No Rhyme #fivewords

Inspired by the Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Challenge #124

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He felt her insistent stare on him, as he held the precious tablet, still covered by a thin film of blond sand. The text looked like a list, but he guessed that it might also be a poem, perhaps both. Was there a rhyme? His knowledge of the language was not advanced enough for him to know. He turned to the goddess, and met the emerald eyes, still fixed on him.

A long time passed, he knew she would speak, and so waited, in the silence of the sacred valley. At long last, he heard her voice, melodious, as if coming through a long tunnel: “It’s no poem, it is an ancient spell, and who casts his sight on it, shall be turned into stone.”

Image: A Roman-era version of the Knot of Isis worn by the Goddess or Her priestess, via https://isiopolis.com

Prelude

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I have long suspected that the ancient deities – some more powerful than others, but who is it to judge? – take more than a passing interest in the life of this city, when they awake from their deep slumber, in the depth of the marvellously resurrected temples that the reconstructed museums of the island are. I cannot help imagining the ghosts of the ancient pharos and queens, so beautiful still in their golden garbs, surveying the new Rome, listening, with a knowing smile on their lips, to the ever repeated founding myths of the new Republic: the birth, the fall from grace, the “darkest page” in the history of Germany, the destruction, the starvation, the air lift, the new dictatorship, and then, the new dawn.

Freiheit, wir sind das Volk, the fall of the wall, unification. Indeed the achievements are amazing. The city that faced annihilation, misery, death by strangulation, is alive again, and strives. The reconstruction, the revival of the historical monuments, the trees: do the gods look on with appreciation, perhaps with some envy, even, that they are no longer those that the people worship?

The rain interrupted, briefly, the eternal summer. For a while the asparagus disappeared behind a thin veil of clouds and water drops. Subdued and slower, the traffic, the cyclists in waterproof gear… Nefertiti looked on.

How not to be in love with such patronage?

Janus #AtoZAprilChallenge

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Janus is the Roman god of “beginnings, gates, transitions, doorways, time, and doors”.

In his classical representation Janus has two faces: one turned toward the past, the other toward the future. “Janus presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The doors of his temple were open in time of war, and closed to mark the peace. As a god of transitions, he had functions pertaining to birth and to journeys and exchange, and in his association with Portunus, a similar harbor and gateway god, he was concerned with travelling, trading and shipping.”

“In Act I Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s OthelloIago invokes the name of Janus after the failure of his premiere plot to undo the titular character. As the story’s primary agent of change, it’s fitting that Iago align himself with Janus. His schemes prompt the beginning of each of the main characters’ ends: in his absence, Othello and Desdemona would likely have remained married and Cassio would have remained in his respected position of power. Iago guides (if not forces) the story through inception, climax, and finale. Furthermore, Janus’ common two-faced depiction is the perfect visual metaphor for Iago’s character. Othello’s characters believe him to have only the best of intentions, even going as far as to call him “honest Iago,” completely unaware that he spends every unwatched second plotting their undoing. He appears selfless and compassionate but, in truth, is power-hungry, amoral, and without regard for the well-being of others.”

“Janus is depicted as a robotic mage in the 2014 free-to-play MOBA video game Smite.[255]

In James Bond movie GoldenEye, agent 006 calls himself Janus after faking his death.

In season 2, episode six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the episode’s antagonists, “a chaos worshipper,” is seen praying to a statue of the god.

The Resident Evil series of movies loosely based on the popular game franchise of the same name’s amnesiac lead character of Alice has been identified as previously having gone under the name “Janus Prospero”.

The Doctor Who episode “Face the Raven” introduces the Janus, a psychic humanoid species with two faces in the likeness of the deity.

The Buffy: The Vampire Slayer episode “Halloween” has Ethan Rayne using a ritual dedicated to Janus to trigger the spell that transforms anyone wearing costume pieces bought at his story into the characters they dressed as.

