Monday, January 30, 2012

The Caitiff's Tell

Ungraciousness in the face of amity is not merely an indication of poor manners, but quite often the conspicuous mark of a coward.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Agonies Which Are

"MISERY is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform. Overreaching the wide horizon as the rainbow, its hues are as various as the hues of that arch - as distinct too, yet as intimately blended. Overreaching the wide horizon as the rainbow! How is it that from beauty I have derived a type of unloveliness? - from the covenant of peace, a simile of sorrow? But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are, have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been." [1]


    "First, and before I begin my testament, I declare that for many years I have desired to take order for informing the Catholic and Royal Majesty of the King Don Felipe our Lord, seeing how Catholic and most Christian he is, and how zealous for the service of God our Lord, touching what is needed for the health of my soul, seeing that I took a great part in the discovery, conquest, and settlement of these kingdoms, when we drove out those who were the Lords Incas and who possessed and ruled them as their own. We placed them under the royal crown, and his Catholic Majesty should understand that we found these kingdoms in such order, and the said Incas governed them in such wise that throughout them there was not a thief, nor a vicious man, nor an adulteress, nor was a bad woman admitted among them, nor were there immoral people. The men had honest and useful occupations. The lands, forests, mines, pastures, houses, and all kinds of products were regulated and distributed in such sort that each one knew his property without any other person seizing or occupying it, nor were there law suits respecting it. The operations of war, though they were numerous, never interfered with the interests of commerce nor with agriculture. All things from the greatest to the most minute had their proper place and order. The Incas were feared, obeyed and respected by their subjects, as men very capable and well versed in the art of government. As in these rulers we found the power and command as well as the resistance, we subjugated them for the service of God our Lord, took away their land, and placed it under the royal crown, and it was necessary to deprive them entirely of power and command, for we had seized their goods by force of arms. By the intervention of our Lord it was possible for us to subdue these kingdoms containing such a multitude of people and such riches, and of their lords we made our servants and subjects.
     As is seen and as I wish your Majesty to understand, the motive which obliges me to make this statement is the discharge of my conscience, as I find myself guilty. For we have destroyed by our evil example, the people who had such a government as was enjoyed by these natives. They were so free from the committal of crimes or excesses, as well men as women, that the Indian who had 100,000 pesos worth of gold and silver in his house, left it open merely placing a small stick across the door, as a sign that its master was out. With that, according to their custom, no one could enter nor take anything that was there. When they saw that we put locks and keys on our doors, they supposed that it was from fear of them, that they might not kill us, but not because they believed that any one would steal the property of another. So that when they found that we had thieves amongst us, and men who sought to make their daughters commit sin, they despised us. But now they have come to such a pass, in offence of God, owing to the bad example that we have set them in all things, that these natives from doing no evil, have changed into people who now do no good or very little."  [5]

1. Poe, Edgar Allan. Berenice. Octopus Books Ltd.: London. 1981

2. Theodore de Bry. Indi Hispanis arurum sitientibus. Frankfort: 1593.

3. Theodore de Bry. "Scene of Cannibalism," Brevis Narratio. 1564.

4. Theodore de Bry. Le Voyage au Brézil de Jean de Léry. 1578.

5. Markham, Clement Roberts. "The last will and testament of Mancio Serra de Leguisamo made at Cuzco on September 18, 1589." The Incas of Peru. E.P. Dutton and Co.: New York. 1910.


Saturday, January 28, 2012


With faltering stutter-steps
we walk
In movements that mimic Vivaldi's staccato
The progression of a circle
which believes itself to be a line

She grasps my arm, pulls herself
Whispers words so succulent and desirous
that I notice not the cascade
of concrete and steel which falls like rain

Our history contracts around us

From an apex
a Faustian promise jumps,
soars on Icarus wings
with head slightly bowed
to hide its eyes,
from the menacing gaze of the sun


Friday, January 27, 2012

Don't Look Back

Many astute authors have found themselves intrigued by those oft-overarching themes embedded in the mythologies of disparate cultures. Comparative mythology has its roots in Adolf Bastian's concept of "psychic unity," the idea that all humans share the same basic psychological or cognitive makeup [1]. Carl Jung postulated a collective unconscious, codifying recurrent psychological/mythological elements into Archetypes. Mythologist Joseph Campbell built on the ideas of his predecessors, identifying cross-cultural mythos patterns in works such as the Hero With a Thousand Faces (where he introduces the "monomyth") and his four-volume Masks of God series.

