Cavafy Birthday

Cavafy

Born in Alexandria, Egypt to Greek parents on this day in 1863 Constantine Peter Cavafy is 100 and a half years older than me.  Below is a poem inspired by the Odyssey an enduringly favourite theme of mine.  It reads a little clunky because of course it is a translation from the Greek.

The theme is important and a lesson in a philosophy for life.  All life is a journey to a destination, the ultimate destination.  Make sure you stop and listen to the birds, smell the roses along the way.  Don’t rush headlong into your coffin and then complain that you missed out.

Ithaca; by Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out for Ithaca
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raises them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy –
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.
Ithaca gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithacas mean.

Advertisements

Ship of Death

Schooner

Here is a verse composed by Henry Van Dyke Jr “For Katrina’s Sundial”

Time is
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not

There is a huge bank of sundial poetry and mottoes.  Many of the epigrams are in latin.  Most are about time, how we use it, how short it is, how our lives are fleeting things.  I also like this poem from Van Dyke where he uses the ship as a metaphor for the life of a person.   Ships as symbols for death are not uncommon.  Perhaps the clearest examples we have are from Pharaonic and Viking burials.  I attach a couple of good examples at the bottom.

Van Dyke was born on November 10th, so I am belatedly wishing him a happy birthday.

 

 

Gone from my sight: by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone’

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me – not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, ‘There, she is gone,’
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying…

Death comes in its own time, in its own way.
Death is as unique as the individual experiencing it.

 

Khufu

Model of the Khufu Solar Barge found in his tomb.

 

Viking ship, Oseberg, a 9th century burial ship, Vikingskiphuset (Viking Ship Museum), Bygdoy peninsula, Oslo, Norway, Scandinavia, Europe

The Oseberg Burial Longboat

Air crash investigation

Today an Egypt Air flight went missing on its journey from Paris to Cairo.  We now presume it is in the sea.  “Experts” suspect a terrorist act.  It is unlikely to be a story with a happy ending.  I could go on a rant about terrorism, the pointlessness of causing random death, the theft of lives.  I could, but it would be just as pointless.  It amounts to nothing more than slactivism.

So instead I’ll give you a poem about drowning which I find very funny in a black kind of way.  Life is too short for misery and moaning.  Laughing feels better.  Laugh in adversity.  Laugh at the absurdity of the small mindedness of those who believe that their murder death kill will make any difference to the flight of a swallow.

 

This is a photograph of me: by Margaret Atwood

It was taken some time ago
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you can see something in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or how small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion.

but if you look long enough
eventually
you will see me.)

Human Sacrifice

Human-Sacrifice

Yesterday morning I came across an interesting study which shows that the practice of human sacrifice is more prevalent in highly stratified societies.  Study on Human Sacrifice

In equal societies people tend to work together for the good of the commune.  Where a society develops a ruling class the position of that class is maintained by the labour of the low status individuals.  In many societies the position of the ruling class is supported by organised religion.  One facet of this religion is the act of human sacrifice.

The victims of sacrifice tend to be those from the lowest strata of society, especially slaves or captives.

There is a positive counter argument to all of this.  A highly stratified society is one that can be planned.  Specialist workers can be supported by the labour of the peasant class.  As a result you can have architects, scribes, taxation etc and build a civilization.

The greatest monuments ever constructed by mankind were the products of civilizations that were highly stratified.  Mesopotamian ziggurats, pyramids in Egypt, central America and Cambodia, Harappan step wells etc.  In one sense the subjugation of a peasant class was a pre-requisite for the creation of civilization.  Human sacrifice as a religious act is simply one mechanism for protecting the position of the ruling class.

It is interesting to look at the modern workplace and observe the stratification that exists.  Serfs, peasants and slaves have been replaced with minimum wage workers on zero hours contracts, or unpaid interns.  Partners in law and accounting firms and senior medical consultants all earn large salaries by harnessing the work of their juniors.  What are the modern equivalents of human sacrifice?  Workplace references?

*Spoiler Alert:  Walking Dead Season 6 Finale*

Last night in the Walking Dead we were finally introduced to the character called Negan, leader of the Saviours.  In his speech to Rick Negan laid out all the elements of the new world order.  And it sounds very much like Bronze Age civilization.

The Saviours are a warrior class.  Like the Spartans of ancient Greece they specialize in fighting and killing.  Like the people of the “Iron Isles” from Game of Thrones their motto could be “we do not sow”.

The Saviours need food to survive, but farming is hard work.  So they are outsourcing the farming to a new peasant class.  The peasants need only sufficient weapons to protect themselves from the walkers.  Negan will round up all their projectile weapons and leave them with only knives and spears.

This further cements the position of the Saviours as the warrior elite, as they become the only ones with guns.

Finally, to cement his position of absolute control, Negan practices Human Sacrifice.  It is a raw and powerful demonstration of the mechanism that underlies the academic study into sacrifice in Pacific Island societies.  We see them engage in a manhunt with fatal consequences.  At the end of the episode Negan practices a highly ritualised form of sacrifice.  He has named his weapon, a common feature of bronze age warrior societies.  The demonstration of raw power is aimed not at Rick and his group, but rather at the Saviours themselves.

