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May 28, 2024 9 mins

Today's tour will introduce visitors to key individuals at the center of things we might take for granted.

Pre-order the official Cabinet of Curiosities book by clicking here today, and get ready to enjoy some curious reading this November!

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Menke'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 right there on display, just waiting
for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

Some things aren't a hit right away. For example, when
it first came out, The Wizard of Oz was a
box office flop. It's a Wonderful Life wasn't a Christmas
classic until twenty years after its premiere, And the same
is true in the world of classical music today. Russian
composer Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Right of Spring is considered

a groundbreaking work. It's so famous it was chosen for
the Disney film Fantasia. If your favorite sequence in that
movie is the one with volcanoes exploding and dinosaurs fighting,
then you're a Right of Spring fan. But the very
first time people heard it, the music had a riotous reception. Literally,
on May twenty ninth of nineteen thirteen, the well healed

music lovers of Paris filed into the theater for what
was supposed to be an exciting evening of new art.
Igor Stravinsky had written a new ballet. You see, Stravinsky
was on a hot streak. In nineteen ten, the young
Russian composer had leapt onto the international scene with a
ballet called The Firebird. In nineteen twelve, he wild ballet
fans in Paris with another bonafide hit called Patrushka. And

so that night in nineteen thirteen, the theater was buzzing
not only about Stravinsky's new music, which was rumored to
be unlike anything they had ever heard before, but about
the dancing. You see, Stravinsky had partnered with vos Loov Nazinsky,
a provocative choreographer with new modern ideas about what ballet
could be. As the lights dimmed and the orchestra warmed up,

the Parisians settled in for a night of culture. This time,
Stravinsky was trying something new. He knew France viewed his
native Russia as a backwards, primitive place. He also knew
that he could capitalize on that, So he and Nazinsky
had come up with a ballet set in pagan Russia,
where peasants did folk dances and sacrificed virgins. To the gods.

It would play right into Parisian stereotypes about Russia, which
would send Stravinsky laughing all the way to the bank.
What the audience didn't know was the chaos happening behind
the scenes. The first sign that something was amiss was
when Stravinsky played his new score for the head of
the ballet company. After just a few measures, the man
stopped Stravinsky to ask, will it last a very long time?

This way? During the first run through, the musicians kept
stopping to tell Stravinsky that they must have made a
mistake in their score. He assured them that no, everything
was written just as it was supposed to be. At
this the musicians exchanged glances. Stravinsky the genius had gone stark,
raving mad, and the audience seemed to share that opinion.
From the very first notes of the performance, Right of

Spring begins with a strange, strangled bassoon solo. Soon after that,
the rest of the orchestra began playing a harsh, driving
rhythm with no real melody. The beats felt irregular and
off kilter, and at times different parts of the orchestra
were playing in completely different keys. The effect was a
jolting cacophony much different than the pretty melodies and sophisticated

harmonies that the audience had been expecting, and the dancing
didn't help. Nazinski's choreography subverted every expectation the audience had
for a ballet. Instead of long lines and turned out feet,
the dancers kept their elbows and knees at sharp angles.
Rather than leaping across the stage, they hopped in place,
and instead of tutuos and tights, they wore long, shapeless

dresses and cloaks. The show barely started before the audience
started yelling. First, the rich patrons in the boxes began
booing the dancer, then the bohemians on the floor seats
tried to shout them down, wanting to defend Stravinsky's modern art.
Chaos quickly took over. The ballet company founder flicked the
house lights off and on to calm the audience down

and backstage, Nazinsky stamped out the rhythm of the music,
since his dancers could no longer hear the orchestra over
the roar of the crowd. By the time the curtain fell,
multiple fights had broken out, Nearly forty people had been arrested,
and at least two noblemen had agreed to a duel.
Despite its initial reception, the Right of Spring is recognized
today as a groundbreaking work. It revolutionized what people thought

classical music could be, and its emphasis on rhythm over
melody ended up influencing things like jazz, rock and modern music.
Stravinsky didn't even have to wait long to see his
work recognized. Less than a year after that riotous premiere,
he staged the Rights again in Paris to rave reviews.
The difference he cut the dancers, performing the work as

a standalone music piece. As the last notes played, the
crowd went wild, although thankfully this time not literally. If

you are from pretty much any big city, but especially
New York, you probably have heard legends about alligators in sewers.
Locals will be quick to explain that the reptiles started
off as baby pets that were flushed down toilets when
they got too big. Don't worry, though, we can confirm
it's just an urban legend unless you're in Florida, in
which case all bets are off. As it turns out,

myths about sewer dwelling creatures have been around for centuries,
even if they've changed shape and location along the way.
In Victorian England, for example, people told haunting tales of
the Black Swine of Hampstead. According to legend, the monstrous
feral swine survives on rats and the corpses of plague victims,
leading it to develop a taste for human flesh. These

kinds of folk tales can tell us a lot about
the way that we view sewers. They're mysterious, subterranean spaces, dark, dangerous,
and of course filthy, a place for discarded refuse and
nightmarish monsters. But that's not the only way to look
at them. And if we go back a bit further,
we'll find the mother of all sewer myths is not
a monster, but a goddess. Her name was Closina, which

roughly translates to the purifier or the cleanser. At the start,
she was most likely a minor Eutruscan goddess, the deity
of a single brook or stream in swampy western Italy.
When the early Romans arrived and took over the area,
they dredged her stream and laid down stones, turning it
into a drainage canal. This open ditch carried storm water

to the nearby Tiber River, and it allowed Romans to
transform an uninhabitable marsh into useful land. After that, the
city of Rome began to grow asen As Canal was
expanded and covered with roads. It eventually became the central
runoff for the city's many latrines and public baths, which
drew water from an expansive system of aqueducts. Everything had

to flow through the main sewer, which was named the
Kloaca Maxima, or Great Drain, in honor of Closina. In
a sense, the river goddess had become a sewer goddess,
arguably a humiliating turn of events, but before you laughed
too much at her fate, this particular sewer deserves some respect.
The Kloaca Maxima is a massive, interconnected waterway of vaulted tunnels,

large enough for boats to pass through. Think more underground
river than sewer. For centuries, it helped keep the city
clean and free of waste, preventing disease and malaria from spreading.
It was also remarkably sturdy, with standing floods, storms, and
even fires. It was one of many architectural feats that
allowed Rome to become such a powerful city and eventually

an empire, and somewhere in that long journey, the Romans
started to see cla as an aspect of the goddess Venus.
Now this isn't uncommon with lesser deities, but in this
case it is interesting because Venus isn't generally associated with
water or rivers. She is, however, the goddess of beauty, desire,
and fertility, not things typically associated with sewers. So why

did Closina become connected with Venus, of all deities. Well,
there's no way to know for sure, but one possible
explanation is that Venus was the mother of the hero
and Eneus, the legendary founder of Rome. By merging the
two goddesses, the Romans symbolically embraced Closina as the mother
of Rome itself. They also revealed just how much they
valued their great sewer. So if you're ever in Rome,

consider paying a visit to the Kloeca Maxima. Not only
is it one of the world's earliest sewers, it's one
of the oldest monuments in the Roman Forum, and incredibly,
it's still operational today. Fortunately, it's no longer connected to
any active sewers, so the odor is hopefully improved. You
can also Visitas Shrine, or what's left of it. At least,

it's just a circle of stones now about eight feet across,
standing over the spot where two branches of the sewer meet,
and who knows, if you stand there long enough, you
might feel the purifier's presence. At the very least, it's
a good reminder that cleanliness is always next to godliness.
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.
The 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

Worldolore dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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