Leda

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The latest addition to my family, my grand-niece Leda.

My first concern is that she not get too friendly with Swans.  Last time that happened a pretty little girl was born, and married Menelaus the Mycenean King of Sparta.  Helen of Sparta is not how we remember her, for Paris, son of Priam, stole her away to his home city.  And so we remember her as the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Illium.

Illium was the ancient name for the city of Troy, so Helen of Troy was daugher of Leda.  But who was the father of this child with the dreadful fate?  It was Zeus himself, who raped Leda, in the guise of a male swan.

And the brother of Menelaus?  The dread Agamemnon King of Mycenae itself, ruler of all the Achaeans as the Greeks called themselves in those days.  From this followed ten years of war.  Ajax and Achilles, Hector and Aeneas, wily Odysseus and his Trojan Horse.  Death and destruction as the Gods themselves engaged in the battle of the great Homeric Epic.

Calling a daughter Leda can come to no good I say.  But I am Cassandra and they shall not listen.

Leda and the Swan; by W.B. Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
by the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
the feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
but feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
the broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
so mastered by the brute blood of the air,
did she put on his knowledge with his power
before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

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Margarita Pizza

Margureite

Prepare yourself for nonsense:  Marguerite Piazza, the American Soprano, was born on this day in 1920.

The Pizza Margherita is a Neapolitan classic of Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil, the colours of the Italian flag.  There is a story that the famous Pizza was invented in honour of Margherita of Savoy, Queen of Italy, to celebrate Italian Unification, in 1889.

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This is considered now to be a false history, like many tales of the invention of famous dishes.  There is a competing theory that the Pizza Margherita is named for the pretty flower pattern in which the Mozzarella slices were presented on the pizza, representing a daisy flower, the Italian for which is margherita.

The Spanish for daisy is margarita, which is also the name of a famous tequila drink from Mexico, a country with the same tricolour flag as Italy.

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But the origin of the drink actually comes from the Latin word margarita which means pearl, as in the maxim “margaritas ante porcos” meaning pearls before swine.  The margarita drink is named after the latin for pearl, as it is a pearly colour, and that may also explain why it is served with a ring of salt on the rim of the glass.

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As to the American soprano, her real name was Marguerite Clair Lucille Luft.  She took her mothers maiden name, Piazza, as her stage name.  A Piazza is a square, not a pie.  So her stage name translates as Daisy Square.

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I passed on a piece ‘a pizza in the piazza in Pisa in the past.  But not with Margherita.

Now, I ordered ages ago.  Where are my pizza and my margarita?  And do not get them mixed up again.

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Stormin’ Normans

Aoife

The marriage of Aoife and Strongbow

May 1st 1169 is traditionally given as the day the Normans came to Ireland.  It was a tradition in Ireland for ousted kings or princes to run abroad to seek support to retake their crowns.  Belgium was a popular place to go because Flemish mercenary spearmen had a good reputation.

On this occasion though the ousted King of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough decided to go to Aquitane.  100 years on from the Battle of Hastings the Norman invaders were well settled in England, Wales and parts of Scotland.  In Wales the Normans intermarried with the Welsh Marcher Lords and created extended families of troublemakers.

Henry II, based in Southern France, the lands of his wealthy wife,  maybe thought he could get rid of a few Welsh troublemakers by sending them to wild Ireland.  Or else Dermot, rebuffed by Henry, went independently to Wales, and pitched his case to Robert DeClare (Strongbow).  Dermot dangled the promise of his daughter and the kingshop of Leinster in front of Strongbow, who reached for the prize.  So Robert Fitzstephen was despatched to lead an expedition.  He brought three ships, thirty mounted knights and about 300 Welsh and Flemish footsoldiers to Bannow Strand in Co.  Wexford in the south west of Ireland.

Two days later they were followed by two more ships led by Maurice de Prendergast and a further 300 soldiers.  There they were met by 500 Irish supporters of MacMurrough.  They marched on Wexford and successfully took the Danish city.  For a time it seems that matters stabilised or went against the invaders.  McMurrough begged Strongbow for more troops and a year later another force landed at Baginbun led by Raymond le Gros.  They routed an army of Irish and Norse from Waterford.