In The Castle in the Attic, a medallion with the image of Janus is used to magically shrink and enlarge characters, and is a major plot point.

In Utopia (UK TV series), Janus is the name of method of population control hidden within the manuscript, a major plot point.”

(abstracts from Wikipedia article on Janus)

#AtoZChallenge2015: Xenophon #philosopher and #soldier

As a child, passionate about history lessons, I was always attracted by philosophers who were also soldiers. There were quite a few in ancient times, and this Spartan hero is perhaps the archetype!

Busto di Senofonte in marmo bianco, biblioteca di Alessandria d'Egitto.Xenophon was a Greek philosopher, soldier, historian, memoirist, and the author of numerous practical treatises on subjects ranging from horsemanship to taxation.  While best known in the contemporary philosophical world as the author of a series of sketches of Socrates in conversation, known by their Latin title Memorabilia, Xenophon also wrote a Symposium and an Apology which present a set of vivid and intriguing portraits of Socrates and display some sharp contrasts to the better known portraits in the works of Xenophon’s contemporary, Plato.  Xenophon’s influence in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and in Early Modern intellectual circles was considerable; he was a pioneer in several literary genres including the first-person military memoir (Anabasis) , the biographical novel (Education of Cyrus), and the continued history (Hellenica).  The range of his areas of expertise and the glancing charm of his down-to-earth writing style continue to fascinate and repay our study. For one example of his work in moral philosophy, he emphasized the importance of self-control, which comprises one of the cardinal virtues of Greek popular morality. This is highlighted by Xenophon in many ways.  Socrates is often said by Xenophon to have exemplified it in the very highest degree.  Cyrus displays it when he is invited to look upon the most beautiful woman in Asia, who happens to be his prisoner of war. He firmly declines this temptation; but his general Araspas stares at her endlessly, falls in lust, insults her honor, and ignites a chain of events described by Xenophon that ends in her suicide over her husband’s corpse…

Xenophon was born during the early years of the Peloponnesian War, in the outlying deme of Athens called Erchia.  Located in the fertile plain known as “Mesogeia” (literally “middle earth”) and overlooked by the beautiful mountains Hymettus and Penteli, Erchia was about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the bustling center of Athens–about a three hour walk or one hour brisk horseback ride.  His father Gryllus owned and supervised an estate whose income derived chiefly from farming.  Thus, Xenophon will have grown up surrounded by a combination of small hold-farming and urban influences.   Coming of an age in turbulent political times, Xenophon is thought to have been in Athens and personally present at the return of Alcibiades (408), the trial of the Generals, and the overthrow of the 30 Tyrants, all signal events in the rough history of Athenian civic life.

Little else is known about Xenophon’s earliest years.  From his later writings it can be safely inferred that he received a good basic education and military training as befitted a young member of the Equestrian class, that he was able to ride and hunt extensively, and that in his formative years he observed the careful work needed to keep a modest farm maintained and productive.

In 401. B.C.E at the age of 29, Xenophon was invited by his friend Proxenus to join him on a mercenary military venture to Persia, ostensibly to protect the territory of a minor satrap who was under threat.  In fact, though this was not known to Xenophon or Proxenus, the campaign was rather more ambitious than that: it was a game of thrones, nothing less than an assault on the claim of the Persian king Artaxerxes II, by his brother Cyrus the Younger.  The unfolding of this journey into foreign territory, with its adventures and mortal hazards, was a formative event in Xenophon’s life.  In the very first engagement, Cyrus was himself killed.  In a peace parley that followed, the generals of the expeditionary force were executed by treachery, leaving the army stranded, leaderless and surrounded by hostile peoples whose languages they did not speak, and winter was coming.  Xenophon eventually assumed leadership of this stranded and confused army, and led them to safety – as many as survived.  The book which Xenophon later wrote about their harrowing travels ‘up country’, Anabasis, is a hair-raising and brutally graphic soldier’s journal, of which more will be said later.

