Click to follow
DREADFUL human beings: Cain murdered 50 per cent of the entire male population; Attila "the Scourge of God" devastated all the countries between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean; Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, studied the digestive system by butchering his dinner guests; the hashhashins, high on dope, dispatched the Crusaders and gave rise to the word assassin; Vlad the Impaler (model for Dracula) impaled 15,000 Turks on stakes in 1462; the Thuggees strangled unwary travellers in India; Hetty Green left $95m in 1916, but her refusal to pay a hospital bill cost her son his leg; Papa Doc Duvalier kept the severed head of an army officer in his cupboard claiming it could predict the future; Idi Amin used to harangue the frozen head of his commander-in-chief at dinner parties; the dreadful British commuter terrifies decent folk like Steven Norris, Minister for Transport.

Today is the feast day of Saint Julian the Hospitaller, honoured for his work with the sick and dying. One day out hunting as a young man, Julian was warned by a stag that he would kill his parents. To prevent the prediction coming true, he left home and started a new life, eventually marrying a rich widow and living in a grand castle. Here, his bereaved parents tracked him down. Julian was away at the time, but his wife took in the elderly couple and offered them her bed. The next day, Julian returned and, finding two people in his wife's bed, suspected the worse and ran them through with his sword. Sick with grief at his error, Julian attempted to atone by devoting his life to the the sick and dying. His legendary hospitality to strangers makes him the patron saint of circus performers, boatmen and innkeepers.

12 February 1804: Immanuel Kant (above), the pre-eminent philosopher of his time, died in Konigsberg, aged 80. The poet Heine wrote of him that he had neither life nor history but an existence so drearily ordered that neighbours could set their clocks by his 3.30pm afternoon walk. His great contribution to European thought was the Critique of Pure Reason, written in 1781 in response to David Hume's philosophical scepticism. Kant argued that the mind itself gave structure to our perceptions providing concepts of time, space and causality, without which experience would be chaotic and unintelligible.