29 July 2008

Mouse Castle

Evliya Çelebi learned this story in the Morea in 1668:

Mouse Castle [Pondikókastro] was built by the Venetians on a peninsula at the sea's edge, and would be a prosperous castle, except that in the year 906 [1500], it was conquered by Sultan Beyazid the Saintly, and he is supposed to have left it in ruins after the conquest so that no gathering of infidels might raise an insurrection there. But according to a sound tradition the reason for the ruin is this:

Inside this great city there was a magic charm in the shape of a golden mouse, fashioned by one of the ancient sages and placed on a high column. While the charm existed, there were no mice in the city, but at the time of the conquest, Muslim booty-hunters pulled down the column, tore off the golden mouse that was on it, and took it away. As soon as they did so, the entire city was taken over by mice, and not only could the people there not save their clothes and provisions, but the warrior's horses were all nibbled down into colts by the mice, which ate up their manes and tails, and all the weak old men, long in the tooth, had their hair, beards and mustaches eaten off and were turned into young lads by the mice.

Terrified by the mice, therefore, the entire populace abandoned the city and ran away, so that the whole place fell into ruin. There are still mice as big as cats in the orchards of the city but there is no trace of any of Adam's sons.

Thus it is written . . .

From Evliya's Travels in the Morea © Pierre A. MacKay..

27 July 2008

On the Galley, by Lamplight

This image of Athena that fits into the hollow of your palm is the most beautiful object remaining to us from antiquity. The Berlin Staatliche Museen is privileged to hold it now. But in October 1445 at Candia, Crete, Cyriaco of Ancona was holding it.
. . . to tell you something very special, when Giovanni Delfino, that diligent and most industrious fleet commander, had displayed numerous coins and precious gems to me as I lingered by night with him on his flagship, he showed me, among other items of the same sort, a splendid crystalline signet seal the size of a thumb that is engraved in deep relief . . . When you hold up the thick part of the gem right towards the light, where the breathing limbs are seen to shine out in wondrous beauty with complete solidity, and with luminous crystal shadows in the hollows, we learn who is the maker of so splendid a thing by the Greek letters - very ancient ones - carved above.
After this, anything else, even involving Cyriaco is something of a letdown but the man was amazing. He knew everybody. He went hunting with King Janus of Cyprus. He attended the Council of Florence where he met Sigismund Malatesta, Giorgios Gemistos Plethon, John Palaiologos, Cosimo de'Medici, Filelfo, and just about everyone else..He had a laisser passer from Murad II to travel anywhere in his dominions "without vexation, taxation or any other injury." He corresponded with John Palaiologos, and went hunting with him. He stayed with Constantine Palaiologos in Mistra and went to the races with him. He discussed history and philosophy with Giorgios Gemistos Plethon. He discussed Union of the Churches and a campaign against the Turks with Pope Eugenius IV. He and Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, strolled in Rome and tut-tutted about thedeterioration of modern values. In Florence, Brunelleschi explained to him his dome, currently under construction. Lionello d'Este invited him to see his newly-acquired "Entombment of Christ" by Rogier van der Weyden. He travelled with Memnon Tocco, a military man and son of the Duke of Cephalonia, all over Asia Minio and Thrace, looking at Turkish defences, and then all over the Morea looking at antiquities. He corresponded with Giovanni Dario whom he had met on the trip to Candia when he held that gem.

He is always described as a merchant, but what kind? On his first trading voyage, he started out from Ancona with a cargo of fruit and ended up in Alexandria. On another, he loaded a cargo of chestnuts and filberts at Castellamare and took them to Alexandria. Once he unloaded a cargo of fir trees at Palermo and then spent several days sightseeing at Monreale, returning to Palermo to find the ship had been sold for its owner's debts.. He shipped carpets and hides from Gallipoli to Ancona, along with a slave-girl named Clara for his mother. He bought mastic gum at Chios, and then became enchanted with the idea of it, listing the names of all the peoples and countries and cities where mastic would be bought--something like Henry Miller's account of Katsimbalis crowing on the Acropolis, hearing an answering rooster, and then calculating how far around the world roosters could pass along the crowing. He bought gold coins of Philip and Alexander at Phocaea in Asia Minor. Wherever he could, he bought manuscripts, small antiquities and objets d'art, selling some, giving some away, adding some to his collections.

