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.

 

Plump, plumb, plum.

HayamiGyoshu

Tea Bowl & Fruits by Hayami Gyoshu

Plump comes from a dutch word meaning blunt, not sharp, rounded.  It now means full with fruits or overweight with people.  It has become something of an insult, equating with being fat.  You can plump up cushions or pillows to make them fuller and more rounded.

Plum, the fruit, may be plump, but the origin of their name is not dutch.   It seems that the ancient Greek proumnon (prune) evolved into Plum by the time it reached here as Old English.

A plumb may be shaped like a plum, but the word derives from the latin for lead; plumbum.  A plumb is a lead weight attached to a line used in building to measure if a vertical is true.   It is also used in sailing to measure the depth of water beneath a vessel.

 

This Is Just To Say: by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Rosetta Stone

The most visited object in the British Museum

The most visited object in the British Museum

It was on this day in the year 1799 that Pierre-Francois Bouchard discovered the Rosetta Stone.  Bouchard was a new man, made up by the French revolution.  Blinded in one eye during a chemistry experiment he went on to become a military engineer.  He joined the expedition to Egypt with Napoleon.

In 1799 he was given the job of repairing an old Mameluke fort in the port town of Rosetta (modern Rashid).  During construction he noticed the inscribed stone, which had been used to build the walls of the fort.  An intelligent man, Bouchard immediately recognised the importance of the find.  A single stone bearing the same inscription in three scripts, Greek, Demotic and Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

Plaster casts of the stone were taken and dispatched to linguistic scholars for translation.

The stone itself fell into British hands in 1801 when they drove the French out of Egypt.  It was moved to London and has been on display almost continuously since 1802.

Translation of the text took somewhat longer.

The Greek text was translated by 1803.

It was not until 1822 that Jean Francois Champollion released a translation of the Egyptian elements of the text.  Even then it took many years of work before scholars could confidently translate other ancient Egyptian texts.

Egypt and France both claim rights to the stone, which is  still held in the British Museum.

The Rosetta stone had impacts beyond the translation of Egyptian texts.  The lessons learned in Egypt have helped to unlock other pictographic alphabets such as Mayan.

The term “Rosetta Stone” is now often used to signify a key to unlocking an understanding of a field of knowledge.

And death shall have no dominion; by Dylan Thomas

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Playing our part

Masks

Nov 23rd in 534 BC is the first documented instance of Acting.  According to Aristotle it was an Icarian by the name of Thespis who first took on the character of others as an actor, instead of simply narrating their story.  He used different masks for different characters, used different voices, and even had conversations with himself, acting the parts of multiple characters at the same time.

All of this was revolutionary at the time.

As an homage to the ‘father of tragedy’ we call those who tread the boards “thespians”.

The masks he used to portray characters have become a universal symbol for the theater.  They also entered our vocabulary of self-examination.  We will often speak of “wearing a mask” when we adopt a persona that may not be natural to us.  Effectively we are “playing a part” much as an actor does.  If my child fails an exam I may “adopt the mask” of the stern parent and give him a lecture on the need for study.

“All the world’s a stage”; from As You Like IT by William Shakespeare

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Salamis

trireme

Sept 22nd 480 BC the allied fleet of the southern Greek city states defeated the Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis. It was an unlikely victory, and one that stopped the Persian invasion in its tracks.
Up to this point the Greeks were in full retreat. Glorious as the 300 Spartans under Leonidas were at Thermopylae the Greeks were defeated on both land and sea.

Athens lay next in the path of the enormous army under Xerxes. When the Athenians consulted the oracle at Delphi they were advised, in highly vague terms as usual, to retreat behind their wooden walls. Athenian power came from their fleet, so they believed that this meant they should abandon the marble city and sail away. The Persians sacked Athens on the 21st of Sept. Next day the two sides fought a naval engagement; the battle of Salamis.

The victory by the Greek allies (half the fleet was Athenian) severely damaged the ability of the Persians to maintain their invasion. The Persians had no fleet themselves. They relied upon the fleets of the Asian greek states under their vasselage as well as the Phonecians. The clash at Salamis did little numerical damage to the Persian fleet, but it was a tactical disaster. The ships they lost were the “fast ships”. These were the bronze beaked war triremes. They served a similar role in ancient fleets to Destroyers on convoy duty during the Atlantic war in WW2. They protected the slow moving cargo vessels from enemy attack.

Once the Greeks had eliminated the Persian triremes, the sea was open to them. Capturing Persian transports was like shooting fish in a barrel. Also, the Triremes carried the best and the brightest of the strategists, navigators, rowing crews and sailors. The Persians were unable to replace these ships and men in the time needed to complete their invasion.

It is perhaps no surprise that Xerxes took this opportunity to remove himself from the campaign, and returned to Persia leaving Mardonius in charge.

