Damnatio memoriae

Emperor_Domitian_Ephesus.jpg

Emperor Domitian was assassinated on this day in the year 96 CE at the age of 44.  He reigned for 15 years, the longest imperial reign since Augustus and Tiberius, the first two Roman Emperors.

Domitian was condemned on his death to be forgotten by the Senate who hated him deeply.  They passed a sentence of damnatio memoriae upon him, in an attempt to condemn him to oblivion.  Their punishment largely worked.  The writers of the day such as Suetonius, Tacitus and Pliny the younger recorded that he was an evil, cruel and paranoid tyrant.  Until the modern era he was lumped in with the bad boys of the early empire such as Caligula and Nero.

Third and final ruler of the Flavian dynasty, who gave us the Coliseum and famously destroyed the Jewish Temple.  Vespasian, his father, survived a close association with the emperor Nero when many of his compatriots lost their heads.  After the fall of Nero he emerged as the winner in the year of the four emperors.  Domitian, aged 17 was in Rome when hostilities broke out and was placed under house arrest by Vitellius, the runner up for Emperor of the year.

Vespasian ruled for ten years and died aged 69 from an illness that inflicted him with diarrhea.  He was the first emperor to be succeed by his natural son, Titus.  Since Titus was young, fit, healthy and already a renowned military commander it is thought that Domitian was not groomed for the top job.  But Titus ruled for only two years before he too succumbed to a fever leaving his younger brother as Emperor.

Modern analysis of his reign, and by scouring sources not aligned to the Senate, paint a picture of a highly organized and autocratic ruler who was unsubtle in managing the pride of the senators.  He was loved and revered by the public and by the common soldiery but hated by the Senate and the officers of the patrician class.  He did not indulge in the usual game of according the Senate nominal authority and they hated him for it.  His lack of training in this balancing act was his ultimate undoing, and he was assassinated by officials in his court, stabbed in the groin and a further seven times in the struggle that ensued.  Domitian killed one of his assailants.

Domitian was further pilloried in the press in claims by the writer Eusebius in the 4th century that he persecuted Christians and Jews.  Christians put him in the naughty emperor box along with Nero and Diocletian and painted graphic portrayals of him feeding martyrs to the lions.  In fact the Flavians were highly tolerant of Eastern religions and the claims by Eusebius are possibly founded on lies that originate in the senatorial curse.

The atmosphere is clear for a reevaluation and a cleanup of the tarnished reputation of an Emperor who achieved much good in his reign and came to a sad and sorry end.

 

 

Advertisements

9/11

Twintowers.jpg

A great day for Scotsmen, who celebrate the victory of William Wallace over the British at the Battle of Sterling Bridge in 1297.

A great day for Maltese, who celebrate the lifting of the Great Siege of Malta when the Knights Hospitallers defeated the might of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power in 1565.

A remarkable day in the history of New York, when Henry Hudson discovered the Hudson River and Manhattan Island in 1609.

A mixed day for the Duke of Marlborough and his allies in the war of the Spanish Succession.  They defeated the French at Malplaquet in 1709 but it was something of a pyrrhic victory as the allies lost twice as many men as the French.

A better day for the Americans in 1814 at the battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain when they defeated the British in the war of 1812.

A bad day in 1916 when the central span of the Quebec Bridge collapsed with the deaths of 11 men.

A worse day in 2001 with the loss of 2,296 people in terror attacks on the Twin Towers.

Today we are not sure yet how bad a day it has been for the people of Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

This ebb and flow across one date in history reminds me of the following sonnet.

 

SONNET 64; by William Shakespeare

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
the rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
and brass eternal, slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
and the firm soil win of the watery main,
increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
or state itself confounded to decay;
ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.

This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

 

Death of the Republic

Actium, Egyptian ship with battering ram

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Actium, the final major conflict of the civil wars that wracked the dying Roman republic from 133BC (if you ascribe to the assassination of Tiberius Gracchus origination) or   from 49BC (if you take it from the Rubicon Crossing) to 31BC.

The poet Virgil was effectively a propagandist working on behalf of Octavian, to counter popularity for Marc Anthony and solidify the transition to Empire.  Virgil worked with Maecenas, the agent of Octavian.  The poem below is clearly propaganda.  Octavian and the Romans are portrayed as the home team supported by the “right” gods.  They are bright lights against the gathering darkness, Anthony is portrayed as deviant, relying on a gaudily dressed ill fated woman, a rag tag coalition speaking a babble of tongues.  They bring strange animal gods from the East.  They are the foreigners, the others, interlopers.

The Battle of Actium; by Virgil (trans. John Dryden)  

Betwixt the quarters, flows a golden sea;
But foaming surges there in silver play.
The dancing dolphins with their tails divide
The glittering waves, and cut the precious tide.

