27 October 2010

The Man Who Shot Jesse James Tried to Marry my Great-Grandmother

Esther Kirby Whitehurst

My grandmother, Ann Whitehurst Jordan, told me this story about her mother.  She, my grandmother, loved history -- mostly history of the mother of the Gracchi  and "I cannot tell a lie" sort -- and frequently illustrated some point or another with an historic example.  She shared a birthday with Mozart, and played the violin somewhat, and so she considered herself an authority on Mozart:  his favorite color was yellow; he loved canaries.  She was sure that my grandfather's name, Eugene, meant that he came from an aristocratic family, and that we were descended from the fifth wife of Henry VIII.  I am relating this to give the story a kind of context, to convey her sense of historical rigor, and to explain why I have been so fascinated that she considered Jesse James to be a hero.

My father, the missionary and preacher, did too.  Along with millions of other lower-middle-class Americans in the great middle strip of the US from Minnesota down to Mississippi and Alabama.  In their stories, Jesse James was a sort of Robin Hood, who took from the big banks and the railroads and gave to the poor.  Contemporary historians regard Jesse James otherwise, but I grew up with the popular hero, and for this story to work he is the popular hero.

My great-grandmother, Esther Kirby lived with her family in Kossuth, Mississippi, in Tishomingo County out of which came such horrors in the 1960s. There are five towns in the US named for Kossuth, and one of the endearing things about small-town America for me is the towns named for these beacons of freedom -- Bolivar, Tennessee and West Virginia, Ypsilanti Michigan.  Esther was born in 1860, she had heard the guns from the battle of Shiloh in 1862, and her family had taken in and nursed some of the wounded.  Her father--Irish famine immigrant Timothy Kirby -- went to war for the Confederacy, was taken prisoner, and interned in a Union prison at Alton, Illinois.  He so won the heart of the commandant that he was allowed to go on leave to see his family, on his word of honor that he would return.  He was given a Union uniform and one of Esther's earliest memories was being told that, "Ma's in the kitchen kissing a Yankee."

The family story says that he returned.  His CSA military record reports him as AWOL.  Both could be right.

At some point -- late 1870s, early 1880s -- the Kirbys took in two boarders, Bob and Charlie Ford, who traveled along the railroad line, stopping off where they could get work building chimneys.  After a while, Esther noticed that Bob Ford was, as my grandmother said, "sweet on her."  Then one day, when she was tidying up the dresser, she noticed a gold ring.  She told her mama.  Her mama told Timothy Kirby.  Timothy Kirby told Esther's brothers when they came in from the fields, and that evening the Kirby brothers escorted Bob and Charlie Ford to the county line and told them not to let themselves be seen in those parts again.

That was pretty much it.  Esther Kirby married Zebedee Benjamin Whitehurst on 26 January 1882.  In April 1882 word exploded across the country that Bob Ford, the dirty little coward, had shot Jesse James in the back on the 3rd.  While he was straightening his mother's photograph.

Shooting someone in the back was, of course, unspeakable.  But to dishonor a man's mother -- I don't know what the modern historians have done about his mother's photograph.

But look at the conjunction of those dates.  What is one to think?

My grandmother told me this story when I was 10, when we were living in Missouri, and my father drove us over to St. Joseph to see the James' house -- and retired President Harry Truman on the veranda of his.

The thought of how closely I escaped the humiliation of being the great-granddaughter of the man who shot Jesse James frightened me for years.  There wasn't a person in the country who didn't know Bob Ford as the dirty little coward.

It took me many more years to realize that I was the great-granddaughter of Zebedee Benjamin Whitehurst whose first love was books, and who had been known to buy another book when buying food for the family was a problem.  I am, most definitely, his descendant.

Esther Kirby Whitehurst at her desk.
My aunt said, "She did her correspondence
in the morning in a fine hand.

23 October 2010

Ikaros at Yerákova

 Kevin Andrews at AcroCorinth, 1950
LIFE Magazine

Three years ago Pierre MacKay reviewed the new edition of Kevin Andrew's Castles of the Morea with Glen Bugh's fine introductory essay.  Recently, a publisher who had seen the review sent us a copy of the new edition of Andrews' Flight of Ikaros, the most powerful of all the "travel" books ever written about Greece.  This is the original edition, not the second edition that was tarted up with political harangue.  There is more than enough of the political intensity and fury of the Civil War in the original Ikaros to satisfy anyone.

