Word With a Past: Mausoleum

When King Mausolos of Caria * died in 353 BCE his widow decided to honor him by building a marble tomb more wonderful than any building known to man.  (We've seen this kind of thing before.  Taj Mahal anyone?)  She sent to Greece for the best architects and sculptors.  When it was completed the Mausoleum (literally, the tomb of Mausolos) at Halicarnassus was declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. **

[Brief pause while I do the math]  The tomb of Mausolos amazed travelers for more than 1500 years.  Travelers commented on its beauty well into the twelfth century CE, even after an earthquake or two damaged the walls and sent the sculptured chariot on the roof crashing to the ground.  The tomb ceased to be a wonder in the thirteenth century, when the Knights of Malta arrived at Halicarnassus.  From the crusaders' point of view, the ruined tomb was a great source of building materials.

Today, the only things left of Mausolos' tomb are an archaeological site, some carved pieces of marble in the walls of the crusader castle, and the word "mausoleum"


Mausoleum:  A tomb of more than ordinary size or architectural pretensions, especially a grand monumental structure.

* Now the modern Turkish resort town of Bodrum

** On one list, at any rate.  Listing the seven wonders was a favorite pastime for traveling Greeks in classical times.  One man's wonder was another man's Wonder Bread.

White Gold: Sugar in the New World

In The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies Matthew Parker, author of Panama Fever and Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II, uses the rise and fall of the sugar dynasties of the West Indies as a framework for the intertwined histories of sugar, slavery, the industrial revolution, and Britain's American colonies.  The story is occasionally horrifying but never dull.

Parker begins with James Drax's first experiments in growing sugar cane as an alternative to tobacco on Barbados in the early 1640s. He ends with the decline of the West Indian sugar industry following Britain's abolition of slavery in 1838. In between he tells the story of how West Indian "white gold" transformed the British economy, not to mention the British diet. Along the way, he introduces the reader to pirates, Dutch financiers, dissolute planters, Quaker reformers--and the thousands of African slaves on whose backs the Sugar Revolution was built.

In my mind the most fascinating aspect of The Sugar Barons is the on-going relationship between the West Indies and Britain's North American colonies.  In the world of British colonialism, the thirteen colonies on the Atlantic seaboard were the West Indies' poor cousins. By the late eighteenth century, the West Indies were responsible for eighty percent of Britain's colonial income.  Not surprisingly, Parliament was quick to pass laws that sacrificed the interests of the northern colonies in favor of those of the West Indies, ending with the Sugar Act of 1764 and the first step on the road to the American Revolution.


This review appeared previously in  Shelf Awareness for Readers.

Word With a Past: Juggernaut

The Hindu god Krishna is worshiped in the form of Jagannatha (Lord of the World) in a famous 12th c temple in Puri, in the Indian state of Orissa.

The most important of the annual festivals associated with the Jagannatha temple is the Chariot Festival.  The god's image is placed in a highly decorated wagon and taken on procession from the temple to the country house of the god.   The wagon is so heavy that it takes hundreds of worshippers to move it.   The procession is accompanied by thousands of pilgrims, who crowd around the wagon.  Between the crush of the crowd and the weight of the wagon, accidents are common.   Occasionally an ecstatic pilgrim throws himself under the wagon's wheels.

he Chariot Festival of the Jagannatha temple, Puri, Orissa, India. Enclyclopedia Britanica


Quiet devotions by individual worshippers don't make much of a story.  Huge crowds and an inexorable wagon that crushes worshippers under its wheels?  The stuff that travelers' tales are made of.  As early as the 14th century, European travelers in India were fascinated by the story of the Chariot Festival, and the worshippers who "cast themselves under the chariot, so that its wheels may go over them, saying that they desire to die for their god,"  (Friar Odoric, c 1321. Just to give an example.)

In the nineteenth century, more than one responsible British official checked the Orissa province records and reported that the instances of death by chariot wheel were greatly exaggerated.  It  didn't  do any good.  The story of the chariot of Jagannatha  had become a metaphorical juggernaut, capable of  crushing mere facts beneath its wheels.

Juggernaut, n.   Anything that draws blind and passionate devotion, or to which people are ruthlessly sacrificed.