Historical Heroes

So, I can't be the only one who relates to this funny little thing from Pinterest.

Bbf:

The thing is...not all the men I'm half in love with are fictional. A lot of them are just dead. If that pie graph were designed by me, there would actually be much more yellow in it...and 99.999% of the yellow would be historical figures.

So I thought it would be fun to do a post revealing just how much of a sentimental goose I really am. Let's review five of my historical infatuations, shall we?

And no, not all of them are actually infatuations. I tend to think of them as "my heroes." It's just...it's very suspicious that most of my heroes happen to be dashing young military men, isn't it?

(Oh! And speaking of awesome historical figures, I just found out it's Bl. Jacinta's feast day today. Jacinta is my favorite of the Fatima seers...hopefully it's not bad to pick favorites....so I simply needed to mention that! She's so inspiring.) 

Horatius Cocles

Lays of Ancient Rome/Horatius:
Image not mine.

This is probably mostly due to Thomas Babinton Macaulay's excellent poem, Horatius At the Bridge. It's simply a gorgeous poem! If you haven't read it, you must. 

You probably know the story: the Etruscans were attacking Rome and about to cross the Tiber River. Horatius stood at one end of the bridge with two companions and held them off while the other Romans hacked down the bridge. Just as the bridge was about to fall, Horatius sent his two men back...but he remained on the Etruscan side while the great bridge shuddered, cracked, and crashed into the churning water below. Horatius was caught between his mortal enemies and the swirling torrent. It looked as though he would surely die...but he leaped into the river and swam across! With his wounds and his armor! And he made it! (The poem doesn't mention it, but he actually lost an eye to an arrow while swimming the Tiber.)

Horatius exemplifies all the bold and sacrificial qualities of the ideal Roman soldier. I come close to swooning whenever I come to his introduction in the poem:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The captain of the gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods...?"


Hernan Cortez

Hernon Cortes (1485-1547) was a classic Spanish conquistador who came from lesser nobility and was the first generation Spaniards involved in the conquest of the Americas.:
Image not mine.
Yes, Hernan Cortez, the Spanish conquistador. The fact that he's demonized so often only serves to make me love him more. Because no one realizes how awesome he was! No one understands! I must plead his case! I must write a novel defending him someday!

Ahem. Not to say Cortez was perfect. But on the whole he is just a fascinating, heroic figure.

The story of his conquest of Mexico sends shivers down my back, when it's told the right way. The history textbook Christ and the Americas gives a thrilling account of the events, and I'm currently reading a book entitled Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness which is, ah! glorious.

Around the time Columbus discovered America, the human sacrifice going on in the Aztec realm was atrocious. Thousands upon thousands of innocent people were slaughtered by the priests to satiate their demon gods' thirst for blood. It was a culture of darkness, despair, and terror. Perhaps the only glint of light in the minds of the common Aztecs was the legend of Quetzalcoatl, a good god who was supposed to come back to Mexico and put an end to human sacrifice. The story had it that he would return on the day One Reed of the Aztec calendar.

Somebody did arrive in Mexico on the day One Reed, and he was even wearing black as Quetzalcoatl was supposed to...and he would put an end to human sacrifice by overthrowing the Aztec government and religion. This man was, of course, Hernan Cortez.

Outnumbered but unafraid, his expedition of Spanish soldiers marched into the depths of the Mexican jungle under the sign of the Cross. The anecdotes surrounding their mission are deliciously dramatic--Cortez destroying all but one of his ships and inviting the cowards to sail back home in that, Cortez flying into a temper at the Aztecs who sprinkled human blood on their food, Cortez adopting Constantine's motto "In this sign (the cross) you shall conquer" as his own. It's the stuff of legend, material that would make for the most thrilling movie or novel ever!

And in the end, Cortez's conquest of Mexico paved the way for the mass conversion of the Aztecs to Christ. It doesn't get any better than that.

Don Juan of Austria

Austrian troops at the Battle of Lepanto:
Image not mine.
Twenty-four year-old military leader saves Christendom from the Turks--what could get more delightfully dramatic than that?

The story of the Battle of Lepanto has always been one of my favorites. I first heard about it from the book Leading Little Ones to Mary, which attributed the victory of the small Christian fleet over the formidable Turkish naval forces to the rosary and Our Lady's intercession. The story only grew more marvelous with every retelling. Probably my favorite account of the battle is G. K. Chesterton's ballad "The Battle of Lepanto." (I mean, come on--it's a poem by my favorite author about my favorite naval battle ever, how can it not be awesome?)

