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

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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

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Leipzig

Leipzig

Growing up in Ireland makes us part of a world that has traditionally been dominated by England.  Much of our understanding of history is influenced by the English weltanschauung.  

A clear incidence of this influence is the celebration of the importance of Battle of Waterloo in the defeat of Napoleon and the studious neglect of the Battle of Leipzig.  Waterloo was fought by the Seventh coalition, led by an Englishman, the Duke of Wellington.  Leipzig was the victory of the Sixth coalition, led by the Russians under Alexander.

In truth the battle of Leipzig was a far more important engagement.  The coalition fought Napoleon at the height of his power and he was roundly defeated for the first time on the battlefield.  Bonaparte lost the battle, but also lost his reputation for invincibility.  He left the legend of his military genius on the field of Leipzig.

The battle was the greatest fought on European soil until the Great War.  Casualties numbered in excess of 100,000 (higher than Borodino, but spread over 4 days) .  By comparison Waterloo, with 60,000 casualties was a sideshow, a last gasp by an already defeated and spent force.

Ranged against Napoleon where the forces of Sweden, Russia, Austria, Prussia, Saxony and Wurttemberg.  In particular it was seen as a great victory for the Germans in the Alliance.  The painting above is entitled “Declaration of Allied Victory after the Battle of Leipzig, 19th October, 1813”, painted by Johann Peter Krafft in 1839.  This painting is a classic piece of propaganda.  It was repainted at least 6 times, re-arranging the prominence of the allied leaders to suit particular commissions.

If only the British played some small part in the sixth coalition then the painting could have been repainted a seventh time.  We could have seen the British Commander take pride of place at the center of European events.  Then we would know all about the Battle of Leipzig.  Instead when we hear about European wars we hear of Blenheim and Waterloo.

The great commander of the day, the General who marched in only one direction, Forwards, was Blucher.  He triumphed at both Leipzig and Waterloo!  He even has a pair of shoes named after him, and his design became the template for all modern mens shoes.

Song of the Grenadiers:

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.

Those heroes of antiquity ne’er saw a cannon ball,
Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal.
But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

Whene’er we are commanded to storm the palisades,
Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades.
We throw them from the glacis, about the enemies’ ears.
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

And when the siege is over, we to the town repair.
The townsmen cry, “Hurrah, boys, here comes a Grenadier!
Here come the Grenadiers, my boys, who know no doubts or fears!
Then sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health of those
Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the loupèd clothes.
May they and their commanders live happy all their years.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.

What is Love?

I was watching the excellent BBC drama “River” last night.  The protagonist made the point that English has only one word for “Love” but that there are many different kinds of love in the world.  And he is right.  If you want words to describe Snow you speak to Inuit or Greenlanders.  If you want words to describe Rain you can’t get a better language than Gaelic, the Irish and Scots know all about rain in its many guises.

If you want words to describe Love then you could do worse than to go to Greece.  At a quick glance I found at least 7 different Greek words to describe love.

1. Sexual passion
The first kind of love, Eros, is named for the Greek god of fertility. It represents sexual desire and is the source of the word “Erotic”. The ancient Greeks didn’t think of this in a positive way as we do. Eros was seen as dangerous, a fiery irrational state of mind, a form of temporary madness.
Eros involves a loss of self-control that ran counter to Greek philosophy on what constituted a healthy psyche. In modern society we still speak about falling “madly” in love and sex is now recognised as a form of addiction.

2. Friendly love
The second variety of love was philia or friendship, which the Greeks valued far more than the base sexuality of Eros. Philia concerns deep comradely friendship that develops between brothers in arms on the battlefield, public schoolboys etc. It is about closeness and loyalty to your friends.
From the Greek root Philia we get many words about the love of people and things, Philadelphia, Paedophilia, Necrophilia etc.

3. Family Love
Similar to Philia but related to the family rather than friends, Storge embodies the love between Parents and Children. We may choose our friends but we are born to our family. Storge embodies duties of responsibility and care, both from parents to helpless children and later in life from children to ageing parents. One of the great crimes (both secular and religious) in the ancient world was breach of Storge. This was the fate of Oedipus who inadvertently fell erotically in love with his Mother and killed his natural Father.

4. Playful love
Ludus was the Greeks’ idea of playful love, which referred to the harmless affection between children or young lovers. What we may call “Puppy Love” or a “Crush”.
Flirting is a form of Ludus. Dancing with strangers may be the ultimate ludic activity, almost a playful substitute for sex itself. Social norms in many conservative countries frown on this kind of adult frivolity, especially in the Islamic world.

5. Selfless love
The love for “everything” is agape or selfless love. This is love that you extend to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word “charity” and is the highest form of Christian love. It is the love that drives benevolence, volunteering and the best acts of humans.

6. Pragmatic love
Mature love was known to the Greeks as pragma. This was the deep understanding that developed between long-married couples. No surprise that it is the root of the word “pragmatism”. Pragma is about making compromises to help the relationship work over time by showing empathy, patience and tolerance.
Pragma is explained beautifully in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” as follows:
“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”

7. Self-love
The ancient Greeks called it philautia. They realized there were two types. One is unhealthy, narcissistic, self-obsessed and focused on personal fame and fortune. The healthier version is a strong awareness and appreciation of the self which enhances your wider capacity to love others. It is the self-confidence without the cockiness that we all hope to instil in our teenagers.
The idea is that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others. It is about looking at yourself in a mirror and saying “I am great, I am worthy of my love, I am worthy of the love of others.”

8.  Patriotism

From the Greek “Patris” which means “fatherland” we get love of our homeland (we Irish never stop singing about that one) which can be bonding or it can be maudlin.  Patriotism has both positive and negative connotations.  It can lead to xenophobia, intolerance, bias, racism, arrogance and a lot of other nasty closed mindedness.  At the same time it gives us the desire to wear our colours and sing our hearts out with total strangers on the terraces next Sunday when we play Argentina!

Freebird

Three cultural references that define my day today.  Why?

As Williiam Ernest Henley says in his poem “Invictus”  we are all captains of our own souls.  Modern life offers us greater freedom than man experienced at any time in the past.  At the same time we are prisoners of consumerism and materialism.  In short we are all free and we are all prisoners, and we all have the power to choose to be free or caged by our environment.  Ah, the tyranny of choice!

First reference is from Lynard Skynard and is the eponymous song:  Freebird

Second reference is a novella that has fallen out of fashion recently, but is due a return any day now:  Jonathan Livingstone Seagull  It was also made into a film with a soundtrack by Neil Diamond that was very popular in its day.

Third is the poem below.

Caged Bird; by Maya Angelou
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.