The Other I

October 26, 2012

The view from above

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:28 pm
Tags: , ,

Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV doing penance to reverse his excommunication by Pope Gregory VII.  Illustration for Storia d'Italia by Paolo Giudici (Nerbini, 1930).My brother who has explored our German genealogy thinks that we may be descendants of  Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1084-1105.   I wasn’t taught the political version in the history course taught to ten-year-olds, but the excommunication game was obviously political. Henry is the king who out-maneuvered Pope Gregory VII by engaging in public penance, forcing the pope  to reverse his excommunication of Henry for having questioned Gregory’s divinely authorized authority.

Henry would be an ancestor of worthy stubbornness and political skill, though even if he is a relative, it’s a distinction that must be shared by tens of thousands of descendants by now, which does rather reduce the shine a bit.  And besides it’s qualified with a number of “seems to have been married to…” or “may be the son of…” along the way.  So the royal link is somewhat dubious.

Personally, I think it more likely that I’m related to Salem, the tree-climbing girl who lived in Ethiopia three million years ago.  Somehow I recognize in myself those genes that climbed to the top of the tree and directed forest life below from her self-elevated position.

I’m not sure, though, unlike Henry IV, how many people really paid attention to her.  She died at the age of three.





  1. Henry’s famous “submission” to Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) in 1077 has become a general figure of speech in German. People still speak of a reluctant admission that one was wrong as a Gang nach Canossa/Walk to Canossa. A doughty ancestor indeed, Terry!


    Comment by Francis Hunt — October 26, 2012 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

    • Francis – Thank you for this fascinating piece of Germanic culture. It describes the reluctant apology so aptly, I’m sure “Walking the Canossa” will not fall into disuse in my life time. Terry


      Comment by Terry Sissons — October 26, 2012 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

  2. Apparently, everyone of European descent is related to Charlesmagne, and every other notable figure from the past. There’s a wonderful article about this in the Atlantic, which was later expanded (probably unnecessarily) into a book. The article also shows how you or I or any other person of European descent could be more closely related to someone in a village in Africa than that African is to someone living in the next village. Everything that is intuitive about descent is wrong.

    The bit about the African relatives, as I recall, is based on the fact that all those who left Africa for parts north and east constituted a small part of the gene pool (itself not very big among humans), leaving most of the genetic diversity behind in Africa. Two chimps, for instance, living on different hillsides could be more genetically different than the two most genetically different humans living anywhere on the planet.

    Here’s the link to that article.
    I hope I haven’t misrepresented what it says, and I may in fact be conflating it with another article that specifically deals with showing how you and I and other “white people” are all related to Charlesmagne. There’s stuff in it about intelligence too, Terry, I note as I glance through it.

    I don’t know if it’s in this article that we are all descended from one woman. No doubt about it either, thanks to the way they can track our mitochondria, uniquely inherited from our mothers.

    I love this stuff.


    Comment by pianomusicman — October 26, 2012 @ 5:54 pm | Reply

  3. Also from the Atlantic:

    The Royal We

    The mathematical study of genealogy indicates that everyone in the world is descended from Nefertiti and Confucius, and everyone of European ancestry is descended from Muhammad and Charlemagne


    Comment by pianomusicman — October 26, 2012 @ 8:33 pm | Reply

    • Tom – I love it! It gives a new depth to what it means to say “we’re all in this together,” doesn’t it? And it puts all those hierarchies we are so fond of building of ourselves into a different perspective. We should all be flat-lining.

      And don’t get me started on intelligence. I don’t think even genealogy is as misunderstood, misapplied, distorting and destructive an idea. It’s right up there with Plato’s 2nd world, but a lot closer to home.


      Comment by theotheri — October 26, 2012 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: