Iliad

So after plowing through Fagels’ translation of the Iliad, I am struck by a few things.

1. Very visual, which makes sense if this was first an orally presented poem spoken to an audience. Helps them imagine it better. It really puts you in the sand and the blood in front of Troy.

2. Gory as hell. (And atomically accurate.) There are modern war films that are not as gory as this. This borders on horror-film levels of violence.

3. Homer names every single person on the battle field, and their father, and sometimes grandfather, even if they are just showing up to die. (And there seem lot of human-nymph marriages, so really, if you have a problem with mixed marriage now, the ancient Greeks weren’t even afraid to mate outside their species.)

This could be Homer’s way of humanizing the victims of war. But it puts me in mind of Le Morte d’Arthur in which Mallory seems to take every single “local boy makes good” legend in all of Britain, and possibly Brittany, and marry them all together in one story. (My personal favorite is Sir Tor, who shows up at Arthur’s wedding asking to be made a knight, gets sent on a quest to get a some lady’s dog back, gets made a knight and then disappears until he gets killed in when Lancelot rescues Guenevere.)

4. Achilles is a wanker. O.K., sit in your tent to prove a point, but sending Patroclus out in his place, in his armor, was a douche move.

5. Needed more Odysseus.

6. Everyone waxes on about Achilles when Ajax was the real lynch-pin/greatest warrior of the Greeks (and *without* any help from the Gods, I might add). Next to him, Achilles is a punk.

7. I now know where J.K. Rowling got the name “Scamander.”

Colours of History

This is some powerful shit:

Leaving the modern social commentary, which is completely valid, to the side for a bit, pedantically, it likely that Jesus looked more like this: The Semitic Galileans he was born and raised among. But I think that even if Jesus was not a man of African decent, he was a man of colour and the poem she speaks (and I usually hate spoken poetry, but this is really good) to the general “white washing” of history.

American children have one of the most insular educations in the world. The fact that many states do not require their students to learn a foreign language, and those that do wait until high school, is bad enough. But what is really damaging is that when we learn “world history” in K-12 education, it’s really only European History. Until they are 18, our kids are taught a completely White ethnocentric view of the world. Which I’m sure sucks if you do not happen to be white.

We have to go to college to learn about history of the rest of the planet. And even then, some of it is pretty badly presented. I took a History of Africa class that was more of a class on African activism than it was a history of African nations and regions.

Granted, the Instructor’s heart was in the right place. My Gods yes, the exploitation of their natural resources and people by European and American corporations, with so little wealth getting down to the people because of the manipulations of their governments is sickening. The lack of global power African nations have is appalling. They have some richest deposits of natural resources in the world, yet they are some of the poorest countries in the world because they are constantly kept destabilized by interior and exterior forces. And why isn’t an African nation on the U.N. Security Council?

But it was a history course, and I did not actually learn much of the history of Africa and its nations which I would have liked very much.

And then there is the very-much-still-alive racism in this country that this poem talks about. The same people who feel that the shooting of Tamir Rice was justified are the same people who encourage putting real guns in the hands of even younger children…so long as those children are white. Despite all the evidence, they call Sandra Bland a “drug dealing thug who got what was coming to her.” Say Dajerria Becton and the girl attacked for refusing to leave her desk in South Carolina (plus the one subsequently arrested for filming and speaking out against what was happening) were “mouthy” and “got what they deserved” (I guess they think the First Amendment is reserved for “White People Only.”)And these cases are the tip of the Travon Martin/Freddie Grey/Eric Garner iceberg of police brutality on and profiling of African Americans that too many Americans are o.k. with.

And every February we all hear the same round of complaints, “Why is there a “Black History Month! Why isn’t there a White History Month? That’s racist!”

Because the other 11 moths of the year are “White History Year” you twat. There has to be special times set aside to celebrate African American, American women, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans, AmerIndian histories because all the rest of the time it is the History of Americans of European Decent ie. White people.

And yeah, having a Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, etc. sucks. But only because we aren’t teaching it entwined with the rest of American History where it belongs. We have to put it where it belongs, right alongside the history of Americans of European descent. Until we do that, getting rid of those periods of ethnic focus is just trying to ignore their part and contributions to history altogether.

Not fully integrating subcultures and ethnicities that were a part of our nation’s history into teaching that history helps create a culture of exclusion. Not teaching it at all creates a culture of devaluation. If we want to take some real steps in eliminating racism, we need to create a culture of inclusion by teaching the history of all Americans together. And when we teach World History, we have to teach an overview of *all* the world’s history, not just one continent.

And the claim that Jesus was white? Well, unless you are claiming that Jesus is the bastard offspring of a Roman , it’s fucking moronic. Your savior looked like a Palestinian. Get over it.

BWA-Hahahahahaha!

