Holy Prepuce!

Detail from Circumcision of Christ by Friedrich Herlin, 1466

Before I saw a reference to the "Holy Prepuce," I didn't even know there was such a word. It is the foreskin (Latin præputium or prepucium) that is the result of the circumcision of a male. 

At first, I thought it was a joke post that anyone would claim to have the prepuce of Jesus Christ, but throughout history, different churches in Europe have claimed to have Jesus's foreskin. It seems so very strange. Almost sacrilegious. And, of course, miraculous powers have been ascribed to it.

I looked it up first on Wikipedia. It makes total sense that Jesus, being a Jewish boy, would have been required to be circumcised on the eighth day following their birth. Some churches celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. Oddly, that falls on January 1 which would not be 8 days from Christmas. Oh well, there are lots of inconsistencies and paradoxes in the Bible stories. It is told in Luke 2:21 (King James Version).

The first reference to the survival of Christ's severed foreskin that starts all the legends to follow is in an apocryphal Arabic Infancy Gospel. In that version, an old Hebrew woman took the foreskin (others say she took the navel string) and preserved it in an alabaster box of old oil of spikenard.

Foreskin relics began appearing in Europe during the Middle Ages. In 800, Charlemagne (who said he got it from an angel) was said to have given it to Pope Leo III when being crowned Emperor. 

The journey of the Holy Prepuce as recorded on Wikipedia is convoluted. It was looted during the Sack of Rome in 1527, a German soldier stole it, it was taken back in the village of Calcata near Rome and venerated from that time onwards and the lace became a destination on the pilgrimage map.

However, in 1905, Pope Pius X authorized an inventory compiled by Professor Hartmann This devotion to the Holy Prepuce supposedly reflects an interest in showing the humanity of Jesus. 

In another article, the author says that "Depending on what you read, there were eight, twelve, fourteen, or even 18 different holy foreskins in various European towns during the Middle Ages." 

Most of the Holy Prepuces were lost or destroyed during the Reformation and the French Revolution. The one in the Italian village of Calcata was paraded through the streets as recently as 1983 on the Feast of the Circumcision, but that ended when thieves stole the foreskin in its jewel-encrusted case.

So, do any of the purported Holy Prepuces still exist? I can't say. My feeling is none ever did exist. Here's a crazy answer from an unconfirmed source: in the late 17th century the Vatican librarian Leo Allatius wrote an unpublished treatise entitled De Praeputio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Diatriba (A Discussion of the Foreskin of Our Lord Jesus Christ), claiming that the Holy Prepuce ascended, like Jesus himself, and was transformed into the rings of Saturn.

Since I think the whole story is fictional, I'll add these two items.

In Chuck Palahniuk's book Choke, the main character is told that he was cloned from Jesus' foreskin.

James Joyce's Ulysses has Stephen Dedalus pondering the Holy Prepuce while he urinates with Leopold Bloom, in the section titled "Ithaca".

Men On the Moon

I remember watching Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong set foot on our Moon on July 20, 1969. I was in high school but it was summer vacation so all of my friends had been outside being teenagers. But everyone went home to watch the astronauts.

I went home before 3 pm EST because that was supposed to be when they would be landing. I looked it up today and Apollo 11's Eagle lunar module landed at 20:17 GMT (3:17 my time) and then Neil Armstrong (who was closest to the door) was the first man to step on the Moon.

They landed in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility. When his feet touched the ground Armstrong spoke words that would become famous: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” He later said that he had actually said “That’s one small step for a man” but the audio cut out and the “a" was lost. 

Buzz Aldrin called for a moment of silence shortly after the landing to give thanks for their survival. I read today but I don't recall that he took communion with a wafer and a tiny chalice of wine. 

Aldrin stands on the Moon. Armstrong and the Lunar Module Eagle are reflected in his visor.
Aldrin on the Moon in a photo by Armstrong, who can be seen reflected in Aldrin's visor.
NASA Image and Video Library</a>, Public Domain, Link

Buzz Aldrin grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, not far from my hometown. In 2016, his hometown middle school in Montclair was renamed Buzz Aldrin Middle School. I was the poet-in-the-schools person there for a few years. Students knew a bit about him - astronaut, Moon landing - but almost nothing about the actual landing or the space program. When I told them about watching the landing, they looked at me as if I was time traveler. I must be as old as their grandfather.