He liked the good things of life: a white horse, a black manservant, an illuminated codex of the Greek New Testament (20 florins), gold and silver Damascene vases, a codex of the Iliad, an ancient sculpture of Venus (just unearthed), porcelain ewers from India ormamented with gold (which he gave to the Pope), Greek manuscripts and more Greek manuscripts, a gold coin of Trajan (which he gave to Sigismund),

He loved books, bought books, bought manuscripts, bought a handwritten and illuminated Greek codex of the New Testament. Becalmed at Chios, he translated a Greek biography of Euripides into Latin while everyone else went hunting and fishing. In Adrianople he bought a manuscript of Ptolomy that he found quite useful. He copied and bought manuscripts on Mt. Athos. He had himself taught Latin and Greek, but even before he had learned Greek he was meticulously copying every Greek inscription he came across. He came to feel that the stones he saw on the ground, the stones from ancient cities, offered more reliable information than what might be found in books, and so he made it his life's work to search out and record antiquities.

His passion for antiquities will be a topic for a later post.

23 July 2008

Pavane for a Dead Princess

This faceless, nameless woman is not Cleofe, but she is a woman from Mistra. She is wearing a gown similar to one Cleofe might have worn and she has been invited here to represent Cleofe because the Byzantines royals so rarely portrayed their wives and daughters.

Cleofe was
the youngest daughter of Malatesta "dei Sonetti" Malatesti, Lord of Pesaro, a bright young woman in a family of bright people, all raised with humanist tutors and books and languages and much music.She spoke Greek. She was quite beautiful: comments by her contemporaries sound convincing on that point. Her name is often rendered as Cleopa: possibly the humanists had suggested Cleopatra would be a nice name. [Late note: more probably she was named for Sta. Maria Cleofe, one of the three women to go to Christ's tomb.]

We know much more about her sister-in-law, Battista Malatesta de Montefeltro, daughter of the Count of Urbino, who married Galeazzo Malatesta in 1405, when Cleofe would have been quite young. Poised, superiorly educated as a humanist, she wrote hymns and poetry that have survived, and gave lectures at court on philosophy. But as a young woman she nurtured the toddler Cleofe along with her own daughter, helped her with her lessons, and talked to her about what young women marrying rulers of courts needed to know.

Cleofe appears in history with the arrangement of her marriage to Theodoros Palaiologos, second son of the Emperor of Constantinople--no great shakes, that position, those days--and Despot of the Morea (Despot was a title given royal sons as governors of provinces).Cleofe's uncle, Pope Martin V, had given permission for Western ladies of the highest rank to marry into the Byzantine royal family, one of his tactics for joining the Orthodox church to the Roman. The royal Byzantines were glad to marry Western ladies because any ties with the West could be useful in getting help against the Turks who had a strangle-hold on the Empire, and four princes married six (wealthy) Italians. One historian says that these were prestigious marriages for the princes: au contraire, they were prestigious marriages for Italian courts in the early Renaissance. The situation was rather like the heirs of great British estates in the late 1800s and early 1900s marrying American heiresses for cash to shore up their positions.

So it was a political arrangement, but well-born young ladies expected nothing else.
She traveled to Constantinople on a Venetian galley with Sophia of Montferrat who was to marry Theodoros' brother John. That marriage was a disaster: John disliked her intensely and they lived apart. That theme comes into Cleofe's small story.

When Cleofe arrived in the Morea--in 1420 or 1422--she was in her mid-teens. Theodoros was twenty-four. She had brought with her a large dowry, a splendid wardrobe, jewelry, and small furnishings to make her feel at home. The Pesaro composers had written motets for the wedding. Guillaume Dufay who was working for Carlo Malatesta, wrote a gentle, almost romantic, motet for a text that began Vasilissa ergo
Gaude -- Therefore, Queen, rejoice! --a nice blending of Latin and Greek for a marriage between a Greek and a Latin. Hugo de Lantins wrote one, too.

Across how many regions, does the sun moving so
turn and view with absolute confidence,
and see, O Sparta, none so happy as you.
You were the home of Queen Helen,
who through everything she did
drained the strength of all who ever wrote.
Now you possess something more divine,
Madona Cleofe,
born of the Malatesta, as you well know.
These are the glories and powers
you have added to the empire of Constantinople
with its many lords, so great and noble.
It was not, perhaps in the best of taste--that image of Helen draining her men. And there is no information as to when or where these offerings were performed, but if you have seen Mistra and know the music, you will see how it fits.