Amid the main, two mighty fleets engage:
Their brazen beaks opposed with equal rage.
Actium surveys the well-disputed prize:
Leucate’s watery plain with foamy billows fries.

Young Caesar, on the stern in armour bright,
Here leads the Romans and their gods to fight:
His beamy temples shoot their flames afar;
And o’er his head is hung the Julian star.

Agrippa seconds him, with prosperous gales,
And, with propitious gods, his foes assails.
A naval crown, that binds his manly brows,
The happy fortune of the fight foreshows.

Ranged on the line opposed, Antonius brings
Barbarian aids, and troops of eastern kings,
The Arabians near, and Bactrians from afar,
Of tongues discordant, and a mingled war:

And, rich in gaudy robes, amidst the strife,
His ill fate follows him–the Egyptian wife.
Moving they fight: with oars and forky prows
The froth is gathered and the water glows.

It seems as if the Cyclades again
Were rooted up, and justled in the main;
Or floating mountains floating mountains meet;
Such is the fierce encounter of the fleet.

Fire-balls are thrown, and pointed javelins fly;
The fields of Neptune take a purple dye.
The queen herself, amidst the loud alarms,
With cymbal tossed, her fainting soldiers warms–

Fool as she was! who had not yet divined
Her cruel fate; nor saw the snakes behind.
Her country gods, the monsters of the sky,
Great Neptune, Pallas, and love’s queen, defy.

The dog Anubis barks, but barks in vain,
Nor longer dares oppose the ethereal train.
Mars, in the middle of the shining shield
Is graved, and strides along the liquid field.

The Dirae souse from heaven with swift descent;
And Discord, dyed in blood, with garments rent,
Divides the press: her steps Bellona treads,
And shakes her iron rod above their heads.

This seen, Apollo, from his Actian height
Pours down his arrows; at whose wingèd flight
The trembling Indians and Egyptians yield,
And soft Sabaeans quit the watery field.

The fatal mistress hoists her silken sails,
And shrinking from the fight, invokes the gales.
Aghast she looks, and heaves her breast for breath,
Panting, and pale with fear of future death.

The god had figured her, as driven along
By winds and waves, and scudding through the throng.
Just opposite, sad Nilus opens wide
His arms and ample bosom to the tide,
And spreads his mantle o’er the winding coast;
In which, he wraps his queen and hides the flying host.

Happy Birthday Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

I could write a lot about the biggest show in the USA down in Texas.  The American media should get an Oscar and a handful of Pulitzers for turning a storm into a thousand stories of human suffering.  They managed this disaster much better than Hurricane Katrina.  What you want is a low body count but powerful images of uprooted lives caused by homes being flooded or slabbed.  Plenty of affirming narratives of ordinary folk helping each other out, instead of those awful stories that were made up about the murders and rapes in the Louisiana Superdome.

Yes indeed cynic that I am I believe the US media organs learned good lessons about reporting from Louisiana.  At the same time we see a federal government that responded correctly, support without interference, Trump got this one right.

Also in the news Kim Jong Un just upped the ante by straddling Japan with a Missile.  That cannot sit.  Watch this space.

More importantly this is the birthday of a great poet.  He is the only person I have come across to date where cause of death was given as “Acute polysubstance abuse”.  Usually you just hear of “drug overdose”, but that’s for heavy metal rock stars, a poet demands something more…elegant, subtle, sophisticated?

Tamer and Hawk; by Thom Gunn

I thought I was so tough,
but gentled at your hands,
cannot be quick enough
to fly for you and show
that when I go I go
at your commands.

Even in flight above
I am no longer free:
You seeled me with your love,
I am blind to other birds—
the habit of your words
has hooded me.

As formerly, I wheel
I hover and I twist,
but only want the feel,
in my possessive thought,
Of catcher and of caught
upon your wrist.

You but half civilize,
taming me in this way.
through having only eyes
for you I fear to lose,
I lose to keep, and choose
tamer as prey.

Happy Birthday Paddy Clancy

Paddy

My dad passed away in October 2006.  That is significant because it predated the smartphone.  In those days cameras on phones were a new and expensive add on.  As a result most of the photos of Paddy are old style paper photographs, and there are not many digital ones.  I never got around to scanning all my old paper photos, but I managed to find this one in my archives.

Paddy and Maura were preparing for a trip.  It may have been the holiday they took in Dubrovnik.  I know this because my dad was doing up his cabin bag when I took the photo.  Paddy was the ultimate boy-scout, being prepared for every eventuality.  It was a product of his upbringing in a military household.  On camping holidays when anything broke Paddy had a spare in his “magic box”.  His in-flight bag was a treasure trove of travel “must-haves”.

