Astound your friends during those dull wedding speeches, at the book club, or in the communal showers at the gym by throwing in a few ‘did you knows’ that most people didn’t know. It’ll confirm that beneath your finely chiselled body, throbs a finely chiselled brain.

Atlantis

Centuries of research and conjecture surrounding the location of this mythical place could all boil down to a slip of the tongue, or an extra zero. Perhaps both. Perhaps Plato made a boo-boo.

He named this paradise Atlantis and located it beyond the Pillars of Hercules – today’s Straits of Gibraltar – somewhere between Africa and America. The account was based on the writings of his ancient ancestor, Solon, who’d heard it from even more ancient Egyptian priests. Being so highly regarded, Plato was never really questioned.

This is where things get a bit messy. Firstly, ground-penetrating RADAR found no sunken continent/island/city in the Atlantic, as the name suggests. As so often happens over time with historic translations and interpretations, there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. There was/is another ancient Pillars of Hercules promontory in southern Greece, beyond which lies Crete, and Thera where that volcanic eruption destroyed the Minoan Empire.

This highly sophisticated island-nation exploded one day and was swallowed up by the sea and the enormous caldera left below in the ocean floor. Some excavators on nearby Santorini island exposed a complete Minoan city beneath 35 metres of volcanic ash and dust. Now, how much fun is that?

Anyway, if Oom Solon lived only 900 and not 9 000 years before him – as Plato mis-scribed in his scribblings – it would put the Thera catastrophe in the right time frame: around 1 470 BCE.

Secondly, Plato reckoned that Atlantis was bigger than Libya and Asia, which could be misleading. You see, the Greek word for ‘greater than’ is very similar to ‘midway’, so was it misinterpreted to mean the former, whereas Thera (kaboom!) was midway between Libya and Asia. He also incorrectly suggested the size of Atlantis as 800 000 square miles, whereas an island of 80 000 square miles fits neatly into the Aegean Sea.

So, there you have it. They’ve found Atlantis. If Plato had just named it Aegeanis, he’d have saved humanity centuries of failed expeditions, fruitless expenditure and nauseating poetry.

The loo

John Harrington was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth I, and in 1584 was banished from her court for spreading risqué rumours. Slinking off, he built himself a mansion near Bath where he created the first flushing lavatory which he named ‘Ajax’. He even wrote a journal about Ajax, describing the bowl with an opening at the bottom, sealed by a leather valve. A system of handles, levers and weights, poured in water from an overhead cistern which pushed open the leather valve and Bingo! – a flushing loo.

Eight years later the queen forgave him his indiscretions and popped in for a braai. When nature called, Ajax answered, and she was so chuffed she ordered one for her Richmond Palace. It didn’t sit well, as it were, with regular folks though, who preferred the ‘chamber pot and pavement’ method. In France it was customary to yell gardez l’eau! before pouring the horror onto the sidewalk below, which is where ‘loo’ originated.

John Crapper perfected the system 300 years later. The name stuck – because it just doesn’t sound right to say, “Be right back – just going for a quick Ajax,” does it?

Wine or why not?

An ancient Persian legend describes how wine was ‘discovered’ when Prince Jemshed ordered a few goatskin gourds to be labelled ‘poison’ after his grape juice – fermenting slightly – gave him the trots.

His favourite wife, having recently lost his affections, contemplated suicide by gargling down a few of the papsakke. By now it had matured into a bold Shiraz, and “she became gay and vivacious”, a euphimism for drunk and loose, which worked wonders and won back her philandering husband. These days though, it’s a country where papsakke are prohibited when being gay and vivacious.

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