Harun al-Rashid

Sinbad

Born on St Patricks Day, some 300 years after St. Patrick lived, Haroun al-Rashid is considered by many to be the greatest Caliph of the Islamic world.  He presided over the Abassid Caliphate in its golden age when it was the centre of learing, enlightenment, literature, arts and science.

He corresponded with rulers as far away as France, presenting Charlemagne with a clock that was so ingenious the Franks believed it to be possessed, so many and complex were the chimes it sounded.  A good an generous friend he also proved a stern and powerful enemy.  He brought the Byzantine empire to heel and his name was feared throughout his own empire.

His name may translate as the “orthodox” or the “right guided” and for Sunni Muslims he represented a powerful bastion of the islamic faith.  So powerful indeed that the Christian world suffered the crisis of iconoclasm at this period.  Seeing the success of the armies of Islam orthodox christians questioned if religious icons, images and statues were in fact idols.  Heads were smashed from church altars, icons were thrown onto fires and emperors were dethroned based on their belief.

Legend has it that al-Rashid would don a beggars cloak and walk the streets of Baghdad or Raqqa and eavesdrop on the conversations of the ordinary folk to better understand how they perceived him and his rule.

In the West we know of this great Sultan because of a book.  “A thousand and one nights”, or the “Arabian Nights” is a collection of tales from the Asian world, originating in Arabia, India, China and Persia.  They include characters known by every Western child, The seven voyages of Sinbad the sailor, Aladdin and his magic lamp, Ali-Baba and the forty thieves, magic flying carpets and many many more fantastic and magical tales.

At the heart of the tale is the evil sultan, thought to be modeled on Al-Rashid.  Each night he takes a bride from his harem and after taking his pleasure has her killed.  The interlocutor of the 1001 nights is Sheherazade, the wife who beguiles him with storytelling instead of pleasures of the flesh.  Instead of killing her he spares her for one more night, for one more story.  And so the tales unravel over the course of many years until he of course falls madly in love with her.

From this book we have a wealth of art, music, dance and not a few pantomimes.  It was the inspiration for hundreds of childrens authors from E. Nesbit to J.K. Rowling.  Poetry of Yeats, Longfellow, Tennyson and Archibald Macleish stories of O. Henry, James Joyce and Charles Dickens.  Al-Rashid is a thread that runs trough every weave in the fabric of literature.

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Sailing alone around the world

Spray

Joshua Slocum’s yacht “Spray”

 

Today is the birthday of Joshua Slocum, who invented a new type of literature.  The autobiographical adventure book.  In his travelogue “Sailing alone around the world” the Nova-Scotian come American describes in detail the sourcing and rebuilding of his boat “Spray” and the journey he took around the globe.

The highlight of the trip for me was in South Africa where Slocum was approached during his speaking tour by a group of Boer flat earthers.  They asked him to confirm that the Earth was indeed flat.  Slocum laconically suggested that a circumnavigator was not their best advocate.

Born on Feb 20th 1844 Slocum disappeared with his yacht in 1904, aged 65.

 

February 20 was my birthday, and I found myself alone, with hardly so much as a bird in sight, off Cape Froward, the southernmost point of the continent of America. By daylight in the morning I was getting my ship under way for the bout ahead.

The sloop held the wind fair while she ran thirty miles farther on her course, which brought her to Fortescue Bay, and at once among the natives’ signal-fires, which blazed up now on all sides. Clouds flew over the mountain from the west all day; at night my good east wind failed, and in its stead a gale from the west soon came on. I gained anchorage at twelve o’clock that night, under the lee of a little island, and then prepared myself a cup of coffee, of which I was sorely in need; for, to tell the truth, hard beating in the heavy squalls and against the current had told on my strength. Finding that the anchor held, I drank my beverage, and named the place Coffee Island. It lies to the south of Charles Island, with only a narrow channel between.     

Sailing Alone Around the World;  Chapter 7, near Punta Arenas, Tierra del Fuego in Chile

 

Happy Birthday Moby Dick

Essex

It was on this day in the year 1820 that the Whaling Ship out of Nantucket called The Essex was rammed by an enormous Sperm Whale.

What followed was a dreadful tale of survivors adrift on the Pacific Ocean in small open boats.  Dehydration, starvation, cannibalism and survival.

Two of the crew wrote accounts of the ordeal and it was from these that Herman Melville fashioned his novel, Moby Dick.

And now a small quiz………how many Whales appear in the Bible?

 

 

Answer

None.  P.S.  Jonah was swallowed by a “Great Fish”.

And “Leviathan” could be any Sea Monster.

 

 

Bold Boy

francisdrake17

Sir Francis Drake was a Bold Sailor

There is a wealth of history in how we use the word “Bold” in Ireland. It is a word that draws a line between the oppressor and the oppressed.

As a child I remember my English cousins being confused when they heard my Mother admonishing myself and my brother for being “bold boys” when we were clearly being naughty. In England it was a positive thing to be “Bold”. Sir Francis Drake was a “bold” sailor. Sometimes Pirate who became the Queens Admiral. He demonstrated that a Good Englishman could get away with walking on the wrong side of strict legality. For English boys boldness embodied all the qualities desired in a strapping young lad who was being raised to rule the British Empire. Bold boys were brave on the rugby field. Bold boys were confident, outgoing and made good leaders of men.

Boldness was not a quality the English wanted exhibited in their Irish, Scottish or Welsh subjects. A bold Irishman was a rebel. He was dangerous and a threat. Irish were expected to be obsequious and subservient. They were expected to take orders, not give them.

Irish mothers raised their sons in a manner to keep them safe. Being bold would not make you safe. Being bold would get you in trouble. So in Ireland being a bold boy was a bad thing.

