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When Julius Caesar Was Kidnapped By Pirates, He Demanded They Increase His Ransom

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Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.


In 75 BCE, 25-year-old Julius Caesar was sailing the Aegean Sea when he was kidnapped by Cilician pirates. According to Plutarch, when the pirates asked for a ransom of 20 talents of silver (approximately 620 kg of silver, or $600,000 in today's silver values), Caesar laughed at their faces. They didn't know who they had captured, he said, and demanded that they ask for 50 (1550 kg of silver), because 20 talents was simply not enough.

More Money, More Problems

The pirates, of course, agreed, and Caesar sent some of his associates off to gather the silver, a task that took 38 days. Now nearly alone with the pirates—only two servants and a friend remained with him—Caesar refused to cower. Instead, he treated the pirates as if they were his subordinates. He even went so far as to demand they not talk whenever he decided to sleep. He spent most of his time with them composing and reciting poetry and writing speeches. He would then recite the works to the pirates. Caesar also played various games with the pirates and participated in their exercises, generally acting as if he wasn’t a prisoner, but rather, their leader. The pirates quickly grew to respect and like him and allowed him the freedom to more or less do as he pleased on their island and ships.

While Caesar was friendly with the pirates, he didn’t appreciate being held captive. He told the pirates that, after his ransom was paid, he would hunt them down and have them crucified. Once he was freed, he made good on that promise: Despite the fact that he was a private citizen, Caesar managed to quickly raise a small fleet which he took back to the island where he had been held captive. Apparently the pirates hadn’t taken his threats seriously, because they were still there when he arrived. He captured them and took back his 50 talents of silver, along with all their possessions.

He next delivered the pirates to the authorities at the prison at Pergamon and then traveled to meet the proconsul of Asia, Marcus Junius, to petition to have the pirates executed. The proconsul refused: He wanted to sell the pirates as slaves and take the spoils for himself. Undeterred, Caesar traveled back to Pergamon where the Cilician pirates were being held and ordered that they be crucified. Before they went through that ordeal, however, Caesar showed some leniency—he cut their throats.

Check out more interesting articles from Daven over at Today I Found Out and subscribe to his Daily Knowledge newsletter here.

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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