Nothing new under the sun

Rome invaded by the BarbariansThe more I read about the past, the more I feel a creepy feeling go up my spine about the present.  A recent article titled:  Paid not to kill in D.C. accounts the efforts of activists supporting a program where offenders are paid up to a $1000 a month not to commit another gun crime.   Why am I reminded of Ancient Rome where barbarians were ‘paid off’ to go away.  This may seem like a good idea,  and for a while it may work, but it will inevitably fail.  Those receiving money for not to ‘burn and pillage’ always come back for more.  Please google Alaric.

Why is it we NEVER learn?

It didn’t work with the Vikings — different time period, but still relevant.

Why after all is said and done, this ‘progressive’ program seems like a state-financed protection racket?

Because…it is.

Something I ran across in the April 10th, 2016 New York Times.  

Article:  What I learned Tickling Apes by Frans  De Waal.   

The term anthropomorphism which means “human Form,” comes from the Greek philosopher Xenophanes, who protested in the fifth century B.C. against Homer’s poetry because it described the gods as though they looked human.  Xenophanes mocked this assumption , reported saying that if horses had hands they would “draw their gods like horses.” 

Real Men…Dance!

31The Pyrrhic Dance was a war dance originated in Crete and traced to Sparta.  Five year-old boys were trained for it, and it was a chief part of the Festival of Gymnopoedia.  It was performed in Athens during the Panathenai  Festival celebrating Athena.  In Roman Imperial times the Pyrrhic dance was a dramatic ballet on various subjects.  One can imagine the sound of armor, flutes and the slapping of feet on marble, with shouts to the gods.  It was a uniformed display of martial prowess with weapons and shields which not doubt fascinated the Romans.

Does this kind of thing go on today?  No way…utter nonsenseExcept, I was in Germany and a company of New Zealand troops decided to honor the allied soldiers gathered in the training field.  The New Zealanders got into a formation, each soldier made a posture of defiance, shouted, grimaced, and stuck their tongues out in fierce expressions.  As the Moiri language echoed above, feet stomped the ground, and without understanding the words,  I had the overall impression that threats were being released like weapons and there was much appealing to the Gods for the destruction for anyone that opposed them.  After it was over, I remember saying to the British Sergeant Major, “Now…I’ve seen everything.”    He looked at me over his shoulder and said, “Hell, I saw that at the last football game.”

Called the Haka, it is a traditional war dance.  Originally, a way of intimating opponents, it is now used to honor visitors, guests, and in some cases ‘the dead.’  Watch the video, I dare you not to cry.  I am not claiming that there is any direct line between the Pyrrhic Dance and the Haku.  All I am saying is…Real Men Dance.

 

Adventurers Wanted

If they had want ads in the time of Jason and the Argo would it look something like this? Want Ad As you can see it’s not Jason who lives at 4 Burlington St. but an adventurer by the name of Ernest Shackleton ( the explorer who led 3 expeditions to the Antarctic.  He lived during what is called the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and if you read up on it the dangers you would be hard pressed not to consider their dangers equal to any faced by the ancient mariners).   Have we changed that much?  No.  We have not.  What motivates us?  Despite the promise of hazards, small wages, bitter cold, constant danger, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL…there were MANY that applied. Why? “…honor and recognition in case of success.” KLEOS. RENOWN. GLORY. 202,586. That is the number of people that volunteered for a one-way mission to Mars. Think about it. What adventure are you willing to RISK ALL! The Argonauts live.

The Naked Past

george in a bathtowelIn making a comparison in how the ancients see the world when matched up with modern views – nudity would certainly make the list.  We (modern folk) are basically uncomfortable with it.  Nudity for the ancients was a depiction of heroism.  No where is this seen more than a statue that was carved of our founding father George Washington.  He was shown nude, depicted like the ancient hero, and its reception was anything but gracious.  I saw this statue at the Smithsonian years ago.  The original viewers (back in the 1880s) sarcastically dubbed it:  “Washington in the bath.” It isn’t hard to see a certain deification in how Washington is depicted – however one can see why.  He laid down his power much like the ancient Cinncinatus who went back to his plow.   Note *  King George III met an American living in London.  He was supposed to have asked what Washington’s intentions were now the war was over.  The American said that he had heard Washington planned on retiring back to his farm. George said “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”  The Horatio Greenough’s 1840 statue (which certainly has classical influence) had some issues in finding a home.  It got moved about in various parks and finally made it inside out of the cold.  The curators probably thought ‘old George’ needed a certain amount of privacy, and were concerned that he might catch a cold (joke).  Anyway, school children were known to ask embarrassing questions.  “Why is Washington naked, Daddy?” 

01-29-statuesNudity in government has always been a touchy subject.  Former Attorney General John Ashcroft (though sources denied it) got fed up giving his briefings in front of the naked breast of The Spirit of Liberty.  Curtains were eventually added, hiding the naked goddess.  I am not sure if it was to protect the propriety of the Goddess Liberty or to save the attorney general from embarrassment.

I came across the following video on YouTube.  The title “None of That” depicts an over zealous nun protecting the ‘public morals.’  It comes from the Ringling College of Art and Design.  Watch the film, it is a marvelous film…however, reality is far more interesting – watch the film and afterwards let me tell you about Sister Wendy.

