31 December 2013

Captain Williams

Captain Williams, my brother Peter (age 6) and me (nearly 12) in King Tom,
Freetown, Sierra Leone (between White Man's Bay and Kroo Bay), April 1955.

I want to pay tribute to Captain Williams, one of the most beloved and loving people in my life.

We sailed from New York in late March on the Sulima of the Elder Dempster Line, one of those wonderful 12-passenger freighters. The ship was immediately in bad weather: my parents were laid-out flat in their cabin, unable to care for my brother and me who were laid-out flat in ours. At some time on that first miserable day, a small bright-eyed man appeared at our cabin door and took over as our nurse. That was Captain Williams who had asked one of the stewards why we were not at the table.

Two or three days later, he bundled me up in blankets and had me outside in a deckchair with a cup of tea. Then he pulled another deckchair alongside and began to read to me. As he told me, in bits and pieces, he had grown up in the London slums -- just look at his height -- and had run away to sea on a whaling ship when he was 15. He did well with ships, came to work for Elder Dempster Lines, and was eventually one of their captains, having captained the Sulima a few years earlier. He married, and had two sons, Reginald and Robert. He gave them an African Grey parrot that scolded them when they made too much noise.  At the time he rescued us, he was retired, living in Sierra Leone, and collecting animals for American zoos. (In the picture above, my brother is holding a brochure for the NY company.)

Bundled up in blankets in a deckchair, I listened to Captain Williams (who had run away to sea on a whaling ship) read Moby Dick. I loved it, loved his parallel stories and explanations, and have no idea now what he told me and what Melville wrote. For years I had the sense of having lived Moby Dick, and in college was furious at my literature professor from Harvard who so freely pronounced theory about Moby Dick and knew nothing of the sea.  Once Captain Williams woke me up early to see two whales spouting on the horizon.

The Sulima stopped at Dakar with its incomparably beautiful people, then at little Bathurst (Banjul) on the Gambia with its rose arbors, and then at Freetown, Sierra Leone, where Captain Williams left us. But first he invited us to his home in King Tom where he lived in a bungalow surrounded by flame trees that crowded the slope down to the sea.  Looking at GoogleMaps I almost feel I can identify that place.

We were not there long: the Sulima needed to sail, and the captain was giving Captain Williams this time as a courtesy.  We watched as he made acquaintance with a family of chimpanzees his employees had just acquired. 

He walked into the cage, and squatted down, facing the largest male.  He held out his hand and said, "Hello, old chap!"  Presently the male came over, took his hand, and examined it carefully for a long time.  Then Captain Williams examined his hand carefully.  That was all, but before he came out of the cage each of the chimpanzees had willingly allowed him to stroke them.

There was another incident, when a boxed python was brought out.  The chimpanzees went into a great state of alarm, even though they -- and we -- couldn't see it yet.

We had tea, then went back to the Sulima which sailed just at sunset.  Flame trees covered the Freetown peninsulas, and the setting sun set them afire. We were sure we saw a small figure in white waving through the flames as we moved out into the golden sea.

24 December 2013

Ἐγένετο: it happened.

Adoration, by Brian Kershisnik

Ἐγένετο: it happened. 

That’s how stories begin: Once upon a time, In the beginning, In the days when wishing could make it so. But this storyteller can pin his story to the days of Caesar Augustus. This is not courtroom evidence: this is a story, and we are a people hungry for stories.  For some of us this story is braided into our own story.  We claim its lights for our candles and trees, and we add our own elements  -- our crèche has a Venetian lion, an Egyptian camel, an evzone, a Massachusetts sheep.  We tell it in ways that make sense to our own lives -- this is a family who, if travelling this year, could not get from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of the barrier.  They might be thought homeless, but my mother, the obstetrician, said, "Thank heavens that there was no room in the inn.  They had clean straw and privacy and quiet in the stable."
Καὶ ποιμένες ἧσαν ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ: And there were shepherds in the fields.  

The people whom the angels choose to tell about the baby were laborers with dirty hands smelling of sheep, ritually unclean, cold.  They were in the fields because they were watching for birth.  The last few days before lambing, the ewes are too heavy to walk back to the sheepfold, so the shepherds sit out to protect them until they can give birth to the lambs to be sacrificed for the coming Passover. This storyteller has a fine sense for plot.

