Pages

12/09/2014

Segesta, a Majestic Memory



When I caught my first glimpse of the temple at Segesta, gleaming white in the distance, gracing a hilltop with mouth-gaping majesty, I was overwhelmed with wonder. Of all the forgotten places in the ancient Mediterranean, the temples of Sicily have to be at the top of the list. The island was in the center of the ancient world, a convenient haven for Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans. It was an island with major ports and a major supplier of wheat, wine, almonds, and olives. Now only few majestic monuments, like Segesta, remain to remind travelers of the island’s rich history.
Sicily was never a unified island nation, but a conglomerate of indigenous tribes, and colonists residing in cities-states and kingdoms. Just as European settlers flocked to the Americas in more modern times, Greeks and Phoenicians founded settlements across Sicily as early as the 6h and 5h centuries BCE.  Segesta emerged as a major trading center populated by a mixture of native people and Greek colonists.

The bane of Segesta’s existence was another Greek colony, Selinus. The hostilities and disputes between these cities were never ending. In desperation, Segesta asked for help from the Athenians to defeat their rival. Always looking for profitable ventures and the means to expand their domination of the Mediterranean, Athens agreed to send an envoy to Segesta to determine if the city was worthy of military aid and capable of reimbursing them for the support. According to local sources the Segestians constructed a beautiful temple to impress the visiting emissary.
The temple rivaled the Parthenon’s grandeur. Resting high on a hilltop top and wonderfully preserved, it is still impressing visitors today. As far as anyone knows, it was never dedicated to a specific deity and never quite, completely finished. You see, it was built only as a symbol of power and wealth meant to impress the Athenians, not to impress any god on Olympus.
Ironically, shortly after the Segestians won over the Athenians, they dropped their newly acquired ally in favor of courting an alliance with Carthage. Their rival city, Selinus, joined the Greek alliance which soundly defeated a massive Carthaginian campaign in 480 BCE. As a result the Selinutes totally razed Segesta leaving only the marvelous temple for us to marvel at today.

1/29/2014

Top Heavy Decision Sinks Flag Ship

When I worked in the corporate world, we often discussed whether “top-down” or  “bottom-up” management was the most effective leadership style. Ideally, the best manager would listen intently to his subordinates, hire experts to study the problem, and weigh this information against his own experience. This, with a little luck, would result in a decisive decision, guiding the business into a sea of profits. But in the real world, more often than not, a strong personality would override logic and dictate policy based on false assumptions or personal motives. Under these circumstances subordinates spend their time generating the rationales supporting the manager's desires. It appears that things were not much different on Sunday,

August 10, 1628. On this fateful day the Swedish navy proudly launched the King’s newest status symbol into Stockholm harbor: a twelve hundred ton, double decked, warship that abruptly sank after sailing only a  hundred meters.

The King of Sweden, Gustav II Adolf was in Prussia at the time and promptly sent a message to his admiralty that stated “This foolish incompetence must be punished.” It was ironic because the new vessel sank largely due to Gustav's own order that the ship must be armed with additional bronze canons, making it top heavy. As soon as the ship's sails caught the wind, she heeled over and sank. In Gustav’s defense, the captain should have suspected the problem and had he just kept the lower deck gun ports closed, the ship may have been able to right itself and limp back to the dock without sinking.
During King Gustav’s reign Sweden was embroiled in wars for over twenty years, fighting with Poland, Denmark, and Russia. In this era warfare at sea did not rely on ships firing broadsides at each other. Soldiers would gather topside in the high prow and stern shooting muskets at the opposing crew. Usually canons on the top deck were smaller guns called “storm strichen” that fired cartridges of small shot for a shotgun-like devastation. The big guns on the Vasa were the latest technology and ship builders had little experience fitting ships with heavy bronze canons. On the top deck the impressive, shining bronze canons would be in full view of  Gustav's adversaries.The Vasa was a model of opulence intended to carry troops into foreign harbors and intimidate rival kingdoms in grand style. Fully outfitted she carried one hundred fifty crew and three hundred soldiers. Every inch of the vessel was richly and lavishly ornate, a statement of power and wealth of Swedish sea power. With such a ship, surely Sweden would maintain dominance over the Baltic Sea.

After sinking, the Vasa rested  at the bottom of Stockholm harbor for three hundred and thirty-four years. In 1962, the project to lift her off the bottom and restore her to near original condition commenced. Truly a feat of engineering, the ship was lifted from the ocean depths and preserved in nearly original condition. Today you can visit her in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, a testament to the fallibility of top-down decisions. 
 

11/27/2013

Ancient Navigator Finds Gorilla of His Dreams


Hanno the Navigator
Circa 500 BC, the Mediterranean was a hot bed of activity. Mainland Greeks and Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor were aggressively colonizing the northern coastlines near Italy and Sicily. The city-state of Carthage was doing the same along the Northern Coast of Africa. Carthage was originally a colony planted by Phoenician traders. Not surprisingly, friction developed as the different factions vied for optimum lands and ports. Sicilian Greeks and Carthaginians engaged in a major war in the fall of 480 BC. This was exactly the same time as the famous sea battle of Salamis occurred, where the Athenian Navy routed the Persian Armada and ended the Persian threat to Greece permanently.

As you read about this era, you come to the realization that Greeks, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians were people of the sea. Their culture, trade, and prosperity were tied directly to their success at mastering the Mediterranean. Most movies and books depict famous land battles, the siege of Troy, defense at Thermopylae or battle of Marathon where armies faced off and battled, shield against shield, standing on hard ground. But think about it. Jason, Agamemnon, and Odysseus were really pirates in the purest sense of the term. Most myths place gods and heros on islands spanning the entire Mediterranean: Zeus was born on Crete, Cyclops lived on Sicily, Hercules’ golden apples and Atlas were located at the straits of Gibraltar. The lives of these people centered around the sea.

Countries like Greece had little arable land to grow crops, few minerals and limited forests for timber. They could not support themselves without sea trade. Eldest sons inherited property leaving few opportunities for younger generations to expand. A simple way to remedy these problems were to load ships with colonists and send them off to a "New World”; just like Eric the Red settled Iceland or Pilgrims settled Jamestown. The western Mediterranean and beyond held as much opportunity and promise for Phoenicians and Greeks as the Americas held for European colonists.

This is why Hanno of Carthage, a high ranking prince, was commissioned to take sixty warships loaded with colonists through the Pillars of Hercules and settle lands along the Moroccan coast. His trip was so awe inspiring for its time that the details were inscribed into a bronze plaque that became famous and was posted on the Temple of Ba’al in the center of Carthage. The original bronze plate has been lost, but a single Byzantine copy, translated into Greek, managed to survive. It is titled Hanno’s Periplus and resides in the University of Heidleberg.