This new edition, has to my mind, wrongly, and without editorial explanation changed at least one of the names Andrews used and so it shifts the way Andrews came at things.  For example, he wrote extensively of the harshness -- terror-- he encountered at Yerákova, in the meanness between ELAS and CHI, and having no preconception about Yerákova we are shattered by what he encountered, particularly in the long conversations with Kostandi.  

This new edition has helpfully changed Yerákova to Mistra, and once you have the name Mistra you cannot but clutter his account with your own ideas of the place. Even though you recognize Andrews' "flat triangular slope . . . the ghost city . . . seven centuries old" as long as it is Yerákova you are forced to see Andrew's city. (Although the new edition missed the Yerákovítes (192; orig. 188) and should have turned them into Mistriotes.)

This is Andrews' account of his first visit to Ayios Yannis:
Walking along a rocky lane between the narrow walls, I looked for a way in, but there was only an arch opening on a courtyard with the three gates of the church walled up with masonry at the far end.

Then a voice called; an old woman leaning over a parapet overhead motioned me to another archway farther down the wall.  Inside, a flight of open steps led up the side of the church.  She stood at the top, clawing at the air. 'Come up, come up.  You can't get in the other way.  There are no proper stairs inside for us, the evil-fated.'  She withdrew through a tiny door, mumbling incomprehensibly with toothless gums.  I followed.

Coming in out of the light, I slowly began to see figures moving across a vaulted platform littered with piles of bedding and household goods.  It was the upper part of the church originally intended for the use of women who were not allowed to come nearer the ceremonies below.  Everywhere, a grey half-light hung in the vaulted spaces of the clerestory, filtered down from rings of windows underneath the several domes into a narrow depth of columns and darkly frescoes walls.  Through air stale with the after smell of incense and snuffed-out candles I could just make out the shrouded, icon-bearing encrustations of sanctuary and altar when I stepped on somebody's leg, and a boy with a fat, round face sat up convulsively, then sank back gurgling and slowly jerking on a straw pallet.
The old woman said, 'She can't move, poor burning soul.  She's paralysed, eh heh, what can you do? . . . We live close to one another in this church . . . It is not safe in our houses.  Here we are all together.'
 . . . I was glad to be out in the light, but the sun had gone.  We went round through the courtyard I had first seen and passed under four archways into a graceful peristyle of smooth marble columns, open to the east over the plain of Sparta.  There was an upper balcony with wooden poles and tiled roof, and in one colonnade paving-stones and the timbers of a fallen stair lay ina heap under a great hole in the gallery above.  Through a door to the church on the lower level half-naked children came out and stared at me.

Ayios Yannis is Ag. Demetrios, the Mitropoleos.  The picture above was taken after the refugees were scooped out and the church cleaned. 

If you do not own The Flight of Ikaros, you should.  Amazon has it inexpensively.  The original 1959 edition is more expensive from Amazon, less bought from an English bookseller.

17 October 2010

Nauplion: Spolia: Part Two

A reader from Nauplion recently responded to my request for more spolia several months ago and sent me six "new" finds. This first is a late Ottoman inscription spotted in a private yard, now turned on its side but originally a tombstone.  It reads:

gone to rest          son of
AL-FATIHA  (name of first verse of Quran)

  (See reader's correction in Comments.) 

The next is a second is a used and reused classical doorstep rotated 90 degrees for use as a doorstep on the south side of Panagia.

 My correspondent found several spolia in the walls around the Pentadelphia bastion and the walk beside the swimming area where -- unaccountably -- I never managed to walk during my 10 visits to Nauplion in 10 months.  This next  is particularly interesting.  Possibly it is related to the two faces on the front of the Arsenale at the platea. I would love to learn more about it.

This fragile Ionic fragment is to the right of the Sea Gate. 

And this piece, that looks to me like a cannon butt, is to the left of the Sea Gate: 

Finally, a pretty piece from the side of the 1830s building that was once the Ministry of the Armed Forces, on Papanikolao St., near Ag. Spyridon.  It is a shame that the owners of the building have not shown it more respect.

There are 6 pieces of spolia in this entry and 12 in the first.  Considering the length of time Nauplion has been inhabited, there should be more.  I suspect that private gardens shelter quite a few not easily photographed by the passer-by.  If anyone has found and photographed spolia in Argos, I would be delighted to include them here, too.  Or, for that matter, spolia anywhere between Kiveri-Argos-Nauplion-Tolo.