Over the years this story became braided together with an older story which begins:

Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν: The birth of Jesus Christ was like this. 

He pins the story to the rule of Herod.  He is writing for Jews, for whom Herod was of loathsome memory, while the first writer is writing for people who possibly wouldn't know Herod, but who wouldn't know of Augustus?

ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμνα: you see, magoi from the East came to Jerusalem. 

Scholars who studied the night sky and methodically recorded their observations. They were awake at night, looking for light, and they saw a light that told them of a new king. They left to pay homage.  They could afford to be away for a long time, cross international borders, bribe customs' officials, pay for any shelter available, and they knew they would be received at the courts of kings.

The brephos (newborn) of the first writer had become a paidion (young child) when they arrived, and the family was living in a house.  He was old enough to be delighted with the shiny things the magoi had in their treasure chests, thesaurous.  We are only told about gold, frankincense (libanon, livani), and myrrh, but there was a great deal of value in amounts small enough to fit under the seat on the flight to Egypt.

We braid these stories with ours.  When I was young, a neighbor's younger daughter was to draw for her Sunday School class a picture of some part of this story.  She drew four people on an airplane, and explained, "This is the flight to Egypt, with Mary and Joseph and Jesus and Pontius the pilot."   Near the same time, my younger brother was to draw for the same class a picture of his favorite Bible verse.  He drew a person followed by two dogs: " It's the twenty-third Psalm, and this is Surely-Goodness and Mercy following me."

Did you notice that both groups of people who saw amazing light in the night were not out finding themselves?  They were not on retreats getting in touch with their spiritual side.  They were not doing a twenty-four hour cleanse. They were not in worship services.  They were at work.  They were doing their jobs, but jobs with the distinctive characteristic of isolation from the usual daily noise and interruptions. 

Another element in the story, one we try to work around.  The massacre.  What in God's name did Mary say when in later years she encountered one of the mothers of those dead children? There have been a lot of massacres of small children, and painters from Giotto on give evidence in their paintings that they had seen these brutalized bodies.

We braid these stories with ours.  Some years ago my daughter and I were watching a cycle of English medieval mystery plays, presented on four stages around the village green in Marlboro. I tend to truly believe what I am watching, and when the soldiers began searching for the children, I was shaking with horror and weeping.  Then a slender girl with a baby in her arms tapped me, "Excuse me," trying to get by, and before I could react a soldier had snatched the baby from her.

This part of the story is unbearable.  But many find the light equally unbearable.  

Whatever interpretation you want to give or decline, the story is about a baby.  About the joy surrounding a birth, and the spontaneous outpouring of generosity.  Many of us have had babies.  We have seen our newborn surrounded by radiance.  None of us would find it inappropriate -- surprising, perhaps -- for angels to sing, or for strangers to bring expensive gifts.  

May you be surprised by the time, by joy, by light.

19 December 2013

How Guillaume Villehardouin got his nick-name

Circumstances have made it impossible to write an entry for this week.  So I thought it might be amusing to post here an excerpt from the novel I was writing 25 years ago on the Villehardouins in the Morea.  This is about Guillaume Villehardouin's childhood in Kalamata.  This is fiction.

* * * * * *

A naked golden-brown child hauled kicking and choking onto a fishing boat, pounding his rescuers and sobbing in fury, "I coulda gone that far. I can swim farther than anyone!"

A stocky brown boy on the battlements, leaping from one the top of one crenellation to the next, shouting down the wind, "I am the king of the castle! I am the king of the castle!" Shouting down to his horrified parents who shouted back to him unheard.

A black-and-blue-eyed, bloody-nosed gawk of a lad, hair bleached nearly white by the sun, in torn, dung-smeared clothes, struggling up off the cobblestones, hiccupping, rubbing snot and blood off his face with a scabby brown arm, gasping, "I'm gonna show you mu' fuckers." Hurling himself like a windmill onto two or three larger boys who proceded to beat him up again with no respect for rank.

A stocky, tanned, scarred youth with crooked nose standing on the wall and looking at his friends in a semi-circle below, around a horse, chanting, "Jump! Jump! Jump!" Jumping onto the back of the horse as they screamed. The horse whinnying, rearing, bucking, he falling backward into straw and dung on cobblestones, and the hoofs coming down on his face again and again . . .