It is hard for modern scholars to figure out exactly where Hanno traveled, because descriptions changed with each version of the original document and place names change as different cultures exert their influence over the various regions. Even Pliny the Elder, the famous Roman Historian, complained of writers committing errors and adding their own descriptions concerning Hanno’s journey, a bit ironic considering that Romans leveled the temple of Ba’al losing the famous plaque forever.

Generally, it is agreed that Hanno established seven colonies along the Moroccan coast. The last colony was on the island of Herne. Sailing south of there was where his adventure into totally unexplored territory commenced. Probably on the Senegal River, he encounters savage tribes, a burning mountain that was probably Mt. Cameroon, and hairy man-like creatures. These dark hairy men scattered into the hills, but he managed to capture three women and promptly flayed them and brought the skins back to Carthage. He called them gorillae and this is were our name for gorillas originated.

A translation of Hanno’s account is below and you can also follow the link to a website that analyzes the adventure in detail. http://www.metrum.org/mapping/hanno.htm

Hanno’s Periplus(570-450BC)

It was decreed by the Carthaginians, that Hanno should undertake a voyage beyond the Pillars of Hercules, and found Liby-Phoenician cities. He sailed accordingly with sixty ships of fifty oars each, and a body of men and women to the number of thirty thousand, and provisions and other necessaries

When we had passed the Pillars on our voyage, and had sailed beyond them for two days, we founded the first city which we named Thymiaterius]. Below it lay an extensive plain. Proceeding thence towards the west, we came to Soloeis, a promontory of Libya, a place thickly covered with trees, where we erected a temple to Neptune; and again proceeded for the space of half a day towards the east, until we arrived at a lake lying not far from the sea. and filled with abundance of large reeds. Here elephants, and a great number of other wild beasts, were feeding.

Having passed the lake about a day s sail, we founded cities near the sea, called Cariconticos, and Gytte, and Acra, and Melitta, and Arambys.Thence we came to the great river Lixus, which flows from Libya. On its banks the Lixitae, a shepherd tribe, were feeding flocks, amongst whom we continued some time on friendly terms. Beyond the Lixitae dwelt the inhospitable Ethiopians, who pasture a wild country intersected by large mountains, from which they say the river Lixus flows. In the neighbourhood of the mountains lived the Troglodytae, men of various appearances, whom the Lixitae described as swifter in running than horses.

Having procured interpreters from them, we coasted along a desert country towards the south two days. Thence we proceeded towards the east the course of a day. Here we found in a recess of a certain bay a small island, containing a circle of five stadia, where we settled a colony, and called it Cerne. We judged from our voyage that this place lay in a direct line with Carthage; for the length of our voyage from Carthage to the Pillars, was equal to that from the Pillars to Cerne.

We then came to a lake, which we reacted by sailing up a large river called Chretes This lake had three islands, larger than Cerne from which proceeding a day's sail, we came to the extremity of the lake, that was overhung by large mountains, inhabited by savage men clothed in skins of wild beasts, who drove us away by throwing stones, and hindered us from landing. Sailing thence we came to another river, that was large and broad, and full of crocodiles, and river horse]; whence returning back we came again to Cerne

Thence we sailed towards the south twelve days, coasting the shore, the whole of which is inhabited by Ethiopians, who would not wait our approach, but fled from us. Their language was not intelligible even to the Lixitae who were with us. Towards the last day we approached some large mountains covered with trees, the wood of which was sweet-scented and variegated. Having sailed by these mountains for two days, we came to an immense opening of the sea; on each side of which, towards the continent, was a plain; from which we saw by night fire arising at intervals in all directions, either more or less.

Having taken in water there, we sailed forwards five days near the land, until we came to a large bay, which our interpreters informed us was called the Western Horn. In this was a large island, and in the island a saltwater lake, and in this another island, where, when we had landed, we could discover nothing in the daytime except trees; but in the night we saw many fires burning, and heard the sound of pipes, cymbals, drums, and confused shouts. We were then afraid, and our diviners ordered us to abandon the island. Sailing quickly away thence we passed a country burning with fires and perfumes; and streams of fire supplied from it fell into the sea. The country was impassable on account of the heat. We sailed quickly thence, being much terrified; and passing on for four days, we discovered at night a country full of fire. In the middle was a lofty fire, larger than the rest, which seemed to touch the stars. When day came we discovered it to be a large hill, called the Chariot of the Gods. On the third day after our departure thence, having sailed by those streams of fire, we arrived at a bay called the Southern Horn[11]; at the bottom of which lay an island like the former, having a lake, and in this lake another island, full of savage people, the greater part of whom were women, whose bodies were hairy, and whom our interpreters called Gorillae. Though we pursued the men we could not seize any of them; but all fled from us, escaping over the precipices, and defending themselves with stones. Three women were however taken; but they attacked their conductors with their teeth and hands, and could not be prevailed upon to accompany us. Having killed them, we flayed them, and brought their skins with us to Carthage. We did not sail farther on, our provisions failing us.

8/09/2013

The Saga of Chief Hole in the Day

Chief Hole in the Day
As a native of Minnesota, I would frequent our vacation land every summer, camping, fishing, and golfing, etc. Along the drive from Brainerd to Nisswa, about 140 miles north of Minneapolis, I would pass a scenic highway named Chief Hole in the Day Drive and I always wondered what type of Indian chief would be called Chief Hole in the Day? Red Cloud, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Cochise are obviously the strong names for great chieftains, but who or what was Hole in the Day? Teachers never mentioned Chief Hole in the Day in elementary or high school. Of course, schools at that time taught little of the Native American point of view. For years, nothing would come up in Internet searches. But the name stuck in my mind and I recently Googled Chief Hole in the Day. Today schools and roads bearing his name abound and many pages of content have been published about his story. And quite a story it is, fodder for a good novel.
Minnesota Reservations
Chief Hole in the Day was a Ojibwa Indian of the Pillager Band residing at the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in the late 1800’s. His true Indian name was Bugonaygeshig. Translated into English, it came out as Hole in the Day. More aptly it might have been translated too Hole in the Sky, which is also used. In the native tongue, Bugonaygeshig is a reference to the constellation we call the Seven Sisters or the Pleiades, which might be visualized as a hole in the sky. He gained fame by leading the last Indian uprising and armed confrontation against US troops on record at the Battle of Sugar Point, October 5, 1898.

Sunset on Leech Lake, MN
Trouble started when the Pillager Band of Chippewa (Ojibwa) on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation contracted with lumber companies to harvest “down and dead” timber as a source of income for the reservation. Lumber companies were often slow to pay for harvested timber and cheated the tribe by under estimating the value and the amount of timber taken. Unscrupulous loggers even set fire to healthy trees so they could claim them as dead timber. Chief Hole in the Day protested these disreputable business practices and complained to the local Indian Services. They responded by marking him as a troublemaker and taking him into custody. The agents did not charge him with any offense, but took him to Duluth to testify in a trial concerning an Indian bootlegging operation. After being forced, to testify he was abandoned in Duluth, over 100 miles from home, forced to walk back to the reservation. I am guessing he was out of their hair for several many weeks.

