Fountain of Youth?

Fountain of Youth—Just Wishful Thinking?

By Willie Drye at National Geographic

During his twilight years, American author Mark Twain noted that “life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.”

Photo: Painting of the Fountain of Youth

Painting of the mythical Fountain of Youth

Photograph by Fine Art Photographic Library/CORBIS

Twain’s quip was only one of many complaints about aging that have been recorded for as long as humans have dreaded the downside of a long life. The ancient Greek poet Homer called old age “loathsome,” and William Shakespeare termed it “hideous winter.”

So it’s not hard to understand why there have always been hopes and rumors that something soon to be discovered—magic waters, say, or maybe stem cell research—will do away with old age.

Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the known world before he died around 323 B.C., may have been looking for a river that healed the ravages of age. During the 12th century A.D., a king known to Europeans as Prester John supposedly ruled a land that had a river of gold and a fountain of youth.

But the name linked most closely to the search for a fountain of youth is 16th-century Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who allegedly thought it would be found in Florida. In St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S., there’s a tourist attraction dating back a century that purports—albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way—to be the fountain of youth that Ponce de Leon discovered soon after he arrived in what is now Florida in 1513.

There are a couple of problems with labeling St. Augustine’s natural spring as Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth, however. Elderly visitors who drink the spring’s sulfur-smelling water don’t turn into teenagers. And Ponce de Leon probably wasn’t looking for such a fountain and may not have set foot near present-day St. Augustine. Many historians now think he came ashore about 140 miles (225 kilometers) farther south near present-day Melbourne.

The Thrill of the Chase?

But the tale of the search for a fountain of youth is so appealing that it survives anyway, says Ryan K. Smith, a professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

“People are more intrigued by the story of looking and not finding than they are by the idea that the fountain might be out there somewhere,” Smith says.

No original documents survive from Ponce de Leon’s Florida expedition. Spanish historians writing long after he died in 1521 may have created the story that he was seeking the fountain to make fun of him because he was an old man who wanted to restore his sexual vigor, Smith says.

Still, a few grains of truth have helped sustain the story. Kathleen Deagan, a professor of archaeology at the University of Florida in Gainesville and a National Geographic Society grantee, says a cemetery and the remains of a Spanish mission dating back to St. Augustine’s founding in 1565 have been discovered near the so-called fountain of youth.

“It’s always been interesting and ironic that the site is, in fact, one of the most important historical sites in Florida,” Deagan says.

Michelle Reyna, a spokesperson for the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine, says the fountain has been a tourist attraction since at least 1901 and may have been attracting visitors since 1860.

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Published in: on August 7, 2009 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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History of Coffee

drink-coffee

I was under the impression that coffee had been a way of life since at least the greeks, but it is a very recent discovery! (Well, recent as far as history goes)

The act of roasting and brewing coffee is traced back to Arabia in the 15th century CE. Stories date coffee to as early as the 6th century CE, but there is no evidence of its existence until the 15th. The most popular tale states that an Arabian shepherd named Kaldi found his goats “stimulated” after nibbling around a dark green leafed shrub with bright red berries in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula.  Kaldi soon determined that it was the bright red berries on the shrub that were causing the peculiar euphoria and after trying the cherries himself, he learned of their powerful effect.  The story continues that he then took these berries to his teacher who angerly threw the berries into the fire. This produced an enticing aroma and the beans were quickly taken out of the fire, ground and made into a drink.

While this is a fun tale, there is little evidence that this is exactly what happened. We do know that Yemen is the closest we can come to a birthplace for coffee and it was used in monestaries before spreading to most of the middle east, Italy and the rest of Europe. Imagine the world without coffee. I know to many of us, that is quite a scary thought. But they did get by without it… somehow.

Sources:

The world of caffeine By Bennett Alan Weinberg, Bonnie K. Bealer

http://www.coffeeresearch.org/coffee/history.htm

Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 10:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Who Invented Bacon and Eggs?

bacon and eggs

Q: In America, bacon and eggs is a part of the hearty breakfast of champions, as American as apple pie right? When, how and whom was responsible for our fried-filled breakfast?

A: According to a story on NPR, bacon and eggs were introduced to Edward Bernays by none other than Sigmund Freud. Supposedly during thier hikes together, Freud told his nephew the value of a hearty meal. When Bernays reached America many years later, he landed a PR job, one of the first of its kind, for a bacon company. He then polled physicians about the benefits of a hearty breakfast and voila! an American tradition was born.

Published in: on July 12, 2009 at 8:44 am  Comments (3)  
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