Recent links of note:

“Land of ghosts and legends”
Isaac Sligh, The Critic

For the March 2023 issue of The Critic, New Criterion Associate Editor Isaac Sligh chronicles his travels through the remote, mystical mountain region of Khevsureti, in the Republic of Georgia. There, remnants of ancient and medieval cultures abound among the natives and in their mountainside rock towers. The Khevsurs claim a culture grounded in the warrior ethos, with urban legends professing roots back to French Crusaders and beyond. The adventurer and travel writer Richard Halliburton, who journeyed to the region in the wake of Stalin’s Great Terror nearly one hundred years ago, recalled a friendly sword duel the locals put on for him in which the Khevsur combatants donned French-style chain mail. The reason for Sligh’s visit: to locate a venerated city of the dead—Anatori—and to explore and understand the elements of Khevsur culture, both pagan and Christian, ancient and medieval, that have survived to the present day. 

“What made Beethoven sick? DNA from his hair offers clues”
Maddie Burakoff, AP News

In 1802, twenty-five years before his death at the age of fifty-six, Beethoven wrote to his brothers, urging them to find a physician after he died and “beg him in my name to describe my malady.” Nearly two hundred years later, Beethoven’s wish may have been granted: recent research has finally shed light on exactly what it was that caused the composer’s untimely demise. Using locks of hair verified to be the composer’s, researchers analyzed Beethoven’s DNA sequencing with newly developed genealogical methods to determine that he most likely died from liver disease. While the reason for his hearing loss wasn’t revealed by his gene sequence, researchers discovered the composer had a gene that more than tripled his risk of liver failure. That predisposition for liver disease together with his chronic drinking in the last year of his life spelled an early end for Beethoven. In a surprise finding, however, the research uncovered a discrepancy in the Y chromosome between Beethoven’s hair and the DNA of his surviving extended family, meaning that sometime in the generations before Beethoven’s birth in 1770, one of his ancestors was born from an extramarital relationship. 

“Isenheim Altarpiece: Grünewald’s Towering Biblical Tableaux”
Judith H. Dobrzynski, The Wall Street Journal

In the early sixteenth century, faith was among the best medicines to heal the sick. In France, monasteries often ran hospitals for the poor, and one of the ways that the monks inspired hope in the sick was through grand altarpieces depicting the miracles of Jesus and his saints. One such polyptych is the Isenheim Altarpiece (1512–16) by the German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald, which he created for the sick of the Monastery of St. Anthony in northeastern France, near the border with Germany. The visually stunning work of art, measuring fifteen feet wide, shows three total views: the Crucifixion; the Annunciation, Resurrection, and Ascension; and the life of St. Anthony. Art historians hail this polyptych not only as Grünewald’s masterpiece, but also as a chief masterpiece among the art of the Northern Renaissance, writes Judith H. Dobrzynski for The Wall Street Journal. On display at the Musée Unterlinden in Colmar, Alsace, France, the Isenheim Altarpiece is well worth a stop on your next tour of northern Europe. 

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