As an anthropologist and amateur mythologist, I enjoy identifying cross-cultural themes in mythology. Recently I've been considering the parallels between Orpheus and Eurydice, Lot's wife, and Izanami-no-Mikoto. In each of these stories, there is a pattern of divine or supernatural commandment, a disobeying of that commandment, and subsequent irrevocable punishment. Of particular interest is the fact that, in all of these stories, it is the woman who bears the ultimate burden of penalty, regardless of who actually violated the divine instruction. No doubt the reader can identify numerous other elements of commonality in these myths, among them: the importance of obeying divine order; the futility of challenging death; the fixed nature of the past and the self-destruction that comes from obsessed fixation upon it; hubris and the limitation of human ability. 

Orpheus and Eurydice:
"Orpheus, a celebrated musician of antiquity, was the son of Apollo and the muse Calliope. He performed upon the lyre with such skill, that to listen to him, rapid rivers ceased to flow, mountains moved, and even savage beasts were tamed by the power of his melody. He married the beautiful nymph Eurydice, but shortly after the celebration of their nuptials, she was stung in the foot by a venemous serpent, and died in consequence of the wound. Orpheus, inconsolable at her loss, determined to attempt her recovery from the infernal regions, whither he immediately repaired, and so charmed Pluto by the melody of his strains, that he consented to allow Eurydice to return with him upon earth, on condition that he forbore looking behind him until he reached the extremest borders of hell. These conditions were gladly accepted; and Orpheus was already in sight of the upper regions, when, forgetful of his promise, he turned to look at his long-lost Eurydice. He saw her, but she instantly vanished from his view. He attempted to follow her, but was not allowed to re-enter the regions of the dead. Orpheus, in despair, shunned all intercourse with mankind, wandering over mountains, or retiring to grottoes, and endeavouring to forget his misfortune in the charms of music." [2]

Lot's Wife:
"Towards morning the angels apprised Lot of the doom which hung over the place [Sodom], and urged him to hasten thence with his family. He was allowed to extend the benefit of this deliverance to the families of his daughters who had married in Sodom; but the warning was received by those families with incredulity and insult, and he therefore left Sodom accompanied by only his wife and two daughters. As they went, being hastened by the angels, the wife, anxious for those who had been left behind, or reluctant to move from the place which had long been her home, and where much valuable property was necessarily left behind, lingered behind the rest, and was suddenly involved in the destruction by which--smothered and stiffened as she stood by saline incrustations--she became a 'pillar of salt'." [3]

"The Arab legend of Lot's wife differs from the Bible account only in the addition of a few frivolous details. They say that there were seven cities of the plain, and that they were all miraculously overwhelmed by the Dead Sea as a punishment for their crimes. The prophet Lot and his family alone escaped the general destruction. He was divinely warned to take all that he had and flee eastward, a strict injunction given that they should not look behind them. Lot's wife, who had on previous occasions ridiculed her husband's prophetic office, disobeyed the command, and, turning to gaze upon the scene of the disaster, was changed into this pillar of rock." [3]

"Descent of Izanagi to the lower regions. Desiring to bring back his beloved wife to the land of the living, Izanagi went down to the Underworld. But Izanami had already tasted of the food of the subterranean world, which made her return to earth impossible. Nevertheless she went to ask the gods of the Land of Darkness to make an exception in her favour. First of all she had made her husband promise that he would wait for her without trying to see her. The waiting was long, and Izanagi became impatient. At last he arose and determined to make his way into the palace his wife had entered. There a horrible vision greeted him: Izanami's body in a state of decomposition lay on the ground guarded by the Eight Thunders. Nevertheless the corpse spoke to him: "You have humiliated me," she said. The Eight Thunders, joined by the Ugly Females of the Underworld, then darted in pursuit of Izanagi. Long, long, he ran, outstripping his pursuers by but a little, keeping away from them by various devices, then, once he was outside, he shut the exit from the lower regions with a huge rock." [4]

"Izanagi descended to Yomi, and begged Izanami to return, but she told him: 'You are too late. I have already eaten at the hearth of Yomi.' She promised to plead with the gods of Yomi to let her return, but warned Izanagi not to follow her. But Izanagi did follow her into the darkness; he broke off a tooth from his comb and lit it to use as a torch. When the light fell on Izanami, he saw that her body was already a putrefying mass of squirming maggots, which turned into thunder gods." [5]

1. Postulate of the Psychic Unity of Mankind.

2. Dryden, John; et al. Mythological Fables. W.E. Dean: New York. 1837.

3. McClintock, John; Strong, James. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature, 
            Volume  5. Harper: New York. 1873.