Sister WendySister Wendy has produced a series of documentaries for the BBC on the History of Art.  For someone who is on record as a hermit and ‘consecrated virgin’   (yes an official designation) she would be the first to say that she has no issues with the nude form.  One can imagine that she was a great believer in the adage:  “…as God made us.”  The cartoon None of That does not depict the very real intellectual appreciation of this nun and noted art historian.  Sister Wendy who earned top honors at Oxford University is nothing like the nun depicted in the animated cartoon.  You are more likely to find Sister Wendy leading a tour through the museum, rather than covering exposed ‘naughty bits’. She would smile and explain every detail, unfazed by naked breast or buttock, totally at peace that those depicted in their nakedness is truly “…as God made us.”  If by chance she caught the nun adding the black censored panels (as in the cartoon) I am sure a fight would have ensued.

Nudity is part of western culture.  I don’t mean to say we don’t have our limits.  We still mark off where and when it should be displayed, but the nude form has its roots in our classical past.  I still remember driving down Wisconsin Avenue in D.C. to see a man being led away in cuffs by the cops.  He was nude and his only article of clothing was his protest sign.  Our boundaries are tested in protest, in fashion, and sometimes for the only purpose of shock (remember ‘streaking’ at football games?).  At  risk of sounding like a puritan “There is a place for everything, and everything in its place.”  However, when I start to cringe is when we cover up who we are, or what we were for the sensibilities of others.  Nudity is a fact, it is inescapable part of our classical and religious past.   Are we so separated from our naked ‘classical’ past that we must do the following?  Note the photo below.

boxed nudesThis is what Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saw when he met with the Prime Minister of Italy.  Venus was boxed away, and maybe a bit of who and what we are as a culture was boxed away as well.

 

 

Adventure for any time period

It’s not Greece or Rome that this delightful graphic novel takes place in, but the Ottomon Empire (? -pretty sure).  It’s so well told that you won’t care.  It has all the facets of good story telling:  reluctant hero, a dashing female character, evil baddies that won’t stop chasing the heroes.  The story:  a Turkish Lieutenant meets an woman adventurer named Delilah Dirk. She manages to always get into trouble (on a constant basis) and though he starts out her jailor he eventually winds up as her companion as they flee from assorted dangers. She is a fantastic sword fighter, a thief and always one step away from death. If you like madcap adventure, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is worth your time. If I was to pick an actor for the role of the Turkish Lieutenant it would be Brad Pitt.  For the role of Delilah Dirk?  The Chicago Actress Lorrisa Julianus – trust me.

DDTL3DDTL

Sometimes Mythology catches up.

Sad-girl7 (2)

The Sphinx in black and white

This is reported as the first film of the Sphinx in 1897.  This is many years removed from today’s bustling Cairo that is now just feet away.  I remember my first time seeing the site I was amazed at the desert park that surrounded it.  I had only seen photos of this site where the background was always shot towards the desert.  Seeing Cairo so close was a surprise to me…well Tourist.  I always imagined it far away in the desert.  Forgive the dreamer who spends too much time in the past.

Sometimes Mythology catches up.

nerddrunk5

A hero of Palmyra

Khaled-al-Asaad - Hero of Palmyra

Khaled-al-Asaad – Hero of Palmyra

I have to bring your attention to an article in Minerva Magazine. The headline reads: ‘Tribute to Palmyra. This is not the first time this city has been attacked.”

Minerva Magazine is the type of publication where it smells like it came fresh off the presses by the smell of printer’s ink. To me, a former graphic arts guy in college, the smell is heavenly.  The magazine has large beautiful photographs of ancient artifacts, great articles and reeks of another smell: class. 

If you get a chance, check out the NOV/DEC issue. As you know ISIL, a 14th century cabal composed of thugs and psychopaths, took explosives to the city and hammers to various antiquities.  And according to recent reports, ISIL is collecting and selling whatever they can loot.  The magazine article provides a look at a city before it was destroyed. There are 17 Century woodcuts, photographs of edifices and various funeral busts.

What has gone on in Syria and Iraq under ISIL’s ‘benevolent’ (sarcasm!) regime has a chilling comparison to a quote by Emperor Aurelian:

“The Palmyrans have been sufficiently slaughtered and cut to pieces. What have not spared the women; we have slain the children, we have strangled the old men, we have destroyed the husbandmen. To whom then shall we leave the land? To whom shall we leave the city?”

A couple of paragraphs in the article pays homage to a man that should be called a hero of that ancient city.   We can remember Palmyra from its buildings, sculptures and art, but Kahled al Assad should be remembered with respect.  This 80 plus year old man (with emphasize on the word MAN) was an archeologist that studied the ancient world of Palmyra. Most of us when given the opportunity to flee from approaching ‘barbarians’ would have gladly fled, but Kahled al-Asadd chose to stay and try to save the treasures and antiquities of an ancient people which he dedicated most of his life studying. He refused to reveal where he hid the artifacts. For that he was beheaded.  There is no better illustration of Kahled al-Asaad’s bravery than Thomas Babington Macaulay’s poem titled Horatius:

“Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?”

I stand in awe of this man’s bravery. I have met heroes in my life;  I have the unique ability to recognize them.  This man I gladly place him on my list.

I hope that with all my heart that the children of Kahled al-Asadd are alive. It should interest you to note that one of his daughters is named Zenobia.

Are you surprised?

I’m not.

Remember Palmyra.  Remember Kahled al-Asaad.