Upon his return to Greece, Xenophon continued his mercenary work under a Spartan general named Agesilaus.  He even went fighting, with Agesilaus’ “10,000” soldiers who returned from the battle of Coroneia in Persia, against a combined Athenian and Theban force.  Athens issued a decree of exile against Xenophon as a result. .  Even though it is possible that his banishment was revoked in later years, Xenophon never returned to Athens.

In gratitude for his service in this decisive Lacedaimonian victory, the Spartans gave Xenophon an estate in Elis, about 2 miles from Olympia – a region of the Peloponnese which was known for its unparalleled beauty and richness.  Here in Elis over the next 23 years, Xenophon would live a life of semi-retirement and quiet rural pursuits.  Here also he would write the bulk of his works, raise a family, and keep a distanced and reflective historical eye on the political fortunes of Athens. Nothing is known of his wife beyond her name: Philesia.  He had two sons, Gryllus and Diodorus. The Former was killed in the battle of Mantinea in 362 B.C., and Xenophon received many carefully written eulogies, a testament to his prominence in his own time.

When his adoptive city of Sparta was defeated in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 B.C., Elians drove Xenophon from his rural retreat and confiscated it.  Xenophon then moved to “flowery Corinth” where he ended his days.”

(From the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy)

About Anabasis, Xenophon’s masterpiece

Image: Busto di Senofonte in marmo bianco, biblioteca di Alessandria d’Egitto, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dandiffendale/2341340203/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Author: Dan Diffendale

#AtoZChallenge2015: Utopia

Idealistic dream, vain hopes of justice and perfection, for others perhaps more dystopia? History and fiction are full of tentative or real utopia, for mankind never gives up…

“The term utopia was coined in Greek by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island society in the Atlantic Ocean.

The word comes from the Greekοὐ (“not”) and τόπος (“place”) and means “no-place“, and strictly describes any non-existent society ‘described in considerable detail’. However, in standard usage, the word’s meaning has narrowed and now usually describes a non-existent society that is intended to be viewed as considerably better than contemporary society.[1] Eutopia, derived from the Greek εὖ (“good” or “well”) and τόπος (“place”), means “good place”, and is strictly speaking the correct term to describe a positive utopia. In Englisheutopia and utopia are homophonous, which may have given rise to the change in meaning…

Chronologically, the first recorded utopian proposal is Plato‘s Republic.[3] Part conversation, part fictional depiction, and part policy proposal, it proposes a categorization of citizens into a rigid class structure of “golden,” “silver,” “bronze” and “iron” socioeconomic classes. The golden citizens are trained in a rigorous 50-year-long educational program to be benign oligarchs, the “philosopher-kings.” Plato had stressed this many times in both quotes by him and in his published works, such as The Republic. The wisdom of these rulers will supposedly eliminate poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources, though the details on how to do this are unclear. The educational program for the rulers is the central notion of the proposal. It has few laws, no lawyers and rarely sends its citizens to war, but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbors (these mercenaries were deliberately sent into dangerous situations in the hope that the more warlike populations of all surrounding countries will be weeded out, leaving peaceful peoples).

During the 16th century, Thomas More’s book Utopia proposed an ideal society of the same name. Some readers, including utopian socialists, have chosen to accept this imaginary society as the realistic blueprint for a working nation, while others have postulated that More intended nothing of the sort. Some maintain the position that More’s Utopia functions only on the level of a satire, a work intended to reveal more about the England of his time than about an idealistic society. This interpretation is bolstered by the title of the book and nation, and its apparent confusion between the Greek for “no place” and “good place”: “utopia” is a compound of the syllable ou-, meaning “no”, and topos, meaning place. But the homophonic prefix eu-, meaning “good,” also resonates in the word, with the implication that the perfectly “good place” is really “no place.” (…)

A global utopia of world peace is often seen as one of the possible end results of world history. Within the localized political structures or spheres it presents, “polyculturalism” is the model-based adaptation of possible interactions with different cultures and identities in accordance with the principles of participatory society.[6]

The Soviet writer Ivan Efremov produced, during the “Thaw” period, the science-fiction utopia Andromeda (1957) in which a united humanity communicates with a galaxy-wide Great Circle and develops its technology and culture within a social framework characterized by vigorous competition between alternative philosophies.