Five months later on September 5,1898, they attempted to seize the chief again. This time he managed to escape and fled to his home at Sugar Point, a small peninsula in the northeast corner of the expansive Leech Lake. The U.S. Indian Agent, Arthur Tinker requested aid from Fort Snelling and twenty regular army troops were dispatched to the reservation. When Hole in the Day refused to surrender, seventy-seven additional troops, commanded by Brevet Major Melville C. Wilkinson were sent as reinforcements. With larger numbers, the army invaded Sugar Point, but was unable to find the chief, who apparently fled. Soldiers began searching the surrounding woods and neighboring villages to arrest any tribesmen with outstanding warrants. Finding only a few old men, women, and children, they noted it was strange there were no young, able men in the area.

Who fired the first shot is still in dispute. According in one account a soldier’s rifle accidentally discharged and was answered by gunfire from Indians hiding in the forest. Indian accounts say soldiers fired at a canoe on Leech Lake carrying several women. Regardless of how it started, gunfire from the woods surrounding Sandy Point erupted around 11:30 am. The soldiers could only hunker down and retreat to a lakeside cabin for cover. Major Wilkinson lost several men and was wounded in the leg. He took another bullet to his abdomen at the cabin and died shortly after. Gunfire slowly decreased as evening fell. By morning the Indians seemed to have dispersed, but took one more life when a soldier was killed trying to dig up potatoes from a garden.

The soldiers, devastated by a mere force of eighteen Indians, marched to Walker, Minnesota with seven dead, and fourteen wounded. Not one Pillager was killed or wounded (on record). Chief Hole in the Day was never captured. The skirmish raised fears of an uprising. Minnesota’s National Guard was mobilized in response, but the Indians dispersed into the deep forests of northern Minnesota. The day after the battle, the Cass County Pioneer newspaper published this letter received from the chiefs of the Pillager Band.

“We, the undersigned chiefs and headmen of the Pillager Band of Chippewa Indians of Minnesota …respectfully represent that our people are carrying a heavy burden, and in order that they may not be crushed by it, we humbly petition you to send a commission, consisting of men who are honest and cannot be controlled by lumbermen, to investigate the existing troubles here… We now have only the pinelands of our reservation for our future subsistence and support, but the manner in which we are being defrauded out of these has alarmed us. The lands are now, as hereto fore, being underestimated by the appraisers, the pine thereon is being destroyed by fires in order to create the class of timber known as dead or down timber, so as to enable others to cut and sell the same for their own benefit.”

Several days after the incident the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, William A. Jones negotiated with the Pillager leaders at a tribal council. Afterward he criticized local officials for “frequent arrests for trivial causes, often for no cause at all, and taking them to Duluth or Minneapolis for trials, two hundred miles away from their agency.” I cannot help but think that this well-written, civilized, logical letter  sent to the Cass County Pioneer newspaper helped defuse the issue. Still, there is a note of humility and sadness in the letter that moved me.





7/04/2013

Gundestrup Cauldron


One of the things about traveling I like the most is running into something wonderful and unexpected. This was the case in Copenhagen. On the way back to the hotel we stumbled on to the Copenhagen National Museum. Jan pulled out a guidebook and next to the information about the museum was picture of the Gundestrup Cauldron. The Cauldron is a masterwork, iconic of La Tene, Celtic culture. It or some part of it appears in literally every publication referencing Celtic art, history, and mythology. It has been used on the cover of 100's of journals and books. It was something that I had to see.

The great cauldron did not disappoint with this caveat:  the cauldron, which has become symbolic of Celtic culture, is an enigma, because its true origin and purpose are unknown. In 1891 the priceless silver artifact was discovered while digging for peat in the Raevemosen Bog in Himmerland, Juteland. The cauldron was dropped into the bog—perhaps as a valuable sacrifice to the gods sometime between 200 BC and 300 AD. which is a very broad range. The images depicted on it come far away from the northerly realm where it was found. Elephants, lions and several gods represented in a foreign style indicate that the cauldron had its origin in remote areas south or southeast of Juteland. Exactly where it was made or how it got to Juteland is unknown. It could have been commissioned, traded, or stolen. But surely it was the prize possession of a great chieftain or priest and used for ritual drinking and feasts.

Most researchers agree that the vessel portrays elements of La Tene workmanship and that is why it is used in most books and articles that reference ancient Celtic culture and art. I am not the expert, but it seems to lack the spirals, curves and entwined art elements that signify La Tene motifs. The predominent heads on the sides of the cauldron seem very classical. A plaque on the exhibit stated that the technology to produce it did not exist in northern Europe or Gaul during the range of time it was created and suggested it may have been produced in Thrace where working with silver flourished.

The relic is a good example of the elusiveness of pinning down a definition of Celtic Culture. Still, it is one of the most remarkable artifacts I have ever seen, dazzling and spellbinding. Filled with potent drink, it would be a “goldmine” of inspiration for any ancient chieftain or even a golf buddy.

4/11/2013

Postmarked June 29, 3123 BC


Recently I caught a glimpse of a program on the History Channel about a clay tablet carved in Nineveh, the ancient capital of Babylon, circa 700 BC. The tablet was professed to have recorded the exact date of the Sodom and Gomorrah apocalypse. They called it the “Sumerian Planisphere”. A planisphere is a small round disk astronomers use to create a map of the heavens. Backyard astronomers still use them today, but instead of carving them in clay, they are made of printed paper or plastic disks which they rotate to create a map of the nighttime sky at any date or time.


Even more intriguing is that part of the inscription mentions this tablet was copied from a tablet made 2000 years earlier. This puts the original tablet at about 3000 BC and the phenomena it recorded occurring, literally, at the dawn of civilization. An event of such magnitude, the ancient people of Mesopotamia inscribed it in clay, copied it, and passed down from generation to generation.

The artifact was excavated at Nineveh in 1912 by Henry Layard. He cataloged it #K8538 and placed it in the British Museum to rest among the host of famous Assyrian artifacts such as the huge winged lions that guarded the gates of Nineveh. Parts of the tablet were translated but many aspects were not understood. Positions of stars and constellations were easy to understand, like the position of Orion, Scorpio, Polaris, and even the Milky Way. Other references like “The white bowl approaching. Vigorously swept along.” were far more ambiguous and created more questions than answers. The object sat inconspicuously, without further attention until 2008 when Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell* completely deciphered the tablet and used astronomical software to trace the positions of the objects it depicted back through time and correlated them with the exact date of June 29, 3123 BC.

Bond and Hemspell found the tablet precisely plotted the position of an object, moving across the sky and the trajectory and date of the object coincided with an asteroid collision into the Alps near Kofels, Switzerland.

