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.

 

 

Trader, Missionary, Red Soldier

Image result for rorkes drift

First comes the trader, then the missionary, then the red soldier.
Cetshwayo: King of the Zulu, 1879

The “battle” of Rorke’s Drift ended on this day in 1879, the day after the defeat of a British Column at Isandlwana.  The latter was the worst defeat inflicted on a mondern army by a native tribe and was a terrible source of shame to the British Empire.  It is perhaps to redress this shame that 11 Victoria Crosses were handed out for the brave defenders of Rorke’s Drift where 150 British & Colonial troops of the Royal Engineers stood firm against about 3,500 Zulus returning home from Isandlwana.

The Trader of the title was an Irishman.  James Rorke, who bought 1,000 acres on the Buffalo River in 1849.  A natural river ford sat on his land and the Boer call this a “Drift” hence Rorke’s Drift.

To the Zulu it was kwaJimu or “Jims place”.

For 26 years the Irishman operated a trading post at the ford.  He passed away in 1875 and there are mixed accounts about his death.  I have read that he drowned operating a ferry, that he shot himself and that he died of an illness.  For his wife it was an isolated and lonely existence.  After Jim passed away she sold the trading post to the Norwegian Missionary Society in 1878.

The Zulus liked the Irishman with his trade goods.  They did not like Otto Witt the missionary who wanted to sell them a heavenly eternity.  A year later they liked it even less when Lord Chelmsford used the drift as a forward supply point for his invasion of Zulu Natal.  The Red Soldier had arrived.

 

Night Thought; by Harry (Breaker) Morant

The world around is sleeping,
the stars are bright o’erhead,
the shades of myalls weeping
upon the sward are spread;
Among the gloomy pinetops
the fitful breezes blow,
and their murmurs seem the music
of a song of long ago;
Soft, passionate, and wailing
is the tender old refrain –
with a yearning unavailing –
“Will he no come back again?”

The camp-fire sparks are flying
up from the pine-log’s glow,
the wandering wind is sighing
that ballad sweet and low;
The drooping branches gleaming
in the firelight, sway and stir;
And the bushman’s brain is dreaming
of the song she sang, and her.
And the murmurs of the forest
ring home to heart and brain,
as in the pine is chorused
“Wi11 he no come back again?”

Dry Crusaders

Image result for prohibition

January 16th 1920, 100 years ago today, was the last day on which you could legally get an alcoholic drink in the USA for 13 years.  Prohibition was enacted and America went dry….. dry-ish.

As we now know prohibition serves as a signal example of why you don’t ban things.  Alcohol production, distribution and sale was taken over by newly created organised criminal gangs.  Fortunes were made by criminals.  And yet we continue to ban drugs, wage war on them and treat drug addicts as criminals instead of a healthcare issue.  Can we not learn from prohibition and decriminalise drugs?

What is little known is that prohibition was successful because of World War 1.  With the USA participating in the final stages of the war Germany became the enemy.  Most of the breweries in the USA were run by German-Americans.  Before the war they were well regarded and well funded to defend the rights of access to alcohol.  By the end of the war it was not popularly acceptable to side with “the enemy” and the brewers lost much of their political clout.  This gave the temperance movements sufficient weight to push the dry agenda all the way into the constitution and make it a federal issue.

 

The Workmans Friend; by Flann O’Brien

When things go wrong and will not come right
though you do the best you can,
when life looks black as the hour of night
a pint of plain is your only man.

When money’s tight and hard to get
and your horse has also ran,
when all you have is a heap of debt
a pint of plain is your only man.

When health is bad and your heart feels strange
and your face is pale and wan,
when doctors say you need a change
a pint of plain is your only man.

When food is scarce and your larder bare
and no rashers grease your pan,
when hunger grows as your meals are rare
a pint of plain is your only man.

In time of trouble and lousey strife
you have still got a darling plan,
you still can turn to a brighter life
a pint of plain is your only man.

Strange Facts About Americans During Prohibition

A pair of cows

Image result for io and europa

On January 7th, 1610 Gallileo Galilei made his fateful observation of the moons of Jupiter, giving them the names Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa; collectively known as the Galilean Moons.  Previously observed by Copernicus, who did not flag the implications, it was Gallileo who pointed out that not everything was in orbit around the Earth.  The Roman Inquisition forced him to recant publicly but that’s a funny thing about science:  You may say it’s not true but…. it just is.

So who are the cows?

Io was a mortal lover who beguiled Zeus (the Greek equivalent of Jupiter) with her beauty.  The consort of Zeus, Hera, transformed Io into a pretty white heifer.  This did not disuade Zeus from his trysts with her.  But then Zeus loved animals… in all the wrong ways.  So Hera set a gadfly to sting Io and drive her out of Greece.  She crossed the bosphorus into Asia and made her way down to Egypt.  She had many children of Zeus and was an ancestor of Heracles.

