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December 28, 2023 9 mins

Time is on everyone's mind this week, so here are a pair of curious tales with time as their core.

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales are right there on display, just
waiting for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

Time flies when you're having fun and also when you're not.
Either way, the clot keeps ticking. That's never more apparent
than on December thirty first, when we look back at
the previous year and talk about how we can't believe
it is already over. But there was one year, over
two millennia ago when people did not feel like the
time had slipped away. And that's because forty six BCE

lasted a whopping four hundred in forty five days. You see,
the calendar has always been a bit tricky to nail down.
For most of human history, years were measured using the seasons,
and having exact dates and times wasn't that important If
you wanted to schedule an event, you wouldn't tell people
to meet you on Saturday at seven pm, because the
whole idea of a seven day week and a twenty

four hour day didn't exist. Instead, you'd say something like
meet me at sundown on the night of the full moon.
And let's be honest here. That sounds way cooler than
how we schedule things today. Of course, many ancient cultures
had tools like sundials and lunar calendars. In the Roman Empire,
for example, one year was made up of twelve lunar cycles,
each lasted about twenty eight days. The problem was this

resulted in a year that was slightly shorter than the
four seasons. Roman officials viewed the calendar as malleable, so
they would add days here and there to make up
the difference, but the system was far from perfect. Problems
arose anytime politics got in the way of managing the calendar.
The years before Julius Caesar rose to power were so
turbulent that adding random day into the mix wasn't anybody's priority.

By the time he took the throne in forty nine BCE,
April fell in the middle of the summer and the
harvest festival was three months before the actual harvest. Everything
was out of whack, so to get things back on tracks,
Caesar called for forty six BCE to be a transitional
year with ninety extra days packed into it. He named
it the Ultima Annis Confusionists, that is, the final year

of Confusion. When forty six BCE was finally over, Caesar
instituted the Julian calendar. Rather than being based on the
cycles of the moon, this one followed the movements of
the sun. It's where we get thirty and thirty one
day months, as well as leap years. The Julian calendar
followed the seasons much more accurately, so it didn't need
to be constantly altered, but still it wasn't perfect. Roman

astronomers had miscalculated the solar year by a mere eleven minutes,
and this might not seem like much, but it added up.
For every one hundred and twenty eight years that passed,
the calendar fell about one day behind the seasons. This
meant that by fifteen eighty two, the world was more
than ten days off. This problem came to the attention
of Pope Gregory the thirteenth, who suggested a few changes. First,

they needed to make up for lost time. Literally, those
living in Catholic Europe went to sleep on October fourth
of fifteen eighty two, but when they woke up the
next morning it was in October fifth. It was the fifteenth.
They had jumped ahead ten days, and to make sure
the same thing didn't happen again, modern astronomers also needed
to fix the Romans miscalculation. They changed how leap years

work just slightly, making any numbers divisible by four hundred
or four thousand exempt. This small alteration guaranteed that the
Gregorian calendar would remain accurate for the next twenty thousand years,
but not everyone was on board. The British government refused
to institute the change for nearly two centuries until they
had lagged eleven days behind the rest of Western Europe.

In seventeen fifty two, British King George the Second had
finally had enough that September lasted just nineteen days in
the Briginish Empire, allowing the nation to get back in
line with the seasons. These days, the Gregorian calendar is
considered the international standard, but that doesn't mean that every
country and culture embraces it. Even now. The way humans
keep time is not an exact science, and not everyone

is about to celebrate the beginning of twenty twenty four
in Ethiopia, for example, people use a version of the
ancient Coptic calendar, which has thirteen months. Because of this,
the current year there is twenty sixteen. Iran and Afghanistan
both use the Persian Solar his reclendar. In those countries
it's technically fourteen forty five. Nepal uses a traditional Hindu

