30 July 2014

The Cretan bowman

Archer. Detail from Mantegna, St. Sebastian. Louvre. ca. 1475.

From Cyriaco of Ancona, 5 July 1445, Cydonia, Crete.

To Niccolò Zancarolo, son of A., the outstanding Cydonian archer and excellent victor over bowmen. Today, the fifth of July, the favorable, fair and celebrated day of quiver-bearing Delian Diana, he defeated, by his vogorous courage and worth, not only the outstanding Parthian, Scythian and Hyrcanian archers as well as others from foreign parts, but also proved superior to the expert Cydonian bowmen in an athletic contest held on the sand before the city walls, here in Cydonia, once the noblest of the Cretan coastal cities, now the illustrious Venetian colony of Khania . . . under the gaze of the distinguished citizens and colonists.  A unique prize was proposed for the contestant who would be victorious with the flying arrow.  Bending the mighty bow with his arms set apart, propelling the arrow through the pierced air from the string drawn to his ear, he aimed at the center of the target, which was the long distance of a stade* away, and struck it.  To him Cyriac of Ancona, lover of antiquity, gave a silver coin engraved with the image of the sacred head of Pythian Apollo, the quiver-and-bow-bearing god [one one side] and the Rhodian prince Anthaeus [on the other]. He did this to commemorate and honor him.

[Cyriaco gives quotations from Isidore, Pindar, Lucan, Vergil, Ovid, Apuleius on Cretan archers.]

Cyriac of Ancona, lover of Hermes, chose all these brilliant and famous sayings of the ancinet writers and poets to record here as a proof of the ancient worth of all the Cydonian and Cretan archers.  Done this day, the seventh of July, the glorious and venerable day of my protecting deity, Mercury, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Pope Eugene, one thousand and twenty-four years after the foundation of Venice.

From Edward W. Bodnar, Cyriac of Ancona: Later Travels, Letter 23. (2003).

* Stade = 184+ metres, or 605 ft.
Archery distances, Wikipedia.
For a 1440 round, known until 2014 as 'FITA Round', standard indoor distances are 18m and 25m. Outdoor distances range from 30m to 90m for senior Gentlemen archers, and 30m to 70m for Ladies. The juniors have shorter targets to shoot at. In Olympic archery, 70m is the standard range.

23 July 2014

Pavane for a Dead Princess: Part Ten

Text of the 1433 poem to Cleofe, in Marciana Gr Z 533 (coll. 778) f. 48b,
a collection of personal documents put together by Bessarion.  Photo, John Burke.

I have written about this poem in the past, and for a few this entry may be repetitive, but it is an important poem to me and, I think, important historically. When Cleofe Malatesta Palaiologina died in childbirth "the shattering of a precious crystal," said Cheilas, on Good Friday of 1433, her husband Theodoros was devastated. Testimony from his friends -- Gemistos, Bessarion, Pepagomenos -- gives a portrait of a man completely incapacitated by grief. But at some time in that first month of her absence, he constructed a love poem to her, bringing together passion and loss in a structure informed by his own scholarship, and by the new world she had opened to him.

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.

Cleofe, his fellow-poet, made it possible for him to write. Before he was able to work, he was driven back in his grief to a poem she had showed him, one her father had written when her own mother died in childbirth.  It is written in the tradition of the family friend Petrarch:

The holy lady is dead, who used to hold
my spirit with hers, 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 should have
followed her body, life extinguished,
never to leave the side of her tomb
but burned myself where her heart lies.

     Then perhaps my soul might follow her
in celestial triumph, where all live
eternally by divine power.

    Yet if I with all my force were to be kept
from following her, at least
my body would be buried with her sacred bones

The fifth line -- "non huom ma bruto" -- and its verse described his condition to himself. Pepagomenos may have given him opium to calm him, and the ideas of "brute" and "drug" may have driven his tangles of thought to the Theocritean idyll about the brute, Cyclops, grieving for the loss of a lady:

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

And this was then the crystal about which his poem grew.   Several things are happening in his poem.  The first, perhaps the least important is that there are two bits of information about imperial lives in Mistra.  For one, he expected to be buried in the same tomb with her at the palace chapel of Ag. Sophia.  For another, he had arranged for a double portrait to be painted over the tomb.

Theodoros may originally have set out to structure the poem on the five senses, a reasonable Byzantine and Renaissance approach, paralleling the senses to five ways in which he and Cleofe might achieve union.  He managed Touch, Sight, and Hearing, before he wisely gave up on Taste and Smell, and realized that he had to go beyond the senses, yet, if this what what he had planned, there is no sense of incompleteness of intent.

