You’ve built a time machine. All of history awaits. Where would you go? Here are my five top places.
5) In a time when rhetoric was central to the fabric of society, two heavyweights collided over no less than the edification of the rest of Roman North Africa. It is August AD 392, and the fault line between two world religions are about to erupt. The contenders? First there was Fortunatus, a Manichean. Manicheanism was a prominent religion at the time that was dualistic in nature – they believed in the eternal struggle between good and evil, marked by the spiritual world of light and the material world of darkness. They loved a good old argument, and the best orators practiced every day to sharpen their art, a bit like Jedi Knights. It was hard to win a discussion against a Manichean, they were very philosophic and carried an abundance of wisdom. Fortunatus was one of their best speakers. Then, opposing him, there was St. Augustine, who himself had dabbled in Manicheasim, acquiring their rhetorical power only to now stand on the other side of the theological fence in the defense of the Christian Church. For two days these juggernauts battled and the people listened in awe. History records that Augustine was generally the more persuasive, but then again that was a Christian account. Unfortunately the Manicheans were soon wiped out over the next century, but I’m sure they told it differently.
4) The pen is mightier than the sword. But a flying wooden stool wins hands down. Jenny Geddes, a market trader from Edinburgh, probably had little knowledge that on Sunday 23 July, 1637, she was about to change the course of British history. Or maybe she did know that it was all about to kick off, which is why she went to church armed with a wooden stool? Either way, Geddes took particular exception to the service on that morning, for the Dean of Edinburgh, James Hannay, began reading from the Anglican book of common prayer. Not a smart move as it proved, for Jenny wasted no time in using her stool to claim an instant head-shot. And so started the riots. And the Bishops Wars. And the English Civil War.
3) Imagine Tiger Woods meets Jenson Button meet Russell Crowe, and you sort of have the next figure I would visit in history. For those who don’t know, after the Romans, there was something a lot bigger, and that was the Byzantines. Their capital city was the centre of the world, Constantinople, and in the middle of their city they built one of the most awesome stadiums the world has ever known, the Hippodrome. Used mostly for spectacular chariot races, one man in particular came to call the place his home. Porphyrius, a titan amongst men, a ruthless charioteer, and someone so powerful that the public felt the need to honour him with multiple monuments DURING his career, an unheard of accolade for a charioteer. He achieved global fame, and I do mean global fame – different peoples from across the entire silk road came to know of his brilliance, an extraordinary achievement in a pre-medieval world. In fact, Porphyrius was so good at beating everyone else, he even raced for two opposing teams on the same day. And won them both. Twice.
2) Mexico, 1968. Bob Beamon decides to put the Wright brothers to shame by achieving human flight without the aid of wings. I am of course referring to the first leap in the Olympic long jump final. Beamon, an unbelievable athletic specimen, jumped so far he nearly ran out of pit, and the officials had to retrieve a second measuring tape to work out what on earth had just happened. Moreover, Beamon was used to imperial measurements, so when the new world record was displayed, increased by the staggering amount of 55cm, he wasn’t remotely fussed. It was only when a teammate nudged him to say, “er, you sort of just broke the world record by over two feet” that Beamon broke down with emotion. Such is the scale of the jump, that if replicated in any modern event it would still easily win the gold medal.
1) Without a doubt, my top destination would be Paris in the late 1830’s. I would find Frederic Chopin, give him some vitamin pills, and tell him to go out and see the sun once in a while. Then in the evening, I would sit down with a nice cigar, and watch him and Liszt knock out some serious piano beats.