Happy Birthday Hadrian

Busts of Hadrianus in Venice cropped.jpg

Roman Emperor Hadrian is probably best known for his walls and his beard.  He sits right in the middle of the good times as the 3rd of the five “good” emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

One of the reasons the emperors were considered good is because they chose good successors, not family.  On this measure Aurelius failed and the lot is reduced to four.

Hadrian was the second Spanish emperor after Trajan, he was born 24th January, 76 AD   in Italica, which is just outside modern day Seville in Spain.  I visted in the summer of 1978.  It was hot.  There was no shade and I am no daywalker.  Bring water – wear sunscreen and a hat!

After the expanision of the empire to its greatest extent by Trajan there was a period of consolidation by Hadrian – hence the walls.  The most famous of which spans northern England.  Less famous but equally impressive are the walls erected in Africa.

Hadrian is responsible for naming Palestine.  His reputation amongst the Jews is not very nice and his name in Jewish texts is often followed by “may his bones be crushed”.  This is because Hadrian put down the final Jewish uprising in the Province of Judea – the Bar Kokhba revolt.

If you look at it from Hadrian’s point of view it is clear that the Jews were a major problem and the empire had been fighting revolt after revolt since 66AD and the reign of Nero.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt was put down the Romans pulled down the fortifications from 50 Jewish cities, leaving their populations exposed to danger.  The Roman provinces of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were reformed and renamed as “Syria Palestina”.  This is seen as a calculated insult, to rename Jewish lands for their ancient enemies; the Philistines.

The Jews date the Diaspora from the end of the war with Hadrian, and it was the spread of the Jewish people accross the Roman Empire that led indirectly to the flowering of Christianity in the Empire.

Hadrian was also openly gay in the modern sense.  He loved all things Greek, earning him the nickname “The Greekling”.  This love extended to his boyfriend Antinous, a Bythinian Greek Youth who was deified by Hadrian when he drowned in the Nile on an Egyptian holiday (not joking).

The poem below is said to have been inspired by a poem of Emperor Hadrian: Animula, vagula, blandula.

Animula; by T.S. Eliot

‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
to light, dark, dry or damp, chilly or warm;
moving between the legs of tables and of chairs,
rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
in the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
and running stags around a silver tray;
confounds the actual and the fanciful,
content with playing-cards and kings and queens,
what the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
perplexes and offends more, day by day;
week by week, offends and perplexes more
with the imperatives of ‘is and seems’
and may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
curl up the small soul in the window seat
behind the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
unable to fare forward or retreat,
fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
denying the importunity of the blood,
shadow of its own shadows, spectre in its own gloom,
leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
living first in the silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
for Boudin, blown to pieces,
for this one who made a great fortune,
and that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret, by the boarhound slain between the yew trees,
pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.

 

 

Retreat from Kabul

Remnants_of_an_army2

Remnants of an Army by Elizabeth Butler

The painting above immortalised the moment, on the afternoon of Jan 13th, 1842, when Dr. William Brydon reached the British outpost at Jellalabad, 140 km east of Kabul.

He was the first survivor of an army of 4,500 troops and 12,000 civilians who left Kabul on January 6th under a promise of safe passage out of Afghanistan.  For seven days they were set upon by Afghan tribesmen as they tried to struggle through snowbound mountain passes.  Their column was broken up, groups became separated, snipers fired constantly and they were subjected to massed attacks when the terrain permitted.

Brydon arrived at Jellalabad on a horse which collapsed and died when it was stabled.  He had a sword cut on his scalp and was saved more serious injury because his hat was stuffed with pages of a magazine in an attempt to keep him warm.  The paper absorbed much of the sword cut.  He became famous as the “only” survivor, although others subsequently made it back to safety.