He enumerates forms of union, beginning with the union of one flesh, a union of which he had been frighted for the first six years of legal marriage, and a union which had clearly brought him joy.  He tests the idea that God's will for a spiritual union might be better, a second form of union, but the great distance between Cleofe in Heaven and him on earth reduces him to scalding tears -- tears only too familiar to those of us who have survived the loss of a partner.  But the idea of song, of poetry, remains.

He now has a portrait of her, of the two of them together, a third form of union which has not brought the comfort he expected, and he does anticipate an eventual burial with her, a forth form which he knows is beyond their senses.

There is a fifth way to find union, the ultimate union in a shared delight in the presence of God, a Dantean expression of the beatific vision, to which Cleofe must have introduced him in their shared examination of poetry.  It is a rare poet who can bring the Cyclops into the Paradisio, but Theodoros concludes with Cleofe as sharer and Muse -- 
ξυνεργὸς -- in this work of song -- μέλος

The original languages of these poems will be found here.  The translations from the Greek are by Pierre A. MacKay.

16 July 2014

Bessarion on the imperial hangers-on

In Bessarion's letter about arrangements for  Zoe, Andreas, and Manuel Palaiologos, he said that the Pope was providing 300 ducats a month. Two hundred of that was for their servants, food, horses, clothing, and other expenses. The remaining 100 was for the household.

The household was what would have been their court somewhere else -- a few useful people, a few whom they knew and actually liked, and hangers-on to whom there was some familial obligation.  Bessarion was quite stern about this. Their father Thomas had had 300 ducats a month for his household from the Pope, and another 200 from Bessarion and the cardinals, but Bessarion and the Pope had still been quite shocked to learn how large a group Thomas had been supporting out of that. (They had also been amazed at the size of John's household when he came to Italy twenty-plus years earlier on the trip that the Pope was also paying for. ) When Thomas first visited Rome it had been noted that he was accompanied by a suite of 70 people, all on borrowed horses, except for the three that he owned. John, too, had been noted for his lavish household. 

It was not going to be this way for the children.  There was no way Bessarion and his colleagues could come up with the contributions they needed for the authentopoula -- that is the term in the letters for the children -- if people saw the household as a Greek immigrant fraternal welfare association.  Bessarion wanted the administrator to select a few reliable people who could provide the authentopoula with good support, good service, and honor.

He wrote the household administrator in Ancona about financial arrangements on 6 August. That's 305 kilometers on modern roads, 3 hours driving now at best.  Then it was two days in one direction for a fast messenger. The household administrator was to settle the financial arrangements for the people who were to be the authentopoula's court.  It is obvious that a great many people who had planned on sinecures were sorely disappointed. Various people in Ancona sent a stack of letters in reply. On 16 August Bessarion wrote letters in response to these.  Two of these letters survive, very irritated letters.  He says, "The grace of God be with you," four times in two letters but you can hear that he says it between clenched teeth.

The first is to a group of three men, apparently the core of the court, and probably people Bessarion knew.  They had sent along a list of the other members of the court, and how much money each was to have. They reported that there were many complaints. Bessarion approved this list and said that the others  had  to understand that there is no more money.  Period.  They had written him saying they were sure he would fix things. He would write them a general letter and tell them that there was nothing he could fix.  He wanted this clearly understood and he wanted them to quit burdening him.

Bessarion had been physically unwell for several years.  He was burdened with trying to find support for the Pope's crusade in the Morea that was going very badly:  most of the Italian troops and the Venetian commanders had died of plague, they were inadequately supplied, they had lost the control of the country they had a year before, and the Turks had pushed the crusade troops down into a small pocket in the south.  He had been personally supporting a large number of refugees from Constantinople and the Morea and finding jobs for them.  He had no energy left over for whiners who claimed entitlements.

He wrote them that they had accepted the amounts offered, that they had agreed to serve the authentopoula, and that they needed to stop making words about the matter.  The Holy Father was not sending any more money.  God knows he personally would like to be able to help, but -- we have said this many times -- it cannot happen.  He repeats all of this several times. Frustration runs off the page like sweat.

We have no real indication of who some of the members of that household might have been, with the exception of a Demetrios Rallis Kavakes who went with Zoe to her Moscow marriage seven years later. There were certainly other Rallades, first and second cousins, who had accompanied the family when they left the Morea in 1460. For generations the lives of these household hangers-on had been financed by their relationship to the imperial family.  Bessarion knew clearly what they were afraid to admit: the Empire is over.

09 July 2014

Crow summer: 2014

Washcrow and Her, courting, early March.

It's been a very satisfactory year for crows, beginning in March when we were able to follow a courtship. Most crows remain single, and those who do not are usually in their 3rd year when courtship happens. I have no idea how crows are selected for courtship. Pairing is normally for life.

