469 BCE — Socrates is born

Socrates is one of the most influential, and also most enigmatic, figures in Western Philosophy. An Athenian who lived at the dawn of both writing and philosophy, if he wrote anything himself it has not survived, and today he is known only for the works of others that mention him. Foremost among these are the works of his student, Plato, similarly influential in philosophy, but also prone to idealize his master.

Socrates was particularly noted for his contributions to the field of ethics, and for his creation of the Socratic Method, a philosophical tool no less useful today than it was 25 centuries ago. He was also, if the writings about him are to be believed, a great fan of irony. He was, of course, executed for heresy, although his trial and death appear to have been the result of political infighting, and thus the charge may not accurately reflect the true reasons for his downfall.

May 26, 428 BCE — Plato is born

Oddly, not the Platonic Ideal of the philosopher (although in fairness, he would have been the first to point that out), Plato is one of the trio of great Greek philosophers who helped to define Western Philosophy and Science for millennia. The other two were his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle (who was himself the teacher of Alexander the Great).

Plato was born in Athens (although the exact date is unknown – the one I have used here is traditional, but not necessarily correct) to a wealthy family, and given the best education money could buy. Even as a child, he was known for his quick mind. As a younger man, he traveled widely in search of knowledge, and returned to Athens at the age of forty to found the Academy, an institution that would last for nine centuries and train many philosophers, scientists and others from all over the ancient world.

He also left behind a considerable body of writing that helped to define the parameters of philosophy and science until virtually the Renaissance. He also wrote on politics, art and religion. Often, his writings were in the form of Socratic Dialogues, in which Socrates would be the one who espoused the ideas that were actually Plato’s.

Plato Silanion Musei Capitolini MC1377.jpg
By Copy of Silanion, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python

April 16, 384 BCE — Aristotle is born

The third of the three great Ancient Greek philosophers was the student of Plato (who, in his turn, had been a student of Socrates). The works of Plato and Aristotle were the foundation of science and reason – and for that matter, of theology – for literally hundreds of years. It was not until the Renaissance that their works were surpassed in Western Europe.

Aristotle’s works included foundational texts on logic, politics, ethics, poetry, physics, metaphysics and biology. In addition to being one of the most prolific writers of his era – and this is based only on his surviving works (some of them are lost to us) – he was also a teacher. He taught in Athens and later in Macedon, where his students included Alexander the Great, as well as Ptolemy I (a general of Alexander’s) and Cassander (a later Macedonian king). In his 62 years of life, it appears that about the only thing he didn’t do was sleep…

Aristotle Altemps Inv8575.jpg
By After LysipposJastrow (2006), Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python

circa 221 BCE — The Analects of Confucius are first completed

One of the most influential works in Chinese history, the Analects of Confucius were written over a period of several decades during the Warring States period.

Ever since copies of the Analects first begin to be distributed, over 2000 years ago, it has shaped Chinese society, teaching the Confucian virtues to generation after generation. Its influence has also been felt in other parts of Asia, as it slowly diffused into other nations and cultures.

Even today, the Analects remains one of the canonical texts that any serious Chinese scholar (or scholar of China) must read and understand in order to be considered properly educated.

April 5, 1588 — Thomas Hobbes is born

Best known as the writer of “Leviathan”, Thomas Hobbes was one of the fundamental philosophers in the Western tradition. His understanding of humans as obeying the same physical laws as other matter and motion, remains influential; and his account of human nature as self-interested cooperation, and of political communities as being based upon a “social contract” (a term he created) is one of the basic concepts of modern political philosophy.

Hobbes lived to be 91, and also wrote numerous works of history and science in addition to his better known work as a philosopher.

Thomas Hobbes (portrait).jpg
By John Michael Wright – one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the “sweat of the brow” doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.
As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information., Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python

April 25, 1599 — Oliver Cromwell born

Born at almost the end of the 16th Century, Oliver Cromwell would grow to become one of the most important figures of the following century. He was born to a family of the gentry, and lived the first four decades of his life as a gentleman farmer. Had not two changes occurred in his life – an inheritance from an uncle that made him richer, and a conversion to a more Puritan faith.