In August 1170 Strongbow himself arrived with thousand men and now the Normans had a critical mass of troops.  First they took the stoutly defended city of Waterford.  There Strongbow married his promised prize, Aoife MacMurrough, in the wedding pictured in the painting above from the Irish National Gallery.  They swept rapidly up the coast and siezed Dublin.

In May 1171 with the death of Dermot the Norman knight Strongbow became King of Leinster and was threatening to expand to the rest of Ireland.  Henry II the Angevin King of lands from Southern France all the way up to Scotland had reason to fear a rival Kingdom in Ireland.  He brought his army to Ireland and rapidly established some of his own knights in lands here.  It then appears that he did a deal with the remaining Irish of Ulster, Munster and Connacht.  At the Rock of Cashel he met the Kings and appears to have set out a stable peace.  No doubt this involved their support for Henry to deny Strongbow any further power.

Henry installed his younger son, John Lackland, as Lord of Ireland.  This is the John we see frequently represented as the weakling younger brother to Richard Lionheart.  The evil prince of the Robin Hood tales depicted in the Disney movie as a spoiled thumb sucking juvenile lion.  The craven who ended up capitulating to the powerful Barons when he signed the Magna Carta at Runnymeade.

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Revoke Article 50

 

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This petition will hit 5 million signatures today.  The March in London yesterday had 1 million participants.  How many British People have to ask before the Government give them an opportunity to have a say, now that the British people understand what it actually means to leave Europe?  What exactly is wrong with Theresa May and the Tory party?  Why is it a betrayal of the people to ask them “are you sure about this?”

Why are the Tory party driving forward to the worst possible outcome?  What is wrong with taking time over a decision that is going to have such a huge impact on Britain?  Who is profiting from this haste to leave?  Who is profiting from the chaos?

One thing I am certain of.  The ordinary British person on the street is not profiting from this, and will never profit from it in any way.

And I still blame David Cameron.  History will be very unkind to that man.

Brexit March

 

Happy S&BJ Day

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One month following Valentines Day, the supposed romantic highlight of the year, comes S & BJ Day.  You can look up what that means yourself, you didn’t hear it from me.  It is supposed to be the opposite of Valentines day, an anti-romantic holiday.

At its heart I think it is a reaction against crass commercialisation rather than against romance.  It is, at it’s heart, still a quest for companionship.  It does not reject the fundamental notion of two people wanting to be together.  Instead it rejects all the socio-cultural and commercial baggage that gets between two people.  It tries to pare the relationship back to raw basics.

In this regard it treads a well worn path.  How many times have you seen the narrative of the US Bachelor Party movie, where the groom or bride and his or her buddies have one last fling?  And how do these movies end?  With a wedding.  With true love and a lifelong commitment.  They end in happy ever after.

 

A Contingency Plan: by Suzannah Evans

What if we’re apart when the asteroid comes,
or the magnetic storm that shuts off the power?

You could be waiting for a train as the sun’s bulb
flickers out, high above the glass-panelled roof.

I’ll be at work. We’ll lose the phone lines,
the door-entry system will go haywire.

I will eat from the vending machine,
drink from the competition cupboard

and sleep on nylon carpet with my colleagues
all of us three-weeks unwashed. Stay where you are –

I’ll abseil down eight floors on a rope
fashioned from the supply of festive tinsel,

loot M&S, steal a bike and make for the M1
forty miles of silence and abandoned cars

so we can witness the collapse of civilisation
with a picnic of high-end tins

so I can lie in your arms on a rooftop,
our dirty faces lit by fires.

Goths of Rome

Goths

Two Goths pose with a smiling girl dressed in black.

These days if you find Goths in Rome they are likely to be nihilistic teenagers with pale skin, dressed head to toe in black.  If they seem over emotional they may be emos rather than goths.  Tribes of teenagers sacking the city of Rome may seem absurd but in ancient days the Gothic armies were probably heavily manned by teenage warriors.

