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The Kevin Bacon of World History Game

February 27, 2011

Portugal, I’d like you to meet Greece.  Greece, this is Portugal.

One of the coolest things about our travels with TAP is finding this weird little connections between the places we’ve visited.  Some of it is stuff you never would have imagined linked two otherwise totally different cultures.

A church in Berlin missing some key parts thanks to WWII bombings.

Our first trip was to Germany, and, as you would imagine, the Nazis came up quite a few times in our travels.  The next year, on our way to Greece, we had a pit stop in London, where the first thing we saw was a sign pointing out where the Nazis had bombed parts of London.  That was coincidence enough, but when a year after that we found our way to Italy, who shows up in one of the first stories we heard in Florence – no, not Michelangelo or Galileo, some Nazis.  It was like, for the last three years, every where we went the Nazis were following us.  Finally, in Ireland last year we didn’t hear a single Nazi story.

Since the Celtic people moved across northern Europe, through the Iberian peninsula, and up into Ireland, we’re expecting a few Spain and Ireland connections.  And, since Spain and Portugal were once part of the Roman Empire, there’s bound to be a few threads that connect those two trips.  However, Greece and Portugal weren’t ones we were anticipating a historical mesh from.  However, an ancient Greek hero named Ulysses will give us just that.

Ulysses is the famed hero of Ancient Greece and king of the city-state Ithica.

Thanks to a lovelorn Trojan guy named Paris, who kinda sorta kidnapped the queen of Sparta from her super jealous hubby, there was a really big war.  The Trojan War, which was pretty much all the Greek city states vs. little ole Troy in an epic battle for the ages, lasted 10 long years, because the Greeks wouldn’t give up and the Trojans were defended by what is now known as “a big freakin’ wall.”

Finally, Ulysses, who was some sort of tactical genius, thought up this brilliant plan.  “Let’s build a huge wooden horse and hide inside of it.  The Trojans will be totally fall for it, they’ll think the horse is a gift from Poseidon and wheel it into the city walls.  After dark, we’ll all climb out and kill everyone.”  Stupid idea?  Nope.  It worked.

The war was over the next day and Ulysses began his journey home.  Unfortunately, he took a pit-stop on the island of Polyphemus, a big angry Cyclops who loved to snack on war heroes.  Ulysses lost most of his men, but managed to escape, blinding the giant with a stick.  The bad thing was, Polyphemus tattled, going whining to his daddy—the god of the sea, Poseidon.

A handful of Minooka kids posing with the Aegean Sea.

That was bad, because Ulysses kinda needed Poseidon on his good side, you know, with the whole taking a boat across the Aegean Sea to get home.  Fortunately for U-dog, Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom and   mortal enemy of Poseidon, liked him.  I’m not sure if that’s regular liked him, or liked him liked him, but either way, she prevented Poseidon from killing U.  Instead, Poseidon just did everything in his power to prevent Ulysses from getting home.

In the epic poem the Odyssey, by a non-yellow dude named Homer, Ulysses undergoes a series of hardships on his journey back to Ithica,.  His adventures include visiting the underworld, being held captive by Calypso, a goddess with a some serious Ulysses crushing going on, watching as all his men are turned into pigs by the witch Circe, and fighting mythical things like sirens, sea monsters, and special cows along the way.  This should all sound familiar to anyone who’s read book 2 of the Percy Jackson series, or anyone who traveled with us to Greece back in 2008 would know, because our tour guide told us this story as we cruised around in the Aegean, hopping from island to island, including a stop in Turkey, not too far from the site of ancient Troy.

How does all this ancient Greek stuff relate to Portugal?  Well, the legend goes that during his travels, Ulysses left the Mediterranean and got as far as the Tagus River—Lisbon.  In fact, if you happened to log into ancient Greek Mapquest, you’d find that the original name of Lisbon was actually Ulyssippo which remained the name of the city until some Roman guy named Julius showed up and changed a bunch of stuff.

Minooka kids in the Roman Forum learning the fate of Julius Caesar.

Oh yeah, that Julius guy.  He went on to be some sort of emperor in Rome, got stabbed to death by his friends.  On our Italy trip, we happened to stumble across the spot where that happened.

About 1,600 years later, the events of Caesar’s death were written into a pretty popular play called Julius Caesar by a dude named Shakespeare.  JC was the first play he ran to showcase his new digs – The Globe Theatre – a theatre that TAP saw while wandering alongside the banks of the Thames River in London.

Who is said to have summoned Shakespeare and his actors to perform for her dozens of times?  Queen Elizabeth I.  Her father?  King Henry VIII, who happened to be married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter or Ferdinand and Isabella – the first king and queen of… Spain, who’s tombs we will see in the Cathedral of Granada later this year.

That’s a lot of coincidental connections being made, but I think if we go any futher Kevin Bacon’s head might explode.  That’s probably as far as we can take it anyway, unless they uncover a hidden Shakespeare play about the Nazis that is.

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