Wednesday, 16 July 2014


“Humour is just another defence against the universe.” - Mel Brooks

Today is Revolution Day III in Iraq, Rivera Day in Puerto Rico; Independence Day in Slovakia, and Constitution Day in South Korea (since 1948). It is also the anniversary of the birth of:
Anne Hutchinson, religious skeptic (1591);
Isaac Watts, writer (1674);
Elbridge Gerry, 5th Vice President of the USA, inventor of the gerrymander (1744);
John Jacob Astor, fur trader millionaire (1763);
Shmuel Yosef Halevi Agnon, Israeli novelist (1888);
Erle Stanley Gardner, writer (1889);
Frank Forde, Australian PM (1890);
James Cagney, actor (1900);
Christina Stead, novelist (1902);
Phyllis Diller, comedienne (1917);
Donald Sutherland, actor (1934);
Pat McCormick, writer (1934);
Peter Schickele, composer (1935);
Lucie Arnaz, actress (1951);
David Hasselhoff, actor (1952);
Phoebe Snow, actress (1952).

The birthday plant for this day, is caraway, Carum carvi. The name is derived from a place in Asia Minor, Caria.  The seeds have been used form ancient times to flavour food, especially breads and cakes. The plant signifies the sentiment “you will grow to love me”.  Astrologically, it is under the rule of Mercury.

Slovakia is a central European country 49,000 square km in area and with a population of 6 million people. It separated from the Czech Republic in 1993 and traditionally it has always been less developed economically, politically and culturally than its erstwhile sister state. Its capital is Bratislava with other major cities being Kosice, Banská, Zilina, Nitra and Bystrica. It is a landlocked country with harsh winters and warm summers. Other than coal, the country lacks mineral resources but under the former communist rule heavy industry was encouraged to the detriment of the few resources and to catastrophic environmental effects. To the Northeast there are the Carpathian Mountains while to the South there is agricultural land. The country is slowly recovering, albeit at a slower rate than the Czech Republic.

Iraq is a Middle Eastern country through which flow the historic Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the small seafront that the country possesses on the Persian Gulf. It is just under 439,000 square km in area with a population of close to 20 million. The capital is Baghdad with other major centres being Basra, Mosul, Sulaymaniyah, Karbala, Ba’qubah and Al Amarah. The climate is mainly arid with low rainfall, high mountains, deserts and marsh. The fertile crescent between the two rivers has been sustaining rich agriculture for millennia. However, the major export is oil from the extensive reserves the country possesses. Wars in the 1980s and 1990s have crippled the economy and several decades may pass for complete recovery to occur.

Margaret the Virgin-Martyr, known as Margaret of Antioch (in Pisidia) in the West, and as and Saint Marina the Great-Martyr (Greek: Ἁγία Μαρίνα Μεγαλομάρτυς) in the East, is celebrated as a saint by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches on July 20 and on July 17 in the Orthodox Church. Her historical existence has been questioned. She was declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494, but devotion to her revived in the West with the Crusades. She was reputed to have promised very powerful indulgences to those who wrote or read her life, or invoked her intercessions; these no doubt helped the spread of her cult.

According to the version of the story in Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, and she was the daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. Her mother having died soon after her birth, Margaret was nursed by a pious woman five or six leagues from Antioch. Having embraced Christianity and consecrated her virginity to God, she was disowned by her father, adopted by her nurse and lived in the country keeping sheep with her foster mother (in what is now Turkey).

Olybrius, Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East, asked to marry her but with the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon’s innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical passage of skepticism, describes this last incident as “apocryphal and not to be taken seriously”. She was put to death in A.D. 304. Saint Margaret, as Saint Marina, with associations to the sea, “may in turn point to an older goddess tradition”, reflecting the pagan divinity Aphrodite.

The Eastern Orthodox Church knows Margaret as Saint Marina, and celebrates her feast day on July 17. She has been identified with Saint Pelagia, “Marina” being the Latin equivalent of the Greek name “Pelagia” who, according to a legend, was also called Margarita. We possess no historical documents on St. Margaret as distinct from St. Pelagia. The Greek Marina came from Antioch, Pisidia (as opposed to Antioch of Syria), but this distinction was lost in the West.

Died on this day: In 855, St Leo IV, Pope of Rome

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