­pean art form: take the sculp­tor Etsuro Sotoo, whose decades of work on Sagra­da Família has earned him a rep­u­ta­tion in his home­land as “the Japan­ese Gaudí.” After his time in Italy, Iwai chose to return to Japan, bring­ing his mas­tery of a for­eign craft into a native cul­ture high­ly con­ducive to its prac­tice, where tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese instru­ments have long been made with the very same sense of detail and tech­nique. If you’d like to wit­ness that as well while you’re in Osa­ka, do pay a vis­it to Tsu­ruya Gak­ki in the port town of Sakai; maybe you’ll even get to see a shamisen being made.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How to Build a Cus­tom Hand­craft­ed Acoustic Gui­tar from Start to Fin­ish: The Process Revealed in a Fas­ci­nat­ing Doc­u­men­tary

Watch a Japan­ese Arti­san Make a Noh Mask, Cre­at­ing an Aston­ish­ing Char­ac­ter From a Sin­gle Block of Wood

Watch the Mak­ing of a Hand-Craft­ed Vio­lin, from Start to Fin­ish, in a Beau­ti­ful­ly Shot Doc­u­men­tary

The Art of Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Wood Join­ery: A Kyoto Wood­work­er Shows How Japan­ese Car­pen­ters Cre­at­ed Wood Struc­tures With­out Nails or Glue

Japan­ese Musi­cians Turn Obso­lete Machines Into Musi­cal Instru­ments: Cath­ode Ray Tube TVs, Over­head Pro­jec­tors, Reel-to-Reel Tape Machines & More

20 Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos of Japan­ese Arti­sans Cre­at­ing Tra­di­tion­al Hand­i­crafts

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How the 18th-Century French Media Stoked a Werewolf Panic


If you’ve stud­ied French (or, indeed, been French) in the past cou­ple of decades, you may well have played the card game Les Loups-garous de Thiercelieux. Known in Eng­lish as The Were­wolves of Millers Hol­low, it casts its play­ers as hunters, thieves, seers, and oth­er types of rur­al vil­lagers in the dis­tant past. By night, some play­ers also hap­pen to be were­wolves, liable to devour the oth­ers in their sleep. Though such beings may nev­er actu­al­ly have exist­ed, they loom fair­ly large in French pop­u­lar cul­ture still today — not least, per­haps, because they loomed even larg­er two and a half cen­turies ago, such that his­to­ry now acknowl­edges a peri­od called the French Were­wolf Epi­dem­ic.

“In the 1760s, near­ly three hun­dred peo­ple were killed in a remote region of south-cen­tral France called the Gévau­dan (today part of the départe­ment of Lozère),” says the Pub­lic Domain Review. “The killer was thought to be a huge ani­mal, which came to be known sim­ply as ‘the Beast’; but while the creature’s name remained sim­ple, its rep­u­ta­tion soon grew extreme­ly com­plex.”

In the press, which spec­u­lat­ed on this fear­some crea­ture’s pre­ferred meth­ods of attack (decap­i­ta­tion, blood-drink­ing, etc.), “illus­tra­tors had a field day rep­re­sent­ing the Beast, whose appear­ance was report­ed to be so mon­strous it beg­gared belief.”

By the win­ter of 1764–65, “the attacks in the Gévau­dan had cre­at­ed a nation­al fer­vor, to the point that King Louis XV inter­vened, offer­ing a reward equal to what most men would have earned in a year.” In Sep­tem­ber of 1756, a lieu­tenant named François Antoine “shot the enor­mous ‘Wolf of Chazes,’ which was stuffed and put on dis­play in Ver­sailles.” This did­n’t stop the killings, but “by now the Roy­al Court had lost inter­est. The sto­ry had played itself out, and pub­lic atten­tion had moved on to oth­er mat­ters. Luck­i­ly a local noble­man, the Mar­quis d’Apcher, orga­nized anoth­er hunt, and in June 1767 the hunter Jean Chas­tel laid low the last of what had turned out to be the Beasts of the Gévau­dan.”