My parents grew up during WW2, or “the emergency” as it was called in Ireland.  Born in 1927 they were 12 when the war began.  Ireland suffered a similar rationing regime to Great Britain, which meant frugality and food discipline was central to their lives from age 12 to around age 20 when rationing eventually tailed off.  They never lost their discipline in relation to waste.

Here is a story that illustrates their mindset.  When they were newly married my father bought a good coat for his wedding.  It was a fine heavy wool tweed coat.  Good Donegal tweed is tough stuff and lasts many years.

Over time the coat began to wear and my mother had to turn the cuffs and put in some repairs.  Eventually Paddy said it looked too shabby to wear.

Maura agreed, so she took the coat apart, panel by panel, and reversed the material and made up the coat again.  She put in new lining and the whole garment looked brand new.

When you turn the fabric it looks fine for a while, but it is worn thin and within a short few years the coat looked beat again.  Paddy said “Maura, this coat is finished, I need to buy a new one.”  Maura looked it over and sadly agreed.  “Yes” she said, “it’s finished, you can’t wear that any more…….I’ll cut it down to make clothes for the children”.

Were he still with us Paddy would be 90 today.  My dad shares his birthday with William Ernest Henley (b. 1849), the Victorian poet made famous all over again by Nelson Mandela.  Mandela would read “Invictus” to his cellmates in their darkest days.  He gave the poem to the South African Rugby Union team in 1995 to spur them on to win the Rugby World Cup for the new South African Nation.  Clint Eastwood directed Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the Springboks captain, and Morgan Freeman as Mandela in the 2009 movie centred on that poem.  Here is another from Henley more along the theme of “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”.

Oh gather me the rose; by William Ernest Henley

O gather me the rose, the rose,
while yet in flower we find it,
for summer smiles, but summer goes,
and winter waits behind it.

For with the dream foregone, foregone,
the deed foreborn forever,
the worm Regret will canker on,
and time will turn him never.

So were it well to love, my love,
and cheat of any laughter
the fate beneath us, and above,
the dark before and after.

The myrtle and the rose, the rose,
the sunshine and the swallow,
the dream that comes, the wish that goes
the memories that follow!

Happy Birthday Rupert Brooke

Rupert_Brooke

Described by none other than W.B. Yeats as “the handsomest man in England” Brooke is the quintessential war poet.  A product of Rugby school and Cambridge University, a confused bisexual, steamy good looks, went skinny dipping with Virginia Wolfe, associated with the Bloomsbury set of poets.  He had a nervous breakdown in 1912 and toured the world as part of his recovery process.  He may have fathered a child with a Tahitian woman along the way.

When the first world war began Brookes poems “The dead” and “The Soldier” captured the mood of the nation and brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, first Lord of the Admiralty.  He was commissioned as a naval officer and sailed for Gallipoli.  He died of an infected mosquito bite before the fleet reached Turkey.  He is buried on the Greek Island of Skyros.

Here is a funnier and less heroic poem from the pen of someone who is way too godlike for his own good.

A Channel Passage; by Rupert Brooke

The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could think hard of only one thing — YOU!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
Now there’s a choice — heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!

Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last years woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ‘Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ‘twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.

Battle of the Cabbages

FamineWarhouse

The Famine Warhouse, Ballingarry, Tipperary.

In March 1848 the train station in Thurles, County Tipperary opened in Ireland.

In the same year the Young Irelander Rebellion took place in a country riddled by the Great Potato Famine.  The rebellion was a failure.

The largest action of the rebellion was the Battle fought in the village of Ballingarry between a group of 47 armed police constables and a gang of rebels let by William Smith O’Brien.  The police, seeing themselves outnumbered, took cover in Mrs McCormacks house, taking her children as hostages.

The rebels were unable to oust the police from their stronghold and a siege ensued.  As the day wore on word came that reinforcements were on the way from Cashel to support the police, and the crowd dispersed.  Because of the field they occupied during the siege the rebels were mocked by calling it the Battle of Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Plot.

The battle took place on this day, July 29th, 1848.  William Smith O’Brien remained in hiding for a few days and on August 5th he made his way to Thurles to make his escape by train.  He was recognised in the train station and was arrested.

Sentenced to death by hanging for treason a huge petition was raised to commute his sentence.  He was deported along with the other Young Ireland leaders to Tasmania.  He failed to escape and served his sentence in full, finally returning to live in Brussels for much of his life.

His fellow Young Ireland rebel Thomas Francis Meagher did succeed in his escape to America.  There he raised an Irish Brigade to fight for the Union in the Civil War.  Apparently, when she read about this in the newspaper Queen Victoria wanted to know why one of Her Majesty’s Prisoners was leading troops in Virginia instead of rotting in a cell in Port Arthur.