26 March 2012


All the pictures are taken from the exhibition catalog,
The Look of Love.

I never knew there was a whole world of eye miniatures, but I have just encountered the catalog for The Look of Love, an exhibition currently at the Birmingham Museum of Art.  There was, apparently, for the short period of 1790 through 1820, an intense fashion for jewelry with a painting of the eye of your lover. Nan and David Skier of Birmingham have collected these miniatures for twenty years.  Ninety-eight of these miniatures are shown in the catalog.  I have selected eleven to show here, most of them set in pearls, to emphasize the enormous variation in presentation.

The word "miniature" should be emphasized. You are seeing pictures much larger than the originals. To judge from the catalog descriptions, very few of these eyes are half an inch long.  The detail is astounding.  More astounding is the unexpected intimacy and erotic power that can be conveyed by a single, painted, eye.

I was born in Birmingham, and the Museum of Art provided me a haven during some difficult times.  I hope they will take this as a note of gratitude.

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The exhibition continues through June 10. The catalog can be ordered here.

20 March 2012

The Count of Paleopoli de Menelao

+ θεόδορος ἐν Χ(ριστ)ῷ τῷ Θ(ε)ῷ εὐσεβὴς 
δεσπότης Παλαιολόγος ὁ πορφυρογέννητος +
Signature of Theodoros II Palaiologos

On 29 May 1419, Theodoros II signed an argyrobull to Pope Martin V with a signature like the one you see here. Do appreciate the artistic Ts and enthusiastic accents -- they turn up in other family signatures.  A year earlier, Martin had signed a formal dispensation for the sons of Manuel II to marry Latin rite wives, and apparently the negotiators got right to work.  Theodoros' document begins, "Desiring the most serene lady, our dearest future consort, the lady Cleope Malatesta" and goes on to say that the gentleman, Mastino of San Sepulcro, has come with the marriage arrangements.

Theodoros promises that Cleofe will keep her religion ("in consueta devotione sua circa divinum cultum"), and the ceremonies of the Roman church in which she was raised, and that she can have a chaplain.  More than that, she can keep her Italian practices and customs ("mores suos ytallicos").  If he dies, she will be free to return home with all her possessions.  It didn't quite work out that way, but you can see that he was really quite enthusiastic at the beginning.

The gentleman, Mastino de Cattanei, of San Sepulcro -- a gracious city, home to the teenage Piero della Francesca -- is identified as Cleofe's "procurator and orator": he is authorized to speak on her behalf, or on her father's -- we don't know how old she was, we don't know anything about negotiations, we don't know how much leeway he had. He was probably suggested by the Pope. We do know that Theodoros seemed quite pleased with the result.

On June 19, a month after he wrote the Pope,  Theodoros signed an argyrobull -- that is the signature above, this time to Mastino de Cattanei, making him comes Paleopoli de Menelao -- Count of the Old City of Menelaus, or Count of Sparta.  This was a title that would be understood in Italy, and it turns up later in letters of 5 September 1420 and 19 June 1423 naming him as Senator of Rome. This is a grander title than it might seem: the Senator of Rome was its governor, though the term of service was a matter of months.  Another document written in Rome on 30 October 1423, commends Mastino's service as Senator. (Cleofe's father had been  Roman Senator twice, too.)  In the Cattanei palazzo in San Sepulcro, there was in the 1960s, may still be, a portrait of Mastino painted around 1600 which identified him as "Mastinus Cataneus eques, comes palatinus et senator Romae" -- Knight, Count Palatine, and Senator of Rome. Possibly he had received a title of count from the Pope, or possibly that referred to his title from Theodoros.

"Count" was not a title used in the Morea, and Theodoros probably asked Mastino or the person who wrote the document what would be a good Italian equivalent for a top-rank archon. The title went to Mastino, and his heirs.  They were permitted to make use of the double-headed crowned gold eagle in a red field on their insignia and shield, and they were free from taxes in the Morea. No one in the Morea noticed. Mastino did not actually receive possession of Sparta, or of any land: he got a title that turned out to be worth quite a lot to him in Italy.

