The Cabbage Farmer

Image result for gone to grow cabbages sign

Emperor Diocletian began his reign as ruler of Rome on November 20th 284 AD.  In 305 AD he did the unthinkable for a Roman Emperor; he retired.  He expressed a desire to live in his estate and grow cabbages.  He was very proud of his cabbages.  The modern Croatian town of Split is centred on the villa of Diocletian.

Diocletian rose to power in the “Crisis of the 3rd Century” when Rome was falling apart as one general after another competed for the top job.  Diocletian established a system called the Tetrarchy, four rulers, as a means to stabilise the empire.

Both Eastern and Western Empire had a senior Augustus and a junior Caesar.  His new system worked successfully until the rise of Constantine the Great, who became another Augustus, founding New Rome in Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, and now Istanbul.

Diocletian was the only Emperor I know of to retire.  Emperors died in office, were assasinated or forced to abdicate.  The only other Roman I can think of who retired, without being forced to leave, was Sulla.  In 78 BC Lucius Cornelius Sulla astoundingly retired from his Lifetime Dictatorship to write his memoirs and live a life of luxury on his country estate.  His departure from power is celebrated as his moment of ultimate glory in the verse from Byron below.

That Diocletian retired was a mark of his commitment to peaceful succession.  The ultimate failure of his system, within mere decades, underlines how difficult it is to have power hungry leaders give up the reins of power.  Democratic systems succeed only if they prevent a return to family dynasties.

Donald Trump likes to float the notion, from time to time, of a presidency for life.  Vladimir Putin has gone further and established one using some smoke and mirrors.  In North Korea the cult of the leader has entirely undermined socialist principles of meritocracy by establishing a 3 generation dynastic rule.

Great leaders are great until they go bad, and then they become really terrible.  Limit your leaders.  Give them a maximum time limit.  They may suggest a candidate to follow them, but don’t let them choose one.

 

From the “Ode to Napoleon Buonoparte”; by George Gordan, Lord Byron

VII

The Roman, when his burning heart
was slaked with blood of Rome,
threw down the dagger — dared depart,
in savage grandeur, home —
he dared depart in utter scorn
of men that such a yoke had borne,
yet left him such a doom!
His only glory was that hour
of self-upheld abandon’d power.

 

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 and 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 through every weave in the fabric of literature.

Ginsberg is Beat

Fruit

Hey daddy-o the rising sun glints chrome shine flash on the moving city street and high the calendar shines from a building glass window where the sunshine is the key at June too

and makes me think happy birthday of thee, June 3

Allen Ginsberg who spells your Jewish/Bhuddist/Krishna name like a surname

instead of like barbarians who stood at Constantinople’s gates where WB Yeats sailed when Ireland became no country for him.

And what of you?  How is your New Vision? Does the beat go on, and on and on and on to the break of om?

 

 

A Supermarket In California: by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the
streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit
supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!

What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles
full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! — and you,
Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the
meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price
bananas? Are you my Angel?

I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and
followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting
artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does
your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel
absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to
shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in
driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you
have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and
stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Beattruck.jpg

Chi-Rho

ChiRho

Diocletian stabilised Rome in the third century by establishing the Tetrarchy.  His system of four rulers, Senior (Augustus) and Junior (Caesar) in both Eastern and Western halves of the Empire allowed Rome a respite from internal conflict.

Almost as soon as he died the stability of his system began to fray.

Diocletian was also very set against Christianity and was responsible for some of the worst persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire.

Constantine was not a Christian himself, but his Mother Helena certainly was.  We must evaluate her role in the preparations for the battle of Milvian Bridge on Oct 28th 312 CE.  On the night before the battle Constantine instructed his troops to mark their shields with the Chi Rho symbol, the first two letters in the Greek name for Christ.

According to the Christian Church this was because Constantine had a vision from God.  My interpretation is that he probably had a visitation from the Christians of Rome.  Many of his troops were already Christian converts who could not be open about their faith in the Diocletian era.

Many of his rival’s troops were also Christian.  We could question how many of the troops led by Maxentius refused to engage once they encountered the Chi-Rho banner, the promise of freedom to practice their faith.

I believe that Constantine, through the negotiations of his Mother, was able to swing the battle in his favour by declaring his “acceptance” of Christianity.

Constantine won the day and went on to become Constantine “The Great”, founder of the Byzantine Empire.  The system set up by him endured for another 900 years.

Sailing to Byzantium; by WB Yeats
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.