Thursday, April 12, 2012

Answer: What's the connection?

What was I doing?  I was innocently reading a book about Washington DC when I ran across this remarkable story. 

The phrase in my book seemed intriguing was this: “The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine.”  What’s this all about?   A quick search on [“The Myrtle of Venus withBacchus's Vine”] leads me to find that this was a line in an 18th century drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”  And it’s not just any tune,  that was the original tune for the Star Spangled Banner! 

So... “In Anacreon…” was the tune to the Star Spangled Banner, lyrics written by Francis Scott Key. 

Now I had to figure out the connection to the insanity defense.  A couple of quick searches combining “Myrtle of Venus” with  “insanity defense” didn’t seem to be very profitable, so I changed my search to combine the title of the song, “To Anacreon” and insanity. 

I then searched for [defense by reason of insanity star spangled banner] to find an interesting reference to Philip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key.  Maybe that’s the connection! 

Turns out that Phillip was having a rather public affair with Dan Sickles’ wife.  In a fit of jealous rage, Sickles shot Phillip Key dead just outside his home, in Lafayette Park, just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House!  (And you thought today’s homicides were crazy.) 

A quick search for [Daniel Sickles reason of insanity] to confirm this shows that HE was the first person to be defended by the “murder by reason of insanity” defense.  Remarkably enough, he was arrested and put into jail, but allowed to receive visitors AND hold onto his sidearm.. while in jail.  (I guess security was a little more lax in those days.)  

As a few readers suggested, perhaps the best book on Sickle's amazing, checked and complicated life is Thomas Keneally's American Scoundrel: The life of the notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles.  After this rather tawdry affair, Sickles went on to become a general who fought, rather badly it seems, at Gettysburg.  

The first source I found was the always entertaining Straight Dope column,   -- but of course I triple-checked this with a few other sources

And along the way I found a rousing rendition of “To Anacreon" by the Georgia Tech glee club.  They give it a performance that seems stylistically compatible with early American drinking songs!  

Overall, this challenge was slightly harder than most, with respondents taking an average of 10 minutes to solve the challenge.

Search lesson:  Sometimes problem have to be broken down into their parts for solving.  In this case, you had to figure out what “The Myrtle of Venus” was all about, THEN figure out what connection that might have to the “insanity defense.”  Trying to solve this all in one giant search is barely possible (but it’s much faster to break it down into components first). 

Search on! 


  1. One interesting side note that surely I'm not the only one to notice, the poet Anacreon was known for his drinking songs, and John Stafford Smith wrote this song about him, allegedly a drinking song. Furthermore, both men died from the same cause - choking on a grape seed. I've also heard that Smith had a secretary named Anacreon, and Anacreon had a secretary named Smith.

  2. Daniel Sickles may have been the first person in the USA to have used insanity as a defence against the accusation of murder, but that's not true in the UK (and possibly in other places). makes interesting reading.

    And as 'To Anacreon in Heaven' was an English drinking song when first published, I'd suggest that the answer given has a US bias that isn't in the question raised. Questioning cultural assumptions (either on the part of the questioner or the creator of the answer) is an increasingly important searching skill in this multi-cultural age.

    1. JFS -- actually, that is an excellent point. I should have qualified my question by saying "in the US." It's a good reminder that our questions (and all questions) should take the entire world into account.

      Thanks for the Wikipedia link!

  3. Dan, a little off subject, but related to D.C. & your recent travel...
    a few interesting images taken right around the time of your D.C./Find that Monument visit/challenge, (4/5), the T-38 looking right toward the John Ericsson monument: courtesy of the NASA HQ photostream
    Mall verso
    Washington Monument
    good to see that NASA is using Google+
    they (Mountain View Command) should have let you borrow the Dornier Alpha Jet...
    H211 LLC
    also see that Google Art Project was in the White House at about the same time - interior street view, very cool.

    btw, you didn't identify the book you were reading...? inquiring minds...
    "I was innocently reading a book about Washington DC when I ran across this remarkable story. "

    Sláinte - HBDWCC

  4. I'm not sure your search lesson really applies here. As I wrote yesterday, searching for [“The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine” "insanity defense"] gives the answer straight away.

    1. Su - did you find ? I saw that too, but didn't give it much creedence. It's a qa site on another topic, so I kept searching.

    2. Extensive background on Sickles - including good historical photos & info on the end of his life & after - from a link off, that Su cited - it does seem to answer the questions posed.

      also interesting was future Sec. of War Stanton's involvement in the Sickles defense.
      future AG

      The differences between "temporary insanity" & general insanity or mental illness defenses are worth noting - it seems the mental illness defense had been used previously ( e.g., the UK, as cited by jfs), but the "temporary" use was something new in the courts - at least in the United States.
      TID law

    3. Actually, you all have a totally wrong translation of The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus' vine and the 18th century drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” As no scholar has experienced NDE (Near Death Experience), as the 'Drinking in Heaven' is associated with the Holy Spirit, not a bottle of spirit, therefore you have not practiced the Passover as required to save your Soul's! This symbol $, is The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus' vine, also called Abraham's Rod, and if you want to see what this symbol represents, then go see my Youtube channel background image and look closely at the Egyptian figure circled in yellow!