My great appreciation to Prof. Keith Sturgess of Nauplion for making the time to take these photographs for me. 

Pierre A. MacKay read the Ottoman inscription.

12 October 2010

Columbus: What They Wrote

Parrots, Peter Boell

Two contemporaries of Columbus report what they had learned about his voyages:

Pietro Bembo's History of Venice:
Heading from there [the Canaries] into the setting sun for 33 days together, he discovered six islands, two of them very large indeed, where nightingales sing in November and naked men of a gentle nature use boats made of a single tree trunk. These people have a cereal which they call maize, with much bigger ears and stalks than ours, reedy foliage, and very numerous plump grains which are attached to the ear and covered with a sheath in place of beards, which it casts off as it matures. they have very few kinds of quadrupeds, among them tiny dogs which are actually mute and do not bark. But they do have a great many types of birds, both larger and smaller than ours, so that some little birds are found which together with their nests weigh no more than a 24th of an ounce each. 

There are parrots of various shapes and colors in great abundance. They collect fleeces which grow by themselves from the woods and hills, but when they want to make them whiter and finer, they clean them and plant them by their homes. They have gold, which they collect in the sands of the rivers; they do not have iron. In its place they use specially hard and sharp stones, both for hollowing out their boats and for shaping other wood for domestic use and working gold. But the gold they work only for ornament, wearing it suspended from their pierced ears and nostrils -- they are indeed unacquainted with coinage, nor do they use any kind of money. 

*     *     *     *     * 
Piri Re'is: annotations on the Atlantic map:

These coasts are named the shores of Antilia. They were discovered in the year 896 of the Arab calendar. But it is reported thus, that a Genoese infidel, his name was Colombo, be it was who discovered these places. For instance, a book fell into the hands of the said Colombo, and be found it said in this book that at the end of the Western Sea [Atlantic] that is, on its western side, there were coasts and islands and all kinds of metals and also precious stones. The above-mentioned, having studied this book thoroughly, explained these matters one by one to the great of Genoa and said: "Come, give me two ships, let me go and find these places." They said: "O unprofitable man, can an end or a limit be found to the Western Sea? Its vapour is full of darkness." The above-mentioned Colombo saw that no help was forthcoming from the Genoese, he sped forth, went to the Bey of Spain [king], and told his tale in detail. They too answered like the Genoese. In brief Colombo petitioned these people for a long time, finally the Bey of Spain gave him two ships, saw that they were well equipped, and said:

"O Colombo, if it happens as you say, let us make you kapudan [admiral] to that country." Having said which he sent the said Colombo to the Western Sea. The late Gazi Kemal had a Spanish slave. The above-mentioned slave said to Kemal Reis, he had been three times to that land with Colombo. He said: "First we reached the Strait of Gibraltar, then from there straight south and west between the two . . . [illegible]. Having advanced straight four thousand miles, we saw an island facing us, but gradually the waves of the sea became foamless, that is, the sea was becalmed and the North Star--the seamen on their compasses still say star--little by little was veiled and became invisible, and be also said that the stars in that region are not arranged as here. They are seen in a different arrangement. They anchored at the island which they had seen earlier across the way, the population of the island came, shot arrows at them and did not allow them to land and ask for information.

The males and the females shot hand arrows. The tips of these arrows were made of fishbones, and the whole population went naked and also very . . . [illegible]. Seeing that they could not land on that island; they crossed to the other side of the island, they saw a boat. On seeing them; the boat fled and they [the people in the boat] dashed out on land. They [the Spaniards] took the boat. They saw that inside of it there was human flesh. It happened that these people were of that nation which went from island to island hunting men and eating them.

They said Colombo saw yet another island, they neared it, they saw that on that island there were great snakes. They avoided landing on this island and remained there seventeen days. The people of this island saw that no harm came to them from this boat, they caught fish and brought it to them in their small ship's boat [filika]. These [Spaniards] were pleased and gave them glass beads. It appears that he [Columbus] had read-in the book that in that region glass beads were valued. Seeing the beads they brought still more fish. These [Spaniards] always gave them glass beads.

