Catherine the Great Vaccinator

Image result for catherine the great

Catherine the Great, born 1729, staged a coup d’état to overthrow her husband Peter III, and ruled as empress from 1762 dying on this day, Nov 17th 1796.

In 1762 Catherine controversially brough the English Doctor Thomas Dimsdale to Russia to innoculate herself, her son and her court against smallpox.  Vaccination was in its infancy and this was a high risk endeavour on her part.  To her credit she recognised the danger the Doctor faced if the experiement failed.  The Empress arranged for a relay of fast horses to speed the Dimsdales out of the country were she to die.

The procedure succeeded and the Doctor, and his son Nathaniel, were fabulously well rewarded, gaining a Russian Barony in the process.  Dimsdle was able to return to England and leverage his funds to become a banker and an MP.

Catherine used the success of the endeavour to promote vaccination to her subjects and succeeded in rolling out 2 million vaccinations in her lifetime, 6% of the Russian Population.

Catherine brought enlighenment to Russia and her rule is considered a golden age.  The Golden Age of Russian poetry followed her rule.  Pushkin was born in 1799 just 3 years after her passing.  Zhukovsky, who introduced Romanticism to Russia,  was born in 1783 and was 13 when Catherine passed away.  I find the Russians a bit sentimental, a bit flowery and very religious, but they were of their time and of course I know them only through translations, and how good are the translations?

 

The Boatman; by Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky

Driven by misfortune’s whirlwind,
having neither oar nor rudder,
by a storm my bark was driven
out upon the boundless sea.
‘midst black clouds a small star sparkled;
‘Don’t conceal yourself!’ I cried;
but it disappeared, unheeding;
and my anchor was lost, too.

All was clothed in gloomy darkness;
great swells heaved all round;
in the darkness yawned the depths
I was hemmed in by cliffs.
‘There’s no hope for my salvation!’
I bemoaned, with heavy spirit…
Madman! Providence
was your secret helmsman.

With a hand invisible,
‘midst the roaring waves,
through the gloomy, veiled depths
past the terrifying cliffs,
my all-powerful savior guided me.
Then-all’s quiet ! gloom has vanished;
I behold a paradisical realm…
Three celestial angels.

Providence – O, my protector!
My dejected groaning ceases;
on my knees, in exaltation,
on their image I did gaze.
Who could sing their charm?
or their power o’er the soul?
All around them holy innocence
and an aura divine.

A delight as yet untasted –
live and breathe for them;
take into my soul and heart
all their words and glances sweet.
O fate! I’ve but one desire:
let them sample every blessing;
vouchsafe them delight – me suffering;
Only let me die before they do.

Rape and the Republic

Rape of Lucretia

Lucretia by Artemisia Gentileschi

On Wednesday 13th November 2019 Lucretia sold for €4.8 million establishing a record price for the work of the 17th Century Female Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi.

The subject matter, the suicide of Lucretia, is the founding event of the Roman Republic. Sextus Tarquinus, the son of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (last King of Rome) raped the virtuous wife of the chief magistrate Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus.  In front of her husband and father she accused her rapist and took her own life in shame.  Her self sacrifice led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the creation of the Roman Republic.

Lucretia is one of those memes that has re-occured in art through the centuries, an icon of virtue, an innocent despoiled by brute power.  The rape itself forms one subject and the suicide another, both lurid, sexualised and even pornographic.

The story is a patriarchal morality story.  Despite her innocence the “path of virtue” for Lucretia is to take her own life.  That way she does not saddle her upstanding father and husband with “damaged goods”.

When Christianity rose to power suicide was deemed a sin.  But the raped innocent was expected to commit a symbolic form of suicide.  She was removed from polite society.  If she was pregnant she was sent away to bear the child in secret, in a convent if rich or in a Magdalene Laundry if she was poor.   Many an Irish girl was put on a boat to England to have her child abroad, or to avail of an abortion.  Good Catholic families specialised in sweeping their morality under the carpet of convenience.

To this day the legal systems in most countries are weighted in favour of the rapist and against the victim.  Her silence is rewarded with discretion as the rapist trots off to find his next victim.  Her accusation is questioned in detail and her character is torn to shreds in the courtroom where her sexual history and clothing choices will be used to paint her as a loose woman, a woman of dubious virtue, no Lucretia.

Lucretia

 

 

Seige of Smerwick

Smerwick

WALTER RALEIGH DID NOT MASSACRE 600 IRISH AT SMERWICK

These days, with talks of Brexit and Irish Borders and that thorny “Irish Question” that never goes away there are many British (but mostly English) people who struggle to understand all the fuss.  Why can’t it all just be neatly packaged and go away?

