12 December: Karen Blixen

Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke at Kastrup Airport CPH, Copenhagen 1957-11-02.
Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke at Kastrup Airport CPH, Copenhagen 1957-11-02.

Name: Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, Karen Christenze Dinesen, Isak Dinesen.

Tagline: Born to a family of Danish nobles, with a soldiering father, she married a Swedish baron and moved to Kenya to start a coffee farm. When both the farm and the marriage fell apart, she moved home, and spent the rest of her life writing stories.

Claim to fame: Writing such that Ernest Hemmingway said in his Nobel Prize speech that he would have been happier if she’d been a recipient before him. Continue reading 12 December: Karen Blixen

11 December: William Kempe

Kempe performing his Nine Day Wonder.

Name: William “Will” Kempe

Tagline: A comedic actor and dancer who was part of several theatre troupes that also contained another William – Shakespeare. He broke with that company in 1599, striking out on his own.

Claim to Fame: Apart from being the inspiration of many of Shakespeare’s funny characters, notably Falstaff, he marked his independence by morris dancing from London to Norwich in the course of nine days. Continue reading 11 December: William Kempe

[FTAWTTT] 10 December: Corfitz Ulfeldt

Corfitz UIfeldt in his glory days.
Corfitz UIfeldt in his glory days.

Name: Corfitz Ulfeldt

Tagline: Starting out as the king’s valet, Ulfeldt was a rising star, but ended up as a hated man, exiled from two countries.

Claim to Fame: Ulfeldt is widely known as the greatest traitor Denmark has ever known. Continue reading [FTAWTTT] 10 December: Corfitz Ulfeldt

9 December: Arjuna

Arjuna shooting from his chariot with Krishna at the reins, and Hanuman as a banner.

Name: Arjuna

Tagline: A son of the god, Indra, Arjuna is a real hero in all senses of the word. Unfortunately, he and his brothers get into a deadly struggle with their cousins.

Claim to fame: Arjuna is a major character in the great Indian epic, the Mahabarata – in particular, he is the main character of the Baghavad Gita. Continue reading 9 December: Arjuna

8 December: Horus

Isis is suckling the infant Horus.
Isis is suckling the infant Horus.

Name: Horus (the Elder)

Tagline: The king of the Egyptian gods after his father, Osiris, was killed and dismembered by uncle Set.

Claim to Fame: Fought Set for the throne for more than eighty years, but won after, among other things, ejaculating on cabbage, and painting a wooden boat to look like stone. Continue reading 8 December: Horus

7 December: Heinrich Schleiman

Heinrich Schliemann in his maturity

Name: Heinrich Schliemann

Tagline: A German businessman and archaeologist, who was certain the Illiad was based on reality.

Claim to Fame: Think Achilles and Odysseus wiped out Troy? Nope – it was this guy.

Heinrich Schliemann was a controversial figure, even in his own time. He was a passionate archaeologist, but his methods were destructive, and he probably put too much emphasis on gold and too little on potsherds.

Schliemann started out in business, however. He was apparently a polyglot, who claimed he could master a language in six weeks. By the end of his life he could converse in more than ten languages.

That came in immensely handy in his life in business. At 22, he was employed by a company in Amsterdam, who sent him to St. Petersburg. When his brother died in California in 1850, he went there, and started a bank. He quickly made a lot of money trading gold dust, but a controversy emerged around him, so he moved back to Russia. There, he made several very successful business deals – including cornering the market for sulphur, saltpetre and lead right as the Russian army needed ammunition for the Crimean War.

Thus it came about that he could retire at the tender age of 36, and devote his time to his passion: archaeology. Specifically, finding the location of historic Troy.

Schliemann spent some time trying to find the right location, before ultimately settling on a location in Turkey. Along the way, he earned a PhD from the University of Rostock for a thesis he submitted on the topology of Ithaca. The thesis was supposedly partly translated from another author, partly rewritten from poetic descriptions by the same author.

Schliemann began work in 1871. Now, most people think of people with bent backs wielding spoons and brushes when they think of Archaeologists at work. But not Schliemann. His favourite tool was a stick of dynamite.

See, he figured that the Troy of the Illiad was the deepest layer. And he was anxious to get to the good stuff. And so he blew his way through nine layers of previous settlements – down to something that predates historic Troy by around four hundred years, and through the actual remains of historic Troy, making it impossible for later generations to study them.

