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In 1701, a Dominican priest named Francisco Ximenez was allowed by the Maya to see something no other European had ever laid eyes on. They showed him a copy of their creation story, known as the Popol Vuh. The document had been hidden in the town of Chichicastenago in Guatemala. Ximenez made a Spanish translation of the Popol Vuh so Europeans could read it.
The document Ximenez saw was written between 1554-1558. Before the anonymous Mayan authors wrote it down, Mayans told the creation story orally. Here is the basic story of the Popol Vuh.
In the beginning, there was nothing but stillness. There were only a group of gods called Heart of Sky, Newborn Thunderbolt, Sudden Thunderbolt, and the Plumed Serpent. These gods went to a pair of other gods named the Maker and Modeler–a pair of male and female creators. Maker and Modeler created the earth through the power of their words. They created land, mountains, trees, rivers, and plants. The gods weren’t completely satisfied, though. They wanted to create beings that could worship and thank them for what they created.
First, the gods made animals, but then realized that animals couldn’t speak to honor the gods with words. Next the gods tried making humans out of mud. The humans could speak but they were stiff and melted in the rain. The gods decided to send a flood upon the mud people to destroy them. On their third attempt, the gods made wooden people. These humans had great strength and could speak but they treated the animals cruelly. As revenge, the gods allowed the animals to eat the wooden people. The few wooden people who survived hid up in the trees and became monkeys.
While the gods were trying to create humans, the earth was still without a sun or a moon. One day Seven Macaw, a large bird with shining feathers and jeweled eyes, went up into a tree and claimed that he was the sun and the moon. The Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, thought Seven Macaw had too much pride. They used their blow guns to shoot him and Seven Macaw fell from the tree with a broken jaw. (This image is portrayed often in Mayan pottery). Unfortunately, Seven Macaw wasn’t dead. He ripped off Hunahpu’s arm and took it back to his house.
The twins went to the houses of their elders. They asked for help to defeat Seven Macaw and get Hunahpu’s arm back. The twins suggested that the elders pretend to be healers and they pretend to be their assistants. Then the elders walked by Seven Macaw’s house selling their healing practices. Seven Macaw invited them in to fix his jaw. He was told that all his teeth need to be replaced. Reluctantly, Seven Macaw agreed to this treatment. The elders replaced Seven Macaw’s teeth with white corn so that he couldn’t eat and he dies. The elders then fixed Hunahpu’s arm.
At this point, the Popol Vuh goes back in time to explain who the twins’ ancestors were. Their father was defeated by the Lords of Death in the Underworld. The twins went through many trials concocted by the same Lords but they won and resurrected their father, who came back to life as the Mayan Maize god.
After all their adventures, the Hero Twins went up in the sky and became the Sun and the Moon.
With the Sun and Moon in place, the gods made a final attempt to create humans. This time they mixed yellow and white corn with water to make human flesh. According to the Popol Vuh, “this time the beings shaped by the gods are everything they hoped for and more: not only do [they] pray to their makers, but they have perfect vision and therefore perfect knowledge.” The gods decided that these humans were too perfect, however. They put a fog on the people’s eyes so they couldn’t see that they were godlike.
Most pictures taken of Winston Churchill with the bald head and rounded stomach make it hard to picture him as a young boy, but he did have a childhood.
Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874 in Oxfordshire, England. His family didn’t stay long in England though. Soon after Winston’s birth, the family moved to Dublin, Ireland. Winston and his parents lived with his grandfather who was the Viceroy of Ireland. Winston’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, worked as the viceroy’s secretary. By the time the Churchills returned to England in 1880, Winston had a new brother named Jack.
Like a lot of kids from wealthy families in Victorian England, Winston was closer to his nanny than to his parents. His nanny’s name was Mrs. Everest, but Winston affectionately called her “Old Woom” or “Woomany.” They remained friends when Winston grew up. Though he was only twenty when she died, Winston kept a picture of his nanny in his bedroom until his death.
Winston didn’t become close to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, until after Mrs. Everest’s death. He later wrote of his mother that she “always seemed to me a fairy princess…I loved her dearly—but at a distance.”
Lady Randolph Churchill had both physical and emotional distance from her son. Before his eighth birthday in 1882 Winston was sent to St. George’s boarding school. Winston showed no interest in his subjects and had poor grades. Lord and Lady Randolph didn’t take much interest in their son, either, even when he begged them to visit the school. His father was a politician and his mother was busy with her social life.
