31 December 2011

For some time I thought there was time

Thrush, House of Livia, Rome


For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then

there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song

                                 W. S. Merwin 

From the New Yorker, December 12, 2011, p. 42.

26 December 2011

Silver candlesticks and Cyriaco's angry dolphin

There are four dolphins on each of two candlesticks in this household. They were made in Athens about seventy years ago -- Renaissance-style candlesticks that continue a long tradition of finishing off feet with dolphins.  These are large candlesticks, and look massively heavy, but they are all repoussé and no interior. You will notice the green-man effect given the dolphins by waves that have become leaves.

Every year when I bring the dolphins out for the Christmas celebrations, and polish up their snouts, I am happily reminded of Cyriaco's angry dolphins: 

Cymadocea, detail.

This is Cymadocea, the nymph whom Cyriaco was pleased to fancy as speeding his ship across the Aegean -- you can just see her holding his ship in her left hand.  She is more or less riding on a dolphin, wearing one as a hat, and with a particularly irritated dolphin firmly clamped under her arm.
 . . . while Cymodocea, the most glorious of all the nymphs, swam and made music from the depths of the sea, from time to time bedewed me sweetly with her kisses, and carried the iron keel from below. (Letter 19, January 1445, from Ainos)
With his classical interests, Cyriaco must have already known this dolphin from Roman carvings in Italy, but it is my particular fancy that he was taken by the dolphin in Ag. Demetrios at Mistra.  Under the circumstances, you would expect it to look angrier than it does, and its eye quite denies that it is simply a carved post to support an angel's book.

Detail, Angel and dolphin, Ag. Demetrios, Mistra

The Byzantines had used dolphins in the service of books for a long time, as in this Gospel manuscript illustration from the 11th (?) century:

This dolphin is barely a support at all -- the tail makes an unconvincing prop -- more of a weary companion, curled around the post as if trying to act like a cat.  It, too, has the eye of a living creature.

Rethymnon, by G. Gerola.

The Mediterranean dolphin has a nice snout but it takes a great deal of creativity to get any angry expression on its face.  These Rethymnon dolphins photographed by Gerola look positively ferocious.

23 December 2011

Fitzi Futzi


He lived in the countess's work-basket and nobody knew he was Fitzi Futzi.

* * * * *  
This is the first sentence of a book I was given for my 5th Christmas, and it contains the whole story.  Fitzi Futzi was the most treasured book of my childhood, I slept with it in the early years, and the pages finally mostly disintegrated after my three daughters had had their turns.  After years of searching for a copy on this side of the Atlantic, I found it this year through The Children's Bookshop at Hay on Wye, which had found me Peter Magpie.
* * * * *
The countess lived in a castle and she was Hansli's grandmother.  (Click to enlarge these pictures.)

Once Cook made a cake for Hansli's birthday.  Fitzi Futzi had to stand on tip-toe to see the top of the cake, and he thought it looked lovely. 

As you might anticipate, the icing was soft at one point.  Fitzi Futzi fell in and had to eat his way out through the side.  Cook thought it was mice.

Fitzi Futzi was the explanation for things that happened in the castle.  Such as how chocolate got on the countess's workbasket.  And how the countess's glasses disappeared because Fitzi Futzi looked through them and saw how big everything became and he was frightened.  And how the chimney smoked because Fitzi Futzi climbed inside to get warm and it made him sneeze, and every time he sneezed a big cloud of smoke came out.  And how one of the carriage lanterns would never stay lit because Fitzi Futzi would ride inside and he would blow the candle out.  And how the goldfish got fat because Fitzi Futzi went fishing without a hook.  And how wineglasses got broken because the butler was trying to grab Fitzi Futzi who was drinking the left-over wine.  If you are missing a button, it is because Fitzi Futzi has taken it to try to match the one he is missing on the back of his trousers.

He wanted to know how to cry.  So he pinched the baby and saw that she opened her mouth and squeezed her eyes, but when he did that himself, no tears came. 

Once he had tears, he could be seen, and he was seen with the baby, and he was seen in the garden, and seen hiding around the corner of the stairs.  A great many things happened that could be taken to indicate that Fitzi Futzi -- like Peter Magpie -- had a general disregard for the proper human order of things.  Cook and the butler and the nurse discussed all the happenings, and decided they had to stop.

16 December 2011

The Greek economy in 1834

Bettina's mother, Gunda Brettano von Sevigny,
drawn by Ludvig Emil Grimm.

