Book with notes by John Milton found in Phoenix public library

A rare book with handwritten annotations by Paradise Lost author John Milton has been discovered in a public library in Phoenix, Arizona. This is only the third book with Milton’s notes known to survive, and one of only nine surviving books from his library.

The notes in two volumes of Holinshed’s Chronicles, a history of England, Ireland and Scotland published in 1587, were spotted by researchers in the Rare Book Room of the Burton Barr Central Library this March. Arizona State University faculty invited four visiting scholars to examine a selection of books collected by Alfred Knight, a real estate magnate, bibliophile and philanthropist who bequeathed his collection of more than 2,300 items, including a wide range of literary output from illuminated manuscripts to cuneiform tablets, Shakespeare folios and rare first editions, to the people of Phoenix in 1958. Knight had two fine first editions Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667–8) and collected prose (1697), but he had no idea that his copy of Holinshed was part of the great author’s personal library.

The Holinshed was among the books pulled for the research forum, and two of the visiting researchers recognized the distinctive italic handwriting in the notes as that of John Milton. Dr Aaron Pratt, Curator of Early Books & Manuscripts at University of Texas, was the first to notice that a letter “e” looked a lot like Milton’s “e.” Claire Bourne, the associate professor of English at Penn State who in 2019 had found Milton’s annotations in Shakespeare’s First Folio at the Philadelphia Free Library, compared the Holinshed’s notes to the Shakespeare ones, and found them so similar, she sent photos of the notes to Professor Jason Scott-Warren at the University of Cambridge. He didn’t hesitate to agree that this was Milton’s hand.

John Milton censors Raphael Holinshed's lewd anecdote about the mother of William the Conqueror, Arlete. Milton crosses the passage out with a diagonal line and adds a note saying: "an unbecom[ing] / tale for a hist[ory] / and as pedlerl[y] / expresst". Photo courtesy the Phoenix Public Library.The researchers found more than 100 annotations in the first volume alone. In one of them he takes umbrage at a passage, striking the entire paragraph with a diagonal line on the grounds that it is “an unbecoming tale for a history and as pedlerly expresst.” “Pedlerly” means junky, like something a peddler would sell. Milton was clutching his pearls over a rather juicy story, to be fair: the conception of William the Bastard, later known as William the Conqueror.

In the yéere of Christ 1030, Robert, the second sonne of Richard the second duke of Normandie, and brother to Richard the third duke of that name there having with great honour and wisedome gouerned his dukedome seven yéeres, for performance of a penance that he had set to himselfe, appointed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; leaving behind him this William a yoong prince, whome seven yéeres before he had begotten upon his paramour Arlete (whom after he held as his wife) with whose beautifull favour, lovelie grace and presence, at hir dansing on a time then as he was tenderlie touched, for familiar utterance of his mind what he had further to say, would néeds that night she should be his bedfellow, who else as wivelesse should have lien alone: where when she was bestowed, thinking that if she should have laid hir selfe naked, it might have séemed not so maidenlie a part: so when the duke was about (as the maner is) to have lift up hir linnen, she in an humble modestie staid hir lords hand, and rent downe hir smocke asunder, from the collar to the verie skirt. Heereat the duke all smiling did aske hir what thereby she ment? In great lowlines, with a feate question she answerd againe; “My lord, were it méet that any part of my garments dependant about me downeward, should presume to be mountant to my sovereignes mouth vpward? Let your grace pardon me.” He liked hir answer: and so and so foorth for that time.

So basically, instead of letting Robert I take her shirt off, Arlete tore it off her body Chippendales’ style from neckline to waist. Nine months later, a bouncing baby Conqueror was born.

The researchers believe that the discovery opens up new perspectives on his engagement with a major source for his writings, including Of “Reformation “(1641) and “The History of Britain” (1670). He would have been working on both around the time—or shortly after—he was reading the “Chronicles”.

Several of Milton’s notes cite other books known to have been in his library. These include John Stow’s “Annales”, another key source of historical information. Milton also marked out Holinshed quoting Giovanni Villani’s “Chroniche di Firenze” (“Chronicles of Florence”), a book which Milton included in the curriculum he developed for his nephews in the 1640s.

The notes also emphasize Milton’s interest in continental poetry. Under Holinshed’s assertion that Richard the Lionheart was “not very notorious,” Milton added, “the booke of Provenzall poets numbers him in / the catalogue, telling of his poetrie, and his Provenzal / mistresses.” The researchers believe this book refers to Jean de Nostredame’s “Les vies des plus célèbres et anciens poètes provençaux” (Lyon, 1575), which discusses Richard’s poetry and mistresses.