After two years at St. George’s Winston transferred to Miss Thomson’s Preparatory School. He liked his new school much better. Winston remembered his time there fondly: “At this school I was allowed to learn things which interested me: French, History, lots of Poetry by heart, and above all riding and swimming.”
In 1888 Winston entered Harrow School. He joined the Harrow Rifle Corps which held mock battles. Though he excelled in the Rifle Corps and enjoyed the mock battles, he was not a stellar student otherwise. As he remembered, “in all the twelve years I was at school no one ever succeeded in making me write a Latin verse or learn any Greek except the alphabet.”
Clearly, Winston had other goals in mind that didn’t involve school. He told one friend that “I shall be in command of the defenses in London…it will fall to me to save the capital and save the Empire.” During World War II, young Winston’s comments came true.
Alexander Hamilton grew up on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. The island was famous for its sugar plantations.
He didn’t attend the Anglican schools on the island but he got some home schooling. He learned French from his mother and read all the books he could get his hands on. Hamilton’s mother bought books for him and his brother James. It’s unclear what kind of education Rachel Hamilton had, but she made sure her sons read Machiavelli and Plutarch, along with some poetry and sermons. The boys became orphans when their mother died after an illness; their father James Hamilton left the family when the boys were younger.
Young Alexander was taken in by a merchant named Thomas Stevens. Hamilton became best friends with Stevens’ son Edward. He also got a chance to use his natural curiosity by doing interesting work. The firm Beekman and Cruger supplied whatever the sugar planters needed. Hamilton always viewed his apprenticeship there as the most useful part of his education. He learned to track freight, chart courses for ships, and calculate prices in different currencies throughout Europe.
Despite his interest in business, Hamilton wanted to move up in society. He hoped to go to college like his friend Edward Stevens who was studying in New York. In a letter to his friend, Hamilton wrote, “my ambition is so prevalent that I…would willingly risk my life, tho’ not my character, to exalt my station.” Fortunately for Hamilton, some of his poems and a letter he wrote describing a storm on the island were published in The Royal Danish American Gazette when he was seventeen. The local businessmen were so impressed with his writing that they raised money for him to sail to America and attend college.
Though Hamilton was naturally intelligent, his lack of formal schooling meant that he needed to take some extra classes before applying to college. He studied Latin, Greek, and advanced math at Elizabethtown Academy (near Princeton). After completing those classes, he applied to Princeton. The school, however, wouldn’t let him take as many courses as he wanted. Hamilton attended King’s College in New York in 1773. King’s College was more conservative than Princeton and many staff members were Tories who supported the British monarchy.
Hamilton was in a hurry to catch up to other students who started college at a younger age than he did. Some speculate that he altered his birth year from 1755 to 1757 so he would seem closer in age to his fellow students. He spent his free time auditing classes and reading books in the university library.
While in college, Hamilton and his friend Robert Troup formed a club. The club focused on writing and debating—skills that Hamilton later drew on during his political career. The club also helped Hamilton refine his political views. He wrote anti-British pamphlets that clashed with the views of his college professors. Fortunately, his first political tract—a defense of the Boston Tea Party–was anonymous.
The Mesoamerican ball game became the New World’s first organized team sport. It seems to have started around 1600 B.C. No courts were discovered from that time—only balls. The first ball court was built by the Maya in 1400 B.C. at Paso de la Amada. 1,300 courts have been found all over Mesoamerica, though the size of the courts varies.
The only eyewitness account of the game comes from Spanish priest Diego Duran. He saw Aztec games played in the 1570s. At that time, courts were shaped like the letter I. They had a central alley with sloping walls. On top of the walls, spectators could watch the game. There was no standard size for the courts; they varied between 100-200 ft. Stucco floors painted with the city’s patron deity acted as a kind of mascot for the team.
Aztec teams had between four and six players. They bounced a solid rubber ball back and forth using their buttocks and their knees. It was against the rules to use their feet or their hands. A center line was drawn down the court. The goal for each team was to get the ball back to the other side of the court by bouncing the ball only once on their side.
A team lost points if more than once bounce occurred or the ball went out of bounds. Points were earned by hitting the back wall of the opponent’s side. Most players guarded the back line so it was hard to score. A couple of players stayed up front to try and return balls. At the center line, rings were placed high up on the walls. If a team managed to get the ball through the ring they won automatically, but this was very difficult to do, especially without the use of their hands.