In November 1834, Bettina Schinas and her husband were planning to move from Nauplion to Athens with the new government.  Schinas -- Bettina calls him "S" -- had a high appointment in the government, but just about the time he was able to propose marriage, he lost it in the rivalry between Armansperg and Maurer, two members of the regency council for King Otto.  Schinas had earlier been a student of Maurer's in Munich, as well as a student of Bettina's father in Berlin.  When Maurer had to leave Nauplion to return to Munich, Schinas lost his support and thus his income.  Bettina is concerned for transferring and investing funds because her parents are currently providing their support.

In this letter she talks about the practicalities of money, and gives striking insights into the economic situation of the young country.  Notice the variety of currencies and countries involved in the transactions.

* * * * * *

17 November 1834, Bettina to her mother:

There is no doubt that investing money here is most profitable. Exchanging the gold I got 22 Dr. 40 L. instead of 22 Dr. 33 L., a small profit. I have 3 bills on very safe local houses to be drawn in case the borrower cannot pay at a certain date. An expert and respected merchant served us as consultant: he speaks Italian and can teach me about all that is strange to me. A bill of 1200 Dr. borrowed for 2 months at 18 percent; a second of 1000 Dr. for 4 months at 12 percent, a third of 1500 Dr for 6 months at 12 percent.

Generally house building is suggested. The government has specified rent at 15 percent of a house’s value and generally it is expected to rise in the future. If S. could get a position that included a residence, a rental house would be perfectly profitable. At least could we rent out a part of it as shop or storage. House building is very cheap and ridiculously fast. So why doesn’t everybody build? Because there is a huge lack of money and nobody can risk speculation. So what we don’t need for our housebuilding we can invest in Athens very profitably at the time being, but only for short periods so there will always be money at our disposal -- mainly for the following reason: products of the country like silk, butter, cereals are bought wholesale locally and sold there to the small retail merchants within 2-4 weeks at a very large profit. You give the wholesaler a certain amount and get it back with profit after 2-4 weeks.

The owner of Miaulis’ house, now an employee, made 1000 Scudi. profit from 5000 Sc. and kept for himself besides the 1000 Sc. profit 600 Sc. for himself. This sounds fabulous to us but it happens here. I don’t count on such strokes of luck but am expecting significant interest earnings compared to German offers. But it is most difficult to get money transferred here. Armansperg, Heideck and others of these men cannot pay out because Eichthal keeps significant sums of advance payments for future deliveries in his hands. There are no other bankers here to handle the matter easily, correspondence via Syra would be necessary or maybe Triest. 

Now Heidenstamm offered today to pay out ⅓ in 2 weeks, the second third in 6 weeks, the rest in a bill of Rougemont in Paris, as in Paris business is the fastest and most profitable. So I am asking father to do the adequate steps at Rougemont as fast as possible. I will hardly draw the complete rest of 16.000 Thaler as I will need it later for housebuilding, to pay for beams, planks, doors and windows in Triest where I will have to order them. I would take the rest just in case the profit on  money here is so significant that I might better use it here for a certain time first. I also would appreciate the opening of credits for me at Duthil Tichy or Höslin & Springer. Please give me  information about your steps as soon as possible, and be sure I will accepts any of your advices with gratitude. I will inform you exactly about my further experiences to help your decision whether to invest here and trust my faithful management or not. This is a new job for me, the good Lord who is preparing my whole fate will give me the necessary understanding to all of it.

Just now I got a note that my silver box reached Customs. The freight, insurance, etc. are 78 Dr. 18 L.; the cost of Customs I don’t know yet. There is duty on the unprocessed pieces of linen, as well as furniture, tea service, silver. Table linen, underclothes (as processed linen), books, used pieces of bronze etc. are free. Still the boxes from Ancona are not yet here.

The end of the week Countess Armansperg will leave for Athens -- everyone else will leave in 2-4 weeks. I would have preferred to go there earlier with S. to buy the plot, but it has been raining for the past two days and in 8 days summer is expected back for several weeks like every winter, so we wait for it in order not to sink into the mud climbing up and down plots in uncobbled Athens. Heideck will bring me the plan of Athens one of these evenings so I can benefit from his knowledge of the terrain and get his much appreciated advice concerning the healthy position of the plot etc.. He agrees with my thought to build outside the town to have a garden and has a place in his mind which is closer to the future royal palace without being in the center of town, with a view of the sea, etc..

Foreground, Bettina's house outside Athens.

S. wants to correct my information about the rent of 15 %: this is the government’s suggestions,  but private landlords are taking 50 - 60 %. We will probably move to Athens the end of February to be present for the house building. Until then I will busily study Greek so I can share my thoughts with the very expert craftspeople without an interpreter.

