The missing Menorah

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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.

 

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Imagine being a pea?

Syria

An evacuated Syrian girl looks out of the broken window of a bus.

In this summer heatwave I appreciate the sentiment of Robert Graves, born this day 1895.  An English writer, son of an Irish poet of the Gaelic Revival.  Robert is best known for his novel “I, Claudius”.

 

Give us rain; by Robert Graves

‘Give us Rain, Rain,’ said the bean and the pea,
‘Not so much Sun,
Not so much Sun.’
But the Sun smiles bravely and encouragingly,
and no rain falls and no waters run.

‘Give us Peace, Peace,’ said the peoples oppressed,
‘Not so many Flags,
Not so many Flags.’
But the Flags fly and the Drums beat, denying rest,
and the children starve, they shiver in rags.

2nd Marne

Light tank

British and French troops with a Renault FT-17 tank in July 1918

100 years ago on this day the German Imperial Army attacked the French in a last desperate attempt to win the Great War.  The French were well prepared and absorbed the first attack.  Then three days later they launched a counter offensive that destroyed the German forces.

The German army found itself in a fighting retreat for 100 days, backtracking over the sites of their victories in 1914 until their eventual surrender.

The 1st Battle of the Marne (The miracle of the Marne) denied the Germans a rapid victory and condemned soldiers to four years of trench warfare.  The 2nd Battle of the Marne lifted the war out of the trenches at last.

If you want to book end  World War 1, and compare the strategies, tactics, forces, morale, weapons etc at the beginning of the war, and at the end of the war then study these two battles.  It took four years and the lives of millions of fighting men to learn the lessons that made 2nd Marne possible for the French.

 

Big Dog

Castelveccio

Can Grande translates as “Big Dog”.  Interesting name for the Scaliger family who ruled Verona with an iron fist in the middle ages.  Can Grande II della Scala was also nicknamed Can Rabbioso or “The Rabid Dog”.

It was he who built Castelveccio and the Castelveccio bridge to protect himself and his family from the people he exploited so heavily that they fell into penury.  The castle turned out to be a wasted effort because in classic Italian style Can Grande found his end at the point of his brothers knife.

How much you can learn from an obscure reference in a line of a poem.  What did we ever do before Google?  Happy Birthday Richard Aldington who did his own “googling” in the British Museum.

 

In the British Museum; by Richard Aldington

I turn the page and read:
“I dream of silent verses where the rhyme
glides noiseless as an oar.”
The heavy musty air, the black desks,
the bent heads and the rustling noises
in the great dome
vanish …
and
the sun hangs in the cobalt-blue sky,
the boat drifts over the lake shallows,
the fishes skim like umber shades through the undulating weeds,
the oleanders drop their rosy petals on the lawns,
and the swallows dive and swirl and whistle
about the cleft battlements of Can Grande’s castle…

Gondola

What could go wrong?

Missilemail

Sometimes you look at ideas that people tried and wonder “what were they on?”

On this day in 1959 the US Postal Service and the US Navy cooperated in the one and only launch of “Missile Mail”.  The Submarine USS Barbero launched a Regulus cruise missile towards the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Florida.

US postmaster general Arthur Summerfield said “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”

Sadly the idea never took off (boom boom) much to the relief of the modern day Israeli Postal service.  Today mail travels from New York to California in the blink of an eye.  Email is faster than a rocket, safer than a rocket, not as exciting as a rocket.

Time of the Missile; by George Oppen

I remember a square of New York’s Hudson River glinting between warehouses.
Difficult to approach the water below the pier
swirling, covered with oil the ship at the pier
a steel wall: tons in the water,

width.
the hand for holding,
legs for walking,
the eye sees! It floods in on us from here to Jersey tangled in the grey bright air!

Become the realm of nations.

My love, my love,
we are endangered
totally at last. Look
anywhere to the sight’s limit: space
which is viviparous:

Place of the mind
and eye. Which can destroy us,
re-arrange itself, assert
its own stone chain reaction.

 

Happy Birthday Julia Ward Howe

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Julia Ward Howe was born May 27th 1819.  Abolitionist, advocate for social justice in general and womens’ suffrage in particular.  Best remembered as the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which are lyrics she penned to the already popular song  “John Brown’s Body”.

The John Brown song was a collection of often bawdy verses cobbled together by Union soldiers.  John Brown is the famous abolitionist who was captured at Harpers Ferry in his attempt to raise the slaves of Virginia to rebellion.  He was hanged for treason.  On the day of his hanging he wrote prophetically:

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.”

Folk history holds that there was also a Union sergeant by the name of John Brown, and you can guess what kind of verses are assigned to a sergeant by troopers.  So the market was rife for a cleaned up version of an already popular song.

John Browns Body actually began life as a hymn.  In the Christian meeting of the 19th and 19th century “Call and Response” hymns were popular games, and the faithful could add their own verses to a framework.  “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” remained the heart of this song.  It began life as “Oh Brothers will you meet me, on Canaan’s happy shore.”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, Glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

 

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,

they have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:

His day is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His day is marching on.

 

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:

“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal”;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,

Since God is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Since God is marching on.

 

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!

Our God is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Our God is marching on.

 

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,

with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

While God is marching on.

Work of a lifetime

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Born in 1950 in Derry, Northern Ireland,  Martin McGuinness grew up in the worst era for Catholics in Northern Ireland.  They were discriminated against so badly in Protestant Northern Ireland that they emulated Black Americans such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in setting up non-violent civil rights protests against the regime.

Through the 1960’s just as in America, the ruling class escalated the use of violence to break the protests.  McGuinness joined the IRA and was, at only 21 years of age, the second in command of the Derry Provisional IRA when British Paratroopers murdered 14 civil rights protesters in Bloody Sunday.

He was imprisoned, treated as a terrorist by a British Regime under Maggie Thatcher.  A British Government that seemed hell bent on destroying the nationalist cause by violence, intolerance and general all round hatefulness.

Elected to Stormont in 1982 in the wake of the hunger strikes and the death of Bobby Sands he, like all Sinn Féin, did not take his seat.

McGuinness went on to become the chief negotiator of the Good Friday Agreement and he took personal responsibility for disarming the IRA.

On this day, his birthday, in 1998 the people of Northern Ireland voted on the Agreement in a referendum.  75% of the people of Northern Ireland voted for peace.

Think about that.  25% of the Northern Irish wanted to continue the violence, the death and destruction.  Who are these people?

McGuinness was cast by his enemies as a villain and a terrorist.  But this is a man who worked tirelessly for peace all his life.  A short life in the end.  He passed away last year aged only 66.

Martin lived to see his life’s work come to fruition.  Northern Ireland is not a finished object and there is a long road to go to reconciliation.  That 25% of nay sayers is still up there looking to bring the whole thing crashing down about our ears.  Don’t let them.