The subsequent defence of the fort at Jellalabad became the stuff of legend in the British Army and was celebrated in boys story books for the next century.  The 2,000 men of the 13th foot (Somerset light infantry) held the fort for five months until a relief force reached them.  Under the command of General Robert Sale the troops turned an old ruined fort into a defensible position.  Instead of sitting behind the walls they sortied out to raid the Afghans.  On one occassion they stole a herd of sheep to keep themselves suppllied.  Then they raided the Afghan camp and stole all the supplies.  So successful were they in this that the Afghans gave up and returned to Kabul.  Sale also personally freed his own wife and daughter from captivity.

When the 13th returned to India every garrison on their path celebrated them with a 10 gun salute.  Queen Victoria had them designated as a Light infantry and they were called “Prince Albert’s Own”.

 

From “The Young British Soldier” ; by Rudyard Kipling

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
an’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Happy Birthday Rudyard Kipling

Kipling in 1895

Despite being a nobel prize winning author Rudyard Kipling is a divisive figure in the modern world.  Many of his poems, novels and short stories are schoolboy classics.  But he represents the most obnoxious, biased and jingoistic elements of British Imperialism.   One thing is certain; he was a prolific writer and he has left us a wealth of poetry, not all of which is doggerel.  Born in India, December 30th, 1865, in the days when the sun did not set on the British Empire, and when the world map was a sea of pink, the colour used to pick out the Empire.

 

My Boy Jack? ; by Rudyard Kipling

‘Have you news of my boy Jack? ‘
Not this tide.

‘When d’you think that he’ll come back? ‘
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

‘Has anyone else had word of him? ‘
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
not with this wind blowing and this tide.

‘Oh, dear, what comfort can I find? ‘
None this tide,
nor any tide,
except he did not shame his kind –
not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
this tide,
and every tide;
because he was the son you bore,
and gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Battle of Trebia

Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps exhibited 1812 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

JMW Turner: Snow Storm

JMW Turner was a Romantic, part of the art movement that celebrated the magnificence of Nature.  So when he painted Hannibal and his Army crossing the Alps in 218 BC he confined the great army and those famous elephants, to a footnote.  The pride of place is given to Nature, the towering vortex of the Snow Storm.

On December 18th in 218 BC the Alpine weather was not a problem for the Romans.  That was the date when the Legions met the recently arrived Hannibal.  In the Battle of Trebbia he handed the Roman Republic the first of the three enormous defeats they suffered in the Italian Peninsula.

From a Roman Army of 40,000 only 10,000 survived.  Tiberius Sempronius Longus was able to save his core veteran heavy infantry by forming a hollow square and retreating from the battlefield in good order.  The Roman and Allied cavalry were routed by the Numidians.  The Roman light infantry and the Auxiliary forces of allied Celtic tribes were driven into the river and many drowned.  Any surviving Celts probably switched sides and the battle was a recruiting drive for Hannibal.  The fresco below is from the Hall of Hannibal in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

Hannibal - HISTORY

Depression art.

ethel-hays-jay-walkers

Art-Deco cartoon of Ethel Hays

Born this day in 1869 Ellis Parker Butler was a full time banker and a part time author.  Between 1931 and 1936 Ethel Hays illustrated his short stories.  She was a well known cartoonist of the 20’s and 30’s and later became a childrens book illustrator.

I pose a question here, and feel free to comment if you have an insight.  If we look at art in the great depression 1930 – 1936 and compare it with art in the recent depression 2008 – 2014 ; can we draw any commonalities?  What are the major themes that emerge?

A Minute; by Ellis Parker Butler

She plucked a blossom fair to see;
upon my coat I let her pin it;
and thus we stood beneath the tree
a minute.

She turned her smiling face to me;
I saw a roguish sweetness in it;
I kissed her once;—it took, maybe,
a minute.

The time was paltry, you’ll agree;
it took but little to begin it;
but since my heart has not been free
a minute.

The White Terror

Guernica

The White Terror was the murder, killing & assassination of left wing forces during and after the Spanish Civil War by the Nationalists of the right under their Caudillo General Francisco Franco Bahamonde.  It is estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 republican supporters were killed by assassination and in concentration camps during the Civil War and in the decade after the war.