4. Hackin, J.; Couchoud, P.L. Asiatic Mythology 1932. Kessinger Publishing Co.: New York. 2005.

5. Wilkinson, Philip; Philip, Neil. Eyewitness Companions: Mythology. Penguin: New York. 2007.


Thursday, January 26, 2012


The 诸葛弩 (Zhūgé nǔ) was a repeating crossbow used extensively by the Chinese from the 4th century B.C. (perhaps even earlier), well into the 20th century A.D. Due to the weapon's inaccurate, high rate of fire, it was ideally suited for close-quarter urban combat or as a fixed, anti-siege defensive weapon. It was employed to great effect as late as the Boxer Rebellion, despite the presence of firearms with more advanced characteristics, like rifled barrels and breech-loaded metallic cartridges. The 诸葛弩 was often documented by historians with an inquisitive fondness. Indeed, the captivating cleverness of the weapon's design, it's combination of modern engineering precepts and rustic simplicity, command attention to this day.

     "Here we have surely the most curious of all the weapons I have described. Though the antiquity of the repeating crossbow is so great that the date of its introduction is beyond conjecture, it is to this day carried by Chinese soldiers in the more remote districts of their empire.  In the recent war between China and Japan, 1894-95, the repeating crossbow was frequently seen among troops who came from the interior of the first-named country. The interesting and unique feature of this crossbow is its repeating action, which though so crudely simple acts perfectly and enables the crossbowman to discharge ten arrows in fifteen seconds. When bows, and crossbows which shot one bolt at a time, were the usual missive weapons of the Chinese, it is probable that the repeating crossbow was very effective for stopping the rush of an enemy in the open, or for defending fortified positions. For example, one hundred men with repeating crossbows could send a thousand arrows into their opponents' ranks in a quarter of a minute. On the other hand, one hundred men with bows, or with ordinary crossbows that shot only one arrow at a discharge, would not be able to loose more than about two hundred arrows in fifteen seconds. The effect of a continuous stream of a thousand arrows flying into a crowd of assailants--in so short a space as fifteen seconds--would, of course, be infinitely greater than that of only two hundred in the same time, especially as the arrows of barbaric nations were often smeared with poison. The small and light arrow of the comparatively weak Chinese crossbow here described had little penetrative power. For this reason the head of the arrow was sometimes dipped in poison, in order that a slight wound might prove fatal. The impetus of the heavy bolt of the mediaeval European crossbow which had a thick steel bow, was sufficient to destroy life without the aid of such a cruel accessory as poison." [1]

