There's no shortage of milestones to mark this year


January 31, 1993|By RICK HOROWITZ

Depressed? Of course you are depressed. The holidays are behind you, and so is all that celebrating. There was plenty to celebrate in '92, you're thinking; all those centennials and bicentennials and even quincentennials. (The guy with the boats, remember?) And now it's all gone, vanished.

Snap out of it.

Say hello to 1993, a brand new year with a whole new assortment of major -- and not so major -- milestones. Sing "Happy Birthday" to "Happy Birthday," for instance -- it celebrates a big anniversary in 1993. Or send out a Christmas card to mark the very first Christmas card -- ditto. A royal Frenchman loses his head; a Frenchwoman takes off her clothes. Turns out the Earth isn't the center of the universe. On the other hand, we get Cracker Jack, Thomas Jefferson and the Ferris wheel. And the guy with the boats, still doing his trans-Atlantic thing.

Every one of them, and plenty more, an anniversary available in 1993 for your reminiscing pleasure. How low can you go?

Step into the way-back machine

Let's go very low, back to 93 -- just plain 93. The famous former governor of Britain, one Caius Iulius Agricola, breathed his last that year. Nineteen hundred years later, and he'd have been the perfect celebrity soft-drink endorser. Timing is everything.

Admit it: You didn't even know there was a Britain back in 93, did you? There was, and in 93, they might have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of "Londinium," which the Romans founded back in 43. You know Londinium, right? Where Dianium and Fergium hang out? Exactly.

Let's long-jump ahead to 393 -- 1,600 years ago. That's when the last of the original Olympic Games was held. The next year, Emperor Theodosius banned them; seems the "amateur" competition had turned into a professional circus. Shocking!

In 593, construction began on the Temple of Four Heavenly Kings in Osaka, Japan. Fifty years after that -- 643 -- they started in on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. In 793, a paper mill was established in Baghdad; the Arabs were spreading techniques the Chinese had developed some 700 years earlier. It must have paid off: In 993 in Baghdad, Wazir Sabur ibn Ar--ir built a library for 10,000 books.

In 1193 -- 800 years ago -- Britain started importing indigo and brazilwood from India to use as dyes. In 1393, the Holy Roman Emperor Wenceslas had the cleric John of Nepomuk tortured and drowned in the River Moldau for refusing to spill the beans about the empress' confessions. But John gets the last laugh: He is later canonized and becomes the patron saint of Bohemia. In 1443, the painter Stefan Lochner came forth with his famous "Madonna with Violets," not to be confused with the equally famous "Madonna with Mylar." All of which brings us to . . .

The sun, the Earth, a good cup of French roast

"Fourteen hundred and ninety-three, when Columbus sailed the deep blue sea . . . again." Christopher Columbus -- intrepid explorer, despoiler of civilizations, future star of the silver screen -- returns to Spain from his first big journey across the Atlantic. "So far," he reports, he has "found no human monstrosities, as many expected." The show-and-tell for Isabella does, however, include "Indians," parrots, some gold and Europe's first pineapples.

Good enough for Isabella, who sends Columbus off on "Seasick II: The Sequel." This time, he's got 17 ships and 1,200 men, including six priests to try to convert the natives.

In related news, Pope Alexander VI draws a line on a map, and the New World is divided between Spain and Portugal. Portugal, with plenty of ocean and not much land in its half, protests, and adjustments are made. Had the pope been a mother, of course, it would never have come to that: One country would have cut the New World, the other would have picked.

But progress is coming. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus publishes "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium." The Polish astronomer, who wouldn't allow his work to be released until he was on his deathbed, defies Church doctrine and argues that Ptolemy had it wrong all this time, that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. The very same year, the Church publishes a list of banned books. Has to be a coincidence.

And in the "Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Warfare" Department: Japan receives its first European visitors in 1543, two Portuguese adventurers from a shipwrecked Chinese boat. The Portuguese are carrying muskets. The local Japanese lord buys them and duplicates them. From now on, conflicts in Japan will feature firearms. Swell . . .

By comparison, 1593 -- 400 years ago -- is a quiet year. William Shakespeare cranks out one big comedy, "The Taming of the Shrew," and one big tragedy, "Titus Andronicus." Izaak Walton, the British biographer and angler, is born. Another British writer, Christopher Marlowe, doesn't fare quite as well: Killed in a tavern brawl, he's not the last playwright to come to grief in a bar.

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