The low trajectory of the asteroid caused it to vaporize in the atmosphere, just prior to impact so no crater resulted, but millions of tons of debris flowed down the mountain in a gigantic landslide. Hempspell claims that a mushroom-like plume would have risen hundreds of miles into the air and drifted backwards over the Egypt, Asia Minor and the Sinai Peninsula causing mass destruction, raining down fiery rocks, and spontaneously igniting flammable materials on the ground where temperatures exceeded 700 degrees F. This is the type of catastrophe that could result in the complete destruction of several cities, hence the inference to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Whether this event was responsible for the demise of Sodom and Gomorrah is questionable. Still, myths abound about fiery destruction. Bond and Hempspell have identified twenty. Sodom and Gomorrah is only one story. Another is the Greek myth of Phaeton. Phaeton was the son of Helios, the sun god and when allowed to drive his father’s sunny chariot across the sky, but he could not control it. Flying too close to the earth, he scorched the earth and Zeus struck him down with a lightning bolt before he destroyed all of humankind.

To me whether or not the asteroid plotted on the tablet caused the end of Sodom and Gomorrah is not important. The thrill is that the tablet accurately records the path of an asteroid, flying across the heavens over 5,000 years ago, when the written word was first starting to emerge, when bronze was first hammered, and when the first walled cities were being built. The ancients not only recorded the event, but passed the knowledge down from generation to generation, across kingdoms, cultures, and empires, and now it is part of the modern historical record, a postcard postmarked June 29, 3123 BC.

1.Sumerian Observation of the Kofels Event, Bond and Hempspell, 2008


3/05/2013

A Post Card from Pompeii

Nothing sends a stronger message than a written message from an eyewitness of an event, freezing the moment in time. Pliny the Younger did just that with two letters documenting the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Typically, archaeologists excavate tombs of the important people, rulers with god-like status, and all the wealth in the world (literally). Cities, more often than not, are the remains of ruins already destroyed by conquering invaders or ravaged by erosion for eons of time. Human remains are limited to piles of bones at the bottom of graves or in sarcophaguses pillaged by grave robbers thousands of years prior to the excavation. Once in a great while, a find is made, like Pompeii, where the city is preserved, buried beneath twenty feet of ash in a matter of days, and then forgotten for 1500 years. Sealed in its tomb, it was undisturbed until 1599 by an Italian architect, who after uncovering a fresco, decided to rebury it, because of its lewd offensive nature. In 1748 during the excavation of Pompeii’s sister city, Herculaneum , Pompeii was officially rediscovered. Because it was sealed so completely, beautiful frescos, statues, villas, and temples were preserved in remarkable condition. Vesuvius was not selective in who it buried, so common people, wealthy merchants, and slaves all died together. Many left impressions, hollow cavities under the ash from which grotesque, plaster replicas could be cast, revealing their horrific final moments.

Add caption
Pompeii was a thriving seaport on the Adriatic that funneled goods into Rome. Of course today the ruins are seven miles from the sea, which has receded. I remember our tour guide claiming the city had a population exceeding 40,000. That would be twice the size of renaissance Venice. You would wonder how a city of this size could be lost so close to the modern era and I have never heard a reasonable explanation. Particularly with an eyewitness account of the disaster surviving in the writings of Tacitus. I can only suppose that scholars, reading the letters, assumed that the city existed, but was hopelessly lost to the world.

At the time, a magistrate, Pliny the Younger, watched the whole thing unfold from his villa at Misenum, a village across the Bay of Naples from Pompeii. He was several miles away, but watched the eruption with his uncle Pliny the Elder. His uncle mounted an expedition into the city to rescue the wife of a friend and died heroically overcome by smoke, fumes, and exertion. Evidently, slaves and companions made it back to Misenum because Pliny the Younger  recorded the events in two letters that survive to this day. He sent them to his friend the famous historian, Tacitus. The letters are short, but the descriptions are chilling.

This first letter was in response to Tacitus’ inquiry regarding Pliny the Elder’s death

"My uncle was stationed at Misenum, in active command of the fleet. On 24 August, in the early afternoon, my mother drew his attention to a cloud of unusual size and appearance. He had been out in the sun, had taken a cold bath, and lunched while lying down, and was then working at his books. He called for his shoes and climbed up to a place which would give him the best view of the phenomenon. It was not clear at that distance from which mountain the cloud was rising (it was afterwards known to be Vesuvius); its general appearance can best be expressed as being like an umbrella pine, for it rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches, I imagine because it was thrust upwards by the first blast and then left unsupported as the pressure subsided, or else it was borne down by its own weight so that it spread out and gradually dispersed. In places it looked white, elsewhere blotched and dirty, according to the amount of soil and ashes it carried with it.

My uncle's scholarly acumen saw at once that it was important enough for a closer inspection, and he ordered a boat to be made ready, telling me I could come with him if I wished. I replied that I preferred to go on with my studies, and as it happened he had himself given me some writing to do.

As he was leaving the house he was handed a message from Rectina, wife of Tascus whose house was at the foot of the mountain, so that escape was impossible except by boat. She was terrified by the danger threatening her and implored him to rescue her from her fate. He changed his plans, and what he had begun in a spirit of inquiry he completed as a hero. He gave orders for the warships to be launched and went on board himself with the intention of bringing help to many more people besides Rectina, for this lovely stretch of coast was thickly populated.

He hurried to the place which everyone else was hastily leaving, steering his course straight for the danger zone. He was entirely fearless, describing each new movement and phase of the portent to be noted down exactly as he observed them. Ashes were already falling, hotter and thicker as the ships drew near, followed by bits of pumice and blackened stones, charred and cracked by the flames: then suddenly they were in shallow water, and the shore was blocked by the debris from the mountain.

For a moment my uncle wondered whether to turn back, but when the helmsman advised this he refused, telling him that Fortune stood by the courageous and they must make for Pomponianus at Stabiae. He was cut off there by the breadth of the bay (for the shore gradually curves round a basin filled by the sea) so that he was not as yet in danger, though it was clear that this would come nearer as it spread. Pomponianus had therefore already put his belongings on board ship, intending to escape if the contrary wind fell. This wind was of course full in my uncle's favour, and he was able to bring his ship in. He embraced his terrified friend, cheered and encouraged him, and thinking he could calm his fears by showing his own composure, gave orders that he was to be carried to the bathroom. After his bath he lay down and dined; he was quite cheerful, or at any rate he pretended he was, which was no less courageous.

Meanwhile on Mount Vesuvius broad sheets of fire and leaping flames blazed at several points, their bright glare emphasized by the darkness of night. My uncle tried to allay the fears of his companions by repeatedly declaring that these were nothing but bonfires left by the peasants in their terror, or else empty houses on fire in the districts they had abandoned. Then he went to rest and certainly slept, for as he was a stout man his breathing was rather loud and heavy and could be heard by people coming and going outside his door. By this time the courtyard giving access to his room was full of ashes mixed with pumice stones, so that its level had risen, and if he had stayed in the room any longer he would never have got out. He was wakened, came out and joined Pomponianus and the rest of the household who had sat up all night.