. . . becoming conscious under the faces of his parents: his father holding his arms down firm against the bed, his mother holding out something in both hands, a bearded stranger smashing his face. He tried to object, to tell the stranger to stop hurting him, to explain he would be all right if they would leave him alone, but all that came out was a gurgle of mucus and blood which made him cough and choke and then the terrible pain made everything dark again.

Coming sharply awake to a new pain and the harsh smell of vinegar. "Siga-siga, pedi-mou. It's all right, boy, I'm just cleaning you up." He heard the bone grate in his nose, jerked to get away from the pain, but his father was holding him. The stranger continued working, speaking to him calmly, telling him what was happening: a voice comforting in the pain. He put gum on the side of Guillaume's nose and on the opposite cheek; then pressed a strip of parchment from one to the other, pulling the battered nose back into position. The sound of the grating bone made him pass out again.

The next time Guillaume came to, the man seemed to be sewing something on his face, still speaking soothingly, his mother was helping him, too, they were both deliberately hurting him and his father was stalking back and forth. Then the man was wrenching his jaw: blinding pain again, and the smell of the gum. The man pressed a shape of leather onto the jaw and secured it with straps around Guillaume's head. He sat down on the floor, his face level with the boy's.

"Listen to me, pedi-mou. This is to hold your jaw while it heals. The gum makes it secure. It will wear away in time but the straps should hold it well enough. Don't try to take it off; your face will only hurt more. Now, you must have something to drink." He pushed a reed between his lips. It hurt. He squeezed his eyes against tears. Slept.

Mostly he moved back and forth between drugged thought and half-dreamed images, tangled ideas about looking at the horse more carefully next time, positioning it better as regards the wall, leaping onto a horse both of them fully armed now shining brandishing sword and banner at the charge. Running on the wall, jumping, each jump making him weep in pain, jumping into the sea to escape the pain, into the sea where he could swim out farther than anyone else and diving like a dolphin while they begged him to come back. In and out of the drugged dream his mother stroking his head and washing his face, dreading lest he flinch and she stop combing his hair. She kept working with a damp warm cloth trying to remove the blood, silently picking out the straw and dung, picking apart the tangles because he wore his hair long like the Greeks. He heard his father say, "Just cut the damn hair off," but she said nothing only kept stroking the hair loose.

Thick matted dark hair not blond like his mother and Geoffroi and Alix but dark like his father, bleached reddish now by the sun and salt water. At two, it was white from the sun, they said. In his bath, shrieking and splashing as usual, and his mother sitting before the fire brushing out her hair. Long hair, longer than he in the firelight all pale and gold. The maids had helped her wash it, she on her knees before the copper tub, two of them holding ewers of warm water to pour over her head. Shrieked with joy and danced when they lifted the tub to the window sill, unfastened the shutters doubled against the winter wind, and poured the water out into the blackness making great clouds of steam from the crash of hot water onto cold wind and stone. His nurse took a white sheet and lined the tub, then poured in more warm water from the ewers waiting on the hearth. Shrieking for the obligatory chase around the room until he was caught and stripped and held and scrubbed and scolded for the grime ingrained in knees and heels and elbows. Sputtering while his eyes and nose were gouged and his chin yanked up so the rings around his neck could be scrubbed clean. Fighting and drowning when they poured water on his hair and yanked it clean. Drowsy watching his mother shining before the fire, taking sections of her hair the width of the ivory brush with thumb and two fingers and beginning at the crown and brushing down. Slowly at first for tangles, then faster and smoother drawing the white gold out glistening before the fire. He jumped out of the bath and ran into the hair, under the tent of hair, turned pushed his face through it to look up at her face, smiling, then tugging the hair around him like a cloak or pelt. She laughed and drew her hair loose from him, and then tossed her head easily from one side to the other and he dodged back and forth through the soft and gleaming curtain.

Catching it again, hiding his face in it, coming up just as a voice said, "Opa!" His big brother, shining grown-up Geoffroi back from adventures, helm in hand, wearing boots in Maman's room. Who had been gone so long he had almost forgotten how desperately he adored Geoffroi. And Geoffroi put the helmet on his head and he couldn't see and he hid in the hair and came out again, and Geoffroi got the bearskin from the floor and growled, and he ran in and out of the golden forest of hair to hide from the bear as his mother put her hands to her head and held her hair protectively and laughed for mercy as the adventure became more exciting.