Lady Danger by Glynnis Campbell

Deirdre of Rivenloch — a beautiful female warrior — has never had trouble turning away men, but when she marries the powerful Sir Pagan Cameliard to save her sister, Deirdre soon finds herself losing the battle over her heart…Born to the blade and raised to fear no one, Deirdre of Rivenloch never shies away from a fight and never turns her back on a threat to her land or her family. But she’s never met a man like Sir Pagan Cameliard, the bold and powerful knight who comes at the king’s command to make a marriage alliance with Rivenloch. To save her younger sister, Deirdre tricks Pagan into marrying her instead, and now she faces a new kind of enemy who crosses swords with her by day and lays siege to her heart by night.

First of all, “Deirdre” is an Irish Name. Irish and Scottish are NOT the same thing. Deirdre and Naoise or “Deirdre of the Sorrows,” is a famous and incredibly tragic Irish legend that would later (probably) become the template for Tristan and Isolde. (I was almost named “Deirdre” and my father nixed the idea because he did not want to curse me with that legacy.) According to the Amazon description of the novel series, Miss Rivenloch has sisters named “Helena” (Latin) and “Miriel”…which is fucking Tolkien Elvish! (Miriel was the wife of Finwae). “Meriel” was the form of “Muriel” in Scotland.

Secondly, no. No female warriors in early Medieval Scotland.

I get the fun and socially-necessary role breaking of the female warrior archetype. But it has become so common I begin to worry that society is losing sight of the idea that one does not have to wield a blade (and one could say take on a traditionally, stereotypical male role) in order to be “strong.” There were many strong women in the Middle Ages; Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hildegarde of Bingen, Margery Kempe, Isabella of France, Christine de Pizan, Joanna I of Naples. They just did not go onto the battlefield, even Scottish women. And the very rare ones that did, such as Eleanor’s daughter, Joan of England or Nicolaa de la Haye, did not actually swing a sword but led through strategy and tactics. Women, and men, do not have to be violent in order to show strength.

Three, no Cameliard. That’s the mythical kingdom in Wales or Cornwall that Arthur’s Guinevere came from.

But at least make him Sir Pagan OF Cameliard since it’s a place, not a family name.

(Of course, when I see that name, a small voice says “Canard” and “Sir Duck.”)

“Pagan” was actually a medieval male given name that survived until the 17th century when the term become loaded with its anti-christian implication.

Four, why would a Scot marry his daughter to an Englishman, thereby losing the family land to the English upon his death?

In short, I will not be reading this novel. The description alone was entertainment enough.

Side note: I was going to include a “marriage trick” in my novel (and I had a couple wonderfully funny scenes written…o.k., they were funny to me), but now I see how cliche’d it is in the historical romance genre, including horrible ones. I think I will kill that darling.

Well, One More Thought

Islam is about 1400 years old.

When Christianity was 1500 years old, it underwent the Protestant Reformation. Now, that Protest Reformation was not the earliest criticism or even the earliest outward rebellion against the Catholic Church. There had always been “heretical” sects the Church put down. The Reformation was just the first one that found legs.

And it only found legs after the Popes could no longer focus discontent outward at the Muslims through the Crusades. The external pressure was off and people started to look at the real problems they had and the real reasons for them.

I can’t help but wonder if the Western powers just got out of everyone’s hair in the Middle East, took off the external pressure, Islam would go through its own reformation, tossing out all the pre-Islamic tribal shit they have enshrined in various forms Sharia Law. Most Muslims I know don’t agree with it’s more extreme sexism, xenophobia, murderous punishments, etc.. Much of that stuff is just not in the Qur’an.

That’s my theory anyway. Thoughts?

In a Sea of Hate, Understanding

One of the most remarkable and, I believe, important documentary series of the last thirty years is Michael Wood’s Legacy: The Search for Civilization series. Certainly it was the most important to me. It’s sounds cheesy, but in 1992 it changed my entire worldview, literally how I viewed the world. In six shows the different peoples of the world went from vaguely mysterious places to vibrant cultures with ancient pasts which still colored the people’s lives and outlook. It was the final inspiration for my study of History and Anthropology.

In the U.S., we live in a xenophobic era where terror over the other has taken hold over the minds of so many, too many, like I have never seen in my lifetime. This series brought me, if not a full understanding, at least some understanding and an appreciation for “the other.” These people’s cultural uniqueness giving sight into human existence one simply can not get for their own cultural point of view. It reminds us that, despite the violence and hatred, we are all human beings and that our differences are wonderous and vital to our world and understanding it.

I think everyone should watch it.

This is a copy on YouTube, so you can watch it for me. The picture quality is awful (it came out in 1992), but it is still worth watching. Thisis the first in the playlist:

Vists to Varanasi (Benares) for  Hanuman Jayanti and climbing Mount Tai (Tai Shang) to watch the sunrise are on my bucket list.

More History Stuff

First of all, I made an omission yesterday when talking about both my story and the way the Pre-Conquest people of England would be described.

Gimme a break, my brain is still re-booting from vacation.