So much history.  Scratch any corner of the Emerald Isle and you will open a bloody scab.  Like the one at Smerwick in Dingle.  Back in 1580 Walter Raleigh, him of the cloak in the puddle, found himself in County Kerry under the orders of Grey de Wilton, Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy of Ireland.  They were putting down the ill fated Second Desmond Rebellion.  The pope had sent a force of 600 Spanish and Italian mercenaries to assist the Irish in their rebellion against the protestants.  They were even joined by some English catholics.

These were not nice mercenaries fighting for the rights of the poor Irish Catholics.  They were rabid beasts.  When they landed in Kerry they engaged in a campaign of rapine and pillage on the English planters, on the local people, even attacking the families of Spanish Merchants who lived in the area at the time.

Grey bottled the main army on a poorly fortified headland at Dún an Óir, an ancient Iron Age ringfort.  He had his guns on the landward side and six navy ships at his disposal in the bay.  The Spaniards and Italians didn’t have a chance.  The English negotiated a surrender under terms.  Once the Papal troops laid down their arms they were summarily executed.  With the exception of a few officers the men were massacred under the orders of Grey.

The event might have remained in obscurity, a brutal but forgotten sideshow, if not for English politics.  Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth Raleigh fell out of favour at court.  He was imprisoned by James I and tried.  One of the many accusations thrown at him was the Smerwick Massacre, an event at which he was not present.  Later papers suggest that he found Grey overly heavy handed and Grey left him behind in the race to Dingle.

But Smerwick was levelled at Raleigh in the court papers and he was ultimately found guilty.   So if you go to Ireland today and ask about Smerwick the story you are likely to hear is that this is where Walter Raleigh perfidiously executed 600 brave Irish rebels after they surrendered.  They will tell you he did it himself and enjoyed it.  History is a funny old game.  The massacre at Smerwick took place on November 10th, 1580.

 

Ocean’s Love to Ireland ; by Seamus Heaney

I

Speaking broad Devonshire,
Raleigh has backed the maid to a tree
as Ireland is backed to England

and drives inland
till all her strands are breathless:
‘ Sweesir, Swatter! Sweesir, Swatter! ‘

He is water, he is ocean, lifting
her farthingale like a scarf of weed lifting
in the front of a wave.

II

Yet his superb crest inclines to Cynthia
even while it runs its bent
in the rivers of Lee and Blackwater.

Those are the splashy spots where he would lay
his cape before her. In London, his name
will rise on water and on these dark seepings:

Smerwick sowed with the mouthing corpses
of six hundred papists, ‘as gallant and good
personages as ever where beheld’.

III

The ruined maid complains in Irish,
Ocean has scattered her dream of fleets,
the Spanish prince has spilled his gold

and failed her. Iambic drums
of English beat the woods where her poets
sink like Onan. Rush-light, mushroom-flesh,

she fades from their somnolent clasp
into ringlet-breath and dew,
the ground possessed and repossessed.

Rozet weel your fiddlesticks

Image result for rosin bow

No better time than Robert Fergusson’s Birthday serves to ponder why the Lowland Scots who live close to England speak a dialect opague to many an English ear, while their Highland bretheren speak the Queen’s English with a tongue precise and fair.

The answer is simple.  The lowland Scots are Saxons, and speak a form of English.  Go back 200 years and the Lowland Scots had more in common with Lancastrians and Northumbrians than they did with wild long haired Highland Scots.

Because they spoke a dialect of English the Lowland Scots never felt the need to learn English.

The Highland Scots were Picts and the Pictish language is long gone.  It was replaced by Gaelic when the Scotii, an Irish Tribe, invaded Scotland.   Celtic Monks from Ireland and Iona helped further spread Gaelic when they converted the Picts to Christianity.

In the 18th Century following the Act of Union with Britain the Highland Scots began to acquire the English.  But it was not the English of Glasgow and Edinburgh they took to.  Instead they learned the language direct from officals arriving from London and the South of England.

And so it is that a poem in lowland Scots can be as obtuse in parts to a highland Scot as it is to an Englishman or an Irishman.  But 90% of the time you can get it.

The Daft Days; by Robert Fergusson

Now mirk December’s dowie face
glowers owre the rigs wi’ sour grimace,
while, through his minimum o’ space,
the bleer-ee’d sun
wi’ blinkin light and stealing pace,
his race doth run.

Frae naked groves nae birdie sings;
to shepherd’s pipe nae hillock rings;
the breeze nae odorous flavour brings
frae Borean cave;
and dwynin’ Nature droops her wings,
wi’ visage grave.

Mankind but scanty pleasure glean
frae snawy hill or barren plain,
whan winter, ‘midst his nippin’ train,
wi’ frozen spear,
sends drift owre a’ his bleak domain,
and guides the weir.