“The Beast’s stom­ach was filled with human remains and, by all posthu­mous accounts, did not look any­thing like a typ­i­cal wolf,” says Dan­ger­ous Minds. “They were also able to ascer­tain that the ani­mal was sole­ly respon­si­ble for 95% of the attacks on humans from 1764 to 1767.” As to what the ani­mal actu­al­ly was, the­o­ries abound: maybe an unusu­al­ly large or rabid wolf, maybe a hye­na, maybe even a lion. As for the more fan­tas­ti­cal the­o­ries that cap­tured the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion of the time, they may have passed into the realm of myth, but those myths con­tin­ue to inspire lit­er­a­ture, film, tele­vi­sion, and games. And as any­one who’s played Les Loups-garous de Thiercelieux a few times under­stands, the were­wolf’s luck usu­al­ly runs out.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Strange Danc­ing Plague of 1518: When Hun­dreds of Peo­ple in France Could Not Stop Danc­ing for Months

The Sights & Sounds of 18th Cen­tu­ry Paris Get Recre­at­ed with 3D Audio and Ani­ma­tion

A 1665 Adver­tise­ment Promis­es a “Famous and Effec­tu­al” Cure for the Great Plague

How the Year 2440 Was Imag­ined in a 1771 French Sci-Fi Nov­el

John Stein­beck Wrote a Were­wolf Nov­el, and His Estate Won’t Let the World Read It: The Sto­ry of Mur­der at Full Moon

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Gustave Doré’s Macabre Illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1884)


One of the busiest, most in-demand artists of the 19th cen­tu­ry, Gus­tave Doré made his name illus­trat­ing works by such authors as Rabelais, Balzac, Mil­ton, and Dante. In the 1860s, he cre­at­ed one of the most mem­o­rable and pop­u­lar illus­trat­ed edi­tions of Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote, while at the same time com­plet­ing a set of engrav­ings for an 1866 Eng­lish Bible. He prob­a­bly could have stopped there and assured his place in pos­ter­i­ty, but he would go on to illus­trate a 1872 guide to Lon­don, a new edi­tion of Samuel Tay­lor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and sev­er­al more huge­ly pop­u­lar works.

In 1884, he pro­duced 26 steel engrav­ings for an illus­trat­ed edi­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s gloomy clas­sic “The Raven.” Like all of his illus­tra­tions, the images are rich with detail, yet in con­trast to his ear­li­er work, par­tic­u­lar­ly the fine lines of his Quixote, these engrav­ings are soft­er, char­ac­ter­ized by a deep chiaroscuro appro­pri­ate to the mood of the poem.

Above see the plate depict­ing the first lines of the poem, the haunt­ed speak­er, “weak and weary,” slumped over one of his many “quaint and curi­ous volume[s] of for­got­ten lore.” Below, see the raven tap­ping, “loud­er than before,” at the win­dow lat­tice.

By the time Doré’s edi­tion saw pub­li­ca­tion, Poe’s most famous work had already achieved recog­ni­tion as one of the great­est of Amer­i­can poems. Its author, how­ev­er, had died over thir­ty years pre­vi­ous in near-pover­ty. A cat­a­log descrip­tion from a Penn State Library hold­ing of one of Doré’s “Raven” edi­tions com­pares the two artists:

The careers of these two men are fraught with both pop­u­lar suc­cess and unmit­i­gat­ed dis­ap­point­ment. Doré enjoyed phe­nom­e­nal mon­e­tary suc­cess as an illus­tra­tor in his life-time, how­ev­er his true desire, to be acknowl­edged as a fine artist, was nev­er real­ized. The crit­ics of his day derid­ed his abil­i­ties as an artist even as his pop­u­lar­i­ty soared.

One might say that Poe suf­fered the oppo­site fate—recognized as a great artist in his life­time, he nev­er achieved finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty. We learn from the Penn State Rare Col­lec­tions library that Doré received the rough equiv­a­lent of $140,000 for his illus­trat­ed edi­tion of “The Raven.” Poe, on the oth­er hand, was paid approx­i­mate­ly nine dol­lars for his most famous poem.

The Library of Con­gress has dig­i­tal edi­tions of the com­plete Doré edi­tion of “The Raven.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gus­tave Doré’s Dra­mat­ic Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy

Behold Gus­tave Doré’s Illus­tra­tions for Rabelais’ Grotesque Satir­i­cal Mas­ter­piece Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gru­el

The Adven­tures of Famed Illus­tra­tor Gus­tave Doré Pre­sent­ed in a Fantasic(al) Cutout Ani­ma­tion

Gus­tave Doré’s Exquis­ite Engrav­ings of Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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How Sci-Fi Writers Isaac Asimov & Robert Heinlein Contributed to the War Effort During World War II

