Surreal Stories From History I Oxford Open Learning

History

Surreal Stories From History


‘Truth is stranger than fiction. It has to be! Fiction has to be possible, and truth doesn’t!’, declared Mark Twain. While it’s hard to imagine that reality could be wilder than works of fiction, we might find ourselves surprised if we dive into the history books.

The War on Cats

The ancient Egyptians worshipped our feline friends, believing that cats represented divine elements of their gods. Some were even mummified alongside their cats. But things weren’t quite so rosy for cats come the thirteenth century. Pope Gregory IX issued a public decree known as Vox in Rama. The bad news? The bill declared that cats were the devil’s offspring and everyone should set about exterminating them. Black cats were targeted specifically due to their association with witches, with them often being seen as a bad omen. Thankfully, by the 1600s, cats’ reputations were beginning to recover.

Victorian Death Rituals

In the Victorian era, death was a public event, with the sick typically being cared for and dying at home. The resurgence of evangelicalism in Victorian Britain meant that the concept of the Ars Moriendi or the ‘Art of Dying Well,’ was revived. People often believed that an individual’s spiritual home – be it heaven or hell – would be decided at the hour of their passing. This resulted in families and friends gathering around the sick in the days before their death, hoping to witness moments of religious enlightenment. The body would then be left in the home until burial, with visitors dropping by to see the dead. One extremely unique aspect of Victorian death ‘etiquette’ was that families often dressed the deceased and took pictures of their relatives in lifelike positions. Today, we might see this as an oddly morbid fixation, but to Victorian families the photographs were viewed as ‘mirrors with memories’ – a way of honouring and remembering relatives who had passed.

The Gladiators Were The Celebrities Of Roman History

Move over Cristiano Ronaldo – during the history of the Roman Empire, Gladiators were idolised like the sports stars of today! Gladiator matches originally started as part of funeral rituals, where two enslaved people would be forced to fight. Once Gladiator matches were popularised, they became foundational to the Roman Empire’s culture and entertainment. But due to their value and ability to generate money for their management, very few Gladiators actually ‘fought to the death.’ Deaths certainly occurred during fights, but it was much more common for one or both of the parties to be badly injured. Like modern celebrities and sportspeople, the most successful Gladiators were revered, appearing in paintings and sculptures, and even being made into children’s toys! Gladiators were also associated with power, strength, and masculinity, so their sweat and blood were used in women’s beauty products and perfume.

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Jessica is a freelance copywriter and content writer based in Richmond-Upon-Thames. With a degree in English Literature from University College London, she has experience as a private tutor for 14-18 years olds and adult learners. She has also worked in Widening Participation as a Mentor, Student Ambassador, and Student Leader. As someone who achieved A-Levels through distance-learning, Jessica has first-hand experience of the unique challenges and rewards that distance-learning offers. She regularly contributes content to educational websites including eNotes and Tutorful.