Auld Reekie! thou’rt the canty hole,
a bield for mony cauldrife soul,
wha snugly at thine ingle loll,
baith warm and couth;
while round they gar the bicker roll,
to weet their mouth.

When merry Yule-day comes, I trow,
you’ll scantlins find a hungry mou’;
sma’ are our cares, our stamacks fu’
o’ gusty gear,
and kickshaws, strangers to our view,
sin’ fernyear.

Ye browster wives ! now busk ye braw,
and fling your sorrows far awa’;
then, come and gie’s the tither blaw
o’ reaming ale,
mair precious than the well o’ Spa,
our hearts to heal.

Then, though at odds wi’ a’ the warl’,
amang oursels we’ll never quarrel;
thoogh discord gie a canker’d snarl
to spoil our glee,
as lang’s there’s pith into the barrel,
we’ll drink and gree.

Fiddlers! your pins in temper fix,
and rozet weel your fiddlesticks,
but banish vile Italian tricks
frae out your quorum;
nor fortes wi’ pianos mix –
gie’s Tullochgorum.

For nought can cheer the heart sae weil
as can a canty Highland reel;
it even vivifies the heel
to skip and dance:
Lifeless is he wha canna feel
its influence.

Let mirth abound; let social cheer
invest the dawnin’ o’ the year;
let blythesome innocence appear,
to crown our joy;
nor envy, wi’ sarcastic sneer,
our bliss destroy.

And thou, great god of ‘aqua vitæ’!
wha sway’st the empire o’ this city,
when fou, we’re sometimes capernoity,
be thou prepar’d
to hedge us frae that black banditti,
the City Guard.

Ireland’s Battle of Saratoga

Image result for battle of the yellow ford

In the USA the Battles of Saratoga were a vital step for the American cause.  An army of mostly irregular colonists took on the professional British Army and defeated them.  They did this through a combination of British arrogance, knowledge of the terrain and superior marksmanship.  The US frontiersmen with their Kentucky rifles, using natural cover, were more than a match for the British regulars with their smoothbore brown bess muskets.

In Ireland in 1598 the Ulster Irish led by Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell won a similar victory at the Battle of the Yellow Ford.  The Elizabethan British Army of occupation built a fort on the Blackwater in Armagh to threaten Ulster.  The Ulster forces quickly placed it under siege.

The British led a relief force under Sir Henry Bagenal, an experienced commander of veteran troops.  The British were heavily armed and armoured.  They had better cavalry than the Irish and carried a heavy arquebus or musket, which required a supporting pole to steady it for firing.  The Musketeers supported by pikemen in the tradition of the day.

The Irish were actually better armed.  O’Neill was famous for the tricks he used to circumvent restrictions on his ability to recruit and arm his men.  He was permitted a personal bodyguard of only 600 men.  So he rotated them every 6 months and trained them relentlessly to build an army of over 5,000.  He imported lead to waterproof the roof of his castle, and turned it into shot.  Most importantly he sourced the very latest and lightest arquebuses, called Claviers (a corruption of the word Caliber – because they were of standard bore)

Using terrain features and pre-constructed ditches and banks the Irish harried the British from cover very much as the Americans would do hundreds of years later.  When the British came within sight of the Blackwater fort the defenders cheered and tossed their caps in the air in celebration.  The British infantry moved strongly forward over the Yellow Ford.

Then the Irish struck at the rear of their formations, smashing the British from behind.  The leading regiments were forced to retreat to protect themselves and the retreat turned into a desperate defence.  In the panic that ensued a British Infantryman ran to refill his powder horn from a barrel of gunpowder.   He was holding a lit match in his hand and set off the powder in a massive explosion.

The British were harassed all the way back to the River Callan, and there someone on the British side had made a smart decision to position some artillery pieces in a fallback position.  They were able to hold the Irish and prevent a complete slaughter.

Of 4,000 British Soldiers only 2,000 made it back to the garrison of Armagh.  After some negotionation they were permitted to return south only by leaving behind all their arms and ammunition.

It would be nice to say that the outcome of Yellow Ford was similar to the outcome of Saratoga, but it was not to be.  The Americans had the French to support their revolutionary war.  The Irish had the Spanish, who landed in Kinsale, the furthest possible point away from the Ulster strongholds of O’Neill and O’Donnell.

At the Battle of Kinsale the Irish & Spanish forces were defeated by the British and the result was the “Flight of the Earls” when O’Neill and O’Donnell departed Ireland with their retinue for exile in Spain.  Their departure opened Ulster for Plantation by protestants loyal to the British Crown, a move that is reflected in the politics of the Island of Ireland to this day.