The English political philosopher James Harrington, author of the utopian work The Commonwealth of Oceana, inspired English country party republicanism and was influential in the design of three American colonies. His theories ultimately contributed to the idealistic principles of the American Founders. The colonies of Carolina (founded in 1670), Pennsylvania (founded in 1681), and Georgia (founded in 1733) were the only three English colonies in America that were planned as utopian societies with an integrated physical, economic, and social design. At the heart of the plan for Georgia was a concept of “agrarian equality” in which land was allocated equally and additional land acquisition through purchase or inheritance was prohibited; the plan was an early step toward the yeoman republic later envisioned by Thomas Jefferson.[7][8][9]

The communes of the 1960s in the United States were often an attempt to greatly improve the way humans live together in communities. The back to the land movements and hippies inspired many to try to live in peace and harmony on farms, remote areas, and to set up new types of governance.

Intentional communities were organized and built all over the world with the hope of making a more perfect way of living together. However, many of these new small communities failed, but some are growing like the Twelve Tribes Communities that started in the United States and have grown to many tribes around the world.”

(From Wikipedia article)

Image: “Hieronymus Bosch – The Garden of Earthly Delights – The Earthly Paradise (Garden of Eden)” by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) – →This file has been extracted from another file: Jheronimus Bosch 023.jpg.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_-_The_Earthly_Paradise_(Garden_of_Eden).jpg

#AtoZChallenge2015: Lavandula

I still see those blue scented fields in the Provence, at the foot of green and white mountains, a few steps away, the Mediterranean and its hidden secrets…

“The ancient Greeks called the lavender herb nardus, after the Syrian city of Naarda (possibly the modern town of Dohuk, Iraq). It was also commonly called nard.[39] The species originally grown was L. stoechas.[2]

Lavender was one of the holy herbs used in the biblical Temple to prepare the holy essence, and nard (‘nerd’ in Hebrew) is mentioned in the Song of Solomon (4,14)

nard and saffron,[40]
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes,
and all the finest spices.[41]

During Roman times, flowers were sold for 100 denarii per pound, which was about the same as a month’s wages for a farm laborer, or fifty haircuts from the local barber. Its late Latin name was lavandārius, from lavanda (things to be washed), from the verb lavāre (to wash).[42] The Greeks discovered early on that lavender if crushed and treated correctly would release a relaxing fume when burned.[citation needed]

In medieval times powdered lavender was used as a condiment.[43]

Lavandula (common name lavender) is a genus of 39 known species of flowering plants in the mint familyLamiaceae. It is native to the Old World and is found from Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, southern Europe across to northern and eastern Africa, the Mediterranean, southwest Asia to southeast India. Many members of the genus are cultivated extensively in temperate climates as ornamental plants for garden and landscape use, for use as culinary herbs, and also commercially for the extraction of essential oils. The most widely cultivated species, Lavandula angustifolia, is often referred to as lavender, and there is a colour named for the shade of the flowers of this species…

The English word lavender is generally thought to be derived from Old French lavandre, ultimately from the Latin lavare (to wash), referring to the use of infusions of the plants.[6] The botanic name Lavandula as used by Linnaeus is considered to be derived from this and other European vernacular names for the plants. However it is suggested that this explanation may be apocryphal, and that the name may actually be derived from Latin livere, “blueish”.[7]

The names widely used for some of the species, “English lavender”, “French lavender” and “Spanish lavender” are all imprecisely applied. “English lavender” is commonly used for L. angustifolia, though some references say the proper term is “Old English Lavender”.[8] The name “French lavender” may be used to refer to either L. stoechas or to L. dentata. “Spanish lavender” may be used to refer to L. stoechasL. lanata or L. dentata.”

