Tuesday, April 5, 2016

An Esoteric History of Red Hair: Chapter Four - Stargazers & Seafarers

[What follows is the first draft of my book An Esoteric History of Red Hair. I've uploaded the chapters in reverse order so that they appear in their correct sequence.]

We move into the age of discovery in this chapter, and the opening up of both the skies and the seas to exploration. Unsurprisingly redheads figured quite heavily in both these fields. We'll start with astronomy.

Possibly the most famous of all astronomers, Galileo Galilee, was said to be a redhead. It's also said that he had a fiery temper to match it - a classic red hair cliché of course. Famously he was deemed a heretic by the Catholic church for his advocacy of the heliocentric astronomical model, and as we'll see in the next chapter he wasn't the last redhead to find himself in opposition to the Church of Rome.
It may seem strange to imagine such a famous Italian as Galileo as having had red hair, however oddly there are glimpses that red hair was maybe less uncommon in Italy in former times. There are actually quite a few famous Italians from history that had hair of the colour. The composer Antonio Vivaldi, most famous for his Four Seasons violin concerti, was a redhead. An ordained priest, Vivaldi was nicknamed il Prete Rosso ("the Red Priest") because of it. It's also said that the name Rossi  is the most common surname in Italy (we mentioned the words rose and rosa in the last chapter). Is this because there were more redheads in Italy at some point in the past? - or is it simply a case of people acquiring surnames based on the characteristics that set them aside from the general population. I guess the surname black-hair wouldn't really be much use in a population where most people have that hair colour.

It's also interesting to note that, like elsewhere, there are traditions in Italy that associate red hair with untrustworthiness and ill fortune. For instance, one Italian proverb states; God protect us from women, coughs and redheads. It's likewise said that Sicilians believed that all redheads had an evil and malicious disposition. In fact, there's even a 19th century short story titled Rosso Malpelo by the Italian writer Giovanni Verga in part inspired by this idea - Rosso Malpelo literally translating as "evil red hair". It's a quite beautiful, though sad, tale of a young red-haired boy named Rosso Malpelo and his unfortunate life working in a sand mine. The story is said to be a commentary on the social and economic conditions endured by the working poor in southern Italy at that time.

Another very famous Italian with red hair was the noted poet and dramatist Vittorio Alfieri, considered the founder of Italian tragedy. He even penned a self-portrait poem in which he described his hair colour;

Sublime mirror of truthful words, show me
In soul and body what I am: scant hair
Thinning above the brow, but still rich red,
A figure tall and slim, on two straight shanks

Returning to our theme of stargazers there were also other redheads helping to re-imagine our night sky. The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe had light red hair. He is probably now most famous for compiling the accurate and comprehensive astronomical observations that would later be used by his assistant Johannes Kepler to develop his law of planetary motion. There's also a portrait of the original heliocentrist Nicolaus Copernicus that shows him with distinctly coppery locks. Although as we've mentioned before, portraits aren't always a reliable way of indicating hair colour, and there are other pictures showing him with hair of a much darker colouring.

Another potential redhead is the philosopher and astronomer Giordano Bruno. It's been suggested by some that he had thin red hair, although again genuine evidence of this is difficult to come by. Bruno was burnt at the stake by the Roman Inquisition in 1600 for his then novel cosmological beliefs, which included his idea that stars were simply distant suns, and that the universe was infinite with no discernible centre. If he was a redhead then he can maybe be added to the long list of red-haired witches and heretics that were supposedly burnt at the stake by religious authorities.

Curiously, redheads also seemed to be especially well represented when it came to exploring the seas as well. The most notable being the most famous of them all; Christopher Columbus, who was said to have had a freckled appearance. However, he wasn't alone. The Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon was a redhead. He led the first European expedition to Florida, and was associated with the legend of the Fountain of Youth - the spring that supposedly restored youthfulness to anyone who drank or bathed in its waters. Leon and his fellow conquistadors were also said to be accompanied by a red-haired attack dog called Becerillo that would attack and terrify the native Indians. Another Spanish conquistador associated with Florida was Pánfilo de Narváez. He had red hair and one eye, losing the other one fighting. He was said  to be exceedingly cruel towards the native population - not a great guy to add to the red hair roll call, but interesting nonetheless. The Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa was also red-haired. Balboa was the first European to lead an expedition to reach the Pacific from the New World.

As well as the above mentioned Christopher Columbus & Co we also have the English explorer and privateer Francis Drake. He was known as El Draque/Draco - meaning "The Dragon", another redhead with serpentine credentials. Interestingly, it's also said that Drake recorded seeing "red-haired giants" in the Americas that were over nine feet tall. Sightings which, if true, tie in with some of the reports related in our final chapter.

It would appear that red-haired pirates like Drake were ten a penny. We mentioned the ubiquitous "Red Beards" in the last chapter. Two notable ones worth mentioning here are the brothers Oruç Reis and Hayreddin Barbarossa. Both were nicknamed "Barbarossa" because of their red beards. Reis was a Barbary pirate and Hayreddin was an Ottoman admiral of the Fleet. Both helped the Ottoman Empire dominate the Mediterranean in the early 16th century.

There was also a bevy of red-haired female pirates too.  Anne Bonny operated in the Caribbean in the 18th century. She was known for her red hair and fiery temper.  And there was the 17th century French pirate Jacquotte Delahaye who also operated in the Caribbean. She was famous for faking her own death to escape her pursuers, apparently taking on a male alias and living as a man for many years. On her return she became known as "back from the dead red" because of her red hair. Quite a cool nickname by any stretch of the imagination. Another famed female pirate was the Irish chieftain Grace O'Malley. According to legend as a young girl she shaved her long red hair off in order to go on a trading expedition, as her father had initially refused to take her stating her hair would get tangled in the ship's ropes.

With the next chapter in mind it might be fitting though to finish by going back to Drake. Drake was said to be a devout Protestant, and it was this drive that lead him to be so successful in his attempts to undermine the Catholic Spanish. In fact, he seemed to do as much proselytising on his travels as he did pirating. The following poem about him, written by Robert Hayman, a Devon man who became Governor of Britaniola (Newfoundland), seems to encapsulate, quite neatly, the "orangey" theme we touch upon in the next chapter. It was said to be inspired by a chance encounter Hayman had with Drake when he was a child. However, it could also possibly be read as a simple allegory, with the orange maybe representing a symbolic handing down of the Protestant chalice to future generations.

He asked me whose I was. I answered him.
He asked if his good friend were within.
A fair red orange in his hand he had.
He gave it me, whereof I was right glad.
Takes and kissed me and prays, God bless my boy,
Which I recall in comfort to this day.

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