Stopped when his father at the door said, "Kalispera sas," and his mother stood and Geoffroi bowed a little and then caught him up to plunge him back into the tub to rinse. The nurse dried him and rubbed his hair dry and it pulled and she poked in his ears and put on a clean shirt and knit hose. The maids carried out the tub, and more people brought in trestles and boards and made a table near the fire. They brought in cheese and bread and figs and soup for Geoffroi who always ate a great deal after adventures. They gave him bites but they had wine, he couldn't have wine.

"Tell me about Astros," demanded his father, and his mother said to him, "Shhh," bending down because he was rolled up in the bearskin and growling and Geoffroi began to tell about not an adventure not at all interesting until rolled up in the bearskin he went to sleep.

So tired, he needed to sleep so much, but the stranger kept waking him up and telling him to cough. It hurt unbearably and he badly needed to spit, but he could only dribble into the leather chinpiece. The stranger wiped his mouth each time and nodded and said something over and over to him in a another language that sounded like a magic incantation and most likely was, because he always felt better for a little while after he was there though then his head started hurting again and he was thirsty and he kept thinking he would be sick.

It was summer, late summer, and the leather made him itch. His face was swollen wide enough for two: that he could see clearly enough in his mother's silver mirror. He was hungry after four days of nothing but what gruel he could suck into the side of his mouth through a reed, and everything the reed touched hurt and every time he swallowed he was sure he would be sick. His mouth tasted like sour blood. He couldn't sleep; they gave him possets, through the reed, of wine and cloves and cinnamon boiled with opium. This masked the pain and made him doze a while, but after an hour or two he would awake with a throbbing head and dried blood and dribble caked around his cheek. Thirsty and needing to pee but unable to get up. Spluttering incomprehensible syllables till one of the menservants brought a pitcher and assisted him to an unsatisfactory and partial emptying but when he tried to sit up so it would go better his head throbbed too much so he had to lie down and then he felt like he would wet the bed.

After a week, he was allowed up. The swelling in his face had mostly gone down, though it was brown and yellow and blue and purple and miserably tender. The leather sling on his jaw chafed; his mother tried to work in some salve but he couldn't bear to be touched. Then his friends were allowed in to visit and they immediately got to clowning and jumping and one thing and another and then all of a sudden he was too tired and too sore to be entertained, and was nearly in tears when his father and the stranger came in and thundered the boys out.

"Guillaume," his father shouted, "this is Rabbi Benjamin from Corone. He studied medicine in Spain and Damascus, and he has been good enough to take care of you."

"Prince," the Rabbi bellowed, "I hope you are feeling better." The Rabbi had so much beard that his mouth seemed to be covered and Guillaume decided groggily that the Rabbi didn't eat either. His head was throbbing and he couldn't understand why they were shouting at him when he was hurting so much. He nodded at first, to be polite, but his eyes got full of tears and he pointed to his head. "Of course," said the Rabbi, and went away and came back with a small glass vial and a reed. "Willow bark," he said and held it while Guillaume sipped painfully. Then the Rabbi had Guillaume get out of bed. He was wobbly so he sat on a stool why the manservant washed him and pulled a clean tunic over his head, and then the Rabbi massaged his temples and the back of his neck. It was only when the headache had gone away that the Rabbi allowed him to get back into bed. He slept.

The first real sleep in a week. He slept through the evening without stirring, all night, and into the middle of the next day. When he finally woke up, he was ravenously hungry, and consumed -- through his reed -- milk, porridge with honey made thin with milk, then an egg beaten in milk, Without the soreness once making him pause. The tenderness went away over the next few days, faster than the blue and purple on his face which gave way to brown and yellow. The Rabbi had the leather strap removed -- excruciating pain again as it was tugged away from the gum -- and replaced with several windings of linen. He no longer needed the opium possets. He was also permitted to leave the castle with a servant, though when he did, he had to wear the leather sling on his jaw.

So it was a shame that when he was finally able to go back outside on his own, he went immediately down the hill to the town, met up with his friends, persuaded one to hold a horse's head, climbed stiffly back onto a wall, and jumped. And fell off again. And was kicked and trampled.