The ball was made of solid rubber and could kill a player if they were hit with it in the face or the stomach. Players who had survivable injuries viewed them as a badge of honor. Players often got injured because they didn’t have much protective gear. They wore only loincloths, thigh pads, and gloves.
Ball games were spectator sports. The audience bet on the outcome of the game, though nobles obviously bet more than the poor. People bet their land, crops, and some even sold themselves into slavery. Nobles had the best seats to watch the game. Afterward, the players expected them to throw gifts to the winning team. If some nobles tried to leave without giving anything to the winning team, those players were allowed to rob them.
The game served an important function in communities beyond just entertainment. Since each city had a team, disputes between cities could be resolved via a ball game. This solution was more practical and less bloody than starting a war.
Unlike many of today’s sports figures, Aztec ball players were unpaid and poor. They received some gifts and gambling earnings, but not enough to support themselves. Their payment came in the form of fame if they won. Many of the less successful players ended up as slaves to nobles.
The Mesoamerican ball game is still played today. It’s called Ulama de cadera, which means hip ball. Cancun brings in ball players to attract tourists. Guatemala has a national team and is trying to revive the game.
The king was at the top of the Aztec social hierarchy. They called him the Tlatoani, which meant speaker because he acted as a spokesman for his people. Unlike most European societies, the position was not hereditary. Nobles elected the king. At least in theory, the position was based on merit, though the son of a king might find ways to bribe the nobles.
An Aztec king had many privileges. He lived in a huge palace with hundreds of rooms. He also had hundreds of servants and slaves to tend to his every wish. The palace was decorated with handmade tapestries and murals. Since cleanliness was important to the Aztecs, the king had his own private bathroom where he bathed daily. If guests came to visit him, they also had their own bathrooms. Within the palace, the king housed his many wives. When he dressed, he put on embroidered clothing decorated with many feathers.
Not only did he live in a palace, but he owned all the city lands. He gave grants of land to nobles, but only the king could decide who received a grant. Besides land grants, the king decided on all laws and taxes.
Despite all of the king’s privileges, he had great responsibilities. The king served as the high priest and oversaw many of the daily sacrifices to the gods. The Aztecs believed that their sun god, Tonatiuh, required regular gifts of human hearts to be made to him. Without these sacrifices, the sun would stop shining and the world would end. As high priest, the king was responsible for the continuation of the universe.
In addition to his religious duties, the king served as general of the army. He led his men into battle and made battle plans. He conquered other lands and generally enabled his people to feel secure.
The king not only led the army, but also led political relations with kings from other city states. He formed political alliances with their Tlatoanis. Alliances were often formed during elaborate state dinners. As many as 300 plates were set at the king’s table, which was piled high with the best food from the local markets. Singers and dwarfs provided entertainment during the dinner. After the feast, the king and his guests left and the servants who prepared the feast had their meal.
In general, the Aztecs expected their king to set a good example for others to follow and to provide them with a good life.
The Aztecs didn’t have brochures in the fifteenth century. Based on their experiences with the Spanish conquistadors, they weren’t looking to attract many tourists, either. If they had a brochure for visitors to their capital of Tenochtitlan, however, it might have read something like this:
Welcome to Tenochtitlan!
The Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan makes every city in the New World look small, and some in the Old World, too. An estimated 200,000 people live here, compared to 150,000 in fifteenth century Paris.
Places to visit include:
The City Zoo
Don’t miss seeing the zoo, the likes of which have never been seen by Europeans. The first section houses birds of prey such as eagles. The second section houses reptiles, mammals, and exotic birds. The Spanish call most of the mammals lions because they’ve never seen an ocelot or mountain lion before. These big cats are fed parts of sacrificial victims. The Spanish find this disgusting, but it is unwise to voice your opinion as a tourist. Among the reptiles you can see rattlesnakes, or as the Spanish like to call them, “snakes with music in their tails.”
Aztecs enjoy all kinds of art, and artists are treated with respect. The theater, or cuicacalli, which means house of song, has several different functions. It is both an opera house and a school of music for youth. Young people who have musical talent can come there and learn to play the drums, the flutes, or trumpets.
The theater is also the place where dances are performed for the community. Aztecs like to refer to dancing as “singing with your feet,” so singing and dancing are naturally performed under one roof.