Robert Hein­lein, Isaac Asi­mov and L. Sprague De Camp at the Navy Yard in 1944

Robert Hein­lein was born in 1907, which put him on the mature side by the time of the Unit­ed States’ entry into World War II. Isaac Asi­mov, his younger col­league in sci­ence fic­tion, was born in 1920 (or there­abouts), and thus of prime fight­ing age. But in the event, they made most of their con­tri­bu­tion to the war effort in the same place, the Naval Avi­a­tion Exper­i­men­tal Sta­tion in Philadel­phia. By 1942, Hein­lein had become the pre­em­i­nent sci-fi writer in Amer­i­ca, and the 22-year-old Asi­mov, a grad­u­ate stu­dent in chem­istry at Colum­bia, had already made a name for him­self in the field. It was Hein­lein, who’d signed on to run a mate­ri­als test­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry at the Yard, who brought Asi­mov into the mil­i­tary-research fold.

Hav­ing once been a Navy offi­cer, dis­charged due to tuber­cu­lo­sis, Hein­lein jumped at the chance to serve his coun­try once again. Dur­ing World War II, writes John Red­ford at A Niche in the Library of Babel, “his most direct con­tri­bu­tion was in dis­cus­sions of how to merge data from sonar, radar, and visu­al sight­ings with his friend Cal Lan­ing, who cap­tained a destroy­er in the Pacif­ic and was lat­er a rear admi­ral. Lan­ing used those ideas to good effect in the Bat­tle of Leyte Gulf in 1944, the largest naval bat­tle ever fought.” Asi­mov “was main­ly involved in test­ing mate­ri­als,” includ­ing those used to make “dye mark­ers for air­men downed at sea. These were tubes of flu­o­res­cent chem­i­cals that would form a big green patch on the water around the guy in his life jack­et. The patch could be seen by search­ing air­craft.”

Asi­mov schol­ars should note that a test of those dye mark­ers counts as one of just two occa­sions in his life that the aero­pho­bic writer ever dared to fly. That may well have been the most har­row­ing of either his or Hein­lein’s wartime expe­ri­ences, they were both involved in the suit­ably spec­u­la­tive “Kamikaze Group,” which was meant to work on “invis­i­bil­i­ty, death rays, force fields, weath­er con­trol” — or so Paul Mal­mont tells it in his nov­el The Astound­ing, the Amaz­ing, and the Unknown. You can read a less height­ened account of Hein­lein and Asi­mov’s war in Astound­ing, Alec Nevala-Lee’s his­to­ry of Amer­i­can sci­ence fic­tion.

Their time togeth­er in Philade­phia was­n’t long. “As the war end­ed, Asi­mov was draft­ed into the Army, where he spent nine months before he was able to leave, where he returned to his stud­ies and writ­ing,” accord­ing to Andrew Lip­tak at Kirkus Reviews. “Hein­lein con­tem­plat­ed return­ing to writ­ing full time, as a viable career, rather than as a side exer­cise.” When he left the Naval Avi­a­tion Exper­i­men­tal Sta­tion, “he resumed writ­ing and work­ing on plac­ing sto­ries in mag­a­zines.” In the decades there­after, Hein­lein’s work took on an increas­ing­ly mil­i­taris­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty, and Asi­mov’s became more and more con­cerned with the enter­prise of human civ­i­liza­tion broad­ly speak­ing. But pin­ning down the influ­ence of their war on their work is an exer­cise best left to the sci-fi schol­ars.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Sci-Fi Icon Robert Hein­lein Lists 5 Essen­tial Rules for Mak­ing a Liv­ing as a Writer

Isaac Asi­mov Recalls the Gold­en Age of Sci­ence Fic­tion (1937–1950)

Sci-Fi Writer Robert Hein­lein Imag­ines the Year 2000 in 1949, and Gets it Most­ly Wrong

X Minus One: Hear Clas­sic Sci-Fi Radio Sto­ries from Asi­mov, Hein­lein, Brad­bury & Dick

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Read Hun­dreds of Free Sci-Fi Sto­ries from Asi­mov, Love­craft, Brad­bury, Dick, Clarke & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Watch Patti Smith Read from Virginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Surviving Recording of Woolf’s Voice

In the video above, poet, artist, Nation­al Book Award win­ner, and “god­moth­er of punk” Pat­ti Smith reads a selec­tion from Vir­ginia Woolf’s 1931 exper­i­men­tal nov­el The Waves, accom­pa­nied on piano and gui­tar by her daugh­ter Jesse and son Jack­son. The “read­ing” marked the open­ing of “Land 250,” a 2008 exhi­bi­tion of Smith’s pho­tog­ra­phy and art­work from 1965 to 2007, at the Fon­da­tion Carti­er pour l’art con­tem­po­rain in Paris.

