I Love You With All My…Kidneys?

Prometheus, whose liver was gnawed by an eagle, in “Prometheus Bound” by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. The original painting is at Philly’s Museum of Art.

Nowadays, we think of our hearts as the center of our being.

“I love you with all my heart!”

“I give my heart to you!”

“I had a change of heart.”

“We need a heart-to-heart talk.”

“Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve!”

The Egyptians believed that the heart was the source of the soul and of memory, emotions, and personality. They thought that the heart would be weighed during judgement after death. So they preserved the heart during mummification but threw the brain away.

Syrians and the Arabs viewed the liver as the center of inner life. But in Hebrew tradition, kidneys were considered to be the most important internal organs along with the heart. In the Old Testament, the kidneys were associated with the most inner stirrings of emotional life. Kidneys were also viewed as the seat of the secret thoughts of the human; they are used as an omen metaphor, as a metaphor for moral discernment, for reflection and inspiration. There is also reference to the kidneys as the site of divine punishment for misdemeanors, particularly in the book of Job (whose suffering and ailments are legendary). In the first vernacular versions of the Bible in English, the translators elected to use the term “reins” instead of kidneys in differentiating the metaphoric uses of human kidneys from that of their mention as anatomic organs of sacrificial animals burned at the altar. In the Old Testament, the kidneys thus are primarily used as metaphor for the core of the person, for the area of greatest vulnerability.

The UK’s first donor kidney transplant was performed on October 30 at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Britain’s first kidney transplant was performed by Sir Michael Woodruff. As with the world’s first kidney transplant, the operation takes place between identical twins, reducing the chances of rejection.

William the Conqueror Arrives in England

The Bayeux Tapestry is a masterpiece of embroidery that depicts William the Conqueror’s invasion and conquest of England; it was made around 1077.

William the Conqueror came from what is now France and invaded England; he arrived in England in September and on October 14, 1066, William established himself as the first Norman king when the last English king was slain.

The Normans brought a vast collection of folklore and stories with them, including stories of the Dames Blanches. These “White Ladies” were a type of Fae known in Normandy who lurk in narrow places such as ravines, fords, and on bridges, and try to attract the attention of male travelers. They may require one to join in their dance or assist them in order to pass. If assisted, she “makes him many courtesies, and then vanishes.” One such Dame was known as La Dame d’Apringy who appeared in a ravine at the Rue Quentin at Bayeux in Normandy, where one must dance with her a few rounds to pass. Those who refused were thrown into the thistles and briars, while those who danced were not harmed. Another Dame was known on a narrow bridge in the district of Falaise. She only allowed people to pass if they went on their knees to her. Anyone who refused was tormented by the lutins (hobgoblins), cats, owls, and other creatures who helped her.

Another character from Norman folklore was Melusine, a female spirit of fresh water in a sacred spring or river. She is usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent or fish from the waist down (much like a mermaid). She is also sometimes illustrated with wings, two tails, or both.

Robin Hood, hiding in Sherwood Forest to rob from the rich and give to the poor, was a later Anglo-Saxon figure of resistance to the Norman invaders. Robin led the resistance to King John, the great-grandson of William the Conquerer. Robin, dressed in green with his band of merry men and Maid Marian, were long thought to be versions of Fae that defend the land and native people from oppression by foreign overlords but the stories about him were probably based on an actual person.

“Happy birthday–and Cremation–Emperor Domition!”

Persecution of St. John the Evangelist by the Emperor Domitian. As described in the Golden Legend, soldiers shave his head and put him in a pot of boiling oil, but he remains unharmed and free of pain. In the background is a representation of the Porta Latina in Rome, where the event was said to take place. Detail of fresco in the Crypt of St. Magnus (1237), Cattedrale di Santa Maria, Anagni, Lazio, Italy.

Domitian (born 24 October AD 51 – died 18 September AD 96) was Roman emperor from 81 to 96. He was the younger brother of Titus and son of Vespasian, his two predecessors on the throne, and the last member of the Flavian dynasty. During his reign, his authoritarian rule put him at sharp odds with the senate, whose powers he drastically curtailed. Domitian’s reign came to an end in 96 when he was assassinated by court officials. After his death, Domitian’s memory was condemned to oblivion by the Roman Senate, while senatorial authors such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Suetonius propagated the view of Domitian as a cruel and paranoid tyrant. As emperor, he oversaw one of the cruelest periods of persecution of Christians.

Domitian’s body was carried away on a common bier and unceremoniously cremated by his nurse Phyllis. It is difficult to burn a body; it would have been extremely difficult for one person to cremate a corpse without being noticed, so perhaps the nurse was simply the ringleader of a small group intent on burning the imperial remains. Nero, also murdered because he was unable to bring himself to commit suicide at the last moment, was refused burial and was said to have been cremated by his nurses as well. Burial was refused to Nero and Domitian because the Romans thought unburied corpses prevented the spirit’s entering into eternal rest. Cremation was an older, more honorable way to set the spirit at rest. But in the case of Nero and Domitian, the underworld refused to take them in and their spirits passed into flocks of birds instead. Flocks of crows, starlings, and ravens that still circle around the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, the place where they were clandestinely cremated, are said to contain the restless spirits of the emperors. (The church of Santa Maria del Popolo was built there in the piazza in 1099 in an effort to exorcize the imperial ghosts.)

Great undulating clouds of birds that dip and swirl over the Tiber can seem to take the shape of human bodies or a human arm and hand reaching out toward the people below. It is easy to see how the clouds of smoke ascending from a cremation could be thought to lodge in the flock of birds and then posses the flock.