As you make your way around the city you will notice the fine public gardens. The finest garden in Tenochtitlan, however, belongs to King Moctezuma. His palace houses plants from every part of Mesoamerica, even ones that should not be able to grow here. Between 300-500 gardeners check on the hundreds of plant species. If one species dies, then an expedition is sent out to get another sample.
Tlatelolco is the sister city of Tenochtitlan. When you walk through its marketplace, you can find merchants selling pottery, cloth, gold, and jewelry. Slave auctions also take place here. After shopping you will probably be hungry. The marketplace has many restaurants that serve food from all over Mesoamerica. Entertainment is available from street dancers and singers. Overall the marketplace is a great spot for families to spend time together and for residents to socialize.
Downtown you can see the Templo Mayor from a great distance. It is 60 meters tall, and has two flights of steps that lead to two temples at the top. Each temple is a different color–blue for the rain god, and red for the war god. Daily sacrifices are performed to appease the gods. The heart is cut out of the human being sacrificed. The Spanish are a bit queasy about this practice, but Moctezuma has warned them to act like the guests that they are in the city.
When most people think of the Aztecs, they probably conjure up images of human sacrifice. Yet much of Aztec society was sophisticated, including their social order.
At the bottom of the Aztec social hierarchy were slaves. How did people become slaves? A person might be captured in a foreign land, or slavery might be a sentence for a crime. Anyone regardless of their class could become a slave. Even people with a lot of money sometimes ended up as slaves because of gambling debts they owed.
Surprisingly, slaves did have some rights. They could own money and get time off. They also had their own families. Children of slaves were born free. Nobles often acquired slaves as servants for their households. While these rights don’t make the life of a slave seem so hard, unlucky slaves could be sold to priests for human sacrifices. And despite the fact that slavery wasn’t hereditary, some parents sold their children into slavery in order to support the rest of the family.
Like most societies, the Aztecs had an abundance of commoners who worked as farmers or craftsmen. Farmers tended land that belonged to nobles, and craftsmen did woodwork or made pottery. The men had to serve in the Aztec army. Women also had tasks, which included cleaning, cooking, weaving, and going to the marketplace. Some women also sold textiles at market. Female commoners spent most of their time at home.
For a commoner, home was a one room house made of reed walls and a thatched roof. Commoners lived in districts of four or five families, often all relatives. Each district had a temazcal or sweat bath where children were often born. Male children of commoners attended a free school that taught them how to be warriors. Commoners could not become merchants or nobles, but they could move up in society by becoming brave warriors or priests.
Whereas many ancient societies only had poor and rich classes, the Aztec had a middle class or pochteca made up of traveling merchants. They traded goods as well as serving as spies for the king. During their travels, merchants assessed which lands the king might conquer. Since their missions were dangerous, merchants were also trained warriors who carried weapons. They could become wealthy but couldn’t display their wealth by wearing expensive clothes or jewels.
Wearing fine capes and jewelry were privileges reserved for the noble class. Nobles ruled over a number of commoners. They assigned labor in neighborhoods called calpullis. They lived near their workers either in a nice home with stone walls or a small palace. Children of nobles attended a special school called the calmecac. Unlike the schools for commoners, these schools taught poetry, public speaking and the Aztec calendar as well as warfare. Children of nobles grew up to be government officials, high priests, and military captains.
For all their privileges, the Aztecs expected a great deal from the nobility. They were expected to be model citizens. If a noble committed a crime, the punishment was more severe than for a commoner who committed the same crime.
John F. Kennedy, or Jack as his family called him, was born on May 29, 1917. He had an older brother, Joe Kennedy Jr. and seven younger siblings. He spent the first decade of his life in Brookline, Massachusetts. JFK’s father Joseph Kennedy Sr. didn’t play an active role in young Jack’s life since he was often away on business. His mother, Rose Kennedy, did have help with the children though. She needed it since Jack was often ill. The family joked that if a mosquito bit Jack, it would be sorry because it would catch whatever illness he had at the time.
Eventually the Kennedys moved to Bronxville, New York. Thanks to his father’s successful business ventures, the family could afford several different homes. They spent summers in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Easter and Christmas holidays took place at their home in Palm Beach, Florida.
