In ancient Greek mythology, Orpheus was a gifted musician, able to charm birds, fish and wild beasts with his music, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and divert the course of rivers. His beloved wife, Eurydice, fell into a nest of vipers and suffered a fatal bite on her heel. Orpheus, overcome with grief, played such sad and mournful songs that all the gods wept. Orpheus travelled to the underworld, and with his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone, who presided over the dead. They agreed to allow Eurydice to return with her husband to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. He set off with Eurydice following. As he exited the underworld, he turned to check on Eurydice, but as she had not quite reached the upper world, she vanished forever to the realm of the dead.
In ancient Rome, Vesta was the virgin goddess of the hearth, home and family. Her presence was symbolized by the sacred fire that burned at her hearth and temples. The fire was tended by her priestesses, the Vestales. The Vestales were drawn from the patrician class. They lived together in a house near the Forum. On becoming a priestess, a Vestal Virgin was legally emancipated from her father's authority. She had to take a vow of chastity for 30 years. If she broke this vow, she was buried alive in the Campus Sceleris ('Field of Wickedness').
Othello has its source in the 1565 tale, "Un Capitano Moro" by Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio, which may have been based on an actual incident occurring in Venice in about 1508.
The violin or fiddle, while it has ancient origins, acquired most of its modern characteristics in 16th century Italy. Violinists and collectors particularly prize the instruments made by the Gasparo, Maggini, Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati families from the 16th to the 18th century in Brescia and Cremona in Italy, and by Jacob Stainer in Austria. The school of Cremona began in the first half of the 16th century with violas and violone, and began making violins in the second half of that century. In Cremona, the Amati family produced violins from 1500 to 1740, as did the Guarneri family from 1626 to 1744, and the Stradivari family from 1644 to 1737.
Minos’ brothers challenged his rule. Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of support, promising to sacrifice the bull in Poseidon’s honour. The bull was however so beautiful, that Minos decided to keep it. To punish him, Poseidon made Pasiphaë fall in love with the Cretan Bull, the bull from the sea. Pasiphaë had a crafstman build a hollow wooden cow, and climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull. The offspring grew into the ferocious Minotaur, with an appetite for human flesh.
The word ‘fop’ was first recorded in 1440, and for several centuries meant a fool of any kind. However, by 1672 it has come to mean "one who is foolishly attentive to and vain of his appearance, dress, or manners” (Oxford English Dictionary). Foppish characteristics included overdressing, putting on airs, being effeminate, and adopting French fashions and vocabulary. Synonymous words in use at the time included coxcomb, popinjay and (later) macaroni.
George Etherege’s comedy, The Man of Mode, or, Sir Fopling Flutter, was first performed in 1676. The title character was a rather silly fop, prone to manipulation, and aspiring to be a ‘rake’ (a libertine and a womaniser).
Aphra Behn (c. 1640 - 1689) was a dramatist of the English Restoration period and one of the first professional female writers in England. In 1663 she visited an English sugar colony on the Suriname River, on the coast east of Venezuela, and apparently met an African slave leader whose story formed the basis for one of her most famous works, Oroonoko. The book has been widely credited as the first to highlight the horrors of slavery to readers in England. The extent to which the book reflects historical fact is dubious, but Behn’s trip to the country does appear to have taken place.
In 1666 Behn was recruited as a spy by Charles II, working in Holland during the period of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Charles was however very slow to pay for her services or her expenses. She had to borrow money to return to London, and soon ended up in debtor’s prison. On her release in 1669, she turned to writing to earn her living, and produced many plays and novels, poems and pamphlets. Her most popular works included The Rover, Love Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister, and Oroonoko.
Author Virginia Woolf wrote that "All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds."
One day Mr. Fielding observed to Mrs. Hussey, that he was then engaged in writing a novel, which he thought would be his best production; and that he intended to introduce in it the characters of all his friends. Mrs. Hussey, with a smile, ventured to remark, that he must have many niches, and that surely they must already be filled. ‘I assure you, my dear madam,’ replied he, ‘there shall be a bracket for a bust of you.’
Sure enough, Fielding included a line praising Sophia Western, and referring to Mrs. Hussey. In some editions of the book, this is accompanied by a note ‘A celebrated mantua-maker in the Strand, famous for setting off the shapes of women.’
A ‘trull’ is an archaic word for a prostitute. Its first known use in English is in 1519. It is believed to derive from the Middle English word trollen (to travel about, wander), which in turn derived from the Old French troller or treiller,which meant to hunt for game without a scent or path.