They debated whether to stay indoors or take their chance in the open, for the buildings were now shaking with violent shocks, and seemed to be swaying to and fro as if they were torn from their foundations. Outside, on the other hand, there was the danger of failing pumice stones, even though these were light and porous; however, after comparing the risks they chose the latter. In my uncle's case one reason outweighed the other, but for the others it was a choice of fears. As a protection against falling objects they put pillows on their heads tied down with cloths.

Elsewhere there was daylight by this time, but they were still in darkness, blacker and denser than any ordinary night, which they relieved by lighting torches and various kinds of lamp. My uncle decided to go down to the shore and investigate on the spot the possibility of any escape by sea, but he found the waves still wild and dangerous. A sheet was spread on the ground for him to lie down, and he repeatedly asked for cold water to drink.

Then the flames and smell of sulphur which gave warning of the approaching fire drove the others to take flight and roused him to stand up. He stood leaning on two slaves and then suddenly collapsed, I imagine because the dense, fumes choked his breathing by blocking his windpipe which was constitutionally weak and narrow and often inflamed. When daylight returned on the 26th - two days after the last day he had been seen - his body was found intact and uninjured, still fully clothed and looking more like sleep than death."
Passages from his second letter following up on the escape of himself and his mother.
"...Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood.'Let us leave the road while we can still see,'I said,'or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.'We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.

There were people, too, who added to the real perils by inventing fictitious dangers: some reported that part of Misenum had collapsed or another part was on fire, and though their tales were false they found others to believe them. A gleam of light returned, but we took this to be a warning of the approaching flames rather than daylight. However, the flames remained some distance off; then darkness came on once more and ashes began to fall again, this time in heavy showers. We rose from time to time and shook them off, otherwise we should have been buried and crushed beneath their weight. I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, but I admit that I derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it."
References:
Allen, G.B. (editor), Selected Letters of Pliny, (1915); Maiuri, Amedeo,









1/17/2013

Syracusia - Titanic Luxury Liner of Ancient World

The novel I am currently working on is set in the in the ancient Mediterranean circa 480 BCE. This is the time when Xerxes sent his great army to Thermopylae and the meager band of Spartans made their stand against his minions. After the battle, Xerxes turned his attention to Athens and sent his fleet around the Grecian peninsula to land troops and secure his position. It was there, in the straits of Salamis, a confederation of Greek warships destroyed his navy and forced him to abandon his dream of conquest.


When I began researching the ships of the time, I expected to find crude wooden craft tied together with ropes, capable of limited voyages, island to island across the Mediterranean, and Aegean. What I did not realize, was Phoenicians, Minoans, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Egyptians were sailing across the Mediterranean in sophisticated vessels for over a thousand years before Xerxes attempted his conquest of Greece.

By 480 BCE warships had evolved into sleek war machines, carrying about two hundred crewmen, three levels or oars, and armed with heavy bronze rams mounted on the bows to ram enemy ships. This is what is commonly depicted on TV and in movies. To my surprise commercial shipping was an entirely different matter. Huge ships with several masts, capable of carrying thousands of tons of cargo and hundreds of passengers were widely used. The Titanic of these ships was the Syracusia. This ship was a monstrous luxury liner comparable with cruise ships bobbing across the seas today.

Designed by Archimedes, the famous engineer, Syracusia was built on the island of Sicily in 240 BCE on and order from Hieron II. Hieron II was the current tyrant of the major city-state, Syracuse. The ship was 360 feet long and 80 feet wide. To fathom this, consider a football field, which is 300 feet long. Syracusia carried 1,943 passengers who slept in staterooms, just like the smaller luxury liners that cruise the Mediterranean today. Similarities do not stop there. This ship also featured a hot water pool, garden promenade, library, restaurant, and temple dedicated to Aphrodite. Marble statues and carved ivory lavishly decorated these features.

Piracy was a major problem (as it is even today) and the Syracusia carried 200 armed soldiers, two large catapults and three(or more) protective towers rose above the deck manned by archers.

Materials to construct the vessel came from all over the world. The hull was made of pine from the slopes of Mount Etna, cord from Spain, pitch, and hemp from France. All this was nailed together with imported copper spikes, a testament to the vastness of trade and shipping that existed by this era. Her maiden voyage was to Alexandria in Egypt and she carried 60,000 measures of grain, 10,000 jars of pickled fish, and 20,000 talents of wool. This adds up to approximately 2000 tons of cargo.

Whenever I look in the past, I am always amazed to find out how much more advanced and how much we have in common with so called ancient cultures. What I would give for a Mediterranean cruise on this luxury liner.

To learn about this marvelous ship and ancient sailing, Lionel Classon is he reputed expert with several works available.

12/08/2012

Diogenes: Homeless, but not Hapless

The recent story about the NYC police officer who bought shoes for a barefoot man struck a deep cord with me. Perhaps, it is because I have always been a bit of an oddball and felt it would be easy for me to slip from the ranks of respectability into the depths of homeless obscurity. It gave me emphathy for people with that undefineable quirk preventing them from conforming and finding acceptance in the "normal" world.


It turned out that the man, who received the new shoes from the officer, was indigent, but not really homeless, and he sold the shoes for hard cash. People ask, “How could he do that? or What kind of hopeless nut job is he?” We cannot seem to fathom the idea that some people do not care about material things, or conventional customs, and assume they must be lazy or mentally ill to display such behavior.

This is not a new manifestation of the twentieth century. Diogenes of Sinope (412-323BC), the renowned Greek philosopher is an example of a very early unsociable homeless person.  I am not saying our homeless are great philosophers, but they are not all drug addicts, criminals, or shiftless no accounts either. Diogenes renounced all material things and slept in a large earthen jar in the agora.

Diogenes was asked, "Tell me, to what do you attribute your great poverty?"
"Hard work," he replied.
"And what advice can you offer the rich?"
"Avoid all the good things in life."
"Why?"
"Because money costs too much. A rich man is far poorer than a poor man."
"How can that be?"
"Because poverty is the only thing money can't buy."

His father minted coins for a living and Diogenes believed he was told by the gods to deface the currency. When he started to ruin his father’s coins he was cast out and disowned. He took it as a sign he had to refute all established social customs and behavior. This included adopting very bizarre behaviors: masturbation in public, urinating on people, and defecating at the theater were obscene actions he is said to have committed. He strolled through the agora holding a lamp in the middle of the day and when questioned by passersby, he would say that he was looking for an honest man.

A favorite story is that Alexander the Great sought him out and found him enjoying the sun in the market place. He offered to give Diogenes anything in the world he wanted. Diogenes said, “Yes—there is something—could you move out of my sun.
or

Diogenes was knee deep in a stream washing vegetables. Coming up to him, Plato said, "My good Diogenes, if you knew how to pay court to kings, you wouldn't have to wash vegetables."
"And," replied Diogenes, "If you knew how to wash vegetables, you wouldn't have to pay court to kings."