Europa was a Phonecian princess who was whisked away by Zeus when he turned himself into a white bull and asked her to take a ride on his back.  He hopped over to Crete where they founded the Minoan dynasty, where Bull Worship was a central myth of the civilization.  In Greek Mythology Europa is a descendent of Io, and therefore of Zeus himself.

Callisto was also raped by Zeus and Hera transformed her into a bear.  Ganymede was a Trojan prince abducted by Zeus to be his cupbearer; so I’m guessing there was rape there too.  How many ancient civilizations were founded by stealing Cattle and Women?

 

The fantasy and the truth.

Pagans1.jpg

Winter solstice, in your dream fantasy, is a rowdy pagan affair.  Naked young flesh pulsating in the flickering light of heathen torches.  Bare breasts heaving with excitement, gooseflesh skin tingling with anticipation as the winter sun crests the ancient stones.

So you drive for hours and fuss over the parking arrangements.  Dress warmly, for the wind over Salisbury plain is a scour in winter.  You tramp your way to the stones and arrive well after sunrise.  Is that Mrs Neville, the butchers wife?  Must remember to say Happy Christmas.

Pagans2

Toward the Winter Solstice; by Timothy Steele

Although the roof is just a story high,
it dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
and cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
a dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
the cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
and call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
we all are conscious of the time of year;
we all enjoy its colorful displays
and keep some festival that mitigates
the dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
but UPS vans now like magi make
their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
are gaily resurrected in their wake;
the desert lifts a full moon from the east
and issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
and valets at chic restaurants will soon
be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
the fan palms scattered all across town stand
more calmly prominent, and this place seems
a vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
the tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
and ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
it’s comforting to look up from this roof
and feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
to recollect that in antiquity
the winter solstice fell in Capricorn
and that, in the Orion Nebula,
from swirling gas, new stars are being born.

The long dark night.

Winter-Solstice-Stonehenge

Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

In 2019 December 22nd is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night.  Tonight the Sun dies and tomorrow it is reborn.

This is the night of Druantia, the white goddess, the Celtic tree goddess, the moon goddess, the triple goddess of Birth, Love and Death, the muse of the Celtic poets. Queen of the Druids, Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.  Virgin, drudge, whore, muse, hag and crone. Daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, fertile cornocopia or barren spinster.  She is the queen of the faeries and she is personified as a Wren.

In Celtic Druidic tradition the “Hunting of the Wren” was a ritual to see out the old and see in the new as the darkest day of winter passed.  The Christian Church in Ireland worked hard to eliminate the Celtic practice of Goddess Worship.  They made the wren into a traitor, who revealed the hiding place of St. Stephen who was then stoned to death.

 

To Juan at the Winter Solstice; by Robert Graves

There is one story and one story only
that will prove worth your telling,
whether as learned bard or gifted child;
to it all lines or lesser gauds belong
that startle with their shining
such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
or strange beasts that beset you,
of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
below the Boreal Crown,
prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
from woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
the never altered circuit of his fate,
bringing twelve peers as witness
both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin’s silver beauty,
all fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
when, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
how many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
whose coils contain the ocean,
into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
battles three days and nights,
to be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow if falling, winds roar hollowly,
the owl hoots from the elder,
fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
do not forget what flowers
the great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
but nothing promised that is not performed.

Bloody Christmas

Nicosia airport

Abandoned Airport in Nicosia, Cyprus

On the night of the 20th and 21st of December, 1963 the newly independent Republic of Cyprus erupted into a frenzy of violence between the Orthodox Greek Cypriots, Armenian Christian Cypriots and Turkish Muslim Cypriots.  The events became known as Bloody Christmas (Turkish; Kanli Noel).

The violence was sparked by increasing tensions from Greek Cypriot demands for Enosis; union with Greece.  The gradual build-up of tensions erupted when Greek Cypriot police tried to search the persons of Turkish Cypriot women in a taxi.

By the end of the violence Turkish participation in the Cypriot parliament ended.  Deaths included 364 Turkish and 174 Greek Cypriots.  Isolated properties became too dangerous for their inhabitants and the rural populations became displaced into enclaves.

The ultimate outcome of the divisions between the communities resulted a decade later in the Turkish invasion of 1974, dividing the Island north and south to the present day.  The “green line” keeps the two parts of the island divided and in the middle of the green line, and in the middle of the capital city the airport of Nicosia is a permanent reminder of the invasion.  The aircraft grounded on that day by the Turkish invasion remain rotting on the tarmac.  The Departures and Arrivals building crumbles away with disuse.

EU Membership is hoped to encourage the Turkish North to reunify the island but the most recent talks stalled over rights of return and property ownership.  Over the years access through the green line has improved and more crossing points have opened.  But it may take another generation before a stettlement can be agreed.