Jack and his older brother were extremely competitive. Joe Sr. encouraged this quality in his sons. He often said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Unfortunately for Jack, his brother was both two years older and stronger, so if they fought Jack got beat up. Jack couldn’t best Joe as a student, either. Joe had ambition. Since childhood Joe said that he wanted to become the first Catholic President of the United States. While Joe worked hard in all his subjects, Jack tended to pay attention only to the ones that interested him, such as English.
When he enrolled at Choate boarding school in ninth grade, Jack found other ways of distinguishing himself from Joe. While Joe was the better student and an accomplished athlete, Jack became the class clown. He formed a group at Choate called the Muckers, which was responsible for many school pranks. Most memorably, they exploded a toilet seat with a firecracker. Jack was nearly expelled for that incident. Instead, poor health interfered with his studies. He was diagnosed with colitis. It made him tired and he also lost his appetite. He got well enough to graduate in the middle of his class. Despite his mediocre performance as a student, his classmates voted him most likely to succeed.
Jack’s colitis interfered again when he entered Princeton and had to quit after six weeks. In 1936, he enrolled at Harvard. While there, he produced a campus newspaper called the “Freshman Smoker” and got a spot on the varsity swim team. He wanted to play football, too, but he ruptured a disk in his spine. From then on JFK always lived with back pain.
In 1938, Joe Sr. served as President Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to Great Britain. Both Jack and Joe Jr. went to Great Britain to work with their father. To prepare for his senior thesis, Jack traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Soviet Union. He returned to London on September 1, 1939—the same day that World War II began. Jack’s thesis pointed out that Great Britain was unprepared for war because it had neglected its military. Published as Why England Slept, his work became a bestseller. He used the money he made from the book to buy a Buick convertible, but he also gave the royalties he made from Great Britain to charity.
After graduation, Jack joined his brother in the U.S. Navy. Joe was a flyer and Jack was a Lieutenant assigned to the South Pacific. Only Jack came home. Joe Jr. died when his plane blew up during a mission in Europe.
Joe’s death changed everything for JFK. With his oldest son gone, Jack’s father encouraged him to abandon his interests in writing and teaching to run for Congress. JFK won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1946. His political career had begun.
President John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie loved dogs, which meant that First Kids Caroline and John-John had several furry playmates in the White House.
The most famous Kennedy dog was Pushinka, whose name meant fluffy in Russian. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave the mixed breed dog to Caroline as a gift after the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the Secret Service checked the dog for bugs to make sure the Soviets weren’t using it as a spy, Pushinka became part of the family. JFK Jr. remembered that he and Caroline taught Pushinka to go down the slide on the White House playground. “Sending the dog down that slide is probably my first memory,” he said.
Pushinka struck up a romance with the Kennedy’s Welsh terrier, Charlie. In June 1963, Pushinka had puppies. Caroline and John-John named them Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie, and Streaker. JFK referred to the puppies as “pupniks” since Pushinka was the daughter of a dog who had been to space on the Russians’ Sputnik 2. When the puppies were two months old, the First Lady picked two children from the thousands that had written to the White House asking for one of the pups. That’s how Butterfly and Streaker got adopted. The other puppies were given to family friends.
The father of the puppies, Charlie, was “large and in charge.” He bossed the other dogs around and made sure he got first dibs at dinnertime. When given the chance, he showed humans who was boss, too. If a visitor ignored him, Charlie peed on that person. Although he was not an official watchdog, he growled if someone got too close to JFK.
Charlie loved to play fetch, but he got so obsessed with the game that the president got annoyed. Fortunately, Charlie and the president both enjoyed swimming and long walks.
Charlie may have been one of JFK’s favorite dogs, but the First Lady preferred a German shepherd named Clipper. A gift to the family from JFK’s father John Kennedy, Clipper velcroed himself to the First Lady’s side. He was the only Kennedy family dog to get formal obedience training. Caroline and John-John enjoyed tagging along with their mom to watch Clipper and other German shepherds at the training site.
Mrs. Kennedy valued her privacy and Clipper helped her with that, too. Sometimes the president and Mrs. Kennedy walked the dogs outside the White House grounds in the evenings so no one would recognize them. Mrs. Kennedy walked Clipper and the president usually took Charlie. The Secret Service car had to follow at a distance, but it relaxed both humans to have that little bit of freedom.
Note: this is not a complete list of the Kennedy presidential pets, but includes some of the most popular ones.