Schliemann’s wife, Sophia, wearing “The Jewels of Helen”.

Once there, Schliemann knew what he was interested in: gold! And he did, in fact, discover several golden treasures, calling it “Priam’s Treasure”, though it was much too old to have been connected with Troy. He claimed that he had sent his men away when he found it, and that he and his wife had excavated it themselves. Only problem? She was far away in Athens at the time.

Speaking of wives, Schliemann had two. His first was a Russian woman whom he married when he was in Russia the second time, and with whom he had three children. The marriage was not a happy one, however, and when Heinrich moved to Paris, his wife refused to move with him. So he moved to Indiana for three months, and gained a divorce there by lying about his intention to stay there.

Later on, in Greece, he was looking for a new wife, and was introduced to the 17 year old Sophia, whom the 47 year old Schliemann decided to marry. They had two children, whom Schliemann named Andromache and Agamemnon. He was indeed possessed by the Illiad.

Heinrich Schliemann is something of a tragic figure. His obsession with Troy and his strong beliefs in his own rightness caused him to destroy the thing he loved, and has caused him to be reviled in modern archaeology.

His obstinacy also brought him to his death. In November, 1890, he developed a terrible ear infection, and received an operation. But instead of following his doctor’s orders, he travelled on, eventually collapsing on Christmas day, and dying on the 26th of December.

How I would use him: Schlieman is equally at home as a villain in a pulpy, Indiana Jones story, or in a Lovecraft story. He is so focused on digging up treasures (that belong in a museum) that he is likely to dig up something weird and foul.

Ironically, he could also be a figure out of a Greek tragedy. He is oblivious to his own failings, making him exacerbate the issues.

6 December: Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas is apparently also a major saint in the Russian Orthodox Church

Names: Nicolaos of Myra, Hagios Nikolaos, Sanctus Nicolaus, Nikolaos ho Thaumarturgos (Nicolaus the Wonderworker).

Tagline: Born in the Roman province of Asia Minor, Nicolaus was made bishop at a young age. He took part in the Council of Nicaea, which set down many of the foundations of the Christian church, and received a rumor as a miracle worker.

Claim to fame: Look, he’s the guy who became Santa Claus, alright? Continue reading 6 December: Saint Nicholas

5 December: Edward Drinker Cope

Edward Drinker Cope

Name: Edward Drinker Cope

Tagline: A dedicated paleontologist who published more than 1,400 articles and discovered and named more than 1,000 species, Cope is probably most (in)famous for being one of the parties involved in the so-called “bone wars”.

Claim to Fame: On top of his massive work, he was part of something called the bone wars – and if that isn’t enough, he left his brain behind, so it could be measured against his rival! Continue reading 5 December: Edward Drinker Cope

[FTAWTTT] 4 December: Conan the Barbarian

Cover for Tales of Conan, published in 1955 by Gnome Press. Notice how un-Schwarzeneggerian Conan looks in this cover. Cover art by Ed Emshwiller

Name: Conan the Cimmerian

Tagline: Conan came from the northern Cimmuria to fight monsters, claim treasure and woo beautiful women. And to become king of Aquilonia, apparently

Claim to Fame: Conan is a barbarian, right? An uncultured, brutal, unsophisticated fighting machine. Well, turns out he’s actually kind of brainy and genteel for a brute. Continue reading [FTAWTTT] 4 December: Conan the Barbarian

[FTAWTTT] 3 December: King Eric of Pomerania

A contemporary picture of Eric

Name: Eric of Pomerania, King of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, the Wends and the Goths, Duke of Pomerania (Born Bogislav of Pomerania)

Tagline: Adopted by his aunt, Margaret I, he became king of the three Nordic kingdoms at an early age. He was a visionary, but also a stubborn and undiplomatic, ruler, and was eventually deposed as king – after which he made a living as a pirate in the Baltic sea.

Claim to fame: Apart from the fact that he went from being a king to being a pirate, he established the Sound Dues, providing a steady income for Denmark for years to come and sowing the seeds for the Elsinore of Hamlet, and he secured Copenhagen as the Danish capital. Continue reading [FTAWTTT] 3 December: King Eric of Pomerania