February 7, 2008

A.D. 897: Cadaver Synod

So I'll be the first to admit that the delightful design scheme of this blog is a stock template—I'm no html whiz, and I liked the colors. Plus I'm a sucker for the five-pointed star, as readers of my previous post can attest.

The one irksome feature is the unexplained use of the number 897 worked into the design. What on Earth it means to the coder, we may never know. But on a whim, I popped the figure into Google and hit upon a couple interesting results.

There's a Pennsylvania Route 897, which ends in the county seat of Lebanon, not too far from where I went to school.

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But even better than that, in the winter of A.D. 897 the medieval Catholic papacy held what has been described as "the strangest trial in history"—the Cadaver Synod.

A synod is a type of administrative council of bishops held by the church. This particular synod focused on Pope Formosus, who during his five-year reign in Rome had made some powerful political enemies.

One of these was Pope Stephen VI (or VII, depending on who you talk to), who took on the papal robes a few months after Formosus died. The enraged (deranged?) new pope ordered the rotting corpse of Formosus to be exhumed, propped up on a chair in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and put on trial for treasonous crimes.

Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921)
Concile cadavérique de 897 (The Cadaver Synod)
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Stephen VI, who apparently subscribed to the Gospel according to St. Bastard, had a teenage deacon answer in place of the dead man as he threw wild accusations at the body before finding it posthumously guilty. He then proceeded to strip the cadaver of its ceremonial vestments, cut off some of its fingers, bury it again, re-dig it up, and throw it in the Tiber River.

And I thought office politics could get gruesome.

Of course there's always repercussions when you decide to be the mayor of Crazy Town. Stephen VI's performance so outraged the Romans—the people who brought you gladiatorial combat and public crucifictions—that he was soon after stripped of his pope-ness and imprisoned.

The deposed Stephen VI was strangled in jail in the summer of A.D. 897.

February 5, 2008

Math = Magic

As promised, below I have posted a sweet pic of my newest identifying mark, courtesy of my superbad friend Ewisa.

Despite the nightmares that math gives me when I pursue it directly, I am awed at how many of my most beloved activities were born of math and need it to survive—baking, singing, gaming, astronomy, and yes, even blogging.

As a 12-year veteran of choirs and a HUGE karaoke fan, the singing part is the most beautiful example, imho, and the main inspiration for this tat. It derives from a 1959 Disney educational film, which portrayed Pythagoras and his crew as a secret society of "eggheads" who discovered the ratios that birthed modern music.

The magic ratio for Pythagoras was 2:1, which yields an octave, and from there a few basic fractions created the well-known musical scale. The famous Greek is also credited with Pythagorean tuning, in which the 3:2 ratio gives us the musical interval for the perfect fifth.

The pentagram—a symbol used by the Pythagoreans to identify kindred thinkers—contains another famous ratio: the golden section. This formula has been admired since the time of the ancient Greeks for being the basis of aesthetically pleasing proportions in art and nature.

For religious purposes, the Pythagoreans often inscribed the pentagram with the Greek letters for hugieia, which means "health" or "wellness" and was the name of a minor goddess.

As evidenced by the Disney vid, popular perception has Pythagoras revered as a great philosopher and mathematician. But in reality none of his writings have survived, so doubts exist as to what he really contributed to the fields.

Regardless, the man's magical legend lives on, and the fundamental truth that math and music are intertwined will always be an inspiration for me.

February 3, 2008

Saying Goodbye

It's been an emotional roller coaster this week, culminating in the memorial service for my college friend who died of acute myelogenous leukemia. It's an immensely tragic loss, as this man was the personification of gentleness and devotion.

All I can do now is admire his courageous wife, send my brightest wishes to his two children, and hope that someday there will be better treatments and care options for this disease.

One of the bright spots of the service was the attention paid to the blog my friend started when he was diagnosed. As several people noted in their tributes, putting his story online was a powerful force in the last ten months of my friend's life. It provided both an outlet for his doubts, fears, and frustrations and a way to connect with people when his exposure to the outside world had to be limited.

Leukemia—a blood cancer that starts in the marrow—made him weak, but the chemotherapy used to kill the cancerous cells made his immune system even weaker. Some days he couldn't even receive flowers or cards for fear of exposure to outside contaminants. Through his blog, he was able to communicate and touch the lives of people across the country.

I was amazed at how my friend became an inspiration, even to people he had never met in person. I can only hope the smiles and tenderness he gave readers through his stories were equally matched for him by the encouragement and support sent by his 45,678 (and counting) visitors.

In loving memory.