One day they saw gold around the arm of a woman, they took the gold and gave her beads. They said to them, to bring more gold, we will give you more beads, [they said]. They went and brought them much gold. It appears that in their mountains there were gold mines. One day, also, they saw pearls in the hands of one person. They saw that when; they gave beads, many more pearls were brought to them. Pearls were found on the shore of this island, in a spot one or two fathoms deep. And also loading their ship with many logwood trees and taking two natives along, they carried them within that year to the Bey of Spain. But the said Colombo, not knowing the language of these people, they traded by signs, and after this trip the Bey of Spain sent priests and barley, taught the natives how to sow and reap and converted them to his own religion. They had no religion of any sort. They walked naked and lay there like animals.

Now these regions have been opened to all and have become famous. The names which mark the places on the said islands and coasts were given by Colombo, that these places may be known by them. And also Colombo was a great astronomer. The coasts and island on this map are taken from Colombo's map.


07 October 2010

Theodoros' Poem to Cleofe

Polyphemus and Galatea
This weekend the Byzantine Studies Association of North America is meeting at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I am speaking Friday on the poem Theodoros Palaiologos wrote for Cleofe, or on the reasons why it is by Theodoros and not by Bessarion as asserted since Allatius pronounced it so in 1648 and so maintained up to this day by a remarkable number of people who should know better.

It is also asserted that the poem is in Bessarion's handwriting, but an examination of the script and comparison with other documents certainly by Bessarion shows several distinct differences in letter formation, even if the overall effect is similar. However, since it is not possible to assert that handwriting is the equivalent of authorship, we will just let that go.

It is, I think, in the contents of the poem itself that authorship is made clear, both in what Theodoros writes and in the use he has made of two other poems. I am putting all three poems here, the original texts and the translations Pierre MacKay and I have made, which is what I will use as the handout for my conference paper.

στϊχοι ἐπιτύμβιοι ἰάμβικοι ἐπὶ τῷ τάφῳ τῆς μακαρίτιδος βασιλίσσης κυρᾶς Κλεόπης τῆς Παλαιολογίνης MS. Venice. Marcianus 533 f. 48b

Καὶ σώμασι πρίν, φιλτάτη, ξυνημμένοι
μία τε σὰρξ ὄντες, θεοῦ φάσκει λόγος,
τῷ πνεύματι ξύνειμεν ἄρτι κρειττόνως,
σοῦ μὲν νοητῶς καὶ τρόπον μοι καὶ λόγον
βιόν τε καὶ νόημα πᾶν οὐρανόθεν
ἐμοῦ καθαρῶς καθορώσης ᾗ θέμις,
ἐμοῦ διχασθέντος δέ, φεῦ, ἐπωδύνως
θερμοῖς τε σὺν δᾶκρυσιν ἐκκαλουμένου
μέρος τὸ λεῖπον καὶ καλὸν δή μοι μέλος.

Ταύτῃ γὰρ ἐν ταύτῃ σε γράψας εἰκόνι
πάντως ἐμαυτὸν προσπαρέγραψα τρόπῳ,
ἑνώσεως θέλων ξυνῆφθαί σοι τρίτῳ
ὡς τοῦ πόθου σβέσαιμι τὴν δεινὴν φλόγα
ψυχῆς τ’ ἐπαντλήσαιμι οἰδαῖνον πάθος.

Ἀλλ’ ὦ θανοῦσα καὶ θεῷ ζῶσ’ ἀξίως,
ἡνίκα τοῖς σοῖς τὸ χρεὼν ταὐτῷ τάφῳ
ὀστᾶ συνάψῃ τἀμὰ τετράδι τρόπων
αἰσθήσεων ἔξω με δεῖξαν πεντάδος,
πέμπτον σύναψον κρειττον’ ἀλλον δὴ τρόπον
τρυφῆς μετασχείν καὶ θεοῦ θεωρίας,
σὺν σοὶ τὸ θαρρεῖν ὡς ἔχουσα καὶ μάλα
δοῦσα ξυνεργὸς ἁμὸς οἷα καὶ μέλος.

Funerary iambic lines on the tomb of the
blessed Basilissa, Lady Cleofe Palaiologina.

Although, my dearest, we were once united,
being one flesh, the word of God claims
that it is better now to be together in the spirit,
you, living in thought, looking down from Heaven
upon my life, my words, my ways, and thought,

seeing all clearly as it is your right,
I, alas, torn apart, living in pain,
calling out for you with scalding tears,
for me, one thing is left, one good thing, song.