Yellow Ford was fought this day, August 14th 1598.

Sonnet 46; by William Shakespeare

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war
how to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture’s sight would bar,
my heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie
a closet never pierced with crystal eyes.
But the defendant doth that plea deny
and says in him thy fair appearance lies.

To ‘cide this title is impanneled
a quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,
and by their verdict is determined
the clear eye’s moiety and the dear heart’s part:
As thus; mine eye’s due is thy outward part,
and my heart’s right thy inward love of heart.

Bouvier, Kennedy, Onassis.

Chanel Suit

Born this day in 1929 Jackie Bouvier married J.F.K. to become the second youngest First Lady in history.  The young couple and staff of the Kennedy Whitehouse gained the nickname of “Camelot” after the hit musical of the day.  Bouvier Kennedy was a style icon of her day.  She renovated the Whitehouse and made it more public to the American people.  She is best rememered in her classic style of tailored suits, matching pillbox hat and white goves.

The outfit in the photo is the pink Chanel suit she was wearing when John was assassinated in Dallas.

Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot. There’ll be great presidents again … but there will never be another Camelot……………  Jackie quoted in Life magazine.

 

 

Most Powerful Persian

Prince

A Mughal Prince in a Pavillion Surrounded by Ladies

Cyrus the Great, Cambyses, Bardiya, Darius the Great and Xerxes were the first five Achemenid Emperors of Persia.

Who could be greater than the King of Kings the ruler of the four corners of the earth?

Atossa.  Cyrus the Great and his wife Cassandane gave birth to four children; Cambyses, Bardiya (Smerdis), Atossa and Roxana.

Atossa was the eldest daughter of Cyrus.  Sister to emperor Cambyses and to the short reigning emperor Smerdis.  There is a very believable theory that Darius, a senior official of Cambyses, rose to power by assasinating both Cambyses and his brother Smerdis.  The official account is that Cambyses murdered Bardiya and hid the crime.  Then Cambyses cut himself with a sword and died of gangrene.  An imposter pretended to be Bardiya, and because only a handful of people knew about the murder, he might have gotten away with it.

So Darius and a crack squad of hit men stormed the palace and slayed the imposter Smerdis.

This story helps Darius portray himself as a good guy, and someone worth inheriting the mantle of King of Kings.

But he had no validity and no connection to the royal line.  So in a well trodden political move he justified his rule by wedding Atossa, the blood of the royal line.  She gave him a son, Xerxes, not his first son, but a son of the blood.  Xerxes was a grandson of Cyrus, nephew of Cambyses, and further cemented the rule of Darius the Great.

Atossa, daughter of an Emperor, sister of two Emperors, wife of an Emperor, mother of an Emperor.  How powerful is that lady?  And yet we know very little about this amazing woman.  It is said that Atossa had “a great authority” in the royal court.

In the west there has always been a great fascination with the goings on in the royal Harem.  This is dominated by male fantasies of exotic eastern ladies, profligate sexuality, nudity, decadence and a focus on the pleasures of the flesh.  In the West our knowledge of the Harem comes from The Arabian Nights stories and from  suggestive glimpses of the closeted lives of the seraglio which may be no more than the wild tales of sailors and travellers.

The truth of the harem was  far more down to earth.  If you read carefully you will learn that the ladies of the harem were not immune from economic necessities.  We have records of them engaging in trade and investments, using palace Eunuchs as intermediaries.  They represented a powerful 5th column in the politics of the empire.  In a world where access is power the ladies of the Harem had some of the best access possible.

Think of the Harem in ancient times like a modern professional political lobby organisation in Washington.  You pay them to buy access to votes.  In ancient Persia there was undoubtedly a long line at the desk of the head Eunuch of the Harem.  His effectiveness and his wealth were determined by his relationships with the right ladies of the court.

In this world it is clear that the almost unknown Atossa was the most powerful person in the history of the Achemenid Empire.  Daughter of Kings, Sister of Kings, Maker of Kings, Mother of Kings.

The Offended Moon (La Lune offensée); by Charles Baudelaire (Trans William Aggeler, 1954)

O Moon whom our ancestors discreetly adored,
radiant seraglio! from the blue countries’ height
to which the stars follow you in dashing attire,
my ancient Cynthia, lamp of our haunts,

do you see the lovers on their prosperous pallets,
showing as they sleep, the cool enamel of their mouths?
The poet beating his forehead over his work?
Or the vipers coupling under the withered grass?

Under your yellow domino, with quiet step,
do you go as in days of old from morn till night
to kiss the faded charms of Endymion?

— “I see your mother, child of this impoverished age,
Bending toward her mirror a heavy weight of years,
Skillfully disguising the breast that nourished you!”