The bold buccaneer: by John Le Gay Brereton

One very rough day on the Pride of the Fray
in the scuppers a poor little cabin-boy lay,
when the Bosun drew nigh with wrath in his eye
and gave him a kick to remember him by,
as he cried with a sneer: “What good are you here?
Go home to your mammy, my bold buccaneer.”

Now the Captain beheld, and his pity upwelled:
with a plug in the peeper the Bosun he felled.
With humility grand he extended his hand
and helped the poor lad, who was weeping, to stand,
as he cried: “Have no fear; I’m the manager here.
Take heart, and you’ll yet be a bold buccaneer.”

But how he did flare when the lad then and there
doffed his cap and shook down a gold banner of hair.
Though his movements were shy, he’d a laugh in his eye,
and he sank on the Captain’s broad breast with a sigh,
as he cried: “Is it queer that I’ve followed you here?
I’m your sweetheart from Bristol, my bold buccaneer.”

On an isle in the west, by the breezes caressed,
the bold buccaneer has a warm little nest,
and he sits there in state amid pieces of eight
and tackles his rum with a manner elate,
as he cries: “O my dear little cabin-boy, here
is a toast to the babe of the bold buccaneer!”

Centenary of R.M.S. Leinster Disaster

lenister_featuredImage

RMS Leinster was the greatest maritime disaster in Ireland. Sunk one month before the end of WW1 just outside of Dublin Bay.

One passenger was Francis Edward Higgerty. On his way from Canada to take up a commission in the British Army, he took the opportunity to visit the land of his ancestors. The visit cost him his life. Frank was a poet and wrote the following verse on October 8th 1918, two days before the Leinster was torpedoed. The poem was found on his body.

From Canada my homeland, to Ireland my Sireland,
from Ottawa to Dublin, some three thousand miles away.
The call of one’s relations, above the din and war of countries
conserves the one green spot in memory for ever and a day.
And when back o’er the sea I wander to the land that there lies yonder
I’ll bring tidings from dear old Ireland to the land I adore,
to Canada my homeland, from Erin my own Sireland,
stretch fond memories and emotions for ever and evermore.

Three 17 year olds Anthony Baker, Anthony Jones and Ralph Murray, students of the Irish School of Telegraphy in Cork were also lost on the Leinster. The body of Anthony Jones was recovered and buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork. The bodies of Anthony Baker and Ralph Murray were never recovered.

Les Morts; by Albert Murray (Father of Ralph)

They sleep in quiet waters where Kish towers,
‘mid sand and slender sea-grass soft and deep,
through all the sunlit and the moonlit hours
they sleep.

They are content, they murmur not, nor weep:
no rushing flotsam hastes to mock their powers;
they are content, and very deep
their sleep.

No tombs enclose them, and they need no flowers,
no mothers’ kisses make their fond hearts leap —
‘mid slender sea-grass, bending where Kish towers
they sleep.

Miura Anjin

Fluyt

A 16th Century Dutch Fluyt

Born on this day in 1564 William Adams was the first Englishman to reach Japan, and one of the few westerners to become a Samurai.   Immortalised by James Clavell in the novel (and TV series) Shogun.

When his father died he was aged only 12 and was apprenticed to a shipyard, where he learned the skills that later allowed him to build Western Style ships for the Shogun of Japan.

He served in the Royal Navy in the war against Spain, as Master of a supply ship during the fight against the Armada.  In 1598 he joined a flotilla of five Dutch merchant ships on a trading exploration voyage to Japan.  They predated the foundation of the Dutch East India Company.

Adams was hired as “Pilot Major” of the fleet, a navigator.

They were hunted and harried by both Spanish and Portuguese in their voyage, who wanted to protect their monopolies in Africa, South America and the Pacific Islands.

One ship of the five made it to Japan, carrying only 23 men who were sick or dying.  Of these only 9 recovered their health.

Portuguese Jesuits, already in Japan tried to have the Dutch and English Protestant sailors killed as pirates.  The Japanese had other plans for them.  They invited the Dutch to open a trading post at Nagasaki in competition with the Portuguese.

Adams built a fleet of Western Ships for the Shogun which allowed the Japanese to expand their trade in Asia.  While Adams was honoured with Samurai status and given a large farm complete with the retainers to maintain it, he was never permitted to return home.

He married a Japanese girl and had a second family, his original wife and children being in England.  As a Samurai he was “reborn” and given the name Miura Anjin.

To poets: Learn to sail!

Good poet, bad sailor Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4th in 1792 and died a month short of his 30th birthday leaving a stunning legacy of poetry.  How much richer would the world have been had he practiced decent seamanship?

The Gulf of La Spezia is known locally as the Golfo dei poeti in commemoration of the disaster.

Rusticated is an obscure word used almost exclusively in Oxford and Cambridge universities.  It means to be expelled, or “sent down” from the college.  There is no higher accolade for a great artist, to break free of the bounds of established academia and be expelled for radicalism.  In Shelley’s case it was for publication of a pamphlet on Atheism.  If you look up a definition of the word “Rusticate” it almost invariably comes with an example which references the expulsion of Shelley.  In a sense he is responsible for the preservation of that meaning of the word.

From The Arabic, An Imitation :by Percy Bysshe Shelley

M.pngy faint spirit was sitting in the light
of thy looks, my love;
It panted for thee like the hind at noon
for the brooks, my love.
Thy barb, whose hoofs outspeed the tempest’s flight,
bore thee far from me;
my heart, for my weak feet were weary soon,
did companion thee.

Ah! fleeter far than fleetest storm or steed,
or the death they bear,
the heart which tender thought clothes like a dove
with the wings of care;
in the battle, in the darkness, in the need,
shall mine cling to thee,
nor claim one smile for all the comfort, love,
it may bring to thee.