And so, portraying you in this image,
I have put myself beside you in every sense
wishing to be united in a third form of union.
so as to quench the terrible fire of longing
and to empty out the agony from my soul.

But, you who have died but live with God, deservedly,
when in the same tomb necessity brings
my bones together with yours in the fourth way
then, showing me what lies beyond the five senses
unite with me in the fifth and greater way
to share in delight and in the sight of God
my courage lies with you, who possess and indeed
give me, as my fellow-poet, this song.

       Morta è la sancta donna che tenea
mio spirto unito, tacito e contento;
anzi vive nel cielo, e io in tormento
remaso sono, altr’uom ch’io non solea:
      non huom, ma bruto, sì che ben dovea
sequire il corpo suo di vita spento,
né mai partir da lato al monimento,
ma incenerarmi ove ’l suo cor giacea,
      ché forse l’alma lei sequita arebbe
nel triumpho celeste, ove si vive
eternalmente per divina possa.
      Se pur di seguir lei fusser stà prive
le forze mie, almen stato serebbe
sepulto il corpo presso a le sacr’ossa.

       The holy lady is dead, who used to keep
my spirit united, quiet and content;
Now she lives in heaven, and I in torment
am left, another man from what I was:
      not man, but brute, so that I had best
have followed her body now bereft of life,
never to depart from her tomb-side
but scatter my ashes where her heart lies.
      Perhaps my soul might follow her
in the celestial triumph, where all live
eternally by divine power.
      Then if my efforts still left me prevented
from following her, my body would at least
be buried close beside her sacred bones.

Theocritus XI, 1–4 (Cyclops).

Οὐδὲν ποττὸν ἔρωτα πεφύκει φάρμακον ἄλλο,
Νικία, οὔτ’ ἔγχριστον, ἐμὶν δοκεῖ, οὔτ’ ἐπίπαστον,

ἢ ταὶ Πιερίδες· κοῦφον δέ τι τοῦτο καὶ ἁδύ
γίνετ’ ἐπ' ἀνθρώποις, εὑρεῖν δ’ οὐ ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι.

There is no other drug for love, Nicias, nor salve, nor poultice,
except the Muses, and this is something sweet and gentle
for men, yet it is not easy to discover it.

02 October 2010

Gregorio of Nauplion, Glass Painter

Mayster Grigorius de Napolis,31 March 1280
end of first line, second paragraph from the bottom

Gregorios of Nauplion first appears as a painter of glass, pittore di moioli, in Murano in this document from 1280, and between then and 1288 he shows up another thirty times.  He is the first "foreign" painter to appear in Muranese records, but as a foreigner was anyone from outside the commune of Venice, it is remarkable that the foreigner was Greek.

Really, there is no information about him, beyond the fact that one of these records shows that in December 1280 he took on Piero, Vido's son, as an apprentice for 11 months, and all the others indicate that people had trouble getting him to pay his debts.  It appears that a major reason for glass-worker debts at that time was failure to pay up for wood for the glass furnaces, and for the frit that was melted down for glass-making. He lived in the parish of S. Stefano, and the remnants of that church are shown here in front of S. Pietro Martire.

 How Gregorios got from Nauplion to Murano (Nauplion was then under the de la Roche Dukes of Athens), and where he learned to paint glass (Corinth would be likely) -- all that is anyone's guess.

No Murano glass survives from that time, so we don't know what his painting might have looked like. Surviving records have an order for 100 glasses with three figures around a tree, another order for glasses with garlands and pearls.  This is one of the earliest survivals, from 1330, modelled on Islamic glass.  Those little white dots are probably what is meant by pearls.

The Murano glass industry was producing in large and standardized amounts.  There are orders for 750 drinking glasses, 26 footed glasses, two large cases of footed glasses with garlands and pearls for export to Romania -- that would be Constantinople or Greece or Crete, 600 footed cups and 600 footed cups with a thread around the foot and the mouth.

A blue thread is common in that early Murano glass, and the first time I visited Monemvasia, in June 1978, I found part of the foot of a glass with a deep blue thread around the edge.  I found another fragment of threaded glass at Mistra two days later.

Lift a glass to Gregorios of Nauplion.

My great appreciation to Michael Pettinger for discovering Gregorios for me in Vetro e Vetrai di Murano, Vol. 3, by Luigi Zecchin.