These argyrobulls to Martin and Mastino are extremely interesting in that they are written in  Latin, rather than Greek.  Both needed to be understood in Italy.  The one to Martin has both Greek dating ("anno a creacione mundi sex milibus nonigentis viginti septem") and western ("millesimo quadringentesimo decimo nono, indicione XII, die vigessissima nona Madij"). That to Mastino is western, with slight variations ("millesimo quadrigenteximo decimo nono indicione duodecima et die decimanona junij"). Martin's was written "in palatio residencie nostre," while Mastino's specifies that it bears his silver seal with gold around hanging on a red cord, and is signed in Greek in red ink.

Who wrote these argyrobulls?

For the article and document on which this entry is based, go to:
"Un argyrobulle inédit du despote de Morée Théodore Paléologue," in
Revue des études byzantines 21 (1963) 208-220, here.

14 March 2012


Κροκοντηλος – Krokontēlos

This is not the name Κροκόδειλος used in Mazaris and Sphrantzes for "crocodile," although most people then and now would not hear -- if articulated -- the difference between the sounds of -d- and -nt-. In fact, Sphrantzes wrote, "Κροκόντυλος , or rather, as his associates called him, Κροκόδειλος," making a distinction between the name and the animal.  Since Sphrantzes very probably knew Krokontulos Kladas -- both of them being associated with the despot Thomas in the Morea between 1453 and 1460, I have decided to use his spelling for the sake of avoiding as much as possible the automatic crocodile-association.

The man who paid for the inscription, a part of which is used as spolia at the church of Zoodochos Pigi, Karitena, is almost certainly not the Krokontulos of my concerns, but is probably in the family, even an ancestor.  This inscription -- I am told there are more pieces in a church but I have never been able to get access to the church -- identifies him as "servant of the basil---", probably the basilissa, Zampia Lusignan Kantakouzene of a century earlier.

I have recently been reading The Chronicle of Morea in the Greek, French and Aragonese versions, with the company of the splendid book by Teresa Shawcross,* examining the story of Corcondille.  Corcondille appears only in the French version, which looks like this:

Et trova .j. bon homme grec de la Grant Arracove que un sournom estoit appellés Corcondille, qui estoit la venue pour vendre sa soye: liquelz entra en paroles avec cellue chevalier. Sire monseignor Girars se corouça par yre que il ot. Si fery d’un tronchon de lance que il tenoit en sa main cellui Corcondille, ne say .j. cop ou .ij.
There was a Greek man of standing at Great Arakova** whose surname was Corcondille who had come [to the fair] to sell his silk.  He had words with a certain knight.  Sir Girars struck him because of the anger he had.  He struck him a blow with the lance which he had in his hand, this Corcondille, I don't know, one or two blows.
[Notice it says "surname."  We know of several people named Ακροκόνδυλος in the 1370s.]

There was an annual fair, in June, in the broad grasslands just south of Nikli/Tegea -- beautiful country -- to which people came from all over the Morea. It was a Frankish fair but close to the Byzantine border.  Corcondille was a man of mature age, as we learn he has a Frankish son-in-law. He had public respect and owned a house in Great Arakova.  This public humiliation was untenable, and Corcondille felt he would die of shame if he did not make Sir Girars "die the bad death" -- "faire le morir de male mort."  He decided that the best way to go about it was to get the nearby castle of St. Georges into Greek hands.

Corcondille went up to see his kinsman, Leon Mavropapas at Chelmos in Mantinea.  Mavropapas commanded a contingent of Turkish mercenaries for the Byzantines.  They worked out a plan.  Corcondille went back south to his son-in-law, Amimo, who was cellarer of St. Georges, and his friend Bonifaces who was glad to share in any rewards. 