According to the history books the Greeks did not immediately attack the Persian land army, because “an eclipse of the sun” occurred and was taken as a bad omen. They bided their time over the winter. What a lot of tosh. The Greek armies had been badly mauled in their defense of Attica. The respite accorded by the victory at Salamis gave them a much needed opportunity to rest, regroup and rearm. In the meantime the Greek navy undoubtedly went to work on the Persian supply fleet. Grain ships bound for Mardonius captured and brought to Greek armies.

As a result Mardonius had to retreat far north to Thessaly where he was in relatively friendly territory, and could secure supply routes from Persia. The following Summer he marched south again and met the allies at Platea. Where Salamis was a battle dictated by the Athenian sailors, Platea was dictated by the Spartan Hoplites. In a world where battles were fought by men banging shields, singing paeans and roaring defiance the Spartans stood apart. They marched in silence, a disciplined phalanx of red cloaked warriors, bringing death to their foe. Platea was the high watermark of the Spartan military system.
Platea was only made possible by Salamis. So it is the Battle of Salamis that goes down in history as the battle that saved Greek Independence, Greek Civilization and hence Western Civilzation. If the Greeks had not won at Salamis the world today would be a different place.

The Battle of Salamis; by Aeschylus

The night was passing, and the Grecian host
By no means sought to issue forth unseen.
But when indeed the day with her white steeds
Held all the earth, resplendent to behold,
First from the Greeks the loud-resounding din
Of song triumphant came; and shrill at once
Echo responded from the island rock.
Then upon all barbarians terror fell,
Thus disappointed; for not as for flight
The Hellenes sang the holy pæan then,
But setting forth to battle valiantly.
The bugle with its note inflamed them all;
And straightway with the dip of plashing oars
They smote the deep sea water at command,
And quickly all were plainly to be seen.
Their right wing first in orderly array
Led on, and second all the armament
Followed them forth; and meanwhile there was heard
A mighty shout: “Come, O ye sons of Greeks,
Make free your country, make your children free,
Your wives, and fanes of your ancestral gods,
And your sires’ tombs! For all we now contend!”
And from our side the rush of Persian speech
Replied. No longer might the crisis wait.
At once ship smote on ship with brazen beak;
A vessel of the Greeks began the attack,
Crushing the stem of a Phoenician ship.
Each on a different vessel turned its prow.
At first the current of the Persian host
Withstood; but when within the strait the throng
Of ships was gathered, and they could not aid
Each other, but by their own brazen bows
Were struck, they shattered all our naval host.
The Grecian vessels not unskillfully
Were smiting round about; the hulls of ships
Were overset; the sea was hid from sight,
Covered with wreckage and the death of men;
The reefs and headlands were with corpses filled,
And in disordered flight each ship was rowed,
As many as were of the Persian host.
But they, like tunnies or some shoal of fish,
With broken oars and fragments of the wrecks
Struck us and clove us; and at once a cry
Of lamentation filled the briny sea,
Till the black darkness’ eye did rescue us.
The number of our griefs, not though ten days
I talked together, could I fully tell;
But this know well, that never in one day
Perished so great a multitude of men.

Bending the Bow

Bowgirls

The Gastraphetes, or belly bow, was an ancient Greek forerunner of the crossbow.  There is a story that the bow was invented to allow women to participate in the defence of a Greek city.  By placing your belly on the yoke at the base of the bow you could use your body weight to load the weapon.  As a result it requires far less strength and technique to fire the gastraphetes than it would to fire a standard bow.  By inventing an easily cocked bow, the city was able to double its defensive capability.

Greeks have a great tradition of associating the bow with women.  The Goddess Artemis is commonly shown wearing hunting gear and carrying a bow and a quiver full of arrows.  The Goddess of Childbirth, Virginity, protector of young girls and instrumental in female diseases.

The legendary female warrior tribe of the ancient world, the Amazons, are frequently depicted bearing bows and arrows.

During the Persian wars the light bows of the Persian troops were unable to penetrate the heavy bronze shields and armour of the Greeks.  The Phalanx armed with Pylon and Spear became the standard weaponry of Greek Hoplites.  Bows and Arrows were seen as the weapons of cowards and women.

When warned that the arrows of the Persians were so numerous they would darken the sky the Spartan general Dieneces celebrated that his soldiers would get to fight in the shade.

Roll forward a 1500 years or so and we come to the middle ages and courtly romances.  In the cycle of Robin Hood stories we have one of the strongest female heroines, the Maid Marian.  Again, strongly associated with the bow and arrow.

Indeed Archery was seen as one of the “suitable” sports for women in the Olympics, being introduced in 1904.

So we come to the Hobbit 2:  Desolation of Smaug, which introduces Tauriel, the bow wielding captain of the sylvan elf guard.  In the same year we saw the release of Catching Fire, the 2nd instalment of The Hunger Games series, featuring the bow wielding Katniss Everdeen as the heroine.  It seems the association between heroine and the bow remains as strong as ever.

On Children:  by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.