Blessed are the Merciful…, or Missouri to the Rescue

Only a few days separate us from Christmas, and at this time we especially remember people in need, and perhaps try to do something to help them. I wanted to recall a story of great generosity and humanity.

Russia, a major exporter of grain in the 19th century, in 1891-92 suffered one of the most disastrous famines in its history. It was a combination of inclement weather and severe drought that struck the Russian South. People starved, many died.

It was estimated that about 35 million people were affected. The exact death toll is not known, but Richard Robbins, an American historian, put it at about 300,000.

The government, and especially the royal family, did everything to alleviate the disaster; the Emperor himself gave half of his income, around five million rubles, to relief funds; he also appointed the heir to the throne, Grand Duke Nicolas, the future Emperor Nicolas II, as chairman of one of the major relief committees; many wealthy people generously donated money and personally participated in the relief efforts. Anton Chekhov, the famous writer who was a physician by training, went with other doctors to the regions stricken by cholera and typhus to treat the sick and needy; Leo Tolstoy collected and distributed relief donations and organized food stations for peasants.

Leo Tolstoy and the relief committee

Leo Tolstoy (center) and the relief committee

The United States responded swiftly and generously. Millers of Minneapolis organized a gift of flour; Nebraskans contributed one-and-a-half million pounds of corn meal; besides, Americans collected through charities about a million dollars in addition to several shipments of humanitarian aid. First to the Russian shores (the Baltic port of Libava, now in Latvia) came the steamer Missouri with the cargo of grain. Two more U.S. ships followed later.

The Missouri at sea

 The Missouri at sea ( from: W. C. Edgar, The Russian Famine of 1891 and 1892)

The future Emperor Nicolas II said:” We are all deeply touched by the fact that America sent us ships full of foodstuff.” A special resolution prepared by the distinguished representatives of the Russian public stated: “The United States show us the most moving example of brotherly feelings by sending bread to the Russian people at the time of such privation and need.”

One of the most famous marine artists, Ivan Aivazovsky, depicted the arrival of the Missouri to the Russian shores.

Ivan Aivazovsky. “Arrival of the ship “Missouri” with grain to Russia”.

 

And here is a depiction of the joyful reception of the American help in the Russian village by the same artist.

Aivazovsky, American help arrived

 

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Ice Creatures

Jack FrostJack FrostYuki-Onna

Ymir Frost Giants Frost GiantIn honor of the official first day of winter and the recently fallen snow here on MU’s campus, this week’s installment of the Fantastic Beasts series highlights creatures that live and breath the ice and snow of the Arctic.  The first two images show different depictions of Jack Frost, who, in these folk tales from Russia, saves a young girl whose step-mother threw her out in the cold to die.  The next image is of a creature from Japanese folklore called the Yuki-Onna (or, Snow Woman) that kills travelers with her icy breath, leaving them frozen.  In other legends, she breaks down the doors of houses with a fierce wind and then kills its sleeping residents (like she is in this picture).  The final three images depict the Frost Giants of Norse mythology.  in the first, the X-Men prepare to go up against the recently resurrected Ymir, progenitor of the Frost Giants.  In the last two, comic book hero Conan battles two such Frost Giants as he pursues their sister across the ice.

If the weather isn’t cold enough for you yet, or you just want to help celebrate the first day of winter, come see us at Special Collections, where we’ve got all these ice creatures and more waiting to be discovered in the warmth of our reading room.

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An Aztec Remedy for Mental Stupor

For Mental Stupor:

He whose mind is in this condition should drink the juice of the tlahtlocotic root crushed in warm water so that he will vomit.  A few days later both the bark and roots of the flowers yolloxochitl and cacauaxochitl are to be crushed in water; he is to drink the juice before lunch…His forehead, moreover, is to be anointed with the brain of a stag and the feathers of a dove, crushed and put in water, and human hair. On his neck he shall carry the stone found in the stomach of the swallow.

Plate980001 Plate980001-copy

Plate 98 (left) and Plate 98, detail (right)

This remedy appears in a very special manuscript known as the Badianus Manuscript (Codex Barberini, Latin 241), now housed at the Vatican library. This manuscript was created in 1552 by two individuals of Aztec descent. One, Martinus de la Cruz,  was a physician; the other, Badianus, rendered the former’s pharmacological knowledge into Latin. The manuscript, decorated with pigments made of native materials,  is not only astoundingly beautiful, but an important witness to Aztec medicine at the time of the conquest. Special Collections owns a facsimile, edited by  Emily Emmart.

Plate68

Plate 68

The Badianus Manuscript, Codex Barberini, Latin 241, Vatican Library: An Aztec Herbal of 1552

John Hopkins Press, 1940

Rare Folio RS169 .C7 1552a

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