Cleofe lived with Theodoros for thirteen years in small, charming, provincial Mistra on the orchard-covered slopes of a snow-capped mountain, above a clear shallow river. Nothing much happened in Mistra, except that there were painters painting frescoes in pretty churches; Italian, French, Catalan, and Venetian merchants dropping by; and several outstandingly intelligent men doing philosophy and corresponding with Italian humanists. Cleofe's father came out once, to help negotiate a problem between the Despotate and Venice. Mistra's fashions in this period--clothes, art, ideas-- came from the West and Mistra was, all in all, a shadow Italian city-state.

Theodoros enjoyed philosophy--his father Manuel and his brothers John and Constantine did, too--but his particular interest was mathematics and he is said to have been one of the best mathematicians of his age. We know nothing of any work he did in those lines. What we do know is that his father had sent him away from home at the age of ten to rule the Morea from Mistra (a regent was sent along with him). He grew up a geek in a milieu of bullies and sycophants, with a certain amount of taste for things Italian.

Things should have worked out better than they did. As part of the marriage arrangements, he had signed a letter to the Pope promising that Cleofe would be able to keep her her religion and ritual, her chaplain, and her Italian customs. And that she would not be asked to change any of these, directly or indirectly.

The first thing that happened in her marriage was that Cleopa became Kleope--royal Byzantine brides routinely had their names changed far more than that. The next thing that happened was that Theodoros started demanding that she become Orthodox and stop paying attention to her Italian companions. In his clumsy way, the lonely boy was learning something about being loved.

In 1424, her brother Pandolfo--he could not be a warrior because of a deformed back, but he could be parked in the Church--was sent to Patras as Archbishop and ruler.
The Malatesta liked building, and Pandolfor rebuilt Patras' cathedral of St. Andrew. His friend Dufay wrote an elegantly meditative motet--Apostolo glorioso-- for its consecration. Kleope and a host of Italophiles from Mistra must have gone up to Patras for the ceremonies, and surely people she knew came over from Pesaro. Of this building and event, only the music survives.

It is probably during this period that the handsome Italianate palace of Mistra was built, a wing for public spaces with great windows looking across the orchards and wheat in the valley of Sparta, and the high round windows for looking at the snow on the mountain ridges. Perhaps Kleope's dowry helped pay for it, perhaps builders were brought over from Pesaro and Rimini, perhaps Kleope had a voice in the design. Perhaps not. There is no information about its bulding, no approximate date.

In public, the couple were gracious hosts to the philosophers and travellers, but privately, the marriage continued tense. There were arguments, fights
. The pressure to convert increased. Kleope wrote Battista. In 1425 Battista wrote to their uncle, the Pope Martin V who, against anyone's idea of pastoral care and avuncular affection, wrote a letter to Kleope full of fire and brimstone, promising her hell if she strayed from her Catholic faith. Kleope must have felt that hell on earth was worse than hell after earth, for at some point--the date, again, is one more unrecorded detail--she converted to Orthodoxy, altering her Italian fashions to the more covered-up Greek style. The year before, Leonardo Bruni had written Battista a letter, discussing the problems of giving women the kind of education that their constricted lives could not make fair use of. Unless he had written it earlier when Battista was teaching her. He may have heard of Kleope's problems.  [Late note:  I took someone else's word for the date of the letter.  I am now sure it was written about January 1427.]

Two years before Battista's letter, in 1423, Theodoros had started talking about retiring from the job of Despot and going into a monastery. He talked about it for years. People said it was because he hated Kleope, but no one blamed the rift on her. Far from it: people who knew her considered her "outstanding for beauty and for all other seemliness." After four years of it, his family finally took him seriously and sent Constantine to the Morea to take his place, and he arrived in Mistra the day after Christmas 1427.

That was enough for Theodoros who changed his mind. It may be only a coincidence, but Helena was born in 1428, named formally for her grandmother, but no one, from Mistra or humanist, could avoid the association with Helen of Troy. All three Helens (see that praise song above) were queens.