The photograph above was the only one I was able to get, and you have to take my word that they are courting. Courting usually happened in the mornings, on a power line where the sun would shine into the camera.  Washcrow would move close beside Her and nibble on the back of Her's neck -- properly called "grooming" -- the one part of Her she could not reach for herself.   She never groomed him.  This reminds me of the saying: In every love affair there is one who kisses the cheek, and one who extends the cheek to be kissed.

Grooming continued for several days, and then we would see Her settle down low on the power line, tilt her head sideways, spread out her tail & wiggle her bottom.  The Betty-Boop-gender-stereotyping was almost shocking.  

Why we call him Washcrow.
He has taught several other 
crows to wash food for the young.

We saw them inspect an unused nest, and then saw the occasional stick being transported to the upper reaches of a cedar two houses away.  Then Her disappeared.  The male crow feeds his nesting partner.  When the young hatch, the male and some of their relatives feed her and the infants. About three days after we realized there were young to feed, we first saw Washcrow first visit Ann's peacock-designed birdbath, and carefully soak food before he took it home.  

On 4 June, a Wednesday, we were having coffee in the yard with Aislinn, when there was a thud on the roof of the car and a homely little tailless crow said, "Wow!" He said "Wow!" several times, we said "Wow!" in response, and for the last month he has normally appeared when one of us calls "Wow" Wow is the grandson (granddaughter?) of Korax whom I introduced here last year.

 Wow on his first day out of the nest.

On 5 June, Tak appeared, tagging after Wow.  Tak spoke less frequently, with a lower voice. 

Tak and Wow, 5 June.

Then on 9 June, Sunday, Futhark appeared.  Four-plus weeks later, Futhark is still smaller than the others.  Wow is the most outgoing, Tak the shyest.  Futhark will look at us, cock his/her head, and then make quiet rattling noises, sometimes a sort of cuckoo-sound.  When the others are screaming to be fed, nothing distracts them.  Futhark can be distracted into conversation.  

Futhark, 1 July.  All three still have the distinctive red mouths.

At the time of writing, the three have not yet started taking the initiative in finding food, though they will follow their parents to the feeder, then sit there alternately gobbling mouthfuls of food, and screaming to be fed while their mouths are still full of food.  The parents are admirably dispassionate.  When the young beg for food, they assume the same submissive posture of the female in courtship.

Wow, Tak, and Futhark have made us exceptionally aware of   crow mortality in our neighborhood.  In the past week we have twice found masses of small feathers.  A month ago we found feathers that appeared to have exploded from a central location, their points driven into the ground.  A very young crow had encountered a mesh of power lines and transformers.  The two feathers on the left show the results of electrocution -- the blackening inside and the melted tips.  The two on the right show the results of having been chewed. 

The cooked and the raw.  

Hork, who was with us the past two years, has not been seen since February but Korax shows up several times a day with two young crows of his own. We have fewer crows at the feeder than we did last summer, but they are putting away huge amounts of food, more than on any day in the winter when we would have as many as 15 and 20 crows.  They get primarily cat food and corn meal, with occasional treats of suet, walnuts, bread.  Last year they stole all the blackberries, but this year it has only been the cherries.  Every year they get the cherries.  They seem to know which day we have scheduled to pick, and they get to the tree before we are out of bed.

But about the food-washing.  Because of the food-washing, I have been putting clean water in the birdbath twice a day.  Today -- the day of writing this -- I put clean water in for the first time in three days.  Abruptly, the young have to deal with adult food. It is still sometimes brought to them, but it is no longer softened.  

Futhark, even though he is conspicuously smaller than the other two, can definitely deal with adult food.  In fact, he is showing signs of delinquency.  We have, several times now, seen him fly up to a parent and jerk the food out of the parent's bill, without even pausing to beg.

Wow, Futhark, & Tak, or possibly Tak, Futhark, & Wow. 6 July.
Beaks open on a hot day.

 I thought I had finished writing this entry to post tomorrow, but while we were having our late-afternoon ouzo, Washcrow came as he usually does to keep us company.  This time Her landed beside him and leaned Her head against him.  Washcrow caressed the back of her neck and stroked under her chin.  Then they sat quietly side by side.

02 July 2014

Bessarion on educating the imperial children

Early in 1465, Thomas Palaiologos directed that his children be sent from Corfù to Italy. He had gone to Italy in the winter of 1460. Their mother had died in August 1462. We know nothing of their circumstances in Corfù without either parent. The only individual in Corfù of whose presence we can be sure was Giorgios Sphrantzes, loyal Palaiologan courtier, but he had declined to be part of Thomas’ court in exile.