The Rabbi had, of course, returned to Corone, so it was hours and hours of pain and not until evening before a horseman could ride south, locate the Rabbi, find fresh mules, and ride back. Hours filled with more pain and little sympathy mostly fury from his parents, guilt and misery watching while the boy who had held the horse's head was beaten. Knowing that when he was healed enough, his own beating would be double that.

The weary Rabbi gave him another dose of opium in wine and then set to work. After some maneuverings and the terrible shriek of bone against bone, he shook his head and sank back. "So," he said to the Prince. "It will mend, but it will always be crooked. It can't be set back the way it was."

"Do what you have to do," said the Prince, but his mother said, "How will he look?"

"There is always some mercy," said the Rabbi. "Fortunately, the boy does not have to be beautiful -- it is enough that he is a Prince. Now if he were a girl, God protect us all! The jaw, here, will be crooked, and the teeth, here, will protrude." He touched, Guillaume winced. "When he grows up -- he should live to grow up! -- he can always say he was in the wars. And why not? He lives in a continual war with life."

"Grosse-dent," they called him when the bandages were finally off. "Big-tooth." Sometimes they called him "Jaws."

The next spring, when they hanged Judas in Holy Week, the effigy of Judas had an enormous protruding jaw. He was mortified. The Prince laughed until the tears came to his eyes, and his mother was furious and said a thing so obscene and insulting should be forbidden. 

12 December 2013

The imitation of the immortality of the gods

Out of the overflowing abundance of images from the Byzantine world, this is the only image I have been able to find that shows affection between a man and a woman. I would be greatful if anyone could offer me another. Some will think of the Digenes plate, but that suggests silliness, and the intimacies in the epic are neither affectionate nor erotic. I have mentioned before my dismay at finding no Byzantine love poetry beyond a single late poem that follows an Italian model.   

In contrast, what I have found on George Gemistos Plethon, has been too much.  An unnecessary number of males -- rarely a woman -- seem called on to discourse on his philosophy of the soul. Very few can write about Gemistos without feeling obliged to discuss his paganism.  And very few can avoid yet another unnecessary revew of his suggestions for reorganizing the Morea on the Spartan method.  (No one notices that his suggestion for 6000 soldiers reflects precisely the number of men shown to be available over and over during the century.)  So over and over in working on my book, needing Gemistos if I was to write about Mistra, I have come up between a rock and a hard place in finding Gemistos inaccesible to my contemporary concerns.

Until I analyzed his monodia for Cleofe. George Gemistos spoke of the beauty of her luminous body, and of her even more luminous soul. He, in fact, mentioned her beautiful body three different times.  And it occurred to me that this was a man with a physical body, and a man who liked the fact of a woman having a physical body, and that he was a man who has been carefully muffled by the heirs of the Byzantines who really did not like bodies at all. When you treat him like Plato -- even Plato wasn't Plato -- you get a marmoreal automaton.  My Greek is not adequate to sustain me through very much of Gemistos, so I was glad to find the AlexandrePléthon: traite des lois, which has a facing French version, and between them I found evidence of a warm and interesting human being.  This is  Gemistos on affection between and man and a woman.

Very early in the Laws he says, "For the others [in contrast to the celibate] it is a thing most beautiful and most divine to marry and have children." Later he says  -- paraphrasing -- that the sexual relationship was instituted by the gods to perpetuate the race of mortals, to give them a sort of immortality, and that desire is a gift of the gods.  This way, we approach the gods. We cannot deny the importance of this act which in our mortal nature is the imitation of the immortality of the gods. We ought to see that we do it well. We do this [in private] not because of shame, but because most humans do not wish to display publicly those religious acts which they regard as the most holy. It is the most personal thing people can do, and since it is one of the most important things given to people to do, it deserves to be done as perfectly as possible. Nothing is more shameful than an important act poorly done.

06 December 2013

Waves, ruins, and the city

My correspondent, Pavlos Plessas, sent me a new image of Nauplion this week, quite the nicest I have ever seen. It is a panorama of the Morosini-led assault on the Ottoman-held city in 1686, done in glorious color by the Dutch engraver Romeyn de Hooghe.  I cannot find out the size of the print, but it must be quite large, because this image will enlarge to show amazing detail. 