calendar that puts them about fifty six years in the
future in twenty eighty, but that's nothing compared to China.
Their traditional calendar puts them all the way in forty
seven to twenty. So let this be a reminder. The
time is an illusion, and the way that we measure
it is curious. Indeed, as the new year approaches, you

might be reaching into your fridge for a festive drink
like eggnog or champagne. In Scotland, though, they're mixing up
a different kind of holiday beverage, one with a very
curious history. It's called athel Bros, and legends about this
winter time brew go back over five hundred years. There
are a couple of different versions of the story. The
first one goes like this, there once was a giant

who lived in the Scottish Highlands in a region called Ethel.
The monster terrorized innocent people, spreading fear across the hills.
A local hunter wanted to put a stop to the violence,
but to defeat the beast, he had to be clever.
Rather than attacking the giant outright, the hunter mixed up
a vat of oatmeal, whiskey, cream, and honey and set
it out for the monster to eat. The spiked porridge

was so strong that it put the beast into a
never ending stupor, thereby ending its reign of terror. Now
the second and more slightly believable version of the tale
begins like this. In the late fifteenth century, the British
Isles were racked by a series of battles known as
the Wars of the Roses. People were fighting to gain
control of the British throne, and they were willing to
do just about anything to get it. Enter Ian MacDonald,

a Scottish earl. In fourteen seventy five, Ian signed a
traitorous agreement with British King Edward the Fourth. The contract
said that if England were to subdue Scotland, the earl
would be granted partial rulership over his homeland, And just
like that, Ian stopped fighting England and began plotting a
rebellion against his own leader, the Scottish King. Unfortunately for Ian,

his plans weren't exactly secret. There were spies everywhere. Soon enough,
word got around to another Scotsman named John Stewart. He
was the Earl of Athel of the Highlands, the same
area where our fabled giant had lived. Angered by Ian's
traitorous actions, John set out to squash the uprising before
it could even begin, and the Scottish spies gave John
some important intel. Ian and his men had a specific

date in mind for the rebel. Until then, they were
hiding out on a nearby hill, eating rations and getting
water from one specific well, and that detail the well
gave John an idea. The night before Ian's coup was
scheduled to take place, John ordered his men to sneak
into the enemy camp and sabotage their water supply by
filling the well with oats, honey, and scotch. Apparently, Ian

and his men didn't notice that their water had magically
transformed into some kind of thick whiskey cocktail. I guess
we're meant to suspend our disbelief at this point in history.
That's or the stuff just tasted so good that they
didn't want to question it. Regardless, legend has it that
Ian and his troops ate so much that they all
passed out in the morning. They were too exhausted to

mount their rebellion, And there you have it. With nothing
more than the power of a stiff drink, John had
successfully stopped the uprising. Now in both stories, ethel Bros
originates in the Highlands, is made in massive quantities, and
has a nearly mythical ability to leave people staggeringly drunk.
It's believed to be one of the world's first cock tales,
and it's remained popular throughout history. Thankfully, though the recipe

has since been refined. John Stewart's descendants made one big
change in the early eighteen hundreds. They replaced the oatmeal
with a mixture of blended oats and water, which was
then strained to ensure a smooth, drinkable consistency. And this
was arguably the first version of oat's milk. Who knew
that our favorite lattes could be traced back to a
fifteenth century Scottish cocktail? Right these days, ethel Bros is

most often brewed during hogmen at which is the Scottish
version of New Year's Eve, one of the country's most
important holidays. Hogmen Ase celebrations feature torchlit parades, swinging fireballs
and other ritualistic traditions. Plus there's plenty of athel bros
to go around. And hey, I can't think of a
better way to ring in the new year than with flames,
toasts and strange stories. So cheers to twenty twenty four.

In all the curious tales we've yet to discover, I
hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities.
Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn more about
the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. This show
was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership with how

Stuff Works. I make another award winning show called Lore,
which is a podcast, book series, and television show, and
you can learn all about it over at the Worldoflore
dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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