A teacher there told me that when they did the dedication Aldrin came to the school for an assembly and was kind of cranky and a bit "inappropriate" in his remarks to the pre-teens. Hey, he had been on the Moon!

The video from the Moon landing was not great quality by today's standards but the idea that it was coming from so far away made it amazing. Most people today still have no real understanding of how that picture appears on their Tv screen whether it travels by antenna, cable, or from their phone. 

I have to shake my head and wonder about people who still doubt that we ever landed on the Moon. There is something in humans that seems to be attracted to conspiracies and doubt. My favorite crazy theory is that director Stanley Kubrick did 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before. One source claims that Kubrick initially declined the offer, only relenting when NASA threatened to out his little brother as a member of the Communist Party. Knowing what I do about Kubrick, he would have had a hard time shooting bad video because he was so demanding as a director. 

That theory (which came mostly from one person and one book he wrote called held that Kubrick spent 18 months on a soundstage shooting the footage for the Apollo 11 and 12 Moon missions. Hey, in his 1980 film The Shining, the boy does wear an Apollo 11 sweater at one point. The 1978 film, Capricorn One, is about a journalist who uncovers a government hoax about astronauts landing on Mars. That prepares us for how they will fake the Mars landing one day.

I still look in wonder at the Moon most nights and it still seems incredible that we can send a spacecraft to the Moon or Mars. And how about that a telescope is now orbiting around the Sun at a distance of nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth and sending back amazing photos of stars and planets? Using the JWST, we will be able to capture extremely distant galaxies as they were only 100 million years after the Big Bang – which happened around 13.8 billion years ago. We will be able to see light from 13.7 billion years ago. That must be fake too, right? 

The Phantom Galaxy NGC 628 as seen by the James Webb Space Telescope NASA/ESA/CSA/STSCI/JUDY SCHMIDT

Rotoscoping Animation and the "Take on Me" Video

Rotoscoping is an animation technique where animators trace over actual motion picture footage, frame by frame. It produces "drawn" animation but looks very realistic action. 

It is not a new technique. It was invented by animator Max Fleischer in 1915, and used in his groundbreaking Out of the Inkwell animated series (1918–1927) and was known as the "Fleischer Process" on the early screen credits, and was essentially exclusive to Fleischer for several years. Today it is done by computers, but the process is still called rotoscoping.

The rock band A-ha’s 1985 music video for "Take On Me" is a famous contemporary example of the technique being used. That video has more than a billion views on YouTube. 

The video was directed by Steve Barron and animated by Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger who won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Special Effects in a Video for this work. They rotoscoped around 3,000 frames over 16 weeks using the reference live-action scenes of the band.

Here is a good video look at how it was made.

The Misunderstood Machiavelli

Philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469. Machiavelli loved politics and he is best known for his political "how-to manual," The Prince. It was written in 1513 and published in 1532.

The term "Machiavellian" has come to stand in for the book's central theme - that "the ends justify the means." He based this on his observations of princes who used unsavory, brutish, or deceptive tactics to gain and maintain power. 

Machiavelli was somewhat misunderstood. h wasn't so much writing a way to gain power but warning about the ways people were doing so. Humanists called The Prince immoral. The Catholic Church added it to its list of banned books.

In all of Machiavelli's other political works, he supported a republican form of government. 

"it is the well-being not of the individuals but of the community which makes the state great, and without question this universal well-being is nowhere secured save in a republic. ... Popular rule is always better than the rule of princes."  Discourses on Livy 

The later Enlightenment philosophers in the 18th century read The Prince as a satire.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract:

"Machiavelli was a proper man and a good citizen; but, being attached to the court of the Medici, he could not help veiling his love of liberty in the midst of his country's oppression. The choice of his detestable hero, Caesar Borgia, clearly enough shows his hidden aim; and the contradiction between the teaching of The Prince and that of the Discourses on Livy and The History of Florence shows that this profound political thinker has so far been studied only by superficial or corrupt readers."

Machiavelli was also a poet, a novelist, and a dramatist. While he was in exile between 1504 and 1518 he wrote a comic play called La Mandragola about the corruption of the Italian government. The play enjoyed renewed popularity in the latter half of the 20th century and inspired two musicals, two operas, and a film.


The Complete Collection includes
  The Prince, The Art of War,
The Discourses on Livy,
History of Florence