Several details particularly interest me.  The first, the image of water above, is done in a style that suggests that de Hooghe was well-acquainted with the tradition of Japanese prints.  There is nothing like this in the work of two other Dutch engravers on the same subject, or in any of the Venetian engravers who indicated their water rather as it is indicated in the bay south of Nauplion, at the top of this print.  There is a striking difference in technique between the two parts of the bay.

The second detail is this suggestion of ruins near the coast, north of Nauplion.  (Images of Nauplion, like images of Candia, almost always show the city with north at the bottom.) I have been wondering if one of de Hooghe's sources noted the walls of Tiryns.  If so, this is the first pre-Independence image of Tiryns I have ever seen.  But then, ruins crop up in other areas of the engraving.  Do look at the large version of this panorama and pay attention to the beauty of de Hooghe's trees.

The next detail is this tower and wall at the north of the Bay of Argos, at the bottom of the panorama.  I wrote about the tower, and its neighboring frogs, more than four years ago.  This wall was, for some years, the indication of the boundary between Venetian territory and the Despotate, and then Ottoman territory.  The tower, in the last century, has several times been erroneously identified as a mill, because it is in the area of The Mills, and because identifiers took the double wall for a mill race. The Germans put an anti-aircraft gun between it and the water.

Finally, de Hooghe is the first to show a distinct plateia, and a fountain, although many engravers show a large open space in this area of Nauplion.  But more important is what I am seeing, just behind that line of houses and in front of the wall, as a church and a walled garden.  I believe this is, somewhat relocated and turned 90 degrees, the Franciscan convent -- now the Panagia, and I have long been sure the area was enclosed because of the eccentricity of the streets in the immediate vicinity.  If you are familiar with Nauplion, you will know the Venetian arsenal at the west end of the plateia. The street behind the arsenal is exceptionally narrow, and since that street was the beginning of what was apparently intended to be a grand approach leading to Akro-Nauplion from the harbor, it must have been so because there was no possibility for broadening the other side of the street because of the convent wall.    

I will stop commenting here.  Go back to the large image and rejoice in the extraordinary colors.

29 November 2013

His sworn brother

Detail from icon of Ag. Menas, ca. 1600.

After a battle at Itylo killed 700 Turks,1 Kladas was pursued further south and was within a couple of days of being captured. But when Kladas arrived at Porto Quaglio/Πορτο-Κάγιον three ships were waiting. Stefano Magno says they had come from Ferdinand II, King of Naples and Apulia -- , to learn Mehmed's intentions towards Apulia, although Mehmed had been besieging Otranto since the previous July -- and on one of the ships was a Zuane Francesco Zanco from Venice, fratello zurado or ἀδελφοποιητὸς of Kladas. Kladas, and many of his followers, escaped.  Minio says, Et scampò el Clada . . ..  

With an extensive use of subjunctives, it is possible to work out a scenario, apparently unmentioned at the time:  Kladas made his effort at revolt under the impression that he would receive extensive aid.

Kladas had been in Venice as recently as September when he received a knighthood from the Doge. It was not only his fourth trip, but he had just spent a whole year in Venice. He turns out to have had this Venetian sworn-brother of whom we have no earlier record, possibly a relationship created and solidified in Venice, although Zanco could well have turned up in Koroni earlier and, given that he was working for the King of Naples, he probably had. Nearly all of Magno's information comes from Koroni sources.

Kladas’ last trip to Venice had been to protest the loss of lands through the peace settlement. When he met Dario and Halil Bey in Koroni, they confirmed to him what was already known, and that the Signoria’s equivocal responses to him had been outright lying. It is a reasonable assumption that when Kladas returned to Koroni after receiving his knighthood, he was planning a revolt.

In this scenario, Francesco Zanco, his sworn brother, in the employ of Naples' Ferdinand II, was an agent-provocateur who encouraged Kladas to think that aid might be forthcoming from Ferdinand who was deeply interested in creating Venetian discomfort, as well as Ottoman. The Kingdom of Naples had taken an intense interest in Byzantine and Moreote affairs for forty years, on more than one occasion offering aid that never materialized -- John was to have a fleet, Constantine was to have troops and settlers in the Morea, Constantine, Thomas, and Theodoros were to have Spanish brides.  There were always tantalizing offers, sympathetic agents. 