I put the word “read­ing” in quotes above because Smith only reads a very short pas­sage from Woolf’s nov­el. The rest of the dra­mat­ic per­for­mance is Smith in her own voice, pos­si­bly impro­vis­ing, pos­si­bly recit­ing her homage to Woolf—occasioned by the fact that the start of the exhi­bi­tion fell on the 67th anniver­sary of Woolf’s death by sui­cide. Of Woolf’s death, Smith says, “I do not think of this as sad. I just think that it’s the day that Vir­ginia Woolf decid­ed to say good­bye. So we are not cel­e­brat­ing the day, we are sim­ply acknowl­edg­ing that this is the day. If I had a title to call tonight, I would call it ‘Wave.’ We are wav­ing to Vir­ginia.”

Smith’s choice of a title for the evening is sig­nif­i­cant. She titled her 1979 album Wave, her last record before she went into semi-retire­ment in the 80s. And her exhi­bi­tion includ­ed a set of beau­ti­ful pho­tographs tak­en at Woolf’s Sus­sex retreat, Monk’s House. Her per­for­mance seems like an unusu­al con­flu­ence of voic­es, but Woolf might have enjoyed it, since so much of her work explored the unit­ing of sep­a­rate minds, over the bar­ri­ers of space and time. While Smith express­es her indebt­ed­ness to Woolf, one won­ders what the upper-class Blooms­bury daugh­ter of a well-con­nect­ed and artis­tic fam­i­ly would have thought of the work­ing-class punk-poet from the Low­er East Side? It’s impos­si­ble to say, of course, but some­how it’s fit­ting that they meet through Woolf’s The Waves.

Woolf’s nov­el (she called it a “play­po­em”) blends the voic­es of six char­ac­ters, but Woolf didn’t think of them as char­ac­ters at all, but as aspects of a greater, ever-shift­ing whole. As she once wrote in a let­ter:

The six char­ac­ters were sup­posed to be one. I’m get­ting old myself now—I shall be fifty next year; and I come to feel more and more how dif­fi­cult it is to col­lect one­self into one Vir­ginia; even though the spe­cial Vir­ginia in whose body I live for the moment is vio­lent­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to all sorts of sep­a­rate feel­ings. There­fore I want­ed to give the sense of con­ti­nu­ity.

Spec­u­la­tion over Woolf’s men­tal health aside, her ref­er­ences to voic­es in her let­ters, diaries, and in her elo­quent let­ter to Leonard Woolf before she died, were also state­ments of her craft—which embraced the inner voic­es of oth­ers, not let­ting any one voice be dom­i­nant. I like to think Woolf would have been delight­ed with the fierce­ness of Smith—in some ways, Vir­ginia Woolf antic­i­pat­ed punk, and Pat­ti Smith. In her own voice below, you can hear her describe the words of the Eng­lish lan­guage as “irreclaimable vagabonds,” who “if you start a Soci­ety for Pure Eng­lish, they will show their resent­ment by start­ing anoth­er for impure Eng­lish…. They are high­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic.”

The record­ing below comes from an essay pub­lished in a col­lec­tion—The Death of the Moth and Oth­er Essays—the year after Woolf’s death. The talk was called “Crafts­man­ship,” part of a BBC radio broad­cast from 1937, and it is the only sur­viv­ing record­ing of Woolf’s voice.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2013.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Pat­ti Smith on Vir­ginia Woolf’s Cane, Charles Dick­ens’ Pen & Oth­er Cher­ished Lit­er­ary Tal­is­mans

Pat­ti Smith’s Polaroids of Arti­facts from Vir­ginia Woolf, Arthur Rim­baud, Rober­to Bolaño & More

Pat­ti Smith Reads Her Final Let­ter to Robert Map­plethor­pe, Call­ing Him “the Most Beau­ti­ful Work of All”

Pat­ti Smith’s 40 Favorite Books

 Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

Tracking Pianist Yuja Wang’s Heartbeats During Her Marathon Rachmaninoff Performance

The Carnegie Hall YouTube Chan­nel sets the scene:

On Jan­u­ary 28, 2023, pianist Yuja Wang joined The Philadel­phia Orches­tra and con­duc­tor Yan­nick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall for a once-in-a-life­time, all-Rach­mani­noff marathon that fea­tured the composer’s four piano con­cer­tos plus his “Rhap­sody on a Theme of Pagani­ni.” Through­out the per­for­mance, Wang—along with Nézet-Séguin, mem­bers of the orches­tra, and con­cert­go­ers in attendance—wore devices to track their heart­beats.

