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.

 

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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Sciberras Peninsula

Capture of Fort St Elmo by Matteo Perez d'Aleccio

Capture of Fort St Elmo by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio

Valetta was founded on this day in the year 1566 on the Sciberras Peninsula in Malta.  The foundation stone for the City was laid by the eponymous Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller Order, Jean de Valette.

It is fitting that the Maltese capital should be named after Valette.  It was he who commanded the defence of the Island against the Turkish invasion the previous year.  A force of only 500 knights and about 2,000 soldiers defended the island against an invading force of Turks and Algerians numbering between 30,000 and 50,000.

The defending force withstood 4 months of constant frontal attacks by elite Turkish troops and endured a relentless barrage from the Turkish cannon.  They rebuilt walls even as they were destroyed.

It was one of the greatest and most uplifting victories in history.  It is one of three great battles that stemmed the expansion of the Ottoman Empire; the others being the Siege of Vienna and Lepanto.

Valetta was built upon the ruins of Fort St Elmo, which was lost to the Turks in the siege.  The small star shaped fort was reduced to rubble by Turkish guns within a week of their arrival.  Still, it held out for two incredible months, the defenders fighting for every scrap of stone with every drop of their blood.  St Elmo took the lives of 6,000 Turkish attackers, and half of the elite Janissary force.

Farewell to Malta; by Lord Byron

Adieu, ye joys of La Valette!
Adieu, sirocco, sun, and sweat!
Adieu, thou palace rarely enter’d!
Adieu, ye mansions where I’ve ventured!
Adieu, ye cursed streets of stairs!
(How surely he who mounts you swears!)
Adieu, ye merchants often failing!
Adieu, thou mob for ever railing!
Adieu, ye packets without letters!
Adieu, ye fools who ape your betters!
Adieu, thou damned’st quarantine,
That gave me fever, and the spleen!
Adieu, that stage which makes us yawn, Sirs,
Adieu, his Excellency’s dancers!
Adieu to Peter–whom no fault’s in,
But could not teach a colonel waltzing;
Adieu, ye females fraught with graces!
Adieu, red coats, and redder faces!
Adieu, the supercilious air
Of all that strut ‘en militaire’!
I go–but God knows when, or why,
To smoky towns and cloudy sky,
To things (the honest truth to say)
As bad–but in a different way.

Farewell to these, but not adieu,
Triumphant sons of truest blue!
While either Adriatic shore,
And fallen chiefs, and fleets no more,
And nightly smiles, and daily dinners,
Proclaim you war and woman’s winners.
Pardon my Muse, who apt to prate is,
And take my rhyme–because ’tis ‘gratis.’

And now I’ve got to Mrs. Fraser,
Perhaps you think I mean to praise her­
And were I vain enough to think
My praise was worth this drop of ink,
A line–or two–were no hard matter,
As here, indeed, I need not flatter:
But she must be content to shine
In better praises than in mine,
With lively air, and open heart,
And fashion’s ease, without its art;
Her hours can gaily glide along,
Nor ask the aid of idle song.

And now, O Malta! since thou’st got us,
Thou little military hothouse!
I’ll not offend with words uncivil,
And wish thee rudely at the Devil,
But only stare from out my casement,
And ask, for what is such a place meant?
Then, in my solitary nook,
Return to scribbling, or a book,
Or take my physic while I’m able
(Two spoonfuls hourly by the label),
Prefer my nightcap to my beaver,
And bless the gods I’ve got a fever.