The missing Menorah


On this day in AD 70 the siege of Jerusalem ended with the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus, son of Vespasian, at the head of a Roman army.

According to the historian Josephus the Menorah of the temple was taken as spoils of war and brought back to Rome.  It was carried in the Triumphal Procession of Vespasian and Titus and is recorded on the Arch of Titus.

Using the spoils taken from Jerusalem Vespasian constructed the Templum Pacis, the temple of peace in the Forum of Vespasian.  The Menorah was stored in the temple for hundreds of years until the sack of Rome by the Vandals in 455 AD.

The Vandals brought the Menorah back with them to their capital in Carthage, in the Roman African province, modern day Tunisia.

One hundred years later the Vandals had become soft from living on the fat of the land.  Their armies were no longer the terror of the western Mediterranean.  Emperor Justinian of the Eastern Roman Empire sent his favourite general, Belisarius, to retake Africa for Rome.  In 533 AD Belisarius defeated the armies of King Gelimer and his brothers.

According to the historian Procopius the Menorah was found amongst the treasures of the Vandals and was taken to Constantinople.  It was displayed in the Ovation given by Justinian to his victorious general.  Gelimer was prostrated before the Emperor, and was allowed to live out his life on a Roman estate.

According to Procopius Justinian gave the Menorah back to the Jews in Jerusalem.  On the one hand it is hard to believe that such an ardent Christian emperor would have given this treasure to people he regarded as little short of heretics.  On the other hand he may have looked at the fate of the Second Temple, Rome and Carthage and wondered if he really wanted to keep the Menorah in his capital.

Whatever the truth this is the end of the tale for the Menorah.  It is never seen again.  Some say it is hidden in the Vatican City and the Vandals never found it.  Others say it was looted from Jerusalem when the Persians sacked the city in 614 AD.  Some think it was in a ship that sank in the Tibur when the Vandals were leaving Rome and that it lies at the bottom of the sea outside Ostia.  Others think it was still in Jerusalem during the Crusades and was taken by the Knights Templar.  Whatever the truth it is a tempting theme for a “Da Vinci Code” style adventure, or a new quest for Indiana Jones.

Psalm III : by Allen Ginsberg
To God: to illuminate all men. Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a higher place, the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak, ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower’s direction beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness — to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness — to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb — this cockroach is holy.


From The Movement


A verse on movement from Thom Gunn, who was a member of “The Movement”; a group of poets who included Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis.

Gunn celebrates his 89th Birthday today although he is not around to mark it himself.  Born the year of the Wall Street Crash in 1929 he passed away in 2004 just before the latest Stock Market collapse.  A man who spans two great depressions.

From the wave; by Thom Gunn

It mounts at sea, a concave wall
down-ribbed with shine,
and pushes forward, building tall
its steep incline.

Then from their hiding rise to sight
black shapes on boards
bearing before the fringe of white
it mottles towards.

Their pale feet curled, they poise their weight
with a learn’d skill.
It is the wave they imitate
keeps them so still.

The marbling bodies have become
half wave, half men,
grafted it seems by feet of foam
some seconds, then,

late as they can, they slice the face
in timed procession:
balance is triumph in this place,
triumph possession.

The mindless heave of which they rode
a fluid shelf
breaks as they leave it, falls and, slowed,
loses itself.

Clear, the sheathed bodies slick as seals
loosen and tingle;
and by the board the bare foot feels
the suck of shingle.

They paddle in the shallows still;
two splash each other;
they all swim out to wait until
the right waves gather.

At Verona 2


St. Iago Matamoros, before he got into brewing stout.

Wilde thing; by Donal Clancy

No Verona, nor Reading this Gaol.
Not of my body, but of my soul
this bleak house a prison makes,
and echoes with my futile pleas.

How steep the stairs within this house are
for unwanted feet as mine to tread,
and oh how silent and bitter is the bread
which is broken on this marital table, better far
that I remained on flat greens,
or bare my head to St. James’s gate
than to live thus, ignored by all but those
that seek the freedom of my soul to mar.

‘Curse love and leave: what better hope than this?
She has forgotten me in all the focus
of her self-pity, and faded looks’–
Nay peace: behind my prison’s blinded bars
I do possess what none can take away,
My love, and all the memories of how we were.

Random photo match


Anita Ekberg; who was living La Dolce Vita when Philip Larkin was sowing wild oats.

My challenge today (set by myself) was to find a photo that might match the snaps that Philip Larkin might have kept in his wallet.  Larkin wrote Wild Oats for his book “Whitsun Weddings” published in 1964.

Federico Fellini released his film “La Dolce Vita” in 1960 and it would have been firmly embedded in the zeitgeist of the early 1960’s when Larkin was writing the collection.  Anita Ekberg rose to stardom playing Sylvia in the film.  The scene of her cavorting with Marcello Rubini in the Trevi Fountain in Rome is probably the most iconic in Italian film.

So, not an English Rose, but a Swedish beauty queen who plays the unattainable object of the fantasies of the hero in La Dolce Vita.  Not wearing fur gloves either!


Wild Oats by Philip Larkin

About twenty years ago
two girls came in where I worked —
a bosomy English rose
and her friend in specs I could talk to.
Faces in those days sparked
the whole shooting-match off, and I doubt
if ever one had like hers:
but it was the friend I took out,

and in seven years after that
wrote over four hundred letters,
gave a ten-guinea ring
I got back in the end, and met
at numerous cathedral cities
unknown to the clergy. I believe
I met beautiful twice. She was trying
both times (so I thought) not to laugh.

Parting, after about five
rehearsals, was an agreement
that I was too selfish, withdrawn,
and easily bored to love.
Well, useful to get that learnt.
In my wallet are still two snaps
of bosomy rose with fur gloves on.
Unlucky charms, perhaps.


White Gloves

OK then, have white gloves and lots of bosom.

To poets: Learn to sail!

Good poet, bad sailor Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4th in 1792 and died a month short of his 30th birthday leaving a stunning legacy of poetry.  How much richer would the world have been had he practiced decent seamanship?

The Gulf of La Spezia is known locally as the Golfo dei poeti in commemoration of the disaster.

Rusticated is an obscure word used almost exclusively in Oxford and Cambridge universities.  It means to be expelled, or “sent down” from the college.  There is no higher accolade for a great artist, to break free of the bounds of established academia and be expelled for radicalism.  In Shelley’s case it was for publication of a pamphlet on Atheism.  If you look up a definition of the word “Rusticate” it almost invariably comes with an example which references the expulsion of Shelley.  In a sense he is responsible for the preservation of that meaning of the word.

From The Arabic, An Imitation :by Percy Bysshe Shelley

M.pngy faint spirit was sitting in the light
of thy looks, my love;
It panted for thee like the hind at noon
for the brooks, my love.
Thy barb, whose hoofs outspeed the tempest’s flight,
bore thee far from me;
my heart, for my weak feet were weary soon,
did companion thee.

Ah! fleeter far than fleetest storm or steed,
or the death they bear,
the heart which tender thought clothes like a dove
with the wings of care;
in the battle, in the darkness, in the need,
shall mine cling to thee,
nor claim one smile for all the comfort, love,
it may bring to thee.