His behavior was psychotic by today’s standards. There is even a malady called Diongenes Syndrome. In his own time, he was spat on by the citizens of Athens and Corinth, and demeaned and laughed at by esteemed men like Plato and Socrates. As despicable as Diogenes was, he had a following of disciples, men who listened to him and wrote down his anecdotes and wisdoms. He did not write down anything himself, but many of his wisdoms and anecdotes have survived through the ages.

A young man contemplating marriage sought advice from Diogene:
"Should I marry?"he asked.
"Marriage is too soon for a young man"
"Would you have me wait then until I am old."
"Oh no, Marriage is far too late for an old man."
"What am I to do then? I love the girl."
"Love is a luxury no one can afford. It is for those who have nothing better to do."
"What should we be doing then?"
"To seek freedom. But it is not possible to be free if you have a wife and children."
"But having a wife and family is so agreeable."
"Then you see the problem, young man. Freedom would not be so difficult to attain were prison not so sweet."
"You mean to be free is to be alone?"
"We come into the world alone and we die alone. Why, in life, should we be any less alone?"
"To live, then, is terrible."
"No, not to live, but to live in chains."

Call me a democrat, but it does not irk me to provide a homeless person with a dry place to sleep, warm blanket, and hot meal with no strings or drug testing attached.

"Why is it, Diogenes, that pupils leave you to go to other teachers, but rarely do they leave them to come to you?"
"Because," replied Diogenes, "one can make eunuchs out of men, but no one can make a man out of eunuchs".



11/05/2012

Most Prized Possession

It might seem silly to many people, but my most prized possession is a stone ax that my son- in-law found while he was deer hunting near Killeen, Texas. Walking down a dry riverbed the unusual shape caught his eye and he picked up the rock. He had no background in archaeology or anthropology, but intuitively recognized it as manmade. A few weeks later, I spotted the rock in his backyard. He gave it to his kids and they discarded it under a tree. When I picked it up, I was amazed. It fit into my left hand perfectly, shaped with  a subtle indentation for my thumb to fit comfortably. The edge was sharp and the chips that were struck off to form the blade were clearly visible. It looked exactly like blades illustrated in Anthropology books used in my college courses years ago.

Similar ax found in UK
dated over 100M /BC
A friend who has a friend who is an archaeologist affirmed that the ax was, indeed, a product of pre-Columbian Paleo Indians, but that is about all I could find out about the relic. The earliest people migrated into the Americas between 45M and 15M years ago when the oceans retreated and a land mass formed across the Bering Sea that animals could migrate across and men could follow them. Around eight thousand years ago, the glaciers had receded and the climate stabilized giving the new comers a chance to thrive, foraging  and hunting musk ox and mastodon. It is hard to date the ax without stratification. Dating is also complicated because Native Americans never progressed out of the Stone Age. It is amazing, but the Woodland tribes, Plains tribes, and Pueblo tribes were still living in the Stone Age when Europeans came to America. Even the mighty empires of the Incas and Aztecs were in the Stone Age culturally. However, the odds are that this artifact is thousands of years old. The style and shape of this ax is very much like Paleolithic ones found across Europe dating over 100,000 years ago.


What’s the thrill for me? There are not words to explain the subtle thrill to hold a tool that was (most likely) used by a hunter eight or ten thousand years ago to clean a mastodon hide, a man like me with a family, thoughts and dreams, and hope for the future.



10/02/2012

The Truth About Halloween




Halloween originally was the Celtic celebration Samhain, which was also their word for the time of year that falls on our calendar during October and November. The name literally meant the end of summer and marked the New Year for the ancient Celts. It was not a time of goblins and witches, but it was the onset of the dark and cold part of the year, the complete opposite of Beltane, which signified the onset of light and warm days.

Ancient Celts  were farmers (without machinery) and it is hard for us urbanites to imagine the joy and elation that would follow a successful harvest. Families gathered to complete the chores in preparation of winter. Herders brought sheep and cattle from hillside pastures to sheltered stables for protection from winter storms. Animals were slaughtered, meat salted, peat and wood piled high, crops harvested and safely stored. It was a busy but joyous time that included feasting and tale telling.  

An interesting aspect of the holiday was the belief that on Samhain Eve the barriers that separated the three planes of existence were temporarily removed so that the souls of the unborn, the dead, and living were free to walk the earth together. Celts believed in the immortal soul long before Christianity advanced across Europe. Bon fires or hearth fires burned all night and folk left out small gifts of food and drink for wandering souls to enjoy. Perhaps giving out candy to wandering children is a vestige of this practice. It was not a scary or threatening holiday. The dead held no special terrors for Celts.

Ironically, the mood of Samhain did not change to a dark, scary, evil night until it became Christianized. As Christianity spread, Samhain was renamed to Halloween or Hallows Eve and was made part of All Souls’ Day. Common people, hanging on to old traditions, would drink wine, bake oatcakes, and fill their homes with candle light. They would also visit graves and pray for loved ones until these folk traditions were deemed witchcraft by the church. Even All Souls’ Day was outlawed by the church until the modern era. During this period of suppression, our current dark version of Halloween emerged with evil witches, scary goblins, and ghosts, celebrated for fun at parties outside the church.

This Halloween I'll think about lighting a bon fire or leaving a cookie out on your doorstep for a loved one that has passed on. My days of spray painting fences and garbage cans are over. 


Sources:
 John King, “The Celtic Druids’ Year”, UK, Blandford Publishig, 1994.
 Mara Freeman, “Kindling the Celtic Spirit”,NY, Haper Collins, 200

8/10/2012

A Post Card You Won't Forget


To escape the Texas heat, my wife and I headed out to the Sedona/Flagstaff area a couple weeks ago. We decided to drive across the panoramic Southwest not having explored that part of the US before. It was wonderful drive and now that cars are air-conditioned and you do not need to sling a bag of water over your radiator before crossing the deserts, very comfortable.

We came back on I-40, which was the historic Route 66. About 40 miles east of Sedona, we saw signs to view this meteor crater. I am kind of an astronomy buff, so we made the turn and headed down the seven mile road to the crater. The site is on private land, not in the Federal  park system. When I saw the big building and large parking lot full of cars, I thought it was going to be a “rip-off.” We bought our tickets and climbed the steps up up up into the restaurant/museum/gift shop. My “spidey” sense was tingling and telling me to run while I had the shirt on my back. But the museum was well done and they had a great movie. About this time we found our way to the glass doors out to the catwalks that rimmed the crater. Holy Moly! What a spectacular site.

A jaw dropping crater, a mile wide and over seven-hundred feet deep, extended before us. It looked just like the ones on the moon seen with a small telescope. Suddenly I remembered that I had seen photos of this one in astronomy books over the years.