Don Juan (or Don John) is fascinating for several reasons. One is simply his youth. Until a few days ago I was under the impression that he was nineteen years old at the time he led the Holy Fleet. Turns out he was twenty-four...which is slightly disappointing, but still impressive. Another is his Catholicity (I tend to fall for the Catholic guys, have you noticed that?). Yet another is the fact that he was an illegitimate child, and thus I've always seen him as a potential poster child for the pro-life movement. In our modern society, he might easily have been aborted--and yet he was instrumental in saving Christendom from the Turks! And then there are all the interesting little stories I've heard about him through the years; one source said he owned a pet tiger, and also a pet monkey that threw grenades at the Turks during the battle. 

Basically, someone needs to write a novel about this man and this battle...and if they haven't, I might just have to write it myself.

Jacques Cathelineau 

The Traditionalist Mind     Jacques Cathelineau, a leader of the Vendéan counterrevolution   Hero and anti-revolutionary.:
Image not mine.

Whose name is simply the most fun thing in the world to spell. It's one of those words that makes you feel like a genius if you know how to spell it. :)

This fellow lived in the part of France known as the Vendee during the French Revolution. When the Vendeans rose up against the Revolutionists to defend their faith, their country, and their king, he kissed his wife and children goodbye and went to war as a leader of the Catholic guerrilla army. If he hadn't been shot and killed at Nantes, things might have turned out differently.

The French Revolution is one of those historical periods I've always found particularly fascinating. I always get so mad at the revolutionists for tearing down the aristocracy and the Church (even though, at the same time, I feel for the common people who felt so desperate and driven to this). If only someone could have stopped them--! The heroic stand of the Vendeans, simple country people who loved their nation and their religion, is one of those little sparks of hope and defiance in history that lead us to conjecture "what might have been." 

Georges Guynemer


Georges Guynemer - Wikipedia:
Image not mine.
I discovered Georges Guynemer when I was researching material for a WWI aviation paper a few years ago. The book I checked out of the library was entitled Knights of the Air, and it was simply mesmerizing. It introduced WWI aces so well that I felt like they were characters in a fictional story and was sorry when they died (even the Red Baron, who is generally seen as a villain). 

By far my favorite of these aces was Georges Guynemer. He was French, which of course is a point in his favor right off the bat (says the girl who is one fourth French and won't let anyone forget it). I forget exactly what it was about him that made him so delightful to read about. I think he just seemed like a good person. Most of the figures in that book had some serious character flaw or other, like bitter hatred of their enemies or typical loose living; but there wasn't any mention of Guynemer doing anything like that. Besides, he was Catholic, so of course I'm going to be prejudiced in his favor. :)

The last that was seen of Georges Guynemer, his plane had been hit and was spinning into a cloud. They never did confirm that his body had been found. French schoolchildren were told, "He flew so high he couldn't come down again."

In my first year of high school, one of my assignments was to rewrite one canto of Dante's Inferno or Divine Comedy using real dead people of my own choice. I chose to rewrite the canto from Purgatorio telling about the cornice of sinners who had died repentant but without sacramental confession. One of Dante's original characters was someone whose body had never been recovered. I thought, "Oh, I could do Georges Guynemer! Of course, I don't know anything he had to repent of...but I'm sure if I researched him enough I would find something. There always is something disappointing to learn about historical figures."

So I googled my favorite French pilot, certain I would come across something that would lower my opinion of him. But try as I might, I couldn't find anything. As a matter of fact, I discovered that he had just gone to Mass and Confession within days of being killed in action.

At that, I threw up my hands and laughed. The one time I was kind of hoping to find something bad about someone I admired, he turned out to have been, to all appearances, a truly good person!

So there are five of my historical heroes. What do you think? Ladies, do you "fangirl" over any historic figures? Who are they? Does anyone out there have a thing for ancient Romans? or Spaniards? or Frenchmen? 

Comments

  1. Heh, I know what that's like. The hottest movie star? Psh! Let's talk about how awesome Blaise Pascal is, or how much we owe to Dr. Snow and Rev. Whitehead!

    I really should do my own post on this someday.

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    1. Precisely! Oh, yes, Blaise Pascal is pretty cool....I love his quotes! They're almost as good as G. K. Chesterton's, sometimes. ;)

      I love that idea!!

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  2. Alright, so I must ashamedly confess that I do not love history or historical dudes all that much. Except maybe Aaron Burr because of the play Hamilton...

    I wish I did but I guess history has never been presented to me in a way that brought the people to life and made me feel their emotions and struggles and that they were real people and not just names.

    However. I loved this post because YOUR love for history was so apparent and I'm jealous. I really admire how you love it and how real these people are to you.

    Also I guess I wondered... Do you have any tips for someone like me who isn't that into history and needs it to be told in more a "story" format??? What makes you love history so much??? Do you know of any historical fictions about these people that really bring them to life? Any authors you recommend?

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    1. Kayla Marie, you are the sweetest thing! Haha, I remember reading your post mentioning Hamilton...although I typically never commented on it... :)

      I don't know what it is about history I love so much. I guess I'm just a nerd? :) As Anne of Green Gables would say, there's so much scope for the imagination in history. Any time I hear about a historical event or person I didn't know about before, but which/who are surrounded by awesome fascinating things like duels and exiles and royalty and tragically young deaths and all that, it makes me want to write a novel about it.