Unprece­dent­ed and insane­ly demand­ing, Wang made his­to­ry. These five pieces include two-and-a-half hours of music, 621 pages of score, and more than 97,000 piano notes.

How high did Wang’s heart rate go? We won’t pro­vide spoil­ers. It plays out above.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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via The Kids Should See This

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Piano Played with 16 Increas­ing Lev­els of Com­plex­i­ty: From Easy to Very Com­plex

John Cage Per­forms His Avant-Garde Piano Piece 4′33″ … in 1′22″ (Har­vard Square, 1973)

Pianist Plays Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Rav­el & Debussy for Blind Ele­phants in Thai­land

World Religions Explained with Useful Charts: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity & More

It does­n’t take an expert in the field to know that, around the world, there is much dis­agree­ment on the sub­ject of reli­gion. But as explained in the Use­fulCharts video above by Matt Bak­er, whose PhD in Reli­gious Stud­ies makes him an expert in the field, every source does agree on the fact that the four largest reli­gions in the world are Chris­tian­i­ty, Islam, Hin­duism, and Bud­dhism. “These are the undis­put­ed ‘big four,’ ” Bak­er says, and they’ve thus been the sub­jects of the var­i­ous videos and charts he’s made explain­ing their his­to­ries and char­ac­ter­is­tics. But in his area of exper­tise, he adds, “it is often said that there are five major world reli­gions.”

The fifth major reli­gion, as you may have already guessed, is Judaism, though its six­teen mil­lion adher­ents don’t enter the same numer­i­cal league as the world’s 1.9 bil­lion Mus­lims or 2.4 bil­lion Chris­tians. The Jew­ish faith punch­es well above its weight in respects like its age, and its being “the par­ent reli­gion to both Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam.” Com­ing in at 400 mil­lion believ­ers is a reli­gion, or cat­e­go­ry of reli­gions, that to many read­ers may seem much less famil­iar than Judaism: Chi­nese folk reli­gion, or as Bak­er calls it, “Chi­nese Syn­cretism,” refer­ring to its mix­ture of dif­fer­ent ideas and tra­di­tions.

You can get up to speed on Chi­nese Syn­cretism, as well as Islam, Hin­duism, and Bud­dhism, in the two-hour video at the top of the post, which com­piles Bak­er’s Use­fulCharts expla­na­tions of those reli­gions’ evo­lu­tions and all the intel­lec­tu­al, doc­tri­nal, and cul­tur­al branch­es that have grown in the process. To Chris­tian­i­ty, the biggest of the big four, Bak­er has devot­ed an entire series, pre­sent­ed in its entire­ty in the three-hour video just above.  You may be able to describe the dif­fer­ences between Catholi­cism and Protes­tantism, but what about the dif­fer­ences between, say, the Syr­i­ac Catholic Church, the Evan­gel­i­cal Free Church of Amer­i­ca, and the Mekane Yesus Church of Ethiopia?

Bak­er can and does describe those dif­fer­ences, using his own fam­i­ly tree-style charts as a visu­al aid. Only one view­ing may not be enough to gain a clear under­stand­ing of what sep­a­rates each Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tion from every oth­er. But it will cer­tain­ly be enough to instill an under­stand­ing that, in an impor­tant sense, there is such thing as Chris­tian­i­ty, sin­gu­lar; bet­ter, per­haps, to speak of the many and var­ied Chris­tian­i­ties than have been prac­ticed over the mil­len­nia. The same goes, in dif­fer­ent ways, for the oth­er major world reli­gions, and if you zoom in far enough, even the minor ones turn out to be rich with their own com­plex­i­ties. But then, as Bak­er sure­ly would agree, there are no minor reli­gions — at least if you’re curi­ous enough about them.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the World’s Five Major Reli­gions: Hin­duism, Judaism, Bud­dhism, Chris­tian­i­ty & Islam

180,000 Years of Reli­gion Chart­ed on a “His­tom­ap” in 1943

A Visu­al Map of the World’s Major Reli­gions (and Non-Reli­gions)

Ani­mat­ed Map Shows How the Five Major Reli­gions Spread Across the World (3000 BC — 2000 AD)

70,000+ Reli­gious Texts Dig­i­tized by Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, Let­ting You Immerse Your­self in the Curi­ous Works of Great World Reli­gions

Phi­los­o­phy of Reli­gion: A Free Online Course

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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