Image courtesy of the British Museum
Image courtesy of the British Museum

Can You Translate This 800-Year-Old Sword's Inscription?

Image courtesy of the British Museum
Image courtesy of the British Museum

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and the British Library has marked the occasion by assembling the largest ever collection of Magna Carta artifacts and related memorabilia. Included in that display is a 13th century medieval sword with an unsolved inscription.

The double-edged sword, which is on loan from the British Museum, was found in 1825 in Witham, Lincolnshire—more than 100 miles away from the field in Runnymede where the treaty was signed. It's likely of German make, and it is displayed next to a 14th century manuscript with illustrations of the 1203 invasion of Normandy which features knights and noblemen wielding similar swords. Along the blade is a gold-inlaid inscription reading:

+NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI+

Julian Harrison, the British Library's curator of pre-1600 historical manuscripts, posted on their Medieval Manuscripts blog that the inscription has yet to be deciphered, though he says "it has been speculated that this is a religious invocation, since the language is unknown." And thus, he's asking the public for assistance. Many commenters have put forward theories that the letters could be an acrostic for a saints' poem, or words or abbreviations in Latin, Welsh, Irish, or Sicilian. Any enterprising, ancient language experts (or amateur sleuthing enthusiasts) should join the conversation!

Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Smithsonian
Inside the New Oprah Winfrey Exhibition at the National Museum of African American History
Smithsonian
Smithsonian

The National Museum of African American History and Culture has shown millions of visitors artifacts from black history, from Nat Turner’s Bible to Michael Jackson’s fedora, since opening in Washington D.C. in 2016. Now, there's a new reason for guests to visit the institution: This month, it launched an exhibition dedicated to the life and impact of Oprah Winfrey, Afro reports.

The exhibit, titled "Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture," traces the life of the iconic philanthropist and media personality. It starts with "America Shapes Oprah, 1950s–1980s," a section devoted to Oprah's childhood during the civil rights movement. It's followed by "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which highlights her 25-year talk show, and a final section called "Oprah Shapes America," which looks at the evolution and influence of her work. The exhibit also features Oprah memorabilia, such as a model of her childhood church, costumes from her films Beloved (1998) and The Color Purple (1985), and the red suit she wore when she gave everyone in her studio audience a free car.

Oprah was one of the people who helped make the National Museum of African American History and Culture a reality after it struggled to get off the ground for decades. She was the museum's largest donor before it opened and has given a total of $20 million to the institution.

Oprah toured "Watching Oprah" with her best friend and CBS This Morning co-anchor Gayle King before it opened, and wrote on Instagram, "Seeing everything under one roof brought tears to my eyes."

The exhibit is open now through the end of June 2019.

Oprah exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Oprah exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Oprah exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

[h/t Afro]

All images courtesy of Smithsonian.

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