Within the story itself I used “English” because that is how the people of England saw themselves from, at the most, the 10th century after England was collected into the Heptarchy under Egbert. Certainly they they saw themselves as English by the time of the Conquest.

Now, I am currently reading The First Clash by James Lacey, a history of the first war between the Greeks and the Persians. It quickly became obvious this was an example of how historians can lose their objectivity and write bad history.

In dealing with the son of Cyrus the Great, he is far too quick to discount the sources closest to the events of the time.

The oldest son of Cyrus, Cambyses, remains one of the great enigmas of history. If one believes Herodotus’ account, Cambyses was both cruel and mad. The great historian presents a lengthy list of the kings transgressions, including the sacrilegious murder of Egypt’s sacred Apis bull, the kicking to death of his pregnant wife, and the scourging and murder of Egyptian priests. The truth is probably somewhat more complex. For instance, Egyptologists have proven that the sacred Apis bull did die soon after Cambyses conquered Egypt, but they also uncovered a stone tablet showing the Bull’s respectful burial.

Herodotus’ account often represents the evidence and opinion offered by persons with a vested interest in presenting Cambyses in the worst possible light. Therefore there is good reason to discount many of the negative stories about Cambyses. Moreover, as Cambyses’ successor Darius, who had usurped the throne, had no interest in glorifying his predecessor, making the official records of his reign untrustworthy on this matter. For instance, much of what Herodotus tells us comes from Egyptian priests, whom he met almost a half century after Cambyses’ death. Herodotus would have no way of knowing that these stories were the result of malice engendered by official propaganda and that had nothing to do with actual cruelty or sacrilege on Cambyses part. It is likely that the priests disapproved of Cambyses because he reduced the payments promised to them by the pharaoh Amasis, who bought their loyalty with great gifts to the temples…

This passage reeks with bias that is affecting Lacey’s objectivity.

1. Lacey seems to discount the idea that any ruler of the ancient world could be insane and cruel. Caligula and Nero were just “misunderstood” I guess.

2. A respectful burial does not mean that Cambyses did not slay the Apis bull. (Or that he did not kill the priests for that matter.) The burial is something the priests could have done on their own as a mark of their own piety and respect.

3. Herodotus’ account is not an “offical record” of a reign. The official records of a government are the documents produced by that government. Herodotus is an account pieced together after the fact. If the official records of Cambyses’ reign is available as Lacey seems to suggest, why are they not discussed? Why are Darius’ accounts of Cambyses’ reign not discussed to see if they match up with Herodotus?  Why are they dismissed as propaganda out of hand before quickly deflecting back to Herodotus and how wrong Lacey assumes he was?

4. Why is Herodotus, the first historian to research Cambyses’ rule, the one closest to what happened, account here dismissed with no substantial proof that he was wrong? No conflicting account, only Lacey’s assumptions and rationalizations.

(The fixation on taxes being the only cause of discontent rather than a very common sacrilegious display, including murder, by a conqueror over the conquered also makes me raise an eyebrow.)

Now I am not saying Lacey is wrong, but he is not presenting a worthy argument. I’m not saying Herodotus should not be taken with a  grain of salt. He should. All histories should be verified against the contemporary records, other accounts and the archaeological record. But without proof, conflicting accounts or information, you can’t dismiss Herodotus out of hand. He was the first person to research this stuff and was the closest to the events and source material. If you are going to accept much of the rest of his account (as Lacey does), you can’t just toss out what you don’t like.

In an earlier passage about Croesus, Lacey also seems to discount just plain bull headedness and stupidity in military decisions, attempting to rationalize all the mistakes of a non-Persian ruler as somehow right or the best option he had. As a former military officer and historian, he should know that generals are not infallible and history is replete with just plain stupid decisions on the battlefield. Even the best generals could make tragically dumb choices. Lee ordering Picket’s Charge is the first that springs to mind. Historians and military people have been questioning “WTF was he thinking?” ever since Gettysburg went down.

(I believe Eisenhower probably hit closest to the mark when he said, after surveying the battlefield, “The man (Lee) must have got so mad, he just wanted to hit the guy (Meade, then head of the Union Army) with a brick.”)

(You should read that article because Montgomery was also there with Eisenhower discussing the battle.)

If you can’t admit your favorite military or political leaders made mistakes, how can your readers or students be expected to learn from them? This is why one of my favorite books is Tuchman’s March of Folly which highlights the force of stupidity in history.

Now, this passage does not have much to do with Lacey’s principal theory of Western military might and tactics being inherently superior to Persian, but it does call his objectivity into question which weakens his argument. What else is he dismissing out of hand to make his point? I have not read that far (I was so frustrated by that passage I had to put my e-reader down lest I throw it, the one disadvantage e-readers have vs. dead tree books: You can’t huck it against a wall in anger), I am going to be reading this book with a much more critical eye. At least he admits there are sources that don’t agree with his view, which gives me some comfort.

So this why it is important for historians to be objective and readers to read history books critically.