Heideck says Schnikelich should come here because there is only one master glazier in town for so many buildings, and he is doing nothing but glass. If Schnikelich came he would have to travel via Trieste* to get all the contacts concerning glass, complete windows, doors, floors, shutters etc. so he could take over for them completely at construction projects. With my experience here I want to add though that a glass pane including insertion which costs in Berlin 8 Groschen is here only 80 L. Tell him so -- I don’t want to persuade him though I believe he can earn good money here, specially with gilding, paintwork, oil painting, varnishing etc. which partly is done here very inadequately or partly even unknown.

*Bettina explained in an later letter, printed earlier here, that doors for the new houses were ordered ready-made from Trieste.  This door industry make a splendid piece of research for someone.

 Copyright © Brigitte Eckert 2011.

09 December 2011

Bessarion calls for a crusade

Cardinal Bessarion, detail from manuscript.

In 1458, Mehmed entered the Morea to obtain surrender of the territories formerly held by Constantine.  Corinth, Kalavryta, and Patras were surrendered to him.  He left the Morea ostensibly under the control of Thomas and Demetrios Palaiologos who were to pay him tribute.  Their incoherent administrations were fighting among themselves with adherents changing sides while Thomas clawed for the ascendency.  In 1459 in Italy, the newly-elected Pius II called a congress at Mantua for the purpose of forming an alliance of Christian princes against the Ottomans.  Cardinal Bessarion was given heavy assignments toward this goal.  In May of that year he wrote a letter about the proposed crusade to Fra Jacopo de Marchia, a Franciscan professor. It took four and a half more years before the crusade sailed in August 1464.

Bessarion decribed the Morea as a land flowing with milk and honey, but he had not been there for 25 years. Some of his numbers are extraordinary, though the Isthmus is all right, and they should be taken not as untruthfulness but as a measure of his desire for its recreation as the heart of a restored Eastern Empire. I am not convinced of his view of Thomas, but he was trying to rally the troops.****

This is my draft translation of part of the letter:

 * * * * *

In Greece there is also this large province, commonly called Morea, about 800 miles in circumference, with most the most fruitful, fertile fields and a great abundance of everything, not only providing that which is necessary for human use, but also for producing bread, wine, meat, cheese, wool, cotton, linen, silk, kermes, cochineal, small berries for making dye. Everything is found in abundance.  Grain is two stera for one ducat .  . . wine costs nothing, eight castrones a ducat.** Hay and straw for horses without number so that, in addition to the inhabitants and locals of the place, the country can feed 50,000*** horsemen without having to get food from any other source. Last year the Turks came in with 80,000 mounted soldiers, and innumerable foot and wagons, and they stayed five months and still had an abundance of food, and even after they left everything was very cheap, so abundant is everything.

Further, it is almost an island, its shape is round and large and full, surrounded by the sea, with a narrow branch by which is it connected to the mainland, a width of six miles, by which protection the whole country is secure.  Also, the cities which it has, are almost 300, walled, very strong and very well fortified; also, innumerable animals, and a generous supply of men. Also, it is well situated, for Italy, Sicily, Crete and the other islands, Turkey, Albania, and Macedonia, and other parts of Christendom, so that, if it is in Christian hands, it could be the means of major attacks on the Turks and a great use to Christians: if it is in Turkish hands, it would threaten great danger to Christians.  

Such, therefore is the land which the Turkish infidels almost completely occupy. Last year they entered it with a great force, in a betrayal by evil men, except for a few places, in which the lords of those places, who are both brothers of the lord, the emperor of the Greeks, the brother dead in the Constantinople war, received him.  But this year, in January last, God resuscitated the spirit of one of those lords, Thomas Palaiologos, despot of the Morea, and he took up arms against the infidels for his own liberty and that of his people, and within two months he recovered all the lost places.  Blessed be God!  The thing is great and wondrous, and was and is a miracle, and it holds out to us great hope for future things, so long as we understand how to use it well!

* In 1480, Bartolomeo Minio expected Argolid grain to be 3 stera for a ducat.
**  Castrones: castrated goats.  
***The largest semi-reliable number we have for horsemen is 10,000 in 1417 under John Palaiologos against the Principality of Achaia.  It comes from a Venetian chronicle.  A more reliable number is a Venetian document of 1418 which gives 6000.  Neither Plethon nor the Cronicle of the Morea expected more than 6000 at any one time, and in 1444 John VIII said there were 6000.
**** In fact, when the crusade actually came off, the Venetians had to arrange for Thomas to be told that he was not going with them.

04 December 2011

Her most dear daughter: Helena Palaiologina of Cyprus

 Women and their daughters:
donors from frescos in Galata and Pedhoulas, Cyprus.