While Kleofe was pregnant, her brothers-in-law, Constantine and Thomas, trying to absorb all of the Morea into Palaiologue possession, attacked Patras. Theodoros declined to join them, possibly out of consideration for his wife. Her brother the Archbishop complained to the Venetians and ordered up as supply of powder for his cannon, and then left the country. But Constantine and Thomas attacked again, and in June 1429 Patras belonged to the Palaiologues and Kleofe's had lost a brother. The same year, the highest-ranking court official in Mistra began building the lovely Pantanassa, a church with Sicilian flavors, but it is something we can imagine Cleofe watching with pleasure.

She died in 1433. One historian has pronounced this an "obscure" death, but the Palaiologues weren't that kind of people. There is absolutely no information on this topic other than that she died. It could have been plague or malaria. Or she bled to death after a miscarriage. It was not an immediate death: there was time for Theodoros to hold her hand and weep. He loved her in his own, limited, way. Without her, there was no one other than his mother in Constantinople who loved him, and we can only hope that she did--there is no evidence of her emotional state.

A number of intellectuals gave glowing tributes at her burial. The young Bessarion who was going to be very famous spoke of her beauty, her intelligence, her piety. The very famous Plethon spoke of her piety, humility, intelligence, beauty, character, gentleness and generosity, commending her for giving up her "soft Italian customs" and dress, and adopting the Greek practice of fasting--thereby demonstrating that she had satisfied Greek male demands for a woman's behavior. It would have been inappropriate for him to mention the fashion for Italian dress among the upperclass women in Mistra. Then he told Theodoros to buck up, because Greece had real problems.

Fragments of a body dressed in Italian gowns were found in a grave at Mistra, in the church where she was buried. It may be Kleope, it may not be. It is allowed to hope that Theodoros had buried her in one of the dresses she preferred.

Despite Plethon, it is difficult to think of a Malatesta being humble, but the women of that family had learned to walk tightropes to survive. I see here a private diary in which she poured out--writing too fast for beautiful humanist penmanship--all the things she could not do or say if she expected a tranquil life. I also see this diary being burned by one of her household, about five minutes after she died. There is no evidence for this diary.

Little good happened to her immediate family, though nothing unusual for families in their position. Her brother Galeazzo, Battista's husband, was killed by their brothers in 1431. Battista's son-in-law, Pier Gentile, husband of her daughter Lisabetta, was imprisoned in a war among his brothers. She took her daughter and grandchildren and returned to Urbino. Trying to save Pier Gentile, she made a public speech about these events to the Holy Roman Emperor iwhen he stopped in Urbino in May 1433, but he was killed by a papal agent anyway. Battista raised her granddaughter Costanza so that she became one of the best-known, best-educated women of the Renaissance. Costanza named her daughter Battista (1446-1472). Battista was married before she was fourteen and died at the age of twenty-six, after giving birth to her son Costanzo, having produced at least six children for a very famous humanist condottiere.This is why she is so pale in her portrait.

Helena was married to John II, King of Cyprus in 1441. He was twenty-three, she was thirteen. A modern, otherwise reasonable, historian has called her "a violent, neurotic girl in permanent ill-health" without helping us out with corroborative illustrations, but the Renaissance thought marriage made up for child molestation. Helena died in 1458, having given birth to one, maybe two daughters, one of whom she named Kleopha. Kleopha died very young. But given Helena's ancestry, and the probability that she was mostly ignored after her mother died--she was five--and the probability that although philosophers and foreign intellectuals, including Cyriaco of Ancona, were all over the palace at Mistra, she was badly educated. She must have been desperately frustrated, desperately sad.

At my first visit to Mistra more than thirty years ago, knowing nothing of its history, enchanted by the apple and orange blossoms, the snow capped ridges of the mountain, I wandered in the ruins of the palace, hearing Ravel's Pavane in my mind. This, now, is why.

The narrative is continued in
Pavane for a Dead Princess, II
Pavane for a Dead Princess, III

Pavane for a Dead Princess, IV 
Pavane for a Dead Princess, V
Pavane for a Dead Princess, VI
Glory Days

Theodoros II Palaiologos 
Malatesta "dei Sonetti" Malatesti

The primary sources for the Cleofe and Theodoros story can be found here.