      Historical fiction...hmm. Gee, I wish I could be more helpful! Well...depending on whether you like poetry or not, "The Battle of Lepanto" by G. K. Chesterton and "Horatius at the Bridge" by Thomas Babington Macaulay are what really romanticized Don Juan and Horatius in my mind. I don't think I've read any fiction about the other three. The books that made me love Cortez are mainly "Christ and the Americas" and "Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness," both history books (but they're kinda dramatically written, so maybe you'd find them enjoyable? I think a stirringly written presentation of history is my favorite way to learn about it, next to an enthusiastic teacher). "Knights of the Air" is my main source for Guynemer, and I was formally introduced to Cathelineau in the textbook "Our Catholic Heritage"...although what really turned me onto the Vendee was this movie made entirely by kids called "The War of the Vendee," which I positively fangirled over like five years ago but which I'd probably find painful now. :P

      Historical fiction sounds like a great place to start, though. Do you like classics? Have you read "The Scarlet Pimpernel"?? (Great French Revolution-based book right there! I also like "A Tale of Two Cities," but it's slower.) "The Killer Angels," by Michael Shaara, is a book about the Battle of Gettysburg that really brings the generals involved to life. And...umm...if you ever want to read about early Christian martyrs, "Fabiola" was my #1 obsession for awhile.

      Golly, I wish I read more historical fiction! It's actually sad how little of it I read. :P But, yeah, I don't really know what to say except...read what you find fascinating and let your imagination run away with you? :)

      Yikes, this comment got long fast. Sorry about that. :)

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    2. Not at all! I like getting long replies to my comments because it makes me feel like the blogger is interested in talking to and getting to know me. Which is nice when I go to the trouble (doesn't this make me sound so hardworking?!) to comment.

      Aw. I am the sweetest thing, aren't I??? :)

      That is so true. There IS so much scope for the imagination in it... I guess it just bothers me that when I start imagining things about history, I'm bound to be getting it wrong? I make things so much more interesting and dramatic than they actually were, you know? This doesn't bother you at all?

      Err, I don't read a lot of poetry (I know I should read more!), but I like the little I have read. I love fictionalized versions of history. That's my favorite! But people so rarely do it well... :(

      I LOVE classics! And have read a great many... or perhaps not such a great many because there are SO many classics and I've barely made a dent at all! :) Alas, I have not read The Scarlet Pimpernel... it's on my list??? But I'm extremely bad at actually reading the books on my list...

      I read A Tale of Two Cities! However, like you said, it wasn't what I would call an easy read. :)

      So. I will absolutely add these books and poems to my list (and hopefully stop being so bad about procrastinating) and try to get more into history!

      Thanks for answering all my questions, Lucy!

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    3. Long comments are quite fun. :)

      Haha, I suppose I never let it bother me! :) Maybe it would if I actually imagined things about specific people--like, made the main characters in the story main characters in my story ideas--but I tend to keep the big historical figure in the background as a kind of idealized, glittering shadow and focus on the nobodys who must've been there watching it all. I don't think I worry about making it too dramatic. As G. K. Chesterton says (golly I am always quoting that guy), "Truth is stranger than fiction because we have made fiction to suit ourselves." :)

      Heehee, poetry is one of my favorite things ever. :) Yes, yes, we need more good history!

      I feel ya about the books on your list. :P My TBR would stretch to the moon and back, I think.

      Ooh! I thought of an author who writes really good historical fiction! Constance Savery. I particularly like her WWII book "Enemy Brothers." :)

      You're most certainly very welcome, Kayla! (Or Katie? I never know which to call you on here!) If you do read any of those, I hope you like 'em. (In thinking about "Fabiola" since the other day I've remembered it begins pretty boringly, so just to warn ya.) Thanks for you lovely lovely comments!

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    4. Agh, I should've responded to this ages ago! I'm sorry!

      I decided to go ahead and just look up both poems on the spot and read them. Surprise - I actually liked them! Especially the Chesterton one! I think I could get into epic poems... :)

      Cool! Then I'll just imagine history to be more exciting and dramatic and I should get on swimmingly! ;)

      Definitely added all the books/authors you recommended to my list! (As if it wasn't long enough already... THANKS ALOT, LUCY! Just kidding. I adore recommendations. Even if I am rather terrible at, er, using them...)

      My name is Kayla, I go by Kate on the internet, but my family does call me Katie as well, so that's fine! :)

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  3. Oh, yes!!! Raise your hand if you are outraged at anti-Cortez talk, are absolutely in love with the story of Don Juan of Austria, and totally are agape at Horatius!!!! *raises hand as high as possible*

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    1. Me! Me! Me! *stretches both hands towards the sky*

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