With these behind him, Cromwell would become first the Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, and rise through the ranks to become Lord-Protector of England by the time of his death. He would also, by this point, by a recigide who had led a civil war against his rightful king, and responsible for an invasion of Ireland that killed thousands, many of them civilians – even today, he is still hated on many parts of Ireland.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpg
By After Samuel Cooper – one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the “sweat of the brow” doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.
As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information., Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Oliver Cromwell — Monty Python

March 27, 1625 — Charles the First becomes King of Britain

Charles the First, destined to end his rein several inches shorter than he began it, was a firm believer in his divinely ordained autocratic rights as King of England, Scotland and Ireland.  (He also claimed to be King of France, although even a claim of King of Calais would have been inaccurate, the English having lost their last French possessions in 1558.)

Charles would spend his entire reign battling his own Parliament, with an increasing lack of success, to maintain what he saw as the right and proper prerogatives of the King.  Reign and battle both would culminate in 1649, when a revolution led by Oliver Cromwell first deposed, then executed King Charles I.

King Charles I after original by van Dyck.jpg
By Follower of Anthony van Dyckshe-philosopher.com(original upload)
Sothebys 2012 (higher resolution upload), Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Oliver Cromwell — Monty Python

January 6, 1649 – The Rump Parliament appoints a High Court to try the King

The Rump Parliament was what remained of the British Parliament after Colonel Pride had purged it a month earlier, leaving only those parliamentarians who supported the army.

On January 6, 1649, the Parliament appointed a total of 135 men to constitute a High Court for the trial of King Charles I for tyranny. A quorum was declated to be twenty of these appointees.

The trial of Charles I commenced shortly thereafter, and duly returned the guilty verdict it was intended to.

Colonel Thomas Pride refusing admission to the Presbyterian members of the Long Parliament.
By UnknownThe Tudors and Stuarts, by M.B. Synge, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Oliver Cromwell — Monty Python

January 30, 1649 — King Charles I of England is executed

It is the decisive exclamation mark that ends the English Civil War. Never before had an English monarch been deposed, tried and convicted of high treason, and then executed. (To date, no other English monarch has suffered the same fate, either.) The decapitation of Charles the First made plain to the people of England and the courts of Europe that the winds of change were blowing in England.

Charles’ son, Charles II, would eventually be restored to the throne that was his by right of primogeniture, and in the interregnum that followed, England would be variously led by Parliament, by Lord-Protector Oliver Cromwell, and briefly, by Lord-Protector Richard Cromwell (Oliver’s less talented and determined son). The restored king was a damned sight more careful of Parliament, and the gradual decline of the power of the monarchy would only continue from this time onwards.

June 3, 1653 — England triumphs over Holland in the Battle of the Gabbard

The decisive naval encounter of the First Anglo-Dutch War, the Battle of the Gabbard saw the English, led by Generals at Sea George Monck and Richard Deane and Admirals John Lawson and William Penn triumph over the Dutch, led by Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp and Vice-admiral Witte de With. The Battle began on June 2, 1653, with a Dutch attack on the English fleet, but their numerical superiority was outweighed by the fact that the English were on heavier, more well-armed ships.

The following day, the English were reinforced, giving them a slight superiority in ship to ship terms (100 to the Dutch 98), but a much greater advantage in firepower, which they wasted little time in applying. The Dutch lost seventeen ships (6 sunk, 11 other captured) while the English lost none, and assured their control over the English Channel and the North Sea, instituting a naval blockade that strangled the Dutch. A month later, the Dutch succeeded in lifting the blockade, and the war ultimately limped to an inconclusive finish the following year. The next two decades would each see the British and Dutch go to war with each other again.

December 16, 1653 — Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector of England

The final resolution of the power vacuum that existed in England after King Charles I was deposed was somewhat inevitable: Oliver Cromwell was always going to wind up at the top of the heap. Lambert’s creation of the Instrument of Government, following the dissolution of the Rump Parliament, and then that of the Barebones Parliament, provided for Oliver Cromwell to be appointed Lord Protector of England for life.