In late July of 1480, an Ottoman fleet had attacked and besieged Otranto, raiding as far as Lecce. A few days before the attack, Ferdinand had signed an alliance with Milan, Florence, and Ferrara, against Venice and the Pope, and when he then asked Venice for aid at Otranto, Venice decided that peace with the Ottomans was preferable to rescuing Apulia. So Venetian-Ottoman hostilities offered a hopeful possibility that fall for Naples and Otranto.

Subsequent events do nothing to contradict this. The Apulian ships first offered Kladas aid in the King's name, and then took him off Mani and to Apulia where he was given the title of magnifico from Ferdinand II and a generous allowance. In Apulia he met the Duke of Calabria, a cousin of the late George Castrioti of Albania, and Castrioti's son, John, who were taking advantage of the Ottoman concentration on Otranto to attack Valona. Castrioti was married to Eirene Branković, granddaughter of the Despot Thomas who had been Kladas' overlord until 1460. Another participant was Thomas' son, Andreas Palaiologos, whom Kladas must have met as a child in the Morea twenty years earlier. This effort was a failure, and the Kladas and Kastrioti followers then served the Kingdom of Naples in Italy.

Unless someone can spend time in the Neapolitan archives, that single mention is all we have for the sworn brother.

1The number of 700 is intriguing: during the 15th century, 700 and 800 turn up continually in reports of Ottoman killings in battle. Eight hundred were beheaded at Tavia in June 1423. Eight hundred were beheaded at Negroponte on 12 July 1471. Eight hundred were beheaded at Otranto on 14 August 1480. Eight hundred were beheaded at Methoni 9 August 1500. 

22 November 2013

Lancer, Lace, Lyric, Lark

When that thin veil of grief descended on November 22, 1963, irrevocably dividing hope from the future, I could not have anticipated that the grief would come again so fresh fifty years later. I have lost, this country has lost, the art of language in political discourse, the love of rhetoric in the service of justice. Our basic cultural myth is, essentially, creation by the word, and I have seen in these fifty years the degradation of political process and commonality by the insistence on a increasingly simplistic vocabulary.  Language creates ideas, creates our reality.

Take this one example of language: where once the President and First Lady were known to the Secret Service as Lancer and Lace, they have now for several administrations been known at POTUS and FLOTUS -- sounds that can only evoke public lavatories.

These were the Secret Service codes fifty years ago:

The First Family:

Vice Presidential Group:

SS 100 X
Carpet Cork
Central Volcano

Official Family:

Secret Service Agents:

White House Communications:


20 November 2013

13 November 2013

On vacation: My left knee

My left knee.

My left knee was replaced yesterday by a new polyethylene and steel knee. Scroll halfway down on that link & look at Part 7 to see the elegant saw used to trim the bone, a miraculous improvement on the hammer and chisel my son-in-law tells me was used on his mother's knee.

In October 1989, I fell in the street on a banana peel. Despite the comic tradition, it was not humorous. The injury has been a source of constant pain and progressive debilitation, and an erosion of the many pleasures my knee and I had shared.

My knee and I have great memories. Together we cycled hundreds of miles in Nigeria and the Argolid.  We hiked Yorkshire and Cornwall, the Argolid, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Pyrenees.  We fenced.  
We knelt to polish floors, to weed and plant bulbs in the garden, to track earrings under furniture.  We knelt in churches (we recommend the kneelers in St George, Venice). We explored most of the calli of Venice, the streets of Manhattan, great areas of Athens and London and Washington, Rimini and Ravenna and Otranto.  We bounced babies. We once engaged in self-defense. We climbed a lot of Greek mountains. We crawled under and behind a lot of furniture, through the tunnels of Nauplion, and in the Altamira Caves.  We want our life back.  I have promised my knee a trip to Greece, once we are recovered, where we fully intend to be leaping from mountaintop to mountaintop.  

Wish us well.

06 November 2013

On vacation: Light

Vilhelm Hammershøi, 1900.

Vilhelm Hammershøi, 1900.

With appreciation to Irene Connelly who introduced me to this artist.

30 October 2013

Antelm the Nasty

Antelm's view and castle of Patras 700 years later.