A “Red Terror” of assassinations of Nationalist supporters was instigated on the Republican side.  The reds managed about 50,000 which is below half of the most conservative White Terror number.  In addition the “Red Terror” involved insider assassinations as the Communists eliminated competiton from Anarchists, Democrats and Union Leaders who did not fancy the creation of a Stalinist Spain.

Commonly remembered simply as Franco, the Dictator of Spain was born on this day, Dec 4th, 1892.  A career military man he came from a Naval family in El Ferrol but elected to join the army.  Serving in the Rif wars in Morocco he rose rapidly in the ranks and at age 33 was the youngest General in Europe.

He led the Spanish troops who brutally suppressed the Anarchist mine workers strike in Asturias, an event which polarised left and right and may have led to the civil war.

When the Civil War commenced with a military coup by a group of generals Franco was the junior of the junta.  He famously negotiated with Hitler to have the Luftwaffe airlift his Army of Africa to the Spanish Mainland.  All his rivals met with “unfortunate accidents” leaving Franco as Caudillo – the Spanish version of Il Duce or Der Führer.  From October 1936 to November 1975 he was dictator of a repressive conservative Catholic Spain.  He was buried on his death with full honors in the mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos) the only person interred there who did not die in the civil war.

After a long and drawn out legal process to prevent the veneration of his dictatorship his remains were removed from the mausoleum in October of this year.

Aprende un llanto que limpie el tierra, aprende un llanto que me limpie de tierra.

 

Gacela De La Muerte Oscura; Federico García Lorca

Quiero dormir el sueño de las manzanas,
alejarme del tumulto de los cementerios.
Quiero dormir el sueño de aquel niño
que quería cortarse el corazón en alta mar.

No quiero que me repitan
que los muertos no pierden la sangre;
que la boca podrida sigue pidiendo agua.

No quiero enterarme
de los martirios que da la hierba,
ni de la luna con boca de serpiente
que trabaja antes del amanecer.

Quiero dormir un rato,
un rato, un minuto, un siglo;
pero que todos sepan que no he muerto;
que hay un establo de oro en mis labios;
que soy el pequeño amigo del viento Oeste;
que soy la sombra inmensa de mis lágrimas.

Cúbreme por la aurora con un velo,
porque me arrojará puñados de hormigas,
y moja con agua dura mis zapatos
para que resbale la pinza de su alacrán.

Porque quiero dormir el sueño de las manzanas
para aprender un llanto que me limpie de tierra;
porque quiero vivir con aquel niño oscuro
que quería cortarse el corazón en alta mar.

Bunga Bunga

The Dreadnought Hoax was a very embarrasing prank played on the Royal Navy in 1910 by  the Bloombury Set.  Led by the Irish Born prankster; Horace de Vere Cole, born in Ballincollig, Co. Cork.

Cole reprised an earlier prank, where he led a delegation of the Royal Family of Zanibar on a tour of Cambridge in 1905, greatly upsetting the Mayor who hosted a reception for them.

For the Dreadnought they pretended to be the Abyssinian Royals, with Virginia Wolfe sporting a beard and blackface as one of the delegates (far left in photo).  Today we look a the photo above and marvel that they pulled it off with such poor disguises and obvious stage makeup, but the world was a smaller place in those days.

The visit was a diplomatic farce in any case.  The Royal Navy had no Abyssinian flag on board so they flew the flag of Zanzibar and played the Zanzibar national anthem.

As the delegation wandered about the Royal Navy ship they called out “Bunga-bunga” to marvel at the various wonders.  The phrase was taken up by the press and used as a catch all for the embarassment of the royal navy.

A hit song in the music halls that year was:

When I went on board a Dreadnought ship
I looked like a costermonger;
They said I was an Abyssinian prince
‘Cos I shouted ‘Bunga Bunga!