Of course the question everyone is asking……who did he choose?  Season 7 bait!

Seizing the advantage

Vespasian

Dec 20th 69 AD Vespasian entered Rome as Emperor.  When I look at his face I see a jocular and human person, not an emperor on an ivory tower.  A plain man, with a face engraved with the worries and cares of normal life.  The blunt face of a plain man, a soldier, a man of the people.

In truth he was a brilliant military commander.  He had a track record of military success in Britain under Claudius, followed by the subjugation of Judea.

After Emperor Nero committed suicide followed the “Year of the Four Emperors” as one candidate after the other vied for control of Rome.  Galba was defeated by Otho who was ousted by Vitellius.  Vitellius held Rome with the cream of the Roman legions from the Gallic and German frontiers.

This is when Vespasian demonstrated his keen mind for politics and economics.  Instead of marching on Rome he moved on Egypt.  This was the breadbasket of the Roman world, providing the grain supply that kept ordinary Romans fed and happy.

With the food supply in his control he was able to broker alliances with the former supporters of Otho.  He added the Syrian legions to those he controlled in Judea.  He then assembled favourable religious omens, prophesies and portents to support his claim before moving on Vitellius.

Vespasian was also a marketing genius.  He understood the power of branding, placing the name on the world famous “Flavian Amphitheater” which is today better known as the Colosseum.

The name “Colosseum” actually referred to a giant bronze statue which stood in front of the Amphitheater.  Originally a statue of Emperor Nero, and modeled on the “Colossus of Rhodes” one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  The Colossus of Rome was almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.  Over time it was re-purposed to represent other emperors, and to represent the Greek Sun God Helios.

 

 

 

The Mummy’s Curse

Tutankhamun

November 26th, 1922 Lord Carnarvon asked Howard Carter “Can you see anything?” and Carter replied with those famous words; “Yes, Wonderful Things.”

The discovery of an almost intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings generated an explosion of interest through the media.  The press arrived in their droves to Luxor to visit the site.

“Almost Intact” refers to the fact that the tomb was burgled twice, shortly after it was sealed.  It is a small tomb, hurriedly constructed due to the early death of Tutankhamun.  The boy pharaoh ruled from the age of 9 to 19 and his short reign did not allow enough time for the construction of a magnificent tomb.

After being burgled the tomb was resealed by priests.  The entrance was then covered by stone chips either from a flood or the spill from the excavation of another tomb.  Later some workers houses were built on the site, completely sealing off the entrance.

As the other tombs in the valley were systematically plundered in antiquity the tomb of the boy king lay unspoiled, forgotten and pristine.

Egyptology became the must have fashion accessory of the 1920’s.  It made its way into art, furniture, design, clothing and entertainment.

Rumor abounded that Carter found a dreadful curse in the seals on the tomb entrance.  The first victim of the curse was Carters pet canary.  A messenger running to his home found a cobra in the cage of the deceased songbird.  This happened on the day the tomb was opened, and the Cobra is a well known symbol of divine authority in ancient Egypt.

When Lord Carnarvon died six weeks after the opening of the tomb, from an infected mosquito bite the media went into a frenzy.

Carter gave a gift of a mummified hand set in a paperweight to his friend Sir Bruce Ingram.  On the wrist was a bracelet inscribed with the text;  “Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence.”

Ingram’s house burned down and he rebuilt it.  Then it was destroyed by a flood.

Although skeptical of curses himself Howard Carter reported
that he saw jackals in the desert for the first time in his 35 years working there, of the same type as Anubis, Egyptian guardian of the dead.

 

The concept of the mummy’s curse rapidly became the stuff of book and film.  To this day the “Monster Mummy” remains firmly in the top rank of horror movie subjects along with the Werewolf, the Vampire and the Zombie.

In Memory of my Mother; by Patrick Kavanagh

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday –
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life –
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us – eternally.

Calendar Wars II

Happy new year!

As most of the people of the world mark 9/11 with commemorations of the attacks on the world trade centre and the Pentagon there are different celebrations under way in the Coptic Christian world.

Egypt and Ethiopia have a unique calendar system which is a hangover from ancient Egyptian religions.  While most of Western Europe found that a four season calendar made sense of the agricultural year a different dynamic held sway along the Nile.

Calendars prosper by their usefulness.  The three season ancient Egyptian calendar was very useful to the farmers of the Nile valley.  The key driver of the agricultural season from Ethiopia to Alexandria was the highland rains which caused the Nile inundation.

The Julian calendar was introduced as the Roman standard by Emperor Augustus in 25 BC.  A modified version of the Julian Calendar was introduced in Egypt.  The first day of the New Year in the Ancient Egyptian calendar, the Feast of the Two Rivers, lands in our calendar on the 11th of September.

In 284 AD Diocletian became Emperor of Rome.   He immediately launched the most savage pogrom against Christians in History.  He tried very hard to wipe out the Christian religion.  His pogrom was especially harsh in Alexandria and the Egyptian World.  The Coptic Christian calendar takes 284 AD as its Year 1, Year of the Martyrs.  The Ethiopian church has followed the Coptic lead and also celebrates today as New Year.