Image: “Bee pollen lavender” by TTaylor – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bee_pollen_lavender.JPG#/media/File:Bee_pollen_lavender.JPG

#AtoZChallenge2015: Hegemony

For students of world history, and of world-historical thought, hegemony is one of the Sesame keys: from ancient Greece, to the Italian city-states of the early Renaissance, to the Netherlands of the 17th century, to imperial Great Britain, to todays’ United States of America, the presence of “great powers”, and among them that of a “hegemon”, one country or nation state for a while dominating the others, has been the backdrop of western history.

From Wikipedia: “Hegemony is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others.[1][2][3][4] In Ancient Greece (8th century BCE – 6th century CE), hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states.[5] The dominant state is known as the hegemon.[6]

In the 19th century, hegemony came to denote the “Social or cultural predominance or ascendancy; predominance by one group within a society or milieu”. Later, it could be used to mean “a group or regime which exerts undue influence within a society.”[7] Also, it could be used for the geopolitical and the cultural predominance of one country over others; from which was derived hegemonism, as in the idea that the Great Powers meant to establish European hegemony over Asia and Africa.[8]

The Marxist theory of cultural hegemony, associated particularly with Antonio Gramsci, is the idea that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and mores of a society, so that their view becomes the world view (Weltanschauung): in Terry Eagleton’s words, ‘Gramsci normally uses the word hegemony to mean the ways in which a governing power wins consent to its rule from those it subjugates’.[9]

Ancient Greece under the hegemony of Thebes, 371–362 BCE

In cultural imperialism, the leader state dictates the internal politics and the societal character of the subordinate states that constitute the hegemonic sphere of influence, either by an internal, sponsored government or by an external, installed government.”

From Giovanni Arrighi “The Long Twentieth Century”:

“A dominant state exercises a hegemonic function if it leads the system of states in a desired direction and, in so doing, is perceived as pursuing a general interest. It is this kind of leadership that makes the dominant state hegemonic. But a dominant state may lead also in the sense  that it draws other states onto its own path of development… This second kind of leadership can be designated as ‘leadership against one’s own will’ because, over time, it enhances competition for power rather than the power of the hegemon.”

From Christopher Layne (“The Peace of Illusions”):

“When World War II ended, the Soviet Union was the only obstacle to US global hegemony, and in the first postwar decade Washington’s principal grand strategic goal was to secure that hegemony by removing the Soviet Union as a peer competitor. The United States emerged from the war in a position of unparalleled geopolitical preeminence, and the scope of America’s interests expanded concomitantly, and indeed, had done so  while the war was still ongoing. Once the war ended, Washington’s perceptions of the Soviet threat to those interests began to grow. As a result, US and Soviet  interests collided… in Europe, the Middle East, and Northeast Asia, which contributed to the intensification of postwar Soviet-American tensions that culminated in the cold war… America’s main grand strategic aim was to secure its global hegemony by bringing these potential poles of power [Germany and Japan]  into its orbit and thereby prevent them from emerging as challengers  to US predominance.”

While reading through this post, I realised I had already written on the subject, for last year’s challenge! Which shows either (or both) my lack of imagination, or continued interest in the subject…

#FiveSentenceFiction: Confusion (for Pâris)

René JaquesAs ever, she was pleased to see him, and could sense how much her visit meant to him.

She delighted in the stories he was telling her, followed the spell of his voice, watching his lips intently: she knew of her power over him, and she knew how much she was at his mercy, without him knowing.

Now, in his presence, she forgot the long nights of regret and fear: here she belonged, both mistress and slave, at his side, at the side of this human being, who did not know who she was.

Her eyes on his mouth she was caressing the back of the beloved head: she could feel his body relaxing, getting closer and warmer.

For the power of Aphrodite is beyond mere human understanding.