This was kingship in almost every respect: Cromwell would rule until his death, the position would be hereditary, and Cromwell would even wind up dissolving Parliament yet again to put a stop to reforms they wanted that he saw as overly democratic. By the time it ended, with Cromwell’s death in 1658, he was easily as unpopular as Charles had been before him. Some of the smarter Englishmen even realised that the problem with their political system might lie with autocracy in any form rather than monarchy itself.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpg
By After Samuel Cooper – one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the “sweat of the brow” doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.
As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information., Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Oliver Cromwell — Monty Python

September 3, 1658 — Oliver Cromwell dies

Hated by the Irish for his invasion the previous decade, Oliver Cromwell’s manner of death must have given them some satisfaction. He died from a malarial fever contracted during the invasion (and complicated by what appears to have been kidney stones).

Cromwell had come far and acheived much in his 59 years, but little that he had built long-survived him. His son Richard, who succeeded him as Lord Protector, resigned from that role due to a lack of political support less than a year later, and King Charles II was invited back to England to reinstate the monarchy the year after that.

In 1661, on the anniversary of King Charles I’s execution, Cromwell’s corpse was exhumed, and a symbolic posthumous beheading was carried out. His severed head would be a collector’s item for some years thereafter, before being reburied in 1960.

WarwickCastle CromwellDeathmaskcrop.JPG
By Chris Nyborg – Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

As mentioned in:

Oliver Cromwell — Monty Python

April 14, 1759 — George Frideric Handel dies

Handel was 74 years old at the time of his death. Unmarried, he left much of his estate to a niece. He had experienced loss of vision after a botched cataract operation eight years earlier, which had curtailed his output.

Handel’s musical compositions included 42 operas, 29 oratorios, numerous arias, chamber music, a large number of ecumenical pieces, odes and serenatas, 16 organ concerti and more than 120 cantatas, trios and duets. His best known work is the Messiah oratorio, which featured the Hallelujah Chorus. Handel was an unusual composer. Influenced by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the middle-German polyphonic choral traditions, he also introduced a range of unusual instruments into his compositions, including the viola d’amore, violetta marina, lute, trombone, clarinet, small high cornet, theorbo, horn, lyrichord, double bassoon, viola da gamba, bell chimes, positive organ and harp – many of which would become more commonly used by composers and musicians as a result of Handel’s popularisation of them.

Georg Friedrich Händel 3.jpg
By Formerly attributed to James ThornhillHändel House, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

August 27, 1770 — Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is born

Hegel was one of the most influential philosophers of his time. He built upon the work of Kant, Descartes, Hume and others – his work assumes a familiarity with the writings of many of his predecessors – and Hegel himself was an influence on any number of the philosophers who followed him, notably Karl Marx and Theodor Adorno.

Hegel lived to be 61 years old, and spent most of his adult life studying and writing in a total of eight different German universities. He wrote four books: Phenomenology of Spirit (1807); Science of Logic (published in three volumes: 1811, 1812 & 1816); Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1816) and Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1822).

March 10, 1772 — Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel is born

Schlegel and his brother August were two of the leading members of the Jena Romantics, a group of artists and patrons between roughly 1798 and 1804 who were the earliest influential Romantic movement in Germany. Schlegel would pass through atheism and a firm commitment to individualism in his twenties before converting to Catholicism in 1808.

His contributions to philosophy mostly consist of his promotion of and work to develop the Romantic school in Germany, especially as a critical position from which to analyze art.

February 22, 1788 — Arthur Schopenhauer is born

Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Danzig, in what is now Poland. The child of a wealthy patrician family, Arthur went to university in 1809, and published his seminal book of philosophical thought (“The World as Will and Representation”) in 1819. However, he struggled to attract students as a lecturer (possibly because he was competing with Hegel), and soon left academia.

Nonetheless, over his 72 years, he continued his philosophical enquiries and published a number of other books, cementing his place in the history of his discipline. But his popularity as a philosopher peaked in the early part of the Twentieth Century (when he was a major influence on the Modernist movement), and has never again attained the same degree of prominence, although there has been a recent upswing of interest in his works.

Arthur Schopenhauer by J Schäfer, 1859b.jpg
By Schäfer, Johann – Frankfurt am Main University Library, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python

June 5, 1826 — Carl Maria von Weber dies

Carl Maria von Weber was one of the earliest significant composers of what is now called the Romantic movement. His best known works include his operas Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon, and the Konzertstück (Concert Piece) in F minor (a work for piano).