The amazing thing was it was the result of a very small meteorite, estimated to be only 150 ft in diameter. Not only that, but they estimated that its shock wave flattened everything in seven-mile radius. This little greeting from outer space was very recent in geologic time, about 50,000 years ago. About the time Cro-Magnon Man, the first truly human species, was knapping flint points and wrestling saber-toothed tigers.

In the scope of the universe, the meteorite was sub-microscopic. It made think about the possibilty of one significant size, say a couple miles across striking the earth. I am pretty sure life would end as we know it. For example, assuming that size and damage was proportional, a meteor a mile across, 35 times bigger than this one, would create an impact crater be 35 miles across and flatten everything in a two-fifty mile radius. A meteor one-mile across would still be a sub-microscopic body in the universe. This is not a novel idea, and has been discussed at length on science channels and umpteen movies disaster movies have been releassed about it. Yet, after you see this crater, the plausibility of such a  disaster will haunt you.

One note: my novels are centered around a great sword, Clach na Adhar,(which means Stone of Heaven in Scottish Gaelic). In the stories a small meteorite fell to earth  and was forged into a sword. I was curious about the composition of this meteor and bought a small fragment in the gift shop.(They love me at museum gift shops) The small lump was 92% iron, 7% nickel and 1% other stuff. I’d say it was ready to heat up and pound into a wondrous blade.

6/16/2012

The Great Wall - eighth wonder of the ancient world

After climbing the tiers of leg-aching steps and following the pathways used by Chinese soldiers for over 2000 years, the Great Wall of China is on my personal list of ancient world wonders.

The Great wall covers over 5000 miles bordering northern China. It is a sprawling river of stone, twisting and turning, even making u-turns and sending out branches that dead end. Tamped earthern parts of the wall date back to the 7th century BCE, but the great emperor Qin (pronounced "Chin"), the first despot who united China and built the famous Tomb of the Terracotta Warriors, ordered construction of a major wall, circa 200 BCE. That is the same time that Rome was competing with Carthage and Celtic Tribes led by Concolitanus were ravaging the Etrurian countryside, threatening to lay Rome to waste.

After Qin secured his empire, he ruled with an iron hand implanting the image of the emperor as the supreme being with absolute power over his subjects. Yet, even with his great army, he was still plagued by marauding tribal bands of warriors from the north. The answer was to build a great wall extending thousands of miles along the northern border of his empire; the labor provided by captives and slaves. Each dynasty after Qin improved on the wall until it finally took its present day form of bricks and mortar in the fourteenth century by the Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty maintained an army of over a million soldiers and used the wall to move troops to troubled areas quickly. Signal towers would light fires where incursions would occur and troops could be dispatched quickly.

The Ming Dynasty may have been the crowning peak of Chinese culture. The dynasty’s 200 plus years of stability yielded leaps in science and learning, even building the Forbidden City. Yet, all this was enjoyed by only an elite few. There is a Chinese saying that there is a soul in heaven for every stone in the Great Wall: the souls of captives and slaves that died carrying the millions of bricks up mountain sides and over the centuries to build it. As beautiful and wondrous as it is, it is symbol of cruel despotic rule that has plagued humanity since men first banded together.



5/21/2011

Chauvet Caves of Forgotten Dreams - Must See

My wife and I go to the movies nearly every Friday. This week we had our fill of superhero, techno-effect, CGM montages. So, when I saw the ad for Werner Herzog’s documentary about a 32,000 year old cave in Southern France decorated with perfectly preserved Paleolithic art, my heart sang with eager anticipation.


The film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is about the Chauvet Cave discovered by(guess who?) Chauvet in 1994. Thousands of years ago the cave was hermetically sealed by a landslide so the paintings inside are as fresh as they day they were painted. So fresh, in fact, that originally some thought they had to be fraudulent, until they noticed the paintings were under a thin mineral deposit that would take thousands of years to form.
Ok, the film was a little boring and the music was a little irritating. Herzog, as usual, is over the top trying to romanticize the preservation and finding of the cave. His film makes the images seem black and white when they are actually very colorful, and yet—and yet, when you see masterful images and the realization sets in that men made this images 32,000 years ago, it stuns the senses. When the images were made Neanderthals were roaming around the same area and much of Europe was under a massive sheet of ice. The drawings look as if Degas, Monet, or maybe even Picasso had grabbed a vine of charcoal and attacked the cave wall.

A key point of the film that stuck in my mind was that a major difference between Homo-sapiens, Neanderthals, and other animals is that Homo-sapiens are driven to express themselves and communicate with images. Its not using tools or building fire as was proposed in the Anthropology 101 class I sat years ago.

4/01/2011

Historical Battle of Telamon – Wilder Than Fiction


Insubre Warrior

Every now and then, we discover a historical incident more exciting and fascinating than anything fiction and fantasy writers can create. One such event was the historic battle of Telamon, Italy. Telamon is a hill near Pisa where two Roman armies managed to trap and annihilate a huge force of Gallic warriors in 224 B.C. According to Polybius (2, 28-3) 40,000 Celtic warriors from Boii, Taurisci, and Insubres, tribes were slain and 10,000 were captured, securing Roman domination of the area known as Cisalpina Gallia, which was largely northern Italy.

The Celtic tribes from Transalpina Gallia(France) crossed the Alps to join forces with the Celtic tribes of Cisalpina Gallia and swept into Etruria (Tuscany). The Celts attacked Etruria because they feared Roman domination and saw an opportunity to fill their wagons with Roman treasure. But another reason for the attack may have been encouragement from the Carthaginians. This was during the years of Rome’s struggle with Carthage. Several of Rome’s Legions were engaged in Spain struggling for dominance with the Carthaginians. The threat at home forced Rome to agree to less than desirable terms, withdraw her legions, and return to Italy to meet the Celtic threat.

Initially, the Celtic tribes had a free rein, pillaging their way across Etruria, easily defeated Etruscan militias, and Roman legions led by Consul-General, Lucius Aemelius Papus. It looked dark for Rome, and many were certain the invaders would sack their beloved city, just as the Celtic Chieftain, Brennus, had done in 387 BC.

Nothing stood in their way until Consul-Genereal Caius Atilius Regulus returned from Spain, landing his legions at Pisa. Hard luck for the Celtic invaders. Now Atilius' legions  were ahead of them and Amelius’ regrouped legions were  behind them. The Roman vise squeezed tight dooming and the Celtic horde.

What captivated me about the battle was that Atilius was fighting in the front ranks of his soldiers. This was a Roman Consul-General commanding multiple legions, over 20,000 men. It would be like Patton personally leading the charge in WWII. Atilius, heroically stormed up Telamon hill, leading a contingent of cavalry and ran head on into Celtic Calvary. Sadly, Atilius’ reward for his bravery was decapitation, a time honored Celtic tradition. Yes, his head was taken as a trophy. It infuriated his legions and they continued the attack ferociously without him. At the end day, Rome was the undisputed power in Cisalpina Gallia and this was the beginning of the end for a Celtic  dominated Europe.

