Tag Archives: Middle Ages

Marco Polo

Niccoló Polo begins to regret bringing his smart-alecky kid along on the big China trip.

Probably the Silk Road’s most famous traveler was Marco Polo (ad 1254-1324). Marco’s family were merchants from Venice, Italy. His dad and uncle had already traveled all the way to China and back. They decided to make a return trip and bring 15-year-old Marco this time. Marco Polo wrote all about his travels and his book became a bestseller (remember, this was before moveable type so books had to be hand-copied). He described the romantic places along the Silk Road (Samarkand, the Hindu Kush, Kashmir, Xanadu), the exotic goods that were traded, and the size and wealth of China. The Polos would not return to Venice for 24 years.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Marco-Polo
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Marco-Polo/Sojourn-in-China
http://www.silk-road.com/artl/marcopolo.shtml

More Maimonides from my pal Ilene

Ilene Winn-Lederer is a talented illustrator pal of mine. She’s written about  Maimonides and also created this beautiful image of him. I asked her to contribute her thoughts about Rabbi Moshe—here’s what she has to say. Incidentally, if you like Ilene’s illustration it is available as a print. Purchase info is at the end of this post.

Here is the text I promised to send. You may know this info but it’s what I provided to the JCC and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation when the painting was exhibited and later purchased. MAIMONIDES’ DREAM 1998
Sumi Ink, Acrylic on Paper 20″ x 24″

Maimonides… rabbi, physician and foremost intellectual figure of medieval Judaism is depicted in this acrylic on paper painting. As the prolific writer whose ideas about philosophy, religion, and medicine continue to influence these disciplines today, he is best known for three works: his commentary on the Mishna, his code of Jewish law, and his ‘Guide of the Perplexed’.

Born Moses Ben Maimon to an educated, distinguished family on March 30, 1135 in Cordoba, Spain, he lived in a time when nearly one-fifth of the people in Southern Spain were Jews. In 1159, a fanatical Islamic sect began to persecute the Jews of Cordoba and the family left Spain for Fez, Morocco. There, Maimonides began his study of medicine, but again his family fled persecution and moved to Palestine. By the 1160’s, they had finally settled in Fostat, Egypt, near Cairo where the practice of Judaism was permitted. Soon after their arrival Maimonides’ father and brother died and Maimonides began to practice medicine to support his family. He was in great demand for his learning and skills as a physician, and soon became court physician to Sultan Saladin. Maimonides also lectured at the local hospital, maintained a private practice, and was a leader in the Jewish community. Maimonides died on Dec. 13, 1204, and was buried in Tiberias near the Sea of Galilee.

I have envisioned Maimonides embracing the Torah, which is encased in a Sephardic style container known as a ‘tik’. He is seen in flight reflecting the phases of exile he and his family endured. His Egyptian sojourn and subsequent rebirth of his career as a physician is represented by the phoenix, which according to legend, was originally called the Bennu. It was associated with the Egyptian deity Osiris and identified as a heron with its long, straight back and two erect head feathers. Later named Phoenix by the Greeks for its brilliant red-gold plumage, this mythical bird was said to create itself from the fire that burned on the top of the sacred Persea tree in Heliopolis. Rising from the ashes, it symbolizes healing and immortality, just as the new sun rises from the old. The burning spice tower on the horizon alludes to the Golden Age of Spain when Judaism and Islam lived harmoniously. The tower burns, but is not consumed because of the memories that survive to become hope. Finally, the sun and moon image represents the timeless nature of dreams.

Thanks, Ilene! Here’s where you can purchase a print of MAIMONIDES’ DREAMhttp://magiceyegallery.com/PicturePage.aspx?id=42

Ptolemy—why not take Ptolemy?

Ptolemy showing his geocentric model of the universe. That’s Earth in the middle.

We’re coming up on the Middle Ages, everybody! The Roman Empire has become the Holy Roman Empire—we’re still working on creating individual countries out of the territories of various tribes. The Christian Church has become a stabilizing institution. With Charlemagne’s help, religious centers—like monasteries—are also places of learning. Alcuin of York (Charlemagne’s right-hand man) designed an easier-to-read way of writing using capital letters and small letters instead of ALL CAPS!

Life isn’t easy for regular peasants, which is most people. It’s hard to make a living on a farm. Some people head to the towns to learn a trade. Sanitation isn’t so great and the bubonic plague is always just around the corner. It will be centuries before anyone figures out that plague is carried by fleas.

It usually takes a long time for civilizations to accept new ideas. Even after Eratosthanes showed the Earth to be round, many people thought she was flat. Both educated and uneducated people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and the Sun, planets and stars revolved around her. They thought of the universe as a giant sphere—a ball—with planets and stars stuck onto it. This sphere would be like clear glass. The word for this idea is geocentricgeo is a Greek word for Earth, centric means smack dab in the middle.

We get this idea from an astronomer named Ptolemy (TOE-leh-mee), who lived in Alexandria, Egypt (100-170 ad, we think). He improved on the basic geocentric idea. Ptolemy used math to place the stars in fixed positions on this big sphere. He observed that the planets didn’t stay fixed on the sphere, though, so they were called wandering stars and got their own smaller spheres that fit inside the big one. The Sun made its own orbit, a circle, called an ecliptic.

Here’s Billie Holiday singing “All of Me.”

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ptolemy
https://www.teachastronomy.com/textbook/The-Copernican-Revolution/Ptolemy-and-the-Geocentric-Model/