A Frosting of Peacocks

Anicia Juliana--or Juliana Anicia, depending on your source-was a petite woman, pretty when a girl, masses of hair determinedly controlled, immaculately groomed but not ostentatiously dressed (dressed as a Roman: they weren't Byzantines yet). Her (probable) portrait in the Metropolitan suggests this, suggests that the young people could tease her out of her firmness. Her other surviving portrait suggests very little. The early 500s were not a good time to be an independent-minded woman in Constantinople--look at how Theodora was traduced-but Anicia Juliana had enough money to do whatever she wanted.

What she wanted to do by the time she was a grandmother was to rebuild Solomon's Temple, and she did in the three years from 524-527. Agios Polyeuktos was privileged as to be the guest of honor because his church was on her property. He was a soldier, martyred in 255, and the church claimed a piece of his skull. That was pretty much it, unless she knew more about him than we do. Juliana Anicia's great-grandmother, Empress Eudocia (401-440), had built the first Polyeuktos about seventy-five years earlier. Eudocia was a poet--this will be relevant in a moment--who had married Theodosios II, the Eastern Emperor. Eudocia's daughter, Licinia Eudocia (422-462), married the Western Emperor, Valentinius III (371-392), son of Galla Placidia who herself built a wondrous building.

Bear with me on the names a little longer Licinia Eudocia's daughter Placidia married Juliana Anicia's father, Olybrius. Olybrius had been Emperor of the West for six months in 472. Juliana Anicia's husband was a distinguished German general, Areobindus, who refused an offer of the crown in the 512 riots. She must have been furious. Their son, also an Olybrius, married the niece--or daughter--of the Emperor Anastasios (591-518). Always so close and yet never empress.

If you drew lines north-south and east-west across Constantinople, they would intersect at the site of Agios Polyeuktos, on the grounds of Anicia Juliana's estate that had earlier belonged to Eudocia. The excavations of the 1960s have mostly been reburied, the finds are mostly in storage in the Istanbul museum, though if you make it across the lanes of traffic, occasional columns and bits of carving show through the dust. Five hundred years after Anicia Juliana, her church was the site on an imperial processional route where the emperor would stop to get a new candle on Easter Monday.

Her church was worth more attention than a candle. It must have been inexpressively beautiful, although she tried to express it with seventy-six lines of hexameters carved around the edges, frost-white against a peacock blue background. Parts of seven lines survive, but someone in the tenth century copied down the whole poem which now lives in Heidelberg. This is her voice:

. . . glittering beyond description with the brightness of the sun on both sides! On either side of the central nave, columns standing upon sturdy columns support the rays of a golden roof. on both sides recesses hollowed out in arches have given birth to the ever-revolving light of the moon. The walls . . . have recalled to life in measureless paths marvellous meadows of precious materials, whose brightness nature, flowering in the deep depths of the rock, has concealed and guarded for the house of God, to be the gift of Juliana . .
That is, in fact, remarkably close to the remnants that were found--niches frosted with peacocks with green glass eyes, their beaks holding lamps on gold chains (there would have been at least thirty of these); walls and columns frosted with grape vines--leaves and grapes you could pick, palm trees dripping with dates, flowers, crosses, vases, leaves, eggs-and-leafy-darts, beads-and-reels, monograms, hallucinatory plants, apostles; confronted peacocks under the arches; capitals overspun with networks of basketry and vines and fabric and acanthus leaves; wall skirting inlaid with amethyst, mother-of-pearl, colored glass, colored marble. Much of this carving was backed with peacock blue--never an inexpensive color and one wonders where it came from. Nearly all the imagery is taken from passages in Kings and Ezekiel in the Old Testament that describe the Temple of Solomon, as are the dimensions. With one exception: where the Old Testament called for cherubim, Juliana Anicia called for peacocks, the birds of Empresses.

Juliana Anicia's temple had mosaics on the walls and apse and floor, acres of them--white roses against black and red, and saints, but in the eighth century, mean-spirited doers of God's will destroyed the saints. And the columns: in addition to the pillars frosted with carvings, there were columns covered with inlay, long hexagonals set with squares of amethyst, triangles and narrow trapezoids of green glass. These hexagonals were interspersed with more squares of amethyst, the hexagonals and squares set into a network of narrow gold glass strips.