Antelm the Nasty was very nearly the worst person in the whole world. He comes to attention as the first Frankish archbishop of Patras. "Nasty" is the name Chris Schabel gave him in an outstanding paper (see below), and there is no reason to disagree with that assessment. When William of Chaplitte took the surrender of Patras in 1205, he appointed canons for Patras, and the canons elected Antelm Archbishop. He had to be ordained a priest first.

He spent his time in extraordinary legal and political entanglements, with two popes, and two Villehardouins, and just about everyone else, traveling back and forth to Rome a number of times. The man's persistence in arguing was amazing.

Now, the Pope has just suspended a German bishop for spending too much money on personal luxuries, a lot of money. After complaints from the Bishop of Coron, the Archbishop of Corinth, the Archbishop of Larissa, a cardinal, and a great many others -- "battered our ears," here are the 30 reasons why Pope Honorius suspended Antelm:
  1. He laid violent hands on the treasurer of the Church of Patras, and then said mass without having been absolved.
  2. He violently pushed a priest who was celebrating mass, spilled and stole the chalice, trampled the host, and had accomplices strip the priest of his vestments.
  3. He whipped a priest who could not pay him money he was trying to extort, put the priest backwards on an ass, hands tied behind his back, and had him whipped through Andravida.
  4. He had a canon of Olen whipped bloody and took his horse, and then said mass without absolution.
  5. When the Dean of Cephalonia (?) excommunicated him, he said mass.
  6. He said mass while he was suspended, and never paid satisfaction to the treasurer of Patras, within the time he was sworn to.
  7. He squandered the goods of the Church of Patras and used them to buy possessions in Burgundy, and extorted 100,000 hyperpera from the subjects of the Church.
  8. He kept men of the Church in prison so long that when they were taken out half-alive they died afterwards, and he had his own servant gouge out the eye of one of them.
  9. He promoted an excommunicate to holy orders, and conferred a priory on him.
  10. He performed the vice of infamous incontinence.
  11. He maintained incontinent clerics.
  12. He surrendered Latins and their lands to the Greeks.
  13. By his negligence the Church of Patras suffered partial ruin
  14. He falsified the privileges of the emperors of Constantinople and some papal affirmations and letters.
  15. He removed nearly all the ornaments of the Church of Patras.
  16. Having put aside the Cistercian habit, he conferred himself to the monastery of Casa Dei, and finally worked in a secular habit.
  17. He entertained pirates and gave them support so that they might capture and kill travellers.
  18. He gave indulgences to those who killed Templars, and in his very own presence many of them were killed.
  19. Despite the interdict by Gervais, Latin Patriarch of Constantinople, he celebrated mass.
  20. He so completely destroyed the abbeys of Galea and Gerochoma that no one remained in them.
  21. He incurred excommunication by detaining William de Lu[?]y in prison without cause and having violent hands be laid upon him.
  22. He had the eyes gouged out of one whom he had sworn by oath to protect.
  23. He had had some Greek abbots put in prison, and had the beard forcibly shaved off one of them.
  24. He had Herman, his servant, gouge out the eye of one of them and mutilate the foot of another, from which cause he met with death.
  25. He had the eye of one pulled out because he could not pay him the 10 hyperpera that he owed him.
  26. He had a certain Greek cleric be hanged.
  27. He had the eye removed from a certain layperson, and then had him tied up with rope, and set on fire, which person expired from this affliction.
  28. He had a certain Greek priest thrown into the sea, who, although he was pulled out, was only half-alive, and before he made it home, he exhaled his spirit.
  29. He had someone thrown from a tower, who for this reason perish.
  30. And he even dared to maintain heretics.
"Therefore, although the archbishop, even if not of all the aforesaid, was found guilty of enough of them that one could have prodeeded against him very severely, we however, the rigor of severity being tempered by the mildness of mercy, have decided to provide thus in this case: Indeed, we have suspended that archbishop from his pontifical duties for a year, ordering that for that year he shall live according to a rule in some monastery . . . the same archbishop shall behave such that we are not compelled to change mercy into judgment."

This material is taken from Chris Schabel's "Antelm the Nasty," Diplomatics in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1000-1500: Aspects of Cross-Cultural Communication. Eds, A. Beihammer, M. Parani, & C. Schabel (2008).