Mavropappas brought his Turks to a castle near the border, a hundred of them, travelling by moonlight.  The narrative is not perfectly clear, but it seems that Amimo managed to lock the look-out in the dungeon.  Crocondille and his friends came to the gate, overcame the guard and locked them up, and then lit a fire on the tower to signal Mavropapas who arrived at dawn with his Turks and took possession of St. Georges.

There is then a long narrative about the Frankish siege of St. Georges by Florent of Hainaut which involved building a second castle and importing a trebuchet expert.  The narrator sensibly says there is too much to relate, and that Florent died.  The narrative runs through 21 sections: Corcondille disappears after the 14th, and we never know if Sir Girors died the bad death.

Now, the version in the Aragonese chronicle omits Corcondille completely.  He tells of a commander of the Emperor going to the fair to buy horses -- whatever the price -- and arms.  Having done so he armed the Greeks who raided a celebration the Franks were holding at a church.  The commander apologized to the Frankish captain who rejected his apology.  So the commander went to the parallel Greek fair, and arranged for them to attack the Franks and then retreat.  The pursuing Franks were caught in an ambush, and the Greeks took the Frankish castle at Nikli and several others.

This is essentially the same story, told two ways -- the Greeks trick the Franks, using horses. (Does this story sound familiar?)

But there are three more stories in a very short chronicle accompanying the most important manuscript of the French chronicle that mention St. George.  Perhaps they are this story, perhaps not:

[Florent of Hainaut] fought with the emperor Quir (Kyr) Andronigo Paleologo which lasted 7 years after the taking of the castle of St. George of Scorta, which was in 1294.

In 1319, the 3rd indiction, on 3 February, at night, he took the castle of St. George of Scorta, by the treason of Mote--dou Liege and of  Nicolucho of Patras, who betrayed them and gave it to Sgoceco.*** 

In 1320, the 4th indiction,**** 19 September, the castle of St. George was given by Nicoluchus of Patras where he was castellan to Quir Andronico Assaigni (Asan).*****

The French chronicle is very clear that the castle of St. George was near the fair, toward the eastern side of the Morea, and that is what Scorta indicates.  It never tells us that Corcondille was given the castle.  This site cannot be identified on the ground.

The castle of Ag. Georgios that Krokontulos Kladas gave Mehmed II was toward the western side of the Morea, south of Karitena.  I deduce this from the routes and acquisitions of Mehmed given by the various chronicles. Additionally, Kladas was loyal to Thomas which indicates his land was in Thomas' despotate.  This site cannot be identified on the ground either  A third of the width of the Morea separates the two sites.

How does one link Corcondille and St. Georges with Krokontylos and Ag. Georgios?

*Teresa Shawcross, The Chronicle of Morea: Historiography in Crusader Greece (OUP 2009). 

** Possibly Karies. 
*** I don't know who "he" is and I don't know who Sgoceco is.
**** The indiction numbers are wrong for both years.
***** This section tells us that Asan also got Mathegriffon (Akova), Polyfengos, and Karitena.  They are too widely dispersed to be of any use in locating St. George.

08 March 2012

Giving up for Lent

Turkish wall photographed by Boryana Katsarova
National Geographic  

I keep being asked what I am giving up for Lent.

I am giving up.  

What I mean is this: For a period when my daughters were young, I went to New York one day a week for my job at Voice of America in Washington, DC.  I usually brought them back small presents.  One evening when I arrived home, the second daughter came tearing down the stairs and began pounding on me, "What did you bring me?"  I said, "I can't give you anything if your hands are not open," and then, stunned at the profundity of what I had just said, I dropped the presents.

 The gesture of giving up is hands upraised, open. The gesture of praise.  Or of prayer.  Or even of the presence of angels.


02 March 2012

On Vacation: Hawk Roosting

Bat Hawk, Joseph Wolf ca. 1860

                      HAWK ROOSTING                             
I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

 My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly --
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -

The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:

The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

     Ted Hughes