Battle Dress

Shrimp

This is the dress that shocked the world.  Known popularly as the “Derby Day Dress” or the “White Shift Dress” worn by Jean Shrimpton on Australian Derby Day, Oct 30th, 1965.

Shrimpton, AKA “The Shrimp” was the world’s first supermodel.  She was contracted to judge racegoers fashions at the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival in 1965.  For reference she was paid £2,000 for this contract at a time when the Beatles earned £1,500 for their Australian tour.

Shrimpton was on contract with DuPont who were promoting a new acrylic fabric.  When it turned out that there was a shortage of the fabric for the dress design Jean told her dressmaker to just make it shorter, as nobody would notice.

She then turned up for Derby Day wearing no hat, no gloves and no stockings.  The Australian Fashion community and the conservative bourgeois classes were outraged.  The paparazzi had a field day.  The incident sparked a media frenzy as Shrimpton was condemned and insulted by one side, while the British press rounded up to support her.  They described her as a “Petunia in a garden of onions”.

For young Australian girls it signaled the arrival of the Swinging Sixties.

By today’s standards the dress seems almost conservative.  It is hard now to understand the levels of outrage sparked by the wearing of a simple white shift dress.

But it reminds me of a time when Dublin Theatre goers rioted upon the utterance of Synge’s lines “It’s Pegeen I’m seeking only and what’d I care if you brought me a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself maybe, from this place to the Eastern World?”  His play, “The Playboy of the Western World” caused as much of a sensation in Ireland as Jean Shrimpton did in Australia.

A shift is an Irish term for an undergarment, a night dress or a slip.  The line is a reference to a tale from Irish folklore when Cúchullainn was in such a rage following a battle that the king could not allow him to enter the palace.  Instead he sent thirty maidens clad only in their shifts out onto the plain.  The great warrior was shocked and embarrassed, he blushed, lowered his eyes to the ground, and the battle rage drained from him.

What is funny today is that the term “Shift” in Ireland now has distinct sexual connotations.  When Irish boys and girls go nightclubbing they are hoping for a “shift”.  Depending on circumstances a shift could mean anything from a kiss to full on sexual intercourse.

Messiah

500px-Standard_of_Cyrus_the_Great_(Achaemenid_Empire).svg

The only non-Jew to be granted the title “Messiah” (Anointed by the Lord) was Cyrus the Great.  It was Cyrus who defeated the neo-Babylonian empire and entered Babylon on this day in the year 540BC.

He freed the Jews from their slavery “by the rivers of Babylon” and permitted them to return to Zion.

Amongst his many titles Cyrus was called “King of the four corners of the world”.

Looking at a map of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus I can now reveal where the four corners of the earth lie.

North West corner is the Dardanelles in Asian Turkey, guarding the entrance to the Bosphorus.  This was the site upon which the Allied soldiers died in their thousands during the Great War.

South West corner is on the coast of Judea just before the Sinai desert, around where modern day Gaza city lies.

North East corner is just about where Kantubek lies on the Aral Sea.  It is an abandoned site where the USSR used to test biological weapons.  It has pride of place as the largest Anthrax dumping ground in history.

South East corner is the Pakistani port of Gwadar in Baluchistan province.  The town name means “gateway of the wind”.

What made Cyrus great was not his conquests, but his retention of his conquests.  He set up an administrative system that endured long beyond his passing.  Alexander the Great defeated the Achaemenid Empire, but in deference to excellence he strove to maintain the established system of government.  To the horror of many of his Macedonian generals Alexander “went native” and became a Persian.  He married a Persian wife, Roxanne (Roxana).

Before Cyrus the lands were ruled by dynastic kings and their noble families, supported by the concept of divine right.  Cyrus gave the job of provincial governorship to non-royals.  It was a meritocracy.  What he effectively established was the first “Civil Service”.

When you look at today’s map of the world of Cyrus one must marvel at his skill in holding together such a diverse empire.  The land today contains the countries of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Oman and the UAE.  If any modern leader could unite this area into a peaceful economic bloc they also would deserve the title “Great”

Part of his greatness was tolerance.  He was protective of the rights, customs, traditions and religions of his subject peoples.  The repatriation of the Jews was a strong example of this in practice.  Tolerance, acceptance, pluralism, qualities that seem thin on the ground in today’s Middle East.

Chi-Rho

ChiRho

Diocletian stabilised Rome in the third century by establishing the Tetrarchy.  His system of four rulers, Senior (Augustus) and Junior (Caesar) in both Eastern and Western halves of the Empire allowed Rome a respite from internal conflict.