Helena's mother died when she was five years old, an age to have established specific memories, as well as a sense of devastating loss.  In their memorials for Cleofe, Nikiforas Cheilas spoke of "her most dear daughter," and Demetrios Pepagomenos, the family doctor said, "Your beloved daughter mourns you, bereaved of her dear mother at so young an age, at a time when she most needed you, and required your instruction and advice, who have left her with no maternal consolation."  

Her father completely fell to pieces, so Helena had no help there, and we have no real sense of what kind of companionship might have been available to her. She was given a foster-mother (who apparently had no name), unmentioned in Greek sources. Plethon and Bessarion and Cheilas and Scholarios and the rest of the intellectuals would have been very nice to Helena, but I think of a mother -- Andromache -- speaking of what the death of a parent means to a child:
He bows his head before every man, his cheeks are bewept, he / goes, needy, a boy among his father's companions, / and tugs at this man by the mantle, that man by the tunic, / and they pity him, and one gives him a tiny drink from a goblet, / enough to moisten his lips, not enough to moisten his palate. (XXII, Lattimore trans.)
 On 3 February 1442, possibly on her fourteenth birthday, and a day or so after she arrived in the country, she was married to the King of Cyprus, John II, in the cathedral of Nicosia. Look at that photograph, and then look at the cathedral of Mistra.  She must have found it overwhelming, the city overwhelming, after the little churches and closed spaces of Mistra. She was from a puritan court when men and women were covered from neck to feet (and women's heads and necks covered, and she came to a court where the men wore tight-fitting hose, very short jackets which showed more than anyone needs to know about, great puffed sleeves, and wide turbans; the women, high-waisted, low-necked gowns with long trailing sleeves and upswept hair revealing great expanses neck, bosom, and back. I imagine a terrified adolescent, adamantly refusing to change her dress, almost flaunting her severely covered-up Greek style and hidden hair.
John was  ten years older than she, had become king at the age of fourteen, had been married before (to a distant relative, Medea Palaiologina of Montferrat), and had a very pretty mistress at court -- Marietta de Patras -- by whom he had a son.  A story is told concerning Helena's treatment of Marietta's nose, either by biting it off or by having it cut off (with the intent of causing an abortion, although the infant involved was three years old at the time), but the nose sounds unlikely and is very much the sort of story that abounds in Cypriot accounts of high-born women.  As does the story that she poisoned the husband of her 13-year old daughter.  Really, Cleofe's daughter simply could not have done that.  Further, accounts of the street brawl and illness that immediately preceded the husband's death suggest other possibilities.

Nothing survives as direct evidence of Helena, there is no correspondence and no documents -- only what people reported, and the reports are almost entirely from those who fall on the Latin side of the Latin-Orthodox divide. Her foster-mother, and her son Thomas, had accompanied her to Nicosia.  They are remembered as powerfully ambitious.  Helena
is remembered in the Cypriot chronicles for imposing her Mistra Greeks on the Lusignan court, for pushing policies that favored the Orthodox, for hostility to the Latin church, and for seizing and using political power -- with the consent of her husband.  They also complained that she spent money aiding refugees from Constantinople.

The Cypriot chronicler, Henrico Giblet,
described her as "fine & adroite" -- fine could mean "pretty," but he more likely meant "subtle, shrewd, sharp." The chronicler Estienne de Lusignan described her as "una donna astuta & sagace greca" -- "an astute and shrewd Greek lady."  Of course she was, with those parents, but I think it is particularly through comparisons with her mother, Cleofe, that we begin to understand what was said about her, and understand how she had been damaged even before she arrived in Cyprus.

Helena was particularly reviled for her support of Orthodoxy, her generosity to a particular monastery, and her advancement of Orthodox clergy.  Nothing is said about her own spiritual life, but who had there been to nurture it?  Cleofe was deeply devout, but she had grown up with, and when at Mistra, corresponded continually with women who were equally devout.  A small girl could translate deep devotion into militant action as an adult, particularly in what she must have felt as isolation.

In 1451, Constantine sent his trusted Sphrantzes to Cyprus. He said:

. . . do you know the monk I met a few days ago?  He brought me a message from my niece that she is in need of something; she would have told me in her own voice what she wanted; had it been possible, she would have sent her message through a  loyal, trusted courtier, but she has none.  As she does not have one and cannot make the trip, I must send a man whom I consider appropriate . . . it is you, since you have acted  and made decisions for me, know me personally, and have been informed. (XXXIII. 8-9)"
". . . not enough to moisten her palate."  Helena had no one whom she could trust.  That is a significant comment, considering the presence of a foster-mother and brother, and it is not a rare characteristic of individuals who have been bereaved at a young age.  Still, Sphrantzes does not say if he actually made the trip.

