James Cook, better known to history as Captain Cook, was born in Yorkshire, the second of eight children. After a period of service and learning in the merchant navy, Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755, and rose through the ranks to become Captain of his own ship. In this role, he would distinguish himself as one of the greatest navigators and surveyors the world has ever seen.
He is best remembered for his three voyages to the Pacific, where he lead missions that were the first Europeans to set foot on New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia, and the first people ever to cross the Antarctic circle, among other accomplishments. Even during his lifetime, Cook was so respected the world over that during the American Revolution, the rebel navy had orders not to fire on his ship, but to render him assistance as ‘a friend to all mankind’.
One of the most famous paintings of all time, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or “La Gioconda” is an oil portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo – at least, that’s the most popular suspect. The identity of La Gioconda is a mystery to this day – and her enigmatic yet knowing smile only feeds the intrigue.
The portrait itself hangs in the Louvre in Paris, where it has hung since the French Revolution (with a few minor interruptions either for its own protection or on tours of other galleries), where it has been a popular target for vandals and writers of shitty novels.
One of the Seven Wonders of the World (the original seven, now usually called the wonders of the Ancient World), the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. Of all the Seven Wonders, they are one of the only two to be secular (along with the Lighthouse of Alexandria) and the only one to be famous as much for the living entities in it as its architecture.
One of the taller buildings in the world – at that time – the Hanging Gardens were like overgrown version of the classic Sumerian ziggurat. They were famous for their beauty, but as a royal preserve, they were more the kind of tourist attraction one gazes at longlingly than actually walks through.
While Jimi Hendrix may not have been the greatest guitar player of all time – although that’s not a bet I would take – he is certainly the most legendary. Partly for his stage presence and antics (you seen anyone else set a guitar on fire on stage lately?), partly because he died so tragically young, and but mostly because, DAMN, that man could play.
He was born Johnny Allen Hendrix (which was shortly thereafter changed to James Marshall Hendrix) but the world knows him best as Jimi. Of mixed descent – the man had African-American, Cherokee and Irish genes – he was not merely a great musician but also a great experimentalist, pioneering many of the sounds, effects and techniques that created the modern rock vocabulary of the electric guitar. The debt owed to him by practically ever guitar player who lived after him is immeasurable.
Not bad for a guy who played guitar for only a little over 12 years.
Generally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built in honour of Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of Shah Jahan, by her husband. He was an Emperor of the Mughals, and the Taj is built in the distinctive Mughal architectural style, harmoniously combining influences from Persia, India and Ottoman Turkey.
It was built in several stages over more than two decades, and the total cost of the construction was about 32 million rupees – at that time, not adjusted for three and half centuries of inflation. Over twenty thousand workers toiled to build the complex, guided by a small committee of architects.
When he died, the Shah Jahan was buried in the Taj Mahal also, next to his beloved wife.
It wasn’t always a desert. The Saharan plain was once open grassland with occasional forests. As late as the time of Julius Caesar, and even afterwards, Romans reported elephants, leopards and lions on the North African shores – along with abundant timber. But like that timber, which was cut down by the Carthaginians and Romans to build their navies, little remains of the Saharan plant life today.
The changes began around three and a half thousand years earlier, with a combination of changes in prevailing winds, a shift in the planet’s orbit and increased cultivation of the land – at this time, for example, south western Egypt and the Sudan were great agricultural realms, for example. But within a few hundred years, the region had become almost impassible, with few other than the Berbers prepared to cross the region until the invention of modern cooling systems in the Twentieth Century.
The Tower of Babel was an attempt by the post-Deluge peoples – all of whom spoke a common language – to build a structure upon the plain of Shinar which would reach to Heaven. God took offense to this, and went down from Heaven to prevent the project from succeeding. Having a keen understanding of the importance of good communication, God’s method for disrupting the project was the change everyone’s language. He created an un-recorded number of languages that day, sundering families and friendships, and all to prevent people from reaching Heaven physically.
The traditional religious interpretation of this is that it is a warning against pride. However, God’s words, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, make it fairly clear that, not unlike with that unfortunate business with the snake and the fruit, God was once again acting from fear that mere humans could dethrone Him by equalling him in power.
It’s not clear exactly when Cain murdered Abel in any biblical chronology I’ve been able to find. Some of them even date it to 4004 BCE, the same year usually given for the Creation of the earth. Which implies that not only were Cain and Abel both full grown men in the space of a single year, but that their mother’s two pregnancies (Cain and Abel were not twins – Cain is the older), also took place in that same year.
Nevertheless, as brothers, they didn’t always get along. This may or may not have had something to do with the notoriously fickle and hard to please deity that they worshiped, or that deity’s changing of the rules on them – Cain presumably would not have made an offering that God (who is, according to the Gospel of Luke, Cain’s grandfather) that God found unacceptable had he known ahead of time that it would be rejected.
Cain responds to his rejection by God by hunting and killing his brother, Abel. (Which makes him sound a little older than >1 – about 16 or so, I would guess.) And then God, not done with the mind games, pretends not to know about it and questions Cain, leading to his infamous declaration that he was “not his brother’s keeper” (which is a rare concession to historical accuracy by the Book of Genesis – cricket had indeed not yet been invented). God curses Cain and exiles him, making him the earliest biblical figure to be set up and knocked down by God.