    "The most characteristic Chinese weapon with which I am acquainted is the repeating crossbow (shown below), which, by simply working a lever backward and forward, drops the arrows in succession front of the string, draws the bow, shoots the missile, and supplies its place with another. The particular weapon from which the drawings are taken was said to have been one of the many arms which were captured in the Peiho fort.
     It is not at all easy to describe the working of this curious bow, but, with the aid of the illustration, I will try to make it intelligible.
     The bow itself is made of three strong, separate pieces of bamboo, overlapping each other like the plates of a carriage-spring, which indeed it exactly resembles. This mounted on a stock, and, as the bow is intended for wall defence, it is supported the middle by a pivot. So far, we have a simple crossbow; we have now to see how the repeating machinery is constructed. Upon the upper surface of the stock lies oblong box, which we will call the "slide." It is just wide and long enough to contain the arrows, and is open above, so as to allow them to be dropped into it.
When in the slide, the arrows necessarily lie one the other, and, in order to prevent from being jerked out of the slide by shock of the bowstring, the opening can closed by a little wooden shutter slides over it.
     Through the lower part of the slide a tranverse slit is cut, and the bowstring led through this cut, so that the presses the slide upon the stock. Now come to the lever. It is shaped like the Greek letter "π" the cross-piece forming the handle. The lever is jointed to the stock by an pin or bolt, and to the slide by another bolt. Now, if the lever be worked to and fro, slide is pushed backward and forward the stock, but without any other result.
     Supposing that we wish to make lever draw the bow, we have only to cut notch in the under part of the slit which the string is led. As the slide along the stock, the string by its own falls into the notch, and is drawn back, together with the slide, thus bending the bow. Still, however much we may the lever, the string will remain in notch, and must therefore be thrown out a kind of trigger. This is self-acting, and equally simple and ingenious. Immediately under the notch which holds the string, a wooden peg plays loosely through a hole.
When the slide is thrust forward and string falls into the notch, it pushes the peg out of the hole. But when the lever slide are drawn backward to their full extent, the lower end of the peg strikes the stock, so that it is forced violently through the hole, and pushes the string out of the notch.
     We will now refer to the illustration. Fig. 1 represents the bow as it appears the lever and slide have been thrust forward, and the string has fallen into the notch. Fig. 2 represents it as it appears when the lever has been brought back, and the string released.
     A is the bow, made of three layers of male bamboo, the two outer being the longest. B is the string. This is made of very thick catgut, as is needed to withstand the friction which it has to undergo, and the violent shock of the bow. It is fastened in a wonderfully ingenious manner, by a "hitch" rather than a knot, so that it is drawn tighter in proportion to the tension. It passes round the end of the bow, through a hole, and then presses upon itself.
    C C show the stock, and D is the slide. E is the opening of the slide, through which the arrows are introduced into it, and it shown as partially closed by the little shutter F. The lever is seen at G, together with the two pins which connect it with the stock and the slide. H shows the notch in the slide which receives the string. I is the pivot on which the weapon rests, K is the handle, and L the place whence the arrows issue.
     If the reader should have followed this description carefully, he will see that the only limit to the rapidity of fire is the quickness with which the lever can be worked to and fro. As it is thrust forward, the string drops into the notch, the trigger peg is set, and an arrow falls with its butt just in front of the string. When it is drawn sharply back, the string is released by the trigger-peg, the arrow is propelled, and another falls into its place. If, therefore, a boy be kept at work supplying the slide with arrows, a constant stream of missiles can be poured from this weapon.
     The arrows are very much like the "bolts" of the old English crossbow. They are armed with heavy and solid steel heads, and are feathered in a very ingenious manner. The feathers are so slight, that at first they appear as if they were mere black scratches on the shaft. They are, however, feathers, projecting barely a fiftieth of an inch from the shaft, but being arranged in a slightly spiral form so as to catch the air, and impart a rotary motion to the arrow. By the side of the crossbow in Fig.2 is seen a bundle of the arrows.
     The strength of this bow is very great, though not so great as I have been told. It possesses but little powers of aim, and against a single and moving adversary would be useless. But for the purpose for which it was designed, namely, a wall piece which will pour a series of missiles upon a body of men, it is a very efficient weapon, and can make itself felt even against the modern rifle. The range of this bow is said to be 400 yards, but I should think that its extreme effective range is at the most from 60 to 80 yards, and that even in that case it would be almost useless, except against large bodies of soldiers." [2]

1. Payne-Gallwey, Sir Ralph. The Crossbow; mediæval and modern, military and sporting: its construction, history, & management. Longman's, Green and Co.: London. 1903.

2. Wood, J.G. The uncivilized races of men in all countries of the world: being comprehensive account of their manners and customs, and of their physical, social, mental, moral and religious characterics. J.A. Brainerd and Co.: Cincinnati .1876.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Denying the Cat

G.K. Chesterton. Orthodoxy. The Plimpton Press, Norwood: Massachusetts. 1908.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012


"As the Dark Ages waned, the popularity of castles increased. In fact, one could say that the rise of the castle marked the transition period between the Dark Ages and the High Middle Ages, as empires and kingdoms collapsed under the onslaught of new invasions and migrations, like the Roman Empire. The Vikings shattered the feeble Celtic and Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the British Isles, threatening the remnants of the old Frankish empire in the west. The Norsemen, mainly those from modern-day Sweden, also tangled with the Slavs of Eastern Europe, leading to the creation of the Russian kingdoms. In the south and west, the forces of Islam swept into Europe, destroying the armies of weak Christian kingdoms while Byzantium fended them off in the East from the 7th century until the 9th century of the Early Middle Ages.  

Throughout the Dark Ages, the kingdoms that successfully resisted the onslaught of the "barbarians" from the North and East and the Islamic forces from the South relied heavily on fortifications for their defense. Both Viking and Moor also adopted fortified positions to strengthen their hold on the territories they occupied and to enhance their offensive operations. In the 9th century, Alfred the Great led Saxon forces against the Norse intruders, laying down the foundations of a new nation that would come to be known as England. By the time the Germanic ruler of the Latin regions of the Frankish empire in the West was succeeded by the first dynasty of Latin kings in the 10th century, the Viking problem was well in hand. Rollo's Norsemen settled in Normandy and his heirs became vassals to the Frankish king early in the 9th century. Both Hugh Capet, who founded the Latin dynasty of France, and his son who succeeded him, had to contend with their vassals more than any external enemy. The castle played an important role in their struggles to maintain their power over their dominions." [1]

1. Kaufmann, J.E.; Kaufman, H.W. The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, and Walled Cities of the Middle Ages. Da Capo Press: Cambridge. 2001.