In addition to his composing, von Weber was also a noted for his orchestration, a music journalist, and an engraver. The last of these he actually taught himself – he wanted to be able to engrave his own compositions.

He was 39 years old when he died of tuberculosis while visiting London. Although his remains were buried there, they were later exhumed and reburied in Dresden at the instigation of Richard Wagner. Von Weber had been director of the Opera since 1817.

Carl-Maria-Von-Weber.jpg
By After Ferdinand Schimon – last.fm, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

March 26, 1827 — Ludwig van Beethoven dies

Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most well-known composers ever. His Fifth Symphony’s opening bar is perhaps the most recognisable musical passage in Western culture – “da da da DAH!” (It’s also the Morse code for V, which is the Roman numeral for 5. Sam Morse apparently liked complicated puns.)

Born in Bonn, Germany in the year 1770, he would rise from relatively humble beginnings to become one of the great composers of his (or any other) era. In addition to his nine symphonies, he also wrote a wide variety of sonatas, concertos, string quartets and a single opera. Among his better known compositions are “Fur Elise” and the Triple Concerto.

He died on March 26, 1827 in Vienna, after a lengthy series of illnesses that had left him deaf and bedridden. His funeral was a massive undertaking, and mourners lined the streets of Vienna as his body was taken to the cemetery. He left behind him a vast musical legacy, and remains one of the most played and performed of composers even today.

November 19, 1828 — Franz Schubert dies

Franz Peter Schubert was only 31 when he died of what doctors diagnosed as typhoid fever (although others claimed that it was tertiary syphilis). The Austrian was one of the most prolific composers of his era, writing more than 600 songs, 7 symphonies – not including his famous “Unfinished Symphony” (of which he wrote two movements before his death) – 5 operas and 21 sonatas.

His 600 songs were primarily Lieder, and Schubert’s greatest influence is found in this form – understandably, as in doing so many of them he explored nearly every possible variation of them. There is no telling what he might have accomplished had he lived longer – even in his relatively brief span, his style changed and evolved markedly. His epitaph reads “Here music has buried a treasure, but even fairer hopes” – and rarely has anyone had a more accurate epitaph.

Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder 1875.jpg
By Wilhelm August Rieder – Original is in Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

October 15, 1844 — Friedrich Nietzsche is born

Of all the great philosophers, none is quite so famous for being, well, a raving loon, as Friedrich Nietzsche.

Born in Rocken, near Leipzig, on October 15, he would become the most famous German philosopher of the 19th century. His best known works include the posthumous “Will To Power”, “Ecce Homo”, “Beyond Good and Evil” and “The Spake Zarathustra”.

Nietzsche was widely seen, in Germany and elsewhere, as a supporter of German militarism – and his work was influential to Hitler and other Nazis (although they were selective in their use and interpretation of him). Later, he was seen as a forerunner of the Existentialists. However, his most lasting contribution to Western culture may be the concept of the Übermensch, or Superman.

May 2, 1864 — Giacomo Meyerbeer dies

Born in 1791 in Germany, Giacomo Meyerbeer was one of the foremost exponents of the musical and theatrical form known as ‘The Grand Opera’. In his day he was one of the most famed composers in all of Europe, but his reputation has suffered since his death – largely due to the attacks on his character and works by his former student Richard Wagner.

The motivation for these attacks is complex – Wagner was clearly jealous of his teacher’s success and the wealth that it brought him, but also despised Meyerbeer due to the older man’s Jewishness. Among other wild accusations, Wagner accused Meterbeer of bribing critics to ensure favourable reviews.

Meyerbeer d'après P. Petit b 1865.jpg
By Au Ménestrel, Paris, 1865.
Uploaded, stiched and restored by JLPC – Bibliothèque nationale de France, Link

As mentioned in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

February 13, 1883 — Richard Wagner dies

One of the greatest of the German composers, Wilhelm Richard Wagner is best known for his Ring Cycle, or Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) in full. His earlier Tristan and Isolde is seen by some as marking the start of modern music (by which, of course, they do not mean pop music).

