Technorati Tags: ,



In the late 600s BCE the Greek city-state of Athens got a new set of laws, drawn up by an official called Draco.  These weren’t the first Athenian laws, or even the first to be written down, but they were systematic and codified as never before.  They were also cruel.  even minor offenses were punishable by death.  Draco himself died after guests at a reception in his honor showered him with their cloaks – a gesture of respect.  He suffocated.  Not long after, another lawgiver, Solon, struck down Draco’s code in favor of a more compassionate system. Draco’s laws may have been short-lived, but his name lives on as the adjective draconian, meaning unusually harsh.  Solon’s name is an English synonym for legislator.


Flavius Petrus Sabbatius (483-565 CE)  was just a poor boy from Illyria (today’s Albania) who became Byzantine emperor.  Adopted by his uncle, the emperor Justin, young Flavius added Justinianus to his name and succeeded to the throne as Justinian I.  Considered a great ruler, Justinian fought barbarians in Italy and corruption in Constantinople, but he is best remembered for collecting and organizing the best Roman statutes in the Codex constitutionum in 529 CE.  (The Byzantine empire was a latter-day, eastern extension of the Roman Empire.)  Known as Justinian’s Code, this system underlies many laws still used today.  It’s also a source of our modern concept of impartial judgment and fair punishment.  Justinian’s name, by the way of Latin and French, became a word for that concept.


Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) almost succeeded in blowing up James I and the king’s entire government in 1605.  Although he was born in Yorkshire, Fawkes’s pro-Catholic sentiments led him to a career in the Spanish army.  When Catholic activists in England grew desperate over government persecution, they sent for Fawkes to attempt their assassination plan, the gunpowder Plot.  Caught in a Parliament cellar full of explosives, Fawkes was arrested, tortured, and executed.  The English commemorate his arrest every November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, by burning him in effigy.  Over the centuries, the word guy meant one of these effigies, then it evolved to mean any stuffed dummy, then a dull man, then a regular bloke.  Now just about everybody is a guy.


Before it was food, Sandwich was a town in England.  When Edward Montagu, an English admiral, was made an earl in 1660, he took the place name as part of his title.  A century later his descendant John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), sat down to a game of cards and didn’t leave the table for the next 24 hours.  For this dedicated gambler, sleep was as nothing.  Food, however, was another matter.  To keep up his strength, he called for chunks of meat between two slices of bread.  voila, a cuisine was born.