The first and most famous invasion was the “Sack of Rome” by the Visigoths under Alaric.  When people speak of “Barbarians at the Gates” it is a direct reference to the Sack in 410 AD.  Not the first sack of Rome, but the first since the attack by the Gauls under Brennus some 800 years earlier.

Once breached Rome fell prey to many new opportunists.  The Vandals carried off any portable wealth that the Visigoths left when, led by Genseric, they sacked the city 455 AD.

The Goths rounded off the “4 Sacks of Ancient Rome” in 546 AD when the Ostrogoths under Totila sacked the city.

The Ostrogoths also tried in 537 AD when Belisarius occupied the City in his reconquest of Italy for Emperor Justinian.  Belisarius was Justinian’s favourite general, victor over the Persians at the battle of Dara, victor of the Vandals, the man who saved Constantinople from the Nike riots, when the people of new Rome rioted because of the shortage of good running shoes. OK, maybe that’s a lie.  The Greek for victory is Nika, from the Goddess of victory, Nike.  The password for the rioters was the word they shouted at the chariot races, so they were the Nika riots (victory riots).  When Phil Knight decided to make running shoes he decided to call them after the Greek Goddess of Victory, and as a point of information the final e in Nike is pronounced as it is in all Greek female names such as Phoebe, Penelope, Ariadne and Chloe.

It was on this day in 537 that the Siege of Rome by the Ostrogoths began.  There was no Ostrogothic sack of Rome in 537, which kind of gives a hint to how the siege will end.  Strangely enough I am currently reading Robert Graves “Count Belisarius” and by coincidence I reached the Siege of Rome on exactly the anniversary of the Siege of Rome.

As a novel Count Belisarius is not a patch on I Claudius which is a masterpiece.  The account of Belisarius reads far more like a history book than a novel.  Unlike with Claudius the author fails to bring the characters to life as living breathing people.  It is an interesting and very accurate account of events, but it struggles as a novel.

Bellisarius

Telling Lies #9: Dissimulation

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Pope Innocent by Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon the 16th century English philosopher wrote one of the most famous essays on lying; Of Simumlation and Dissimulation.  Francis Bacon the Irish born 20th Century artist painted a portrait of Innocence:  Pope Innocent X.

This post is about the 16th Century Bacon, and that unused and poorly understood word dissimulation.

In his essay Bacon argues that people use three broad strategies for telling lies:

Closeness or reservation:  This is the Mafia trick of omerta, complete silence,  “I ain’t sayin’ nuthin'”.  If you don’t say anything you can never be caught in a lie.  But it does not make you the best of conversationalists.

Dissimulation is where you say things that allow people to misinterpret your position, and when they misinterpret to your advantage do not correct them.

Simulation is when you say things that are patently untrue.  Flat out lying.

Many years ago I was serving on a University finance committee distributing funds to sports clubs.  At the same time I was chairman of the Rugby club.  At the end of year awards the Rugby Club and the Canoe Club were in competition for most improved club of the year.  The Committee had the final decision by secret ballot.

The Canoe club won by a single vote.

As with all these situations you have a pretty good idea of the support in the room.  There were only very few floating votes.  After the vote was delivered one of the committee members, let’s call him “the dissimlator”, approached me to comiserate with me.  He said he was sorry the rugby club did not win and said as he parted “you know how I voted”, and I thanked him for his support.

Then later in the evening the Chairwoman of the Ladies Hockey club came over to me and told me she had voted for the Rugby club.  I counted up the votes and realised something was wrong.

So I went over to “the dissumlator” and I said “Hi Kxvxx, you know when you said that I know how you voted?  I have to admit I don’t.  Who did you vote for?”

He was caught and impaled like a fish on a gaff.  He opened and closed his mouth, exactly like a fish on a gaff, and shrugged and walked away.  Guilty!  Caught and very embarrassed.

But he never told an actual flat out lie.  It was a classic dissimulation.  He told me that I knew what he did, and I thought I did and he was happy to allow me to believe an untruth if it gave him any political advantage.  He was trying to burden me with an obligation and he was exactly the type of character who would call in that favour in later life.

As you can tell from this post all that is long gone and forgotten, water under the bridge.  If I met Kxvxx today I would trust him 100%.  NOT.