Wagner was 69 when he died, and he left behind a towering legacy. He influenced almost all later composers, although in some cases (such as Debussy and Tchaikovsky) this influence was seen in their efforts to avoid his shadow. A friend of Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher’s first major work was a glorification of Wagner’s compositions (although the prickly Nietzsche later found fault with his one time idol). Finally, Wagner’s popularity also popularised his views – which included large elements of racism and anti-semitism – views which would continue to dominate German culture until at least 1945, when his greatest German fan committed suicide.

April 3, 1897 — Johannes Brahms dies

A composer of the Romantic school, Johannes Brahms in his 64 years associated with many of the other greats of his era, such as Liszt and Schumann. His works include a dozen sonatas, four symphonies, four concertos, a number of waltzes and a great number of variations, a form which he is particularly known for.

Brahms developed cancer of either the liver or the pancreas which eventually killed him. He is buried in the Zentralfriedhof of Vienna, where he lived in his last years.

May 25, 1928 — Claude Debussy dies

One of the most popular and influential of all French composers, Claude Achille Debussy was on August 22, 1862. Debussy was a tireless experimenter who was not satisfied to stay within the bounds of what his teachers taught, and this quality informs the majority of his compositions. For instance, he was the first European composer to show the influence of gamelan. By the turn of the century, he was not merely seen as one of the greatest living composers in France, but in most of Central Europe.

Debussy’s death from cancer occurred during the final months of World War One. He died in Paris while that city was being bombarded by the German Spring Offensive. As such, despite being one of the nation’s most honoured sons, he was buried with a minimum of ceremony. After the war concluded, he was reinterred in a style more fitting his influence and status.

head and shoulders photograph of middle-aged, white, dark-haired, bearded man
By Atelier Nadar, Paris – Bibliothèque nationale de France. Also published on the cover of Debussy’s Nocturnes, Durand, Paris, 1909., PD-US, Link

As mentioned in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

February 23, 1934 — Edward Elgar dies

Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet, OM, GCVO was one of the greatest English composers of the pre-WWII era. He wrote across a range of styles of music, influenced more by European composers (especially Dvorak and Handel) than his English predecessors (indeed, he was noted for his dislike of the English folk music tradition). He also was one of the first composers to experiment with and understand the potential of the gramophone, and recorded music in general.

His reputation has varied over the years – he fell out of favour after the First World War, but his work has been re-assessed by critics since the 1960s. His best known work today is The Engima Variations.

image of a middle aged man in late Victorian clothes, viewed in right semi-profile. He has a prominent Roman nose and large moustache
By Unknownhttp://www.geocities.com/hansenk69/elgar3.jpg (broken link), Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

July 5, 1937 — Spam is first released

Spam didn’t used to have anything to do with enlarging your penis or getting cheap medicines of dubious quality.

It was originally the name of a certain kind of meat, although the ‘dubious quality’ part is well-enshrined in urban legend – known backronyms devised for it include “Something Posing As Meat”, “Stuff, Pork and Ham” and “Spare Parts Animal Meat.” Oddly enough, Spam wasn’t even the original name of the product – it was introduced because the previous name – Hormal Spiced Ham – was losing market share.

It wasn’t until Monty Python and Joel Furr got involved years later that the word assumed its modern meaning.

By the way: according to Hormel’s trademark guidelines, Spam should be spelled with all capital letters and treated as an adjective, as in the phrase “SPAM luncheon meat” – strange but true.

March 28, 1943 — Sergei Rachmaninoff dies

Born in 1873, Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the greatest Russian composers of the Twentieth Century, and one of the last Russians to compose in the Romantic style. In addition, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists in history. Ironically, his greatest fame came after he moved to the West in the wake of the 1917 Russian revolution. His works – which include four concertos, three symphonies and 24 preludes – tended to emphasize the piano, the instrument he knew and loved best. As a writer for piano, he explored a wider range of its capabilities than almost any other composer.

Rachmaninoff was diagnosed with melanoma in late 1942, although only his family was told of the diagnosis – he himself was not. He died a few months later, only four days short of his seventieth birthday, and was buried in a cemetery in New York. His will had called for him to be buried on his property in Switzerland, the Villa Senar, but World War Two made that impossible.

Sergei Rachmaninoff cph.3a40575.jpg
By Kubey-Rembrandt Studios (Philadephia, Pennsylvania) – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division
under the digital ID cph.3a40575.
This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python