It was such a great story that it inspired me to include it in my novel, Cult of Camulos, which begins with a depiction of this decisive, but not so famous battle. In, "Cult of Camulos", I depict Atilius having single combat with the foremost Celtic warrior, which is suggested in some accounts, but not well documented. However, there is a documented account of a Celtic Chieftain challenging the Roman general Marcus Claudiau to single combat at the battle of Clastidium three years earlier. Marcus fared better than Atilius, easily slaying his opponent. Little has been published on the battle of Telamon, but if you are interested in further reading, you might start with Simon James. He presents an excellent account in his book “The World of the Celts”.

3/05/2011

Visual Wonder - Cathedral at Cordoba

About a year ago, we were on tour in Spain. Of course food and wine was beyond words. Vino tinto and tapas—does it get any better? I was, at least, remotely aware of the most famous attractions before I got there. But one sight caught me completely off guard, the Cathedral at Cordoba.
This Christian cathedral was originally built by Visigoths in the 6th century. Moslems demolished it in 785AD and erected a monumental mosque in its place, modeled after a famous Mosque in Damascus. They kept expanding on it and improving on it until it became the mosque of reference and exceeded the grandeur of the mosque in Damascus.
When you step inside the small doorway in the plain brick exterior, your gaping mouth will hit the floor. It is like walking inside an Escher painting the size of a football field. Optically it dazzles your senses--makes you feel like you are looking into a mirror of infinitly reflected images. In every direction you look, beautifully tiled archways recede into space.


But this is not the end of the story. In 1236, King Ferdinand III reconquered Cordoba. He recognized the beauty and wonder of the Islamic mosque and rather than destroy it, he built a full size Christian cathedral right in the middle of it. When you make your way through the myriad of endless Moslem archways, you emerge into the Christian Cathedral with Gothic arches reaching towards the heavens.

Most my neighbors have been on tour in Spain. Oddly, they all missed the Cathedral at Cordoba. If you are lucky enough to visit southern Spain, be sure to take the side tour and see the cathedral at Cordoba.

8/16/2010

Orange Triumphal Arch - Symbolic of Roman-Celtic struggle.


When a book is accepted for publication, it sets off an agonizing search, primarily by the author, for a cover idea. Sure, the publisher hires an artist, but nobody is really in a position to understand what the story is about and what images best convey the content of the book to the reader. The adage about judging a book by its cover may or may not be true, but the cover and a twenty-word blurb are about all you have to convince a prospect to purchase your story.


The other problem is that nobody wants to spend any money on stock photography or elaborate illustrations. I was really stumped on what to convey to the artist for "Cult of Camulos". As with most novels, there are a myriad of scenes and images that the author can chose to promote the work. By chance, I was looking through some old photos of a trip my wife and I had made to France several years ago. As I thumbed down the stack, I lingered on a photo of the Roman Triumphal Arch that sits in the city of Orange. I remembered how impressed I was with the structure and studying the freeze that depicted a great battle between the old Gallic residents of the area and Rome’s legions, a fitting image for a novel in which I tried to bring to life a great battle between Romans and Celts on the plain of Telemone, Italy.

I scanned the photo, zoomed into it, and there it was, three figures in pitched battle still clearly visible despite years of erosion and even bullet holes from WWII, not to mention the extreme magnification of the relief. It was a striking image that conveyed everything I wanted the reader to feel about novel.

The freeze and triumphal were created during the reign of Augustus Caesar(about 35 BC) to commemorate the victory of Julius Caesar over the Gallic tribes. The battle of Telemone happened about 200 years before this, but the freeze is symbolic of the struggle between Roman and Celtic culture.

6/19/2010

More Ancient or Modern Art

About a month ago I posted a bit on modernistic art found in the ancient world. That posting jogged my memory of some interesting pieces that I viewed in the Museum of Athens from the Cyclades Islands that are near Greece in the Agean Sea. The Cycladic culture was a mysterious Neolithic culture that existed into the early Bronze Age, until about the time that the volcano sunk a good part of Santorini (Thira) in 1490 BC. Not much is known about this culture except that the white sculptures they left behind were used in funerary rites. When you look at them, you cannot help but be amazed at their modern look. Their designs seem somewhere between, Rodin, Moore, and Brancusi.

The work speaks for itself. Look at the photos and decide if the intellect and artistic drives of men and women have changed much over the past ten thousand years. Looking at these, I wonder if Brancusi did not find inspiration some of these pieces. I know what I want for Christmas and it is a replica of one of these pieces.


6/03/2010

Stonehenge at Hunt, Texas, One of Two.


About a year ago the Celtic Myth Pod Show ( www.celticmythpodshow.com) had a blurb on the two replicas of Stonehenge that had been built in Texas. One I knew, the one in Odessa, but it is far from my home in Georgetown. It would be like driving from Paris to Berlin. However, I was not aware of the other one, located in Hunt, Texas, less than one-hundred miles away. The morning was bright and my wife was willing (you have to act on those moments). We headed across the winding highways through Texas Hill Country.

An unexpected bonus was Texas peaches. The harvest was in and we stopped at a roadside stand to buy a basket. Impetuously, I grabbed a peach and chomped into it as soon as we were back on the road. The peaches are small and oh so sweet, but a word of caution. Driving and Texas peaches do not mix. The nectar runs down your cheeks, covers your hands, and gets the steering wheel sticky.

It was about a two-hour ride when we arrived at Hunt. It is small burg consisting of a gas station and restaurant. We found the “turn off” and headed west. We thought there would be sign of some sort to direct us. If there was, we did not see it. Just when we were thinking that we would never find the thing, presto, there it was. Just like the one in Salisbury, close to the highway, nestled on a vast misty plain.

It is not a replica of the real Stonehenge, but more of an emulation of what the original structure might have looked like about 1500 BC. It was commissioned by Al Shepperd and built by Doug Hill in 1989 and only took about nine months to complete. The one in Salisbury was erected in phases over the course of five-hundred years or more. The stones of this structure are about two-thirds the size of the original and only approximately the same shapes, not duplicates.

The Original Stonehenge is an ancient ruin of eroded and fallen megaliths. This adds to its mystique and makes for wonderful photos, but it hard to visualize how it might have been. In this one, when you stand surrounded by the inner ring of giant blue stones, and outer ring of sarsen stones, you feel the temple-like quality and grandeur of the original one.

Perhaps you can catch a wisp of what motivated those Neolithic tribes to drag stones that weighed so many tons such great distances. The outer ring of the Salisbury stones were transported about twenty miles and the huge blue stones used in the inner ring were transported over two-hundred and forty miles. These were stoneage people. I do not even think they had the invention of the wheel to help them.

I guess Al and Doug had more time and money than they knew what to do with to build something like this. If you are in the area, it is an attraction worth seeing. Did I mention it is free? There is only a small box asking for modest donations to help maintain the site.