Giblet, said that "she liked being queen, she also acted like a King, and in effect, governed the kingdom." Estienne de Lusignan said, "vedendo il suo marito esser huomo feminile inhabile à regger'il regno; prese lei il governo" -- "seeing her husband was weak and unable to rule his kingdom, she took over the government," and he later reports that the High Court declared Helena regent. (But her grandmother Helena had served as regent when Manuel was abroad.)
One account says that John was never entirely well, but Pius II -- and later chroniclers -- wrote that John had been educated among women as a boy, that he acted more as a woman than as a man, and concerned himself with banquets and pleasure.

Is John's life of sensual pleasure the only explanation for Helena's participation in government? Perhaps, but having been educated among women, perhaps he appreciated female ability.  Perhaps he recognized the girl's intelligence, perhaps he knew something of Plethon, and found her valuable.  Particularly if he recognized he had few talents for his position, something about which the chroniclers had no doubt whatsoever. Helena's mother, Cleofe, had been an equal (though discrete) participant in her husband's rule.  Pepagomenos had said:
For there was nothing that was not communicated to your judgement and thus some difficult problems were solved, while matters of greater moment, of holy governance and of the (soul’s) ascent were determined by the superiority of your virtue.  . . .
For you were the best co-worker urging him toward the good, and consoling him for what was incurable, a good counsellor,

And Cheilas had said:
. . . as she stood by her husband, the most holy despot, yielded to the men around him and enjoyed a sort of splendor and radiance while doing only what seemed right to her.  . . . In the midst of turmoil, when present among the imperial councillors she gave virtuous advice of every sort, and made herself available to help everyone, from which both sides learned the better, and the better triumphed over both . .
Well, Cleofe had grown up without a mother, but with Battista's love and guidance in poise and discretion.  Helena had no such guide as she moved into adolescence, but she apparently had the touchy disposition of her father Theodoros and grandfather Manuel.

Pius II wrote that her foster-brother Thomas ruled in his mother's place, his mother ruled in Helena's place, and Helena ruled in place of the king -- "regina regem regebat."  He was proud of his literary style.
It is true that King John made Thomas Chamberlain of Cyprus. It is also true that John's son, James, eventually murdered Thomas.  It was not James' only murder.  James was tall, broad-shouldered, terribly good-looking, much indulged by his father.

The Genoese governor of Famagusta wrote, "The king was governed by a queen . . . a detestable Greek."
  A chronicle published in 1788, by the Archimandrite Cipriano, says: ἀλλ´ οὖσα τῇ ἀληθεία γυνὴ μὲ φρόνημα ἀνδρικόν. καὶ πνεύματος ὀξέος, καθὸ Ρωμαία -- "though she was in truth a woman, she had a man's mind, and a quick spirit -- since she was Greek." That is what Nikeforas Cheilas had said about her mother Cleofe: "she possessed a truly masculine intelligence."  The Greeks seemed to appreciate what the Latins found threatening.

Beyond these remarks, all we know about her is that she was never very healthy.  We have no real impression of her personality, no idea of how she and her husband regarded each other outside issues of ruling. There were two daughters: Charlotte, born in 1444, who was married at thirteen and queen at fourteen; and Cleofe who died very young, in 1448.  Helena herself died 11 April 1458, at the age of thirty. One of the chronicles has her, on her deathbed, angry at the marriage John had planned for Charlotte, to a first cousin, and demanding Charlotte reject the marriage.

John died the next month. The deaths are not explained.  Charlotte became queen, and in the fall married the cousin.  Her half-brother, James, claimed the throne, and with the aid of Egyptian troops captured Famagusta and Nicosia, driving Charlotte from Cyprus.  Charlotte died in Rome in 1487 and was buried in St. Peter's.  James eventually married Caterina Cornaro, who later sold Cyprus to Venice, and was painted by Gentile Bellini.

 Broto is essential for Helena:
Eva Latorre Broto, "Elena Paleóloga de Chipre: revisión de un mito," Erytheia 23 (2002) 159-186, in Spanish.
______, "Η Ελένη Παλαιολογίνα, αναθεώρηση ενός θρύλου," L’épopée dans le monde grec: Η εποποιια μεσα στον ελληνικο χωρα. Colloque International, Nancy, mars 2001. 
 (If you are unable to find one of these articles and really need it, write me privately for a PDF.)

also, a brief account in
Ioanna Christoforaki, "Sainted Ladies and Wicked Harlots": perceptions of gender in medieval Cyprus."