Almanach de Gotha: a publication of Europe’s nobility, first published in 1763. Aristocratic credentials were established through this directory.
Baths of Caracalla: famous Roman baths included extensive gardens and libraries.
Bolingbroke: This could refer to any of the lords or kings bearing the name.
Bolsheviks: Russian political party founded on Marxist principle and led by V.I. Lenin, the Bolsheviks came to power after the overthrow of the Russian Provincial government in the October Revolution of 1917. In 1919, the Bolsheviks changed their name to the Russian Communist Party.
Brutus (Marcus Junius Brutus): Roman politician best known for his role in Julius Caesar’s assassination. Cato the Younger was Brutus’ uncle.
Caligula: notorious Roman emperor whose reign is remembered for his cruelty and rumors of his insanity. He was successful at consolidating power at the expense of the Roman senate until he was assassinated by an officer of the Praetorian Guard.
Coptic: St. Mark, writer of one of the gospels, established this form of Christianity in Egypt during the first century C.E.
Cossack: a military group that eventually fought with the Russian army, the Don Cossack Choir was originally a group of Cossack refugees who sang folk songs. They toured the world, became famous and eventually settled in the United States.
Diogenes of Sinope: Greek philosopher and proponent of the Cynics movement who rejected social conventions and wealth, preferring to live a life of simplicity while pontificating about human vanity and materialism.
GPU: early Communist Russia’s secret police force and predecessor to the KGB.
Guy Fawkes: Catholic sympathizer who plotted to blow up the British Parliament and King James I in 1605. He was caught, tortured and hanged for his crime.
Hagar: the second wife of Abraham, from the Bible; Hagar’s son Ishmael was raised in the wilderness of the desert and learned to hunt.
Heraclitus: pre-Socratic philosopher who is best known for his theory that the world is in flux, or constantly changing and moving. This theory is represented in his most famous saying, “You cannot step in the same river twice.”
(Samuel) Insull: businessman and executive of Commonwealth Edison who is best known for consolidating the electric industry in Chicago and expanding his operation to 32 states. After the stock market crash of 1929, Insull’s holding companies faced bankruptcy and he fled the country to avoid prosecution on fraud charges. He was extradited to the United States in 1934 and stood trial for violation of the bankruptcy act, mail fraud and embezzlement. He was acquitted on all charges.
Janissary: name for a soldier in the Ottoman (Turkish) sultan’s infantry. From the 14th to 19th centuries Janissaries were recruited as non-Muslim children who were converted to Islam and militarily trained.
Julius Rosenwald: partner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company who created the Rosenwald Foundation to improve the education of the Jewish and especially the African American populations.
Kaddish: prayer often referred to as the mourners’ or orphans’ Kaddish. Congregants who have recently lost close friends or family members recite it at the end of a Jewish prayer service.
Klabyasch (also klaberjass and klob): fast-moving card game popular in Jewish communities.
La Gioconda: Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting, also known as the Mona Lisa.
Graf Potocki: Count Valentine Potocki is, in Jewish legend, a Polish nobleman who converted to Judaism from Christianity and was burned at the stake for being a proselyte.
(Niccolò) Machiavelli: Renaissance political theorist from Italy who is considered to be the father of modern political science. His best-known work is The Prince.
(Karl) Marx: socialist thinker, economist and historian who created, along with Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto.
Old Man of the Sea: Nereus, often referred to in literature as the Old Man of the Sea, is a minor Greek god known for his wisdom and prophetic abilities.
Pasiphaë: in Greek mythology, the daughter of Helios, wife of King Minos and mother to Ariadne, Androgeus and Phaedra. Pasiphaë’s union with a bull produced the Minotaur—half human, half bull.
Pentateuch: the Torah, which consists of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).
Plutarch: influential Greek biographer and essayist who wrote Parallel Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, profiling people such as Alcibiades and Alexander the Great.
Praetorian Guard: the Roman emperor’s imperial guards, which numbered in the thousands and served as the emperor’s standing army.
Prometheus: Titan from Greek mythology who defied Zeus by bringing fire from Mount Olympus to earth for human use. For his disobedience, Zeus had him chained to Mount Caucasus, where an eagle would visit daily to devour his liver.
(Augusto César) Sandino: leader of the Defending Army of Nicaraguan National Sovereignty, a guerrilla army opposed to the conservative government of President Adolfo Diaz and United States’ intervention in Nicaragua; in 1934 Sandino was seized by General Garcia’s troops and assassinated following peace talks.
Scythians: an ancient nomadic tribe of highly skilled horsemen, part of the Indo-Iranian family that originated in the Eurasian Steppe. Throughout the 6th century B.C.E., the Scythians expanded their domain across much of Syria, Palestine and Iran.
Seneca (the younger): Roman dramatist, philosopher and leader of the stoic movement, Seneca was Roman Emperor Nero’s tutor as a young boy and adviser during his reign as emperor. He was tried, convicted and ordered to commit suicide for being implicated in a plot to assassinate Nero.
Ruth Snyder: American housewife who was convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to death by the electric chair. Photojournalist Thomas Howard famously photographed Ruth’s execution in January 1928 and the image appeared on the front page of the New York Daily News the next day.
Talleyrand (Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord): French diplomat who held office under Napoleon. He was denied his aristocratic inheritance because he was unable to serve in the military like the rest of his family.
Technocrat: someone who subscribes to the political ideology that policy decisions should be made by engineers, scientists or other people with technical expertise, and not by politicians.
“Thanatopsis”: poem written in 1817 by American poet William Cullen Bryant, it celebrates nature and death, and was influential to many members of the Transcendentalist movement.
(Leon) Trotsky: Russian revolutionary, communist theorist and high-ranking official in Lenin’s government. He was viewed as a threat after Lenin came to power and was sent into exile. In 1940, while living in Mexico and circulating anti-Stalin publications, Trotsky was assassinated by Ramon Mercader.
Ulysses: Latin for Odysseus, Ulysses is the hero of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.
Zapatista: a member of the armed group led by Emiliano Zapata during the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
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- Knowles, Elizabeth. “Almanach de Gotha.” The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Encyclopedia.com. 2006.
- Kte’pi, Bill. “Talleyrand, Charles-Maurice de.” Encyclopedia of World History. Facts on File, 2008.
- “Marcus Junius Brutus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011.
- Sacks, David. “Plutarch.” Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World. Facts on File, 2005.
- “The Story of Hagar and Ishmael.” eBibleStories.com.
Content last updated: October 31, 2011