Marathon was not a sport in Ancient Greece.

The place were wrestlers trained in Olympia, Ancient Greece. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

The opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will start in a few hours. But have you wondered how athletes began the ceremony over 1500 years ago in Ancient Greece?

The Olympic games began in 776 BCE in Greece. They were held in Olympia, thus the name Olympics. The games were started to honor the exploits of Greek legends Hercules (known as Heracles in Greek) and Pelops. It was a religious event where the Greek god Zeus was worshiped.

In contrast to today, the athletes did not march with flags or light the Olympic flame. The judges, known as Hellanodikai


How did humans imagine the universe during the Ancient and Middle Ages?

Image by NASA comparing the Fra Mauro map, 1459 with a satellite image of the world. NASA notes the map was remarkably accurate for the time, despite the limitations. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Have you ever wondered how ancient explorers travelled to a new country? Because of a lack of accurate calculations, understanding of map making, also known as cartography, was at a primitive stage. Humans did not know how vast their planet was. Often, a country’s borders appeared to encompass the entire universe.

As cultures traded knowledge and trade expanded, so did the art and science of mapmaking. On the world map, we identified cultures that had never been encountered before. The equator, tropics, and North and South Poles were all located.

In the 15th century, the age of discovery began. However…


Shakespeare got it wrong it wasn’t Brutus whose betrayal stunned Caesar, the traitor was someone closer

The murder of Caesar by Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

“Et Tu Brute? Then fall Caesar,” Shakespeare’s famous lines from his tragedy, Julius Caesar, paint a vivid picture of Caesar’s death. After being betrayed and stabbed by senators Caesar fought back, till he saw Marcus Brutus and then gave up.

But what if this story is wrong?

Caesar most likely didn’t say “Et Tu Brute”, because Brutus was not as close to Caesar as Shakespeare imagined him to be. Marcus Brutus, better known as Brutus, had fought against Caesar in the Roman Civil war. Thus him being Caesar’s assassin is not surprising.

Shakespeare may have confused Brutus with Decimus Junius…


One of the diseases tells us a story of human migration

The Iceman’s reconstruction by Alfons & Adrie Kennis: Image source and licensing : South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

In September 1991, two German hikers holidaying in the Alps at the Austria Italy border discovered a shriveled frozen corpse. Erika and Helmut Simon assumed it was the body of an unfortunate mountaineer who met with an accident, and they immediately alerted the authorities.

The find intrigued forensic experts. It wasn’t a lost hiker’s body, but was the body of a man who died almost 5000 years ago. The discovery was a time capsule containing a wealth of information.

The frozen corpse came to be known as Iceman Ötzi, named after the Ötztal Alps where he was discovered.

Ötzi lived…


The image of the great conqueror as a bloodthirsty warlord is an unfair one, here’s why

14th century portrait of Genghis Khan, comissioned by his grandson Kublai, National Museum Taipei,Taiwan. Image source and licensing : Wikimedia Commons.

I had a distorted view of Genghis Khan (pronounced Chinggis Khan) till my early twenties. Many believe he was a brutal conqueror who razed cities and wiped out civilizations. I shared their views.

Then I came across an intriguing opinion on Genghis by Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English literature, in his most famous work, the Canterbury Tales.

“This noble king was called Genghis Khan,

Who in his time was of so great renown

That there was nowhere in no region

So excellent a lord in all things”

- Geoffrey Chaucer

Why did Geoffrey Chaucer praise Genghis Khan, although he…


The curious case of Shizo Kanakuri, the man who took the “longest to complete a marathon”

Shizo Kanakuri, pictured second from left, the man who holds the record for the longest marathon. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Shizo Kanakuri was exhausted.

The journey from Tokyo to Stockholm was long and tiring. To stay in shape for his upcoming race, he ran around the boat he traveled in during the first half of his voyage. Later, during the last ten days of his 18-day journey on the Trans-Siberian railway, he got down at the stations where the train stopped and ran.

He was determined to win the race. After all, he was the favorite, having broken records in the qualifying races for the 1912 Olympics.

On the fateful day of the race on 14th July 1912, Shizo’s determination…


One man’s crusade to expose corruption in the East India Company.

Hicky’ Bengal Gazette, Asia’s first printed newspaper. Image source: University of Heidelberg open access

Mr Hicky asks no favors of the great….he laughs at their impotence, and promises the delinquent ample retaliation through the channel of his Press.

-James Augustus Hicky, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette 14 April 1781

The verdict was not guilty.

The jury acquitted James Augustus Hicky of libel. The presiding judge, Elijah Impey, couldn’t believe what he was hearing. In a fit of rage, he demanded that the jury reconsider their decision, considering the evidence presented.

The jury reconvened in their room for a few moments before returning with the verdict.

Not Guilty.

Hicky had won.

Against all odds, he proved that…


Diet soda isn’t making you fat.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Is Splenda causing your gut bacteria to die?

Do you think your afternoon caffeine shot from a can of diet coke is making you gain weight?

I was skeptical about drinking diet soda until 2017. Whenever I reached for a a can of diet Coke or a sugar-free Red Bull, I was warned by well-intentioned folks that I should avoid diet drinks and foods containing artificial sweeteners.

“They are bad for you.”

But why?

One of three reasons was always given as an answer. “They’ll make you fat” and “they can cause cancer” were two of the most common. The…


After the devastation caused by the pandemic, a young middle class with disposable income was born.

The Triumph of Death by Peter Bruegel 1562, highlighting the social upheaval following the Black Death. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Black Death was the most lethal pandemic in recorded history. Between 1346 and 1353, it wiped out 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa. The plague was of three types, bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic, and was spread by the bacterium Y. Pestis. The bubonic plague had a 50% mortality rate, whereas the other two had 100% mortality.

“How many valiant men, how many fair ladies, breakfast with their kinfolk and the same night supped with their ancestors in the next world.” — Giovanni Boccaccio.

The quote by Italian writer Boccaccio perfectly captures the devastating effects of the Black…


Lockdowns, masks and social distancing can be traced back to medieval times.

Citizens of Tournai, Belgium bury plague victims, Medieval miniature painting. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Lockdowns, quarantines, masks, and social distancing have become the norm in our daily lives since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

But, during the Middle Ages, how did humans deal with the world’s deadliest pandemic, the Black Death? Information on the spread of diseases, medical knowledge, and public awareness back then are incomparable to today’s world. Many of the measures we take today to combat pandemics are like those taken during the Middle Ages to reduce infection spread.

Between 1346 and 1353, the Black Death killed 75–200 million people in Eurasia and Northern Africa. …

Prateek Dasgupta, MS

Polymath interested in History, Science and the History of Science. Former engineer, part-time writer, and full time tea connoisseur.

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