Happy Birthday Hadrian

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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.

 

 

First Gay Novelist?

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James Bayard Taylor was born Jan 11th 1825.  A poet, a writer, travel writer, diplomat and a most fantastically travelled man.  Many of his travels were made on foot.  He explored the White Nile, he reported on the Californian Gold Rush and he was at the opening of Japan with Perry’s fleet.  Mark Twain was envious of the quality of Taylors German when they travelled together to Prussia.

A highly successful writer in his own lifetime he has seen a rebirth of sorts.  His book “Joseph and his friend: a story of Pennsylvania” is by many considered to be the first American Gay Novel.

Storm Song; by James Bayard Taylor

The clouds are scudding across the moon;
a misty light is on the sea;
the wind in the shrouds has a wintry tune,
and the foam is flying free.

Brothers, a night of terror and gloom
speaks in the cloud and gathering roar;
thank God, He has given us broad sea-room,
a thousand miles from shore.

Down with the hatches on those who sleep!
The wild and whistling deck have we;
good watch, my brothers, to-night we’ll keep,
while the tempest is on the sea!

Though the rigging shriek in his terrible grip,
and the naked spars be snapped away,
lashed to the helm, we’ll drive our ship
in the teeth of the whelming spray!

Hark! how the surges o’erleap the deck!
Hark! how the pitiless tempest raves!
Ah, daylight will look upon many a wreck
drifting over the desert waves.

Yet, courage, brothers! we trust the wave,
with God above us, our guiding chart.
So, whether to harbor or ocean-grave,
be it still with a cheery heart!

Away on a Pelican, home on a Hind.

Golden Hinde (replica), ship of Sir Francis Drake ...

After an abortive November departure for the Pacific Sir Francis Drake left Plymouth aboard  the Pelican on December 13th, 1577.  He was to return three years later on the same ship, now renamed “The Golden Hind” sailing into history as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

He carried a drum emblazoned with his coat of arms on the circumnavigation and on his other adventures as Captain, Privateer, Pirate, Explorer and Admiral of Queen Elizabeth’s fleet.  Legend holds that he sent the drum home to his family seat and asked that it be held there against the day England was again in danger.  In which case the drum should be beaten to summon past heroes to the defence of the realm.  A replica of the drum is on display at Buckland Abbey in Devon.

 

Drake’s Drum; by Sir Henry Newbolt

Drake he’s in his hammock an’ a thousand miles away,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
an’ dreamin’ arl the time O’ Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the Island, yarnder lie the ships,
wi’ sailor lads a-dancing’ heel-an’-toe,
an’ the shore-lights flashin’, an’ the night-tide dashin’,
he sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.

Drake he was a Devon man, an’ ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha’ sleepin’ there below?)
roving’ tho’ his death fell, he went wi’ heart at ease,
a’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
“Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
strike et when your powder’s runnin’ low;
if the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’ Heaven,
an’ drum them up the Channel as we drumm’d them long ago.”

Drake he’s in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
slung atween the round shot, listenin’ for the drum,
an’ dreamin arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
where the old trade’s plyin’ an’ the old flag flyin’
they shall find him ware an’ wakin’, as they found him long ago!

Happy Birthday Sir Philip Sidney

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Scholar, Knight, Diplomat, Traveller, Linguist, Poet, Politician, Advisor to Queen Elizabeth, Master of Ordnance, Soldier; shot in the leg in the battle of Zutphen in the Netherlands during the 80 years war against Spain.  An avid proponent of the Protestant cause.  He died aged only 31 from gangrene.  Born November 30th, 1554.  A true renaissance man.

 

The Bargain; by Sir Philip Sidney

My true love hath my heart, and I have his,
by just exchange one for another given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
there never was a better bargain driven:
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.

His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
my heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own,
I cherish his because in me it bides:
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.

Captain Cook.

James Cook, born Nov 7th 1728 died famously on a pacific island on his third great voyage of discovery in 1779.  Called at the time the “Sandwich Islands” now known as the U.S. State of Hawaii.

In his lifetime he charted Newfoundland, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Eastern Australia, New Zealand, much of Pacific Russia and North America and vast swathes of the Pacific ocean.

He converted the map of the world from this:

Pre-Cook

to this:

Post-Cook.jpg

During his voyages he worked assiduously to limit scurvy and sickness from his crew.  The sailors hated him for forcing them to eat ascorbics such as saurkraut to keep them healthy.

In fact the majority of deaths of his crew occured when they reached what they believed to be the “safe” harbour of Batavia, modern Jakartha in Indonesia.  Here, in the canals carved by the Dutch mosquitoes thrived and the crew were devastated by malaria.

His second voyage confirmed the absence of a “Great Australian Continent” in the South Pacific which was theorised at the time to act as a counterbalance to Europe.  Pure European Centrism!  However he never did succeed in finding Antarctica.