Revolutionary War barracks found at Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a Revolutionary War barracks destroyed by British General Cornwallis in 1781.

“Here at Colonial Williamsburg, we interpret the American Revolution and the politics that led up to it, and a lot of the events that led up to it,” Gary said. “But then, we don’t have a lot of sites that really tell us about what actually happened during the wartime. And this site does. It allows us to get some insight into the everyday lives of your everyday common soldier. it also tells us about what the officers’ lives were like.”

The remains were discovered last summer in anticipation of the construction of a new indoor sports complex near the visitor center. Over the course of five months, the excavation revealed musket balls, lead shot with tooth marks where soldiers poisoned themselves by chewing on the soft, sweet metal like jewelry fragments, pottery, horseshoes, cavalry horse fittings and grooming tools. Structural remains include bricks and chimney bases.

Only a small section of the barracks has been excavated. It was large, around three or four acres in area. It was built in 1776-7 and housed up to 2,000 soldiers and 100 horses before Cornwallis’ troops burned it down. Archaeologists plan to pick up where they left excavating the site by 2026. The planned sports center has been relocated and the excavated area covered back up for its safety.

Beethoven was full of lead, arsenic and mercury

Analysis of authenticated locks clipped from Ludwig von Beethoven’s prodigious head of hair as he lay dying has found astronomically high levels of lead, arsenic and mercury. The poisoning was so severe, it may explain the symptoms that plagued him at the end of his life.

Researchers at the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University sampled five locks of hair previously confirmed as Beethoven’s by DNA analysis and subjected them to poison testing. The owner of three of the locks, Australian businessman and Beethoven afficionado Kevin Brown, sent two locks, one collected between 1820 and 1827, the other in April 1826, to a Mayo Clinic lab where they were tested for the presence of heavy metals.

The result, said Paul Jannetto, the lab director, was stunning. One of Beethoven’s locks had 258 micrograms of lead per gram of hair, and the other had 380 micrograms.

A normal level in hair is less than 4 micrograms of lead per gram.

“It definitely shows Beethoven was exposed to high concentrations of lead,” Jannetto said.

“These are the highest values in hair I’ve ever seen,” he added. “We get samples from around the world, and these values are an order of magnitude higher.”

Beethoven’s hair also had arsenic levels 13 times what is normal and mercury levels that were 4 times the normal amount. But the high amounts of lead, in particular, could have caused many of his ailments, Jannetto said.

The composer was famously suffering from hearing loss — he had been functionally deaf since he was 30, 26 years before he died — and he was also afflicted with chronic gastrointestinal problems (painful abdominal cramps, flatulence, diarrhea). High levels of lead damage the human nervous system, which could have caused his deafness, also cause liver and kidney damage. It may also have played a role in some of his other issues, like his notoriously terrible temper, memory lapses, and chronic clumsiness.

This is not an Agatha Christie case. The lead levels were not high enough to be fatal, and there is no reason to believe he was deliberately poisoned, but rather was exposed to the poisons in his daily environment. Lead, arsenic and mercury were in a lot of things people lived with, ate and drank, from food to medicine to wallpaper. He spent decades taking dozens of different types of nostrums in the attempt to cure his deafness and chronic illnesses, and they certainly contained lead, among many other poisons.

One likely source of Beethoven’s high levels of lead was cheap wine. Lead, in the form of lead acetate, also called “lead sugar,” has a sweet taste. In Beethoven’s time it was often added to poor quality wine to make it taste better.

Wine was also fermented in kettles soldered with lead, which would leach out as the wine aged, Nriagu said. And, he added, corks on wine bottles were presoaked in lead salt to improve the seal.

Beethoven drank copious amounts of wine, about a bottle a day, and later in his life even more, believing it was good for his health and also, Meredith said, because he had become addicted to it. In the last few days before his death at age 56 in 1827, his friends gave him wine by the spoonful.

This research fulfills a wish Beethoven expressed in 1802 to his brothers. He asked that after his death, they get his doctor to tell the world about his struggle with progressive hearing loss in the hope that “as far as possible at least the world will be reconciled to me after my death.”

Happy 1,911th anniversary, Trajan’s Column!

On May 12th, 113 A.D., Trajan’s Column was inaugurated, a masterpiece of construction and imperial self-promotion that has been broadcasting scenes from the emperor’s conquest of Dacia for 1,911 years. It was the first triumphal pillar, copied by later emperors, and today is the only intact monument remaining in the Forum of Trajan.