Thomas died in March of 1465. A sense of impending death may have made him send for his children. The children -- Zoe, age 17; Andreas, 12; Manuel, 7 -- arrived in Ancona in the summer. There appears to have been considerable and frantic correspondence between individuals in Ancona with some responsibility for the children, and Cardinal Bessarion in Rome whom Thomas had left as their guardian.

Bessarion wrote, or dictated, a letter to an unnamed individual in Ancona who was to be head of these young remnants of an imperial household. This person, and Dr. Kritopoulos, were to work out the details of the household and education, and send them to Bessarion. Meanwhile, the Pope, Paul II, would give 300 ducats a month for various expenses. Of this, 200 ducats were to go directly to the children’s household, for 6 or 7 servants each, for food, for 3 or 4 horses and their food, and for a little extra each month, depending on what was needed.

Bessarion, after reading the correspondence, had decided that a Greek teacher was essential. He was concerned about their understanding of Greek, concerned enough that he was not writing them directly but wanted his letter, in demotic Greek, read to them several times until they could understand it. They were to have a Latin teacher, who would certainly have taught Italian. They were to have Dr. Kritopoulos, and a translator or interpreter. This raises the question of what language they had been raised to speak in Greece, which they had left five years earlier, and what language they had been speaking in Corfù, but it is clear from Bessarion that their conversational demotic Greek was considered deficient.

Bessarion says nothing about Greek or Italian literature, mathematics, philosophy, history, swordplay, riding, hunting, or anything normally included under education. He does mention writing, but writing would be part of the language education. The rest of his instructions concern manners, behavior, how these young imperials were to present themselves to the world. The instructions give a chilling view of the world these children had entered, but Bessarion had observed Thomas for four and a half years, and he was keenly aware of what was necessary for these children without parents, without a country, and without income of their own.

They would be, he wrote, living on strangers’ money and strangers’ expectations. They could not vaunt their imperial descent. They were orphans, foreigners, beggars. Any advantages they had would come because they were pleasing. So they were to dress and live completely in the Italian style. Their diet was to be restrained, and their table manners excellent, as well as their manners toward the members of their household. They were not to be rude, but well-behaved, humble, and serene.

They were to learn to bow appropriately to each rank, to touch their hats, lift them slightly, or remove them according to the social standing of the person they encountered. They were to walk with dignity in public, speak in low voices, keep their eyes down, and not gape or giggle. When people came to pay calls, they were to learn how to make appropriate conversation and high-minded without laughing or chattering too much. They were to learn how to evaluate the Greeks who would come to their household, and the appropriate courtesies for each, particularly towards those in a difficult situation.

If they met a cardinal or the Pope, they were to kneel and not rise until told to. It would not shame them -- this was something kings and great rulers did. They should not sit in the presence of individuals of high rank -- Thomas told Bessarion he had often told them that. They were to be completely obedient and deferential to their administrator and doctor and teachers.

The household was to have one or two priests of the Latin rite who would be constantly saying the liturgy so they could become letter-perfect in it. They were to observe the Latin rite meticulously, and learn the kneelings and crossings and gestures, copying the Italians. They were not to smile at anything in the service, and not to whisper to each other. It had been reported to him that on the trip over, the children had walked out of the church some of the members of their suite had walked out of the church at the liturgical commemoration of the Pope:  this could not happen again, because if they did it it were to happen again, they the children would have to leave Italy, and then they would be beyond Bessarion's protection.

They were to come to Rome -- for this they should learn by heart little addresses they could make to the Pope -- but not until October at least, because there was plague in the city. The household should remove itself from Ancona, an old city liable to be unhealthy, and go up to the mountains to Cingoli where the Bishop of Osimo -- one of Bessarion's people -- had a house he wanted to offer them. Actually, the archons in Rome thought it might be a good idea for the children to stay there all the time.

They did go to Rome. Sphrantzes, one of those in a difficult situation, came to see them the next year and stayed for five weeks, but beyond this, we know nothing about their lives as children.

When she was 24, Zoe was finally married, to Ivan III of Moscow. Her sister and cousin had been married when they were 14. Her formal education must have been of some use. Bessarion died shortly after Zoe's marriage and so her brothers lost his protection. The boys were over-educated for what life in Italy had to offer them.   Andreas tried to auction off his title to the throne of Constantinople. Manuel left to visit the important courts, looking for a job or an allowance, but no one offered him enough to maintain the household he thought he should have. Andreas’ complicated life has been excellently described by Jonathan Harris. In 1476 Manuel went to Turkey where he was welcomed by Mehmed II and given a generous income. His own son converted to Islam.  

[More next week.]