Agios Polyeuktos became a quarry at some point in its history. The Palaiologoi retrieved pieces of a screen for their church of the Pantokrator (Zeyrek Cami), and later on the Turks incorporated pieces in their own buildings. More pieces of Anicia Juliana's temple have been identified in Barcelona and Aquileia. And at San Marco in Venice. The picture above is Ruskin's study of the south-west corner, the corner you come to from the water, showing two of the three palm leaf and basketry capitals, and one of the two frosted pillars the Venetians brought from Constantinople, before or during or after 1204. The Venetians may not have known that Anicia Juliana had built Solomon's Temple, but when they rebuilt San Marco in the thirteenth century--making it unrecognizeable to anyone from the twelth--they were conscientiously rebuilding Solomon's Temple with what they understood to be the Old Testament measurements.Solomon's Temple had two pillars before the entrance (I Kings 7:13-22), and Anicia Juliana's pillars were placed outside the main entrance of San Marco. The Venetians thought they were Solomon's.

Juliana Anicia lived from 463 to about 528. After her temple was completed, there was little need for her to stay. She fortunately never saw Justinian's riposte.

21 July 2008

The Owls of Constantinople

Here are two small owls from Constantinople.

The first, soft watercolor owl was made for a woman-- the wealthiest woman in the world in her day-- Anicia Juliana, daughter of an emperor of Rome, bright, nervy, possibly jealous because she was not empress, and builder of Agios Polyeuktos (524-527), the largest and most magnificent church ever built, until Justinian, Emperor of the Romans, jealous of her accomplishments and wealth started building Agia Sophia five years later.

This little owl comes from a page of birds , one of 498 miniatures in a book on medicine and science given to her by the congregation of a church she built in 512 (although she must have actually paid for the manuscript). The manuscript is called the Vienna Dioscorides now, though what she called it is anybody's guess. Between Anicia Juliana and Vienna, the manuscript was treasured by everyone who touched it and became a model to be copied. It stayed in Constantinople under a variety of owners, mostly non-Greek, until bought by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and brought to Vienna.

The other owl was drawn in about 1438 by the eight-year old Mehmed, son of Murad II, Sultan of Rum, the latest to gnaw away at Justinian's empire. He was probably living in Adrianople at the time, but the manuscript came with him to Constantinople in 1453, a page in a book of school exercises . He might have owned Anicia Juliana's book, or not: a hundred years later it belonged to the Jewish doctor of his great-grandson.

Something else you see on that page are his very early lessons in writing Turkish in the Arabic script which the Turks used until 1928. And at the top of the page, the twelve-year old Mehmed practiced the elements of his signature as sultan, his tugra, because his father opted out of ruling and made him sultan for four years.

Also bright, also nervy, Mehmed became sultan for good in February 1451, just before his twenty-first birthday, and on 29 May 1453 he rode into Anicia Juliana's city as sole possessor. Her church had long been rubble: it had been abandoned and was in use as a stone quarry before the Western Christians took possession in 1204.

Late Afternoon

Late afteroon, cool breeze, warm sun. The lavender drying on the grape arbor scents the yard.

I had a heart attack scare last week and feel now perhaps as a butterfly just out of the chrysalis feels, new, not ready to fly. It turned out not to be the heart after all, but a confluence of several moderate problems that together produced astounding transforming pain. I now have various prescriptions, and the assurance this will not interfere with my plans for my life. 

But it is a good time for sitting under the arbor with the lavender, the lemon trees, the cats, the baby birds. The roses, except for the Abraham Darbys and the rugosas, are resting, though Pat Austin and Just Joey are covered with buds, St. Cecilia has a few, and Winchester has begun to bud. The little Tradescants that bullied everyone else up in the main bed have been quite subdued since they were moved beside the street. The old yellow rugosa has failed to bloom for the third year and will have to come out. The
rosa mulligani from Greg, now in its fourth summer, abruptly exploded the first of the month, having climbed six feet in the last year. Until I moved to Seattle in 2003, I had never gardened, and when Pierre gave me a Sally Holmes as a present for my first birthday here, I was bemused. Then Rosalind and Greg gave me more.

After a lifetime of anxiety and anxieties, attention to the roses, and learning their individual idiosyncrasies, has brought me finally to content.