Before the first figure of the spiral frieze that winds around his entire height was carved, the column was already a marvel of engineering. Twenty drums of white marble, each 12 feet in diameter and weighing 32 tons, had to be quarried from Carrara, transported over land, sea and river to Rome and stacked on top of each other more than 98 feet high in the Forum of Trajan. Added to the pedestal, the total height of the victory column is 115 feet.

The exterior of the marble drums were carved with a spiral bas relief 620 feet long that wraps around the column shaft 25 times and boasts 155 different scenes populated by 2,662 figures, including Trajan himself who appears no fewer than 58 times. But wait, there’s more! The interior was then hollowed out, the hard marble removed to create a spiral staircase of 185 steps like an Archimedes screw that visitors in antiquity could use to reach the viewing platform at the top of the column. A small doorway in the base allowed access, and the long walk up was lit by 43 small windows.

The Syrian genius Apollodorus of Damascus, who had accompanied Trajan on his Dacian campaign in 105 A.D. as a military architect, was commissioned by Trajan to plan and execute this testament to his conquest. The frieze has a heavier emphasis on Roman military construction than on actual battle scenes, congruent with Apollodorus’ personal experience of the Dacian Wars but probably motivated more by Trajan’s desire to present himself as sober and effective rather than bloodthirsty. The carving is so detailed and realistic that the column is a unique record of Roman and Dacian clothing, weapons, armor, defenses, artillery, vehicles, religious practices and much more.

It is difficult to grasp the density of content on the column with the naked given the height and distance. The best way to get a real look at the narrative relief is through the plaster casts taken of the column. There’s a full set in the Museum of Roman Civilization, made in 1861-2 by order of Napoleon III. They are placed in four rows at eye level. The museum has been closed for renovations for years, and is scheduled to reopen later this year.

I recently discovered there’s another full set of casts in, appropriately enough, the National History Museum of Romania. This set is much more recent, created between 1934 and 1940 by Vatican craftsmen, although wars hot and cold prevented it from getting to Bucharest until 1967. It is visually even closer to the original because it’s not made of plaster. It is reinforced white cement mixed with white marble dust, so it’s basically a match for the look of the Carrara marble. The museum also has an exact replica of the pedestal.

The National History Museum of Romania has a 3D virtual tour of their copy of Trajan’s Column. They also have a VR option that puts you right in the middle of the museum’s Lapidarium where the copy is installed.

Grifter hermit’s treasure found in Poland

A treasure in coins associated with the notorious conman hermit Anthony Jaczewicz have been discovered in the Jeleniowskie mountain range of south-central Poland. The Świętokrzyska Exploration Group (ŚGE), a group of local metal detectorists searching by consent of the Świętokrzyskie Provincial Monument Conservator, set out seeking traces of the legendary hermit’s treasure in June 2022. They found several deposits of silver and gold coins which are now being recorded and conserved. They’ve kept their discovery quiet for two years to protect the site.

Antoni Jaczewski was one of many adventurers and grifters who suckered people in the late 17th and early 18th century when Poland was struck by another wave of plague. As happened when the Black Death first devastated Europe in the middle of the 14th century and in subsequent pandemic outbreaks, desperate people turned to religious figures and practices for healing. Jaczewski built a hermitage in the Swiętokrzyskie Mountains in May of 1708. He claimed to have received the power to heal the sick from the Virgin Mary who was living there in the hermitage with him.

The fraud was incredibly effective. Donations poured in and soon the hermitage was so flush with cash that Jaczewski needed to hire armed guards. That launched another lucrative sideline for the fake holy man: robbing pilgrims and raiding neighboring estates. The local nobility finally arrested him and he was imprisoned by the Bishop of Krakow, but he soon escaped and went right back to his mountain hermitage flogging phony healing. He was by no means in hiding, and it seems he had at least tacit approval from papal authorities. Eventually he made too much trouble for the wrong people again, and in 1712 he was arrested and put on trial at the Krakow episcopal court. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in the fortress of Częstochowa.

ŚGE managed to locate a large collection of coins from the first half of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, including orts, sixes, krajcars, kopecks (so-called teardrops). and other. The Hamburg ducat from 1648 looks particularly interesting, with an image of Madonna and Child pierced at the edge of the coin, which suggests that it could have served as a medallion. It seems, therefore, that the coins may be part of the fees collected by the self-proclaimed hermit, donations or votive offerings, or perhaps also goods stolen from the local nobility. The deposit of coins, secured by the conservation services and members of ŚGE, was transferred to the Historical and Archaeological Museum in Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski. “Its conservation and detailed numismatic and historical analysis are planned this year, which we hope will provide more answers about the past of this deposit.” – said Wojciech Siudowski, from WUOZ in Kielce