5 May: Napoleon’s death, Kublai Khan’s reign, Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf


Kublai Khan becomes Emperor of the Mongol Empire



Kublai Khan becomes the Emperor on 5 May, 1260.

Trained in the art of warfare and taught Chinese philosophy from a very young age, the grandson of Gengiz Khan expanded and consolidated the Mongol Empire that at its height became the largest contiguous land empire in human history – succeeding in controlling the entirety of China by defeating the Song Dynasty.

Unlike his predeccessors, Kublai sought to introduce a variety of reforms throughout his vast empire. Instead of focusing on rapid expansion, he tried to build new infrastructure, adopt scientific technologies from the middle-east, Europe and China,develop trade relations and develop a religiously tolerant society. At one time, over 30 Muslims served in his court.




Death of Napoléon Bonaparte

‘Napoleon Crossing the Alps’ by Jacques-Louis David (Charlottenburg version)



Napoléon Bonaparte dies at the age of 51 on 5 May, 1821. Part of the French Revolution, Napoléon quickly rose up the ranks in the military hierarchy and launched a coup d’état in 1799, seizing power in France.

“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.”

Considered as one of the most brilliant military commanders in human history and a strategic genius, the extremely ambitious general expanded the French Empire in a matter of years, defeating a number of European powers along the way, going as far as launching an invasion of Egypt and developing plans to link up with Tipu Sultan in India to fight the British forces there.

Napoléon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia in 1812 proved to be his undoing and was forced to abdicate his power within two years. Exiled to the island of Elba but briefly returned only to be completely defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, he abdicated his power once again, exiled by Britain to the Island of Saint Helena where he ultimately died from sickness.

His last words were – “France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine (Wife)”




Søren Kierkegaard is born

Hope is passion for what is possible’ Søren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard is born in the Danish city of Copenhagen on 5 May, 1813.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Considered the Father of the philosophical school of Existentialism, Kierkegaard wrote a number of books under pseudonyms but three of his works – Either/Or,  Fear and Trembling and  The Sickness Unto Death best exemplify his philosophical views and have been the subject of widespread discussion ever since.

“Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it; marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it; believe her not, you will also regret it… Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.”

Kierkegaard explored themes such as Existential angst, Alienation, Death, Despair, Individuality, Freedom, Passion and Subjectivity throughout his works.



Karl Marx is born


Karl Marx is born in the city of Trier on 5 May, 1918.

Influenced by the thought of German thinker Friedrich Hegel, Marx was a historian, political philosopher, economist and sociologist and his most famous works such as The Communist Manifesto and Das Capital  published in the 19th century went on to transform the world in the 20th century and  for that reason he is classified as being amongst the most influential thinkers of all time.


To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is published



To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is published on 5 May, 1927. The novel centres on the Ramsey family’s visits to an Island in Scotland over a period of 10 years.

Unique in the sense that it has very little action or dialogue, the novel explores themes such as the perception of reality, communicating affection and transitory nature of the human life.

Here are a couple of excerpts we think you’d like, but doesn’t reveal much about the novel itself.

“It partook . . . of eternity . . . …there is a coherence in things, a stability; something, she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today, already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures.”

She could not say it. . . . As she looked at him she began to smile, for though she had not said a word, he knew, of course he knew, that she loved him. He could not deny it. And smiling she looked out of the window and said (thinking to herself, Nothing on earth can equal this happiness)—
“Yes, you were right. It’s going to be wet tomorrow. You won’t be able to go.” And she looked at him smiling. For she had triumphed again. She had not said it: yet he knew.


In 2005, TIME Magazine declared To the Lighthouse as among the top 100 novels since 1923.



Scopes Trial begins

The scopes trail begins in the US on 5 May, 1925.

An American teacher John Scopes was charged under the Butler Act – which prohibited teachers from denying Biblical accounts of mankind’s origin or teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

The case started a national debate over the Theory of Evolution and the role of science in public schools as well as inviting intense scrutiny from major publishing houses, political leaders, scientists, religious figures and civil activists.


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