His third voyage was a search for the fabled North West Passage to permit entry to the Pacific Ocean from the North Atlantic.  His voyages mapped out much of the limits of the North Pacific and led sadly to his death on Hawaii.

Finally here is his chart of Newfoundland:

Nufie

 

Inappropriate behaviour.

Women on a women-only carriage in Japan

Crowded commuter trains have become a hotbed of inappropriate behaviour.  When you crush people into tight space, and they are deprived of an armory of normal body language signals, it causes all sorts of difficulties.  Scan the newspapers and you will find multiple reports of subway fiends armed with smart phones sneakily upskirting girls.

Upskirting is a word that is newly invented.  Goosing is another, where passengers (mostly men) press their groin up against another passenger, facilitated by the crowding.  Women are regularly groped and felt up on public transport.  It has become so bad that the Japanese have introduced women only carriages.  Expect the trend to spread.

According the the British Transport Police 70% of their reported offences are sexual assaults on women.  About another 25% of reported offences involve exposure and masturbation.  Those are only the reported ones.  Most incidents go unreported.

Much of this behaviour is coming from men who see an opportunity, take what they want and don’t think about the consequences.  Lock them up I say.

BUT (big but) a small number of these situations are caused by that crowding confusing the normal signals of body language.  In a relatively open space, such as at a bar, if a girl physically turns away from a man it is a clear sign of rejection.  In the confused world of the commuter train the signal can be misread by a man as an invitation to spoon up.  If he does and the woman does not immediately, and loudly, reject the contact, he may think there is permission or even an attraction.

Cultural pressures on women “not to cause a fuss” play into this confusion.  Women find themselves on hellish journeys, pinned by a man and not confident enough to identify this as a sexual assault and to call him out.

An even smaller number of cases involve a mutual affirmation of presence.  A recognition of the situation and a moment of stolen pleasure.  Exactly as decribed in “On the Metro” the poem by Williams below.  C.K. Willams was born on November 4th, 1936 in Newark, New Jersey.  A multi-award winning poet he writes of single, extended moments, intimately observed, with a short-story like quality to his poetry.  He presents people who are exposed and vulnerable which makes him such a good commentator to understand a crowded subway train.

Note:  Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) was a Polish writer whose works were strongly rooted in psychological analysis.  The interesting part for me is how he analyses the creation of identity through interactions with others.  This flows from the works of neo-freudians like Lacan and Sartre and became encoded as transactional analysis with the publication in 1964 of Games People Play by Eric Berne.

 

On the Metro; by C.K. Williams

On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book—Cioran, The Temptation to Exist—and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin—(how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.

I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory—a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.

Dublinvania

Bran_castle

Bran Castle in Transylania – Never a Vampire found.

Vampire hunters of the world where are you bound?  The soaring Carpathian mountains?  The forests of Transylvania?  The dark stretches of the Danube to the port of Varna?  Perhaps the dour English port of Whitby?  You are wasting your time.

If its vampires you want you will find them in Dublin.

The first appearence of a vampire in literature was the Lesbian Vamire Carmilla, the product of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a Dublin lad who wrote about the Evil immortal countess from a mysterious Eastern territory in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Her lust for blood is equal to her lust for pretty young girls.  Oh, the horror.  One of the short stories in his anthology “In a Glass Darkly” published in 1872 which is simply the greatest title for a book of horror stories.

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Some twenty five years later Dracula was published in 1897 by Bram Stoker rounding off the key elements of the canon of vampire lore, Van Helsing, Count Dracula, the demented human servant, the many brides of Dracula, wooden stakes, garlic, sacred weapons, lack of reflections and so on.

It is quite likely that Stokers imagination was fired by the stories of Sheridan Le Fanu.  While he never travelled to Eastern Europe himself it is known that in London he was friends with Ármin Vámbéry a hungarian Jew and fellow writer,  who regaled Stoker with tales of the Carpathians.

So from the pens of two Dublin writers of the late 19th Century we derive a body of vampire lore that has evolved into libraries of books, comics, graphic novels, films and television series.

Fangs for the memories guys.

Except…. it’s all lies.

There was Lord Byron with his poem The Giaour back in 1813

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
and suck the blood of all thy race;
there from thy daughter, sister, wife,
at midnight drain the stream of life;
yet loathe the banquet which perforce
must feed thy livid living corpse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
shall know the demon for their sire,
as cursing thee, thou cursing them,
thy flowers are withered on the stem.

Image result for the giaour

And then there was that night on Lake Geneva in 1816 during the year without a summer when Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and John William Polidori competed to write the scariest horror story.  The night that gave us Frankenstein from the pen of Mary Shelley.

Polidori wrote “The Vampyre”, and published it in 1819 in The New Monthly Magazine where the unscrupulous editor attributed it falsely to Lord Byron to up his sales.

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