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Futility Closet

Sep 3, 2018

In 1607, a 15-year-old girl fled her convent in the Basque country, dressed herself as a man, and set out on a series of unlikely adventures across Europe. In time she would distinguish herself fighting as a soldier in Spain's wars of conquest in the New World. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Catalina de Erauso, the lieutenant nun of Renaissance Spain.

We'll also hunt for some wallabies and puzzle over a quiet cat.


In 1856 the Saturday Review asked: Why do ghosts wear clothes?

Because of the peculiarities of bee reproduction, the population of each generation is a Fibonacci number.

Sources for our feature on Catalina de Erauso:

Joaquín María de Ferrer, The Autobiography of doña Catalina de Erauso, 1918 (translated by Dan Harvey Pedrick).

Heidi Zogbaum, Catalina de Erauso: The Lieutenant Nun and the Conquest of the New World, 2015.

Sonia Pérez-Villanueva, The Life of Catalina de Erauso, the Lieutenant Nun: An Early Modern Autobiography, 2014.

Eva Mendieta, In Search of Catalina de Erauso: The National and Sexual Identity of the Lieutenant Nun, 2009.

Sherry Velasco, The Lieutenant Nun: Transgenderism, Lesbian Desire, and Catalina de Erauso, 2000.

Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles, Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism, 2011.

Christel Mouchard, Women Travelers: A Century of Trailblazing Adventures 1850-1950, 2007.

Faith S. Harden, "Military Labour and Martial Honour in the Vida de la Monja Alférez, Catalina de Erauso," Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 94:2 (2017), 147-162.

Madera Gabriela Allan, "'Un Hombre Sin Barbas': The Transgender Protagonist of La Monja Alférez (1626)," Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 17:2 (June 2016), 119-131.

Sonia Pérez Villanueva, "Vida y sucesos de la Monja Alférez: Spanish Dictatorship, Basque Identity, and the Political Tug-of-War Over a Popular Heroine," Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 83:4 (2006), 337-347.

Matthew Goldmark, "Reading Habits: Catalina de Erauso and the Subjects of Early Modern Spanish Gender and Sexuality," Colonial Latin American Review 24:2 (June 2015), 215-235.

Mary Elizabeth Perry, "The Manly Woman: A Historical Case Study," American Behavioral Scientist 31:1 (September/October 1987), 86.

Joy Parks, "Passing Into Legend," The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 8:6 (Dec. 31, 2001), 41.

Benito Quintana, "The Life of Catalina de Erauso, the Lieutenant Nun: An Early Modern Autobiography," Biography 38:3 (2015).

Christine Hamelin, "Outrageous Adventurer Risked Her Safety for Freedom," Kingston Whig, May 11, 2002, 6.

"The Daring, Dueling 'Lieutenant Nun,'" El Pais, Jan. 31, 2009, 8.

Angeline Goreau, "Cross-Dressing for Success," New York Times, March 17, 1996.

"Catalina de Erauso's Story; La Nonne Alferez," New York Times, April 21, 1894.

Listener mail:

"Wallaby on Loose After Filey Park Escape," BBC News, Aug. 21, 2018.

"Wallaby Seen Near Wombourne Sainsbury's," BBC News, Aug. 16, 2018.

Filey Bird Garden & Animal Park, Facebook, Aug. 27, 2018.

"Wallaby Update," Filey Bird Garden & Animal Park, Facebook, Aug. 29, 2018.

"Zoo Hunts for 'Friendly' Missing Wallaby Who Was Spotted Sunbathing in Wolverhampton," Sky News, Aug. 16, 2018.

WILD Zoological Park, Facebook, Aug. 16, 2018.

WILD Zoological Park, Facebook, Aug. 25, 2018.

WILD Zoological Park, Facebook, Aug. 29, 2018.

Makenzie O'Keefe, "Bear Gets Stuck Inside Truck, Destroys Interior," 4CBS Denver, July 27, 2018.

Rob Griffiths, "Life Is Different in Mammoth Lakes," Twitter, Aug. 12, 2018.

Ben Hooper, "Bear Visits Tennessee Hotel, Carries Bag of French Toast," UPI, March 22, 2018.

Matt Lakin, "Mom's Close Call With Gatlinburg Bear Makes for Viral Video," Knox News, March 22, 2018.

"A Bear Had a Scary Good Time After Wandering Into the Shining Hotel in Colorado," Associated Press, Aug. 24, 2018.

Amanda Maile, "Black Bear Wanders Around Colorado Hotel Lobby," ABC News, Aug. 24, 2018.

Ryan White, "Parks Canada Officials Endorse the Human Voice and Bear Spray Over Bear Bangers and Bells," CTV News Calgary, June 9, 2017.

Karin Brulliard, "Bear Breaks Into House, Plays the Piano but Not Very Well," Washington Post, June 8, 2017.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listeners Kelly and Cherie Bruce (and Juno). Here's a corroborating link (warning -- this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!