Almost as soon as he died the stability of his system began to fray.

Diocletian was also very set against Christianity and was responsible for some of the worst persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire.

Constantine was not a Christian himself, but his Mother Helena certainly was.  We must evaluate her role in the preparations for the battle of Milvian Bridge on Oct 28th 312 CE.  On the night before the battle Constantine instructed his troops to mark their shields with the Chi Rho symbol, the first two letters in the Greek name for Christ.

According to the Christian Church this was because Constantine had a vision from God.  My interpretation is that he probably had a visitation from the Christians of Rome.  Many of his troops were already Christian converts who could not be open about their faith in the Diocletian era.

Many of his rival’s troops were also Christian.  We could question how many of the troops led by Maxentius refused to engage once they encountered the Chi-Rho banner, the promise of freedom to practice their faith.

I believe that Constantine, through the negotiations of his Mother, was able to swing the battle in his favour by declaring his “acceptance” of Christianity.

Constantine won the day and went on to become Constantine “The Great”, founder of the Byzantine Empire.  The system set up by him endured for another 900 years.

Sailing to Byzantium; by WB Yeats
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Sic semper tyrannis

Flag_of_Virginia.svg

So said Brutus as he drove his blade into the body of Julius Caesar.  “Thus to all tyrants”.

Brutus was hailed as the noblest of the assassins of Caesar, who was motivated by the good of the state and not by personal desires.  Still, was he exactly happy that his mother was mistress to the great JC?

Ultimately Brutus paid dearly for his defense of the Republic.  He was defeated in the final battle of the wars of the second triumvirate, losing to combined forces of Anthony and Octavian.  When he lost Second Philippi Brutus took his own life.

Brutus had two of his men brace his sword while he ran himself on to it.  His final words were “By all means must we fly; not with our feet, however, but with our hands”.  And then he called out “Zeus!  Judge the authors of these crimes.”

Oct 23rd, 42BC.

Slooterdijck

Mindship

Image

Aemilia (1631) Galleon of Dutch East India Company

This rude looking word is the name of a Dutch town.  It gets its name from a dike (dijck) built on the river Sloter or Slooter, to prevent flooding from the Zuider Zee.

In the 17th Century the name was adopted for one of the 9 Dutch Galleons which fought the Ming navy for control of the Taiwan strait back in 1633.  The Dutch lost.  Three galleons were sunk and Slooterdijck was boarded and captured by the Chinese.

Slooterdijck was notable because she was a “Kit Ship”, essentially a Flat Pack vessel that was shipped out from Holland and assembled in the Indies.

The Galleon was a development from two earlier ships of exploration.  The Caravel was a small, lateen rigged, shallow draught ship (think of the Niña & Pinta of Columbus).  The Carrack or Nao (Santa Maria for instance) was…

View original post 704 more words

Longitude

Mindship

Harrison Sea Chronometer H5 Harrison Sea Chronometer H5

On this day in 1722 one of the greatest disasters in British Naval Military History occured;  the Scilly Naval Disaster.  A British fleet returning from the siege of Toulon during the Wars of the Spanish Succession, left Gibraltar bound for Portsmouth in heavy seas and bad weather.  Four ships of the line ran aground on the Isles of Scilly with the loss of 1,400 men.

An enquiry established that the disaster was due to the inability of the fleet to calculate their Longitude.  So began one of the greatest quests in maritime history.  In 1714 a large prize was made available for the person who could solve the problem.  It was not until 1767 that a Yorkshire carpenter and clock-maker, John Harrison was published as the winner.  He began by constructing massive clocks, perfected his technique and won the price with what looks remarkably like a…

View original post 221 more words

Zama

Elephant

Hannibal’s Lament

The serried legions parted before my elephants,

the fools about me cavorted thinking we had won,

as eighty mighty pachyderms thundered off the plain

shredding my dreams in the African sun.

0

Nothing can resist that mighty wall of flesh,

the Roman did not try and so the day was done.

Boldly they charged through the opening lines,

soldiers safe since elephants cannot turn.

o

And so we settled to the business of the day

the close up bloody hacking of the host.

I grant that well the legions know this trade,

they did not rest until all to me was lost.

o

Every battle victorious, to lose is still my plight,

defeated by those who shirk, evade and cower,

our own leaders with no stomach left for war,

I had head, heart and guts for plenty more.

o

On the plains of Carthage the wind blows dry and hard,

bleaching the bones of armies now long gone.

Bitter hemlock, sweeter than Zama’s sands,

Rome!  Fear no more.  I am done.